Monday, 19 September 2016

AFL-CIO to Planet Earth: Drop Dead, by Norman Solomon

At a meeting with the deputy political director of the AFL-CIO during my campaign for Congress, she looked across her desk and told me that I could get major union support by coming out in favor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

That was five years ago.

Since then, the nation’s biggest labor federation has continued to serve the fossil fuel industry. Call it union leadership for a dead planet.

Last week, the AFL-CIO put out a statement from its president, Richard Trumka, under the headline “Dakota Access Pipeline Provides High-Quality Jobs.”

The rhetoric was standard flackery for energy conglomerates, declaring “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is steadfast against the Dakota Access pipeline: “We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”

In sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO’s top echelon, some unions really want to restrain climate change and are now vocally opposing the Dakota pipeline.

Communications Workers of America has expressed solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “as they fight to protect their community, their land and their water supply.”

At National Nurses United, Co-President Jean Ross cites “an obligation to step up climate action to protect public health and the future for the generations to follow us.”

Ross said: “We commend the leaders and members of the Standing Rock Sioux, the many First Nation allies who have joined them, and the environmentalists and other supporters who have participated in the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.”

NNU points out that “the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline would carry nearly a half million barrels of dirty crude oil every day across four states.”

Ross says that such projects “pose a continual threat to public health from the extraction process through the transport to the refinery.”

As for the AFL-CIO’s support for the pipeline, NNU’s director of environmental health and social justice was blunt.

“We’re deeply disappointed in our labor federation siding with those that would endanger and harm the land, the water, the lives of the people along the pipeline path and the health of the planet itself in the name of profits,” Fernando Losada said.

He added that the Dakota pipeline is part of “a drive to extract fossil fuel that is untenable for the future of the planet.”

The nurses union is part of the AFL-CIO, but dominant forces within the federation are committed to corporate energy priorities.

Losada said that “some elements in the AFL-CIO” have caused a stance that “is a narrow position in the alleged interests of their members for some short-term jobs.”

Compare that narrow position to a recent statement from Communications Workers of America:

“The labor movement is rooted in the simple and powerful idea of solidarity with all struggles for dignity, justice and respect.

“CWA will continue to fight against the interests of the 1% and corporate greed and firmly stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the environmental and cultural degradation of their community.”

A venerable labor song has a question for the leaders of the AFL-CIO: Which side are you on?

When it comes to planetary survival, the answer from the top of the AFL-CIO hierarchy remains: We’re on the wrong side.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Debut of Our Revolution: Great Potential. But., by Norman Solomon

While Bernie Sanders was doing a brilliant job of ripping into the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the livestreamed launch of the Our Revolution organization on Wednesday night, CNN was airing a phone interview with Hillary Clinton and MSNBC was interviewing Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

That sums up the contrast between the enduring value of the Bernie campaign and the corporate media’s fixation on the political establishment.

Fortunately, Our Revolution won’t depend on mainline media. That said, the group’s debut foreshadowed not only great potential but also real pitfalls.

Even the best election campaigns aren’t really “movements.” Ideally, campaigns strengthen movements and vice versa.

As Bernie has often pointed out, essential changes don’t come from Congress simply because of who has been elected; those changes depend on strong grassroots pressure for the long haul.

It’s all to the good that Our Revolution is encouraging progressives around the country to plan far ahead for effective electoral races, whether for school board, city council, state legislature or Congress.

Too many progressives have treated election campaigns as impulse items, like candy bars in a checkout line.

Opportunities await for campaigns that might be well-funded much as Bernie’s presidential race was funded, from many small online donations.

But except for presidential races, the politics of elections are overwhelmingly local -- and therein lies a hazard for Our Revolution.

A unified set of positions nationwide can be helpful; likewise publicity and fundraising for candidates across state borders.

But sometimes hidden in plain sight is a basic fact: National support does not win local elections. Local grassroots support does.

Backing from Our Revolution will be close to worthless unless people are deeply engaged with long-term activism in local communities -- building relationships, actively supporting a wide range of sustained progressive efforts, developing the basis for an election campaign that (win or lose on Election Day) will strengthen movements.

Sooner or later, some kind of culture clash is likely to emerge when social-change activists get involved in a serious election campaign.

Running for office involves priorities that diverge from some tendencies of movement activism (as I learned when running for Congress four years ago).

The urgencies and practicalities of election campaigns aren’t always compatible with how grassroots progressive groups tend to function.

