Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Humberto DaSilva

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In 2008 the Westworld economy crashed because for Wall Street moral hazard had become a board game. After blowing the biggest bubble ever enticing the guileless with mortgages they couldn’t afford, stockbrokers sliced these loans into derivatives that sold like packaged bologna to guileless pension funds, RRSPs, mutual funds, and 401Ks. European banks bought this toilet paper

Source: What the rich need now is hate, sweet hate

 

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You might not know it, but there is a major revolt happening right now in the United States.. The only way to end slavery is to stop being a slave. Hundreds of men and women in prisons in some 17 states are refusing to carry out prison labor, conducting hunger strikes or boycotting for-profit commissaries in an effort to abolish the last redoubt of legalized slavery in America. The strikers are demanding to be paid the minimum wage, the right to vote, decent living conditions, educational and vocational training and an end to the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Source: The Slaves Rebel

Photo Source Qusai Al Shidi | CC BY 2.0

In May the benign-sounding Anti-Semitism Awareness Act appeared before the U.S Congress “to provide for consideration a definition of anti-Semitism for the enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws concerning education programs or activities.”

No big deal? Let us see.

S. 2940 is sponsored by Republican Sen. Tim Scott and has four co-sponsors: Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrats Ron Wyden, Robert Casey, and Michael Bennet. The House sponsor of H.R. 5924 is Republican Rep. Peter Roskam, with 41 cosponsors, 30 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Both bills remain in committee. (The Senate passed a similar bill two years ago, but it never reached the House floor.)

Right off the bat, the legislation seems odd: under what Republican Party theory of limited government does Congress proposes definitions of words simply for consideration for educational purposes? And I thought Republicans don’t like federal involvement in education. We’ll see that the answer is steeped in irony: the stated purpose is to help education agencies to combat racial discrimination.

While the act is directed at education, the resulting law would reach beyond that realm because it would officially stigmatize as anti-Semitic any speech and activity, public and private, said to fall within the definition. Since this would at least chill the open marketplace of ideas, advocates of free speech should be concerned about the content of the definition and its revealing support material. We must not assume that merely because the definition is said to brand something anti-Semitic that it is actually anti-Semitic.

The act states that Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin” (not, mind you, religion) but that “both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education have properly concluded that title VI prohibits discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of other religious groups when the discrimination is based on the group’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics or when the discrimination is based on actual or perceived citizenship or residence in a country whose residents share a dominant religion or a distinct religious identity” (emphasis added). Hence, those departments have managed to shoehorn religion into a statute that does not mention religion.

The proposed definition directly comes from a 2010 State Department Fact Sheet, which in turn comes, with some modification, from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition of Anti-Semitism.” The IHRA has 31 member countries, including the United States, and Israel.

Anti-Semitism, according to the IHRA “working definition,” is “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This may seem less than helpful — history professor David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at London’s Birkbeck, University, calls it “bewilderingly imprecise — so the IHRA furnished examples (couched in conditional terms such as could and might and to be interpreted by “taking into account the overall context”). And here the problems continue. Writing in the Guardian, Feldman, says of the 11 examples: “Seven deal with criticism of Israel. Some of the points are sensible, some are not. Crucially, there is a danger that the overall effect will place the onus on Israel’s critics to demonstrate they are not antisemitic” (emphasis added). That should be of concern.

Among the possible examples of anti-Semitism quoted from the IHRA document in the State Department Fact Sheet, but with some modification, are:

+ Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews. [Emphasis added.]

+ Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.

+ Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”

+ Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

+ Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.

Two things are worth pointing out here. The phrase “the state of Israel” in first example above does not appear in the IHRA list; that version says only, “Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.” The IHRA does go one to say later that “manifestations might [emphasis added] include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” but immediately cautions that criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” The Fact Sheet, which, again, the legislation incorporates, adds, almost as an afterthought, “However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic” (italics in original).

Second, the last example differs from the similar IHRA example, which reads, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” (emphasis added). I am unaware of criticism of the Fact Sheet or legislation for this key modification. A similar modification has landed the UK’s Labor Party leadership in hot water. (More below.)

As we’ll see, the inclusion of criticism of Israel in the examples is where much of the danger of this legislation lies. Indeed, Antony Lerman, former director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in Britain, who traces the origin and promotion of the IHRA document to the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, both of which routinely conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, says it was designed to “equate criticisms of Israel with hatred of Jews.” Of course it was; today, being a good anti-anti-Semite, like being a good Jew, means little more than being unswervingly pro-Israel and pro-Israeli repression of Palestinians.

