Thu, 9 August 2018
We all learned in school that some countries have a single governing party. If you’re not in that party, you can’t be part of the government. The US has two government parties, Republicans and Democrats, both funded by the corporations and wealthy individuals who make up this country’s capitalist elite. If you’re not in either one of the government parties, you’re denied access to media and in many states, laws are passed specifically to keep you off the ballot.
While the two parties are funded by pretty much the same class of people, their social bases are different. Since the 1960s, Republicans have made it clear that they are the white man’s party, the party of war abroad and racist reaction at home. Democrats, for electoral purposes are obliged to stake a contrary claim. Since the election of Donald Trump Democrats have branded themselves “the resistance.”
This month the House and Senate passed the reconciled version of the 2019 Pentagon budget on to the White House. On TV and establishment media they call it a defense budget, but that’s branding too. The second world war which ended in 1945 killed 60 or 65 million people, after the first world war claimed 30 million only a generation earlier. This sort of gave war bad name. So in 1948 they changed the name of the US Department of War to the US Department of Defense. With the stroke of a pen, wealthy merchants of death as they were widely known, the war contractors, all became patriotic defense contractors. The US Secretary of War became the US Secretary of Defense, and the US war budget, by far the world’s largest, became the defense budget. And so it’s been for seven decades.
Early this month, the House and Senate passed the reconciled version of the US war budget to the president for signatgure. It’s the earliest in the budget cycle Congress has done a military budget since 1996 or 1997, when a Democrat in the White House and Democrats in Congress were anxious to assure Republicans that they were all on the same side.
They call this year’s atrocity the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act, worth a record $716 billion. This total doesn’t include the budget of the Afghan war, which lives somewhere else, or the budgets of several other known programs, and there are secret budgets for more or less secret programs as well. Nobody really doubts that actual US military spending has hovered around a trillion a year for several years now.
So how did the resistance perform? In the Senate the vote was 87 to 10, three not voting. Only 8 Democrats resisted. Among them Liz Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand. Dick Durbin of Illinois also voted against the Pentagon bill. This is purest theater, because Durbin since 2005 has been Democratic Whip in the Senate, the man responsible for lining up the votes of his fellow senators. If this meant anything to him, why did only 7 other Democrats vote with their supposed leader?
In the House the vote was 351 to 66, with 139 Democrats voting yes, 49 voting no, and 5 not voting. So the resistance was really the assistance, voting almost 2 to 1 to continue spending as much on US wars around the world as the next nine or ten countries put together.
The Congressional Black Caucus was even more eager to assist the US posture of global war than Democrats as a whole, a pattern Glen Ford has called out repeatedly in recent years. CBC members voted 34 to 8 in favor of the permanent war budget, which includes Trump’s military parade, a new Space Force, and scores of drone bases in Africa that put almost the entire continent under US cameras and guns. Noted progresssive Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in Congress, abstained. The CBC members who found the spine to cast votes against the war budget were Bonnie Watson-Coleman, Barbara Lee, John Lewis (who does have a US Navy oiler named after him), Hakim Jeffires, Yvette Clarke, Karne Bass, Bobby Rush, and Hank Johnson.
The House Progressive Caucus did a little better, but still only 28, less than half its membership of 64 opposed the Pentagon budget. That’s what it means to be a progressive Democrat these days.
When most of the so-called progressives are pro-war we can legitimately say that the resistance is really the assistance.
For Black Agenda Radio I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email notices of new content. Google and other social media continue to suppress our content in search results, so this is the only way you can be certain you receive fresh weekly news, commentary and analysis from the black left each week.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Tue, 7 August 2018
There’s fake news. And then there’s fake history. Fake news lies about the world as it is. But fake history is the context for fake news. Fake history sanctifies abominations past and present. Fake history erases the struggle over thousands of years between those many who produced the planet’s wealth and the greedy few who appropriate it for themselves.
Being born in the US the middle of the 20th century, I got the same massive doses of fake history as everybody else. They told me told the Greeks were the world’s only early adopters of democracy. I was taught the fairy tale of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. I played cowboys and Indians. My history books spoke glowingly of the Manifest Destiny bestowed upon white America to devour the continent of North American, murdering and dispossessing its inhabitants. I learned a very little about slavery in school, very little, and much more, almost everything of any value, afterward.
And like everybody else, I was treated to an entirely fabricated history of the Second World War. Lying about the World War 2, what came before and afterward was and remains today a central facet in the US mythology which justifies and undergirds its settler state at home and its global empire aborad.