As a 501c4 organization, Our Revolution won’t be running campaigns.

Instead, it’ll raise funds and provide support for campaigns while being legally prohibited from “coordinating” with them.

And -- most imminently with the urgent need to stop the TPP in Congress during the lame-duck session -- Our Revolution could make a big difference in pressuring lawmakers on key issues.

Overall, the livestreaming debut of Our Revolution continued a terrific legacy from the Bernie campaign of educating and agitating with vital progressive positions on such crucial matters as economic justice, institutional racism, climate change, Wall Street, corporate trade deals and health care.

But throughout Our Revolution’s livestream, war went unmentioned. So did Pentagon spending. So did corporate profiteering from the massive U.S. military budget.

In that sense, the evening was a step backward for Bernie.

After virtually ignoring foreign policy and military-related issues during his campaign’s early months last summer, he gradually criticized Hillary Clinton’s record of supporting regime change.

In early spring, during the New York primary campaign, he laudably called for evenhanded policies toward Israel and Palestinians.

Although he never delivered more than occasional and brief glancing blows at the military-industrial complex during the campaign, Bernie did offer some valuable critiques of foreign policy.

But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.

Now, sadly, there may be a need to reactivate the petition headlined “Bernie Sanders, Speak Up: Militarism and Corporate Power Are Fueling Each Other,” which 25,000 people signed on a RootsAction webpage 12 months ago:

Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy.

We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war.

Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called ‘the madness of militarism,’ and you should do the same. 

As you said in your speech to the SCLC, ‘Now is not the time for thinking small.’ 

Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.”

As the petition page noted, Dr. King “explicitly and emphatically linked the issues of economic injustice at home with war abroad.”

In a society desperately needing “adequate funds for programs of economic equity and social justice,” the challenge remains clear:

“Overcoming militarism is just as vital as overcoming oligarchy. We won’t be able to do one without the other.”

If Bernie and Our Revolution continue to evade the present-day realities of “the madness of militarism,” their political agenda will be significantly more limited than what our revolution requires for a truly progressive future.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Clinton’s Transition Team: A Corporate Presidency Foretold, by Norman Solomon

Like other Bernie Sanders delegates in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I kept hearing about the crucial need to close ranks behind Hillary Clinton. 

“Unity” was the watchword. But Clinton has reaffirmed her unity with corporate America.

Rhetoric aside, Clinton is showing her solidarity with the nemesis of the Sanders campaign -- Wall Street. 

The trend continued last week with the announcement that Clinton has tapped former senator and Interior secretary Ken Salazar to chair her transition team.

After many months of asserting that her support for the “gold standard” Trans-Pacific Partnership was a thing of the past -- and after declaring that she wants restrictions on fracking so stringent that it could scarcely continue -- Clinton has now selected a vehement advocate for the TPP and for fracking, to coordinate the process of staffing the top of her administration.

But wait, there’s more -- much more than Salazar’s record -- to tell us where the planning for the Hillary Clinton presidency is headed.

On the surface, it might seem like mere inside baseball to read about the transition team’s four co-chairs, described by Politico as “veteran Clinton aides Maggie Williams and Neera Tanden” along with “former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.” 

But the leaders of the transition team -- including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, who is also president of the Clinton-Kaine Transition Project -- will wield enormous power.

“The transition team is one of the absolute most important things in the world for a new administration,” says William K. Black, who has held key positions at several major regulatory agencies such as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Along with “deciding what are we actually going to make our policy priorities,” the transition team will handle key questions: 

“Who will the top people be? Who are we going to vet, to hold all of the cabinet positions, and many non-cabinet positions, as well? The whole staffing of the senior leadership of the White House.”

Salazar, Podesta and the transition team’s four co-chairs is withering.

“These aren't just DNC regulars, Democratic National Committee regulars,” he said in an interview with The Real News Network.

“What you're seeing is complete domination by what used to be the Democratic Leadership Council. So this was a group we talked about in the past.

“Very, very, very right-wing on foreign policy, what they called a muscular foreign policy, which was a euphemism for invading places.

“And very, very tough on crime -- this was that era of mass incarceration that Bill Clinton pushed, and it's when Hillary was talking about black ‘superpredators,’ this myth, this so dangerous myth.”

Black added:

“And on the economic side, they were all in favor of austerity. All in favor of privatization. Tried to do a deal with Newt Gingrich to privatize Social Security. And of course, were all in favor of things like NAFTA.”