By way of additional background and contrast, the legislation cites a 2010 U.S. Department of Education “Dear Colleague” letter on religious bigotry to state and local educational agencies stating that they “must take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the harassment, eliminate any hostile environment, and its effects, and prevent the harassment from recurring.” However, the legislation states that letter “did not provide guidance on current manifestations of anti-Semitism, including discriminatory anti-Semitic conduct that is couched as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist” (emphasis added). That’s right: the Education Department did not mention Israel or Zionism in its letter about combating anti-Semitism. So the authors of the legislation seek to “correct” that “shortcoming.”

The legislation goes to state that “anti-Semitism, and harassment on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics with a religious group, remains a persistent, disturbing problem in elementary and secondary schools and on college campuses.”

Is that so? It doesn’t ring true. The Pew Research Center “finds that when it comes to religion, Americans generally express more positive feelings toward various religious groups [including Jews] today than they did just a few years ago. Asked to rate a variety of groups on a ‘feeling thermometer’ ranging from 0 to 100, U.S. adults give nearly all groups warmer ratings than they did in a June 2014 Pew Research Center survey.” For all age groups, atheists and Muslims rank far below Jews. (In another survey, Muslims ranked below atheists.) For Americans 30 years and up, Jews rank at or near the top, and the score has risen since 2014. For Americans 18-29, Jews rank just below top-ranking Buddhists, Catholics, and Hindus. No religious group scored more than 69 “degrees” except for, among people 65 and older, Mainline Protestants, Jews, and Catholics, who scored in the 70s. Where’s the widespread anti-Semitism?

And where’s the evidence of growing anti-Semitism on college campuses? The legislation “finds” that “students from a range of diverse backgrounds, including Jewish, Arab Muslim, and Sikh students, are being threatened, harassed, or intimidated in their schools,” but it would be interesting to see the groups broken out. One suspects the atmosphere on campus is more hostile to Arab and Muslim professors and students than to Jews. (See examples here and here.) And we cannot discount the likelihood that criticism of Israel is simply interpreted as criticism of Jews qua Jews. Indeed, the lead author of the IHRA definition, Kenneth Stern, said last year in congressional testimony that it is untrue that “antisemitism on campus is an epidemic. Far from it. There are thousands of campuses in the United States, and in very few is antisemitism – or anti-Israel animus – an issue.”

Anti-Semitism exists, of course, but it’s clearly confined to the fringes of American society…

Con’t to Source: Defining Anti-Semitism, Threatening Free Speech

… For all their self-image as progressives, the elites’ readiness to ignore widening class divisions, and to replace it with class-blind identity politics, was the greatest gift to toxic populism. In Britain, the Labour Party (under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and Edward Miliband) was too coy even to mention the post-2008 intensification of the class war against the majority, leading to the rise across the Labour heartland of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), with its Brexit parochialism.

Polite society seemed not to give a damn that it had become easier to get into Harvard or Cambridge if you were black than if you were poor. They deliberately ignored that identity politics can be as divisive as apartheid if allowed to act as a lever for overlooking class conflict…

The rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic is being investigated psychoanalytically, culturally, anthropologically, aesthetically, and of course in terms of identity politics. The only angle left unexplored is the one that holds the key to understanding what is going on: the unceasing class war waged against the poor since the late 1970s.

Source: The High Cost of Denying Class War by Yanis Varoufakis – Project Syndicate

Sounds like a really good Book. In this interview Harris says a lot of things I’ve been thinking for a long time. It’s worth five minutes of your time. He doesn’t call it cognitive dissonance but his description of the values contradictions Millennial’s live seems an apt example of it.

PeterG

 

How are millennials stereotyped as lazy, despite being a highly efficient and productive generation? Why are millennials characterized as spoiled and entitled, yet just 6 percent of them expect to one day receive Social Security benefits like those enjoyed by current retirees?

Source: If We Want Kids to Grow Up and Earn a Decent Living, Schools Should Teach Them to Organize Unions | Alternet

James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism has infected public policy in the US. Now it’s being exported • George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch

Continue to full story: A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

By J. F. Conway / Socialist Project

Populism: “any political movement which seeks
to mobilize the people… against a state which
is either controlled by vested interests or too powerful in itself.”

