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The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 16:22

via The Nation

by Dave Lindorff

On November 15, Ernst & Young and other private firms that were hired to audit the Pentagon announced that they could not complete the job. Congress had ordered an independent audit of the Department of Defense, the government’s largest single cost center—the Pentagon receives two of every three federal tax dollars collected—after the Pentagon failed for decades to audit itself. The firms concluded, however, that the DoD’s financial records were riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities, and errors that a reliable audit was simply impossible.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan tried to put the best face on things, telling reporters, “We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it.” Shanahan suggested that the DoD should get credit for attemptingan audit, saying, “It was an audit on a $2.7 trillion organization, so the fact that we did the audit is substantial.” The truth, though, is that the DoD was dragged kicking and screaming to this audit by bipartisan frustration in Congress, and the result, had this been a major corporation, likely would have been a crashed stock.

As Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, a frequent critic of the DoD’s financial practices, said on the Senate floor in September 2017, the Pentagon’s long-standing failure to conduct a proper audit reflects “twenty-six years of hard-core foot-dragging” on the part of the DoD, where “internal resistance to auditing the books runs deep.” In 1990, Congress passed the Chief Financial Officers Act, which required all departments and agencies of the federal government to develop auditable accounting systems and submit to annual audits. Since then, every department and agency has come into compliance—except the Pentagon.

Now, a Nation investigation has uncovered an explanation for the Pentagon’s foot-dragging: For decades, the DoD’s leaders and accountants have been perpetrating a gigantic, unconstitutional accounting fraud, deliberately cooking the books to mislead the Congress and drive the DoD’s budgets ever higher, regardless of military necessity. DoD has literally been making up numbers in its annual financial reports to Congress—representing trillions of dollars’ worth of seemingly nonexistent transactions—knowing that Congress would rely on those misleading reports when deciding how much money to give the DoD the following year, according to government records and interviews with current and former DoD officials, congressional sources, and independent experts.

Read more

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The 2018 G20 in Buenos Aires: Logbook November 17-19

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 05:09

via CrimethInc

Peronism, Counter-Summit Creativity, and the Schedule of Resistance

In this second installment of our coverage of the 2018 G20 summit, our international correspondents report on the political and cultural events leading up to the summit. China has given Argentina a considerable amount of military equipment with which to brutalize and potentially mass-murder people in Buenos Aires if they interfere with the state agenda of totalitarian control during the G20 meetings. Meanwhile, organizers have announced the schedule for a week of resistance. The lines are drawn.

Saturday, November 17 Day of “Militant Peronism”

This day marks the return of Juan Domingo Perón on November 17, 1972 after 17 years of exile in Franco’s Spain; the date is still celebrated annually by the Peronist movement in Argentina. Traditionally, there is a large rally with numerous speeches. This year, it took place in the stadium of a local football club. The motto is: Unidos o Dominados, “united or dominated.” The dominant theme is President Macri’s austerity budget package imposed by the IMF and his “necessary replacement—at the latest, by the 2019 elections.” Naturally, of course, by the Peronists.

But what is this “unity,” exactly? Some Peronists in the Senate voted for the budget package; they were called “traitors” at the rally. But also, the powerful Peronist trade union federation CGT is conducting a dialogue with a high-ranking IMF representative, while other parts of the Peronist movement support the protests and are also calling for a protest against the G20 summit. These call themselves “Peronismo popular”; they are left-oriented and still able to mobilize masses of people onto the streets. In addition, a large part of the Porteños (the urban residents of Buenos Aires) feel connected to Peronism; in many cases, this loyalty has been passed down across multiple generations. This describes a considerable portion of modern and cosmopolitan urban society in Buenos Aires.

Between Nazi Exiles and Left-Wing Guerrillas

What most Perón fans don’t know—or have suppressed in their memories—is that after World War II, Perón opened Argentina to thousands of high-ranking Nazi officials. Above all, he wanted them to help him establish his own aviation industry, including the secret continuation of the Nazi missile program. Some ended up in Peron’s secret service; others set up “Mercedes-Benz Argentina” with his support, where demonstrably massive quantities of dirty Nazi money were laundered. The Holocaust co-organizer Eichmann found employment there, along with many other Nazis.

At the same time, Perón implemented extensive social programs aimed at the poorer sections of the population and promoted culture, education, and civil rights, including the introduction of women’s suffrage. In foreign policy, he was emphatically anti-American, but in domestic policy, he fought communists and brought the previously heterogeneous trade unions into line. He controlled the press through state-controlled paper quotas. When the previously flourishing economy went downhill, Perón—though the “legitimately elected president”—was expelled by a military putsch in 1955 with the backing of influential entrepreneurs, the church, bourgeois intellectuals, and the CIA.

A permanent change of government was established under the control of the military, the economy continued to decline, and social tensions increased. In the 1960s, armed groups throughout Latin America began the “revolutionary struggle,” including the so-called Montoneros in Argentina. They simultaneously referred to the successful Cuban revolution, Peronism, and the anti-imperialist struggle. Their tactics ranged from organizing soup kitchens in the poor neighborhoods to carrying out armed raids on military facilities. Not least, this movement helped create the pressure that led to Perón’s return in 1972. He died in 1974 and his third wife, Isabell Perón, took power. The military overthrew her in 1976.

A military dictatorship ensued, lasting until 1983, which particularly persecuted the Montoneros with an immense bloodshed.

Sunday, November 18 La Criatura: The “Performative Counter Summit”

The two-day festival La Criatura was about “thinking up other ways to make politics.” As the organizers put it:

“The politics we make is old. We cannot close our eyes to what is happening in Brazil because it is a global trend.”

The event took place in one of the numerous and largely self-organized cultural centers of Buenos Aires, organized by the Asociación “CRIA”—Creando Redes Independientes y Artisticas. In South America, “crias” also means Lama—“young animals.”

All kinds of workshops, many of an artistic nature, took place in various adjoining rooms. A long table was set up in the large hall in mockery of the G20 summit. Here, people gradually took seats for the presentation of the various thematic forums.

First, there was a short introduction by a woman dressed up as a monster with snake hands. She read a pithy text:

“A predator devours the world. It is able to destroy countries and nations, cultures and peoples, change nature genetically, turn forests into deserts, undermine the seas and drill into mountains to extract the last mineral fragment. This predator wants to leave us nothing, a humanity freed from everything. In defiance of this devastating scene, there are other herds of monstrous creatures that reinvent themselves in the face of this plundering, that create counter-pedagogy, building utopias and errant becomings.”

Then they presented a historical outline of former summit protests—beginning in the early 1990s, when the anti-globalization movement slowly developed, and passing from the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa to Mar de la Plata (about 400 km south of Buenos Aires), where in 2005, the Organization of American States met in the face of massive protests. They emphasized that over the years, resistance has shifted more and more to the global South and that a specific expression was found there, which still has to be expanded.

This was followed by an impressive lecture by a Mapuche, who told the story of his people and of growing oppression and repression, but also of the resistance and the expressiveness of the Mapuches, which is gaining more and more international attention through social media. In the end, he emphasized amid applause that the struggle of the Mapuche nation cannot be solved solely by granting them their land. Rather, their struggle represents a future model for how to inhabit the earth and they are convinced that it is time to develop alternatives.

There followed are several contributions by representatives of the feminist movement who presented their progress and the growing resistance against patriarchy, stressing that all the different forms of resistance to the capitalist patriarchal system must be given the same importance. They referred to the immense mobilizations of the last few months, in which huge numbers of people took to the streets against the ban on abortion, among other things.

Numerous other contributions followed—for example, a presentation by the representative of the Senegalese Association in Argentina on the growing importance of migration in the face of extensive exploitation and oppression in the regions of the global South, above all in Africa.

Finally, the conference took a position against the current criminalization of the resistance and called for participation in the week of resistance to the G20 from November 25 to December 1.

Monday, November 19 The Schedule of the Week of Protest

The program describes almost 60 public events. Most of them are discussions, workshops, or lectures—many within the framework of the alternative (counter) summit—but there are also a number of public actions. At this point in time, ten days before the summit, not all the events have been announced; this was no different at previous summit protests.

The schedule impressively documents the diversity and internationalism of the upcoming counter-events and protests. It is available online in English here and in Castellano here.

Argentine security personnel test military-grade crowd repression equipment from China, preparing to attempt to impose a future of brutal violence on humanity.

 

The post The 2018 G20 in Buenos Aires: Logbook November 17-19 appeared first on Infoshop News.

The Megamachines Are False Specters — A Response To Gelderloos

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 05:02

Via C4SS

by William Gillis

November 26th, 2018

I think it’s a shame that anarchists don’t write more on either geopolitics or analyses of the future; over the last two centuries our greatest successes have come from our imagination and foresight. For this reason I applaud Peter Gelderloos’ recent attempted forecast, published in a variety of forms by Crimethinc.

There’s much to agree with in Gelderloos’ analysis and I applaud his effort, but there’s nevertheless much in his analysis I find askew.

We could do with more predictive evaluation of geopolitical or institutional forces, and I hope this opens the door to more writing in these arenas by anarchists, but there’s an ever-present danger to such lenses: you start seeing the world primarily in terms of big social structures and miss other critical dynamics — often assuming too much solidity, integrability, or centrality to said social structures. In my opinion Gelderloos’ analysis falls into this trap when considering capitalism, fascism, and technology. To be more specific on each account: he follows a rather marxist notion of capitalism as a unified whole system with a tendency to self-preservation, he frames fascism in terms of dictatorial institutions rather than an ideology of hypernationalism, and he struggles to maintain the dated narrative of a unified technological global social system.

What’s common across these is the projection of solidity to abstractions where the institutional macro structures are privileged as the most relevant causal forces. This glosses over the root dynamics of individuals, ideologies, and tools, treating them in short as mere cogs making up the broader “systems.”