Briefly, we’re taught that Nazi Germany was just plain inexplicable evil, that this Hitler dude came to power with his Nazi party, they persecuted Jews, gypsies and dissidents, they conquered France and they menaced England but were stopped short when they lost the battle of Britain in the air. Eventually the US joined the war, invading North Africa, defeating the Nazis there, going on to fight the Germans in Italy, and eventually staging the D-Day invasion of France. They marched into Germany to finally defeat the Nazis and hanged a number of Nazi officials for war crimes and genocide at Nuremberg. The Russians, the Soviet Union at the time, we were taught, were sort of in the war too as allies but soon after the defeat of the Nazis they became enemies, and have been that ever since.
Nearly all of that is horseshit.
When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, the US used troops already in Europe to fight the Germans in World War 1 to joinewith Britain, Japan and more than a dozen countries and invade the new nation, taking part in the bloody and disastrous Russian Civil War. The Bolsheviks won that civil war and founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s first avowed socialist country. The US did not diplomatically recognize the USSR until 1933, and ruling elites in the US and Europe conspired constantly to undermine and subvert the USSR at every means and at every turn.
In February1933, a month after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, a mysterious fire in the Reichstag, the German Parliament building was blamed on the Communists. It became the excuse to grant absolute power to Hitler and his Nazi party, which promptly opened up concentration camps for communists, socialists, union members, Jews, gypsies, dissidents of all kinds. Nazism became the official ideology of the German state, holding among other things that the main threat to civilization was Jewish-led communism. Hitler spells it all out in a book called Mein Kampf, how Germans were the center of a so-called aryan race destined to rule over the rest of lesser humanity, and obligated in the very short run to make war upon the subhuman populations to their east from Poland to the steppes of Russia and Siberia, also eliminating communism from the face of the earth.
Hitler very much admired the example of North America, which he regarded as an exemplary model of white supremacist conquest, murdering and thoroughly dispossessing a native population. He named his personal armored train Amerika.
Western elites including prominent US corporations like Texaco and bankers who included the Bush family, and IBM did business with Hitler and aided the rearming of Germany. In 1939 and 1940 Nazi Germany absorbed Austria, Czechoslovakia, invaded Poland and beat the French army down enough to force French leaders, many of whom sympathized with the Nazi ideology anyway to collaborate with Hitler. Germany bombed Britain but stopped short of invading the British isles to turn east toward the Soviet Union, and the ultimate Nazi goals of conquering and displacing entire populations of what it regarded as subhumans there and ending communism once and for all.
The Nazi invasion of the USSR was, all by itself the largest and bloodiest war in human history. Germany sent more than 3 million men in 149 divisions into Russia. They plundered and burned and razed entire rural districts, villages, slaughtered the populations of entire ancient cities, and made a point of rounding up Jews and communists. In many places they found significant numbers of like-minded collaborators. They killed millions of Soviet civililans and soldiers, and aimed to starve out the Russian population to make room for German settlers in the near future.
Multiple standalone battles, like Stalingrad in 1942-43 or the 900 day seige of Leningrad accounted for a million or more deaths each, dwarfing the US loss of some 400,000 during the entire war in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The USSR lost 26 million lives in the war, about a third of them military the other two thirds civilians starved or murdered. The USSR spent a million lives liberating Poland, and another million plus liberating Hungary, Romania, parts of Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The battle of Berlin alone cost the lives of yet another million Soviet soldiers. The USSR is 25 years gone now, but Russians remember.
The USSR begged Britain and the US to open a second front in the west, and Franklin Roosevelt promised to do just that before the end of 1942. But he allowed the Brits, led by Winston Churchill to dissuade him. Britain thought it more important to preserve its own empire, first by securing the link to India and the Far East through Suez, so the Americans landed in North Africa instead of France. Some American politicians, like Harry Truman who would succeed Roosevelt as US president argued that the US should help the Nazis if the Soviets were winning and the Soviets if the Nazis were winning so as many as possible would die. When the North Africa campaign was wrapped up, the Americans and Brits invaded Italy instead of France, prompting US General George Marshall to accuse his superiors of “periphery pecking” instead of fighting the war. The US conducted bombing raids from bases in Britain, but delayed its land invasion of France till June 1944 when the defeat of Nazi Germany was already assured, and the outcome of the war no longer in doubt.
There’s a famous photo of US Marines raising a flag at the end of the horrific battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. But there are no pics of Brits or Americans raising the Union Jack or the stars and stripes over the ruins of Berlin in 1945. That’s because the Brits and Americans never got to Berlin, they never intended to. American forces never faced more than an eighth of the German land forces at any time during World War 2. The Soviet Red Army raised the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag at war’s end. At the victory celebration in Moscow, the Red Army threw the hundreds of the banners of Hitler’s legions on the pavement before Lenin’s tomb. The Brits and Americans didn’t capture enough of these to make a good parade.
