Response to DSA’s 2016 Electoral Strategy

never-clinton

The National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America released bullet points of the organization’s 2016 electoral strategy a few weeks ago. They ask that DSA members who don’t agree “articulate these points as the organization’s perspective and then indicate where the individual member disagrees.”

You can read all of their points for yourself at the link included below. I have to say that I am deeply disturbed by what I interpret to be their (at least tacit) encouragement of strategic voting and organizing for the Democratic Party ticket.

…DSA will work with the emerging labor, immigrant, and anti-racist-led “Dump Trump” movement. For this reason, we do not endorse the #BernieOrBust tactic, though we understand the sentiment behind it. Our perspective can best be summarized as: “Dump the Racist Trump: Build the Left from the Grassroots Up.”

Although I certainly agree that a Trump Presidency would be a disaster, I also believe that a Clinton Presidency would be a disaster. The NPC’s strategy does call for turning a critical eye toward Clinton should she win, but placing emphasis on opposition to Trump alone during the campaign is a mistake, in my opinion. Socialists ought to take a principled stand to oppose both Trump and Clinton between now and November.

My own efforts will be in support of the Green Party candidacy of Dr. Jill Stein. It’s way past time to break with the Democratic Party and build a true party of the people.

I hold no illusions that someone other than Trump or Clinton shall prevail in 2016, but I cannot in good conscience lend my support nor my vote to someone I consider to be an enemy of working people. In the words of the great Eugene V. Debs,  “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”

I am thankful that the NPC anticipated and explicitly allowed for dissent within our ranks, and am certainly thankful that they didn’t endorse Clinton. This is one of those times, though, when I wonder whether I’m a member of the right organization.

Read the DSA Strategy Points Here: Talking Points for DSA’s Electoral Work between May and November 2016 – Democratic Socialists of America

★ ★ ★

Here are a few more relevant links.

This is why a Clinton Presidency cannot defeat Trump.

This is why I broke with the Democrats, and quit voting for the “lesser evil.”

This is why I voted Green in 2012. I’ve since joined the Green Party and am actively working for Jill Stein’s campaign.

The Endless Spectacle of Militarism

I love America. Truly, I do. It is the land of great ideals, as well as the land of my birth.

I also respect and applaud self-sacrifice in service to others, and in service to those ideals.

So I was slow to understand the true nature of the constant prompts to “support our troops” and the endless parade of militaristic spectacle over the past couple decades. In the wake of the attacks of September 11th, the knee-jerk jingoism didn’t sit well with me, but I didn’t fully understand why.

Then comes the news this week of a joint oversight report released by Arizona Republican Senators John Flake and John McCain, documenting that over the past few years, the Pentagon spent $6.8 million to pay for patriotic displays during the games of professional sports teams. For me, this calls to mind the 1936 Summer Games.

Here are a couple of articles of interest on the subject.

No, thanks: Stop saying “support the troops” – A nation that continuously publicizes appeals to “support our troops” is explicitly asking its citizens not to think. It is the ideal slogan for suppressing the practice of democracy, presented to us in the guise of democratic preservation.

Military spectacle and American sport – Fifteen years after the beginning of the so-called “War on Terror,” no facet of life in the United States—political, legal or cultural—has escaped the dark shadow of the American military-intelligence apparatus. Everything is subordinated to the needs of the state. Personal communications are intercepted and stored, protests are monitored and school curricula are manipulated. Hollywood works with the CIA to produce films like “Zero Dark Thirty” to justify the government’s illegal torture program, and a worker can hardly take his or her family to the ballgame without being inundated with pro-war lies and propaganda.

On Human Nature

The other evening, some friends and I had a discussion about our societal woes and how to solve them. As I described the sort of world I would like to see, one of my friends called me idealistic. She related that there were people at her place of work who did the bare minimum they could possibly do and still keep their jobs. She also spoke about ambitious, hard-working millionaires. Her point, I believe, was that a system that neither rewards people with vastly more than they can ever use, nor deprives others of their basic needs, cannot work – because of human nature. The sort of society of which I dream would leave everything undone, since people would have no motivation to do anything.

My knee-jerk response was to say that ideas and habits are a result of the economic system, not vice versa. If we really want to change the undesirable ways people behave, we should change the system. This more or less ended that part of our discussion, and not because anyone was convinced of the wisdom of the statement.

The next day, I wanted to find a specific reference on this concept, and was pleased that an online search for “material conditions determine consciousness” quickly turned up this quote, from the preface to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.

It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.

So our legal institutions, our politics, even our notions about ourselves and accepted concepts of justice – all derive from our economic relations. These relations determine our consciousness and norms of behavior.

