Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April

Overall job growth in blue collar jobs was modest in April, growing by 21,000 from its March level. Manufacturing added 6,000 jobs, construction 5,000 jobs, and mining 8,800, the vast majority of which were in support activities. Several states saw significant losses in the construction and manufacturing sectors in April, with some of the biggest losses occurring in rust belt states.

The largest job gains in manufacturing were in Texas (8,100 jobs), Michigan (7,900 jobs) and Wisconsin which added 5,100. The rustbelt state job losers were Ohio, which lost 5,800 manufacturing jobs (0.9 percent) Indiana with a loss of 3,200 jobs (0.6 percent), New York, which lost 3,100 jobs (0.7 percent) and Pennsylvania with a loss of 3,600 manufacturing jobs (0.6 percent).

In percentage terms the biggest losers were Alaska, which saw job loss of 4.1 percent (500 jobs) compared to March, followed by Montana at 1.4 percent (300 jobs) and Kentucky at 1.1 percent (2,900 jobs). The largest percentage gains were in Rhode Island where manufacturing employment was up 2.2 percent (900 jobs), Idaho with an increase of 1.8 percent (1,200 jobs), and Maine which saw its manufacturing employment increase by (1.4 percent (700 jobs).

We can now look back at three months of data since President Trump took office. While the impact of his administration on job growth is almost certainly minimal over this period, we can at least see some trace of its footprint.

Some of the rust belt states have seen modest job growth in manufacturing over this period. Wisconsin has added 4,900 jobs over this period, an increase of 1.0 percent. Illinois added 4,500 jobs, an increase of 0.8 percent. Michigan saw manufacturing employment increase by 4,300, a rise of 0.7 percent. Minnesota added 2,600 jobs over this period, an increase of 0.7 percent.

Indiana has seen no change in manufacturing employment over the first three months of the Trump administration. Iowa lost 800 jobs, a decline of 0.4 percent. Pennsylvania lost 3,800 jobs, 0.7 percent of total employment in the sector. Ohio lost the most jobs over this period, with a decline of 4,700 jobs, which was 0.7 percent of manufacturing employment.

While growth in the construction sector overall was tepid at best, some states did see substantial growth over the last month. Connecticut, New Hampshire and Nevada saw the largest percent increases at 4.7 percent, 3.7 percent, and 3.3 percent respectively.

Among rust belt states, only Wisconsin showed positive growth with a gain of 1,500 jobs. By contrast, Texas saw job loss of 1.4 percent (-10,300). It should be noted that March saw a substantial increase in construction jobs and the percent change average over the last 3 months is 0.1 percent. The other significant losses in the sector include declines of 3.4 percent (7,400 jobs) in Ohio and 2.1 percent or (4,500) in Illinois.

This is likely largely a seasonal adjustment story, with unusually good winter weather leading to better than normal job gains in the winter months. However, this means that the warmer spring weather leads to less than normal job growth in construction.

The mining and logging sectors grew overall, adding 10,000 jobs nationwide. Once again this was led by support activities for mining (6,700 jobs) and oil and gas extraction (1,000 jobs). The only rust belt states to see any change in employment were Michigan with a 2.7 percent increase, New York at 1.9 percent, and Pennsylvania at 0.4 percent.

Though the economy as a whole saw a healthy gain of 211,000 in April, the construction, manufacturing and mining and logging sectors made little contribution. These blue collar jobs, once the drivers of the rust belt economy, were a mixed bag at the state level with little aggregate growth in April.

This article originally appeared in Bluecollarjobs.us.

Saving America’s Great Places

I’m writing this from Yellowstone National Park. Established in 1872, this was our first National Park. The world’s first, in fact.

In an interesting window into how politics worked then (and now, arguably), Congress agreed to preserve this land only after being assured that it was entirely “worthless.”

Of course, that was an utter lie. But for once in our nation’s history, lying in politics did some good.

The real value of this park wasn’t known then, you see. Nobody knew that it set a precedent for the establishment of an entire National Park system that would encompass a network of public lands across the country.

Nobody knew yet that the animals on this land would become rare outside it — and might’ve been lost for good if they weren’t allowed to roam free here.