Gelderloos’ analysis of fascism should be the most glaring issue for anarchists since he attempts to break with the longstanding near-consensus in antifascist analysis by instead casting “fascism” purely in terms of dictatorship — a structure of institutions — rather than as an ideology. Gelderloos is correct that fascists are ideological opportunists on a variety of things, for example they really don’t give a shit about economic systems. But it’s profoundly mistaken to assume fascism hasn’t had a stable and coherent ideological core. Fascism is always a hypernationalism, a “might makes right” fetishization of raw power and denial of empathy with beyond one’s tribe, community, or imagined “people.” This doesn’t require a centralized state apparatus, much less one structured in dictatorial terms. The last few decades of fascist permutations have shown clearly that you can have democratic or decentralized variants of fascism (eg “national anarchism”). Indeed these are arguably the most common varieties of fascism today, from the populists of the new European right to the goat sacrificing tribes of the Wolves of Vinland.

Gelderloos demands to know what conceptual clarity is provided by analyzing fascism in ideological and philosophical terms rather than as a specific lost historical moment. Well first of all, it can give us insight into the actual fucking organizing of fascists, or at the very least their descendants. But second of all it’s useful because — despite their opportunism on some fronts — fascists are often refreshingly clearheaded about things in a way liberals cannot afford to be. Liberalism is the tortured grab-bag of contradictions, with capitalism and democracy desperately trying to distract us (and themselves) from the functioning of the existing system. If liberalism is a pack of lies and distractions, fascism infamously doesn’t bother disguising its lies, flak, and prevarication. Fascism is the most confident and explicit expression of the ideology of power itself: Might makes right. Care only about your own. That there is a philosophical position diametrically opposed to anarchism is important and provides a lot of illumination. Fascism clears the air. Just as anarchism is not a fixed blueprint or system, fascism is not a system but a set of values, a motivation and take on power utterly at odds with our own. This means it has just as diverse expressions as anarchist ethics do. But at the end of the day you are either for or opposed to power, you either care about all or just a few. Inevitably the scales tend to fall and everyone is forced — as in the Spanish revolution — to side with anarchism or fascism.

Ideology and philosophy matter. They’re not always post-facto rationalizations of an existing context or system, but often the sincere source of new developments. The problem with lenses as sweeping as geopolitics is you get into the habit of evaluating the behavior and function of institutions and ignore the roots — the actual people and psychologies and patterns of relation that give rise to these structures.

One of the worst legacies the left has infected anarchists with is a totalizing molochian view of capitalism. This often leads to some really skewed predictions when we start freaking about “commodification” (often really just meaning a more fine tuned accounting of certain considerations). A certain type of pop-marxists have convinced many that “commodification” is magically in-differentiable from capitalism per se. Got some commodification? Someone’s keeping finer-grained track of something? Fuck son, you’ve got a bad case of capitalism — with all the attendant things we associate with it, nevermind tracing any specific causality. If you’re filling out an itemized form on a dating site (“commodification of romance!”) somehow that’s class society and workplace hierarchies growing stronger. Never you mind what the causal mechanisms are, think holistically!

This leftist view of capitalism as an unified monolithic megamachine with its own clear plan and needs — rather than conflicting loci of power, orthogonalized mechanisms, and acidic currents of bottom-up market pressures — blinds people to possibilities today and ultimately encourages us to cast our dreams off beyond the veil of a magical revolution. If the abstraction is treated like a cohesive whole, if we treat institutions as the only relevant agents, and ignore everything below as constituent cogs, well then there’s no hope for anything substantively different save via some kind of total break.

For those well and truly spooked with this kind of leftist thinking, there’s ultimately little option besides despair, or a reification of the same old rituals of subcultural community. When the world is filled up with gods like “capitalism” or “civilization” and drained of actual living breathing human beings there’s no hope of salvation, save through some kind of divine intervention.

So something new gets mystified and worshipped, The Revolution, or The Collapse. The Party or The Natural Order.

What gets lost as our attention focuses entirely on these big abstractions is the concrete issues of freedom. What possibilities are available to us in our social relations, in our projects, in our environmental conditions, in the configuration of our bodies?

Gelderloos unfortunately writes,

We are increasingly being sold a transhumanist narrative in which nature and the body are presented as limitations to be overcome. This is the same old Enlightenment ideology that anarchists have fallen for time and again[.]

We’ve “fallen for” transhumanism because it’s fucking correct. Anarchism’s aspirations are not to become fucking stewards of some kind of reactionary “natural order” but to champion positive freedom, to collaboratively expand what is possible rather than retreat to a single blueprint or ecological niche. Those who would tell you to make do with and embrace the current configuration not just of the world but of your body are reactionaries of the highest order.

This endlessly repeated mantra that technology is not methods or blueprints, not even the specific infrastructure being built (which is surely skewed to the interests of power), but is some kind of closely knit together global political system, where every component props up the whole, contains the DNA to inexorably rebuild the whole, is becoming an ever more desperate rhetorical maneuver. While there are certainly countervailing authoritarian pressures in certain normalizations — like bosses in certain sectors of the first world demanding you be on call via a cellphone — what we also see is across the planet is greater diversification among technological forms and uses from the bottom up.

And what conceptual value would there really be in seeing “technology” as a unified system rather than an ecosystem or a vast arena of complex conflict? Sure there’s a kind of mental reassurance in clustering a bunch of mechanisms together and declaring them a unified whole, a sum of their varying parts, a single megamachine. The simplicity of totalitarian thinking has always held an appeal, but that doesn’t make it a correct or an adequate lens for anarchists.

This sort of thinking can cause us to cluster too much together and fail to see the joints, the root causes, or ways things can be reconfigured (for better or far worse).

The danger and constraints of geopolitical analysis — of thinking in terms of the macroscale institutions — is that you risk growing as stupid as they are with as confined a scope of attention. You see things purely in terms of the persistent macrostructure and miss the degrees of freedom among the base, shifting or pushing in ways sometimes deeply antithetical to those macrostructures. Institutions seem invulnerable, infinitely capable of appropriation and cooption… until suddenly they fail.

I suppose it’s better that Gelderloos, in his categorization system, frames transhumanism as a liberal project rather than fascistic or dictatorial one. But of course he views it in terms of technocratic flows among the ruling classes rather than as a sincere grassroots ideology. Thus he misses the intensely anarchistic bent of morphological freedom.

This smacks of nothing so much as a myopic preoccupation with the neoliberal ruling order, with the existing systems and institutions, like Glenn Greenwald’s infamous tendency to dismiss the threat of fascism/nationalism while hectoring us to go back to focusing on the usual capitalists and imperialists.

There is of course a serious danger that neoliberalism will eventually triumph again and use fascism as a specter to better ingrain its own technocratic democratic order, but there is also a threat of nationalism winning, and a nationalist victory is in fact worse. A forthright fascism that isn’t twisted in on itself in obfuscation and delusion can be clumsily brash, but it can also grasp the longer game in a way liberalism almost never lets itself.

The greatest weapon of anarchists is that we see the roots. We are in a long war between power and freedom. Liberalism — being an ideology of the existing order, of existing institutions — can never allow itself to recognize this. And so it is only in the roots, the unruly masses beneath the institutional structures, that we will find the opportunities liberals can’t see or plan for. The little twists and turns, the reconfigurations, the unexpected degrees of freedom, to what liberals (and marxists) see as mere cogs inexorably a part of a whole.

Gelderloos writes,

Capitalism has invaded every corner of our lives, turning us against ourselves. The power of the State has grown exponentially and they have defeated us so many times before.

But we are still here. We are not merely here as marginal spectators whose one good trick — rioting — is increasingly toothless. We have been coursing through the veins of this system, reconfiguring things and pressuring back in countless ways. Central to our success has been our appreciation for the possibilities beneath the feet of the giants and the actual terms of the millennia old conflict we’re all in.

Unfortunately the very leftist legacy of preoccupation with the macrostructures, of reifying them into giant omnipotent monsters can only grasp two equally absurd paths: reform or revolution. Maintaining the monsters or making some kind of magical sudden break with them. This traps radical leftists in the mental cycles of depression.

Anarchism needs to break with this leftist frame and instead view things in more diffuse, myriad, and dynamic terms of erosion and insurrection.

There are no magically holistic megamachines, just complex ecologies and chaotic weather systems. And history is not a drama of giant storms, but of the butterflies beating our wings.

The post The Megamachines Are False Specters — A Response To Gelderloos appeared first on Infoshop News.

Popular Power In a Time of Reaction: Strategy for Social Struggle

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 04:57

via Black Rose Anarchist Federation / Federación Anarquista Rosa Negra

Editorial Note: This piece builds upon and updates the strategy and analysis document “Below and Beyond Trump” we released in late 2017 and aims to capture a snapshot of our internal discussions and conclusions over the past year. Because these conversations began in the lead up to our National Convention in early August we were not able to incorporate some more recent events and especially the feminist analysis developed in the statement “Kavanaugh and a Feminist Movement Fighting to End Capitalism” and which draws upon the article “A Feminist Movement to End Capitalism, Part I (Part II forthcoming). We recommend reading these pieces in addition to this. #PowerFromBelow #BuildPopularPower

Strategy and Analysis / Análisis de Coyuntura Document

Prepared by members of the BRRN Analysis and Strategy Committee and approved by the membership.

Last year in “Below and Beyond Trump: Power and Counterpower,” we argued that the U.S. ruling class is in the midst of a destabilizing political crisis, leading to increasing politicization and polarization across the country, and that the Trump regime is both a symptom and a cause of the current divisions playing out at the top of the political food chain. In response to the rise of Trump, we noted that social movements, particularly those driven by the “institutional left” (nonprofits, business unions, etc), have been characterized by retrenchment, militant reformism, and a sharp turn toward electoral politics. In this context, we highlighted the growing potential for advancing a libertarian socialist vision and strategy that speaks to the needs and desires of the current moment.

In this follow up to Below and Beyond Trump, we will briefly highlight recent expressions of the dominant trends that characterize the current social, political and economic landscape and outline a strategic orientation for building popular power and advancing social movements toward libertarian socialism. Our argument is simple, that we need to move from “protest” to building popular power. We define popular power as creating independent institutions and organizations of the working class to fight white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. Whether in workplaces, neighborhoods, prisons, or schools, building organizations in these sites can help movements build power and transform the current tide of right politics. With a focus on organizing, movements can win not only meaningful reforms, but create a path toward a libertarian socialist society.

Power at the Top

In the realm of foreign policy, Trump has represented a huge step backward for US global leadership. In a whole number of strategic areas, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia, the US role as global economic, diplomatic, and military leader is on the wane (although still in the top position). Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in Europe, where US leadership in NATO and the G7 is under serious strain. Sometimes this can open the door for the aims of anti-militarist movements such as the case with the Korea peace process. But this can also be dangerous, for example in Syria where Trump has allowed horrendous atrocities by Assad and US ally Turkey.

