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What might an anarchist language look like? I created one, inspired by Ursula le Guin

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 19:31

via The Conversation

by Martin Edwardes

The many articles written in memory of Ursula le Guin, who left this world on her final voyage last month, are testament to the great power of her storytelling. Le Guin’s tales give us insights into different ways of being human, from the deceptively mundane (the Orsinian Tales) through the remote but plausible (the Hainish Cycle of science fiction novels), and into the enchantingly fantastic (the Earthsea stories). Her stories help us to understand others and ourselves. They demonstrate the great power that language has in creating imagined worlds.

This is perhaps most obvious in her 1974 award-winning novel, The Dispossessed. The book has been in press since 1974, and has been translated into at least 30 languages. The novel tells the story of a scientist, Shevek, and his battle against the bureaucracies of two planets to ensure his invention will benefit all humans. The invention is an instantaneous communication device which overcomes the limitation of light speed communication; but the device is just an artefact of the narrative. The real story is about people, their cultures, and how they build these – through language.

The Dispossessed is set on two human worlds: the planet Urras, which resembles 1970s Earth; and Anarres, the moon of Urras, home to a unified anarchist collective. Anarres was settled from Urras by people seeking a better, fairer life, and the resulting collective has been largely isolated from Urran cultures for about 150 years.

Anarres is a planet without property, laws or money; but it does have an advisory bureaucracy and some shared conventions, one of which is the language Pravic. This language was devised by the first settlers, to make the everyday casual ownership which pervades human languages almost impossible to articulate.

Anarres is, of course, a utopia; so it slotted well into Utopia 2016, an exhibition at Somerset House for the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia. The event showcased a series of utopian visions presented by a range of artists. Two of these artists, Onkar Kular and Noam Toran, proposed that the utopia of Anarres could be presented as a teaching space which they called Night School on Anarres. The teaching space was designed to showcase the planet and its culture, offering the people of Earth a window into a working anarchistic society.

But the night school was also intended to offer realistic lessons in Pravic, so the project needed a realistic language to teach. This was not going to be easy. Le Guin had described some key features of the language in her book but, apart from a few names, she provided no close detail of how the language worked.

This is where I came in. I teach a module on the BA English Language and Linguistics course at King’s College London in which the students design and describe their own constructed language, or “conlang”. The module is an opportunity for students to show their knowledge of how language works (or could work) in the abstract, but it also gives them a chance to be creative in their reasoning.

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The US-Saudi Coalition Against Yemen: A Primer

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 13:50

via The Hampton Institute

by Valerie Reynoso

The ongoing crisis in Yemen continues to devolve into further calamity and chaos. Understanding the existing conditions of the region, however, means examining and grappling with the historical forces underpinning the current civil war. Most importantly, United States-backed actors, particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, have vied for control of Yemen by any means necessary. Whether the incessant bombings of civilian infrastructure, or the targeting of innocent people themselves, the US-Saudi coalition has stopped at nothing to establish dominance. Through the billions of dollars of funding provided by the US, Saudi Arabia has inflicted wanton destruction on the Yemeni people with impunity.

From a national scope, the key actors in the conflict are the Houthis, Yemeni government forces, and al-Qaeda. The fall and subsequent breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1922 resulted in the formation of two Yemeni states, leading to conflict between southern nationalist groups and the Yemeni government, with both sides suffering numerous casualties. The Ottoman Empire lasted for over 600 years and by 1849, it had dominated significant territory in northern Yemen, including Sana’a, which further satisfied its interests in Mecca and Medina. Following the decline of the Ottoman Empire, a Zaidi Shia Imamate called the Mutawakaliat Kingdom governed the northern kingdom of Yemen and southern Yemen was still divided and governed by several local sultanates. Sultanate rule in southern Yemen came to an end as a result of British colonial rule, through which British colonizers founded their own southern, settler state named the Federation of South Arabia. The Republic of North Yemen was formed in 1962 and in 1967, the People’s Republic of South Yemen was founded after British colonial rule ended. The People’s Republic of South Yemen was a Marxist republic which was significantly reliant on support from the Soviet Union. The decline of the Soviet Union in 1990 had a grave impact on South Yemen. In addition to this, in 1989, the president of North Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and the president of South Yemen, Ali Salim el-Beidh, met up and Saleh and the General People’s Congress passed a key proposal to form a federation. Yemen was officially unified in 1990 with Sana’a as its capital; however, the newly-formed state was not equipped for an actual government nor means of distribution of power between the north and the south. El-Beidh believed that southern Yemen was being oppressed and he announced the new southern state, the Democratic Republic of Yemen. Despite this, Saleh defeated the southern rebellion in May 1994.

Although the rebellion failed, tensions remained high. Just under two decades later, in 2011 the Yemeni Arab Spring occurred, which consisted of protests by Yemenis demanding improved socioeconomic and political conditions as well as the resignation of President Saleh, due to his inefficiency in handling corruption and poverty. This was the same year that President Saleh signed a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) measure that gave him dispensation, and he shifted power to his former Vice President Hadi-an action that was also supported by the US, European Union, and the United Nations. In December 2011, the Houthis and the southern nationalist movement called the Hirak organized a Life March from Ta’iz to Sana’a in opposition to the GCC measure. Hadi officially became president in February 2012 through an election in which he was the only candidate. Subsequently, he granted immunity to 500 of Saleh’s assistants. After making the unpopular decision of lifting fuel subsidies in July 2014, Hadi began to significantly lose support as a result of his attempt to appeal to the International Monetary Fund. The Houthis were outraged and demanded new subsidies and a new government, so in September 2014 they seized Sana’a, disintegrated parliament by January 2015, and sought to seize power in all of Yemen-resulting in Hadi fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

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Organizing on a Sinking Ship: The Future of the Climate Justice Movement

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 13:43

via ROAR

by Kevin Buckland

Climate change rarely comes up at the top of the list when people are asked about issues that concern them most. While this is not surprising, it is nonetheless disturbing considering the gravity of the climate crisis. Yet the key problem of our collective negligence of the climate crisis is reflected in the question itself, rather than the answer. Let us be clear: climate change is not an “issue.” Rather, it is now the entirety of the biophysical world of which we are part. It is the physical battleground in which every “issue” is played out — and it is crumbling.

The global justice movement is one of the many actors trying to maneuver on this battlefield, and the direction it is headed in is reshaping the narratives, tactics and structures that comprise it, hinting at the future of social movement organizing on a radically transformed planet. The rules of the game have changed: welcome to the Capitalocene — goodbye to “activism-as-usual.” As the climate changes, so must movements if they are to withstand, even thrive, inside the coming cataclysm of winds, waves and wars.

Movement Cultures in the Capitalocene

As our planet rockets into a new geological epoch, we find ourselves on unfamiliar terrain. The only thing that is certain is that no one knows what will happen, and no one is in control. The rest of our lives will be defined by an exponential ecological entropy that will increasingly destabilize both the economic and political foundations upon which the modern world has been built. All bets are off. The collapse will be anything but boring.

