Antifa recruiting captain

Tonight there is another of the 2020 Democratic primary debates on television. I’m ignoring it, as I have all the debates so far this cycle, and as I intend to continue to do so. Douglas Rushkoff has a great monologue at the beginning of this episode of Team Human that I was listening to today, which probably has a lot to do with it. We’re in the midst of state legislative races this year where I live, followed by municipal races the following spring in time for our primary voting. I haven’t decided what my involvement is going to be yet. I’ve been contacted by at least one city council candidate, but they’re not pounding down my door, or anything. I may pick up with the Sanders campaign and help out there, but for now I’m keeping to my current regimen of family, work, school, meditation, crypto, this blog, and the other two or three projects which I’ve already committed to.

My day job involves supporting numerous small businesses technology needs, I’m sure I’ll get more into the details of that another time, but we’ve got a wide swath of clients across the political spectrum. As I deal with the owners and managers most often, I’ve gotten to know them best, and for the most part they lean conservative. There’s a few that would make great character studies. There’s the lesbian couple who live and work together and are politically active Republicans. Another is an effeminate man who I would be willing to bet is so deeply closeted that he doesn’t even realize it, and pumps Christian rock playlists in the office and through the phone system — the stories to tell there…

I’ve got a couple people at various offices who are the lefty side of the political spectrum (dental and environmental cleanup firms, now that I think about it,) and know who I am and provide encouragement, but given that my boss is retired military, and Irish Catholic, I don’t broadcast or advertise things too much. So when I got called into deal with some customer service issues at a small evangelical mission outreach office, I wasn’t planning on making any friends.

Now, as most people I’ve a long and complicated story with religion that will take more than one blog post to get out, but the word atheist would have probably been most appropriate for the last decade or two in my life. I’ve mellowed a bit over the years, and I think the term has some baggage to people in the African American church community, and as someone in politics I’ve had to adjust how I talk about my beliefs publicly. Which is why I was suprised to be proclaiming myself as a ‘militant atheist’ in this ministry office earlier this week.

This is actually the third faith-based organization I’ve had to deal with in the past few weeks, and in all cases I’ve had little, if any, face to face interaction with staff. Most of that had been handled remotely or by other people under my supervision. We don’t deal with any mega churches, so budgets are tight and so my interactions are quite limited.

So I’m at the office, which is basically made up of two young women in their twenties. Their bosses are a husband and wife team, he being the theologian and speaker. There were several pictures of him on the walls of the office, somewhere in sub-saharan Africa, one would presume, with him surrounded or addressing adoring throngs of the darkest, black-skinned natives you can imagine. But it’s just the two young women and I , and as I spend the next few hours taking care of business, I can’t help but eavesdrop.

After a couple disparaging, ironic remarks paraphrasing Trump or conservatism, she mentions something about ‘Leftbook’. At this point my curiosity got the better of my professionalism, so I asked her if she just referred to Facebook as ‘Leftbook’. Yes, she says, as it was almost entirely radical leftist content, save for one conservative friend or colleague that she was still following. I regurgitated some of the Team Human theories Rushkoff has humans as the fuel for Facebook’s prediction algorithms, and let my guard down entirely. I told them who I was, my political activity, DSA membership, and when I showed them a picture of me standing behind Bernie Sanders they both lost their shit.

After a while they admonished me not to tell their boss. They weren’t paid to have opinions, they said, and their boss, the Great White Savior, had recently worn Trump 2020 socks to the office. They were literally giddy that they had “made a friend”, since they both are transplants to the area, and I’m pretty sure promises were made to induct them into Antifa at some point.

Jokes aside, the power dynamics within that office could probably warrant a sociological study. That said, it was good to connect with someone on the job, especially when it means building solidarity with these two young millennial members of the working class.

Solidarity indeed.

Ending cash bail

Of the projects that we considered pitching for our ‘social benefit’ programming project was in the cash bail space. There are are many arguments for abolishing cash bail, and there are organizations that are focused on making bail for non-violent offenders. We wondered how we might increase participation in these types of programs using novel software solutions.