US president Roosevelt died 3 weeks before the Nazi surrender, and was succeeded by Harry Truman, who instantly adopted a profoundly hostile policy toward the USSR. American use of the first atomic bombs against Japan, which had been seeking to surrender was perceived as a threat to the USSR, rather than a military necessity to end the war. US intelligence agencies aided the escape of thousands of Nazi war criminals to the Western hemisphere. America placed other ex-Nazis in positions of responsibility in the German regime set up in their occupied zones, and prevented the early reunification of Germany, turning the boundary between Soviet and Western occupation zones into a fortified international border. Truman’s warlike stance against communism and the USSR was inherited and greatly expanded upon by his successors, former General Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Kennedy, both of whom menaced the USSR with nuclear weapons and placed nuclear missiles in Turkey next to the Soviet borders. Russians remember this too.
Sixty million people perished in World War 2, but the US emerged with relatively light losses, most of the planet’s intact manufacturing capacity and as the world’s leading creditor, owed money by friend and former foe alike. It was to be the dawn of an American Century, in which the US called the shots for the entire world. The fake history we were and still are taught purposefully erase the fact that it was the Russians, the Soviets at the time, who defeated Nazi Germany, not the Americans and Brits. Without the defeat of Nazi Germany, the last 70 years would be vastly different. To cite only a couple of possibilities, Brazil’s ruling classes were firmly pro-Nazi and Brazil has the largest black population of anyplace outside Africa. What would have happened there? How would decolonization in Africa have proceeded in a world dominated by Nazis?
Today in Eastern Europe, where the US has installed anti-communist and often pro-fascist regimes, the graves of fallen Soviet soldiers who liberated those places from the Nazis are being defaced. Polish governemnt officials just hosted a gathering of 60,000 pro-Nazi demnstrators from across Europe. School children in Austria and Lithuania are being taught today that the Russian communists started the war, and Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (along with key Republicans – it’s a bipartisan thing) directly and conspicuously aided forces that included open neo-Nazis to stage a coup in Ukraine, on the western borders of Russia. Neo nazi units are now incorporated into the Ukrainian Army.
None of the US antics over the last 70 years are remotely justifiable without the fake history we were taught, and still allow to be taught about the Second World War. For more than 70 years now the politicians of both US capitalist parties – both US government parties, have built their politics on this fake history. US troops are still in Germany, still in Japan more than two generations after the war, and the US maintains an empire of a thousand military bases on six continents and fleets in every ocean.
Hostility toward whatever regime sits in Moscow has been the bipartisan bedrock and staple of US imperial policy for a century since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. This week Congress passed a record Pentagon spending bill, earlier in the legislative cycle than any time since the 1990s. Most of House Democrats, the so-called “resistance” to Trump supported it, in their continuing bid to be more warlike than Trump and the Republicans.
The rest of the world will do what it must, but only Americans can shut down the American empire. And we can only do that if we begin to shake ourselves free from our fake history, and face the real world around us.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where you can subscribe to our free weekly email notifying you of all new audio and print content at Black Agenda Report, your source for news, commentary and analysis from the black left since 2006. You can find our audio commentaries and our weekly Black Agenda Radio program on Soundcloud, iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.
Please be aware that Google and other corporate marketing platforms have asserted the right, and in the case of Google are already suppressing Black Agenda Report articles, audio and video in search results. So the only guarantee that you’re getting access to to Black Agenda Report is to securely subscribe to our email updates. This is Bruce Dixon for Black Agenda Report.
CORRECTION: Soviet losses at the battle of Berlin were in the range of 2 or 3 hundred thousand, not a million, still a horrific sacrifice in a military operation of about 2.5 million soldiers.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and may be contacted via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Wed, 25 July 2018
So many people call themselves "organizers" these days that the word is meaningless. The Alexandra Ocasio-Corte campaign supplies left electoral and other organizing efforts with a real world organizing benchmark -- the AOC unit -- 120,000 phone calls.
This is Bruce Dixon from Black Agenda Report with the latest in our series about organizing, what for reference sake we’ll call the 200 series. If you haven’t you really should check out the 100 series which we did two or three years ago. While of course you can always Google Black Agenda Report, organizing 101, you should be aware that Black Agenda Report is one of the news outlets – the only outlet owned by African Americans and aimed at a black audience, for which Google deliberately suppresses search results, on the basis that we are tools of the Russians or something. So the ony reliable way to find Black Agenda Report’s Organizing 100 series is to visit our site at BlackAgendaReport.com, and click the links there.
Everybody’s an “organizer” nowadays, to hear them tell it. Ever notice though, how almost none of these organizers actually tell us what that means, what this “organizing” stuff actually is? That should make you wonder a little bit right there. The fact is on the lips of many, it doesn’t mean anything at all. So let’s fix that.