The Capitalocene is defined partly by a disappearance of spaces of refuge: there is no escaping this problem, and nowhere to hide. We’re all in the same boat. But the boat has crashed into a drifting iceberg, and is sinking fast. Our response to the climate crisis has been to rearrange deckchairs on the Titanic, but whatever we are doing, it isn’t working. It’s time to try something new. On a sinking ship, one’s logic and frames of references must change, just as the traditional frames of the left must evolve in the emerging context of crisis. The struggle is no longer to organize the deck-chairs so that we can ensure equal access for all. Rather, the most critical question now becomes: “How can we best organize ourselves to turn as many of these deck-chairs into life rafts?”

Perhaps as obvious as the climate crisis itself has been the inability of social movements to properly organize around it. For years, the climate movement has been trapped between two discordant discourses: between changing light-bulbs and global revolution. On one hand, any action can seem minuscule and ineffective compared to a crisis as big as the entire world. On the other, deep systemic change can seem far too slow for the urgency of the crisis we face. Yet one cannot “fight climate change” in the absence of such structural transformations, for the climate crisis is itself the result of an extractivist logic based upon an exploitative relationship with the world around us. Long before the industrial revolution, the emerging capitalist world-system was fueled by the exploitation of women, people of color and entire ecosystems.

The climate crisis is the ultimate symptom of this extractivist dynamic, and is an entirely new species of crisis that requires our movements to enact an entirely different logic — including entirely different values, morals, assumptions and strategies — if we are to confront it. Confronting climate change means confronting the system and the culture that has caused it, and providing a scalable alternative. More than merely constructing a new politics to confront the “issue” of climate change, the task of the left in the Capitalocene is to cultivate new processes for engagement in politics. The culture of organizing itself becomes key.

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Photographer: Felipe Lopez Ruiz

The Class Politics Behind Last Week’s Market “Correction”

Wed, 02/21/2018 - 13:37

via The Hampton Institute

by Ben Luongo

Markets plunged into correction territory last week after losing 10% from record highs. Economists continue to reassure the public that market corrections are a normal part of a cycle that peaks and troughs over time. The term itself implies that the precipitous drops are temporary adjustments that put the markets back on track. This is certainly how investors look at it. Ron Kruszewski, Stifel Financial Corporation CEO, told reporters that “people just need to relax. Just relax […] It’s a healthy correction to a market that has gone almost straight up since the election over a year ago.”

However, framing the recent market drops as transient and remedial fails to recognize the larger structural problems boiling under the surface. Indeed, this week’s market sell-offs reflect issues of class and inequality – in particular it is a direct response to reports of modest increases in American wages.

This may sound counterintuitive. One would think that an increase in wages would be a welcome development in an economy whose GDP growth has remained consistently under 4% for the last fifteen years . After all, higher pay means increased consumption where the demand for more goods and services translates into even more jobs. However, investors interpret the good news of wage increases as a sign of inflation looming around the corner. CNN Money reported that “Concerns about inflation was most glaring on Friday, when stocks tanked after the January jobs report revealed the strongest wage gains since 2009.”

The argument that inflation follows a rise in wages is called wage-push-inflation (WPI). It argues that executives, in an attempt to maintain corporate profits, finance wage increase through prices hikes. If you buy into this argument, then you worry that Federal Reserve will respond by raising interest rates in order to sow the economy. This of course makes it harder to borrow money and grow one’s business. The WPI argument may sound good in theory, but it’s not how the real world works. In reality, the recent increase in worker pay is a modest 2.9% increase , and it is the first in eight years. This hardly suggests a dramatic rise in the bargaining power of workers to demand higher wages. In fact, the real governing power in corporate policy rests with shareholders (I get to this in a minute).

It’s hard to believe, then, that driving the market volatility are fears of rising inflation. Such inflation would have to follow a dramatic rise in worker pay, which simply isn’t the case. In fact, the portion of the profits that workers take home continues to shrink as evidence of the labor share following overall downward trend . Additionally, inflation has been historically low for years. The Federal Research measure inflation through the Consumer Price Index which has held at a low and steady rate since the 1990s. Regardless, the fact that investors treat wage increases as a destabilizing force exposes the role that wealthy elites play in suppressing labor gains. To understand this, it’s important to add context the market’s bullish growth these past eight years.

As much as the media likes to conflate Wall Street with Main Street, market trends reflect elite interests more than anything else (new research by NYU economist Edward N. Wolff evidences how the top 10% of Americans own 84% of all stocks). An important point to make here is how markets are tethered to corporate profits. Where profits go, so go the markets.

The reason for this is because corporate profits are reinvested back into stocks in order to inflate their prices. Rising stock value send signals to speculators to purchase even more shares which, in turn, is good news for executive pay (executive compensation packages usually include stock appreciation rights (SARs) which are essentially bonuses for good market performance).

This feedback loop explains the bullish market for the past eight years. Executives invest in their companies stock, which is good for investors looking to grow their finances. Investors then buy those shares which increases business performance. And the cycle goes on treating executives and financiers very well. As is often the case in economics though, what’s good news for elites is not always good news for labor. The rise of corporate profits have come at the direct expense of worker’s wages.

The reason for this is because the incorporation of SARs into executive pay packages incentivizes management to more on those financial instruments and less on payroll. Think of it this way – executives can either a) reinvest their profits into their workers and factories, which is costly and yields a slower return on investment, or b) purchase stock buybacks and dividends, which generates a much faster return for impatient investors. Executives have chosen the latter. This is evidenced by an overall declining trend in domestic investment as share of the GDP.

While they spend less on building their business and hiring workers, they are investing more in those lucrative financial instruments (buybacks, dividends, etc.)

Overall, company expenditures have been siphoned over the years from payroll to financial instruments in order to cater to shareholder interests. This reveals who really exercises power in corporate policy. The new corporate governance functions to maximize shareholder value – speculators determine how companies invest, executives and management make a killing, and workers takes home a small portion of the pie. None of this suggests, in any way, that labor has the bargaining power to demand higher wages. On the contrary, this exposes how the markets are designed for executives to capture larger portions of the company’s profits in a way that ensure the subordination of labor.

This came to a head with last week after investors responded to wage increases with market volatility. Nervous speculators threw the markets into correction territory after news that workers may be cutting into record-setting corporate profits. After all, wage increases imply more investment in payroll and less in those lucrative buybacks. The decision for executives to ease up on stock purchase and other financial instruments confused speculators who have been used to confident managers investing in their own company’s stocks. As a result, investors become unsure of their shares and their decisions to divest created a seller’s market (and all of that money that top-income earners got from the new tax deal simply sits in the bank).

Overall, last week’s market drops were strategic movements to counterbalance the modest rise of worker’s wages. So, the next time investors describe market drops using the term “correction,” remember what they really see as the problem.

Ben Luongo is a doctoral candidate at University of South Florida’s School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies where he teaches courses in global political economy and international human rights. He previously worked as a campaign organizer and directed several campaigns for groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Save the Children. His articles have appeared in the Foreign Policy Journal, Foreign Policy in Focus, International Policy Digest, and New Politics .

Calling for Resistance: the Electronic Panopticon of Call Centers and the Neoliberal Future of Work

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 17:53

via Economic Sociology and Political Economy

by Oleg Komlik

For Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, I spent six months working undercover in a call centre in the UK. Taking inspiration from workers’ inquiry – a Marxist method of co-research that combines knowledge production with organising – the aim was to understand how work is organised in call centres and how workers resist in this context.