The arguments against the bail system are many. A 2013 study of pretrial detention in Kentucky showed a “direct link between how long low- and moderate-risk defendants are in pretrial detention and the chances that they will commit new crimes.” The hypothesis behind this is that “jail destabilizes lives that are often, and almost by definition, already unstable“, and disrupts employment, housing and family support.

Then there are stories like that of Kalief Browder, a 17 year-old who was accused of stealing a backpack. After refusing to plead guilty, he was was given a thousand dollars bail, and sent to Rikers Island after his family was unable to pay. He was held there for three years without trial, and was beaten and held in solitary confinement for two years. Two years later he hung himself.

The current system punishes the poor. Unable to post bail, and faced with the possibility of weeks or even months of pre-trial detention before their case, many people choose to plead guilty just in order to get out. These perverse incentives can lead to disastrous consequences later in life for these people who are legally innocent. And there’s also the problem of America’s $2 billion bail bonds industry, which makes money off the poor. (The U.S. and the Philippines are the only two countries in the world that allow bail bonds.)

Thankfully, the tide is turning.

The Bail Project is a national revolving bail fund, launched following the non-profit Bronx Freedom Fund. The goal of the fund is to pay bail for thousands of low-income Americans. Since bail is refunded when a person shows up for court, the money gets recycled and is made available to more individuals. According to their website, they’ve paid bail for over 6300 people.

The efforts of the Bail Project and likeminded others seems be having an effect. California completely abolished cash bail last summer. Google and Facebook have banned bail bond service ads. And nine of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates support ending it, including Biden, Sanders and Warren.

So we thought about ways to help expedite this movement using technology. Perhaps more people would be interested in donating to a bail fund if there was more transparency. Could a blockchain system be used to allow people to see the individuals whose lives they were helping? Aside from the privacy concerns, of course. Some people might object to having their information made public in that way, but arrest and court records are already public… There are a host of ethical concerns that such a system might bring up.

There is research that shows that people are more likely to donation to a cause if the ask is made as specific as possible, and that likelihood decreases as the benefit group is increased in size. Simply put, people are more likely to donate to help feed a single child if they are shown their name and picture, but if you are told about an entire nation of people experiencing famine, people will do nothing. I can’t find the source currently, but have heard it from Sam Harris. If true, we may be able to increase participation in a bail fund if people are shown exactly who their money is going to help.

I can imagine some of the pushback already. There’s some racial and class dynamics that are bound to be brought up against it, and it could turn into some sort of reality show gamification if not dealt with delicately. There could also be negative consequences if someone is deemed “not worthy”, a Willie Horton moment if you will.

So would there be a use case for donation tracking system, even if the individual data was anonymized? For example, if you donate $5 to a bail fund, that money might go to help one person, but once the funds are recycled, half of the money could go to two different people. If people could be reminded that their donation had helped three unique individuals, would that cause them to contribute more? This effect could be even greater if released individuals were encouraged to add back into the fund, either as an alternative to the standard bailbond fee, or as a way of paying it forward. Even a small donation could have a non-linear effect.

We also mused at ways to automate the operation of such a fund using a smart contract, but ultimately, the onramps and offramps needed to execute such a system over a number of jails seems like too much of a risk.

In all, most of what I came up with seems like a solution in search of a problem. I’m ultimately trying to improve on something that I have no experience with, and that could ultimately be completely unwanted by those affected. As interesting of a thought experiment this may be, I decided to pass this project by for now and see if something where the need was more readily apparent would present itself.

I did not have to wait long before one would show up on my doorstep. More on that in a week.

The Nation Magazine: July 15/22

Reclaiming Stonewall, guest editor: Patrick McCarthy: This issue commemorates the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. I hate to use the word riot in the context of this event, a more appropriate term would be confrontation. Fed up with being targeted for by police for being, Stonewall marked a turning point in the LGBTQ community, one that would see a revolutionary change in status through the AIDS crisis and marriage equality. This special section of the magazine features short contributions by a number of LGBTQ activists, organizers and authors.

Warren Rising, by Joan Walsh: Continuing their coverage of the 2020 Democratic nominee hopefuls, The Nation turns their attention to Elizabeth Warren. Along with Bernie Sanders, Warren is one of the front-runners among the more radical and progressive factions on the left, and this gushing portrait of her is indicative of that. Joan Walsh follows Warren as she stumps through Iowa, covering her speech and reaction from the electorate while providing more of Warren’s background and some direct reporting.

