Archive for September, 2011

Reclaim Our History: Oct. 1-15

By • on September 30, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Oct. 1, 1964: UC Berkeley math grad student Jack Weinberg is arrested for setting up CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) information table in Sproul Plaza, inadvertently starting the Free Speech Movement as students surround a police car for 32 hours.

Oct. 2, 1869: Birth of Indian independence fighter, pacifist theorist, Mohandas Gandhi. 1924: Twenty-four Japanese radicals and trade unionists bayoneted to death near Tokyo. 1968: Tlatelolco Massacre. At the Plaza of Three Cultures, after nine weeks of student strikes, the Mexican Army ambushes some 15,000 protesting students, killing close to 300 and arresting several thousand.

Oct. 3, 1909: Elizabeth Gurley Flynn arrested in Missoula, Montana free speech fight.

Oct. 4, 1535: First complete English translation of the Bible printed in Zurich. “If English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for America!” 1887: Louisiana sugar workers strike, 37 peaceful strikers murdered. Louisiana Militia, aided by bands of “prominent citizens,” shot unarmed black sugar workers striking to gain a dollar-per-day wage, and lynched two strike leaders.

Oct. 5, 1934: Forty thousand miners and iron workers strike, seizing towns around Gijon, Spain. Three thousand killed. 1990: Seventy-five thousand Costa Rican service workers strike against government austerity measures demanded by International Monetary Fund “structural adjustment program.”

Oct. 8, 1984: American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Dennis Banks gets three-year sentence for phony riot charge after leaving sanctuary at Onondada Nation in New York. 1998: A CIA report reveals that in the 1980s the CIA ignored importation of cocaine into the US by Nicaraguan “Contra” rebels who were trained and funded by the CIA.

Oct. 10, 1932: National Guardsman armed with bayonets charge crowd of 1,500 striking miners in Taylorville, Ill. 1933: Eighteen thousand cotton workers go on strike in Pixley, California. Four are killed before a pay-hike is finally won. 1994: For the second year in a row, Denver, Colorado cancels its traditional Columbus Day parade due to fears of confrontations with “radical elements” among the Native American community.

Oct. 12, 1492: Christopher Columbus, lost and confused, runs aground, discovered by Arawaks. Tragedy ensues. By the time he is sent back to Spain in chains eight years later, accused of mistreating the natives (by the standards of the regime that perfected the Spanish Inquisition!), nearly the entire Arawak tribe that originally discovered him will have been enslaved or exterminated, setting the tone for the next 500 years.

1792: First US Memorial to Columbus dedicated in Baltimore. 1898: Fourteen killed, 25 wounded in violence resulting when Virden, Illinois mine owners attempt to break a strike by importing 200 nonunion black workers. 1902: Fourteen more miners killed, 22 wounded by scabs at Pana, Illinois.

Oct. 13, 1925: Birth of radical comedian and social rebel Lenny Bruce. “If you can’t say FUCK you can’t say FUCK THE GOVERNMENT.”

Oct. 14, 1920: Italy: Demonstrations held in support of the Russian Revolution and to demand the release of the political prisoners. In Bologna, where the anarchist Malatesta appears, police open fire on demonstrators, killing several.

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Dispirited Democrats

By • on September 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm

While it’s the Republicans who keep bewailing their presidential candidates, a new Gallup poll is excellent news for whichever crackpot or pretend-crackpot wins the Republican nomination:

In thinking about the 2012 presidential election, 45% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, while nearly as many, 44%, are less enthusiastic. This is in sharp contrast to 2008 and, to a lesser extent, 2004, when the great majority of Democrats expressed heightened enthusiasm about voting.

That enthusiasm peaked at 73 percent in 2004 and 79 percent in 2008. This week’s numbers look more like 2000, when “more enthusiastic” Democratic responders peaked at 40 percent. That enthusiasm gap–far more than Ralph Nader’s two percent–cost Al Gore an election he should have won in a walk, in a time with the most peace and prosperity the US has seen in a generation (at least). Obama, needless to say, doesn’t have that advantage.