In a recent interview broadcast on Daniel Denvir’s The Dig podcast, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the technical essence of her successful campaign effort. She said it was shoe leather canvassing, a lot of door to door work in which the canvassers dropped written material on and actuallly talked with every registered voter who’d come to the door, and that’s easier in New York City than in many places, since the doors are relatively close to one another. They made sure to extract phone and email contact information from potential supporters. They distributed literature at public places, street corners, transit stops and gatherings of all kinds in the district, not just in the spirit of passing the paper, but with the specific aim of extracting email and phone contact information from people in these encounters as well. The AOC social media campaign focused on engaging the contacts gained by the door to door canvass and the street operation, so they were not just shouting into the void. And most importantly of all, Ocasio-Cortez says they made about 120,000 phone calls.
Social media is great. Literature is necessary Appearing in debates and public stuff is useful. But without those 120,000 phone calls, the people whose door you knock on in April will have long forgotten you by a June election. You have to make a LOT of intial contacts and a lot of following up by email, by text messages, and you gotta do thousands, tens of thousands of phone calls. The volunteers who make the calls were recruited from among the enthusiastic supporters encountered in the canvass, on the street, and through the social media aimed at supporters encountered those ways.
This is the essence of electoral organizing. You contact people win person with your message, and you stay in touch frequently enough and long enough to stampede them out to vote election day Since votes are actually counted, the way the organizer knows the job is going is to count the new contacts made each week, the number of first time and follow-up calls made that week.
Numbers measure the organizing process. If your electoral campaign or so-called organzing effort is not making hundreds or thousands of in person calls (not robocalls) every week to your new and old contacts, whatever you’re doing is NOT organizing. Organizers who don’t set numerical goals and strive accountably to meet them are faking the funk, it’s that simple. Numbers measure the organizing process, not signs and banners. Not “visibility” and not carrying a sign at somebody elses march or protest. In fact when your people DO attend the marches and protests put on by other outfits and fail to bring back new names for your people to contact in follow-up they too are helping you fake the funk.
Leafleting at street corners, transit stops, picnics, public events and places? Is your practice and your pitch tailored to bring back new names, phone numbers, email address? If not you’re scattering paper into the wind. Organizers get the digits and get them called back. Organizers make and sustain contact with the people they reach, and in electoral contests, that’s at least till election day. That’s exactly how Ocasio-Cortez said it was done, and it’s a formula decades old. It just has to be done.
They call 93 million miles, the distance from the earth to the sun an astronomical unit, an AU. So let’s give Ocasio-Cortez her unit, the AOC unit – 120,000 calls. Since most of us haven’t scaled up like that, we should probably call a mere 20,000 just a plain old generic unit. To keep from mixing apples with lawn furniture let’s stipulate that robocalls and text messaging do not count toward these units, that they are tallied separately. So the useful questions is how many people are on your email lists? How many new names did you add to your database this month, and how many will you add next month? How many phone calls is your organizing effort making this month? Half a unit, 10,000 calls? A full unit, 20,000 calls? If you’re not asking these questions, answering them and taking steps to get and sustain those numbers, whatever you’re doing ain’t organizing. Numbers tell the story. Get some numbers so we can tell some accurate stories.
This is North America. The almighty market uses the media to inundate us with a flood of 24/7 entertainment, making us the best entertained and the least informed people on earth. There’s plenty of public conversation, but what exists there serves the market, not those who want to make the world a better place. We don’t have much media access because the big media are owned and operated by billionaires. There is little place in their matrix for us. We have to grab people on the street or in their doorways or workplaces or public events and get them into OUR conversation. We have to supply and to engineer some of that conversation, we have to foster it, to host it and to sustain it if we intend to build a popular movement that will someday have the power to change this world for the better. 120,000 calls. Measure your organizing efforts against that. Ask how many calls is your organizing project making this month?
If you’re and your fellow “organizers” are not asking and answering these questions, whatever is going on is NOT organizing.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, where we have 12 years of news and analysis and commentary from the black left, new articles every Wednesday of every week.
Thu, 19 July 2018
Less than a month ago, the president instructed the Pentagon to draw up plans to house 120,000 immigrants in what it described as “austere tent cities” – in plain language deliberately cruel concentration camps, apparently on military bases. The projected expansion of the US gulag is equivalent to throwing up a brand new California (129,000 inmates) state prison system almost overnight. Nothing like this has been publicly contemplated in any of our lifetimes. This is a new and uniquely dangerous moment in US political history.
So where is the Green Party? When the news became public, every vaguely leftish nonprofit and political outfit with two laptops, a cell phone, a pulse and a mailing list was appealing for funds, many calling virtual and in-person public meetings and actions at airports, detention centers, and other locations. But not the Green Party. Determined to be and to remain irrelevant, the Green Party has barely acknowledged this pivotal juncture. Although the Green Party has a substantial national mailing list, it has not bothered to explain itself or educate the public on this political moment, to give or ask for any clear stand on the part of state parties and activists. If an opposition party won’t seize the chance to grow in influence and numbers at times when millions of people are looking for effective ways to stand up, it’s hard to see that party growing into any kind of relevant force in the nation’s political life.
