It’s Time for the Left To Unite Behind Bernie 2020

In These Times - October 2, 2018 - 4:03pm

For other perspectives on this debate, read Peter Frase and Sean McElwee.

In 2016, the Democratic Party’s presumptive leader said single payer could “never ever come to pass.” Today, one-third of Democrats in the Senate, including most Democratic 2020 hopefuls, have signed on to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill, and more than 60 percent of House Democrats have co-sponsored Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) version.

Much of the party’s shift to the left can be attributed to Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and his dogged progressive advocacy. His leadership on issues such as a $15 minimum wage, free public higher education and labor rights makes him the clearest, most consistent and, yes, the most popular voice on the political Left. Sanders doesn’t follow consensus: He makes it. Voters know the difference.

There’s a widespread lack of confidence in our government and its leaders, contributing to an enthusiasm for outsider candidates. Insiders can claim experience, but are limited by long records that force them to rationalize their “evolution” on subjects from gay marriage to free trade.

Outsiders are vulnerable to accusations that they’re knownothings, but without prior commitments, they’re able to make bold promises—be they about low healthcare premiums or a border wall—while claiming independence from political debts.

What makes Sanders unique is that he can claim the best of both identities. He’s a battletested, nonpartisan ideologue with a record as long as it is reflective of political integrity. From gay equality to the Iraq War, Sanders’ ability to get it right so often isn’t just luck—it’s indicative of his commitment to principles over party, politics or donors. It’s that commitment that won him overwhelming support in working-class (and I don’t mean white working-class) strongholds in the Midwest.

But despite all the qualities in his favor, there are three credible concerns progressives have raised about Sanders.

Some doubt the viability of a candidate who identifies as a democratic socialist, even if they support those politics. This underestimates socialism’s popularity. Sanders himself earned 43 percent of the 2016 primary vote despite low name recognition, a corporate media blackout (they wouldn’t even air his campaign announcement) and opposition from the Democratic National Committee. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Sanders has consistently maintained a double-digit lead over Trump in polls.

Candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are showing that “democratic socialism” is just as likely to provoke a red wave of progressive candidates as a Red Scare. The Left must resist self-defeating skepticism; as Nathan Robinson put it in Current Affairs, “The most serious barrier to accomplishing political goals is the people who insist that they cannot be done.”

A more persuasive argument is that, at age 79 in November 2020, Sanders would be the oldest president-elect in history—eclipsing Ronald Reagan, who started his second term at 73 and ended it rumored to be suffering from dementia.

This concern is not irrational. But both Joe Biden and Trump, if elected, would also be older than Reagan. Concerns about age should be rooted in empirical measures of health, not ageism.

After spending this spring reporting on Sanders, hustling to keep up as he bounced from Nashville to Jackson, Miss., I have few doubts about his physical stamina. And unlike in Reagan’s case, there’s no sign of any decline in his mental faculties. In the worst case, vice presidents—especially well chosen, ideologically wellmatched vice presidents—provide a safeguard.

But the issue most likely to define the primaries is not age, but race. 

In 2020, Sanders will literally pale in comparison to likely establishment hopefuls Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and frustrate voters who are tired of an endless stream of white male presidents.

In some ways, that’s how it should be. Diverse candidates matter in part because they are likely to bring diverse perspectives. But diversity means very little if it doesn’t translate into policies that speak to the interests of women and people of color—interests that I believe are best advanced by progressive candidates. 

Elizabeth Warren, the most likely progressive alternative to Sanders, has much to recommend her, including a powerful record of advocacy against the very corporate interests that rile Sanders fans. But it’s worrisome that she’s failed to shake Trump’s racist taunts of “Pocahontas” by giving a satisfactory explanation of her self-identification. After all, she’ll face much worse in 2020.

Democrats must advance the candidate who best represents the interests of the American people—particularly the most vulnerable—and who can best communicate those interests to voters. It’s what citizens deserve in a (vaguely) representative democracy. More cynically, it’s also the path toward electoral victory.

Categories: Newswire

The Inside-Outside Approach to Bernie 2020

In These Times - October 2, 2018 - 4:00pm

For other perspectives on this debate, read Briahna Gray and Sean McElwee.

Bernie Sanders played an irreplaceable role in 2016. One of the few leftists in high national office, he was better placed than anyone else to catalyze a reaction that has now produced, among other things, a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) pushing 50,000 members and the stunning upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Among the progressive base, the mood has shifted from acquiescence to Clintonite centrism to a taste for fiery demands. There’s no better indication of this than the rush of ambitious politicians, from Kirsten Gillibrand to Kamala Harris to even Cory Booker, to endorse previously unthinkable Sanders priorities like Medicare for All. So it was probably inevitable that, at some point, the cries of “Bernie would have won!” would give way to “Bernie 2020!”