I cant tell if this report is a glowing portrait of Warren because of her front-runner status in the primary, or if it’s because she’s the real deal. I’ve got great respect for Warren, and would welcome her as the nominee, but I would still prefer Sanders’s class-antagonism over Warren’s “I’m a capitalist” reformism. Still, there’s the issue of electability, and given Warren’s ability to bounce back from Trump’s attacks, and the Democratic establishment’s fear/hate of Sanders, I do hope that either one of them is able to beat out Biden for the nomination.

Resisting Trump’s Cruelty, by Sasha Abramsky: If there’s anything that seems to drive my outrage fatigue more than anything, it’s the Trump administrations’s wanton cruelty against immigrants. As I’m quick to remind, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature” of Trump’s policies, following a predictable proto-fascist campaign to stir up racial resentment and white nationalism. This article points out the rays of sunshine in the fight against this dehumanization of South American refugees, those risking jailtime to make border crossings through the desert less deadly, and the churches and community organizations that are stepping up to sponsor, clothe and shelter those waiting on their asylum hearings.

Inherently Unequal, by David Cole: Review of Separate, by Steve Luxenberg. This history of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the Supreme Court case which enshrined separate but equal in the United States until it was over turned 58 years later, is interesting for a variety of reasons. The litigants in the case knew that it was deemed to fail, and it was even opposed by Frederick Douglass and other civil rights supporters. Without a mass movement on their side, they knew that the nation, still reeling from the Civil War, was not ready. What surprised me also was that the case was brought by the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, as well as the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which did so because of the expense of operating separate cars. While the justification of the Court’s majority decision that segregation was “in the nature of things” is not surprising, it is that the sole dissenter in the 7-1 decision was the Court’s only southerner, Justice John Marshall Harlan. Harlan, who was raised in a slave-owning family and was a long-time opponent of civil rights legislation and supporter of states-rights, was nonetheless a supporter of the 13th and 14th amendments.

Solidarity, whatever

I’m sitting in the living room, looking out the window at the back yard, where my daughters are out playing with a couple of her neighborhood friends. I’d say it’s relaxing except for the sheer volume of high-pitched yelling that they’re doing as they play. My wife is asleep upstairs. I couldn’t ask for a more peaceful end to the summer.

Earlier today my wife and I attended the local Democratic Party’s Labor Day breakfast. I was in a mostly pissy mood, for political and personal reasons, and did my best to avoid people as much as possible. It’s quite a feat to attempt in a room with two hundred people, but I managed to take a seat at an empty table facing the wall until events started. I did see some close acquaintances on the way in, but managed to avoid any substantive conversation.

Again, I’m torn here between providing all the details and holding on to the finest pretense of anonymity, but what I can say is that during this last primary season for state legislature, a schism erupted between the Labor federation and the state’s Democratic Party. Certain business-friendly candidates were endorsed by the state’s Federal delegation, Senators and Congressional representatives, over pro-labor candidates. I can say that the pretense for the endorsements were personal relationships and fundraising ones, but the matter did not sit well with Labor leaders, and they have put state and local Democrats on notice.

One of the most important issues among labor are the so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which basically allow free-riders within labor’s collective bargaining structure. It’s one of the major contributing factors in labors’ decline over the last seventy years, not just in our state, but across the nation as well. Organized labor has traditionally stood behind the state’s Democrats, who haven’t held power in the state since the 90’s, and there is a very good chance that Dems could win back control of the state legislature in the next election cycle. Labor is rightfully concerned that their support within the Democratic party may not be as strong as they thought it was. And rightfully so.

All of this led to a convention earlier this summer where more than a third of of the Democratic legislature was not endorsed by the labor federation. And Labor leaders were not shy about this fact this morning, reminding those assembled that they were done supporting candidates and electeds just because they had a ‘D’ next to their name. The head of the state’s AFL-CIO went so far as to threaten that any Democrat that was not with them (presumably voting against right to work repeal,) would not survive re-election. Other speakers from within labor, including a sitting member of the state legislature, echoed these sentiments as well.