In many of these moves, we find the Trump administration’s behavior inexplicable. For example, in the emerging trade war with China, Canada, and European powers, the imposition of $34 billion in tariff protections defies longstanding elite consensus on global trade. In making this move the Trump administration has angered many powerful corporate sectors of US society, who stand to lose billions of dollars, and have been vocal in their opposition to the trade tariffs. Why this isn’t enough to stop the policy is unclear, as are the motives for it in the first place. China is emerging as an economic power that is beginning to rival the United States, although in military capacity the US still dwarfs the rest of the world. The tariffs could be a way to counter the economic rise of China, or an ideological and racist move for which economic factors are less significant. But it points to a highly unpredictable and maverick leadership, and because of this many establishment liberals are adamant in the necessity to oust Trump.

In the domestic realm, Trump’s positions, as odious as they are, have largely stayed within the scope of neo-liberal practice of state management. He continues to roll back the Keynesian New Deal state much like Obama and Bush before him. Numerous environmental, labor, and civil rights protections have been abandoned by the administration. In budgetary priorities, the Trump administration has granted the Pentagon its largest funding priority ever, exceeding even the requests from US military planners, and at the same time is imposing and proposing some of the harshest cuts on social services in recent memory, all while cutting taxes on the very rich. For example, bedrock programs of the New Deal state like Social Security and Medicaid are under serious threat. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has appointed a series of semi-criminal elements that have been forced to resign, and some like Dinesh D’souza and Sheriff Joe Arpaio the president has personally pardoned.

In all this, it appears that the Trump administration has little concern for the “legitimation” function of the state, which is a basic role of government to build support for established centers of authority and capital. Instead he is strengthening and expanding the authoritarian elements devoted to violence. The two best examples of this are the family detention and separation policy imposed by Trump advisor Stephen Miller and the Muslim ban recently approved by the Supreme Court. These come as huge shocks to the liberal establishment, but here too build off policies of Obama and other centrists. This lack of legitimation, and widespread corruption within his administration may lead to his impeachment. The recent indictments and convictions of close Trump aids increases this likelihood. If these scandals move toward impeachment, it will be a major test of the constitutional resilience of the liberal institutions of governance and will be important to watch closely.

A further potential disruption on the horizon is the possibility of economic destabilization and depression. While the capitalist class and the corporate sector are exploding with wealth, the rest of the country never recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. This dynamic echoes the economic inequality and tensions of the 1920s that led to the historic 1929 market crash and resultant depression. No one can tell the future, but there are worrying signs on the horizon like the slowdown in the housing market, and the “inversion” of bond rates spelling trouble for long term investments. If there is a recession or depression it would significantly change the organizing terrain before us.

The State of Popular Power

Social movements have been disoriented and have responded in ways we laid out in our Below and Beyond Trump strategy document from 2017. US social movements are comparatively weak when examined from an international perspective. This means that movements here must organize at a much more basic level than those in other countries to build the capacity for mobilization and empowerment. Even so, with the election of Trump movements have become more cautious and shifted efforts into electoral campaigns.

Many movements have been forced or voluntarily moved to a defensive footing. This is especially true for the “institutional left” – unions, non-profits, and those with institutional interests to protect and preserve. Unions in particular have been flat footed in the response to significant existential threats like the recent Janus ruling and the declared offensive by very large and well-funded business groups. Other NGOs have also been unable or unwilling to respond to the clamor for more activism and resistance against Trump. For example, organizations like the ACLU their “membership has grown from 400,000 to 1.84 million so far during the course of Trump’s presidency. And while it usually brings in an average of $3-$5 million each year, during these first excruciating 15 months it has raised almost $120 million in online donations.” Yet that growth has not translated at all into the power necessary to resist Trump and his authoritarian version of neoliberalism.

For more dynamic social movements, the current moment reflects a mixed bag. In 2016 many social movements including environmental activism, the BLM movement and others were ascendant. The momentum has definitively shifted against them under Trump, but not all movements. For example two dramatic and powerful direct action movements emerged in the shadow of Trump, the #MeToo and the Parkland students movement against gun violence. Both of these show the dramatic power of direct action, mass disruptive movements focused on power. For #MeToo, several powerful men, many of them employers, have had their careers ended by the social media campaigns against sexual assault and sexual violence. For the Parkland students, their national protests (the first wave of school walkouts and disruptive actions, not the milquetoast efforts co-opted by the Democrats) forced major Republican figures to change their positions on guns, and in Florida to enact some modest though ultimately reactionary reforms. These are exactly the types of mobilizations we predicted as militant reformism as popular opposition pushes against institutional boundaries and forces legislative and social change within very narrow, liberal, confines.

These efforts have also quickly been diverted from their more militant and disruptive forms of protest into electoral channels either inside or outside the Democratic Party. For the left the largest phenomenon here is the rise of the Democratic Socialists of America, a political organization now with a reported 50,000 membership base, and one with significant impacts on movement strategy and direction, drawing people into electoral efforts. Their biggest victory was the recent primary win and successful election of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in Queens New York who beat out an entrenched Democratic incumbent to win a seat in the House of Representatives. There are also efforts among liberals and progressive elements to redouble electoral organizing. Most notable here is the move by BLM founder and movement leader Alicia Garza to build a Black voting base called Black Futures Lab, who just endorsed their first candidate Ilhan Omar, to replace Keith Ellison in Minnesota. We expect to see more of these moves to electoralism and see it as a major step backward for social movement strategy for reasons we have explained elsewhere.

However, the most significant and surprising development of the last year for social movements was the emergence of a militant rank-and-file teachers movement. This movement deserves more careful study from our organization, but it has achieved impossible gains in a very short time, and BRRN members have been active organizing here. Most notable is that through labor action in the workplace, strikes, walkouts and sickouts, the teachers have forced major gains, as much as 20% pay increases and expanded state funding for schools, on some of the most reactionary Republican legislators and administrators in the country. Notably, they also did this by organizing under, over, around and through their union leadership, sometimes bringing them along to the fight, at other moments having to circumvent the leadership entirely, and vote against official recommendations for conciliation. They built power outside of established channels, used small actions to build for strikes that were meaningful, and actually shut down their workplaces. Another example of worker militancy is the Burgerville Worker Union, the first fast food union in the United States organized by rank-and-file militants. Again BRRN members are active here and their approach highlights the failing strategy of the major unions and NGOs. One aspect of the rank-and-file organizing is the spark of confidence by workers that realize the potential of their power and that they can win is a huge victory for working people. These developments are a major step forward and a model we should look to in our organizing.

A movement that deserves mention are the deep and growing immigrants organizing networks. Whether around rank-and-file workplace militancy or direct defense against deportations organizers are working to strengthen immigrant communities. Trump’s shocking policy of family separation was built on Obama era policies of family detention, and galvanized much of this popular push back. But again, the large NGO mobilizations have yielded disappointing results, where on the ground direct action is having a much larger impact. One example we would point to is the Koreatown Popular Assembly (KPA) of Los Angeles, a project that BRRN members are helping organize. The KPA has used technology that allows them to rapidly respond, alert and mobilize community members in response to ICE activity such as raids and detentions. Here there is a connection to mass incarceration, and again BRRN members are involved organizing the historic prison strike of August of this year, and building connections with immigrants detained in corporate deportation centers. It is through these engaged, on-the-ground organizing and direct action campaigns that we can push back against the right-ward tide of American politics. Meanwhile, efforts tied to the institutional left are failing to adequately face this challenge.

Practical Strategy for Building Popular Power

Our vision for building popular power to both stop the advance of the right and create transformative change to build the libertarian socialist society is detailed here. We advocate a strategy that focuses on building popular organizations and institutions of community control. Building popular power is meant to build autonomous organizations for and run by working class people to realize their political power, which is in contrast to power negotiated between those in the state political arena and directed by professionalized staff. In any sector, it means we must organize; this involves building small nuclei of organizers, engaging with movements on a direct action basis, and scaling up those projects to mass participation. There are further steps after this that are necessary, for example building organizational structures that are resilient and flexible enough to remain both mass oriented and combative in nature, but for now we will focus on local militant activity and how to build popular power.

In the last 18 months we have heard an increasing call that social movements should move “from protest to politics.” Typically this means that street demonstrations of #BlackLivesMatter or anti-fascist organizers have limited efficacy, and to make lasting change activists must organize in electoral campaigns to support progressive mainstream politicians. We fundamentally disagree here. While we share the critique of activism and the limitations of mobilizations, we argue that a move to electoralism is a step backward because it does not build the independent power we need to win.

Instead, we argue that social movements build on the tremendous power of protest by organizing more deeply and more widely in different social sectors. Indeed, BRRN is considering adopting a sectoral strategy as the basis for our organizing work. We see social sectors as the people, social relationships and institutions that define our lives and experiences. For example, labor is a major social sector, a place where we spend most of our adult lives, where we generate profit for capitalists, and have established social networks and collective interests. Other organizing sectors we have identified are the neighborhood, in prisons and carceral institutions, and with students and education. Each of these sectors is a site of power, and movements can turn from disconnected mobilizations to organizing in these sectors to build popular power. We also see the need to highlight the intersectional and intersectoral nature of social struggle and social power.

Organizing 101

Whatever your movement work, building popular power means organizing. This is the process of bringing people together to impact the issues that concern them. Our model comes from labor organizing, and involves forming an organizing committee to take collective action. The committee can be small, between three and twenty persons, but with an emphasis on organizing and disruptive action it can have a huge impact. With a committee, organizers can bring more and more people into political action, and plan a direct action campaign targeted against power to win concessions. With success here, those projects can be scaled up to increased participation in mass mobilizations and mass direct actions, like strikes or sit-downs or civil disobedience, and a proliferation of the model.

This part of organizing we call “political layers” and are considering adopting as a formal strategic framework. Here we see three layers of social movement organizing, from the political layer, to the intermediate, and the mass layer. The political layer is the role of parties and political organizations like BRRN, and organizations that have clear political principles and objectives. In the above schema, the committee organizing takes place in the intermediate layer, a grouping with loosely shared objectives or tactics, with an eye toward building mass layer organizations and movements. We find this break down helps clarify and organize our tasks for supporting and sustain social movement organizing and transformative change.