It gets worse:

The difference between Democrats’ enthusiasm and Republicans’ enthusiasm can be summarized by plotting the difference in the two groups’ net enthusiasm scores — that is, the percentage of each group saying they are more enthusiastic minus the percentage less enthusiastic.

Democrats’ net enthusiasm (+1) now trails Republicans’ net enthusiasm (+28) by 27 percentage points. By contrast, Democrats held the advantage on net enthusiasm throughout 2008–on several occasions, by better than 40-point margins….The current balance of enthusiasm among Republicans and Democrats is similar to what Gallup found in the first few months of 2000.

This seems, basically, like a quantification of common sense. It’s no secret that Obama isn’t firing up his base, which is angry with him for any number of reasons above and beyond the ongoing financial morass which would normally doom any re-election effort. We’ve seen it in this past month in the tepid public response to the Obama jobs bill. The White House has been trying without a lot of real visible success to whip up both public and congressional enthusiasm for Obama’s bill–a program which, while constrained by both Obama’s temperment and political reality, would still do a lot to improve many real lives in concrete, meaningful ways.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Wall Street protests, which have generally involved a few hundred people at a time, have been sucking up enormous progressive media oxygen, pro and con, in the last week–far more than the jobs bill is getting, for an action that has no concrete outcome in mind and that will, even if highly successful, directly, materially improve the lives of nobody. (It would make some of us feel better, however…)

There are a lot of reasons for this contrasting reception. Probably the biggest was teased out by another recent Gallup poll: a record number of Americans, not just those on the right, no longer thinks government can solve our problems. That isn’t just necessarily an ideological disposition: it is also, among many on the left, an assessment that the Democrats, as now personified by Obama, can’t solve our problems, and the Republicans, as personified by an endless teevee parade of lunatics treated as though they are sober and sane, could not care less about them.

Candidate Obama in 2008 was the best example in a generation of the political truism that optimism sells. In 2012, nobody is optimistic. Both Obama and his eventual opponent will be running primarily on the appeal that they’re not their opponent. The difference is that for the Republican nominee, anybody other than Romney or Huntsman will have an enthusiastic base who knows, despite the general election nods to centrism, that He (or She) Is One Of Us.

In 2011, almost nobody is saying that about Obama. Now, 12 months is a long time in politics, and Obama will have a lot of money to polish his image. He is a prodigiously talented campaigner, too. But most Americans’ impressions of him, for better or worse, are pretty set at this point–a point in which Democrats are a lot less enthusiastic about their guy than Republicans are about whomever their nominee might be. And if poll results hold, it’s also bad news for the Democrats’ hopes of holding onto either the House or Senate.

Unless Obama can change a lot of perceptions of him in the next year, the fact that electing a Republican is the surest way to destroy what’s left of the economic well-being of most of the country won’t be just Obama’s best argument. It will be his only argument.

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A festival of lemons

By • on September 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Well, after President Obama last week managed to temporarily save face by turning a lemon into lemonade, trust Israel to find a way today, with this announcement from the Knesset, to defy physics and turns the lemonade back into even more lemons:

…the Knesset will vote on [a] bill to annex the West Bank at the end of October. The bill also nullifies the Oslo Accords, ending all Israeli agreements with the Palestinian Authority.

The JTA reports it mirrors a bill being considered in the US Congress and seems to have support among leaders of the [Israeli] coalition government.

No, wait, make that a festival of lemons:

The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday slammed Israel’s approval of construction plans to build 1,100 new housing units in a settlement in East Jerusalem.

Israel’s regional planning and construction committee on Tuesday approved the plans, described by one committee member as “a nice gift for Rosh Hashanah.”

… The last round of peace talks collapsed over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to extend a partial freeze on illegal settlement building.

President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he would not return to negotiations unless Israel stopped building Jewish-only settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Netanyahu indicated Tuesday that he was not about to offer one.

So last week, as a way to avoid US and European awkwardness over its support of Israel, Obama finds a way to save face by strongarming both the Palestinians (at least, the Fatah faction) and Israel into accepting new talks. And today both Netanyahu and the Knesset, on separate fronts, do their level best to torpedo those talks.