As for Hillary Clinton’s widely heralded “move to the left” in recent months, Black said that it “was purely calculated for political purposes. 

“And all of the team that's going to hire all the key people and vet the key people for the most senior positions for at least the first several years of what increasingly looks likely to be a Clinton administration are going to be picked by these people, who are the opposite of progressive.”

In that light, Salazar is a grotesquely perfect choice to chair the transition team. 

fter all of Clinton’s efforts to present herself as a foe of the big-money doors that revolve between influence peddlers and government officials in Washington, her choice of Salazar -- a partner at the lobbying powerhouse WilmerHale since 2013 -- belies her smooth words. 

That choice means the oil and gas industry just hit a political gusher.

On both sides of the revolving doors, the industry has been ably served by Salazar, whose work included arguing for the Keystone XL pipeline. His support for fracking has been so ardent that it led him two years ago to make a notably fanciful claim: “We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone.”

Salazar is part of a clear pattern. Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine for vice president underscored why so many progressives distrust her. 

Kaine was among just one-quarter of Democrats in the Senate who voted last year to fast track the TPP. 

When he was Virginia’s governor, Kaine said that “I strongly support” a so-called right-to-work law that is anathema to organized labor.

A few years ago he faulted fellow Democrats who sought to increase taxes for millionaires.

Clinton announced the Kaine pick while surely knowing that many progressives would find it abhorrent.

A week beforehand, the Bernie Delegates Network released the results of a survey of Sanders delegates showing that 88 percent said they would find selection of Kaine “unacceptable.” 

Only 3 percent of the several hundred respondents said it would be “acceptable.”

The first big post-election showdown will be over the TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress.

Clinton’s spokesman Brian Fallon reiterated a week ago that “she is against the TPP before the election and after the election.” 

But her choices for running mate and transition team have sent a very different message. 

And it’s likely that she is laying groundwork to convey anemic “opposition” that will be understood on Capitol Hill as a wink-and-nod from a president-elect who wouldn’t mind “aye” votes for the TPP.

Blessed with an unhinged and widely deplored Republican opponent, Hillary Clinton may be able to defeat him without doing much to mend fences with alienated Sanders voters.

But Clinton’s smooth rhetoric should not change the fact that -- on a vast array of issues -- basic principles will require progressives to fight against her actual policy goals, every step of the way.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group RootsAction.org. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit As Repoliticised Politics, by Matthew Cooper

What a morning to wake up to in Saint Paul!

Not only do we have the news that fifty-two per cent of Britons have voted to leave the European Union, but also that David Cameron is tendering his resignation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by the first result. I was – pleasantly so.

And I’d also be lying if I said Cameron’s resignation as PM didn’t make that surprise all the sweeter.

This is indeed a watershed moment, but not for the reasons the politicians most concerned are wont to claim.

For example: pace Nigel Farage, Brexit was not – and never was – a referendum on immigration policy. 

Regardless of the strong presence of an anti-immigration element among the Leave campaign organisers, whether Britain stays in or withdraws from the European Union will have absolutely no immediate impact on the levels of immigration from non-EU members such as Syria. 

It will not do to say that the current vote heralds a hostile, racist or xenophobic stance toward – as the more hysterical of the Remain camp have begun to claim – either Britain’s non-white populace or foreign nationals who are already living and working there. 

Still less does it mean a return to British imperium or pre-WWI economic power. 

It is actually rather comical that UKIP are now seeking ‘free trade’ with the European Union after going directly afoul of the banksters who run it, but that goes somewhat to show how out-of-touch they were with the ramifications of their own campaign.

Likewise, pace Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Jo Rowling and the other doomsayers in Remain, Brexit is not, and should not be taken as, a referendum on Scotland’s standing within the United Kingdom. 

However, Brexit may end up making it the case that within Britain regional concerns will take on far greater importance. 

The reason for this, is that Brexit was in fact a moment at which the same phenomenon which lifted Jeremy Corbyn to power, was voted on by the British general public and influenced the course of the entire United Kingdom. 

Corbyn was elected to his current seat as the head of the Labour Party on two principles: that policy matters more than narrative, and that the same impersonal market forces and bureaucracies which have emptied politics of its content do not need to dictate those same politics. 

Dr Wang Hui – professor of literature at Tsinghua University and leading scholar of the Chinese New Left – coined a phrase which he used extensively in his book on Chinese modernity, The End of the Revolution: ‘depoliticised politics’. 