Conclusions

With sectoral and political layer analysis, we still have many lingering questions and there has been significant internal discussion about our adopting these strategic frameworks. Most of the questions have to do with what gets left out, what are the intersections with identity and social oppression, and how we can use them in our organizing. For the time being, we argue that organizing within the arenas of our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools and where we are incarcerated can help take movements from “protest to politics,” but to a politics of different sort, not ones based on supporting politicians and building the institutions of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and the status quo. Instead building popular power rooted in sites of struggle can help us win transformative gains, and help turn the course of history to a brighter future.

Fractures at the top provide opportunities for building power from below. It is our task to seize these opportunities and push forward movements for liberation.

The post Popular Power In a Time of Reaction: Strategy for Social Struggle appeared first on Infoshop News.

The Yellow Vest Movement in France

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 02:12

via CrimethInc

Between “Ecological” Neoliberalism and “Apolitical” Movements

The past weeks have seen a massive confrontational movement arise in France opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s “ecological” tax increase on gas. This movement combines many contradictory elements: horizontally organized direct action, a narrative of being “apolitical,” the participation of far-right organizers, and the genuine anger of the exploited. Clearly, neoliberal capitalism offers no solutions to climate change except to place even more pressure on the poor; but when the anger of the poor is translated into reactionary consumer outrage, that opens ominous opportunities for the far right. Here, we report on the yellow vest movement in detail and discuss the questions it raises.

A las barricadas: the yellow vest movement has provided a venue for people to revolt without giving up their identity as consumers.

Preface: The Ruling Center and the Rebel Right

In the buildup to the 2018 elections in the US, we heard a lot of arguments that it would be better for centrist politicians to win control of the government. But what happens when centrists come to power and use their authority to stabilize capitalism at the expense of the poor? One consequence is that far-right nationalists gain the opportunity to present themselves as rebels who are trying to protect “ordinary people” from the oppressive machinations of the government. In a time when the state can do precious little to mitigate the suffering that capitalism is causing, it can be more advantageous to be positioned outside the halls of power. Consequently, far-right nationalism may be able to gain more ground under centrist governments than under far-right governments.

In attempting to associate environmentalism, feminism, internationalism, and anti-racism with neoliberalism, centrists make it likely that at least some of the movements that arise against the ruling order will be anti-ecological, misogynistic, nationalistic, and racist. That works out well for centrists, because it enables them to present themselves to the world as the only possible alternative to far-right extremists. This is precisely the strategy that got Macron elected in his campaign against Marine Le Pen. In this regard, centrists and nationalists are loyal adversaries who seek to divide up all possible positions between themselves, making it impossible to imagine any real solution to the crises created by capitalism.

A social movement of anger and confusion.

In short: if the wave of nationalist victories still sweeping the globe eventually gives way to a centrist backlash, but anarchists and other revolutionaries are not able to popularize tactics and movements that adequately address the catastrophies that so many people are facing, that could pave the way for an even more extreme wave of far-right populism.

We should study populist social movements under centrist governments in order to identify the ways that far-right groups can hijack them—and figure out how we can prevent that. This is one of the reasons to pay close attention to the “yellow vest” movement unfolding right now in France under the arch-centrist President Macron.

The “yellow vest” movement shows the strange fractures that can open up under the contradictions of modern centrism: above all, the false dichotomy between addressing global warming and addressing the ravages of capitalism. This dichotomy is especially dangerous in that it gives nationalists a narrative with which to capitalize on economic crisis while discrediting environmentalism by associating it with state oppression.

Against the dictatorship of the rich: a banner seen near Nantes.

What is taking place in France is reminiscent of what happened in Brazil in 2013, when a movement against the rising cost of public transportation provoked a nationwide crisis. This crisis gave tens of thousands of people new experience with horizontal organizing and direct action, but it also opened the way for nationalists to gain ground by presenting themselves as rebels against the ruling order. There are two significant differences between Brazil in 2013 and France today, however. First, the movement in Brazil was initiated by anarchists, but grew too big too quickly for anarchist values to retain hegemony—whereas anarchists have never had leverage within the movement of the “yellow vests.” Second, the movement in Brazil took place under a supposedly leftist government, not a centrist one. The hijacking of the movement against the fare hike in Brazil set the stage for a chain of events that culminated in the electoral victory of Bolsonaro, an outright proponent of military dictatorship and extrajudicial mass murders. In France, the context seems even less promising.

What should anarchists do in a situation like this? We can’t side with the state against demonstrators who are already struggling to survive. Likewise, we can’t side with demonstrators against the natural environment. We have to establish an anti-nationalist position within anti-government protests and an anti-state position within ecological movements. The “yellow vest” movement provides an instructive opportunity for us to think about how to strategize in an era of three-sided conflicts that pit us against both nationalists and centrists.

Burning barricades.

The Yellow Vest Movement in France

Several weeks ago, the Macron government officially announced that, on January 1, 2019, it will once again increase taxes on gas, which will raise the price of gas in general. This decision was justified as a step in the transition to “green energy.”

Diesel vehicles comprise two thirds of vehicles in France, where diesel is less expensive than regular gas. After decades of political policies aimed at pushing people to buy cars that run on diesel, the government has decided that diesel fuels are no longer “eco-friendly” and therefore people must change their cars and habits. Macron reduced taxes on the income of the super-rich at the beginning of his administration; he has not taken steps to make the wealthy pay for the transition to more ecologically sustainable technology, even though the wealthy have been the ones to benefit from the profits generated by ecologically harmful industrial activity. Consequently, Macron’s ecological arguments for the gas tax been largely ignored. Many people see the decision to increase the tax on gas as yet another attack on the poor.

The French government is responsible for creating this false dichotomy between ecology and the needs of working people. Decades of spatial planning have concentrated economic activity and job opportunities in bigger metropolises and developed public transportation in those same areas while isolating rural areas, making cars necessary for a large part of the population. Without any other option, many people are now completely reliant on their cars to live and work.

Blocking a toll collection point.

In response to Macron’s announcement about the tax on gas, people started organizing on the internet. Several petitions against the increase of the price of gas became viral, such as this online petition that is about to reach a million signatures as this text goes to press. Then, on September 17, 2018, a driver organization denounced the “overtaxation of fuels,” inviting its members to send their gas receipts to President Macron along with letters explaining their disapproval. On October 10, 2018, two truck drivers created a Facebook event calling for a national blockade against the increase of gas prices on November 17, 2018. As a result, more and more groups appeared on Facebook and Twitter sharing videos in which people attack the president’s decision and explain how difficult their financial situations already are, emphasizing that increasing the taxes on gas will only make it worse.

On the eve of the national call, about 2000 groups across the country were announcing their intention to block roads, toll collection points, gas stations, and refineries, or at least to hold demonstrations.

In order to identify the participants during this day of action, demonstrators decided to wear yellow emergency vests and asked sympathizers to show their support to the movement by displaying these vests in their cars. The symbolism behind this vest is simple enough. The French driver’s manual mandates that every driver must keep an emergency vest inside their car in case of accident or other issues on the road. In view of their dependency on cars, fearing to see their living conditions worsen, protestors chose these emergency vests as a symbol of resistance against Macron’s decision. By extension, protestors and media came to call this movement the “yellow vests.”

A blockade near Nantes on November 17.

Thousands of actions took place during the weekend of November 17. Approximately 288,000 “yellow vest” protestors were present in the streets for the first day of national blockade. This was a success for the movement, especially considering that it did not receive any assistance from trade unions or other major organizations.

Unfortunately, things escalated when fights broke out between “yellow vests” and other individuals. One “yellow vest” protester, a woman in her sixties, was killed by a driver, a mother who was trying to take her sick child to the doctor and attempted to drive through a blockade when people in yellow vests started smacking her car. Altogether, more than 400 people were injured, one protestor was killed, and about 280 individuals were arrested that weekend.

The movement remained strong despite these incidents. The blockades continued over the following days, even if participation diminished. In order to maintain the pressure on the government, the “yellow vests” made another national call for the following Saturday, November 24. Once again, various “yellow vest” groups on Facebook planned actions and demonstrations everywhere in France and circulated a call to converge in Paris for a big demonstration.

Facing a water cannon.

At first, this demonstration was planned for the Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel tower, where law enforcement would have surrounded and contained the protestors. However, this official decision did not satisfy some “yellow vesters,” and other calls circulated on social media. The November 17 demonstration in Paris had failed to reach its objective, the Presidential palace; consequently, the “yellow vesters” who were about to converge in Paris decided to repeat that effort on November 24. So it was that, rather than gathering at the base of the Eiffel tower, people converged and blocked the Champs Elysées, a target with powerful symbolic status. This luxurious avenue is the most visited in Paris; the Elysée palace where President Macron resides is located at the end of this avenue.

As they had the preceding week, demonstrators tried to get as close to the Presidential palace as possible. Barricading and confrontations took place all day along the most well-known Parisian avenue. It was reported that this second round of actions gathered about 106,000 participants throughout France, with about 8000 in Paris. These figures suggest that the movement is losing momentum. In the course of the demonstration in Paris, 24 people were injured in clashes and 103 people were arrested, of whom 101 were taken into custody. The first trials took place on Monday, November 26.

Bonfire on the Champs Elysées.

What Kind of Movement Is This?

The “yellow vest” movement describes itself as spontaneous, horizontal, and without leaders. It is difficult to be certain of these statements. The movement started via social media groups that facilitated decentralized actions in which people decided locally what they wanted to do and how to do it. In this regard, there is clearly some kind of horizontal organizing going on.

Regarding whether the movement is truly leaderless, this is more complicated. From the beginning, “yellow vesters” insisted that their movement was “apolitical” and had no leader. Instead, it was supposed to be the organic effort of several groups of people working together on the basis of their shared anger.

Nevertheless, as in practically every group—anarchist projects included—there are power dynamics. As is often the case, some people manage to accumulate more leverage than others, due to their access to resources, their capacity to persuade, or simply their skills with new technologies. Scrutinizing some of the self-proclaimed spokespersons of the “yellow vest” movement, we can see who has been able to accumulate influence within the movement and consider what their agenda might be.

