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Updated: 54 min 7 sec ago

Three Lessons the Labour Movement Must Learn From the Fight for 15 at Walmart

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 19:14

via openDemocracy and Naked Capitalism

By Alex J. Wood

Across Europe trade union strength is diminishing. In many countries union membership is falling. Even where membership and collective bargaining appear robust this is mainly due to legal supports rather than unions’ retaining structural power. Sectoral agreements are being hollowed out and the problem for unions is structural. Union power in Western Europe was at its height in the 1960s – a period marked by large-scale industrial production and Keynesian economic policy. Since the 1970s new information, communication and transportation technologies have enabled networked forms of production, distribution and finance to develop in which product markets, corporate ownership and labour process are internationalised. In combination, these processes seriously undermine the possibility for effective formal collective bargaining in many sectors.

If unions in the twenty-first century are to remain relevant, they must embrace what is an ever more connected and networked world. The Fight for 15 movement in the United States provides an illuminating example of some ways in which the internet can benefit organised labour. Below I discuss three lessons which UK trade unions should take from the early stages of the low-wage worker movement which shaped the ‘Fight for $15 an hour’. This mobilisation can be traced to the founding of the Organisation United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). OUR Walmart was founded as an independent worker association in 2011 by the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) union, a union with a broad membership of more than 1.3 million across the retail, food processing and meat packing industries. This article draws on six weeks spent participating in the campaign in California and 43 interviews with workers and union officials (for a more academic account of this work see ‘Networks of injustice and worker mobilisation at Walmart’ in Industrial Relations Journal).

At the beginning of this decade the retailer Walmart was the world’s largest private sector employer with a global workforce of 2.2 million, 1.4 million of whom are hourly paid workers in the United States. Walmart was also renowned for its hostility to organised labour and its ability to defeat unionisation attempts. However, the UFCW had identified small numbers of workers at a number of stores who were fed up with their low pay and hours, and the prevalent managerial abuse which they routinely faced, and were open to a collective attempt at improving working conditions. With the unionised retail sector coming under pressure from the growth of Walmart, the UFCW decided to try something radical: instead of running a traditional union organising campaign aimed at collective bargaining recognition, the union would support workers in forming an independent organisation with the aim of pressurising Walmart to raise labour standards. The campaign was surprisingly successful. Walmart increased starting pay to $10 per hour in its wake, improving the pay of over 500,000 workers, and in addition the local minimum wages was raised in a number of jurisdictions.

Lesson 1. The Transformative Potential of Social Media for Participatory Organisation

Social media was crucial in enabling the existence of OUR Walmart. It provided a discursive space in which workers could interact and discuss their working lives, and in doing so they were able to develop new understandings of their situation. Walmart’s extreme hostility to unions made the existence of this space outside of the workplace crucial. Walmart not only expelled union organisers from stores but also operated a workplace regime of surveillance and fear. Workers faced high levels of monitoring and the threat of being punished if caught talking about unions or collective organisation. This made it extremely difficult for workers to discuss their grievances face-to-face with each other or with union organisers.

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Underpaid and exhausted: the human cost of your Kindle

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 17:18

via The Guardian

by Gethin Chamberlain

Five o’clock in the morning and the young woman’s eyelids are drooping. All night she has been removing spots of dust from Amazon smartspeakers with a toothbrush. Time seems to crawl. Now she is overwhelmed with exhaustion.

She works on, more and more slowly, until she can do no more. She looks around the workshop. Other workers have rested their heads on the bench. She slumps forward and falls asleep.

Let’s call the young woman Alexa. Alexa, what are you doing here?

For an answer, we must fast forward a couple of months to last Monday. It is an overcast morning in the city of Hengyang, in the southern Chinese province of Hunan. More than seven million people live in this city, the second-largest in the province. It is known locally as the Wild Goose City, for the birds that used to stop off on their southerly migration, but many people even within China would struggle to find it on a map.

The morning is warm but overcast, with a light haze that could be fog or pollution. The road to the Foxconn factory in Baishazhou Industrial Park is wide and lined with well-cared-for plants. There’s a steady stream of cars, motorbikes and buses heading towards the factory, which sits back from the road behind a large gate. Blue-uniformed security staff keep watch on those coming in and the street outside.

Dozens of workers are arriving, casually dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Most are young and there is a good mixture of women and men. Ahead of them lies a 60-hour week, eight regular hours for five days, plus two more of overtime each day and another 10 on Saturday. They will be expected to hit tough targets and must ask permission to use the toilets. The overtime – up to 80 hours a month – is far in excess of the 36 hours stipulated in Chinese labour laws, but companies can and do seek exemptions and workers want the overtime, to boost their basic pay.

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Two new anarchist feminist projects in Scotland

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 17:02

via Libcom

by Ramona

It’s an exciting time to be a feminist. There’s a renewed interest in feminism in popular culture, and movements like #MeToo have given a voice and confidence to women, propelling conversations about power and oppression into the mainstream. There is an explosion of young people exploring and discussing how race, gender, sexuality and (occasionally) class affect their lives. The recent victory of activists in Ireland in securing access to abortion is an inspiring and concrete example of how grassroots feminist organising can force real changes to improve our lives.

However, anyone familiar with the state of “the movement” will know that all is not rosy in the current atmosphere of radical politics. The resurgent discussions around race, gender, and sexuality have been met with many criticisms1, and frequently lack a robust analysis of capitalism and class. When approaches to feminism that pose no real challenge to capitalism are increasingly popular 2, we need to find ways to make class struggle politics relevant and welcoming to people who are developing their understanding of feminism. Within our own movement there is an active backlash against our trans comrades, and too many off-hand dismissals of feminist politics, illustrating how far we have still to go to establish a shared understanding of class composition and solidarity. So how to develop and promote class struggle, materialist feminism to both liberal feminists and amongst our own movement? The theory exists, but how can we embed it into our everyday organising and practice?

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Growing Pains: Guest Farm Workers Face Exploitation, Dangerous Conditions – Part 1

Mon, 06/11/2018 - 16:51

via Capital & Main

by David Bacon

Tomato grower Harry Singh had an idea for speeding up the harvest in the fields he rents at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base near San Diego. His foreman told Serafín Rincón, 61, to pick beside two imported contract workers in their 20s. In the summer heat, Rincón was told to run. He could hardly keep up.

Rincón had come to work with his friends Santiago Bautista and Rufino Zafra. They were all longtime farm workers in the area. Bautista had been working in San Diego since 2003, and Zafra since 1975. All day they had to listen to shouting and insults from their boss when they fell behind. “Stupid donkey, you’re old now,” he shouted at them. “You can’t make it anymore!”