The Green Party has an outreach committee but no outreach operation. The Green party has a media committee but no real press operation. The Green Party has a ballot access committee, and although the party is banned from the ballot in more than a dozen states, its cannot be bothered to devise any credible plan, any achievable campaign to put itself on the ballot in those states. I know this because I was part of the crew which researched and drew up the bare bones of such a plan in 2015, a full year and more before the election for the Jill Stein campaign. But by December of that year the party’s presidential campaign was moonwalking away from any attempt to a wage coordinated ballot access drive in those key states, which contain about one eighth the nation’s black voters.
In the weeks before and after the inauguration of Donald Trump, when hundreds of thousands of people were in the streets the Green Party made no attempt to call its own meetings or events. Party leaders utterly ignored the chances to raise a million or two party-building dollars, along with opportunities for priceless visibility and outreach by putting its 2016 and 2017 presidential and vice presidential candidates on the road for a month-long “victory tour.” As a national organization, the Green Party is really good as an idea, but a hot mess as far as implementing that idea. There is, as I outlined a few weeks ago in Why Our Green Parties Haven’t Taken Off, the Green Party lacks any coherent organizing methodology, has no political clarity, has no structures to promote internal democratic discussion. Many of its activists and leaders seem to imagine they can self-organize with methods similar to those of Republicans and Democrats, and that only electoral campaigns, which they often have little idea how to conduct, will build a party. And in the name of diversity and inclusion the Green party has empowered token caucuses which pretend to represent African Americans and others, but which are centers of opportunism.
In its defense, the party was organized by liberals two decades ago who correctly assessed the WHAT – the need for something outside the two government parties but didn’t have much a grip on HOW to make any of it happen. That part is for those of us on the scene today to figure out, and the mistakes of two decades are ours to recognize, to learn from, and to undo. Or not. I still think we can undo a lot of them.
This weekend the Greens hold their annual meeting in Salt Lake City. Like many others, I won’t be there because no votes are taken or decisions are made at the meeting. The most you can do at Green annual meetings is meet some people in person you otherwise only encounter online, and be one of hundreds of faces in an applauding crowd. That didn’t seem worth the whole weekend, or the trip.
But the Greens elect several members of their national leadership body, their steering committee this weekend. I believe it’s still possible to turn the thing around, and I’m one of the 150 people who get to vote in that election. I’ll be voting for Greens who make no bones about being avowed socialists, and who understand the nature and the urgency of the tasks before them. If the Green Party can be saved, and transformed into a useful vehicle in the struggle, a lot rides on the vote this weekend. The choices are pretty stark. But at least they ARE choices.
For Black Agenda Report I’m Bruce Dixon. Google and other corporate social media are suppressing our content in their search results, so the only way to ensure you get notified of new content each week at Black Agenda Report is to visit us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com and hit the subscribe button to receive our weekly notices of new content via email. You can also find our one hour Black Agenda Radio show and Black Agenda Radio Commentaries on SoundCloud, Libsyn, iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Thu, 12 July 2018
In 2005 and 2006 Democrats John Kerry and Barack Obama on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to delay, filibuster or even closely question Bsuh's Supreme Court nominees Sam Alito and John Roberts.
We cannot and should not blame Trump and the Republicans alone for the Supreme Court. Leading Democrats had a big hand in it too.
The US Supreme Court has been around as long as the Constitution itself, more than two centuries now. Since the Warren court of the 1950s, Republicans have been quite open about their intent to pack it with judges who will repeal birth control, civil rights, labor rights, minimum wages, environmental regulation and most of the 20th century. Democrats, if they were ever a party of the people, as opposed to another party of the elite, have had sixty-some years to craft their own strategy to thwart Republicans. But no such strategy has ever emerged because Democratic elected officials have much more in common with their elite Republican counterparts than they do with the unwashed masses who vote Democratic, and who can always be rallied with the cynical cry that only electing more Democrats can save them from an evil Republican Supreme Court.
Back in 2005 the second President Bush nominated John Roberts as chief justice. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. The most celebrated, widely quoted, and closely watched Democrat on the judiciary committee was the acclaimed constitutional scholar and freshman from Illinois, Barack Obama. These were the guys on point for Democrats that season.