Immediately after the 2016 elections, I very much hoped that this was not where we would end up. There are multiple reasons to prefer someone other than Bernie as the Left’s next presidential avatar.

First, demographics. It’s not that an old white guy can’t lead a young and diverse coalition. But the Left should be aiming to elect people who come from the ranks of the rising young movement and share their experiences.

Moreover, Sanders has sometimes seemed inattentive to anti-racist, socialist feminist politics. His voting record on these issues is good, but he is less at home on those issues than on something like Medicare for All, as evidenced by his flustered response to Black Lives Matter activists who took the stage while he was speaking in 2015.

No doubt Bernie and his team have learned some lessons, and a 2020 campaign would run much smoother. But even so, there’s reason to prefer someone else—not just because Bernie is an old white guy, but because he’s Bernie. The celebrity fandom that has surrounded this so un-star-like man is funny, but it can also obscure the need to ground our struggles in mass organizing and political substance rather than Obama-esque celebrity. It encourages the newly radicalized to short-circuit the debate over just what “socialism” means, by associating it with Sanders’ somewhat idiosyncratic update of New Deal liberalism rather than exploring more radical possibilities.

Having made the case against him, however, I still find myself resigned to supporting the increasingly probable Bernie redux campaign. Building up a farm system of left-wing politicians at all levels is going to take a while. Keith Ellison once seemed a possible presidential candidate, but his disinterest in that path was probably just as well, given the domestic abuse allegations he now faces. Meanwhile, many rising stars like Ocasio-Cortez haven’t even taken office yet and lack the experience (and age) to run for president.

So the most desirable outcome is, like it or not, Bernie 2020. In their attempts to pander to primary voters, other leading candidates may end up looking and sounding a lot like Bernie. But Sanders has the merit of a lifetime of steadfast commitment to democratic socialist principles, even when that was a recipe for being politically marginal. The Left may be looking healthier, but we still don’t have the clout or the people power to ensure that a president fights for our agenda rather than bowing to the power of big money once corporate lobbyists and donors come knocking. 

So, for now, we need to rally around someone who, if victorious, is pretty likely to do the right thing. Building up an advisory infrastructure sans candidate, as Sean proposes, is a good idea, but it’s no substitute for the mass organizing that really holds leaders accountable. Even if that infrastructure can be built out rapidly (and it’s a big “if”), the best staffing and white papers in the world are only going to have an impact if politicians feel popular pressure to pay attention.

If our lack of power is why I’ll support the Bernie campaign, it’s also why—once I’ve submitted this article—I’m not going to think or do much about it for a while. Our attention should be focused on growing the Left rather than expecting another high-profile campaign by a celebrity politician to do it for us. So when you’re done reading this, go dig up your Bernie 2016 swag and put it on, if that gives you inspiration—that’s why there’s still a Bernie lawn sign in front of my house. 

Then go organize your workplace, phone bank for your local leftist candidate, or get more involved in your local DSA, Black Lives Matter, or other local grassroots organizing project. This keeps our movement growing between election cycles and lays the groundwork for a movement that wields power in and out of government. It’s by doing that—not by arguing about a presidential election more than two years away—that we avoid what none of us wants: debating whether the only way to recover from Trump’s second term is Bernie 2024.

Categories: Newswire

Don’t Endorse Bernie Yet—Make Candidates Compete for the Left Vote

In These Times - October 2, 2018 - 4:00pm

For other perspectives on this debate, read Peter Frase and Brihana Gray

Bernie Sanders stands out among potential 2020 candidates as having the strongest and longest-standing commitment to left principles. But the question at hand is strategy. Should leftist organizations immediately endorse Sanders and begin preparing to campaign for him? The answer is no. There are strategic benefits to waiting.

All politicians are fundamentally actors bound in a complex decision matrix of power and influence. Our first priority should be to change the matrix rather than pick our favorite actors.

For one, there are reasons to believe that endorsements don’t create meaningful accountability. Look to the Working Families Party (WFP). In both 2010 and 2014, the WFP provided Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy the margin he needed to win, but Malloy did not govern as a progressive. In fact, he chose not to seek re-election this year because his relationship with progressives is so bad. In 2003, New York City Council candidate Letitia James became the first candidate to win a nomination on a WFP line. But in her current run for attorney general, she aligned closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and announced she would not seek the WFP line.

To be clear, it is unlikely Sanders would abandon his left ideals. But there are still issues where the Left is pulling him along, such as abolishing ICE— where he has moved—and sex workers’ rights, where he is still behind. Endorsing early would not help push him, and would make it less likely that other candidates attempt to court the left vote.

A strategy based around the power and visibility of particular candidates is dangerous for other reasons. The domestic abuse allegations surrounding Rep. Keith Ellison make clear the need for a broad bench.  