The three even started trying to hold it when they had to go to the bathroom, after being yelled at for going too often. Not that using those bathrooms was a pleasant experience. The toilet paper ran out so often they started bringing their own from home. Zafra would even wipe down the filthy port-a-potty with paper towels. The drinking water tasted like “hot soup,” Bautista said. He had a heart attack at work, but still the foreman wouldn’t let him stop working. A medical examiner said later the attack was caused by his working conditions.

Finally Rincón was fired, and the three sued Harry Singh’s company, West Coast Tomato, over the abuse.

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There’s No Such Thing as Revolutionary Government

Sun, 06/10/2018 - 15:01

via CrimethInc

Emma Goldman knew it. Mikhail Bakunin warned everyone about it half a century before the Russian Revolution. Veterans of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army Ashanti Alston and Kuwasi Balagoon drew the same conclusion. There’s no such thing as revolutionary government. You can’t use the instruments of government to abolish oppression.

Since the mid-19th century, anarchists have maintained that the key to liberation is not to seize the state but to abolish it. Yet from Paris to St. Petersburg, from Barcelona to Beijing, one generation of revolutionaries after another has had to learn this lesson the hard way. Shuffling politicians in and out of power changes little. What matters are the instruments of rule—the police, the military, the courts, the prison system, the bureaucracy. Whether it is a king, a dictator, or a Congress that directs these instruments, the experience on the receiving end remains roughly the same.

This explains why the outcome of the Egyptian revolution of 2011-2013 resembles the outcome of the Russian Revolution of 1917-1921, which resembles the outcome of the French Revolution of 1848-1851. In each case, as soon as the people who made the revolution stopped attempting to carry out social change directly and shifted to investing their hopes in political representatives, power consolidated in the hands of a new autocracy. Whether the new tyrants hailed from the military, the aristocracy, or the working class, whether they promised to restore order or to personify the power of the proletariat, the end result was roughly the same.

Government itself is a class relation. You can’t abolish class society without abolishing the asymmetry between ruler and ruled. Economics is only one of many spheres in which codified power differentials are imposed by means of social constructs; politics is another. Private ownership of capital is to economics what state power is to politics.

Without a critique of the state, even successful revolutionaries are doomed to become oppressors in their turn, taking the place of the rulers they overthrew.

Marx and Lenin created tremendous confusion by promising that the state could be used to abolish class society, after which the state would somehow vanish. In other words, “the workers”—which is to say, a party declaring itself to represent them, the same as any other ruling party does—could retain the police, the military, the courts, the prison system, the bureaucracy, and all the other instruments of the state, but these would magically begin to produce equality rather than inequality. This begs the question: what is the state? Above all, it is the concentration of political legitimacy in specific institutions, in contrast to the people they rule over. This is the very definition of inequality, as it privileges those who hold power via these institutions over everyone else. While Marxists and Leninists have successfully seized power in dozens of revolutions, not one of these has succeeded in abolishing class society—and rather than vanishing, the state has only become more powerful and invasive as a result. As the Sonvilier Circular put it, “How can we expect an egalitarian and free society to emerge from an authoritarian organization?”

When revolutionaries attempt to undo the class inequalities created by private ownership of capital by giving complete control of capital to the state, this simply makes the class that holds political power into the new capitalist class. The word for this is state capitalism. Wherever you see political representation and bureaucratic management, you will find class society. The only real solution to economic and political inequality is to abolish the mechanisms that create power differentials in the first place—not by using state structures, but by organizing horizontal networks for self-determination and collective defense that make it impossible to enforce the privileges of any economic or political elite. This is the opposite of seizing power.

Government of every kind stands opposed to this project. The first condition for any government to hold power is that it must achieve a monopoly on coercive force. In struggling to achieve this monopoly, fascist despotisms, communist dictatorships, and liberal democracies come to resemble each other. And in order to achieve it, even the most ostensibly radical party usually ends up colluding with other power players. This explains why the Bolsheviks employed tsarist officers and counterinsurgency methods; it explains why they repeatedly took the side of the petite bourgeoisie against anarchists, first in Russia and later in Spain and elsewhere. History gives the lie to the old alibi that Bolshevik repression was necessary to abolish capitalism. The problem with Bolshevism was not that it used brutal force to push through a revolutionary agenda, but that it used brutal force to crush it.

It’s not particularly popular to acknowledge any of this today, when the flag of the Soviet Union has become a dim, receding screen onto which people can project whatever they wish. A generation that grew up after the fall of the Soviet Union has renewed the pipe dream that the state could solve all our problems if the right people were in charge. Apologists for Lenin and Stalin make exactly the same excuses for them that we hear from the proponents of capitalism, pointing to the ways consumers benefitted under their reign or arguing that the millions they exploited, imprisoned, and killed had it coming.

Russian tanks rolling through the streets of Budapest to suppress the revolt of 1956.

In any case, a return to 20th-century state socialism is impossible. As the old Eastern Bloc joke goes, socialism is the painful transition between capitalism and capitalism. From this vantage point, we can see that the temporary ascendancy of socialism in the 20th century was not the culmination of world history foretold by Marx, but a stage in the spread and development of capitalism. “Real existing socialism” served to industrialize post-feudal economies for the world market; it stabilized restless workforces through this transition the same way that the Fordist compromise did in the West. State socialism and Fordism were both expressions of a temporary truce between labor and capital that neoliberal globalization has rendered impossible.

Today, unfettered free-market capitalism is about to swallow up the last islands of social-democratic stability, including even Sweden and France. Wherever left parties have come to power on the promise of reforming capitalism, they have ultimately been compelled to implement a neoliberal agenda including austerity measures and repression. Consequently, their ascension to power has drained grassroots movements of momentum while enabling right-wing reactionaries to pose as rebels in order to tap into popular unrest. This story has recurred in Brazil with the Workers Party, in Greece with Syriza, in Nicaragua with the Ortega administration.

The only other model for “revolutionary” government is the barefaced state capitalism represented by China, in which elites are amassing wealth at the expense of laborers just as shamelessly as they do in the United States. Like the USSR before it, China confirms that state administration of the economy is not a step towards egalitarianism.

The future may hold neoliberal immiseration, nationalist enclaves, totalitarian command economies, or the anarchist abolition of property itself—it will probably include all of those—but it will be increasingly difficult to preserve the illusion that any government could solve the problems of capitalism for any but a privileged few. Fascists and other nationalists are eager to capitalize on this disillusionment to promote their own brands of exclusionary socialism; we should not smooth the way for them by legitimizing the idea that the state could serve working people if only it were properly administered.

Some have argued that we should suspend conflicts with proponents of authoritarian communism in order to focus on more immediate threats, such as fascism. Yet widespread fear of left totalitarianism has given fascist recruiters their chief talking points. In the contest for the hearts and minds of those who have not yet chosen a side, it could only help to distinguish our proposals for social change from the ones advanced by Stalinists and other authoritarians.