For that matter, nobody would know for a long time to come that predators are important to ecosystems. Even after the establishment of many National Parks and the protection of wildlife therein, park personnel actively killed predators within the parks’ borders.

And yet, yesterday I saw a wolf and a grizzly, both wild apex predators. Not in a zoo. And I saw them at close range. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Other National Parks haven’t had such an easy path to preservation.

Creating a National Park requires an act of Congress. The Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Grand Tetons, and many, many other beloved parks, even once identified as places to preserve for the enjoyment of all Americans, didn’t immediately receive such protection.

Far too often, individuals see our nation’s great places as opportunities for private profit.

Loggers attempted to cut down every possible tree in the Great Smoky Mountains before they were shut out when it became a National Park. Entire populations of birds in Florida were killed to provide feathers for women’s hats before their habitat was protected. And a U.S. senator opposed turning the Grand Canyon into a National Park because he wanted to personally profit from the natural wonder.

When Congress won’t act to protect our country’s most beautiful and valuable places, the president can do it with just the stroke of a pen.

Yet right now, Donald Trump is on track to throw away part of our national heritage. He’s ordered a review of all National Monuments created since 1996, and may well remove some to make way for mining corporations and other extractive industries to operate there.

The monuments on Trump’s hit list include the San Gabriel mountains in Southern California, where hikers from Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego all converge for exercise and recreation in a breathtakingly beautiful place, and Carrizo Plain, also in California, which experienced a super bloom that drew wildflower enthusiasts from all over this past spring.

A great many beloved National Parks were National Monuments first: the Grand Canyon, Chaco Canyon, Olympic, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, the Grand Tetons, and more.

The story of our National Parks and Monuments is a triumph of the interests of all Americans over the private interests of the few.

If you love our country’s wild places and want your grandchildren to have the opportunity to visit them, you can visit Regulations.gov to tell the government you want our National Monuments preserved.

Distributed by OtherWords.

Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?

A “Fifth Column” is a group within a country at war who are sympathetic to or working for its enemies.

Even a full-blown war with North Korea or Russia could not inflict the damage done to this Country by Moody’s, Fitch and S&P.  The rating agencies have declared war on the United States and the damage they are inflicting will eventually destroy this Country from within.

In 2008, the Country was brought to its knees with the eight trillion-dollar mortgage bond crisis.  It again got a taste of what the rating agencies are capable of with the Detroit and Puerto Rico bankruptcies.

You see when a credit rating agency or a bank works on transactions worth hundreds of millions or billions, they deploy their best folks.  The most experienced and educated investment bankers.  This is also true of the Banks that knowingly sell these fraudulent investments to their unsuspecting clients.

If the best people in the industry worked on the mortgage bonds and the Detroit and Puerto Rico’s municipal bonds how can these massive losses be possible?  If one were simply to read the bond offering documents you could clearly see that both the cash flow and collateral were no good.  Even a rookie Banker could have uncovered these weaknesses.

When and investor buys a properly rated bond and takes a loss, it is a simple investment loss.  If an investor buys a bond with a fraudulent rating, it is criminal fraud.

According to the FBI and Attorney General the tens of thousands of transactions executed by the Rating Agencies were just unfortunate mistakes, although the Rating Agencies and Banks freely paid billions in fines to put these mistakes behind them. If you talk to Wells Fargo Bank, B of A, Citibank among some of the dozens of Wall Street Banks, they did nothing wrong, they just missed the fact these investments had no cash flow or collateral to support their repayment and they did it repeatedly over a decade.

If you are to believe our Justice Department, none of this had to do with the billions of dollars in fee’s the Ratings Agencies and Banks made.

How can one do this and get away with it, repeatedly?  How well connected are the Rating Agencies and Banks that they remain immune from prosecution while tens of millions of American’s lives are ruined?

Let’s assume that ten of the best heart doctors, doctors with the most experience and training, all perform heart surgery on the same day at ten different and unrelated hospitals.  On this day, all ten doctors accidently remove the patient’s kidneys and the patients all die.  How can one doctor make this mistake let along ten at ten different hospitals? One would have to assume it was collusion, these doctors must have all agreed to make this mistake.