John Roberts had a long history of hostility to birth control, to voting rights, to organized labor, black and brown people, anti-discrimination laws and to anything else which might mitigate or restrain the rule of the rich in even the smallest degree. As a DC circuit court judge he “legalized” after the fact Bush’s illegitimate detention and torture at offshore black sites. As a private attorney he represented mining companies defending the horrifically destructive practice of mountaintop removal, and he was part of the Bush V. Gore legal team which succeeded in letting the Supreme Court overrule the ongoing tally of votes in Florida and declare Bush the winner. Roberts was also a board member of the rabidly right wing Federalist Society, which seeks to overturn virtually all civil rights and environmental law, and all regulation of so-called “free markets” whatsoever.
Republican leaning corporate media rejoiced, saying they were finally gonna get what they wanted. Environmental, voting rights and civil rights organizations sounded the alarm, but to little avail. Elected Democrats, their supposed champions, along with Democrat-leaning corporate media whined that there was insufficient evidence of Roberts’ rightward leanings to invest much effort in stopping his ascent to the court. Ranking Democrat John Kerry and Barack Obama were urged to filibuster the Roberts nomination. They pretended to entertain the idea a while, but did not. Both Kerry and Obama failed to oppose the Roberts nomination in committee, where they could have imposed substantial roadblocks and opened an ongoing debate about the sinister role of the corporate funded Federalist Society. They voted against the nomination on the Senate floor, where it made no difference, and John Roberts got on the Supreme Court with no serious opposition.
The next summer, in 2006 when Bush nominated Sam Alito to the Supreme Court the exercise was repeated. Samuel Alito had an even more balls-out reputation as an opponent of civil and human rights. Republicans exulted while lawyerly Democrats and their media mouthpieces claimed there were no smoking guns to tell whether Alito was actually the kind of judge Republicans claimed he was. Kerry and Obama, both lawyers of course were urged again to vigorously oppose the nomination in committee, and above all to make Alito’s membership in the Federalist Society a major point in opposing him and the entire wave of Republican judges it vets and spawns for local benches and the federal judiciary.
The Federalist Society was founded during the first term of Ronald Reagan in 1982, and immediately attracted lavish funding from a galaxy of right wing foundations, deep corporate pockets and wealthy individuals including the Walton Family Foundation, the Koch Brothers, the Scaife, Coors and Heritage Foundations. It swiftly established chapters in law schools across the country and became the go-to portal for young Republican lawyers on the make. The Federalist society also has working groups of law school professors and groups where practicing attorneys and prominent jurists meet and associate with law students, and in which legal arguments for new corporate rights are developed, rehearsed and fine tuned. For about a generation now, practically no Republican attorney has snagged a spot on state or federal judicial or prosecutorial benches, or appointed to federal agencies without the stamp of the Federalist Society on his or her resume.
As the two Democratic leaders of the Senate judiciary committee, Kerry and Obama were urged again and again by civil rights, environmental groups, by labor unions – by all the advocacy groups which supposedly represent the Democratic party’s base voters, to stall, to delay and to vigorously oppose the Alito nomination. By the summer of 2006 it was clear that Democrats would take back the house in November, and possibly the Senate as well. This time, Kerry and Obama said they were considering filibustering the nomination. But they didn’t, and even worse, they refused to question Sam Alito on his association with the Federalist Society, which might have made that organization’s stranglehold on Republican prosecutorial and judicial nominees an ongoing issue.
After perfunctory questioning, Kerry, Obama and their committee passed Alito out to the full Senate where he was confirmed with no significant opposition. To this day, the corporate funded Federalist Society is still choosing a huge share of judges and prosecutors.
Let’s be clear… the courts in the US were never intended to be a small d democratic institution. The founding fathers were quite open about their intention to insulate judges from the will of the electorate, even when only white men with substantial property were allowed to vote. From the nation’s beginning, its courts have always been an elite institution, staffed by and answerable to elites, not to the people. And the US elite is thoroughly bipartisan. Vigorous Democratic opposition to Federalist Society nominees a dozen years ago by leading Democrats, most notably by then senators Barack Obama and John Kerry might have made kept dozens or hundreds of right wing judges off the bench and made it impossible for Trump to nominate his latest corporate mouthpiece. It didn’t happen because elite Democrats have far more in common with elite Republicans than they do with mere Democratic voters.
So the answer to Democrat excuse makers who sagely assure us that elections DO make a difference is yeah, sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. But fighting, resisting injustice, exploitation and oppression always makes a difference. Too bad that’s simply NOT what Democratic elected officials actually DO.
For Black Agenda Report I’m Bruce Dixon. Google and other corporate social media are suppressing our content in their search results, so the only way to ensure you get notified of new content each week at Black Agenda Report is to visit us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com and hit the subscribe button to receive our weekly notices of new content via email. You can also find our one hour Black Agenda Radio show and Black Agenda Radio Commentaries on SoundCloud, iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Sun, 1 July 2018
Being the only sober guy at a victory party is isn't fun. After writing earlier this week that we can sometimes elect progressives but we can’t hold them accountable, friends and comrades are all over Facebook accusing me of negativity, saying I got no analysis and I'm a magical thinker. I dunno, let’s see.