The task is not to address faults in “human nature.” The task is to focus attention on material conditions, the inherent antagonisms that must exist in a society based on class, and conflicts that currently exist between productive forces and property relations. This offers an opportunity to raise consciousness of the essential nature of life under capitalism. Such is the basis for revolution.

Solidarity with our ILWU Brothers and Sisters

A dispute between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association has drawn the attention of President Obama, who has now sent Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to meet with the sides. It is not yet known what specific message was conveyed to the negotiators. Some have speculated that the Obama Administration is threatening to invoke the Taft-Hartley Act to reopen the ports in the event of either a strike or a lockout.

A Department of Labor press release on the matter stated the following. “On behalf of President Obama, Secretary Perez made clear that the dispute has led to a very negative impact on the U.S. economy, and further delay risks tens of thousands of jobs and will cost American businesses hundreds of millions of dollars.” It also said that the two sides must come to “immediate agreement to prevent further damage to our economy and further pain for American workers and their employers.”

This sort of talk seems a far cry from Obama’s campaign rhetoric, where he pledged to “put on a comfortable pair of shoes” himself and “walk on that picket line with you, as President of the United States of America.”

The PMA, an association of the owners of the 29 ports on the West Coast, has stepped up a media campaign to draw attention to the harm that the dispute may be doing to the larger U.S. economy. The President of the ILWU, Robert McEllrath, fired back two weeks ago, accusing the PMA of distorting the facts, threatening to close the ports and bargaining in the media instead of at the table.

“What the ILWU heard yesterday is a man who makes about one million dollars a year telling the working class that we have more than our share,” said McEllrath. “Intensifying the rhetoric at this stage of bargaining, when we are just a few issues from reaching an agreement, is totally unnecessary and counterproductive.”

The PMA on Wednesday distributed letters directly to workers at major ports from Los Angeles to Washington state that detailed what they called their last, best and final contract offer, apparently in hopes that the rank-and-file will pressure union negotiators to make concessions.

As the situation unfolds, we may get an opportunity to see whether or not the Obama Administration truly stands with the workers.

For nearly a century, the West Coast longshore and warehouse workers have stood, time and again, on the front lines of the struggle for freedom and justice. They deserve our attention, our respect and our support.

My SOTU 2015 Post-Mortem

I did not watch the 2015 State of the Union Address, nor the GOP response. I didn’t have the stomach for the theatrics this year. I did, however, read the President’s speech in full last evening, and this morning I took to Facebook, prior to reading any other analysis or reactions, to sketch out my thoughts. What follows is a reposting of those thoughts, polished up a tiny bit.

As usual, President Obama is extremely good at saying the things that many of us are thinking. He says them powerfully and eloquently, turning phrases in a way that stir up strong emotions. He may even believe them himself. This is a good thing to be able to do when one is speaking truth to power, and when one’s rhetoric can rouse people to unite for the purpose of making things better.

The problem with the 2015 State of the Union speech is that he wasn’t speaking truth to power. He is the power, and his actions over the past six years have been entirely contrary to the spirit of these words. From the very start of the speech, he painted an absurdly rosy picture of the “state of the union.” If anyone has paid attention to the conditions that gave birth to the economic crisis, they will know that it is far from over. Some of his statements about our wars and protection of civil liberties were outright lies, and his statements about climate change and protecting the environment were laughable, coming as they did from “the fracking president.”

For those who are inclined to believe that somehow, now unconstrained by the need to run for office again, the “real” Obama is coming out, and that he will be a champion of the people, I would ask you to look back at every speech the man has given, and think about how you felt at the time. Think of how you were inspired – how you were given to hope – and then think about what actually happened after each of the speeches.

Our fundamental problem is that we judge these politicians by what they say, and not by what they do. We judge them based on whether or not they are personally like-able, and by how we perceive their style. We on the Left allow ourselves to be bamboozled and co-opted, time and time again, by pretty words from the Democrats. What we should be doing is building an independent party of the working people that will truly stand for the best interests of the majority of us.

Liberals and other Democrats may make all of the excuses you would like. You may say that Obama’s heart is in the right place, and that it’s those damnable Republicans in congress who have tied his hands, but it just doesn’t wash. The reason Obama has been ineffective is that the people know in their hearts that his words and actions don’t match up. Otherwise there would have been a groundswell of support so large that it could not have been ignored, even by the GOP.

One Night In Ferguson

Editor’s Note: What follows is a first hand report from the streets of Ferguson from my son, Thomas, who went there on the night that the Grand Jury decision was announced. Pictures to follow.

On November 24th, 2014 shortly before 8PM CST I was out for dinner at our local Buffalo Wild Wings with my brother and friends.

One of them noted “all of these TVs and only one of them is showing the news.” It was true, out of at least 15 screens mounted on the wall it appeared all anyone cared about was Monday Night Football and other various sportscasts.