Now while these sentiments immediately improved my mood, there is part of me that questions whether Labor has the ability to back up these threats. Now I haven’t been organizing long enough to see whether Labor remains strong enough to overthrow a sitting incumbent. Most of the trades unions still seem to be operating as management organizations, with most of their activities centering around insurance policies. To be honest, and I hope I’m wrong, but I remain skeptical that labor has the power that they think they do. Their membership is too deflated, and their management too worried about their positions or retirement, to truly attempt something so radical as challenging the Democratic party establishment.

I hope I’m wrong.

There are a lot of changes needed. It seems that some new blood is needed in the movement to stir things up, to motivate people and rebuild labor. We need new types of unionism that fits better within the new types of tech sector firms that we have these days. The good news is that I think change is on the horizon.

The Socialist Manifesto, by Bhaskar Sunkara

Sunkara is the founder of Jacobin magazine, which has been around since 2010, and his new book is an accessible history of socialism aimed at a general audience. It starts off with a vision of what democratic socialism in the United States would look like before going into a detail history of the movement from Marx up to the resurgence of the modern left through politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. It ends with a chapter of action items that Sunkara believes are necessary for Democratic Socialists to win in the future.

My involvement in the movement is fairly recent, I’ve only been truly involved in it since the 2016 Democratic primary, where I was a Democratic party caucus chair for the Sanders campaign in my congressional district. I don’t have a strong history in Marxism or socialist history. I’ve been reading Dissent, Nation and Jacobin for about two years now, and have been reading and listening to leftist media on a regular basis during that time. Sunkara has done a service to people like me, to help fill some gaps in history and give me some much needed response to critics on issues surrounding socialism’s failures in the past.

There were several times during this book that I was having deja vu, when I realized that certain sections had pulled from Jacobin’s pages. Certain turns of phrase around Khruschev’s “secret speech”, for example, I’m pretty sure were lifted straight off of a recent issue (or reprinted.) Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Sunkara’s work with Jacobin has been instrumental to the movement, and my education, and the publication is probably one of the most coherent and influential sources of political thought for the latest generation of Democratic Socialists. At least that’s how I see it from here — it’s been months since I attended my local DSA chapter’s meetings.

Sunkara — and Jacobin — does not shy away from the failures of twentieth century socialism, and does not sugar coat the crimes that Stalin, Mao, and others have done in the name of communism and Marxism. He’s able to acknowledge it without excusing it or justifying it. At the same time, there is emphasis of the democratic part of democratic socialism, and the lesson to readers here is to find ways to increase democratic involvement in the movement.

The history is broad here, and it was easy for me to get lost amongst the party organizations, figures and coalitions that are part of the century and a half of the movement. There’s a lot to cover here, and the socialist movement spans the entire globe, and I’ll admit that another reading is warranted before I can even begin to understand all of the schisms in the various european movements contained within this short volume.

The history of socialism in the United States is one that obviously doesn’t get told these days, and reading the history of American unions and the left this right before Labor Day is good timing for the Party breakfast that I’ll be attending tomorrow. And this intersection of labor, Democratic party politics and Democratic Socialism is obviously one that I’m most interested in, and where I plan on focusing most closely in the future.

Beyond the history lesson and rationale behind democratic socialism’s resurgence, the part of the book that will likely get the most discussion amongst leftists will be the penultimate chapter, “How We Win”, with 15 points that Sunkara lists for success moving forward. Many of them boil down to the advice that socialists shouldn’t shy away from class struggle, and need to embed in working class issues to get our agenda pushed through. He worries that success may ultimately be the movement’s undoing as it has in the past, and urges readers to move forward, not backward, when the inevitable challenge rises. Two points that I’ll be studying: “It is not enought to work with unions for progressive change. We must wage democratic battles within them.” And: “We need to take into account American particularities.” This latter one has some broad outlines for possible avenues of attack within the Democratic party.

I’m not sure I share his optimism that our two party political system can be undone as swiftly as he believes, but I’ll take his idea of an actual mass-membership political party seriously for the time being. The idea of activating rank and file members, whether within a labor union or a political party, is probably the most important takeaway from this book. The main way to accomplish socialism in America will be through more Democracy. That is the biggest threat that we face from the populist right these days, and is also the main argument against authoritarian-style Communism. Focusing on democracy, within our organizations, workplace and political system should be the number one goal of progressive and leftist organizations moving forward.