Image 30 of America’s biggest Banks and America’s three big credit ratings all making an equally inexplicable mistake.  Mathematically, it would be impossible without collusion.

The Rating Agencies and the Banks are part of an organized criminal enterprise that include our Justice Department and our Politicians.  The money that flows from these criminal activities is enormous, it funds our elections and in turn, generates career security and advancement opportunity for those in our Justice Department.

A first-year lawyer could successfully prosecute these firms, including the leadership at the Department of Justice, if we just had the political will.

Washington has become a Banana Republic and short of a revolution it is certain that Wall Street will destroy this Country from within and it is likely to happen in our lifetimes. There are only so many trillions that can be stolen before there is nothing left to steal.

Venezuela Reconsidered

Last Friday Chris Gilbert wrote an article for CounterPunch titled The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project  that like many I have read since 1999 try to put the late President into a Marxist context, in this instance claiming that “Hugo Chávez was an heir to Lenin’s political legacy.” Before replying to Gilbert, it might be useful to mention other attempts to ground the Bolivarian revolution in one strand of Marxism or another.

In the September 2011 issue of Dialectical Anthropology, Steve Ellner posed the question of whether the process of change in Venezuela resembled a “Permanent Revolution”. After reviewing five distinct stages of the process, Ellner asserts that “the sequence of events and the strategy that influenced them recall the concept of permanent revolution espoused by Leon Trotsky”. Like many other Marxists who have weighed in on post-Chávez Venezuela, there is little evidence that Ellner still expects Venezuela to have its own version of October 1917 any time soon, especially since the native versions of Kerensky and Kornilov have the upper hand.

Michael Lebowitz has written a number of books making connections between the process in Venezuela and what some might consider a Marxism influenced by István Mészáros, including one I reviewed for CounterPunch in August 2015 . In that article, I made a point that I will repeat later on in this article, namely that Venezuela’s woes today have much to do with its entanglement in global capitalist property relations. Even with the best of intentions and inspired by the best Marxism has to offer from either Lebowitz or Mészáros, there were objective constraints that made a socialist Venezuela very difficult if not impossible to attain.

Many on the left, including Jeffery Webber whose new book The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left I reviewed for CounterPunch last month, dismiss Venezuela as a failed populist but neo-liberal experiment. They too hearken back to Marxist theory but mainly as a yardstick with which to measure (or spank) the “pink tide” governments for abandoning Marxist principles. Perhaps if Hugo Chávez had been reading Jeffery Webber rather than István Mészáros, the situation would not be so bleak. (Needless to say, when you are dealing with tenured professors, the emphasis is on reading.)

Last but not least we have George Cicariello-Maher, who like Gilbert invokes Lenin to help us understand the process in Venezuela. Cicariello-Maher is passionately devoted to the communes in Venezuela that pose a “dual power” threat to the capitalist state just as the soviets did in 1917. It is a bit complicated when you consider that the millions of dollars that have helped to get the communes off the ground in Venezuela came from that very capitalist state.

Turning now to Chris Gilbert’s essay, it is an homage to Chávez at a moment when ultraleft sectarians are blaming his policies for the current crisis. Gilbert’s focus is not on the economic woes of the country that some leftists attribute to the Bolivarian revolution’s failure to transcend its status as an oil rentier state or its adoption of a two-tiered currency model that led to runaway inflation but on Chávez’s political acumen in pursuing a single-minded strategic orientation as a latter-day Lenin.

Gilbert invokes Lars Lih’s biography of Lenin, a work whose insights supposedly will help us better appreciate Chávez. Paraphrasing Lih, he concludes that Lenin’s singular strategic insight was to build a party modeled on the German Social Democracy but adapted to the authoritarian conditions of Czarist Russia. Far be it for me to impose my definitions on anybody else on the left, but strategy means something different to me. I see Lenin’s central strategic goal as the establishment of a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”, which meant that Russia would undergo a bourgeois revolution but commanded by a working-class government rather than one dominated by the liberal bourgeoisie. After a prolonged period of capitalist development, the workers would be sufficiently organized and massive enough to steer the nation toward socialism. Most people on the left except for Lih believe that Lenin abandoned this perspective in the April Theses, especially since he specifically said that it no longer applied. After all, when workers take power, why would they waste time with any form of capitalism, especially since it is their mortal enemy?