  • Christophe Chalençon is the spokesperson for the Vaucluse department. Presenting himself as “apolitical” and “not belonging to any trade union,” he nevertheless presented his candidacy for the 2017 legislative election as a member of the “diverse right.” When we dig deeper into his personal relations and Facebook profile, we can see that his discourse is clearly conservative, nationalist, and xenophobic.
  • In Limoges, the organizer of the November 17 action of the “yellow vests” in the region was Christophe Lechevallier. Once again, the profile of this “angry citizen” is quite interesting. The least we can say is that Christophe Lechevallier seems to be a turncoat. In 2012, he presented his candidacy for the legislative elections as a member of a centrist party (the MoDem). Then he joined the extreme-right Front National (now called the Rassemblement National) and invited in 2016 its leader Marine Le Pen to a meeting. In the meantime, he was also working with the French pro-GMO agricultural organization FNSEA (the National Federation of Agricultural Holders’ Unions), known for defending the use of chemicals, such as the Glyphosate, to intensify their productions.
  • In Toulouse, the “yellow vest” spokesperson is Benjamin Cauchy. This young executive has been interviewed several times on national and local media. Again, this spokesperson is hardly “apolitical” if we consider his past. Benjamin Cauchy speaks freely about his political experience as a member of the traditional neoliberal right (at that time, the UMP, now known as Les Républicains). However, during law school, Benjamin Cauchy was one of the leaders of the student union UNI—well-known for its connections with conservative right and far-right parties and groups. But even more interesting, Benjamin Cauchy has not publicly acknowledged that he is now a member of the nationalist party Debout La France, whose leader, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, made an alliance with Marine Le Pen (of the Rassemblement National) during the second round of the last presidential election in hopes of defeating Macron.
There are frustrated consumers on both sides of the barricades.

So it is clear that conservative and far-right groups are hoping to impose their discourse, spread their ideas, and use this “apolitical movement of angry citizens” as a way to gain more power. This has not gone entirely unopposed. The yellow vesters of Toulouse decided to evict Benjamin Cauchy from their movement due to his political views. On November 26, while invited at a radio show, the latter said that as an answer to his eviction, he was creating a new national organization entitled “Les Citrons” (the Lemons) to continue his fight against tax rises and took the opportunity to denounce the “lack of democracy that exists within the ‘yellow vest’ movement.”

Finally, it seems that the so-called “leaderless movement” completely changed its strategy in the aftermath of the second Parisian demonstration. On Monday, November 26, a list of eight official spokespersons of the movement was presented to the press. Apparently, the preceding day, yellow vesters were asked to vote online to elect their new leading figures. These nominations and strategic decisions are already creating tension within the movement. Some yellow vesters are now criticizing the legitimacy of the election, raising questions about how these leaders got selected in the first place.

Meanwhile, some members of the movement have called for another day of action on Saturday, December 1. The demands are clear: 1.) More purchasing power; 2.) The cancellation of all taxes on gas. If these demands are not granted, demonstrators say that “they will march towards Macron’s resignation.” So far, 27,000 persons have announced that they will participate in this event. Once again, the unity that was the watchword several weeks ago seems to have evaporated, as several local organizers have dissociated themselves from the movement in opposition to the more confrontational path that the movement seems to be taking.

A blockade by night.

Rather than addressing the question of horizontality, corporate media outlets have been focusing on another question: is the protesters’ anger legitimate?

Many media outlets have suggested that this movement is mostly composed of undereducated low-income people who are against protecting the environment; they describe the demonstrations as violent in order to delegitimize the anger of the participants. Despite this, some media outlets have shifted their discourse over time, becoming somewhat less condescending and more whiling to broadcast demonstrators’ concerns. For example, after the confrontations at the Champs Elysées last Saturday, Christophe Castaner, the new Minister of the Interior, said: “the amount of damages is poor, they are mostly material ones, that’s the most important thing.” Quite a surprising statement, considering how corporate media outlets and politicians have decried similar actions during the demonstrations on May Day and the protests against the Loi Travail.

From our perspective, there’s no doubt that their anger is legitimate. Most people who take part in this movement speak of the difficult living situations they have to deal with every day. It makes sense that they are saying that they have had enough; the gas issue is just the straw that broke the camel’s back. The lower-class population has to struggle harder and harder to survive while everyone else remains comfortable enough not to be affected by economic shifts and tax increases targeting consumers. For now, at least.

So anger—and direct action—are legitimate. The question is whether the political vision and values that are driving this movement can lead to anything good.

“Well, let’s give them biofuels – Brigitte Macron.”

Troubled Waters

Numerous racist, sexist, and homophobic acts have taken place during yellow vest actions. During the November 17 demonstration in Paris, several well known anti-Semites and nationalists were seen among the crowd of demonstrators. Members of far-right and nationalist groups participated in the demonstrations on November 24 in Paris, as well. Some comrades have reported that the presence of the far right in the Paris demonstration is “undeniable.” They describe seeing a group of monarchists with a flag; the crowd considered their presence “insignificant” compared to the water cannons that law enforcement used during the clashes.

The same report also mentions several elements that are difficult to interpret. For example, while the crowd in Paris chanted some classic slogans of May 1968 (“CRS SS”) and the Loi Travail demonstrations (“Paris debout, soulève toi!”), they also chanted the first verse of the Marseillaise, which is currently associated with traditional republican parties and the far right, not radicals. This chant could be understood as a reference to its origins in the French Revolution, but the song has been coopted by its role as the French national anthem, giving it a patriotic and nationalist tone.

Yellow bloc.

Another example: while marching down the Champs Elysées, the crowd chanted “We are at home.” For an English-speaking reader, this statement seems innocuous enough, an affirmation that the demonstrators had taken the streets, as the authors of the above report framed it. However, this chant echoes the one regularly used by National Front supporters during their meetings. Understood in that context, “we are at home” has a more sinister connotation. For nationalists, it means that France is and will always be a white, Christian, and nationalist country. Everyone who doesn’t fit their identity and political agenda is therefore considered a stranger or an intruder. In other words, this slogan creates a narrative about who belongs and who doesn’t. The use of these words during the yellow vest demonstrations is poorly chosen, if not ominous.

Paris is not the only place reactionary tendencies have emerged in the movement. Indeed, on November 17, in Cognac, yellow vest protestors assaulted a black woman who was driving a car. During the altercation, some protestors told her to “go back to [her] country.” The same day, at Bourg en Bresse, an elected representative and his partner were assaulted for being gay. In the Somme department, some yellow vesters called the immigration police when they realized that migrants were hiding inside a large truck stuck in traffic. The list goes on.

Finally, some participants in this “apolitical” movement have openly expressed contempt for social movements in general—including the movement for better education, the movement to defend hospitals and access to health care, and the movement of the railworkers. In effect, this movement that purports to dissociate itself from collective struggles so it can benefit “everyone” ends up promoting individualistic self-interest: the right of isolated consumers to keep using their cars however they want at a cheap price, without any real vision of social change.

Police block the freeway as yellow vesters make representations of themselves.

How Should We Engage?

Among anarchists and leftists, we can identify two different schools of thought regarding how to engage with the “yellow vest” phenomenon: those who think that we should take part in it, and those who think that we should keep our distance.

Arguments to distance ourselves:
  • The yellow vest movement claims to be “apolitical.” By and large, the participants describe themselves as disgruntled citizens who work hard but are always the first to suffer from taxes and government decisions. This discourse has a lot in common with the Poujadisme movement of the 1950s, a reactionary and populist movement named for deputy Pierre Poujade, or, more recently, with the “Bonnets rouges” movement (the “red beanies”).
  • The idea that the movement is “apolitical” is dangerous in that it offers a perfect opportunity for far-right organizers, populists, and fascists to insinuate themselves among protesters. In other words, this movement offers the far right a chance to restructure itself and regain power.
  • As soon as the movement gained widespread attention, extreme-right politician Marine Le Pen and other conservatives and populists expressed support for it. So much for the talk about being “apolitical”!
“The ultra-right will lose!”

Arguments in favor of participating in the movement:
  • This appears to be a genuinely spontaneous and decentralized movement involving low-income people. In theory, we should be organizing alongside them in order to fight capitalism and state oppression. Mind you, the concepts of class war and anti-capitalism are far from being accepted or promoted among the demonstrators.
  • Some argue that we should participating in order to prevent fascists from coopting the movement and the anger it represents. Some radicals believe that we should take part in these actions as a way to make new connections with people and spread our ideas about capitalism and how to respond to the economic crisis.
  • For some radicals, being skeptical of the current movement and not wanting to take part in it can also indicate some sort of class contempt directed at the “apolitical” poor. Others argue that in every situation, we should always aim to be actors rather than spectators. Some even assert that if we are “true” revolutionaries, we should leap into the unknown and discover what is possible instead of passively criticizing from a distance.

All these arguments are valid, but if they lead to anarchists participating in a movement that offers fascists a recruiting platform—as some anarchists did in the Ukrainian revolution—that will be a disaster that opens the way for worse catastrophes to come.

“Down with the state, the police, and the fascists.”

The fundamental problem with the yellow vest movement is that it begins from the wrong premises, attempting to preserve conditions that we should all have been fighting to abolish in the first place. Rather than seeking to protect today’s alienated and miserable consumer way of life, which is itself the result of a century of defeats and betrayals in the labor movement, we should be asking why we are so dependent on cars and gasoline in the first place. If our ways of surviving and traveling had not been constructed in such an isolating, individualized way—if capitalists were not able to exploit us so ruthlessly—we would not have to choose between destroying the environment and giving up the last vestiges of financial stability.

We have to change our habits and give up our privileges in the course of fighting for another world (or another end of the world), but as always, governments and capitalists are forcing us to bear the brunt of the problems they caused. We must not permit them to frame the terms of the discussion.

“Overthrow Macron, disband the government, and abolish the system.”

Open Questions

Incidentally, the situation is quite different outside the French homeland. On the island of Reunion, since November 17, there has been a social upheaval in which all strategic sites have been blocked—the port, the airport, and the prefecture. Fearing that they might lose control of the situation and being concerned about the impact on the economy, French authorities established a curfew on November 20 that lasted until November 25.