— Oxford Dictionary of Sociology

 

Commentators on the political scene in the established media typically use the term “populism” simplistically and pejoratively. This is a blind, thoughtless, and ill-conceived attack on decades of predictable stability in our democracies. There is a sense of imminent danger conveyed – where will this upheaval lead? The consensus seems to be that populism is something to be feared and contained. It is irrational – a modern expression of mob psychology. Often facile comparisons to the rise of Italian fascism and German Nazism are tentatively made.

Some commentators attempt a deeper analysis, aware that a simplistic notion of populism cannot account for the complexities of the phenomenon. Hence, there is the “left-wing populism” of Corbyn in the UK, Sanders in the U.S., and Mélenchon in France, and the “right-wing populism” of Trump in the U.S., the Independence Party in the UK, and Le Pen in France. Indeed, the two varieties of populism have emerged to become challengers to political orthodoxy in most European countries. Both left and right populism condemn neoliberalism and globalization for their terrible consequences for the underclasses. Both have little faith in the existing political system, and their base was previously largely disengaged from the electoral process. Both blame current élites for the troubles the people face and the hardships they endure.

Fundamental Differences

But the differences are fundamental. Left populism blames the system – neoliberal capitalism – and seeks systemic change. To achieve this change requires the capture of state power and its use to end austerity by raising taxes and increasing social spending, to take measures to reduce inequality, and to end the uncontested power of the super-rich. Left populism rejects white nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. Right populism blames the current political élite, not the economic élite, and deplores a rigged political system that shuts them out. They embrace white nationalism and hark back to earlier times when “white privilege” was intact. Their economic woes are blamed on the cheap labour available offshore, luring factories to foreign nations, and the cheap labour of immigrants at home stealing their jobs. They yearn for a return to the golden days of the past when jobs were plentiful and life was prosperous and secure.

We can perhaps learn from the past. Twentieth century populism unsettled established capitalist politics in Canada and the U.S. from the turn of the century to the Great Depression. Left agrarian populist movements in Canada organized the Progressive Party challenge in 1921, denouncing the Special Interests and the plutocracy of the élite, demanding progressive reforms and thus ending the cozy two party domination of Canadian politics by the Liberals and Tories. They were joined in that challenge by militant trade unions and working class socialist parties. In the Great Depression left agrarian populist and working class organizations joined forces in Saskatchewan, founding the Farmer-Labour Party/CCF, driving to power in 1944. The threat of the CCF on the federal scene contributed to the rapid construction of the welfare state. In the U.S. left agrarian populist organizations, militant trade unions, and a small working class socialist party fused with the Democratic Party, providing much of the impetus and energy for the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the implementation of the New Deal. Class analysis, and sustained political and economic class struggle contesting for state power, were the essence of the movements both in Canada and the USA.

Left Populism Ascendant

Similarly the left-wing and right-wing populist upsurge of today is clearly all about class and class struggle. Among left populist movements this is evident in their rhetoric, analysis, and proposed remedies. But class struggle is also central to the right-wing populist upsurge as its leaders attempt to capture the discontent of the underclass and lead it into a right-wing political project (it is here where you find echoes of Italian fascism and German Nazism).

Class and class struggle has returned to political contestation in today’s late capitalism, thanks to neoliberalism’s dismantling of the welfare state and the cruel, remorseless exploitation of the underclasses in both the advanced world and abroad. So far left populism seems to be the more ascendant, as right-wing populist parties in Holland, Austria, Germany, Finland, and the UK suffered recent electoral setbacks, while left-leaning populist parties enjoyed growing support. Only in France does the right populist challenge remain strong, Marine Le Pen’s National Front. But it faces an equally popular left populist movement, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise. And in the UK the right populist Independence Party (UKIP) was wiped out as Corbyn’s Labour Party came within striking distance of forming government. Meanwhile Trump’s right-wing electoral coalition is disintegrating around him.

We are witnessing the return of class struggle politics in the 21st century and the re-engagement of extra-parliamentary popular movements, and the disenfranchised, in electoral contests for state power. Only time and events will tell if we have entered a long term new wave of class struggle politics. •

J. F. Conway teaches sociology at the University of Regina.

Source: Populism in the 21st Century: Class Struggle Returns to Haunt Capitalist Democracies