A major difficulty with this kind of critical research on work is gaining access. The only way to do so was by going undercover, experiencing the call centre from the perspective of the labour process itself. Over the six months of ethnography, the book details the day-to-day experience of the work, the management techniques, the different moments of resistance, along with attempts to organise. It also includes the serendipitous discovery of finding another researcher in the workplace, although in this case a consultant hired for a very different purpose. This poses important questions about the politics of research, particularly within contexts like workplaces with antagonistic social and economic relationships.

The call centre that is the focus of the book was an outbound sales call centre. It shared the same conditions found in many call centres, a sector in which it is estimated around one million workers are employed in the UK. Most of the work at this call centre involved calling large numbers of people to try and sell life insurance. Although given the sales encounters were scripted, the product being sold really could have been anything. However, despite the scripting, the process of selling over the phone requires workers add emotions and humour to convince people to buy. This form of affective labour places new kinds of demands on workers to perform.

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Devil’s Bargain: We already have planet-cooling technology. The problem is, it’s killing us.

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 17:46

via Grist

By Eric Holthaus

A trope of sci-fi movies these days, from Snowpiercer to Geostorm, is that our failure to tackle climate change will eventually force us to deploy an arsenal of unproven technologies to save the planet. Think sun-deflecting space mirrors or chemically altered clouds. And because these are sci-fi movies, it’s assumed that these grand experiments in geoengineering will go horribly wrong.

The fiction, new evidence suggests, may be much closer to reality than we thought.

When most people hear “climate change,” they think of greenhouse gases overheating the planet. But there’s another product of industry changing the climate that has received scant public attention: aerosols. They’re microscopic particles of pollution that, on balance, reflect sunlight back to space and help cool the planet down, providing a crucial counterweight to greenhouse-powered global warming.

An effort to co-opt this natural cooling ability of aerosols has long been considered a potential last-ditch, desperate shot at slowing down global warming. The promise of planet-cooling technology has also been touted by techno-optimists, Silicon Valley types and politicians who aren’t keen on the government doing anything to curb emissions. “Geoengineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” wrote Newt Gingrich in an attack on proposed cap-and-trade legislation back in 2008.

But there’s a catch. Our surplus of aerosols is a huge problem for those of us who like to breathe air. At high concentrations, these tiny particles are one of the deadliest substances in existence, burrowing deep into our bodies where they can damage hearts and lungs.

Air pollution from burning coal, driving cars, and using fire to clear land, among other activities, is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide, killing about 5.5 million people each year. Nearly everybody is at risk, with roughly 92 percent of us living in places with dangerously polluted air. That alone makes reducing air pollution a necessary goal.

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How Segregation Persists

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 05:15

via Jacobin

By Douglas Massey

Review of Cycle of Segregation: Social Processes and Residential Stratification (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2017).

Despite rising minority socioeconomic status, declining levels of discrimination, and growing tolerance for other-race neighbors, residential segregation persists in the United States, and for African Americans remains as high as ever in several large metropolitan areas.

In Cycle of Segregation, Maria Krysan and Kyle Crowder make a major contribution to our understanding of how and why residential segregation persists. The authors critique the theoretical and methodological models commonly used by social scientists to conceptualize and study residential segregation in the United States: the spatial assimilation model (which attributes segregation to socioeconomic differences between groups), the place stratification model (which attributes segregation to discrimination in housing and lending markets), and the group preferences model (which attributes segregation to widespread preference for same-race neighbors).

As an alternative, Krysan and Crowder offer a new conceptual framework, the “social structural sorting perspective,” which argues that segregation persists because residential decision-making is embedded within racialized social, economic, cognitive, and spatial structures and that these structures constrain locational behavior to replicate existing levels and patterns of segregation through a variety of self-perpetuating processes that yield urban landscapes that are systematically stratified by race and class.

Segregation and House Hunting

The book begins by reviewing trends in black, Hispanic, and Asian segregation from non-Hispanic whites over the period from 1970 to 2010. Although on average black-white segregation has slowly declined, the shifts toward desegregation have been highly uneven. Significant declines have been confined mainly to small metro areas with small black populations, while metropolitan areas with sizable black communities continue to be very highly segregated.

Levels of segregation for Hispanics and Asians have remained relatively stable over time, despite rapid population growth through immigration. Whereas levels of Hispanic segregation vary from moderate to high, however, levels of Asian segregation vary from low to moderate. Moreover, although it is not mentioned in the book, the rapid increase in the proportion of Hispanics living in US metropolitan areas has produced a substantial increase in the degree of neighborhood isolation they experience. Like African Americans, Hispanics increasingly occupy neighborhoods composed of same-race others.

Once solidly white neighborhoods have diversified over time, of course, but Krysan and Crowder show that this diversification has occurred more through the entry of Hispanics and Asians into white neighborhoods than of African Americans. In fact, the composition of American neighborhoods has changed rather slowly despite the diversification of American society generally. For African Americans, especially, black-white segregation levels in 1980 strongly predict those in 2010, suggesting continuity rather than change in the degree of black residential segregation.

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Decades of organising wins new abortion referendum in Ireland

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 04:42

via anarkismo.net

by Emilia & Andrew – WSM (Ireland)

The announcement that there will be a referendum to decriminalise abortion in Ireland is the product of decades of active campaigning. Pro-choice campaigners built for repeal ever since the hated 8th amendment was entered into the Constitution in 1983, putting a ban on abortion, which was already illegal in the country, into the constitution. If at first this seemed like a distant demand now repeal looks by far the most likely outcome in May. The story of how this happened illustrates how change comes in general. That is not through elections but through people getting organised to demand that change, regardless of which politicians happen to be running the show in any particular year.

After all few would have predicted that it would have been a Fine Gael government supported by Fianna Fáil (the largest parties in Ireland, both traditionally conservative and centre-right) that would finally move forward on the referendum to repeal the 8th. We can say this with great certainty because when Labour were thrown out of power in the last election a range of pundits from the right and the left, including the Labour Party, tweeted very definite declarations that this meant there could be no referendum. How wrong they were, but fortunately most pro-choice organisers stepped up their activity rather than waiting for the next election.

Who is in power is, of course, not completely irrelevant but significant changes are far, far more dependent on people organising themselves to demand change and forcing politicians to implement that change. Almost every significant change in political policy in Ireland, from the abolition of water charges to Repeal of the 8th has been an outcome of people organising together and mobilising to force change. Within this direct action played a key role in ensuring politicians cannot simply stick their heads in the sand.

With the water charges campaign which defeated a new flat rate austerity tax, it was mass non-payment and the disruption of meter installations that forced the politicians who insisted the charge was inevitable to abolish it. With the pro-choice movement it has been thousands of people per year, carrying unwanted pregnancies obtaining abortion pills for themselves and taking them in Ireland, despite being at risk of a 14 year prison sentence. Before and during the 1991 ‘x-case’ when the state injected a 14 year old she so could not travel to England for an abortion ‘illegal’ distribution of abortion information and huge marches demanding X be allowed travel played the same role and forced the politicians to call the 1992 referenda that saw the bans on abortion information and travel for abortion overturned.

Politicians have always been excellent at stepping in front of the cameras, right at the moment that movements, built by others are on the edge of success. Political careers are made or broken on the basis of the timing of this decision. There is of course some courage involved in that decision due to the risk being taken but the subsequent focus on the politician can give the impression that they are the reason for change, and not the movement they have stepped in front of.