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez won the NY 14th district Democratic primary earlier this week with only 16 or 17 thousand votes, a strikingly low number that wouldn’t carry most such primaries. According to Democrat chairman Tom Perez, she has no Republican opponent in November, so she's in. That's a victory for sure. At least for a while, she'll be able to put out her message which includes abolishing ICE, free tuition and Medicare For All in places that till now have rarely given a professed socialist the mic. That’s a good thing.
But there are four points to look at here, which I touched on my previous piece and posts on Facebook. I’ll dive into them just a little deeper here.
1. THE OCASIO-CORTEZ NUMBERS AND WHAT THEY MEAN
Historically NY authorities have rigged primary elections for low turnout. You can only vote in a NY primary if you're pre-registered a party member months in advance, so only 271,000 voters were eligible in the first place. The low 13% turnout in that contest was actually higher than in some neighboring NYC districts. The engineering of low turnout primary elections allows Machine politicians to monopolize their party’s nominations by getting out their relatively small and dependable vote and not getting the masses too excited over much of anything till the November general election when their numbers are needed to defeat suburban and upstate Republicans. Except for New York’s partisan registration it's the same system used by the Daley Machine in Chicago until 1980, when we broke it open to elect Harold Washington in 83.
Still, 16 or 17 thousand votes in a congressional district of 750,000 is far from a socialist landslide. Winning a congressional seat with that small a vote is a rare feat made possible by some local features that seldom occur outside New York City. While the Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez crew no doubt worked their asses off to get what they got, the same money and effort in most other places would not have done the trick in a congressional race. The 14 NY CD was a target well chosen by the folks at Brand New Congress , whom Ocasio-Cortez says asked her to run.
That’s running and interpreting the numbers through the lens of history, and applicability to other contests, not negativity or magical thinking.
2. JOE CROWLEY PRETTY MUCH GAVE UP THE SEAT
After 10 terms in Congress and with lots of corporate friends, Joe Crowley knows he can start at seven figures, at least six to twelve times his congressional salary plus bonuses as a lobbyist. That had to be a powerful motivation not to campaign too damn hard, and another circumstance unique to this particular contest.
The career path from legislator to well paid lobbyist is also not magical thinking, it's an American tradition. Ignoring this tradition and its likely effect on Crowley’s campaign might be magical thinking though.
3. DEMOGRAPHICS MATTER, MESSAGING MATTERS
Ocasio-Cortez correctly portrayed Crowley as an arrogant lazy white boy deep in the pockets of corporate contributors allegedly representing a majority Latino district. That was a necessary and highly potent message needed to raise turnout enough to make the difference in a contest with historically low voter participation. A former Bernie campaign staffer, she also ran to the left of most Democrats, campaigning on free college tuition, Medicare For All, unambiguously denouncing the Gaza massacres and jumping with both feet on the massively unpopular Trump policies of tearing families apart at the border. This too is classic US left electoral strategy aimed at raising turnout among the folks who ordinarily pay little attention to elections, a tactic the electoral left has to repeat everywhere.
The phenomenon of white politicians representing minority districts is not as common as it was a generation or two ago. Neoliberal black and Latino politicians have moved into most of those spaces, and are far less vulnerable to attack purely on representationalist grounds. So that part of the Ocasio-Cortez playbook is not something that leftists will often be able to duplicate.
Assessing the relative importance of demographic factors and the messaging they enable is not magical thinking. Gauging the applicability of the strategy that achieved victory in the NY 14th CD to other contests across the country isn't legerdemain or sophistry either, it's the kind of common sense we must employ if we intend to achieve leftist victories elsewhere.
4. US LAW AND CUSTOM MAKE CANDIDATES ENTREPRENUERS, NOT RESPONSIBE TO ANY LEFT CONSTITUENCIES OR INSTITUTIONS
I caught flack too for pointing out that under US law and custom candidates and office holders are free to do pretty much do what they like. This is true even in the Green Party, let alone the Democrats. Political campaigns are top-down affairs in which the candidate gets the final word on everything. Anybody who's actually worked a campaign knows this.
While there are no institutions under US law and custom that can hold leftist candidates and officeholders accountable to left constituencies or organizations, it's a fact that there are a galaxy of institutional levers and pressures operating inside the Democratic party aimed at flipping progressive elected officials rightward.
In my previous piece and Facebook posts I never touched on how socialist Ocasio-Cortez is or isn't nor on her foreign policy stands if she has any, which Berniecrats frequently don't, something that ought to make us a little uneasy. Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist too, just with an imperialist foreign policy. I did say that progressive candidates and officeholders do sometimes flip, a little at a time or all at once, and when they do we have no institutions with which to punish them. "Feet to the fire" and "holding them accountable" are actually the phrases of magical thinkers because no means have yet been devised which enable the left to do those things.