In Europe, as the yellow vest movement attempts to restructure itself after being weakened by leadership issues and conflicts over strategy, this might be an opportunity to create new bridges and make proposals about more systemic solutions to the problems that caused this movement.

Regarding ecology, we have to emphasize that the rich are the ones chiefly responsible for climate change, and that they will have to be the ones who pay to deal with it—if we are not able to dethrone them first. To some extent, this seems to be what the current blockading movement against capitalism and climate change Extinction Rebellion is trying to do in England. It is ironic that two different blockading movements about capitalism and ecology are taking place on either side of the English channel right now—one making ecological demands of the state, the other reacting to state environmental measures.

About nationalism, we must assert that it is no better to be exploited by citizens of our own race, gender, and religion than it is to be exploited by foreigners, and emphasize that we will only be able to stand up to those who oppress and exploit us if we establish solidarity across all the various lines of difference—race, gender, religion, citizenship, and sexual preference. We are inspired by the yellow vest protesters in Montpellier who formed a guard of honor to welcome the feminist march on November 24.

Above all, we need an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-sexist and ecological front within the space of social movements. The question is whether that should take place inside the “yellow vest” movement, or against it.

Chaos for Christmas.

There are so many dawns that have yet to break.

The post The Yellow Vest Movement in France appeared first on Infoshop News.

Focus on Disaster Relief

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 00:01
Solidarity Not Charity

Infosbop News has provided news and resources about disaster relief efforts dating back to Hurricane Katrina. This is our new disaster relief, mutual aid and solidarity portal for past disaster and ongoing situations around the world. It provides news and information about current relief efforts, relief organizations, and info about given situations. We will make an effort to provide links to reputable organizations, but we stress that you should always research organizations and campaigns.

California Wildfires 2018

Organizations

Episcopal Farmworker Ministry

News & Analysis

Hurricanes Florence and Michael 2018 Hurricane Irma and Maria 2017 Houston / Gulf Coast Hurricanes 2017 Hurricane Matthew 2016

 

 

 

The post Focus on Disaster Relief appeared first on Infoshop News.

Noam Chomsky on Pittsburgh Attack: Revival of Hate Is Encouraged by Trump’s Rhetoric

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 04:40

via Democracy Now

It’s been less than a month since a gunman stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jewish worshipers. The massacre has been described as the worst anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. After the shooting, we spoke with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned professor, linguist and dissident, about Pittsburgh, Israel’s policies toward Gaza and other recent white supremacist and right-wing attacks in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We continue our conversation with Noam Chomsky. Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and I spoke to him on November 1st. It was just days after a gunman shot dead 11 Jewish worshipers, October 27th, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It was the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. I asked Noam to talk about anti-Semitism and his own Jewish upbringing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was a Hebrew linguist.

NOAM CHOMSKY: When I was a child, the threat that fascism might take over much of the world was not remote. That’s much worse than what we’re facing now. My own locality happened to be very anti-Semitic. We were the only Jewish family in a Irish—mostly Irish and German Catholic neighborhood, much of which was pro-Nazi, so I could see it better on the ground.

What we’re now seeing is a revival of hate, anger, fear, much of it encouraged by the rhetorical excesses of the leadership, which are stirring up passions and terror, even the ludicrous claims about the Nicaraguan army ready to invade us—Ronald Reagan—the caravan of miserable people planning to kill us all. All of these things, plus, you know, praising somebody who body-slammed a reporter, one thing after another—all of this raises the level of anger and fear, which has roots.

The roots lie in what has happened to the general population over the past 40 years. People really have faced significant distress. An astonishing fact about the United States is that life expectancy is actually declining. That doesn’t happen in developed societies, apart from, you know, major war or huge famine. But it’s happening because of social distress, and not necessarily impoverishment. The people who are demonstrating this fear and resentment may be even moderately affluent, but what they see is they’re stagnating. In the past, there was—you had this dream: You worked hard, you could get ahead, your children would be a little better. Now it stopped. It stopped for the last 40 years as a result of very specific socio and economic policies, which have been designed so that they sharply concentrate wealth, they enhance corporate power, that has immediate effects on the political system in perfectly obvious ways, even to the point where lobbyists literally write legislation. This onslaught has literally cast a bunch of the population aside. They’re stagnating. They are not moving forward. They see no prospects. And they’re bitter and angry about it.

Read and watch more

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Why the Decline of Newspapers Is Bad for the Environment

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 16:11

via Pacific Standard

by Sophie Yeo

Local newspapers in the United States are declining at an alarming rate. A lack of local news sources can be bad for democracy, leaving politicians free to act without scrutiny. A new study suggests that it could also be bad for the environment.

Besides reporting on local government, community newspapers cover nearby corporations—and on the toxic emissions released by those corporations’ facilities. In doing so, journalists wield a powerful tool when it comes to forcing companies to clean up their act, according to a recent paper by Pamela Campa, assistant professor of economics at the Stockholm School of Economics.

Specifically, Campa looked at the top 20 polluters in each state in the U.S., deriving her data from the Toxics Release Inventory, a data set collected by the Environmental Protection Agency based on information gathered by companies themselves. Then, she searched for examples of news stories about these plants. Using a newspaper archive called NewsLibrary, she searched for any articles in local newspapers that covered the annual release of this data set.

Unfortunately, coverage was rare: Only 4 percent of the top 20 polluters in each state received any coverage at all, perhaps owing to a lack of environmental specialists at local papers, Campa speculates. But among those that were subjected to negative press attention, the effect of coverage on emissions was often stark.

“Before these plants are featured in the news, their emissions evolve over time in a trend that is comparable to plants that are not covered in the newspapers,” Campa says. “Then, after I observe some newspaper coverage, the plant that is in the news drops its toxic emissions.”

Read more

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Will We Survive Climate Change?

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 05:18

via the New York Times

by John Schwartz

Are we doomed?

If you’re an expert in climate science, you probably get this question a lot.

“I do,” said Kate Marvel, associate research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “And I’ve been hearing it more recently.”

It’s no mystery why. Reports of the threats from a warming planet have been coming fast and furiously. The latest: a startling analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting terrible food shortages, wildfires and a massive die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, unless governments take strong action.

The Paris climate accord set a goal of keeping the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. At 2 degrees, things are bad enough: Arctic sea ice is 10 times more likely to disappear over the summer, along with most of the world’s coral reefs. As much as 37 percent of the world’s population becomes exposed to extreme heat waves, with an estimated 411 million people subject to severe urban drought and 80 million people to flooding from rising sea levels.

But if we can hold the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, Arctic sea ice is far likelier to survive the summers. Coral reefs will continue to be damaged, but will not be wiped out. The percentage of people exposed to severe heat waves would plummet to about 14 percent. The number exposed to urban drought would drop by more than 60 million people.

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The Grassroots Movement to Transform Our Broken Disaster Relief System

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 01:48

via Splinter

by Sophie Weiner

It would have been a beautiful autumn day in Oakland, if not for the haze. Standing in a parking lot next to the iconic Lake Merritt, the smoke hung over everything, turning the sky a bluish beige and blurring anything more than a few hundred yards away.

A few volunteers and reporters milled about in the lot. We were there to see a 26-foot truck deliver 50,000 N95 particulate masks from Southern California to the organization Mask Oakland, a collective started by two people to address the toxic smoke in the East Bay that resulted from the fires in Sonoma County last October.

“There were just so many people outside walking through visible haze. It was gnarly, you know? You could taste it sometimes,” Mask Oakland co-founder J Redwoods told Splinter on the phone last week, remembering the fallout from the devastating Tubbs Fire last year. Redwoods, who identifies as non-binary, looked around then and saw thousands of homeless people walking around without masks on, breathing the toxic smoke. They went to the store and spent $100 of their own money to buy masks. They began visiting Oakland’s innumerable homeless encampments, handing them out to whoever wanted one. By the time the smoke cleared, Redwoods and local organizer Cassandra Williams, who became Mask Oakland’s other co-founder, ended up using a few hundred dollars in donations they received on Venmo to buy and distribute 4,000 masks.

The Camp Fire has now surpassed the Tubbs Fire as the most destructive and deadly fire in California’s history. It has burned 151,000 acres, destroyed 17,000 buildings, and killed at least 81 people, with hundreds still missing. The recovery process for communities like Paradise, which was almost totally destroyed by the fire, and the neighboring city of Chico, will take years, maybe decades. In the process, the air in Northern California has become the most toxic anywhere in the world. Every day since the fire, the air quality in most of Northern California has been rated “unhealthy” or worse, prompting school closures and cancellations of outdoor events.

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Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 21:25

via CounterPunch

by Anthony Pahnke

Many progressive Democrats that won their midterm election bids, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, to Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, campaigned to change radically immigration policy. One of their slogans was to abolish the principal immigration law enforcement agency, ICE (Immigration Customs and Enforcement). To turn that campaign slogan into reality means defunding ICE, which Democrats can do, if they chose, now that they have a majority in the House of Representatives.

ICE has long been criticized by immigration rights groups – even before Trump became President – for its use of private, for-profit detention centers, treatment of detainees, and overall lack of transparency and accountability. Despite these problems, the Trump administration has not only expressed support for the agency, but has sought to increase its budget. In 2017, ICE was authorized to use $6.4 Billion, which increased to $7.6 Billion in 2018. Trump’s proposed 2019 budget for ICE, similarly, sees an increase of nearly $1 Billion dollars.

A variety of activities related to immigration fall within ICE’s purview. Its 2018 budget divides these activities into five ‘missions,’specifically, (1) ‘preventing terrorism and enhancing security,’ (2) ‘securing and managing our borders,’ (3) ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws,’ (4) ‘safeguarding and securing cyberspace,’ and (5) ‘strengthening national preparedness and resilience.’ Of these five, the third – ‘enforcing and administering our immigration laws’ – receives by far the lion’s share of ICE’s total budget. In 2017, this amounted to nearly $4 Billion, with over $3 Billion dedicated to enforcement and removal. Such operations, as explained in ICE’s budget statement, entail “identifying and apprehending removable aliens, detaining those individuals pending final determination of removability, and removing aliens from the United States by legal processes and procedures.” These practices, which are central to ICE’s mission, are also some of the institution’s most controversial and criticized.