The Left’s goal should be two-fold: Gain the same access to candidates that corporate America now has, and create an influential ideological project on the scale of the Koch Brothers’.

The Kochs have data capacity, build pipelines for candidates and staffers, and generate extensive policy information and polling data—all of which the Left can replicate. It does no good to have 30 progressive endorsees win if they’re still relying on the same consultants, staffers and policy briefs as every other Democratic politician. 

The Progressive Talent Pipeline, which connects progressives to legislative positions in Washington, D.C., is a positive example of building policy capacity. Think tanks like People’s Policy Project and Data for Progress (which I co-founded) provide information that changes policy and strategic calculations. In addition, the Left needs to build up capacities for block-and-tackle politics: running NGP VAN software, fielding polls, shooting ads, buying ad time. We need talking points, one-pagers and think tanks that generate influence whether our candidates win or lose. For the time being, those capacities should be available to as broad a group of Democrats as possible to encourage all candidates to lend us their ears.

We also need litmus tests to power primary challenges. Abolish ICE proved to be a flashpoint for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign. In Illinois’s Third Congressional District, abortion could be that spark against pro-life Democrat Dan Lipinski. Power comes from setting these standards and forcing candidates to meet them, which is actively undermined by endorsing early.

The success of left ideas attests to the reality that Medicare for All, abolishing ICE and other goals have weight. If the left lane is open, candidates beyond Sanders will vie for it. The Left must be positioned to wield influence.

Categories: Newswire

America’s Great Strike Waves Have Shaped the Country. We Can Unleash Another.

In These Times - October 1, 2018 - 7:30pm

Workers’ power is rooted in the work we do and our occasional refusal to do it. But, until recently, that refusal had become rare: Work stoppages have declined to historically low levels over the past four decades.

There were 187 major strikes in 1980, involving 795,000 workers. In 2017, there were just seven, with 25,000 workers.

How then do we revive the strike when so few workers have seen one, let alone participated?

For one, that may be changing. Teachers in West Virginia shut down all of the state’s public schools for nine days in February and March, winning a 5 percent pay increase, stopping proposed healthcare cuts, and inspiring statewide teacher walkouts in four more states and Puerto Rico. Fourteen thousand AT&T technicians then walked off in May, followed by strikes by thousands of other telecommunications workers against Frontier in Virginia and Spectrum in New York. There are ongoing one-day strikes staged by the Fight for $15, and prisoners across the country waged a 19-day strike for better conditions and against slave wages this past summer. As we go to press, 6,000 Chicago hotel workers are staging the industry’s first citywide strike in a century.

If the current pace continues, 2018 will see the largest number of strikes by U.S. workers in the 21st century. Strikes are once again a strategic option for some unions—and that could become contagious.

Still, this is not what a historian would call a “strike wave”—yet. Strike waves involve hundreds of thousands of workers across thousands of workplaces. In his classic text, Strike!, Jeremy Brecher explains that periods of mass strike—of which there have been only six or seven in our nation’s history—go beyond wage-and-hour demands and often challenge capitalist decision-making authority. That in turn threatens the fundamental rules of capitalism.

A timely book by professor and blogger Erik Loomis, A History of America in Ten Strikes, details strike waves of previous eras, recasting U.S. history as a continuum of worker protest. Driving both inspiration and lessons from this history is essential to turning the current upswelling of strikes in a wave.

Take the general strike of slaves during the Civil War, recounted by Loomis in chapter two. As soon as the Confederate Army mobilized, as many slaves as were able escaped to Union lines to offer support. Those who remained behind stopped working for their absent masters and turned plantations toward food production for their own needs. This self-emancipation is a historical framework first suggested by W.E.B. Dubois and only recently embraced by a new generation of historians. (Brecher, for example, did not include it in Strike!) It puts the human agency of workers who gained their freedom front and center. Suddenly revealed is the greatest strike wave in American history, hiding in plain sight!

The most storied strike wave is the surge of sit-down strikes of the 1930s that compelled the federal government to intervene with new labor laws that made unions a fact of economic life.

But even that win contained the seeds for our current age of inequality. In the 1938 Mackay v. NLRB Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the new legal protections for strikers, the Court breezily hollowed out that same right. If an employer had not otherwise broken the law, the Court invented the “right to protect and continue his business [while workers are on strike] by supplying places left vacant by strikers” and to put scabs ahead of the line for jobs when the strike is over.

Under the Reagan administration, corporations weaponized the Mackay Doctrine. The era’s most notorious strike may be the 1981 air traffic controllers strike (which Loomis covers), but its importance was mostly symbolic—Reagan’s signal to corporate America that it was game on for union-busting. It was the 1983 Steelworkers’ strike at the Phelps-Dodge copper mine in Arizona that actually created the modern blueprint for corporate union-busting, setting the stage for our current slide in work stoppages. The company bargained the Steelworkers to impasse over pay cuts, reduced benefits and weakened job security, basically forcing them out. Phelps-Dodge got the National Guard to violently remove the strikers from its mine and then bused in scabs from out of state. When enough time had transpired, the scabs voted to legally decertify the union.