A few minutes after eight an Anonymous Twitter account tweeted that there would be no indictment in the Darren Wilson case. I felt uneasy.  I wasn’t exactly surprised by the decision, but I had hoped for the best – and this wasn’t it.

My friend Luke said “I think we should go to Ferguson to take pictures of whatever happens tonight.”

We headed home still contemplating.  I turned on a St. Louis County police scanner (via a Ustream channel link on my timeline) and saw the number of channel viewers increase nearly 1000 people per minute from 7000 to almost 10,000.

8:33 – First report of shots fired.

9:02 – Police car being destroyed.

9:03 – Shots fired at the police department.

We got in the car and headed to Ferguson, about 130 miles away. I turned on my 5-0 Radio app so we could continue listening in the car.

9:26 – Reports of a journalist hit in the head with a brick.

9:26 – Shots fired in front of the fire department.

It took about two hours to get to Ferguson, but the anxiety from not knowing what we would encounter was enough to make it seem much longer. When we got off the Interstate, right away we saw a group of 4 or 5 police cars, lights on, flying past us.

Upon our arrival we first noticed the local businesses that had been damaged – the broken windows and evidence of looting.

As we drove another block, I noticed the “Seasons Greetings” banner displayed over the street.

“Holy Shit!” We had seen the banner in online videos earlier that evening, but had no idea that’s where we would end up until we got there. We were a little awestruck.

We pulled into the now infamous Boost Mobile parking lot. There were newscasters, protestors, and cars full of people. It was hard to draw the line between activists and spectators. It was even harder to spot the other individuals, present only to take advantage of the situation.

However, it was not especially hard to identify the unmarked police car and officers positioned in the parking lot to spy on everyone.

On the sidewalk, protestors stood in solidarity as they watched the police officers, who were dressed in full riot gear across the street in front of the Ferguson Fire Station. They held shields and batons, and wore helmets with masks.

I watched as multiple officers pulled down their masks. I wasn’t sure if we should expect smoke next, or maybe they just needed to feel the warmth of their breath. It was a cold night, and no one would be leaving soon.

We walked down the street to begin taking pictures. As we were walking more police vehicles had come to establish a roadblock. “No more traffic in,” was their plan. We approached the roadblock because we had to cross in order to move about the area. One officer asked me “Where do you think you’re going? What are you guys doing?”

After that encounter we believed that if we crossed their line, we might not be able to make it back to our vehicle and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take, so we hurriedly headed back to the parking lot across from the fire department.

While we waited to see what the night would come to, we talked to some of the individuals. It appeared that because I was holding a camera, people wanted to tell us how they felt about the matter. Some even asked me what my views were. I knew how I felt, but I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Mike Brown had a right to live, and it was taken from him.”

“I think people should let the world know what happened here.”

Things were relatively calm where we were. We had turned off our police scanners, so we were unaware of most other on-going incidents.

A man and his friend approached Luke and I and asked if I would take a photo of them. I agreed, but then was attacked by this man. He forcibly tried to take the camera. I held on, to it and to him. He stumbled to the ground. I think it was clear he couldn’t take the camera so he began to back away. I was shocked. At least 30 of the many police officers in the area witnessed this occurrence, and they did nothing.  They saw us all the same. I felt as if I had entered a foreign country, the presence of police in combat and riot gear was nearly overwhelming.

It was getting late, and we made the decision to leave. Once we got on the road I returned to listening to the police scanner. Cars and buildings had been set on fire, and more would follow.

More than a week after the announcement that there would be no indictment in the case, the barrage of opinions being posted to social media continues. The number of individuals condemning Mike Brown, and the protestors, is bewildering to me.

Of course there is a difference between a protest and a riot.  There is a difference between those who protest and those who take advantage of the situation for personal or even political gain.

But my time spent in Ferguson, as short as it was, allowed me to see more than just a glimpse of the chaos that had erupted. It also allowed me to see and meet dozens of peaceful individuals holding signs and raising their voices in a simple plea for justice.

Happy Holidays!

This was originally posted in December of 2010. I suppose I’m being pushy in reposting it every year, but here it is.

Our subject today is “The War On Christmas” and, once again, I feel compelled to note that people on the extreme edges of such discussion have more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of us who get caught in their crossfire.

I have been wishing people “Merry Christmas” for nearly five decades. I have been wishing people “Happy Holidays” for roughly the same length of time.

When I say “Happy Holidays” I don’t say it to be polite, nor to be inclusive, nor to be accepting of anyone’s agenda, beliefs or point of view. It is a straightforward and heartfelt expression of goodwill, and that is all. I might say it to a fellow Christian, and if it is offensive to him then I shall take comfort in the fact that there is at least someone in the world who has more time for trivia and who is less well-adjusted than I.