Yet, to abolish ICE, especially in the current political climate, is next to impossible. The reason is that ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was created during the Bush Administration in the aftermath of September 11th. Public Law 107-296 officially saw to the creation of DHS, and with it, ICE. Thus, to abolish ICE would require legislation not only to pass the House of Representatives, but also the Republican-controlled Senate. The chances of such a bill getting a vote in the Senate are next to none. The odds that President Trump would sign that legislation, also, are essentially zero.

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I’m a woman who fought wildfires for 7 years. Climate change is absolutely making them worse.

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 16:06

via Vox

By Anastasia Selb

018’s wildfires are already proving to be more destructive than last year’s. The Camp Fire near Chico, California has already claimed at least 29 lives, destroyed more than 6,400 structures, and burned more than 111,000 acres since it began last Thursday. It is now the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. Meanwhile, the Woolsey Fire continues to ravage Los Angeles County, burning 85,500 acres. This essay, published during last year’s brutal fire season, tackles many of the same issues as this year’s season.

The mundane days all run together. But those days when I was genuinely unsure if I would make it to the end of my shift intact are the ones that stand out.

I remember fighting a fire on the Angeles National Forest in 2002. Our crew flew onto a ridge in a helicopter. The rotor wash, or wind created by the helicopter blades, flung orange embers into the unburned vegetation — the “green.” Immediately, it started burning.

We jumped out of the helicopter, ran underneath the fire, and started digging. The goal was to quickly create a line free of any vegetation that could burn, called a fireline, which we used to stop fires from growing. Digging fireline is grueling; I often lost myself in the sound of chainsaws and rhythm of my tool hitting the dirt and ignored my physical pain.

Some of us had to run deep into the green and find embers or put out new small fires before they began burning out of control. There were full minutes when I thought, This may be it. We may not make it.

I worked as a wildland firefighter for seven years in the 2000s. And so I’ve been watching the smoky footage on my computer of the fires burning across the West this last month with great unease. Take the La Tuna Fire, which ignited on September 1. It was one of the largest fires Los Angeles has ever seen and burned more than 7,000 acres before it was contained. And it’s the kind of fire that is increasingly common in the age of climate change.

Wildland firefighters are especially attuned to how climate change puts us all at greater risk for destructive fires. We understand how higher temperatures and long-term drought are the perfect conditions for ignition. To us, there’s little controversy that it’s happening, although not everyone believes it’s human caused. I do, and, along with others in the field, I wonder when those in power will take the steps needed to address climate change.
Climate change and wildfires are a vicious cycle of worsening conditions

Wildfires currently burning in Northern California have destroyed thousands of acres and homes and resulted in the deaths of 11 people. Counties including Napa and Sonoma have been declared a state of emergency.

It’s been a brutal wildfire season. Last month’s La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles was, I’m sure, one of those fires that seemed uncontainable. In a speech, Ralph Terrazas, the LAFD fire chief, said, “We can handle everything. We have to. We don’t have an option.” He sounded exhausted and less hopeful than his words.

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Women’s March is the wrong target in the fight against anti-Semitism

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 15:55

via JTA

by Daniel Sieradski

NEW YORK (JTA) — The same Jewish liberals who gave in to efforts by the Jewish right to divide the black and Jewish communities in the ’70s are back again to divide Jews from their would-be allies, and this time they’re dead set on being the breach in the dam that lets the Nazis through.

Not three weeks after the worst massacre of Jews by a white supremacist in American history, Jewish liberals and conservatives alike have found a target for their wrath, and it’s none other than Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour.

Here’s why I’m fuming:

Any day now the president of the United States can sign an executive order, as he has threatened to do, that will strip citizenship from those who were born in America to parents that were here illegally. Forgive me if I take this personally, as the son of a septuagenarian mother who was born to two Holocaust survivors who sneaked into the country by overstaying their tourist visas.

While this possibility simmers in the background, undocumented and documented immigrants are being rounded up, thrown in cages, having their kids taken from them and sent halfway across the country, and are then deported without their children. These kids, who when they are are lucky enough to be reunited with their parents, suffer from severe emotional and psychological trauma from which they may never recover.

In light of this and the administration’s attacks on the rights of transgender men and women, women’s right to choose, the rights of workers to organize in their workplaces and the right of black people to vote, it becomes clear that everything this administration stands for will result in the destruction of all that we as Jewish people of conscience purport to care about.

So when, inspired by a president who openly blames prominent liberal Jews for that which white nationalists refer to as “white genocide,” a neo-Nazi walks into a shul and kills a bunch of liberal Jews, you’d think that our energy would stay focused on the existential threat in the White House — something actually leading to Jews being killed.

Instead, the dishonorable Minister Louis Farrakhan says something abhorrent, and suddenly all of the energy and anger after Pittsburgh has been shifted away from the president and onto Farrakhan and the left that supposedly embraces him.

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The Case Against Voting

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 15:10

via Center for a Stateless Society

by William Gillis

So we’ve survived another election cycle and the inevitable surge of libertarian socialists like Chomsky lecturing anarchists about our abstention from voting.

I want to be clear: it is certainly true that the results of elections can matter. Unless you’re gonna roll the very long odds on a type of accelerationism, a bumbling centrist would be better than literal Hitler. Today, as the republican party lurches to the furthest white nationalist extremes, the “eh the parties are the same” rhetoric no longer cuts it for many. However. Just because the results of an election matter, doesn’t remotely mean that your individual vote matters.

The odds of your single vote swinging an important election are astronomical. There is no getting around this reality. Elections in representative democracies are all or nothing affairs: either a politician or piece of legislation wins or it doesn’t. Up until you can tip the balance one way or another your vote is of no causal consequence on the outcome. A typical election in my home state is settled by voting margins in the hundreds of thousands. Voting with the winning or losing side is inconsequential in such cases.

Yes, the stakes of the election’s results may be high for millions, but the odds of influencing the few elections with such stakes are, for most, usually smaller than one in a trillion. You can do far more net good handing out a twenty to a homeless person, caring for those in your life, organizing meaningful alternative infrastructure that directly helps others, or just doing the daily work of sustaining your own mental health.

Voting is thus far more irrational than buying a lottery ticket. At least with the lottery ticket there are plausible utility functions and economic conditions for impoverished people where the one in a billion chance is a good investment. There are exceptions where hyper-tight races with huge stakes are known about in advance, but this is almost never the case and certainly wasn’t the case for the vast majority of ballots cast this year.

Your act of voting doesn’t matter, but the fact that so many leftists think it does reveals deep collectivist irrationalities that DO matter and affect other actually relevant forms of activism and strategy.

The argument for voting is very Kantian: “act so that if everyone acted so…” and “if no literally one voted then voting would matter again” but if literally no one voted the government wouldn’t maintain legitimacy. And in any case this is not an actual causality. When you vote you don’t magically cause everyone else like you to vote, you are a distinct agent with distinct internal thoughts. Your individual actions have only very weak externalities beyond the direct consequences of your choice/vote. You could very well campaign to influence how others vote by deluding thousands and then not vote yourself since your personal vote would still be irrelevant, indeed I know some sharp-minded liberals who’ve done precisely this.

Unfortunately the delusional thinking behind voting crops up in leftist inclinations in general. They want to build giant organizations, giant armies, with individuals all acting in low return-on-investment ways, in hopes of aggregate impact. They don’t search for opportunities of high impact individual direct action. Thus, leftists gravitate towards “you have an obligation to show up for a meaningless protest” type stuff. Sure the demonstration only had a thousand something people milling about in hidden embarrassment, but if it had a hundred thousand then maybe they could storm some building and change something! If you just keep voting, keep attending demonstrations, keep buying lottery tickets, then maybe just maybe…

Democratic thinking seeks to build numbers first and foremost. It considers “having” more people to be the very definition of success. When this lens gets applied to organizing it detaches activism from a direct evaluation of consequences.

We are asked to keep showing up for meetings in an organization in hopes that one day this ritual of civic participation will transmute into potency and positive consequences. But very quickly the participation becomes the end in and of itself. The size of membership becomes the sole metric of success. The feeling of “community” sustained by these rituals becomes our real payoff.

Just as democracy teaches us to defer accomplishing things until after The Election, leftist politics slides into deferring accomplishing things until after The Revolution. The party is to be built up until one big breaking moment where the investment suddenly pans out.

Of course, until that moment, one more person joining doesn’t really accomplish anything. And so leftists become obsessed with instituting the same suppression of individual rationality among their members as democratic governments do to their citizens. Participation becomes a moral good in and of itself, acts are policed and rewarded in ways increasingly divorced from their consequences. The rituals are what matter, all talk of goals or efficiency be damned.

Collective action like voting often requires top-down enforcement and/or precommitments and sacrifice of continual individual agency so that you all march lockstep into action.

But anarchists — as opposed to leftists — don’t accept giving up personal agency and constant clearheaded evaluations. And we refuse to embrace systems, institutions, or strategies that necessitate that.

Instead we advocate direct action and finding ways of getting the goods without first having to scale up to a giant mass of people. Our projects are generally geared to slope upwards in impact rather than being all or nothings, so that every additional bit of energy or time people invest directly accomplishes something real, like feeding the homeless or arming trans women. Unlike voting — which is channeled through a centralized chokepoint and makes your involvement meaningless until a very specific amount of people are involved — this approach allows someone’s involvement to directly pay off in positive consequences. Rather than pouring energy into fighting sweeping universal abortion laws, we can simply build networks of abortion provision that are ungovernable, every new facility or cell a win. This gives individuals getting involved informed agency in their participation, in that they know the payout from their investment, and it gives them actual payout every step of the way. In this process our strategies and projects cultivate active engagement every step of the way, rather than perpetuating a culture of passivity and complicity in larger institutions and habits beyond reproach.

Even when we do work towards very distant goals like social transformation, the work that we do ideally moves that transition closer, sooner. We may not yet have sufficient numbers to normalize a new social norm or launch a project, but we hasten the day it will arrive and thus minimize the time people will have to live under the interim state of affairs. In our democracy a ballot measure isn’t passed the moment enough names sign a form, even if a measure is put on a ballot years later a whole new election with new acts of voting are required.

But most importantly, in our rejection of the democratic psychology, anarchists open ourselves to being on the lookout for opportunities of individual action. When agency is correctly grounded back in the individual minds that constitute the only true agents in the world, anarchism restores a personal responsibility often occluded or avoided by democratic thinking. Anarchism demands that we ask at every moment, “what should I do to best liberate all?” It requires constantly reevaluating our model of the world and our personal context within it.