Labor Day

It’s the start of Labor Day weekend here in the the good ol’ U.S of A., and while most of the population may see it as an excuse to close out the summer with one last pool-party barbeque, in my house we treat it a bit more orthodox. My spouse and I are both involved in Union activism, so we treat this a bit more seriously than most.

First off, it’s important to note that Labor Day, as an American construct, was actively chosen to decrease working class solidarity with the rest of the world. The first of May, or May Day, as it’s known around the rest of the world, was the day chosen by socialists and communists, and others on the Left to commemorate the Haymarket Affair, which was a protest that occured in Chicago in 1886. People were rallying in support of workers who were striking for an eight-hour workday. The previous day police had killed eight workers, and the peaceful rally turned violent after someone set off a dynamite bomb and killed several police and civilians. Several people were jailed or hung, one committed suicide in jail.

So when the powers that be decided on a labor holiday in the US, they decided to choose the current date, as strategically halfway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, avoiding May Day to prevent any further solidarity with socialist or anarchist movements.

Here in my area, the local Democratic Party has been hosting an annual Labor Day breakfast. This Monday will be the tenth year. The question I am struggling to answer is what’s left of Labor here in the states and what can be done to renew it. Most of leadership is approaching retirement, and has not done a good job of mentoring the next generation of leaders in their midst. Of course, right to work laws and hostile conservative and business-friendly liberal governments have not helped either, but it almost seems that labor is it’s own worst enemy right now.

Beyond the lack of political power that labor holds within the Democratic establishment these days, there still seems to be a tendency toward management-style leadership from above, rather than any sort of activation of the rank and file from above. Most members treat union membership as an insurance policy, to be used in times of grievances, or as a representative body when labor agreements need to be renewed. But I’ve seen or heard little to indicate that the rank and file are encouraged to become active in their own representation.

The other thing that strikes me is the lack of technological deployment in these organizations. This isn’t unique to labor, of course, but is prevalent in many of the party and campaign organizations that I’ve been a part of. It seems like magic when we mention things like mailing lists; we’re still caught up in the massive CC lists in emails. We’ll be talking more about deploying tech strategically within political organizations in this space at some point. There’s much to be said on this point.

So I will attend the breakfast and will be looking for young faces. We’ll sit in a fancy dining hall at large tables with elaborate centerpieces and wait for our three course meal to be served. We’ll sit and watch the recognition of elected officials, who are ultimately providing lip service to labor as members of the opposition, we’ll hear fiery speeches from labor leaders to rouse the troops.

But one thing that I’ve noted in past years among these parties is the difficulty in getting them to actually use union sources for supplies. I had to speak up on several occasions to get the local party to consider a union source for some committee t-shirts that they wanted to order. And never once, in the last three years that I’ve attended this event, have I ever heard mention of the working conditions of the waiters and bussers to fill our water and clear our plates. Sure, they may get recognized for the work that they are doing for us to enjoy ourselves on this day, but where are the mention of the service unions, where is the solidarity with them and the efforts to better their work on the other three hundred and sixty-odd days of the year?

Labor has many problems, from the right, from centrists, and from the changing nature of work that makes it harder to organize tech workers, gig workers, and so on. But I fear the biggest problem, and the one that will be the hardest to overcome, is from the labor organizations themselves.

The Nation Magazine: July 1/8 2019

Killer Kitch, by James McAuley: I’ll admit I didn’t read all of this issue’s cover story on Renaud Camus. I’m not familiar with his work, but after a couple of pages about this man I had read enough. I guess I’ve heard enough about le grand replacement, and given that I had been reading this around the second anniversary of Unite The Right’s Charlottesville rally, I don’t think I really wanted to read more about it.

The Florida GOP’s Assault on Democracy, by Sasha Abramsky: This seems par the course these days: citizens overwhelmingly approve ballot measure that will increase voting power by demographics likely to favor Democratic party candidates; Republican legislators move the goalposts and otherwise try to undermine the voice of the people in order to preserve their power. In this case it was a measure to reinstate voting rights for persons convicted of a felony after they had served their time. We’ve seen a similar response play out here in Virginia after gubernatorial executive orders granting blanket restorations to tens of thousands of citizens. The Virginia GOP about had the vapors.