The current wave of organising that won the holding of this referendum inherited the work of others but otherwise began in the protests against the Youth Defence billboards targetting women who had abortions set up by the anti-choice group Youth Defence in the summer of June 2012. Not for the first time arrogant attacks from anti-choice bigots galvanised an angry backlash and a new generation of resistance. In a similar but smaller way in the late 1980s the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children brought together the organisers who put together the x-case march when SPUC went after students providing abortion information in guidebooks.

In the early Autumn of 2012 Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman living in Galway, died from septicemia after being denied an emergency abortion. When the horrific news of her death circulated the pro-choice organisers of the Dublin demonstration knew each other from the protests against the billboards and were able to quickly organise. And after the initial protests they did not go home and wait for the next tragedy but started to do the ground work in preparing the movement that emerged – in particular through the creation of the Abortion Rights Campaign and the annual March for Choice that rapidly grew to mobilising 10s of thousands. Last year’s #Strike4Repeal, a huge grassroots protest which blocked O’Connell bridge and brought Dublin to a halt for the afternoon, turned up the heat in demonstrating there could be consequences to politicians thinking they could simply ignore this growing movement.

There will be time after the referendum victory to write a detailed history of this movement but here we wanted to open this campaign by pointing out that it is not Prime Minister Leo Varadkar or even the Citizens Assembly (a panel set up to deliberate on the issue and make policy recommendation) that is forcing change but the work of a mostly unknown set of organisers over the last few years. This understanding will matter in the aftermath of the referendum when we move on to fighting the problems in the legislation that will be introduced (and there will be problems). But it also matters to how we understand that we can collectively change all aspects of the world we live in. Solutions lie not through the selection of politicians but through the building of sustainable movement that are willing to take action to achieve their goals.


This is an internationalised version of the article published on the WSM website at https://www.wsm.ie/c/finally-referendum-repeal8th-organ…appen. For this Anarkismo publication we’ve explained contents that we could assume readers in Ireland would be aware of but which other Anarkismo readers might not.

Related Link: https://www.wsm.ie/pro-choice

South Africa: Out with the old, in with the not so new

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 04:35

via anarkismo.net

by Shawn Hattingh – ZACF

In South Africa, for white and international capital the last few weeks have been a period of rejoicing due to Ramaphosa being elected as ANC President. Zuma’s days as the State President are now also over. He was recalled by the ANC and in doing so he was forced to resign; leading the business elite to feel an even greater sense of smugness.

The bitter faction fights within the ANC, therefore, have seen Zuma defeated and his erstwhile supporters – a section of BEE capital and parasites in the top of the state – placed squarely on the back foot.

The slate that Ramaphosa won on was the promise to eradicate corruption within the state and the ANC. The tone that accompanied this was that Zuma would be removed from the Presidency and that he may even be prosecuted, along with the Guptas, for his role in ‘state capture’. The ANC itself is hoping that such moves will reverse its ailing fortunes and bolster its election campaign in 2019. Its alliance partners, the SACP and COSATU, are also opportunistically hoping Zuma’s exit from the state will give them a new lease of life politically; and that their leaders will be able to hold onto their cushy and ridiculously well paid jobs in the top echelons of the state under Ramaphosa, which were initially handed to them by Zuma for their backing in Polokwane in 2007.

The reality is that the battle within the ANC and now Zuma’s total demise has very little to do with addressing corruption – despite Ramaphosa’s claims. It was a fight for top positions in the state and the speed with which Zuma’s former die-hard supporters and allies, including the Ace Magashule and Malusi Gigaba, have quickly jumped ship since Ramaphosa’s victory has shown this. In the bid to secure their well-paying jobs going forward and to use positions in the state to secure business deals, old allies have been dumped and a new one, in the form of Ramaphosa, has been embraced.

Ramaphosa’s history highlights how his talk of tackling corruption within all structures of the state was and is simply a ploy, which has no substance. This is because Ramaphosa himself has been involved in corruption. Ramaphosa got rich overnight in the 1990s when he used workers’ pensions (supplied by union investment companies) to raise capital for his business deals. He was also supplied capital by white South African capitalists. To be sure, they were not buying Ramaphosa’s business acumen when they provided him shares, board positions and capital; they were buying the influence he had in the ANC and the state in order to further their own capital accumulation. All of this was backed by the ANC as it was expected that Ramaphosa would use his new found riches to boost the coffers of the Party.

Ramaphosa’s main business interest was Shanduka, which he was involved in founding in 2001. While in charge of the company, it was involved in cases of tax evasion as revealed in the Panama Papers. By 2012, as is well known, Ramaphosa was also a shareholder and Board member of Lonmin and he was the one that used his political connections to get the state to crush the strike, which saw the police gun down 34 workers at Marikana. Ramaphosa is not a man who, therefore, particularly shuns corruption or using connections to the state and political power to further his own vile money making interests or those of his business partners.

Likewise, his backers in the form of white capital are also not averse to corruption. Historically, their capital comes from colonial conquest and the state creating a pool of cheap black labour that could be exploited on farms, mines and factories through land grabs, hut taxes, pass laws, legalized racial discrimination and ultimately violence. In the apartheid era, the state also provided the world’s cheapest electricity to white capital and it paid handsomely for the sub-standard coal it bought from Afrikaner capital to fire Eskom’s power stations. Corrupt deals in the apartheid years, and there were many corrupt deals, built up white capital and were part and parcel of how business was done in those years – including transfer pricing, tax evasion and sanctions busting.

Even today, corruption is common practice in the private sector (still mostly in the hands of white South African capitalists). This has been shown through numerous leaks in 2017 and into 2018. For example, it recently surfaced that blue chip South African companies, such as Liberty and Illovo, have been using measures to evade tax on an ongoing basis. Not to be outdone, several South African financial institutions were of late caught manipulating the Rand in order to profiteer from the volatility created. Then of course there is Steinhoff that used Special Purpose Vehicles to fraudulently boost profits and lower debts on its books to the benefit of its shareholders and top management. When this became public knowledge, it was clear that the company was in reality in financial difficulties and its share price plunged at the end of 2017. Like Zuma, Steinhoff’s days may be numbered and it soon may disappear altogether. Nonetheless its shareholders, like Christo Weise, have got away with the ill-gotten gains and are unlikely to be prosecuted for the shenanigans that were taking place at Steinhoff.

White capital, therefore, has no problem with corruption. The problem they had with Zuma is that they were being side-lined in the corrupt deals of the state under his watch, with far more going to the Gupta family and a new BEE elite. Hence, they turned on the Zuma faction and backed Ramaphosa as their man: they wanted back in on the money, often involving corruption, which could be made through relations with the state and top politicians.

This means that corruption is not going to end under Ramaphosa’s tender. Making matters worse is the deal that was made in 1994, which saw the bulk of the private sector remaining in the hands of white capital. In return there would be some BEE, but more importantly the ANC leadership would be allowed to take over the state. In other words, capitalism would stay in place, including the harsh exploitation of the black working class on which it was and is based, but the faces in the state would change.

Since then, there has been some BEE, but it has been limited. As a result, white capitalists still mainly dominate the private sector. Aspiring capitalists that were linked to the ANC, who wanted to own large private companies, were and have been largely frustrated by these capitalists. In this context the state became the key, and in many cases the only, site through which an ANC elite could build itself into a prosperous black section of the ruling class – and corruption has been part of this structural problem.