This shredding of contracts to dare unions out on economic strikes remains the basic union-busting playbook. This year’s Spectrum strike in New York City, for example, has its origins in March 2017 when the company tore up the IBEW contract it inherited from the purchase of another cable company.

Workers’ right to strike needs to include the right to return to work afterward. That means challenging the Mackay doctrine, starting with demanding that the labor board enforce the actual standard—that the decision to permanently replace striking workers cannot be motivated by anti-union animus and must be necessary to “protect and continue” business. A $64 billion corporation that shredded its workers’ collective bargaining agreement fails both tests.

The Reagan and H.W. Bush labor boards took a dive and never seriously investigated corporations’ union-busting motives and financial bottom lines, which should have determined whether each instance of permanently replacing striking workers was just. Unions haven’t pressed for Democrat-appointed labor boards to revisit the rules. Any time that an employer advertises for scabs, the union should file an unfair labor practice, demanding that the employer prove the economic necessity of hiring permanent replacements.

Unions should start doing so now, anticipating the Trump labor board will dismiss every complaint. We must make this a controversy so the next Democratic labor board knows it must restore workers’ right to strike and then return to their jobs.

We have to use these strikes to shore up the very power to strike. Only that will ensure strikes aren’t relegated to the history books.

Categories: Newswire

The Kavanaugh Debacle Shows How “Never-Trump” Republicans Are Frauds

In These Times - October 1, 2018 - 5:28pm

During the 2016 presidential campaign, numerous Republican Senators criticized Donald Trump and opposed his nomination, positioning themselves as principled alternatives to his brand of politics. However, the current fight over Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh clearly demonstrates that the president's most popular “never-Trump” critics in the Republican Party are prepared to push Trump’s agenda.

Chief among them is South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican. Graham backed Jeb Bush in 2016 after his own primary run failed, denouncing Trump as “batshit crazy” and a “kook.” In January 2016, Graham said that choosing between Trump or Texas Senator Ted Cruz was like “death by being shot or by poisoning, doesn’t really matter.” A month later, Graham tweeted, “Donald Trump is not a conservative Republican. He's an opportunist. He's not fit to be President of the United States.” On the campaign trail, Trump infamously read Graham’s private cell phone number aloud at one of his televised rallies, forcing him to get a new one.

Two years later, things have changed considerably. Graham has developed a personal relationship with Trump, claiming that he was won over by his policies. He plans to endorse him in 2020 “without equivocation.” At Kavanaugh’s Judiciary Committee hearing on September 27, Graham angrily defended Trump’s nominee and lashed out at Democrats over Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations being brought forward. “This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” screeched Graham, “and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy.”

Kavanaugh has also gotten a boost from notable “never-Trump” critics outside of Washington. Bret Stephens, the political commentator and New York Times columnist, has questioned Trump’s mental stability, said he has “narcissistic personality disorder” and argued that his “frequently unhinged and spasmodic tweets suggests a guy who isn’t in control of himself.” Stephens has penned op-eds with titles like, “Why I’m Still a Never-Trumper” and “Trump Will Have Blood on his Hands.” However, Stephens has defended Trump’s Supreme Court pick. “Bottom line, I came away from the hearings feeling no more confident than I had the day before of who was being truthful,” wrote Stephens on September 28. “It was high drama but it was also a wash. What happened Thursday should not prevent Kavanaugh’s confirmation.”

George W. Bush is another prominent figure who claims to be more principled than Trump, yet is backing the president’s Supreme Court pick. Bush’s favorability rating has skyrocketed since Trump’s election, as he’s offered vague critiques of the President. Last October, Bush gave a speech where he condemned the changing tone of U.S. politics, attacking a "discourse degraded by casual cruelty.”  A piece published by CNN’s Chris Cillizza last October declared that Bush had “laid a major smackdown on Trumpism.” Bush certainly isn’t laying a smackdown on Trump in relation to Kavanaugh: According to The Washington Post, Bush is currently contacting Senators to whip votes for the nominee. Bush may have had a public relations makeover, casting himself as a grandfatherly former president who has now taken to painting. But in reality, he is working behind the scenes to ensure an accused rapist has a lifetime seat on the most powerful court in the country.

Unlike Graham, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) didn’t develop a relationship with Trump after his election, and his critiques of the administration have been unrelenting. Flake has been cited for criticizing Trump “like no other Republican.” After announcing that he wouldn’t seek reelection last October, Flake launched into a fiery Senate speech, attacking his own party broadly and the President specifically. “The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics,” said Flake. “Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity. I have children and grandchildren to answer to, and so, Mr. President, I will not be complicit.”