Within popular struggles against capitalism, state violence, and fascism, we should grant equal weight to the contest between different visions of the future. Not doing so means assuming in advance that we will be defeated before any of these visions can bear fruit. Anarchists, Mensheviks, Socialist-Revolutionaries, and others learned the hard way after 1917 that failing to prepare for victory can be even more disastrous than failing to prepare for defeat.

The good news is that revolutionary movements don’t have to end the way the Russian Revolution did. There is another way.

Against capitalism and the state.

Rather than seeking state power, we can open up spaces of autonomy, stripping legitimacy from the state and developing the capacity to meet our needs directly. Instead of dictatorships and armies, we can build worldwide rhizomatic networks to defend each other against anyone who wants to wield power over us. Rather than looking to new representatives to solve our problems, we can create grassroots associations based in voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. In place of state-managed economies, we can establish new commons on a horizontal basis. This is the anarchist alternative, which could have succeeded in Spain in the 1930s had it not been stomped out by Franco on one side and Stalin on the other. From Chiapas and Kabylia to Athens and Rojava, all of the inspiring movements and uprisings of the past three decades have incorporated elements of the anarchist model.

Proponents of state solutions claim they are more efficient, but the question is—what are they more efficient at? There are no shortcuts to liberation; it cannot be imposed from above. If we aim to create genuine equality, we have to organize in a way that reflects this, decentralizing power and rejecting all forms of hierarchy. Building local projects capable of addressing immediate needs through direct action and solidarity, interconnecting them on a global scale, we can take steps down the road toward a world in which no one can rule anyone else. The kind of revolution we want cannot happen overnight; it is the ongoing process of destroying all concentrations of power, from the domestic sphere to the White House.

As the crises of our era intensify, new revolutionary struggles are bound to break out. Anarchism is the only proposition for revolutionary change that has not sullied itself in a sea of blood. It’s up to us to update it for the new millennium, lest we all be condemned to repeat the past.

This text is adapted from our new book, The Russian Counterrevolution. You can download it here free of charge or order a print copy from AK Press.

How radical municipalism can go beyond the local

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 19:02

via The Ecologist

by The Symbiosis Research Collective

Throughout this series, we’ve argued that the best way to address today’s ecological, social, and political crises is to get people together where they live and work to provide resources that people need – eventually building up an alternative political and economic system that can replace the present, failing system. We need to build a democratic, just, and ecological world in the shell of the old.

In the previous installment, we argued that organising on the level of the neighborhood, town, and city is the most strategic approach to this today.

The rise of loneliness worldwide, the centrality of real estate speculation for global economic growth, and the breakdown of many large-scale factories that helped to bring workers together mean that we have to rethink the ways we demand change.

We can build community and force elites to listen to our demands at the same time. Radical municipalism is a project to take direct democratic control over the places where we live.

When we talk to people about this strategy, the same kinds of questions often come up. In this article, we highlight three common criticisms. Each one of them revolves around the complaint that radical municipalism is too local: it can’t deal with the ‘big stuff’.

1. Because of climate change, we don’t have time

Any call for a long-term vision for social change begs the response: the urgency of the present moment means we don’t have the time for the slow work of neighbourhood-level organising.

Impending climate disruption is a ticking time-bomb. Every year we delay will make the future worse. And as a global phenomenon, it takes immediate global action. Strategically, this argument goes, we’re better off pushing our leaders to take strong stances on climate change.

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Tracking the battles for environmental justice: here are the world’s top 10

Sat, 06/09/2018 - 18:53

via The Conversation

Environmental justice activism is to this age what the workers’ movement was for the industrial age – one of the most influential social movements of its time. Yet, despite its consistent progress since the 1970s, environmental justice protests seem to get lost in the morass of information on broader environmental issues.

In contrast, labour conflicts, including strikes and lock-outs, carry such gravity that the International Labour Organization tracks these on a systematic basis. As more communities are refusing to allow the destruction and contamination of their land, water, soil and air, these, in turn, deserve to be counted.

The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas), an inventory of social conflicts around environmental issues, fills that gap. It is funded by two successive European research projects, through a collective effort of scientists and activists. It records the failures and successes of the worldwide movement for environmental justice.

The project is directed and coordinated by Leah Temper, Daniela Del Bene and Joan Martínez-Alier at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It has collected and categorised about 2500 ecological distribution conflicts. These focus on who gains and who loses in development processes, arguing that these movements play a fundamental role in redefining and promoting sustainability.

In honour of World Environment Day, on June 5th, some of the highlights of the most pertinent findings, stemming from the ten most critical categories of environmental distribution conflicts facing the world today are shown. These are listed in order of most-catalogued cases in the EJAtlas. But due to the nature of the project, this is not indicative of its global significance.

The top ten environmental conflicts

Land grabbing – 600+ conflicts.

Booming palm oil production is behind a land-grabbing surge for plantations, which threatens communities. Palm oil is now in half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket. These plantations replace food crops, deprive farmers from their land, increase slave labour, cause environmental destruction like deforestation, water pollution, infertile soil and fires. Grassroots activist networks achieved temporary suspensions of further expansion of what they call green deserts in Honduras, Colombia, México, Indonesia and Myanmar.

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The Stupefying Mediocrity of Barack Obama

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 20:31

via CounterPunch

by Chris Wright

As a Marxist, I’m not very interested in the psychology of the powerful. I don’t think it matters much, and it tends to be pretty uniform and predictable anyway: self-overestimation, self-justification, moral rationalizations for every horrendous decision made, brutal callousness to human suffering beneath (at best) a veneer of concern, energies directed to machinations for increased power, cowardly accommodation to the path of least political resistance, a collective insularity of the golden-boy culture gilded with sycophants, etc. On the other hand, as a despiser of the complacent powerful, I enjoy belittling their grandiose pretensions. So sometimes I do like to wade into the muck of their psychology.

A New York Times article on May 30 entitled “How Trump’s Election Shook Obama: ‘What if We Were Wrong?’” provided an opportunity to indulge in this sordid pastime. According to one of his aides, after the election Obama speculated that the cosmopolitan internationalism of enlightened intellectuals like him had been responsible for the stunning outcome. “Maybe we pushed too far,” he said. “Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe.” In other words, we were too noble and forward-thinking for the benighted masses, who want nothing more than to remain submerged in their comforting provincial identities. We were too ambitious and idealistic for our flawed compatriots.

“Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” Obama sighed. The country hadn’t been ready for the first black president and his lofty post-racial vision.

These quotations are all the evidence one needs to understand what goes on in the mind of someone like Barack Obama.