I got in trouble for observing that while we can elect progressives from time to time we cannot compel them to remain that way. Until we figure out how to build institutions that can, we are at the mercy of their individual moral and political compasses. The need to develop left institutions to which progressive candidates can be held responsible is an acute one, which the Nation in its slavish devotion to the Democratic party predictably ignores. Noting this truth got me accused of being a petty, lazy purist and ultraleftist. Oh well. Sober analysis may not be what some people wanna hear at a victory party where everybody’s popping champagne corks, dancing the electric slide and toasting the universal lessons of the Ocasio-Cortez victory without the bother of real analysis.
Being the sober guy at a victory party kinda sucks that way. But real talk, we’re all gonna have to sober up eventually and figure out which parts of the Ocasio-Cortez playbook are peculiar to and which ones are applicable outside a majority Latino New York City district, and we have yet to devise any means of holding progressive politicians truly accountable. Those who think we don’t need critical analysis or institutions to enforce accountability are the magical thinkers.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Sun, 1 July 2018
Yesterday Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez won a NYC Democratic congressional primary in a majority Latino district against the arrogant right wing,out of touch white head of the Queens Democratic party, who hadn’t even seen a primary challenger since 2004. The white guy was so deep in the pocket of corporate contributors that he was one of the few favored to succeed or oust Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. That’s how the two parties choose their leaders in every state legislature and both houses of Congress – they’re the ones who bring in the most donations from wealthy corporations and individuals.
Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on single payer health care and free college tuition. She denounced the latest massacre in Gaza. She says ICE ought to be abolished, and the day before the election she was at a South Texas immigrant detention center. She’s a young working class Puerto Rican woman who reportedly refused corporate cash and was working a real job, waiting tables at the beginning of her campaign. She’s a DSA member and professes to be a socialist. And now she’s the Democratic nominee in a New York City congressional district. What does it all mean?
For a lot of people on the left, it’s an occasion for celebration. I can understand that, I worked my behind off in campaigns against the Daley Machine in my native Chicago for a quarter century. We elected progressives to the city council, county offices, the state legislature, to Congress and 1983 and 87 the mayor’s chair. I helped register hundreds of thousands of people to vote. I and the folks I worked with imagined that we could build a movement that might transform the Democratic party from below. It didn’t work out so well.
It turns out that both elected officialdom and the Democratic party are institutions, and institutions change individuals way more often than the other way around. Some of our folks backed away from their commitments little by little, others frankly flipped, some were isolated and outlasted till they could be outspent. Despite the phrase being on everybody’s lips, we never figured out exactly how to hold anybody’s “feet to the fire,” to enforce any sort of accountability.
We were and still are at the literal whim and mercy of our candidates and officeholders. When Chuy Garcia ran for mayor of Chicago he refused to stand up in front of the Homan Square black site and denounce the thing. He even called for the hiring of a thousand more Chicago cops, and his movement supporters were utterly unable to talk him into the first position or out of the second. Even the Greens are not immune to this phenomenon. When Jill Stein chose to back away from a 2016 ballot access drive in Georgia and North Carolina there was nothing Greens in those states could do. Nothing. So exactly what does holding a candidate or office holder accountable look like? Do any means currently exist which enable us to do that? Maybe not. Maybe this is something we’ve yet to build.
Late last year, in a two day Movement School session in Jackson MS, Kali Akuno, the co-founder of Cooperation Jackson observed that in Jackson the movement forces proved they could elect a Chokwe Lumumba, the father and the son, mayor. But several years and multiple elections into the project, they still didn’t know what degree of support there is in Jackson for their agenda of radical economic transformation.
We figured out years ago how to win elections under the right circumstances. Ocasio-Cortez was a Puerto Rican woman running against a lazy white incumbent in a majority Latino NYC district, and she built a competent organization. It should have been surprising if she’d lost. Her expressed views on most issues are laudable. What we rarely bother to think through is what we actually GET when we win.
When we’re victorious in executive branch offices like mayoral elections, our candidates actually become responsible for administering the austerity and cuts. That’s what’s happening in Jackson MS and Newark NJ, to name just a couple places. We’ve been electing progressives here and there for a long time now. It’s time ask whether our ability to elect progressives has far outstripped our ability to exert real pressure upon them. Are we transforming the Democratic party, or are we merely legitimizing it, and launching yet another glittering career?
I don’t pretend to have the answers. But these are questions which ought to be asked. And we can't be too thirsty to ask them.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA, and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Find an updated analysis of the Ocasio-Cortez victory here.