A cursory examination of Flake’s voting record indicates that he has actually been completely complicit in advancing the Trump administration’s agenda. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Tracker, Flake votes in line with the President’s position 83.6 percent of the time. He has also supported each one of Trump’s most controversial nominees: Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Neil Gorsuch and Scott Pruitt.

Kavanaugh was destined to be no different, as the “Never Trumper” revealed that he planned to back Trump’s pick despite multiple sexual assault allegations. However, after Flake was confronted on an elevator by two sexual assault survivors, Maria Gallagher and Ana Maria Archila, Flake seemingly softened his stance and called for a one-week delay while the FBI investigates the accusations. The investigation was immediately backed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins, two occasional Trump critics who are widely regarded as “moderate Republicans.” According to FiveThirtyEight, Murkowski votes in line with Trump 82.9 percent of the time while Collins does so 79.2 percent.

For Kavanaugh’s critics, an investigation is obviously preferable to an immediate confirmation, but there are many reasons to be skeptical. For starters, the investigation will be led by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who took over for the fired James Comey. Wray was two years behind Kavanaugh at Yale and Yale Law before they both ended up in the Bush administration. Kavanaugh’s former classmate will oversee an investigation with strict parameters. The Trump administration has made it clear that the FBI won’t be carrying out a criminal investigation, but a specific inquiry on behalf of the White House. The FBI will be allowed to take a closer look at the accusations from Christine Blasey Ford and Deborah Ramirez—who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her at a party. But the agency hasn’t been given permission to examine the claims of Julie Swetnick, who said Kavanaugh engaged in acts of sexual misconduct while he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School.

According to a New Yorker story by Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, multiple people with knowledge of Kavanaugh’s past have been unable to get in touch with the FBI to testify. This includes his former girlfriend Elizabeth Rasor, who has information on the alleged sexual misconduct at parties Kavanaugh attended, and Yale classmate Charles Ludington, who can testify to Kavanaugh’s alleged history with alcohol. In fact, according to Christine Blasey Ford’s attorney, she hadn’t even been contacted by the FBI as late as Sunday, despite the fact that the investigation is only being permitted to last one week. The New Yorker story quotes Leah Litman, an assistant professor of law at the University of California-Irvine, who dismisses the investigation as a “joke.” She asks, "What kind of an investigation into an assault that happened under the influence of alcohol doesn’t include investigating the accused’s use of alcohol?"

A constricted one-week investigation might seem insufficient to many following the process, but it’s an obvious choice for “moderate” members of the GOP. Once again, they get to celebrate the rituals of democracy without impairing Trump’s agenda.

Categories: Newswire

Turning a KKK Bombing Ground Into an Urban Farm

In These Times - October 1, 2018 - 3:35pm

BIRMINGHAM, ALA.—The lot doesn’t look like much: Short stacks of tires line a small rectangle of flattened cardboard boxes, all interspersed with bright green vines of invasive kudzu.

To Rev. Majadi Baruti, however, it’s a pumpkin patch and future urban farm. The tires are planters for young Sugar Baby pumpkins, the cardboard will keep weeds down and attract worms to fertilize the soil, and the kudzu will work wonders for compost because of its nitrogen content. Two patches of what looks like empty soil will soon sprout flowers, which will then “bring bees and butterf lies,” says Baruti.

The pumpkins are the first sign of growth for the Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust. The trust, founded in 2015 by Baruti’s partner, Susan Diane Mitchell, has adopted 2.5 acres across eight empty lots in the historically black neighborhood named after the dozens of Ku Klux Klan bombings there in the mid-1900s. The first bombing took place on one of the adopted plots, Baruti says. “What we’re doing is trying to resurrect and sit inside of that ancestral spirit.”

The land trust initially received support from Magic City Agriculture Project (MCAP), which has a 10-year strategic plan to create an autonomous cooperative economy in Birmingham.

“We want to design a set of institutions tailored to low-income, oppressed people,” explains MCAP co-founder Zac Henson, a self-proclaimed “redneck” activist with a Berkeley Ph.D. in environmental science, policy and management.

The Birmingham organizers view themselves as heirs of the civil rights movement and the black-run cooperatives in the South. MCAP is a member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network established by a group of 22 co-ops in 1967. They’re also part of a resurging co-op movement in small cities across the United States, including Richmond, Calif. and Jackson, Miss.

In MCAP’s plan, labor would be managed through workerowned co-ops, capital through credit unions focused on microlending to small, local businesses, and land through trusts for the public benefit, like the one in Dynamite Hill.

Baruti dodges red anthills as he weaves through the pumpkin plants, checking each one. “We had children do some of the seeding, so you see some are huge and some are little,” Baruti says. The seeds had not been planted at uniform depth, affecting their growth. “But it’s cute.”