The situation is a bit more dire for Republicans in Florida, given the state’s role in the 2000 presidential race. According to Abramsky, about 1.4 million people were expected to be reinstated by Florida’s Amendment 4, but state Republicans have managed to lower that number to around 800,000 changing the criteria and qualifications that individuals have to have to fall under the rule. And since it seems to be par the course for these reviews, here’s the obligatory Last Week Tonight segment that covered the absolute shitshow that was Florida disenfranchisement before the 2018 vote.

The Statue Aimed at Julian Assange, by Miriam Schnier: Now I could normally give a rat’s ass about Assange. I dislike him for a variety of reasons, but as I’ve said here before, how we treat the worst of us reflects on us. And the real importance about this article is because of the information it gives about the 1917 Espionage Act. And this is really where my subscription to The Nation really pays for itself. The magazine has been around long enough that it was there a hundred years ago, when noted the passage of the act with the headline “Civil Liberty Dead”.

“Based on language in the act that criminalized efforts to obstruct military recruitment, the government rounded up thousands of anti-war protesters, union activists, and political radicals, many of whom were held without trial in hastily organized internment camps.

Miriam Schneir

Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, and anarchist activist Emma Goldman were both imprisoned under the Act, and Daniel Ellsburg likely would have been convicted for his release of the Pentagon Papers of not for the incompetence of Nixon’s ‘plumbers’. Both Chelsea Manning and Reality Winner have been charged under the Act.

While I’ll not defend Ethel and Julius Rosenburg’s spying for the Soviet Union, Schnier notes “the government has been able to use it to restrict freedom of speech; imprison anti-war activists, socialists, anarchists, communists, and ideological whistle-blowers; and help to destroy numerous progressive organizations and publications.”

Lost Bearings, by David A. Bell: Review of A Thousand Small Sanities by Adam Gopnik. Ah, liberalism. A word that has been demonized both by the right and the left. I’ve given much thought to its meaning, mostly in relation to the term progressive. My theory is that the two differ mainly on economic issues. Over the years, there’s been so much demonization of ‘liberal’ by right wing media like Limbaugh and Fox News, that actual liberals have fled from it, preferring the term ‘progressive’ when describing themselves. As far as social issues like race and LGBT equality goes, there isn’t much air between the two sides, and liberal politicians have been using the term to signal to the Democratic base that they are on board with these issues.

But my qualm with these politicians is that they share none of the economic values that are inherent in progressivism: welfare, economic equality, regulation, and progressive taxation. Virginia’s current Governor, Ralph Northam, is probably the most egregious example that I can think of, who was running around the state during his 2017 campaign, calling himself a progressive while simultaneously taking tens of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies.

I’ve long referenced the three party system in explaining these differences during my political activities. The ability of the neoliberal corporate wing of the Democratic party to play lip service to the progressive wing of the party continues to sicken me. Unfortunately, so long as the party of Trump continues to be dumpster fire, moderate, right leaning citizens who would normally vote social and fiscal conservative, will migrate to these moderate Democrats. Given the current demographics of the electorate, and the paltry participation by more progressive-leaning Millennials, I can see no solution to this problem until the current generation of boomers ages out of the population.

The Nation Magazine: June 14/24, 2019

Gag Order by Aviva Stahl: The cover story of this issue is about the force-feeding of hunger striking prisoners in America’s ‘most secretive prisons.’ One of the things we must remember in a free society is the way in which we treat our worst, most despicable criminals reflects on us. The men profiled in this story are convicted terrorists, some of whom were responsible for the 1990 World Trade Center bombings. These men have been locked away in high-security prisons, isolated from others for long stretches of time under special administrative measures, or SAMs. These SAMs mean that they’re limited who they can meet with, letters to family may take six months to be reviewed and delivered, and they’re confined to the cell for 23 hours a day.