In fact, the last quotation is revealing enough in itself: it alone suggests the stupefying dimensions of Obama’s megalomania. It is hardly news that Obama is a megalomaniac, but what is moderately more interesting is the contemptible and deluded nature of his megalomania. (In some cases, after all, egomania might be justified. I could forgive Noam Chomsky for being an egomaniac—if he were one, which his self-effacing humility shows is far from the case.) Obama clearly sees himself as the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement—he who participated in no sit-ins, no Freedom Rides, no boycotts or harrowing marches in the Deep South, who suffered no police brutality or nights in jail, who attended Harvard Law and has enjoyed an easy and privileged adulthood near or in the corridors of power. This man who has apparently never taken a courageous and unpopular moral stand in his life decided long ago that it was his historic role to bring the struggles of SNCC and the SCLC, of Ella Baker and Bob Moses, of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. to their fruition—by sailing into the Oval Office on the wave of millions of idealistic supporters, tireless and selfless organizers. With his accession to power, and that of such moral visionaries as Lawrence Summers, Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner, Eric Holder, Arne Duncan, Robert Gates, and Samantha Power, MLK’s dream was at last realized.

Obama was continuing in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists when his administration deported more than three million undocumented immigrants and broke up tens of thousands of immigrant families. He was being an inspiring idealist when he permittedarms shipments to Israel in July and August 2014 in the midst of the Gaza slaughter—because, as he said with characteristic eloquence and moral insight, “Israel has a right to defend itself” (against children and families consigned to desperate poverty in an open-air prison).

He was being far ahead of his time, a hero of both civil rights and enlightened globalism, when he presided over “the greatest disintegration of black wealth in recent memory” by doing nothing to halt the foreclosure crisis or hold anyone accountable for the damage it caused. Surely it was only irrational traditions of tribalism that got Trump elected, and not, say, the fact that Obama’s administration was far more friendly to the banking sector than George H. W. Bush’s was, as shown for instance by the (blatantly corrupt) hiring of financial firms’ representatives to top positions in the Justice Department.

And it’s only because the masses are stupid and prejudiced that they couldn’t see the glorious benefits they would have received from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the few issues in which Obama seems genuinely to have been emotionally invested. What primitive tribalists they are to be worried about the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, the increase of prices for medicines, inadequate protection for the environment, and in general massive empowerment of corporations.

Taken together, the two quotes above that constituted Obama’s initial explanation of Trump’s victory—‘we pushed too far’ and ‘I was too ahead of my time’—also confirm the not very surprising fact that the moral issue of classdoesn’t exist for him, as (by definition) it doesn’t exist for any centrist politician. Obama may have paid lip-service to it in his rhetoric, but what he cared about more was a threadbare type of identity politics, cultural inclusivity, symbols and spectacles of the post-racial, post-nationalist millennium, of which he saw himself as the great exemplar. If Trump was elected it can only be because people aren’t ready for this millennium quite yet. But that doesn’t affect Obama’s own place in history: he is certain he’ll be vindicated, indeed will be viewed as even more remarkable for having come too soon.

This perception of his probably also explains his general reluctance to publicly criticize Trump. He simply doesn’t care enough to do so—he has nothing like a deep outrage against the continuous injustices of Trumpian politics—because his task has already been accomplished: he has written himself into the history books by being the U.S.’s first black president. That achievement is what matters, that and his eight years of (supposed) attempts to “heal the country’s divides.” Again, it’s too bad the country wasn’t ready for him, but that isn’t his fault.

Thus, rather than getting involved in any thoroughgoing resistance to Trump—which might exacerbate cultural divisions, horror of horrors, and wouldn’t be decorous or “presidential” (for the powerful shouldn’t criticize each other)—the Obamas are now planning to produce shows on Netflix that will be unpolitical and “inspirational.” This new project of theirs is symptomatic. Powerful people like to propagate “uplifting” stories, for anything else might prick their conscience, challenge the legitimacy of the social order from which they benefit, and inspire resistance movements. Better to focus on feel-good stories that reassure people about the essential justness of the world, or that inculcate the notion that anyone can improve their situation if they only try. This is the same reason that Bill Gates’ new favorite book is Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, which argues that things are far better now than they’ve ever been, so we should all be grateful.

I happened to watch a video recently in which Norman Finkelstein psychoanalyzed Obama, and his interpretation stuck with me. Not because the pathetic person who was being analyzed is of any intrinsic interest, but because the type he representsis always with us—and will always be popular, and will always be morally and intellectually vacuous. Finkelstein had learned from reading David Garrow’s biography that, as president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama had a very conciliating style. Whenever arguments arose between the conservatives and the liberals he approached the problem in the same way: he took the interlocutors aside and said, “Don’t get so excited, it’s not such a big deal. Why are you getting so excited? There are bigger things in life.” “Because for Obama,” Finkelstein explains, “there was only one big deal in life: me. Everything else was just small change, except him.”

That’s the key. When your overriding value in life is self-glorification, what you tend to get is the moral cowardice and fecklessness of people like Obama, the Clintons, and, in truth, all centrist politicians. They’ll do whatever they have to do to rise to power, so they can realize their “destiny”—of being powerful. They’ll always try to please “both sides”—a binary notion that leaves out the genuine left, which is to say the interests of the large majority of people—because that is the safest and surest road to power.

Which brings us to Obama’s real legacy, as opposed to the one he imagines. The moment he committed himself to a life of pale centrism in a time of escalating social crisis, he determined what his place in history would be. I’m reminded of Georg Lukács’s analysis of Germany’s waffling liberal intelligentsia during the 1920s in his book The Destruction of Reason. The elite liberals of the Weimar Republic couldn’t countenance fascism but wouldn’t commit themselves to a decisive democratic program to resist it—for they feared socialism even more than fascism—so they ended up vacillating pathetically, criticizing mass democracy while on occasion semi-defending it, fecklessly counseling moderation, thereby enabling ultra-reaction.

While the U.S. is certainly not Weimar Germany, and the risks of full-blown fascism are not as great now as they were then, one can see parallels. Just as the feckless, vacillating liberalism of Jimmy Carter ushered in the reactionary age of Reagan, so the vacillating liberalism of Obama prepared the way for the semi-fascism of Trump and the reinvigoration of white supremacy. (So much for Obama’s supposed furtherance of the Civil Rights Movement. He is arguably one of the worst things to have happened to minorities since the end of Jim Crow.) You can’t be neutral on a moving train. If you try, you’re actually on the side of the reactionaries.

Congratulations, Barack. You’ve written yourself into the history books.

Lost life of an incidental anarchist

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 20:20

via The Yorkshire Post

by David Behrens

He was an essential part of a Yorkshire triumvirate that included the sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and he is among the 16 Great War poets commemorated in Westminster Abbey – yet outside the Howardian Hills that he loved, the name of Sir Herbert Read is scarcely spoken.

Next week marks the 50th anniversary of his death, but it is being marked not at the British Museum or the Tate, but in the relative backwater of the lending libraries in Malton and Helmsley, curated by two retired teachers. There will be no keynote lectures or red-carpet visitations – just an hour set aside for a chat with the organisers.