Mitchell’s vision for the land trust includes persistently affordable housing and regenerative urban agriculture—all of it owned and operated cooperatively.

“We are going to make sure that you and your family are taken care of, and you keep your house,” Baruti explains. In a predominantly black city characterized by predominantly white land and business ownership— and which faces mounting gentrification—the trust is both an economic necessity and a political statement.

In 2017, mayoral candidate Randall Woodfin promised support for land trusts. After he was elected, his transition team’s social justice committee recommended that the city allocate around $300,000 over two years to help the Dynamite Hill-Smithfield land trust get on its feet. The trust adopted the Dynamite Hill lots from the Birmingham land bank authority, but still needs funds to purchase them. It also needs office space, an executive director and resources to get the lots ready for housing.

But the budget proposed by Woodfin’s transition team has yet to materialize. “If [the city] would just fulfill the little bitty money that we asked for, we could get a good start,” Baruti says. “We just want to be propped up a bit and for the city to behave with us as it behaves with other corporations and non-profits.”

Instead, the new mayor kicked off his term by asking the city council to pay $90 million for a downtown stadium. “I can’t eat a football,” Baruti says. “My kids can’t eat a damn football.”

Support for this article was provided by Rise Local, a project of the New America National Network.

Categories: Newswire

The Real Lesson from the Downfall of Theranos: We Need to Nationalize the Healthcare System

In These Times - September 28, 2018 - 7:03pm

Theranos—the blood-testing startup that in 2014 hit a $10 billion valuation on its promise to revolutionize the healthcare system as we know it—has finally completed its long fall from grace. As reported earlier this month by John Carreyrou in the Wall Street Journal, the so-called “unicorn” firm is finally set to dissolve.

The company’s founder Elizabeth Holmes raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors enchanted by her pitch, honed over years of powerpoint presentations, keynotes and business meetings. Unlike traditional diagnostic blood testing, her company’s device required neither doctors’ orders nor needles—it could turn around accurate results based on a few drops of blood. As she put it in her 2014 TED Talk, “Imagine a world in which consumers were empowered to take any blood test, whenever they wanted, allowing them to access to crucial information at the moment it really matters.Holmes’ vision was a convincing one: In 2014, the then 30-year-old helming the Valley’s hottest biotech startup was called “the next Steve Jobs”—a comparison she may have striven to evoke with her closetful of black turtlenecks.

What happened next is laid out in exquisite detail in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, Carreyrou’s new book about the saga. Theranos’ proprietary tech turned out to be error-prone junk, a fact the company seemed to spend more resources lying about and litigating over than actually trying to fix. Once Carreyrou exposed the fraud, Theranos began a free-fall that today seems nearly complete: Its valuation has bottomed out, corporate partners and investors have been left in the cold and what’s left of the company is facing heavy censure by federal regulatory agencies. Meanwhile, Holmes and her co-execs face possible criminal charges.

Bad Blood offers a cautionary fable warning against hucksters all-too-eager to feign the sort of genius capable of busting cultural paradigms to transform society as we know it.           

But for all its insight into the “fake it ’til you make it” culture of Big Tech’s gold rush, Bad Blood leaves out the same critical point that’s missed in most mainstream media discourse about Silicon Valley’s race to “disrupt” the healthcare sector: It will never, ever happen, and human history offers us no reason to believe that it will. These companies’ business models monetize the failures of our system, and therefore have a vested interest in fortifying the structural barriers to the universal and equitable distribution of care.

That the U.S. healthcare system is massive, unwieldy, and universally disliked imbues it with just the kind of “friction” tech evangelists anoint themselves to solve. And with healthcare spending topping $3 trillion annually, the prize they stand to win is obvious. But the things that make the system so horrific are not things the tech industry—with its insatiable drive for profit—is capable of changing. Our system doesn’t lack “innovation,” it lacks coherent, equitable public stewardship—the common feature of universal healthcare systems. Silicon Valley’s “disruptions” can only amount to changes that, in the interest of market viability, depend on and replicate the same structures that make healthcare in America so miserable in the first place.

If you don’t believe me, take it from the would-be disruptor herself. Systemic shortcomings were baked into Holmes’ business model. As Bad Blood relays, Theranos zeroed in on Arizona for its ill-fated rollout into Walgreens stores not only because of the state’s loose regulatory regime, but because of the high number of uninsured residents. The logic was that people without healthcare coverage would be enticed by the opportunity to bypass doctors to monitor their own health on the cheap. Such a decision begs the question: What were these patients supposed to do with their diagnosis once they had it? An actual office visit and diagnostic blood work are more expensive than they should be, but barely make a dent in the overall cost of being sick in America.