This is why it’s almost always anarchists who seize opportunities for high-impact action like hacking corporations, coding tools that will be used by millions, or assassinating dictators. We continually build high impact tools, art, and are the ones happy to go to prison to stop a pogrom affecting hundreds. When it comes to making a huge difference there’s a ton of low hanging fruit, as a friend of mine said, “in this broken society there’s no excuse for not personally saving thousands.”

If democratic thinking is Kantian, a blueprint of habits and rituals to be unthinkingly stuck to regardless of effectiveness, indoctrinating us to operate like a slave with a cop in our head, anarchism is by contrast act consequentialist — demanding active consideration of causes and impact at all moments, and staying open to unique contexts.

There are of course rare situations where a vote has some higher chance of being meaningful. And the stakes can be quite high. Anarchist purity police are not going to arrest you for voting. But such situations are starkly rare and, for most of us in America, living in states and counties solidly one color or another, almost never something we’ll see. This is important because countering democratic thinking is critical to turning the tide.

The appeal “yes but if everyone thought the same as you” is meaningless first of all because our individual decision to vote or not has no magical casual impact on others’ decisions. At best by objecting to the democratic psychology and irrational arguments we can carve out some cultural space for people to gain more agency and clearheaded evaluations, maybe persuade a few. But second of all, if more people thought like us they’d help pluck the remaining low-hanging fruit.

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The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:51

via The Guardian

by George Monbiot

It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by climate activists Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the organisers on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for UK carbon emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?

A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … This is an emergency. We are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?” We had no answer.

Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.

Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.

Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, temperatures rose 10C within a decade.

I don’t believe such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the second world war in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a navy contract to build anti-shipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.

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86 Organizations Demand Zuckerberg to Improve Takedown Appeals

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:45

via Motherboard

by Caroline Haskins

Over the past year, Facebook has been forced to expand its content moderation practices in response to human and civil rights groups, who have argued that the company is not doing enough to protect its marginalized users from hate speech. Now, Facebook has been subject to criticism alleging that the company enforces its content moderation policies inconsistently in a way that puts marginalized users at a disadvantage.

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg signed by 86 organizations and published on Tuesday implores Facebook to provide a clear, fast mechanism that allows users to appeal instances of content takedowns and account deactivations. The letter‚ which was spearheaded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Article 19, Ranking Digital Rights, and the Center for Democratic Technology (CDT)—expanded upon the Santa Clara Principles published earlier this year, which called for all social media platforms to improve its transparency and responsiveness to flagged posts and appeals for removed content.

In April of this year, Facebook launched appeals for posts that are removed on grounds nudity, hate speech, or graphic violence. The press release claims that one of Facebook’s human content reviewers will review all appeals within 24 hours, and notify users if their appeal has been approved or denied.

The Facebook appeals process was largely an attempt to balance the company’s quickly expanding content moderation process. For perspective, Facebook reportedly had about 4,500 content moderators in May of 2017, which grew to 7,500 human content reviewers in April of 2018.

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The neoliberal order is dying. Time to wake up

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:39

via True Publica

by Jonathan Cook

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are of course deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

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Tech Workers Need to Keep Organizing

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:45

via Jacobin

by JS Chen

Tens of thousands of Google workers in over forty offices around the world recently walked off the job to protest their employer’s handling of sexual harassment claims. Collectively, they are demanding an end to Google’s culture that has fostered sexual harassment and abuse. Their demands not only include more transparency around harassment incidents but also a commitment to end gender inequities in pay and opportunity, among other issues in the company.

This protest against leadership in tech and others in recent years, signals a realization among tech workers that their interests and values differ vastly from those of their bosses, and that the only way to fight for their demands is to organize.

Today, the fight centers on the rampant sexism within these tech giants. But tech workers can and should fight the oppression and exploitation both within their companies and inflicted by their companies with the technology they build.

To do so, tech workers must first realize that they too, despite their often-high salaries and office perks, are workers. And like any other kind of worker, to advocate for their interests on the job, they need to get organized.

Why Some Tech Workers Don’t Think of Themselves as Workers

When we think of tech workers, we think of free pizza, table-tennis work breaks, casual attire, and six-figure salaries — hardly typical features of the working class in our minds. That’s no surprise: Americans typically think of income as synonymous to class. A large-enough paycheck qualifies you as part of America’s upper-middle class.

But this is the wrong approach to defining who is working class and who is not. Under capitalism, class is defined by one’s relationship to — and ownership of — the means of production. In tech, like any other industry, there are owners (the bosses, the executives, and the shareholders, who make money off workers’ labor) and there are workers (who can only survive by selling their labor).

Workers create more value for the owners than what it costs the owners to hire them. That additional value is then pocketed by the owners as profit.

For example, the average Apple engineer, who makes on the lower end of a six-figure salary, generates $1.9 million of revenue for Apple. This means that Apple gets about 10-20 times the monetary value per engineer than what it costs for to hire them.

Why is this class distinction so confusing for tech workers? Why is it that tech workers don’t think of themselves as “workers”?

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‘This Is Our Darkest Hour’: With Declaration of Rebellion, New Group Vows Mass Civil Disobedience to Save Planet

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:23

via Common Dreams

by Andrea Germanos

To underscore the planetary emergency and denounce the U.K. government’s inaction on the climate crisis, a new group calling itself Extinction Rebellion rallied over 1,000 people to block Parliament Square in London on Wednesday. The direct action marks the launch of a mass civil disobedience campaign, with the group issuing a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the government because the activists “refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.”

Police arrested 15 people taking part in the action, but organizers say the wrong people were taken into custody. “If we lived in a democracy,” Extinction Rebellion declared in a tweet, “the police would be here to arrest the criminal politicians who are wrecking the planet.”

The DECLARATION OF REBELLION against the criminal inaction of the UK government on #ClimateBreakdown has just been made.#ExtinctionRebellion pic.twitter.com/g81w0DL3Dv

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

Noted speakers at the action included Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, journalist George Monbiot, and 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl “on strike” from school over her own government’s climate inaction.  “We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children. We need to wake up and change everything,” she stated.

Green Party MEP Molly Scott Cato took part as well. In an op-ed at the Guardian, she explained that she felt there was no alternative to being a lawmaker turned law-breaker. “We are prepared to halt lorries entering fracking sites; to stand in the way of bulldozers building roads and block traffic along heavily congested and polluted streets. Direct actions like these have a long and proud history; it’s time to carry them through in a systematic way to protect the climate, and to be willing to be arrested for doing so.”

Pointing to the latest IPCC report and the World Wildlife Fund’s latest assessment of the Earth’s declining biodiversity, she added, “It is no exaggeration to say that our survival as a species is at risk. Enough. Enough of words; of hypocrisy and broken promises. It’s time to act.”

The thin blue line between people and the politicians who are commiting wilful climate genocide through their criminal inaction on climate breakdown. #ExtinctionRebellion #FossilFree #ZeroCarbon2025 pic.twitter.com/qT6KlOkHWX

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

The #ExtinctionRebellion are doing this for your future. This is a climate emergency. The UN says that we are almost out of time and the UK government is failing us. Rebel for life with us. pic.twitter.com/wA63Qi0PYt

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

Peace, love and respect for earth and all of its life. #ExtinctionRebellion for #ZeroCarbon2025. pic.twitter.com/2J54dGQKoy

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

The declaration declares, in part: “The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, and indeed this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored, denied, nor go unanswered by any beings of sound rational thought, ethical conscience, moral concern, or spiritual belief. ”

As such, we “declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future,” it continues.

They charge they government of having “wilful complicity” that “has shattered meaningful democracy and cast aside the common interest in favor of short-term gain and private profits.”

“This is our darkest hour… The science is clear—we are in the sixth mass extinciton event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly.”
—Declaration of Rebellion“This is our darkest hour… The science is clear—we are in the sixth mass extinciton event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly.”—Declaration of RebellionThe declaration, said noted U.S. climate activist and author Bill McKibben, “should ring true not just for Brits, but for Americans (who have a declaration in their past) and for people anywhere.”

Wednesday’s action was far from the end of the road for Extinction Rebellion; they’ve got a week of action lined up for mid-November in London if their three demands— that the government openly communicate the severity of the crisis and urgency for change; enact legally binding policies to slash emissions; and allow for a Citizens’ Assembly to monitor and hold government to account for enacting to “the bold, swift, and long-term changes necessary”aren’t met.

“This is just a warm up. Rebellion Day is on November the 17th. Same time, same place,” the environmental group, which is backed by nearly 100 leading academics, tweeted.

The escalating actions, they say, are because we “are raging against this madness and our hearts are breaking.”

“We have a right and duty to rebel in the face of this tyranny of idiocy—in the face of this planned collective suicide.”

“We are going to act,” the group says, “and in acting together we will overcome.”

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Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:07

via Locus magazine

by Cory Doctorow

For 20 years, privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about commercial online surveillance, the way that companies gather deep dossiers on us to help marketers target us with ads. This pitch fell flat: by and large, people were skeptical of the efficacy of targeted advertising; the ads we got were rarely very persuasive, and when they did work, it was usually because the advertisers had figured out what we wanted and offered to sell it to us: people who’d previously shopped for a sofa saw ads for sofas, and if they bought a sofa, the ads persisted for a while because the ad targeting systems weren’t smart enough to know that their services were no longer needed, but really, where was the harm in that? The worst case scenario was that advertisers would waste their money with ads that had no effect, and the best case scenario was that shopping would get somewhat more convenient as predictive algorithms made it easier for us to find the thing we were just about to look for.

Privacy advocates tried to explain that persuasion was just the tip of the iceberg. Commercial databases were juicy targets for spies and identity thieves, to say nothing of blackmail for people whose data-trails revealed socially risky sexual practices, religious beliefs, or political views.

Now we’re living through the techlash, and finally people are coming back to the privacy advocates, saying we were right all along; given enough surveillance, companies can sell us anything: Brexit, Trump, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and successful election bids for absolute bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban.

It’s great that the privacy-matters message is finally reaching a wider audience, and it’s exciting to think that we’re approaching a tipping point for indifference to privacy and surveillance.

Read more

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