The working class, in its bid to battle corruption, therefore need to be clear that the Ramaphosa regime won’t end corruption. It is a structural problem; and has nothing to do with good or bad personalities. New patronage networks will emerge, some old ones – including corruption at all levels of the state – will remain; although it will probably be less blatant and amateurish than under Zuma. Zuma and the Guptas will probably also be thrown to the wolves as a token; but corruption within the private sector and state won’t end. This is because corruption is a problem linked to the path that capitalist development has taken in South Africa.

If there is a serious bid to get rid of corruption, therefore, the structure and purpose of the South African economy would have to be fundamentally changed, which probably can’t be fully achieved under capitalism or the state system (which entrenches the rule and oppression of an elite minority over a majority and allows for corruption). Trying to end corruption, by definition, will have to be a revolutionary struggle to fundamentally change the society we have unfortunately inherited.

Related Link: https://www.pambazuka.org/democracy-governance/out-old-…o-new

Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 04:18

via Deep Green Resistance News Service

by Sean Keller / Local Futures

The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) has been at the heart of Rojava’s democratic revolution since its inception. The Movement grew out of single-issue campaigns against dam construction, climate change, and deforestation, and in 2015 went from being a small collection of local ecological groups to a full-fledged network of “ecology councils” that are active in every canton of Rojava, and in neighboring Turkey as well. Its mission, as one of its most prominent founding members, Ercan Ayboğa, says, is to “strengthen the ecological character of the Kurdish freedom movement [and] the Kurdish women’s movement.”

It’s not an easy process. Neoliberal policies, war, and climate change have made for an impressive roster of challenges. Crop diversity has been undermined due to longstanding subsidies for monocultures. Stocks of native seeds are declining. The region has been hit by trade embargoes from Turkey, Iraq, and the central Syrian government, and villages have been subject to forced displacement and depopulation. Groundwater reserves are diminishing, and climate change is reducing rainfall. Many wells and farms were destroyed by the self-described Islamic State (ISIS), and many farmers have been killed by mines. Much of the region is without electricity. And there has been an influx of refugees from the rest of Syria, fleeing civil war.

As MEM sees it, the solutions to these overlapping problems must be holistic and systemic. Ercan gives an impressive rundown of MEM’s priorities: Decreasing Rojava’s dependence on imports, returning to traditional water-conserving cultivation techniques, advocating for ecological policy-making at the municipal level, promoting local crops and livestock and traditional construction methods, organizing educational activities, working against destructive and exploitative “investment” and infrastructure projects such as dams and mines — in short, “the mobilization of an ecological resistance” towards anything guilty of “commercializing the waters, commodifying the land, controlling nature and people, and promoting the consumption of fossil fuels.”

In 2016, MEM published a declaration of its social and ecological aims, and it is a thing of beauty. “We must defend,” it says, “the democratic nation against the nation-state; the communal economy against capitalism, with its quick-profit-seeking logic and monopolism and large industries; organic agriculture, ecological villages and cities, ecological industry, and alternative energy and technology against the agricultural and energy policies imposed by capitalist modernity.”

Getting children involved in all of this is critical. Schools in Rojava teach ecology as a fundamental principle. In 2016, with the support of Slow Food International and the Rojava Ministry of Water and Agriculture, MEM helped build a series of school gardens in villages around the city of Kobane, in order to provide a “laboratory” for children to learn about the region’s biodiversity and how to care for it. These gardens are growing fruit trees, figs, and pomegranates, instead of corn and wheat monocultures. Some have been planted on land that was once virtually destroyed by ISIS. In Rojava, even cultivation comes inherently infused with a spirit of resistance. “We grew up on this land and we haven’t abandoned it,” says Mustafa, a teacher whose school was one of those to receive a new garden in 2016. “As a people of farmers and livestock breeders, we have always tended the crops using our own techniques, which are thousands of years old.” As the MEM declaration says, “Bringing ecological consciousness and sensibility to the organized social sphere and to educational institutions is as vital as organizing our own assemblies.”

The spirit of resistance is as alive in the realm of society and economics as it is on the land. The cooperative economy in Rojava is booming. Michel Knapp, a longtime activist in the Kurdish freedom movement and co-author of the book Revolution in Rojava, observes that most cooperatives in Rojava are “small, with some five to ten members producing textiles, agricultural products and groceries, but there are some bigger cooperatives too, like a cooperative near Amûde that guarantees most of the subsistence for over 2,000 households and is even able to sell on the market.”

The government of Rojava is democratic and decentralized, with residential communes and local councils giving people autonomy and control over decisions that affect their lives. Municipal-level government bodies are systematically integrated into the operations of MEM, in a one-of-a-kind partnership between the public and nonprofit spheres. And the prison system is being radically reformed, with local “peace committees” paying attention to the social and political dimensions of crime in passing judgment. Most cities contain no more than one or two dozen prisoners, according to Ercan.

And to top it all, women have taken a leading role in every facet of the revolution. Women’s cooperatives are a common sight in Rojava, as are women’s councils, women’s committees, and women’s security forces. Women’s ecovillages have been built both in Rojava and across the border in Turkish Kurdistan, aimed at helping victims of domestic violence and trauma. Patriarchy is just one more aspect of the neoliberal program being cast aside in Rojava, on the road towards building what MEM describes as “a radical democratic, communal, ecological, women-liberated society.”

This piece was originally published on Medium as part of Local Futures’ Planet Local webseries.

Read about other holistic ecological initiatives from around the world on our Planet Local: Ecology page.

Dig deeper into Rojava and the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement on the following pages (the source material for much of this piece):

Sean Keller is Local Futures’ Media and Outreach Coordinator, and editor of Planet Local, an online ‘library’ showcasing grassroots localization projects around the world. He studied Anthropology and Russian at Vassar College, and spends his free time reading and writing speculative fiction.

Featured image:  Ercan Ayboğa

Should we give up half of the Earth to wildlife?

Tue, 02/20/2018 - 04:10

via The Guardian

by Robin McKie

The orangutan is one of our planet’s most distinctive and intelligent creatures. It has been observed using primitive tools, such as the branch of a tree, to hunt food, and is capable of complex social behaviour. Orangutans also played a special role in humanity’s own intellectual history when, in the 19th century, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, co-developers of the theory of natural selection, used observations of them to hone their ideas about evolution.

But humanity has not repaid orangutans with kindness. The numbers of these distinctive, red-maned primates are now plummeting thanks to our destruction of their habitats and illegal hunting of the species. Last week, an international study revealed that its population in Borneo, the animal’s last main stronghold, now stands at between 70,000 and 100,000, less than half of what it was in 1995. “I expected to see a fairly steep decline, but I did not anticipate it would be this large,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University.

For good measure, conservationists say numbers are likely to fall by at least another 45,000 by 2050, thanks to the expansion of palm oil plantations, which are replacing their forest homes. One of Earth’s most spectacular creatures is heading towards oblivion, along with the vaquita dolphin, the Javan rhinoceros, the western lowland gorilla, the Amur leopard and many other species whose numbers are today declining dramatically. All of these are threatened with the fate that has already befallen the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the baiji dolphin – victims of humanity’s urge to kill, exploit and cultivate.