For the uninsured—a pool of people without the money for insurance premiums, let alone treatment—Theranos wouldn’t be disruptive, but, more likely, predatory. Even diabetes,  Holmes’ go-to example of a condition that could be reversed if patients knew they had it, befalls the poor disproportionately not because they fail to proactively monitor their health through blood testing, but largely because the lifestyle changes that combat the disease demand time and money the likes of which the poor are less likely to have.

And yet the fall of Theranos has hardly cleared the field of aspiring healthcare disrupters, many of whom rack up fawning press coverage and millions in funding. Last month, Google's parent company Alphabet sunk $375 million into Oscar Health, an insurance startup that has debuted such innovations as narrow provider networks, a stratified claims processing system and an advanced app. It seems as though angling to become a slightly-better-run for-profit insurer holds negligible disruptive potential—insurance companies aren’t abysmal because they’re inefficient dinosaurs; they’re abysmal because their business model is at odds with their purported sole function: paying patients’ staggering healthcare costs.

Insurers are explicitly incentivized to avoid paying for policyholders’ care, which is why they hire so many administrators to pore over claims in search of technicalities on which to deny them. That’s an inherent tension no app can fix, not even one that promises the ease and transparency that Oscar Health’s does. Just as Theranos framed preventable deaths as individual failures of diligence, so too does Oscar frame surprise patient bills as failures of research.           

Other entrants from the tech world striving to make the healthcare experience smoother are similarly constrained by faulty frameworks. Uber’s introduction of Uber Health promised to shuttle patients to appointments and stratify the piecemeal non-emergency medical transportation industry, a $3 billion drop in the bucket compared to what the company stands to save in employer-sponsored insurance costs by classifying its workers as independent contractors. Overhyped telehealth startups’ like SnapMD and MD LIVE’s entire existence is premised on making sure in-person doctors’ visits are both expensive and inaccessible. Efforts to overhaul electronic medical records have been stalled by the lack of any profit incentive to share data across providers and risk losing lucrative patients. Not only are these players doing nothing to combat the structure of the U.S. healthcare system, but their shareholders are actively profiting off of its shortcomings.

Ingenuity isn’t what our healthcare sector needs. We have plenty of it already, and it hasn’t managed to stop poor people from dying over 10 years earlier, on average, than their wealthy peers. Material conditions have a far more dramatic impact on population-based health than do the individualized cutting edge interventions that attract venture capital. So it’s ironic that Carreyrou frames Theranos’ fraudulent invention as somehow “too good to be true,” when the thing that was actually too good to be true was a healthcare system that could be democratized with a single technocratic tweak. That would be a far easier problem to solve.

The real way to revolutionize our highly privatized healthcare sector is through decommodification, nationalization and redistribution across the industry. Any productive solution to a grossly unequal, profit-hungry healthcare system cannot also make shareholders rich. The notion that those two things could ever be compatible is how we got here in the first place.

Categories: Newswire

The Abolitionist Case for Prosecuting Killer Cop Jason Van Dyke

In These Times - September 28, 2018 - 5:26pm

We must show up and demand that Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke be held accountable for the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald—right now in this capitalist, imperialist, heterosexist, transphobic, violent country. To pursue the ambitious goals of police and prison abolition, people’s movements must force the system, as it exists right now, to be held accountable to its own rules—because this is part of its undoing. Maintaining constant pressure and resistance to police and prison legitimacy is an intervention. It is a challenge of power. Looking away is, in effect, an act of complicity in the ruling order of police impunity.

Abolition, the belief that the current policing and prison system is inherently unequal, brutal, torturous and violent and therefore must no longer exist, requires that the entire system of capitalism be eradicated. Policing and prisons house and contain capitalism’s excess labor—and maintain social control of a population that faces mass unemployment, stagnant wages, unaffordable housing and increasingly violent natural disasters. Mass incarceration exists because of capitalism, not in spite of it, emerging as a component of the neoliberal political order that took hold in the 1970s and began to flourish in the 1980s.

We must understand that, in order to upend this system and achieve abolition, we cannot simply turn our faces away from demanding accountability right now. A true people's uprising is organized masses in motion making a conscious decision to take power. This confidence and empowerment, to make real our right to self-determination, is built, in part, by taking action right now. That is what it means to organize to demand the state hold itself accountable to its own rules every time it murders us. It means showing up for Laquan McDonald right now by demanding Van Dyke be convicted. It means taking certain powers of the state and putting them into the hands of the people. It means organizing a mass democratic revolt to make this happen. It means relying on the power of the people to make change—and not relying on an utterly corrupt, racist system of policing to change itself. Because it will never change itself.

There is no way one can wish a revolt into existence. Abolition will not be actualized without the conscious and active dismantling of the current systems. We have to agitate and organize. If we are not willing to do that, then all we have left is a vision of freedom that we are not willing to fight and die for, which means we have become complacent slaves, complicit in our own oppression. The people have an inalienable democratic right to demand consequences for the police who are an occupying force in our communities. We, the people, have an inalienable right to resist police tyranny and racist repression in every instance that it exists, including demanding that the state use its own weapons against itself. This right is denied by those who exploit and oppress us, because they have interests in using police as instruments of social control.