Personally, really, I’m done with Israel. I mean, I’m sad about it. Good people live there, and don’t deserve the governments they get, or the knuckleheads that elect them. But after generations of indefensible behavior, really, if Israel want to commit political and economic and cultural suicide, why should I care? I mean, I would much rather any transition to a sane and peaceful and just Middle East not come at the expense of Israel having the entire world turn against it, but Israel’s not leaving a whole lot of wiggle room for sympathy here.

No, I’m more concerned by the prospect that the United States electorate seems, circa 2011, to be completely capable of heading down the exact same suicidal road. Good people live here, too, and we also don’t deserve the governments we get, or the knuckleheads that elect them. But our generations of indefensible behavior, crowned (so far) by eight literally torturous years of George W. Bush, is at significant risk of getting exponentially worse in a bit over 13 months. And an outlaw, pariah United States carries significantly more potential to damage global economic and political stability than a country of seven million people, no matter how many nukes it has.

So, yeah, it’s scary watching the Israel government, supported by a large and vocal segment of its rightward-drifting public, repeatedly shoot itself in the face. But one of the reasons it’s scary is that a not small portion of the US electorate, and one of its two major political parties, would like to do exactly the same thing.

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Sane 1, Stupid 0

By • on September 27, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I somehow missed this last week. Funny how those Fox-generated insta-scandals can disappear from sight so quickly and completely.

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A History Lesson

By • on September 27, 2011 at 2:23 pm

The current #Occupy Wall Street action has its most immediate inspiration and roots in the democratically organized Spanish occupations of last May, similar widespread protests this year in Greece, and Arab Spring. But the clearest modern American antecedent in terms of spirit and many of the logistics was the Seattle anti-WTO protests in 1999. In [...]

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Not Served

By • on September 27, 2011 at 5:37 am

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The People, United, Never Really Happened

By • on September 25, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown University, a co-editor of Dissent Magazine, and, no doubt, fancies himself a great champion of The People. In Sunday’s NYT Review section, he spends nearly a full page stroking his chin and asking the question, “Whatever Happened to the American Left?” Here’s how he frames the [...]

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Amazon: an American sweatshop

By • on September 24, 2011 at 7:38 am

The Seattle Times frequently picks up stories from other local newspapers involving cherished local business icons like Microsoft and Boeing. But I’d bet good money they won’t be picking up an amazing investigative story published last weekend in the Allentown (PA) Morning Call.

In it, Morning Call reporters talked with 20 former workers in Amazon’s Breinigsville, PA warehouse, just west of Allentown. The workers describe just what kind of a price consumers pay when we fork over money for low prices and fast shipping: conditions that seem more like those of a sweatshop in Fuxian or Kolkata than an American factory.

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

An emergency room doctor in June called federal regulators to report an “unsafe environment” after he treated several Amazon warehouse workers for heat-related problems. The doctor’s report was echoed by warehouse workers who also complained to regulators, including a security guard who reported seeing pregnant employees suffering in the heat.

In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed…

When Americans and our politicians talk about “factory jobs,” what they’re usually thinking of is good-paying blue-collar jobs, often unionized, with benefits – jobs that may be physically difficult, but that one can make a career out of. This, on the other hand, is an approach that treats workers like disposable chattel. Unions? Regulators? Don’t make me weep.

Read the whole thing. And then do your online shopping at Powell’s or some other unionized outfit. Shopping is political, too.

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The New Middle East Order

By • on September 23, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I missed this earlier this week: a New York Times interview, pre-UN General Assembly opening, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. It’s worth a read. In it, Davutoglu, who toured Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia last week with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, describes a newly influential axis of Islamic democracy in the Middle East, anchored by Turkey and Egypt, isolating Syria (at least under its current leadership) and Iran, and refusing to accept Israeli criminality:

[Davutoglu] predicted a partnership between Turkey and Egypt, two of the region’s militarily strongest and most populous and influential countries, which he said could create a new axis of power at a time when American influence in the Middle East seems to be diminishing.

…”This will not be an axis against any other country — not Israel, not Iran, not any other country, but this will be an axis of democracy, real democracy,” he added. “That will be an axis of democracy of the two biggest nations in our region, from the north to the south, from the Black Sea down to the Nile Valley in Sudan.”