Sir Herbert – the knighthood came in 1952 for services to literature – was not only a writer but also a publisher, the first to propagate the works of TS Eliot, and a noted anarchist who campaigned on behalf of political prisoners in Franco’s Spain.

“His circle of friends included George Orwell and Graham Greene. But as an English teacher at Ampleforth, I was amazed that even people like me never knew that this chap was on the doorstep,” said John Dean, who leads a local history group dedicated to Read and who, with his wife, Helen, is behind the anniversary exhibition.

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Who Owns the Benefit? The Free Market as Full Communism

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 17:26

via C4SS

by Kevin Carson

There’s a wonderful phrase for how capitalism works in the real world (I’m not sure who first came up with it, but I associate it with Noam Chomsky): “The socialization of risk and cost, and the privatization of profit.”

That’s a pretty good description of what the state does under actually existing capitalism, as opposed to the free market. Just about everything we identify as problematic about corporate capitalism — the exploitation of labor, pollution, waste and planned obsolescence, environmental devastation, the stripping of resources — results from the socialization of cost and risk and the privatization of profit.

Why haven’t the cybernetic revolution and the vast increases in productivity from technological progress resulted in fifteen-hour work weeks, or many necessities of life becoming too cheap to meter? The answer is that economic progress is enclosed as a source of rent and profit.

The natural effect of unfettered market competition is socialism. For a short time the innovator receives a large profit, as a reward for being first to the market. Then, as competitors adopt the innovation, competition drives these profits down to zero and the price gravitates toward the new, lower cost of production made possible by this innovation (that price including, of course, the cost of the producer’s maintenance and the amortization of her capital outlays). So in a free market, the cost savings in labor required to produce any given commodity would quickly be socialized in the form of reduced labor cost to purchase it.

Only when the state enforces artificial scarcities, artificial property rights, and barriers to competition, is it possible for a capitalist to appropriate some part of the cost savings as a permanent rent. The capitalist, under these conditions, is enabled to engage in monopoly pricing. That is, rather than being forced by competition to price her goods at the actual cost of production (including her own livelihood), she can target the price to the consumer’s ability to pay.

That form of enclosure, via “intellectual property,” is why Nike can pay a sweatshop owner a few bucks for a pair of sneakers and then mark them up to $200. Most of what you pay for isn’t the actual cost of labor and materials, but the trademark.

The same is true of artificial scarcity of land and capital. As David Ricardo and Henry George observed, there is some rental accruing on the natural scarcity of land as a non-reproducible good. There’s considerable disagreement among Georgists, mutualist occupancy-and-use advocates, and other libertarians as to whether and how to remedy those natural scarcity rents. But artificial scarcity, based on the private enclosure and holding out of use of vacant and unimproved land, or on quasi-feudal landlord rights to extract rent from the rightful owners actually cultivating arable land, is an enormous source of illegitimate rent — arguably the major share of total land rent. And regardless of any other steps we may be advocate, principled libertarians are all in favor of abolishing this artificial scarcity and — at the very least — letting market competition from vacant land drive down land rent to its natural scarcity value.

We favor, as well, opening up the supply of credit to unfettered market competition, abolishing entry barriers for the creation of cooperative lending institutions, and abolishing legal tender laws of all kinds, so that market competition will eliminate a major portion of total interest on money.

But while demanding the socialization of rent and profit may be frowned upon by capitalists as “class warfare,” they’re totally OK with the socialization of their operating costs. The main reason modern production is so centralized and both firms and market areas are so large, is that the state has subsidized transportation infrastructure at the expense of the general public, and made it artificially cheap to ship goods long distance. This makes large-scale, inefficient producers artificially competitive against small-scale producers in the local markets they invade with the state’s help. That’s why we have giant retail chains driving local retailers out of business, using their own internalized “warehouses on wheels” wholesale operations to distribute goods manufactured by sweatshops in China.

The past forty years’ loss of biodiversity, deforestation, and CO2 pollution has occurred because the ecosystem as a whole is an unowned dump, rather than being a regulated commons. The state typically preempts “ownership” of forests, mineral deposits, etc. — often to the prejudice of indigenous peoples already inhabiting the areas — and then gives privileged access to extractive industries that are able to strip mine them of resources without internalizing the actual costs incurred.

As surprising as it might seem, there’s a strong parallel between this free market vision of abundance and the Marxist vision of full communism. Carl Menger wrote of economic goods (i.e., goods subject to economic calculation because of their scarcity) becoming non-economic goods (i.e., that their abundance and near-zero production cost would make the cost of accounting greater than the production cost, if any). This parallels a major strain of thinking among socialists in the free culture/open source/P2P movement. They see the communist mode of production practiced by Linux and other open-source developers as the kernel of a new post-capitalist, post-scarcity social formation. Much as capitalist production started out in tiny islands inside the larger feudal economy and later became the core of a new, dominant social formation, commons-based peer production is the core around which the post-capitalist economy will eventually crystallize.

And we free marketers are also information communists. We want the benefits of knowledge and technique to be fully socialized. The largest single share of profit under the current model of corporate capitalism is embedded rents on the artificial scarcity of knowledge and technique.

In a society where waste and planned obsolescence were no longer subsidized, and there were no barriers to competition socializing the full benefits of technological progress, we could probably enjoy our present quality of life with a fifteen-hour work week. And in a society where the dominant mode of production was craft production with cheap, general-purpose CNC machine tools (as Kropotkin anticipated over a century ago in Fields, Factories and Workshops), the division of labor and the dichotomy between mental and physical labor would be far less pronounced.

Taken together, these two outcomes of free market competition in socializing progress would result in a society resembling not the anarcho-capitalist vision of a world owned by the Koch brothers and Halliburton, so much as Marx’s vision of a communist society of abundance in which one may “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

Anarchism in Latin America: Striking and Dreaming from Tierra del Fuego to Tijuana

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 16:42

via Toward Freedom

by Benjamin Dangl

Book Review: Anarchism in Latin America by Ángel Cappelletti. Translated by Gabriel Palmer-Fernández. Published by AK Press, 2018.

Ángel Cappelletti (1927-1995) was an Argentine philosopher who spent much of his career teaching at Simón Bolívar University in Venezuela. He also translated numerous works from Greek and Latin, and wrote over two dozen books, primarily on philosophy and anarchism. One of his later books is the classic survey Anarchism in Latin America, now available for the first time in English from AK Press.

The book provides a panoramic view of anarchism across fourteen countries in the region, from general strikes in Chilean ports to worker-theorists in Cuban tobacco factories. Cappelletti’s expansive overview offers a rich window into nearly one hundred years of anarchist organizing and agitating, starting in the 1860s when “anarchism took root in a number of activist groups” to the mid-twentieth century.