When I say “Merry Christmas” I don’t say it to make a political statement. Again, it is a straightforward expression of goodwill, and, again, if people should take offense then I wish them well, and am grateful that I an unencumbered of such thin skin.

The two greetings are not interchangeable, in that I wouldn’t say “Merry Christmas” on Thanksgiving Day or on New Years Day. I also wouldn’t be likely to say “Merry Christmas” to an individual who I know doesn’t celebrate it, any more than I would be likely to say “Happy Hanukkah” to someone who doesn’t celebrate it. This is not a matter of political correctness, or a matter of politics at all. It is a matter of simple courtesy, and also of using language precisely to express a coherent and appropriate thought.

Two of the worst things about what passes for political discussion in our society today, in my humble opinion, are the dogged determination to corrupt our language and the equally dogged determination to focus our attention on insignificant bullshit when there are serious problems that ought to be rationally discussed. I can, perhaps, do precious little to nudge the debate toward things of true importance, but I certainly can (and most stubbornly shall) own my own words. They belong to me. They express my own thoughts and feelings. Speech police on all sides are unwelcome.

So, should you feel the need to correct my speech because it does not support your agenda, however noble you deem that agenda to be, I will reply in the only manner I can think of that seems appropriate.

“Bah! Humbug!”

P.S. If I should happen to say “Gesundheit” (i.e., “good health to you”) it’s not that I don’t also wish you “God Bless.”

Happy Holidays!

Poverty Got You Down? Call in the Guard.

Gun violence in Chicago has gotten so bad this summer that members of Congress (including Bobby Rush) are convening a “summit on urban violence,” and Illinois State Representative Monique Davis is demanding that Governor Quinn send in the National Guard “to protect our children so they can go to the park and swim and play and have a childhood.”

For his part, Mayor Rahm Emaunuel wants to continue to focus on “the four P’s – policing, parenting, prevention and penalties” as solutions to the problem. Considering the probable effects of His Honor’s war on children and teachers, they’re likely to need a lot more of the policing and penalties part of that equation in the near future.

I would humbly suggest that someone ought to begin focusing on the most important “P-Factor” relating to violence in our cities: POVERTY.

Keeanga Yamahtta Taylor, Cedric Johnson, Martha Biondi and Barbara Ransby take a look at the true roots of urban violence in their panel discussion presented at the Socialism 2013 Conference: Poverty Pulls the Trigger.

Click here for the MP3 Download from We Are Many.

Poverty can be a prison in itself

Is This Just?

Those of us who are comfortable – and by that, I mean we who live in a decent home, have enough to eat, have access to medical care when we need it, who can offer a good education to our children, who are kept relatively safe and have a sense of stability and continuity in our lives – are able to enjoy our comforts only because of a system that subjects millions of other people in our country and around the globe to violence, illness, poverty, hunger, insecurity and despair each and every day.

To acknowledge this is the beginning.

Benghazi: The Real Scandal

Last week, I posted an update on Facebook noting that Congressional critics and the news media are fundamentally asking the wrong questions about Benghazi. Though it is obvious that the GOP’s focus on the “scandal” represents the worst sort of partisan opportunism – there is, I believe, another story here. It’s not a story about security at the compound, or the military response to the attacks, or what may have been said on television afterward. It’s a story about our government’s complicity to (and culpability for) the attacks themselves.

There is an excellent essay out today from Bill Van Auken that unpacks the situation in great detail.

In its intervention in Libya, Washington utilized Al Qaeda-linked fighters as a proxy ground force in the war to topple the secular regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, arming and advising them and using them to follow up the massive US-NATO bombing campaign. Christopher Stevens was very much the point man in this relationship, having carefully studied the Islamist opponents of Gaddafi before the launching of the war for regime-change. He was deployed in April 2011 to Benghazi, where he coordinated the arming, funding and training of the so-called rebels, elements previously denounced by the US as terrorists and, in some cases, abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA.

So all of the reported “confusion” within the State Department and the Intelligence Community in the wake of the attacks is complete and utter nonsense, as is the portrayal of their interactions as simple bureaucratic interagency bickering. They knew from the very beginning what had happened – that their own assets were involved. The purpose of all the frantic scrambling and deception after the fact was to conceal our government’s relationships with their supposed Al-Qaeda terrorist enemies. There is simply no other way it all makes sense.

The circus sideshow being orchestrated by the GOP is not merely cynical political maneuvering. It misses the point. It helps to conceal from public view the true nature of the events at Benghazi, and ensures that there will be no discussion of the more serious and important issues involved.

READ MORE: Benghazi and the deepening crisis of the Obama administration – WSWS.