… Mr. Davutolglu…said Egypt would become the focus of Turkish efforts, as an older American-backed order, buttressed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, prerevolutionary Egypt, begins to crumble. On the vote over a Palestinian state, the United States, in particular, finds itself almost completely isolated.

He also predicted that Turkey’s $1.5 billion investment in Egypt would grow to $5 billion within two years and that total trade would increase to $5 billion, from $3.5 billion now, by the end of 2012, then $10 billion by 2015. As if to underscore the importance Turkey saw in economic cooperation, 280 businessmen accompanied the Turkish delegation, and Mr. Davutoglu said they signed about $1 billion in contracts in a single day.

That is a major economic and well as political and diplomatic shift. And it is underscored by Turkey’s expulsion of Israeli diplomats over Israel’s refusal to apologize or provide compensation for murdering nine Turkish citizens in last year’s Gaza flotilla attack. As Turkey turns toward the Arab world, it also turns away from Europe–and leaves the influence of both Europe and the United States potentially waning in the region.

While it is the US and the US/European “Quartet” that has strongarmed the Israeli government into agreeing to restart the so-called peace process – after the Palestinians forced Obama and the Quartet into action – we’ve been down this road, over and over and over and over, for literally decades. It’s a near certainty that the Netanyahu government, if it comes to a negotiating table at all (rather than suddenly insisting on impossible preconditions), will offer a non-negotiable “compromise” designed to make an independent Palestinian state economically and politically impossible. This has been the history of negotiations for as long as the U.S. has been the primary mediator in the region (remember, for example, the “Roadmap for Peace,” soon to enter its second decade?)

For any number of very good reasons–for example, unlimited US military aid to and diplomatic cover for Israel–the United States is not seen by anyone outside Israel as an impartial arbiter of the conflict. If there are to be serious negotiations between the Palestinians – including Gaza – and Israel, it would be more logical for the mediation to come through a block of democratic countries in the region, not the US or Europe.

That Israel, a country that used to self-style itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” has been actively hostile to this emerging axis isn’t just hypocritical. It also cuts off what may be Israel’s best long-term route for ending the Palestinian occupation and alleviating its own isolation. –Geov Parrish

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How far the goalposts have moved

By • on September 23, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Elizabeth Warren has a video debunking of the right’s “class warfare” cries that’s going viral. Here’s the money quote:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is…” whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

This is the point, I think, where as a member of the Progressive Choir I’m supposed to leap to my feet and shout AMEN. But instead, for some reason, I just get depressed.

For one thing, this is such an obvious restatement of John Donne that it makes me wonder how far our understanding of human societies has backslid since 1624, and in particular how pervasive the individualist myth has become in American politics and culture (and by extension, the world’s) that so many people see Warren’s riff as noteworthy.

But this also wouldn’t have gone viral if it were a Senate candidate from, say, Missouri or New Mexico. But it’s Elizabeth, who many progressives seem to idolize with a zeal far outstripping her actual accomplishments or resume. And I wonder about that. Warren’s popularity as an obscure (albeit accomplished) academic-turned-financial-regulatory-bureaucrat underscores just how little influence and how few advocates progressive politics have in DC. Progressives (as distinct from Democrats) are a long ways from a majority in this country, but they’re a significant segment of Americans, and they’re badly underrepresented in Washington because of media bias and how corrupt our political process is.

After the uninspiring disaster that was Martha Coakley, the lame Democrat Scott Brown beat in the last Senate election there, I’m sure a firebrand like Warren seems like a godsend to many Massachusetts Democrats. But outside that specific circumstance – a state with a long tradition of progressive politics, a recent disaster with a moribund machine politician, a national constituency of fawning progressive fanboys and fangirls – how viable is someone like Warren running for higher office? How many progressives are there in, say, the US Senate? Depending on your definition, maybe half a dozen?

The upshot is that when I see the national popularity of Warren, I mostly notice how few people in actual elected office there are for progressives to point to and say, “She (or he) says what I think.” And when I see the popularity of this particular video, I mostly wonder when it was that this ceased being such a painfully self-evident observation that nobody would give it a second thought.

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