In his case, he used it to refer to the formal dominance of the Chinese Communist Party in Chinese political life, whilst at the same time the content of politics was emptied of all its former meaning and a naked neoliberal logic of markets was used to fill the void. 

The collective action of human beings – as in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – was barred from consideration as a force for change. 

Although no single party rules the European Parliament in the same way the CCP rules China, it is still the case that the European Union project represents this same kind of depoliticisation of politics. 

Collective action and organisation at the local or national level are ignored in favour of a faceless and democratically-unaccountable technocracy operating out of Brussels: the Commission, the Central Bank and the IMF.

This technocracy justifies itself in exactly the same way, it should be noted, as the Chinese Communist Party after Deng Xiaoping has justified itself: without us, there will be no growth, no good times, no economic stability. 

Britain has now delivered a stunning popular rebuke, both to the argument that they need the European Troika and the technocratic structure it represents, and to the underlying principle that the collective action of people at the grassroots is subservient and subject to neoliberal market logic – the latter of which would have dictated that British people stay in the Union out of pure consumeristic self-interest.

Without denying that some degree of this rebuke was issued for less-than-admirable reasons – to wit, the reasons of nativism, xenophobia, nostalgia for Empire – the end result is something which ought to be cheered by the Left at large.

Brexit is at its core a ‘repoliticised politics’, a statement that Thatcher was wrong – there is an alternative to neoliberalism, and a different kind of statecraft is indeed possible.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Father's Day, by David Lindsay

Only 35 years ago, a single manual wage provided the wage-earner, his wife and their several children with a quality of life unimaginable even on two professional salaries today.

This impoverishment has been so rapid and so extreme that most people, including almost all politicians and commentators, simply refuse to acknowledge that it has happened.

But it has indeed happened. And it is still going on.

If fathers matter, then they must face up to their responsibilities, with every assistance, including censure where necessary, from the wider society, including when it acts politically as the State.

A legal presumption of equal parenting. Restoration of the tax allowance for fathers for so long as Child Benefit was being paid to mothers.

Restoration of the requirement that providers of fertility treatment take account of the child’s need for a father.

Repeal of the ludicrous provision for two women to be listed as a child’s parents on a birth certificate, although even that is excelled by the provision for two men to be so listed.

And paternity leave available at any time until the child was 18 or left school, thereby reasserting paternal authority, and thus requiring paternal responsibility, at key points in childhood and adolescence.

Of course a new baby needs her mother. But a 15-year-old might very well need her father, and that bit of paternity leave that he had been owed these last 15 years.

That authority and responsibility require an economic basis such as only the State can ever guarantee, and such as only the State can very often deliver.

That basis is high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment. All aspects of public policy must take account of this urgent social and cultural need.

Not least, that includes energy policy: the energy sources to be preferred by the State are those providing the high-wage, high-skilled, high-status jobs that secure the economic basis of paternal authority in the family and in the wider community.

So, nuclear power. And coal, not dole.

Moreover, paternal authority cannot be affirmed while fathers are torn away from their children and harvested in wars. 

Especially, though not exclusively, since those sent to war tend to come from working-class backgrounds, where starting to have children often still happens earlier than has lately become the norm.

Think of those very young men whom we see going off or coming home, hugging and kissing their tiny children.

You can believe in fatherhood, or you can support wars under certainly most and possibly all circumstances, the latter especially in practice today even if not necessarily in the past or in principle.

You cannot do both.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Scandal of the Durham Teaching Assistants, by David Lindsay

I have given up trying to pitch these 500 words, or even just the story behind them, to what might have been expected to have been sympathetic outlets, and I am rather inclined to name names:

On 31st December, Durham County Council intends to sack all 2700 of its Teaching Assistants, 94 per cent of whom are women. On 1st January, it intends to rehire them all on a 25 per cent pay cut. It would then be paying its Teaching Assistants less than any other authority in the country.

There is no point blaming "the Tories". There are only four of those on Durham County Council, and they abstained. The Independents and the Liberal Democrats voted against this, while a huge number of Labour members absented themselves.

Just enough, in fact, for this measure to be passed by a majority of one. Even those of us who grew up around such things can still be taken aback when we see the game played with quite that level of ruthlessness and cynicism.

No authority is doing this apart from one that has been massively Labour-dominated since before living memory. Something similar has been successfully averted in Conservative-controlled Barnet.