“This work does not pretend to be a comprehensive history of Latin American anarchism but simply a sketch of it,” Cappelletti writes. Indeed, one of the strengths of this book is its breadth. Not only does it have understandably hefty chapters on Argentina and Mexico, but it points to lesser known corners of the continent where Paraguayan anarchists struggled for the eight-hour work day, and a self-managed community flourished in Montevideo. Cappelletti’s far-ranging work is also an encyclopedia of primary sources; manifestos, pamphlets, petitions, and speeches lost to the dustbin of history are gathered and cited here extensively, helpfully amplifying the voices of these anarchist thinkers and writers, and providing a reference guide for researchers.

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Time’s Up, Bill

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 16:36

via The Cut

By Rebecca Traister

Bright and early Monday morning, Bill Clinton launched a book tour in support of a political thriller he wrote with the best-selling author James Patterson, called The President Is Missing. And sometime before 8 a.m., it had become clear that it had not occurred to our ex-president that hawking his book would also entail answering questions about Monica Lewinsky, and about how his affair with the White House intern had shaped — and slowed — the feminist conversation around sexual harassment.

Clinton’s feckless replies to questions about #MeToo revealed an unpreparedness that spoke volumes about why men have been able to abuse their power with relative impunity for generations, while the women around them have been asked to pay the price for them over and over and over again.

The interaction happened during an interview Clinton did, alongside Patterson, with the Today show’s Craig Melvin. Melvin kicked things off by asking Clinton about how his relationship with Lewinsky — consensual but nonetheless a clear abuse of professional and sexual power — had sullied recent reassessments of his presidency.

Clinton reared back, flustered. “We have a right to change the rules but we don’t have a right to change the facts,” he said, suggesting that Melvin didn’t know the facts of the Lewinsky case. Clinton claimed to “like the #MeToo movement; it’s way overdue.” But when Melvin pressed him on whether it had prompted him to rethink his own past behavior, like so many millions of other men and women around the world — including Lewinsky in a March Vanity Fair essay — he sputtered that of course he hadn’t, because he’d “felt terrible then.”
“Nobody believes that I got out of that for free. I left the White House 16 million dollars in debt,” Clinton said, as if having paid a literal debt was the extent of the work to be done in the midst of a cultural and social reckoning. Then, as if he’d forgotten the rules of time and space and the evolution of progressive movements, Clinton kicked into full self-defense mode: “This was litigated 20 years ago … Two-thirds of the American people sided with me; I had a sexual-harassment policy when I was governor in the ’80s; I had two women chiefs of staff when I was the governor; women were overrepresented in the attorneys general office in the ’70s.”

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Sex(ism) in Society: Taking Sex Back from the “Man in the Bathrobe”

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 01:02

via Toward Freedom

by Eric Laursen

A grown man, equipped with all the trappings of power, wealth, and achievement, invites a young woman he knows only professionally to a “business meeting” and shows up wearing nothing but a bathrobe. He proceeds to expose himself to the woman, masturbate, ask her for sexual favors and/or force himself on her.

We’re reminded by the recent arraignment of ex-movie mogul Harvey Weinstein for rape and other felony sex acts that some variation of this scenario has played out in the media multiple times over the past year—so often that a kind of disbelief sets in. What possessed these men? What’s wrong with our culture that it produces them?

We know that male privilege, the subordination of women, and other stubborn cultural holdovers are central to the problem. But it’s worth looking, too, at something broader: the entire context in which we think about sex.

“There is no defining-line between erotic and non-erotic personal relationships. Defects in one produce defects in the other,” the British biologist, poet, and anarchist-pacifist Alex Comfort wrote, dryly.

Comfort became famous in the 1970s for writing the bestselling bedroom guide for heterosexual couples, The Joy of Sex. But he had already been writing and lecturing on sex for a quarter-century when that book came out, and much of his previous work concerned the ways our sex lives bleed over into our “public” lives, and vice versa.

Traditionally, Comfort observed, sex is thought to have only two purposes, procreation and pleasure (with pleasure often coming in a distinct second). But there’s a third and critically important role sex plays, he argued: constructing sociality.

If socialization is the way we internalize society’s norms of conduct and belief, sociality is how we learn to associate and cooperate with each other. Comfort held that sex is one of the most basic and profoundly formative ways that we achieve sociality. It’s the way individuals, generally in their adolescent years, accustom themselves to understand and respond to each other’s needs and desires and, importantly, where they learn to share power within relationships rather than wield it.

Here’s how Comfort summed up the elements: “mutual respect, mutual communication, and a strong desire to protect one another without any corresponding wish to manipulate or mold.” Unlike other forms of socialization, sex helps us achieve this not through discipline or punishment but through play. “It is quite clear that the exorcising of social and role anxieties is a perfectly proper function for sexual playfulness,” he wrote.

While this hasn’t stopped men from subjecting women to sexual violence and abuse for millennia, the problem of sexual inequality has been greatly aggravated by the disruptions of the industrial and post-industrial ages, Comfort argued. Economic instability, militarism, the uprooting of millions through genocide and ethnic cleansing, the increasing limitation of human activity even in privileged societies to skills and techniques designed to earn a living, and the inflation of state and corporate authority combine to abolish coherent patterns of individual responsibility, devalue sociality, and degrade individuals’ incentive to achieve it.

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Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 17:12

via The Guardian

by Damian Carrington

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
Meat and dairy

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.
Greenhouse gas emissions for meat, dairy and pulses

The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

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Sex work is not human trafficking

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 16:50

via Slingshot #127

by Mistress Liv

SESTA and FOSTA are both bills signed in recently by Trump as well as the Senate and the House that allow the federal government to prosecute anyone who helps sex workers advertise. These bills equate creating a platform in which to find and screen prospective Johns with pimping. This is hugely problematic for sex workers for many, many reasons. First, if we cannot advertise, we starve. Second, if we cannot find clients online, we may need to turn to the streets. Third, when we turn to the streets, we die.

For the past year and a half, I have worked as a professional dominatrix. During this time, I have met some of the smartest, most emotionally aware and hard-working people I have in my entire life. Many people think that being a dominatrix is easy: we just get to kick rich dudes in the balls all day, right? It is not. It is, in fact, incredibly difficult work. The work of all those that sell sex, be it “sex,” or be it an erotic experience, is primarily empathic. There is also a lot of skill involved. Many that see pro-dommes do so because they want to experience something different with someone that knows what they are doing. Would you really want some random person to stick needles in you, or whip you, or insert a large metal rod in your urethra? Or would you want someone you met at the bar to call you racial slurs, pretend to be your mother, or turn you into the perfect pet? Of course not.

We make ourselves adept at understanding these taboo desires, at knowing how to practice them safely. We intuit the needs of others, smile a sexy smile even when we have a cold, take care of one another and spend hours working our own hustle, unpaid. We answer emails, vet if someone is a “wanker” or not, answer questions, and tell people that it is okay to have such desires a thousand times all in effort of getting some cash. We front our own costs, take on our own risks and make difficult decisions every day. We get death threats from deluded clients. We come into contact with bio-hazardous fluids. We hear every racist, sexist entitled thing you might imagine. And we smile.