As a result, scientists warn that humanity could soon be left increasingly isolated on a planet bereft of wildlife and inhabited only by ourselves plus domesticated animals and their parasites. This grim scenario will form the background to a key conference – Safeguarding Space for Nature and Securing Our Future – to be held in London on 27-28 February.

The aim of the symposium is straightforward: to highlight ways of establishing sufficient reserves and protected areas to halt or seriously limit the major extinction event that humanity now faces.

According to one recent report, the number of wild animals on Earth has halved in the past 40 years, as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and pollute or destroy habitats, and worse probably lies ahead.

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Photographer: Min An

Gun Violence Has Dropped Dramatically in 3 States With Very Different Gun Laws

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 04:11

via Yes! magazine

by Mike Males

This week, 17 teachers, students, and visitors died in a Florida high school, in a country where mass shootings have been devastatingly routine. This was followed by another day of despairing, angry furor over guns, schools, and shootings that replayed the same reactions from dozens of past shootings.

Once the warring factions settle into their talking points and scapegoats, the debate rages on for decades with little sign of progress. America’s gun debate is like a Greek tragedy, with predetermined lines plodding to inevitable doom.

The Right, represented by the National Rifle Association and Republicans, shows no interest in reducing the gun killing epidemic beyond prayers that the “good guy with a gun” (who never seems to be around) will save the day when a “bad guy” opens fire.

Liberals’ dishonesty is more nuanced. Background checks and gun control have proven effective at reducing gun suicides and domestic shootings (both very worthwhile goals), but not the gun homicides or mass shootings such remedies are invoked to redress.

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Review: Interview With Kevin Doyle about The Worms That Saved The World

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 03:44

via AK Press

At AK Press, we’re always on the lookout for good kids’ books to distribute. One of the recent stand-outs was The Worms That Saved The World, which is always fun to hand off to a kid when we’re tabling somewhere. Here’s an interview with the author, Kevin Doyle, about how the ideas in the book were spawned by real-life struggles in Cork, Ireland. And if you’d like a copy of the book itself, just click here.

Q: The image on the cover of The Worms That Saved The World shows a big group of earthworms marching along a headland. There’s lots of them and they look happy. Some are holding placards announcing ‘We Live Here Too!’, ‘The Headland for All’ and ‘Free The Old Head’. So what’s this all about? Who are these happy protestors?

A: This is a storybook for kids. We decided that a direct appeal to their natural rebellious instincts was what was required. In our book a community of earthworms must fight for their home and their lives. Struggling to win a better world brings them together so that’s in part why they’re happy. Also, in the end, they win too – so they are happy for that reason as well. Oops, spoiler alert there!

Q: Too late. So a happy ending. But apart from that this is not the usual fare for a children’s book?’

A: No, but then the book market does need shaking up. All those celebrities writing children’s books is making things worse not better.

Q: It’s a crowded market.

A: Not content wise. Our book is about the environment and standing up for your rights. In reality there’s not that much around in the book-market that tackles those sorts of things and ideas for the age group we’re interested in anyway. Loads of books about princes and princesses of course! Maybe we can help reboot an old trend, fun books about rebellion.

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Manufactured ignorance: The strange case of Juan Cole and the Kurdish Freedom Movement, and the International Liberal Intelligentsia

Mon, 02/19/2018 - 03:35

via FocaalBlog

by David Graeber

This is a story about how a well-meaning liberal American professor can end up becoming an active propagandist for right-wing forces attempting to destroy a feminist revolution.

Juan Cole is a Professor of History at the University of Michigan, well-known for his blog Informed Comment, which has provided detailed background and analysis on Middle Eastern affairs to a largely university-based audience since 2002. Politically a Sanders Democrat, he appears to operate within that sector of the progressive elite that overlaps with the DC political establishment and therefore exists in at least the same intellectual, social, and professional circuits (i.e., attends the same cocktail parties as members of what is delicately referred to as “the intelligence community.”

What follows might then be read as a study in the moral perils of what can happen when scholars come to operate too closely to circuits of power. It bears in it lessons of no small relevance to anthropologists.

Cole approaches contemporary Middle Eastern politics from what is often described as an anti-imperialist perspective—though he has been known to depart from it in specific instances (he supported NATO intervention in Libya). Much of the power of his analysis lies in his willingness to carefully pick through Turkish-, Arabic-, and Persian-language opinion pieces and news sources, and to examine the social and class basis of Islamist social movements like Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Iraqi Sadrists. Still, an anti-imperialist optic seems, oddly, much closer to an imperialist one than that of someone who is doing something else entirely; like the legates of empire he criticizes, Cole seems to share an instinctual sympathy for “moderate Islamist” strongmen, and an equally instinctual antipathy to anyone in his chosen area of study who purports to share his own left-wing commitments.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in his limitless animus against Turkey’s Kurdish Worker’s Party, or PKK, and any other element of the larger Kurdish Freedom Movement of which the PKK is a part. For almost 20 years, they have been trying to “change the game,” as it were, from a story about empire and resistance to empire, to one where the Middle East should be, rather than a plaything of strongmen and would-be strongmen, the birthplace of a new phase in the history of democracy and women’s rights.

Some background: around 2000, the PKK, a Marxist rebel group that had been fighting a long guerrilla war for a separate Kurdish state, began to undergo a profound ideological transformation. Sparked in part by the evolution of the ideas of imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan—partly, too, by the efforts of women’s groups within the movement—the PKK abandoned Marxism-Leninism and turned to libertarian socialism with a focus on overthrowing patriarchy. It also abandoned any call for a separate Kurdish state for a call to develop a multiethnic, ecologically conscious society based on principles of confederal direct democracy inspired in part by the ideas of the American anarchist theorist Murray Bookchin. Inspired by the example of the Mexican Zapatistas, they pledged not just not to target civilians, but not to carry out offensive actions against Turkish security forces, asking for a ceasefire and peace negotiations aimed at a general decentralization and democratization of Turkish society as a whole. Principles of democratic confederalism and equal women’s representation in all political offices were adopted across the broader Kurdish movement, including HDP (the largely Kurdish-based left political party in Turkey), PYD in Syria, and allied groups in Iraq and Iran.

The Turkish response was to lobby to have the PKK placed on the US, Australian, Canadian, and EU “terror” lists, which they had not been before, and—though Erdogan did make a brief strategic gesture at negotiations—to use the “terrorist” designation as a pretext for rounding up thousands of activists, journalists, and elected officials who tried to pursue the new strategy of trying to build alternative democratic structures, many of whom were systematically raped and tortured in detention.

Some years later, in Syria in 2012, events took a very different course. In the largely Kurdish-speaking northern cantons of Cezire, Kobane, and Afrin (collectively referred to as Rojava), the movement managed to negotiate a general withdrawal of Syrian government forces (government officials, and oligarchs close to the regime, almost all took off as well). Kurdish revolutionaries suddenly had a space to be able to realize their dream of democratic confederalism. This happened, however, in a tense relation with other areas in rebellion. While in the early days of the Syrian revolution, Arab communities too created directly democratic councils, many on a model inspired by a Syrian anarchist named Omar Aziz, the militarization of the conflict had very different effects; where in the Kurdish areas, the revolutionaries created their own militias, the People’s Protection Forces (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Forces (YPJ), most of the secular, left revolutionary organizations in the rest of Syria made a conscious decision not to join the armed struggle, leaving that to military defectors who made up the Free Syrian Army, then, increasingly, to Islamist militias armed and supplied by outside powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. There were tensions between the two forces, especially over the YPG/J’s decision not to conduct offensive operations against the Syrian government but simply to protect the social experiments in its own territories. This, already, took a great deal of effort, however, as Islamists allied—openly or tacitly—with Turkey soon began launching major unprovoked assaults on Rojava, culminating in the famous siege of Kobane. International pressure gradually forced the United States to aid the YPG/J, which ultimately agreed to take the battle home to root out ISIS from the entirety of Syria, in the process, spreading the confederalist model and feminist mobilization well beyond Kurdish-majority territories, through about two-fifths of Syrian territory, in what’s now called the Democratic Confederation of North Syria—somewhat bizarrely, working in coordination with some two thousand US troops.