The justification for these SAMs are not disclosed to the prisoners, or their lawyers, and there is no appeals process for getting them reviewed. For these reasons many of the men under these restrictions go on hunger strikes. And many of them have been subjected to forced feedings, some as many as 200 times. And the details of these tube feedings sound abusive, if not borderline torture.

Unfortunately for these men, their plight is hidden from sight. Access to them is severely restricted, and many of these stories can only be told because the men in question have been released to lower security facilities. The author notes that when the world became aware of similar abuses taking place at Guantanamo Bay, the public outrage eventually led to reforms. Not so with these men, but perhaps this feature will change that. I remain skeptical, that given all of the issues with criminal justice going on in America at this time that we will see much happen with this under the current administration. It remains to be seen whether there recourse in the courts of justice, as I do not see the court of public opinion swaying on this one any time soon.

Renters Revolt by Jimmy Tobias: As we mentioned in yesterday’s review of the Home Improvement issue of Jacobin, housing justice has been growing in importance on the Left recently, and this report details progress in organizing renters. The author list three reasons that rent has become unaffordable for so many in America: lack of wage growth; demand for rental housing following the 2008 crash, which has led to a 50-year low in home ownership; and a Wall Street buying spree which has focused on buying apartment complexes and mobile home parks from family-owned business. From there, a number of tactics are deployed, either to force renters out so that new tenants can be brought in under a higher rent, or in the case of mobile homes, which are anything but, the tenants must either abandon their property or pay the higher rent. This latter situation was detailed by Last Week Tonight:

As was detailed in the Jacobin issue, New York City remains the focus of renter organizing efforts. As New Yorks rent-controlled housing stock dwindles, the upward rent pressure increases. But the rest of New York State appears to be without these rent protections at all, and thankfully there are signs that newly elected state legislators are taking a pro-renter position in order to correct these ills. Similar progress seems to be taking place in California and in the Pacific Northwest.

Efforts to organize renters, and their willingness to fight back against slumlords and exploitative landlords should be applauded, and we look forward to seeing more of how these efforts progress.

Manifest Destinies, by Rashid Khalidi: Review of Our American Israel by Amy Kaplan. Given all of the media time that US/Israeli relations have been getting lately, it seems appropriate that one examines the history of those relations. How did the Israel and Palestinian conflict, and criticism of the Israeli state, become such a hotbed issue in American politics. When I brought the issue up with my father, a red-blooded, gun-owning (former) Trump voter, his response was wrapped in acknowledgement of the Holocaust. Like the Germans, it’s seemingly argued, the Palestinians pose an existential threat to the Jewish people. Hostilities against them are therefore justified. Similarly, so was the 1982 war with Lebanon, which was before my adulthood, and likewise seems to be either forgotten or forgiven by most of the American public.

The Zionist evangelical movement in the United States gets mentioned as well. [I know we are playing with some dangerous terms here, boys and girls, but nothing we’ve written here should be taken in any way to be anti-Semitic.] I’ve always understood it from the aspect that the state of Israel is some sort of prerequisite for the return of Jesus and the Rapture. Still, the willingness of the religious right to put up with so much horror to fuel this dream still boggles the mind. I should not be shocked, I suppose.

This past week we’ve seen Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar barred from entering Israel on a recent trip, as President Trump continues to his mission from God to protect the state of Israel. Need we remind the reader that during Obama’s last term, Bibi Netanyahu was invited to address a joint session of Congress. As support builds on the Left for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and as the centrists, liberals and the right backlash against these efforts, it’s important for people to realize how we got here.

Whether the presentation of Israel as the America of the Middle East is accurate, knowing how this relationship has been managed over the the past eighty years will help us deal with the issues in the Middle East. Not just with regard to the West Bank, but with Iran as well.

Jacobin Issue 33: Home Improvement

Housing justice issues have been getting a lot of attention from the Left lately, DSA’s Stomp Out Slumlords campaign has garnered a lot of attention. Recent studies of eviction rates listed seven Virginia localities in the top 20 for the nation. Jacobin magazine has made it the theme of their Spring 2019 issue.

Rent control seems to be the overarching proposal here, as there are several mentions of the decrease in controlled units in New York City over the past few decades, as well as Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” program, which saw a vast portion of public housing in Britain sold to the public market, transferring it to speculators and other private interests.