I don’t even have to let the Johns touch me, but for the majority of my fellow sex workers— they do. I have tried full service before and shied away when an aging leftist I met over Seeking Arrangements bragged to me that he was “more radical” than I was because he personally knew members of the original Black Panther Party and did some shit back in the day. Evidently his analysis fell short, or was put on pause by his boner, when given the possibility that he might get to fuck a much younger anarchist for a few hundred in cash and insult her politics in the process. Despite my brief foray into full-service, I am part of a privileged subset of sex workers. I am white, cis-, educated and have enough means to front my own costs (photos, shoes, lingerie, make-up, etc.), making it possible for me to be a dominatrix. The bills that I am about to talk about will likely affect me less than many other sex workers. The majority of these other sex workers in the United States are women of color, trans, and/or of a less privileged background.

After was shut down by the federal government, St. James’ Infirmary reported an increase of around 400% in street walkers. After craigslist’s erotic services was banned, Baltimore reported a significant increase in femicide. Closing down methods of advertisement does nothing to decrease prostitution — it simply makes it more dangerous, potentially deadly.

So why are so many people signing off on these bills, or nodding their heads in agreement? The language of these bills always revolves around “human trafficking,” or “sex trafficking.” These are ominous sounding, to be sure. But if the problem is coercive labor relations and human traffic, why shut down an entire industry? When thirty-some illegal immigrants died due to unsafe work conditions in a fishery, did we talk about shutting down the seafood industry? Why shut down the entire sex industry, making it harder and more dangerous for the most vulnerable workers in it?

There are currently four distinct political levels of legalization of sex work, with distinct implications and results:

— First, full criminalization (the John, the purveyor and the worker) leads to a situation in which the worker has absolutely nowhere to turn to if met with violence, they cannot advertise and the John is ultra-wary of entering into any kind of deal.

— Partial criminalization can mean that while we can advertise our services, we are met with many of the same problems. Maybe we aren’t on the streets, but there is no real way to protect ourselves. Why call the cops when they will probably rape you?

— Full legalization allows for a few privileged people to be able to jump through the legal loopholes, medical checks and tax forms needed to make it on the up-and-up, like in Amsterdam or Nevada. This does absolutely nothing to help those who need help most— the poor, marginalized sex worker. This is why legalization is often referred to as “backdoor criminalization,” since most sex workers will still practice in a way that is considered illegal, and be met with all the same problems as full criminalization.

— The only country that has completely decriminalized prostitution is New Zealand. It is not illegal or legal there, much in the way that it is not legal or illegal to eat a sandwich in the United States. There has been no significant increase in prostitution since decriminalization. There has been much less violence. When you talk to sex workers, this is what most of us will tell you we want.

Perhaps a new level—currently waiting to go up for Senate vote here in California, SB 2014—we could call “ultra criminalization.” If this bill passes, it will make things like handing out condoms to sex workers or housing them if they are homeless, prosecutable as pimping and pandering. Most sex workers are poor, precarious and need access to services like health care and safe sex supplies. Maybe this bill sounds like an effort to prosecute pimping more harshly rather than the sex workers, but that is not actually what it would be in effect. It will be a crisis.

Decriminalization is perhaps a long way off for sex workers in the rest of the world, but further criminalizing it in the US will only make things worse, for many that you might not expect. Many of my fellow sex workers are very closetted about their “side gig.” We are nannies, preschool teachers, artists, baristas, bakers, students and hairdressers. Many of us are in the service industry. We are adept at serving the needs of others, intuiting them, making fantasies come true. It is why we are here. Our work is not valued. It is not even considered work by many.

It is my conclusion that this is no coincidence. Women (as well queers and the occasional man), have been doing this type of work for a very long time. We did it as slaves and serfs. Now, rather than allow us to find some form of empowerment from it by actually getting paid a living wage, we are being further marginalized and oppressed. Some 30% of men in the US report seeing a sex worker at some point in their lives. And I am certain that they would love to get it for free, or cheaper. These bills were signed by a President involved in a legal dispute with a sex worker, Stormy Daniels, after all— a man known for his sense of entitlement to women’s bodies.

To be fair, Bernie voted for FOSTA too, which might go to show you how broad sweeping and multi-faceted the oppression of sex work is in this country. Many people see sex work as demeaning. I will not lie— it can be. But it is absolutely no less demeaning than any other kind of work. At times, it actually feels like a blissful, empowered escape from the exchange of money for labor. I have worked many other types of service industry jobs and I can honestly say that for the first time in my life, I feel truly happy to work. When it is bad, it is terrible. When it is good… I know that I have given someone a memory that they will take to the grave. The money feels like an afterthought and I love that.

For me, my work is primarily about the emotional and psychological exchange. But I do need to eat and pay rent. It is ironic that something so transactional can feel so much more empowering than getting paid minimum wage at a chain coffee shop. I am not ready to have this way of life taken from me yet. I do not want to see so many of my friends thrust into peril. I do not want to read about another one of us dying. The vast majority of us are not being trafficked, we are not being pimped… We are just trying to have safe, dignified work. Until sex work is fully decriminalized, I fear that these problems will persist and we will continue to be raped, killed and tossed aside.

A better media is possible

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 14:48

via The New Internationalist

by Vanessa Baird

For the past few years I’ve been going to the Media Democracy Festival held in London. The annual gathering of activists, journalists, students and academics, is usually rich in lament and criticism of the state of the mainstream media.

But this year I sensed something different.

Maybe it was because the precipice is closer, the abyss deeper, the media landscape even more plagued by fake news and rampaging bots, and littered with the wreckage of broken business models and shattered trust. There’s nothing like a vision of hell to concentrate the mind.

But it wasn’t just that. There was something else this time: the buzz of possibility.

Sure, people talked about what’s wrong. But there were also plenty of ideas about how to put things right – some of which appear in this magazine.

And there were timely reminders of the deeper purposes of journalism – not only to seek truth, inform, and occasionally entertain, but also to hold power to account. This makes it key to a healthy democracy – and worth fighting for.

A broken model

No point in pretending, though. The news media is in deep trouble. Most media publishers, with a few contrarian exceptions, made a big mistake. They put their faith in the internet. Swept along by digital utopianism we drank the snake oil of ‘make content free online’.

Sure, publishers would lose revenue when print sales fell as readers got used to getting all their news for free online. But that would be more than compensated for by the vast increase in readership online – ‘traffic’ and ‘eyeballs’ in the parlance – which could be used to sell advertising.

It could have worked. Content, be it from publishers, musicians, filmmakers, did reach many more people.