The blame and the shame are those of the shiny-suited, management-speaking throwbacks who still control the Labour Group at County Hall, Durham.

No, Teaching Assistants are not "paid for the holidays". They never have been. In relatively recent decades, they have been paid in the holidays, because before that they used to sign on outside the school terms.

The decision was then taken to divide their term-time wage by 12 and to pay it monthly. That, and that alone, remains the situation. Cutting that rate of pay by 25 per cent, therefore, would take it below the national minimum wage.

Neil Kinnock once disowned a Labour council from the platform of a Labour Party Conference, in the presence of that council's leading figures.

When he addresses the Durham Miners' Gala next month, Jeremy Corbyn needs to denounce the grotesque chaos of a Labour council – a Labour council – scuttling round a county, handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

The Teaching Assistants, whose cause is fully supported by the Durham Miners' Association (which is still active in welfare and campaigning, as well as in organising the Gala), will march on that day, Saturday 9th July. I for one will march with them.

As should you, if you are at all able. Over any distance, I can barely walk. But I will be marching for two miles, and every local Labour grandee on the balcony of the Royal County Hotel can tell Corbyn why we are marching.

Then, next May, every councillor who voted for this needs to lose his or her seat. And with it, the allowance that was increased in the same week as this vicious measure was approved. [At £13,300, even the basic allowance was already higher than many Teaching Assistants were paid even before this cut.]

I know many of them. I have known some of them for decades, by no means only through politics. But politics is what this is, and none of them will lose their homes when they lose their allowances. Whereas many Teaching Assistants are on the brink of losing their homes.

Follow @ta_hltaUK on Twitter, and the #ValueUs hashtag.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Why Libertarianism Needs Christianity, by Adam Young

When the non-libertarian is asked the question “What is a libertarian?”, besides possibly saying “Ron Paul”, the most common answer is almost always “Ayn Rand”.

That cheering enemy of state control and bureaucracy, who bashed all of those in the pocket of government, she suggested that perhaps a man would be better off free of the tyranny of state control and, just as importantly for her as a militant atheist, from that of religion.

With the first part, I agree. With the second, not so much. 

In Rand’s case, her philosophy, that splinter of secular libertarianism called “Objectivism”, was nothing more than a rip-off version of St Thomas Aquinas’s Natural Law tradition, but without the justification for existing. 

It is strange that this woman, who spoke of the ills of thinking that Jesus died for our sins and the evilness of using “faith” instead of “reason”, was taking her ideas from one of Christianity’s finest thinkers. 

When Objectivists and atheist libertarians talk about natural rights from an atheist perspective, that turns those rights into nothing more than things that exist just “because”, or it is a “fact of reality”. 

They have no reasoning, because it makes no sense to believe in rights while being an atheist. 

Do these atheist libertarians not realise that John Locke, the core founder of the idea of natural rights and of the non-aggression principle, based his thought on the belief that all men came from Adam and Eve, and as such had no right over each other?

And what about the great liberty minded documents made in countries that we libertarians like myself and Objectivists hold dear? Were they not written by Christians?

Magna Carta was written by Christians, and specifically by Catholics. The Petition of Right was influenced by the Christian Edward Coke, and was written by Christian men.

The United States Constitution was, in a good way, a rehashed version of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government.

Freedom under law, and natural rights, both come from an exclusively Christian idea of equality and the Golden Rule.

When atheist libertarians make the case of an “anti-theistic libertarian” society, then they make, to paraphrase Russell Kirk, the curious assumption that most human beings, if only they were properly schooled, would think and act precisely like themselves.

That simply is not the case. What happens to a society that loses God is that men are left to worship only the State.

That allows the leader of the State decide the value of human life, which tends to be as much value as a person would give the core of an apple.

That was why Stalin hated the Russian Orthodox Church, and why Hitler, who was an atheist using religion to gain votes, started to replace Christian holidays with Pagan holidays. They wanted to be the Gods of Men.

When a normal man is deciding the rights of other men, then they are not really rights at all. It is easier to justify overruling freedom when you do not have anything to stop you.

The Church stops that by giving the human being worth through absolute rules given to us by the Divine Ruler who is not hungry for power.

Of course, I do not believe that the Christian Faith has been perfect for protecting the rights and liberties of the people. In fact, it can be very prejudiced when it wants to be.

But I am not the kind of person who requires a perfect solution. We only have trade-offs in life, and I for one would rather have the Christian trade-off  rather than the obvious flaws of atheism.