It is because of the people’s movement that Van Dyke stands accused of murder. And if he gets convicted it will also be because of this. Van Dyke was arrested and charged with first-degree murder only because thousands took the streets after the dash-cam footage of Laquan’s execution was finally ordered to be released through a judge after having been hidden by Rahm Emanuel for over a year. It is the consequence of the hundreds and thousands of young people who took to the streets in rage that Van Dyke is on trial now. This outrage forced the system to concede. We are not relying on the existing repressive state to punish police crimes: It will never do that. We are relying upon the people to force the state to carry out the will of the people. And that, too, is our inalienable democratic right.

Towards true justice

On September 19, the presiding judge in the trial of Van Dyke issued an edict restricting people from attending the trial by requiring the public to register a day in advance before being allowed to enter the court. This restriction is a punitive measure designed to prevent the public from accessing what could be the first conviction of a white police officer murdering a Black person in the history of Chicago. This is a reflection of the state’s fear of the power of the people.

Also on September 19, former Chicago Police Commander, Jon Burge, died. Burge oversaw the torture over 120 Black and Latinx people from 1972 to 1991. The full breadth of the torture he led is unknown to this day, with additional survivors still emerging, including many who remain incarcerated based on false confessions that were produced through the torture Burge and his henchmen inflicted. The torture included tying people to chairs, giving electric shocks to genitals, placing plastic bags over heads to induce suffocation, waterboarding, mock executions and other horrific abuses. Not one officer has ever been prosecuted for these crimes of torture. In fact, many Burge torture survivors remain incarcerated to this day, while over $22 million in pension payouts to Burge’s collaborators remains on going.

These two incidents are connected because they underscore the fallacy of the “bad apple” narrative and reveal the systemic reality of police torture and murder—policing as it normally functions against Black people in the United States. Jon Burge never was held accountable for the torture he committed and oversaw. Instead, due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, Burge was found guilty of perjury and served three and a half years in prison. After being released early for good behavior, Burge was still allowed to receive his pension. For many survivors, and those who worked for over two decades to bring to light the horrific abuses inflicted by Burge, his perjury sentence was not enough. This outrage birthed the historic reparations ordinance for the survivors of Chicago Police torture, which was initially conceived as part of imagining what possible true justice could look like.

This ordinance remains the first and only of its kind in the United States and includes a $5.5 million payout to survivors, a public apology from the City, a creation of a public memorial, a requirement to teach the history of Burge torture in Chicago Public Schools and free access to the City colleges for survivors and family members. Since the announcement of Burge’s death, survivors have and will continue to experience a variety of emotions. Burge merely dying is not justice served. In fact, a loved one of a currently incarcerated torture survivor summarized this by saying, “He was never held to account for what he did."

Much will be the same with Van Dyke. True justice will not and cannot be received through the capitalist courts. True justice will be the end of police killings, torture and violence. True justice will be no more Laquan McDonalds, no more Rekia Boyds, no more Ronald Johnsons, no more Tamir Rices. True justice is the closing of Homan Square, the notorious black site where over 7,000 people have been disappeared by Chicago Police, and all of the other unknown black sites all over. True justice includes the end of police torture, the end of police killings, the end of incarceration, the end of poverty, the end of homelessness and the end of all state violence. True justice is the end of capitalism, which necessitates all of this.

Achieving true justice, however, does not mean that we do not fight for the state to hold itself accountable to the laws it imposes on us right now. True justice likely will not be achieved in our lifetime, but we can make important contributions to the generations ahead who will carry the torch of this freedom-making. In building our power to resist the violence of the state as it is experienced today, we—in turn—are building a world in which that violence no longer exists. It is imperative that we continually bring to the forefront the hypocrisy and contradictions that are foundational to the narratives that allow our current systems of injustice to flourish. Advocating for abolition does not preclude this.

We must demand Van Dyke be held accountable. We must also articulate that true justice is the complete overhaul and end of this entire police system which exists precisely to protect the inherent inequality of capitalism. Turning the weapons of the state onto itself is an act of building up and exercising our own power.

Categories: Newswire

Protests against Kavanaugh Continue in the Wake of Sexual Assault Allegations

Feminist Daily News - September 21, 2018 - 7:28pm
Capitol Police arrested fifty-six people yesterday on Capitol Hill during a protest against Supreme Court Nominee and alleged abuser, Brett Kavanaugh. Related posts:
  1. Kavanaugh Accused of Sexual Assault
  2. Protesters Arrested In Civil Disobedience Action Against Kavanaugh
  3. Protesters Unite for Justice and Reject Kavanaugh
Categories: Newswire
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