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The power of informal relationships in disaster response and readiness

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 02:13

via Medium

by Tactivate

It’s no secret that our informal, personal relationships are among the most valuable resources in life and business. The same applies true in the realm of disaster response and readiness. The aid machine is a behemoth. It is an incredibly complex, nuanced, politicized ecosystem that requires expertise to navigate. The resources brought to bare in large scale disaster response operations, whether being administered by FEMA, the UN etc are exceptional. However, those resources are not always effectively stewarded, deployed and or utilized in a way that serves the impacted population in the most advantageous manner. They are often brought to play in a top-down manner that sometimes works to undercut local, more sustainable restoration efforts. That’s not to say they are not critical players, but its to suggest there may be better ways to utilize such agencies in support of local solutions.

In Puerto Rico, we have found, like we did in Haiti, the Philippines and everywhere else we have responded, that the informal networks and relationships we had and formed resulted in the most expeditious of efforts.

To highlight this in Puerto Rico:

We are long past the response and initial phase of the recovery stage after Maria. The long-term players here have started to establish themselves and an informal network of doers has started to emerge.

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The Secret ‘White Trains’ That Carried Nuclear Weapons Around the U.S.

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 02:08

via History

by Brianna Nofil

At first glance, the job posting looks like a standard help-wanted ad for a cross-country trucker. Up to three weeks a month on the road in an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, traveling through the contiguous 48 states. Risks include inclement weather, around-the-clock travel, and potentially adverse environmental conditions. But then the fine print: Candidates should have “experience in performing high-risk armed tactical security work…and maneuvering against a hostile adversary.”

The U.S. government is hiring “Nuclear Materials Couriers.” Since the 1950s, this team of federal agents, most of them ex-military, has been tasked with ferrying America’s 6,800 nuclear warheads and extensive supply of nuclear materials across the roads and highways of the United States. America’s nuclear facilities are spread out throughout the country, on over 2.4 million acres of federal real estate, overseen by the Department of Energy (DOE)—a labyrinth of a system the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called “highly scattered and fragmented…with few enforceable rules.”

Some sites are for assembly, some are for active weapons, some are for chemicals, some are for mechanical parts. What this means in practice is that nuclear materials have to move around—a lot.

For as long as the United States has had nuclear weapons, it has struggled with the question of how to transport America’s most destructive technology throughout the country without incident. “It’s the weak link in the chain of nuclear security,” said Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Today the United States relies almost entirely on million-dollar, Lockheed Martin tractor-trailers, known as Safeguard Transporters (SGTs) and Safe Secure Trailers (SSTs) to move nuclear material. But from the 1950s through the 1980s, the great hope for safe transit was so-called “white trains.”

These trains looked entirely ordinary, except for a few key details. They featured multiple heavily armored boxcars sandwiched in between “turret cars,” which protruded above the rest of the train. The turrets had slit windows through which armed DOE guards peered out, prepared to shoot if they needed to defend the train. Some guards had simple rifles, while others reportedly had automatic machine guns and hand-grenade launchers. Known in DOE parlance “safe, secure railcars,” or SSRs, the white trains were highly resistant to attack and unauthorized entry. They also offered “a high degree of cargo protection in event of fire or serious accident,” the DOE assured a wary Congress in 1979.

Though nuclear trains staffed by snipers guarding powerful weapons sounds like something out of an action-adventure film, the trains were far from glamorous. They moved slowly, maxing out at 35 miles per hour—a virtual crawl compared to the average Amtrak train. This meant very long cross-country journeys for their seven-member crews. One of the most common routes for the train took nuclear bombs from Texas to Bangor, Washington, delivering the weapons at a submarine base on the banks of the Puget Sound. Another frequent route took bombs from Texas to Charleston, South Carolina, where a set of submarines sat poised for missions in the Atlantic.

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Seymour Hersh’s Memoir Is Full of Useful Reporting Secrets

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 01:09

via Rolling Stone

By Matt Taibbi

Late in his new memoir, Reporter, muckraking legend Seymour Hersh recounts an episode from a story he wrote for the New Yorker in 1999, about the Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.

Bill Clinton was believed to be preparing a pardon for Pollard. This infuriated the rank and file of the intelligence community, who now wanted the press to know just what Pollard had stolen and why letting him free would be, in their eyes, an outrage.

“Soon after I began asking questions,” Hersh writes, “I was invited by a senior intelligence official to come have a chat at CIA headquarters. I had done interviews there before, but always at my insistence.”

He went to the CIA meeting. There, officials dumped a treasure trove of intelligence on his desk and explained that this material – much of which had to do with how we collected information about the Soviets – had been sold by Pollard to Israel.

On its face, the story was sensational. But Hersh was uncomfortable. “I was very ambivalent about being in the unfamiliar position of carrying water for the American intelligence community,” he wrote. “I, who had worked so hard in my career to learn the secrets, had been handed the secrets.”

This offhand line explains a lot about what has made Hersh completely embody what it means to be a reporter. The great test is being able to get information powerful people don’t want you to have. A journalist who is handed something, even a very sensational something, should feel nervous, sick, ambivalent. Hersh never stopped feeling that way, remaining an iconoclast and a thorn in the side of officialdom to this day.

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The Death of a Gig Worker

Sat, 06/02/2018 - 01:02

via The Atlantic

by Thomas Fox Parry

An 8-year-old told me about Pablo Avendano’s death: “My dad’s friend was just killed riding his bike.” The 8-year-old was a friend of my son, Dai. I had taken the boys out for water ice in our neighborhood in Philadelphia. “He went out to work and he’s never coming back,” my son’s friend said, bobbing on his feet. “And he didn’t even like his job!” Avendano made deliveries through Caviar, the food-ordering app.“His boss is probably in trouble,” Dai said.

Avendano was joyous, passionate, a rush-seeker. He partied, always smiling. “Totally gregarious. Tequila bottles did not stay full,” his roommate told me. He gave his friends the impression that, when they spoke, they had his full attention. He looked for people who were alone, and tried to connect. “I never had a brother, but whenever I saw Avendano, we hugged, we kissed,” Randon Martin, a blue-eyed, dreadlocked young man who worked with Avendado, said. “I loved him, and he made you feel loved.”

Avendano, like many of his friends, considered himself an anarchist and a communist. He grew up in Miami and studied political science at Florida International University. While there he once slept in a cardboard hut on campus for three days in solidarity with the homeless in Miami’s Liberty City. He organized students in support of campus janitors fighting for higher wages. In Immokalee, Florida, he marched with workers against exploitative labor conditions in the tomato fields, part of a movement that would eventually result in a deal for better pay and working conditions. After college, Avendano worked in restaurants, in retail, and for cleaning and landscaping crews. He stayed political. Martin showed me a picture on his phone taken by the photographer Devin Allen during the 2015 Baltimore riots. In black and white, Avendano is smiling, washing pepper spray from his eyes with milk.

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