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Men Are Responsible for Mass Shootings

Sun, 02/18/2018 - 22:20

via Harpers Bazaar

By Jennifer Wright

Shootings, whether they’re in Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas or Sutherland Springs, all tend have one thing in common. It’s not that they’re done by mentally ill people (there is no true connection between people with a mental health diagnosis and mass shootings, according to experts), or that they’re radicalized minorities we should place travel bans on (white men have committed more mass shootings than any other group), or any of the other rhetoric we often hear from leaders.

It’s that they’re almost always perpetrated by men.

Of all the mass shootings since 1982, only three have been committed by women. While women comprise about 50 percent of the victims of mass shootings, female mass killers are “so rare that it just hasn’t been studied,” according to James Garbarino, a psychologist at Loyola University Chicago.

If basically all mass shooters were women, I can assure you we’d be talking about that.

So let’s start talking about the culture of toxic masculinity that makes men believe they should get a gun and shoot people with it.

We live in a culture that worships men with guns

We live in a culture that worships men with guns. You can probably think of many off the top of your head—John Wayne, Indiana Jones or James Bond come immediately to mind. They’re all men who get what they want. Women are all eager to have sex with them. They have the respect of their peers and their communities.

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Notes from the U.S.

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 19:04

via Freedom

by Louis Further

Environment
  • In the middle of January the local government in New York City announced that it is to sue five fossil fuel companies (BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell) for their responsibilities in worsening global warming. The suit comes not long after Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, announced plans to divest the city’s public employee pension fund of some US$5 (£3.69) billion in fossil fuel income.
  • In mid-January the majority of the National Park Service Advisory Board resigned to protest against the fact that Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, has not met them even once since Trump took office one year ago. Tony Knowles, the Board’s chair and a former governor of Alaska, said: “The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science [when it comes to] the effect of climate change, protection of the ecosystems, education”.
  • Trump approved a tariff of 30% on imported solar panel materials – in order to appear to be pursuing the fatuous aim of “Making America Great…”; the results will actually be to slash thousands of jobs in the industry and halt its momentum towards providing alternative energy sources to those run on petro-chemicals.
Economy
  • The right wing propaganda outlets in the US have been quick to point out a handful of companies that have issued small bonuses to (some of) their employees as a direct result – apparently – of last year’s tax ‘reform’. What they have not reported on, though, was a more representative outcome. How small this minority is. The largest private employer in the country, Walmart, announced in the middle of January that it would increase the company-wide minimum wage from US$10 (£7.25) to US$11 (£7.97). What it didn’t add was that the company is simultaneously closing over 60 of its Sam’s Club stores and actually sacking thousands of workers.
  • The notorious far right billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, stand to save between US$1 billion and US1.4 billion (between £710 million and £1 billion) in income taxes every year after the new tax law passed in December.
Racism
  • The Pentagon announced in mid-January that it is widening the scope of what it considers a legitimate strategy for nuclear weapons to include retaliation in cases where a cyberattack is believed to have taken place or may be imminent.
  • Less than a week after Trump referred to Haiti (as well as El Salvador, and African nations) with an obscenity, the Department of Homeland Security took the next step in his racist (anti-Haitian) immigrant agenda specifically by preventing Haitians from applying for certain temporary work visas.
  • Meanwhile in party politics, in a local election (that for a place in the US House of Representatives in Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District) one Arthur ‘Art’ Jones is the only Republican candidate. Jones is a Holocaust-denying white supremacist on record as saying “…it’s time to put America first… [the Holocaust]… is the biggest, blackest, lie in history.” A Trump supporter, Jones is a former leader of the American Nazi Party. He now leads a group called the America First Committee. He is also on record as opposing interracial marriage and integration in schools; he has said, for example, “I don’t believe in equality, period”. Jones opposes abortion rights and gay marriage as well as the adoption of children by gay couples; he supports permits for members of the public to carry concealed firearms. Although highly unlikely to win in November, he is rightly identified as the Republic Party’s official candidate.
Corruption
  • In mid-January a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was arrested by FBI agents for allegedly running a drug trafficking scheme in which he hired other police to provide physical security for drug dealers.
Oppression
  • As controversies and scandals, abuse and lies raged around the Trump government in mid-January, the Senate passed a bill to reauthorise and even expand the government’s spying reach on digital communications without a warrant. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s response was typical: “The Senate just approved (65-34) an appalling bill to extend Section 702—one of the NSA’s most powerful spying tools. While nominally directed at foreign intelligence surveillance, this bill actually violates Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights to privacy”.
  • With much of Puerto Rico still devastated by last September’s hurricane and the island’s infrastructure still largely uncared for, Governor Ricardo Rossello, in mid-January announced a plan to privatise the island’s electricity authority in order to benefit shareholders and the already rich.
  • It’s always risky, of course, to bandy phrases like dictator and fascist around in the context of even a ‘leader’ like Trump. But in his unguarded moments, he does seem to want to be taken as such. For instance in a speech which he gave at a factory near Cincinnati, Ohio, at the beginning of February he effectively accused Democrats of ‘treason’ for not clapping while he spoke. Indeed, during his State of the Union speech the week before to the joint session of Congress, he said that he noticed that many Democrats were failing to applaud him. He first said that this was ‘un-American’. In that crowd at the factory, though, someone shouted out that such behaviour was treasonous. To this, Trump replied, “Yes, I guess, Why not”!
  • The question is often asked, “How is it possible that Trump continues to get away with it?!” A couple of his comments last month may give a clue: who could possibly object to the idea, for instance, of faulty libel laws which are intended to enrich liars? Trump said: “Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace… We want fairness.” So if you’re predisposed to support the status quo, hear the media propaganda advising you to adhere to it everyday, then you’ll take such comments (and one he made at the same time to the effect that his energy plan was for “lots of energy””, whereas everyone else just wants windmills) at face value and be quite satisfied. Most people – in other words – take what he says at face value.

Class War defeat Qatari Royals and protect protest rights

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 18:58

via Freedom

There’s something delicious about seeing very rich and powerful people take on a fight and then realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. They’re not used to it and sometimes seemingly small victories are the best we can hope for.

Last week Class War founder, Ian Bone, promoted globally on facebook the idea of redressing the balance on housing in London by occupying the Shard. There are multi million quid apartments in the building laying empty year and after year, meanwhile homelessness is on the rise and the vast majority of Grenfell survivors have still not been re-housed.