One of the main complaints from the Left is that housing has long been treated as a commodity instead of a basic right. The arguments between renting and buying aside, the crux is that the private markets incentivise property as investment, which increases rent-seeking, making housing more unaffordable for those at the bottom. There’s also the matter that private development trends toward higher income units, increasing gentrification. This leads to market failure, where lower income individuals are unable to find shelter, and higher priced units go unfilled. As many have pointed out, there are enough empty housing units in the United States to house every homeless person.

There are more articles within this issue that detail the difficulties of homebuying, Pete Buttigieg’s ‘war’ on the homeless in South Bend, what a Green New Deal for housing would like like, Soviet modernism, as well as a one about perhaps the only 70’s rock band out of Germany: Ton Steine Scherben, which fomented the squatter scene in Berlin during those years.

As far as solutions go, the Jacobin editors acknowledge that the most effective ones, public housing and rent control, are the least politically feasible. Likewise, the most politically palatable ones are also the least effective. What was most interesting to me, though, were the examples of public or cooperative housing that were held up as examples. My favorite might be the LILAC (Low Impact Living Affordable Community) units in West Leeds. It reminds me of a similar local effort, but geared toward a more affordable, equitable model.

It’s clear that the past few decades of increasing economic inequality, not to mention the 2008 housing crisis, have made it more and more difficult for individuals to find affordable housing. Organizers will need to continue working toward reform, urging and educating legislators and officials about tenants rights issues. Thankfully, Virginia’s 2019 session was able to pass various reforms around eviction issues, but there still need to be more of a push toward public housing, organizing tenant unions, and building cooperative housing models.

Dissent: Summer 2019

This summer’s issue of Dissent focuses around the concept of the nation, with discussions about nationalism, open borders, colonialism and immigration. It’s an interesting edition and has some good articles and reviews as well. There’s an interview with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, the history of Ghanan independence, and the recent political history of Turkey.

The Frontier Closes In: Perhaps the one article that I’ve found myself thinking about the most is this review of Greg Grandin’s The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America. Given the spate of mass shootings that plagued El Paso and Dayton this past week, people are searching for answers to the question why these young white men are committing these atrocities, and how the President’s rhetoric is spurring on this racism and white nationalism. Grandin’s theory is that as American expansionism ran out of room as the frontier was closed, American interests took a colonialist turn toward the Pacific and Caribbean. Following the invasion of Iraq it’s had nowhere to turn, and has since focused on the southern border with Mexico. This historical expansionism has long been used to distract or delay the reckoning of America’s social ills, and now that it is no longer available, we find ourselves having to deal with these problems.

Two Paths for Millenial Politics: Timothy Shenk asks what millenials are going to do next, and who they’re going to look to for political leadership moving forward. As the first millennial candidate for president, Buttigieg gets a thorough critique here, and is contrasted with Bernie Sanders, millenial’s seemingly current favorite. The author is not kind to Mayor Pete, and catalogs Mayor Pete’s political shrewdness and the difference between the presentation of his memoir and his stump speech.

Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara’s The Socialist Manifesto (on my to-read list) gets a good bit of mention in this article, mainly as a riposte to Buttigieg’s liberal posturing. There’s a lot of talk about the ongoing war within the Democratic party and the future of political organizing around climate change.

Share this one with Pete Buttigieg fans.

Ursula K Le Guin’s Revolutions: I’ll admit that even though I’ve been a huge sci-fi fan over the years, I’ve never read any of Le Guin’s work. I may have picked one of the Earthsea novels when I was a pre-teen, but I don’t think I made it very far into it before abandoning it. Sarah Jones’s short piece is a nice homage to Le Guin and the unique voice and politics that she brought to the genre over her decades-long career.

There’s a good portion about The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas (pdf), which is a short four page story that is one of Le Guin’s best known works. While Jone’s description of it didn’t make me give it another thought, it did coincidentally turn up in my attention a day or two later when I turned on one of Sam Harris’s lessons in the Waking Up app where he read the entire thing. I clearly recall having a visceral reaction to it. Harris’s piece doesn’t seem to be available outside of the app, but he specifically mentions this episode of the Very Bad Wizards podcast, where they discuss the story at length.