Before I go further I should say I’m part of Class War. My PhD research from the inside of the group has unearthed many examples of both the authorities and the media imagining that Class War just has to press a button somewhere and the unruly mob of thousands rises from the streets to literally devastate the avenues where the wealthy live. Class War are organising protests all the time and the size of a protest doesn’t really have an exact science behind it; some things take off and most things don’t. The vast majority of Class War events pass without any media interest. This means that when they do take off and large numbers attend a demo and boisterous things occur the police and others can look terribly inadequate so there has become a standard theme to policing Class War events: they send at least a van of cops along, hours in advance just in case, presumably with others on standby if they feel it necessary.

With Class War then, come security issues for the people the protests are directed towards. So no surprise when someone at the Metropolitan Police saw Ian’s post and tipped off the Shard. You can imagine the panic as they scroll through online pictures of front pages from the Class War tabloid, and news articles about the poll tax riots, the cereal killer café, Fuck Parades and the Ripper Museum

Within 48 hours of the initial post Ian received court papers regarding an injunction to prevent the protest from taking place and claiming over £500 for the fun of it all. Included was some research into the group, an exclusion zone around the building demanding Ian and ‘persons unknown’ not cross a red felt tip squiggle and details of why they needed the injunction.

The research was laughable in places. They were concerned that Ian’s address was hard to detect, whilst they operate out of tax havens to avoid being cornered by UK Revenue and Customs. They described the group almost perfectly with words that have already been adopted with pride:

“Class War is a far-left, pro-anarchy, UK-based pseudo-political party, originally borne out of a newspaper established in 1982. The group opposes the ‘ruling elite’ for their exploitation of the poor and the disadvantaged and have recently been involved with campaigns against the demolition of social housing in London to make way for the construction of luxury housing, as well as campaigns against inequality and austerity. Class War vocally supports, and engages in, civil disobedience, violence and anarchy as acceptable methods of pursuing their objectives.”

Yep, pretty much.

They also erroneously described the Class War Women’s Death Brigade as a “sub-organisation” of Class War which naturally didn’t go down too well. Class War doesn’t have any sub-organisations. Or as one Death Brigader put it: “Sub-organisation? Fuck off you cunts.”

The reasons they had for the injunction included a bizarre focus on terrorism. They were concerned that anyone getting into the building to occupy it could highlight security lapses which might encourage terrorists to take advantage. You’d think someone highlighting these things would actually be a help to them in order to avoid such incidents. But anyway, isn’t that why they pay a massive amount in security contracts in the first place? On top of which they might have learnt from the incident two years ago when a man climbed the building and parachuted down.

The court case occurred yesterday (8th February) and in an unexpected twist, respected barrister, Ian Bronwhill contacted Ian and offered to represent him for free. Almost from the first correspondence with the Shard legal team they were backtracking. Eventually they said they would drop the request for costs providing Ian didn’t personally try to enter the Shard or encourage any others to do so. The protest could go ahead as planned, provided it didn’t get too close to the building.

In the meantime the news reports about this kept flooding in. Freedom covered it a couple of days ago but there have also been reports in the Guardian, RT, Inside Croydon, and the news has traveled to outlets in France, Spain and Egypt. There was also a very sympathetic piece by Suzanne Moore and Ian got a spot on the Vanessa Feltz programme on BBC London radio. All of these pieces focused on Ian as a pensioner needing a walking stick. He seems to have moved on in the public consciousness from the ‘most dangerous man in Britain’ characterised in the 1980s.

The Class war protest went ahead regardless last night and the Qatari Royal Family, who ultimately own the Shard have come out of the episode with a bloodied nose. A sweet and fitting end to an intense week of shenanigans. They couldn’t have possibly realised what a public relations disaster they were inflicting on themselves.

This wasn’t a complete victory but it does put a marker in the sand regarding public spaces that are privately owned.

We will need to explore this more and more as corporations try to stifle dissent on their property. No national borders is a fine principle and we need to extend it so that there are no internal borders for protest and dissent. This was perhaps the start of such a battle.

Jon Bigger

Photo: South Essex Stirrer

If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 18:38

via Rolling Stone
By Matt Taibbi

Over two decades ago, I traveled to a city in the Russian provinces called Rostov-On-Don to interview a psychiatrist named Alexander Bukhanovsky.

Bukhanovsky, now deceased, was famous. If you’ve seen the movie Citizen X, about the capture of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, Bukhanovsky was the guy played by Max Von Sydow. He was the Soviet Union’s first criminal profiler.

One of the first things he said was that both Russia and America produced disproportionate shares of mass killers.

“Giant militarized countries,” he said, “breed violent populations.”

Bukhanovsky at the time was treating a pre-teen who had begun killing animals. He told me this young boy would almost certainly move on to killing people eventually. He was seeing more and more of these cases, he said.

Nikolas Cruz, the 19 year-old just arrested for shooting and killing 17 people in Parkland, Florida, supposedly bragged about killing animals. He reportedly even posted photos of his work on Instagram.

There will be lots of hand-wringing in the coming days about gun control, and rightfully so – it’s probably easier to get a semi-automatic rifle in this country than it is to get some flavors of Pop Tarts – but with each of these shootings, we seem to talk less and less about where the rage-sickness causing these massacres comes from.

On the rare occasions when we do talk about it, the popular explanation now is that guns themselves cause gun violence. As the New York Times put it after the Vegas massacre, “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

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Why American Workers Aren’t Getting A Raise: An Economic Detective Story

Sat, 02/17/2018 - 16:59

By Jonathan Tepper

For the past few months, I’ve been trying to solve an economic puzzle: why are wages growing so slowly despite a growing economy and a booming stock market?

Workers are productive and helping the economy grow, yet unlike previous economic expansions, we are hardly seeing big increases in wages. Instead, companies are sitting on their cash or giving it back to their shareholders through dividends and share buybacks.

The answer of why wages are not growing mattered a lot to me.  A few years ago, some friends and I started Variant Perception a company that predicts the ups and downs of the economy using leading indicators.  Before growth or inflation turn up and down, there are generally clues that tell you what is coming. For example, building permits provide a good warning sign that growth will turn up or down. When the US stopped building as many houses in 2005-06, it predicted the recession of 2007-08.

Our leading indicator for wages normally provides a 15 month advanced warning of changes in wages. It is pretty good and all the ingredients are the same ones that have accurately worked for decades, yet the relationship has broken down. It was annoying me: why are wages not following growth? I should know the answer to why this is happening.  I should have all the tools, yet something appeared broken in the economy.

All the signs that should lead to higher wages are present. Today, employers are saying that it is hard to find workers and many small businesses say they expect to raise wages, initial unemployment claims are extremely low. This should be an economy that is good for workers to get higher wages, yet wages stink.

After a lot of research, I think the answers are clear.  Let’s look at the problem.

Companies are keeping more of the economic pie

The flipside of low wages is that companies have taken a record part of the economic pie. Corporate profits as percentage of Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) are near record highs and labor’s share of GDP is near record lows. You can see from the following chart that the chart looks like a giant alligator jaws. The divergence started in the early 1980s when the regular rise and fall of corporate profits and workers’ compensation broke down.

The trend in corporate profits is a mystery to economists and investment strategists. Jeremy Grantham, a well-known investor, has pointed out, “Profits are the most mean reverting series in finance. If margins don’t revert something has gone wrong with capitalism.”

Employee Compensation as a Percentage of GDP has been falling for years

(Source: Economic Cycle Research Institute)

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