Does any of this ancient history have much to do with Venezuela? In a way it does, especially how it relates to Ellner’s 2011 article. The Russian revolution began in February 1917 and culminated in the seizure of power within 8 months. In Lenin’s original strategic formula, it was conceivable that a Kerensky-type government would have lasted for decades giving workers the time they needed to become as powerful as the German Social Democracy. In fact, that is what Lev Kamenev, Lars Lih’s favorite Bolshevik next to Lenin, hoped for. Would Czarist General Kornilov, a forerunner to Hitler, have permitted a government to remain in power for decades that tried to balance capitalist and socialist property relations? You might as well expect the Venezuelan oligarchy to put up with a Bolivarian revolution indefinitely even if it eschewed Bolshevik goals. As soon as political subversion and economic sabotage softened up government of Venezuela sufficiently, the oligarchy would strike the lethal blow either by a coup or by a vote. And then we might expect an authoritarian onslaught led by a Venezuelan Kornilov that will return to the status quo ante but in rivers of blood.

For Gilbert, there was no need for Chávez to proceed as rapidly as Lenin did in 1917. He was not a “textbook Marxist [who] would have stuck with a more familiar, barebones lexicon that focused on class, the taking of power, and the destruction of the bourgeois state.” Of course, that sounds a bit like Lenin who wrote a book titled “State and Revolution” that was all about the destruction of the bourgeois state—but then again that was so 20th century socialism.

Proceeding to the conclusion of Gilbert’s article, we arrive at what might be regarded as the most widely held confirmation of Chávez’s Marxism, namely the Venezuelan commune. The commune was introduced in 2006 as the latest in a series of measures that would provide a mass base for the government among the disenfranchised masses who had the most to gain from the Bolivarian revolution even if the communes were formally independent. Before the communes, there were Bolivarian circles that were focused more on self-defense than collective production.

While the term commune suggests radical politics, there are instances in which it mainly serves as a economic/military unit of a reactionary state such as the Israeli kibbutz whose Labor Zionist founders mistakenly associated with socialism. Communes have often been adopted by a religious sect like the Hutterites in the USA who have penetrated Blackfoot Indian territory in Montana in a fashion reminiscent of the Israeli kibbutz.

The most famous commune of course was the Paris Commune that was simply the municipal government that came into being during the French Revolution in contrast to Chávez creating the communes as an alternative to the corrupt municipal governments of Venezuela. During the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, the municipal government was effectively commandeered by the working class in order to defend the city against the German army. Once in power, the workers acted in their own class interests for the first time in history.

Subsequent to the Paris Commune, the Russian soviets were the next major bid by workers to exercise state power. Like the Paris Commune, the soviet was midwifed by a revolution that grew out of a capitalist war, in this instance the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. As this bloodletting put a strain on factory workers, they decided to form a council (soviet) that would challenge the Czarist state. Leon Trotsky described their dynamic in his book 1905 that was written two years later:

The Soviet came into being as a response to an objective need – a need born of the course of events. It was an organization which was authoritative and yet had no traditions; which could immediately involve a scattered mass of hundreds of thousands of people while having virtually no organizational machinery; which united the revolutionary currents within the proletariat; which was capable of initiative and spontaneous self control – and most important of all, which could be brought out from underground within twenty-four hours.

It was these soviets that would reemerge in 1917 as part of the “dual power” in Russia that would ultimately become the single power of the new Soviet state. As was the case with the Paris Commune, the capitalist class used terror to destroy the infant state and largely succeeded. In State and Revolution, Lenin explained why the workers needed to smash the existing state and create one based on their own collective governance such as the Paris Commune or the Soviet:

Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell…, it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.

Establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it? That sounds rather like the USA, doesn’t it? It also poses the question of the relationship between the Venezuelan commune and the state that brought it into being. Unlike the Paris Commune or the Soviet, it was fostered by the Chavista state to the tune of $436 million dollars as Michael Fox reported in Venezuela Analysis on November 28, 2006. Naturally, those benefitting from such largesse would not consider the benefactor to be the class enemy. Maybe ineffective and often corrupt but the real enemy was the class behind the 2002 coup attempt. The problem, of course, is that the government was trying to balance class interests as part of a long-term strategy of national development that was consistent ironically with pre-1917 Bolshevik thinking. Since Maduro, a former bus driver and trade union leader, was overseeing capitalist development in Venezuela, wasn’t he the prototype of Lenin’s pre-1917 strategic thinking?

While Gilbert saw the commune as the primary building block of a future socialist society, he is forced to admit that it has not lived up to expectations:

In the years that followed, the communal hypothesis ran up against serious obstacles, failing to produce the desired results, despite the more than one thousand communes that have been registered and despite the government’s extensive promotion of the idea. As far as concrete results are concerned, a handful of flagship communes may have come to form small enclaves of socialism, but the communes have generally proven precarious and even unsustainable in the capitalist context still dominant in Venezuela’s economy.

The “capitalist context” is the fly in the ointment. Ultimately, Gilbert must come to terms with the failure of the communes to become the embryo of a new state as long as the existing capitalist state has control over the major means of production and distribution. In effect, he urges that a new strategy be put into place that is a synthesis of 20th century socialism (one that is “focused on class, the taking of power, and the destruction of the bourgeois state”) and the Chavista 21th century socialism based on the horizontalist commune structures. He writes:

In this sense – and this is the modification to Chávez’s communal hypothesis that I propose – there needs to be a dialectical synthesis of, on the one hand, the traditional Marxist concept of a state power that makes a forceful rupture with the existing order of things and the grassroots communal projects that Chávez promoted, on the other. The remade state power would be charged with fostering the socialist enclaves, stacking the deck in their favor.

As I have been mulling over Webber’s book, Gilbert’s article and a number of articles I have read to help prepare this article, a way of looking at these problems of socialist strategy came to me. To an extent, I approach these problems as someone heavily invested in the Sandinista revolution of the 1980s that like the Bolivarian revolution and just about every revolution of the past 100 years has failed to live up to the sublime vision I shared with other Marxists 50 years ago when I came into the movement. Taking its sexism into account, Leon Trotsky’s 1934 “If America Should Go Communist” sounded a bit like “Big Rock Candy Mountain”: “The average man doesn’t like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.”

What Trotsky did not anticipate was the failure of countries like the USA, England, Germany or France to make socialist revolutions for a combination of reasons, mostly having to do with the lack of a revolutionary party. For the Trotskyists, this has boiled down to the failure of the working class to become attracted to their movement. This was an understandable result of their inability to break out of a sectarian framework based on a dogmatic misunderstanding of Lenin’s party. Whatever mistakes were made in Venezuela, the adroit initiatives taken by the country’s left, especially Causa R, in becoming an important wing of the Chavista movement are much more worthy of study than any Trotskyist tract.

Instead the revolutions have come to weak, peripheral nations such as Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua and even to Venezuela in an embryonic form. In the case of Venezuela, there is a strong temptation for someone like Chris Gilbert to call for a “forceful rupture” but such a rupture would mark Venezuela as a threat to the global capitalist order and worthy of boycotts, CIA subversion much greater than anything the country is facing today, as well as counter-revolutionary armies that would have an all-too-willing host in Colombia.

In 1986, when I got involved in Nicaragua solidarity, the Soviet Union existed. The main obstacle to peace and development in Nicaragua was the Reagan administration. Perhaps George W. Bush might have been less of a warmongering bastard than Reagan in the early 2000s but if I were Hugo Chávez, I’d probably not have taken a chance on that. Furthermore, there were social democratic governments across Europe that were even more willing than the Soviets to provide Nicaragua technical, financial and diplomatic aid. Keep in mind that Daniel Ortega and Francois Mitterand were both members of the Socialist international. Today the socialist governments are run by neoliberals like François Hollande and we have a Russia led by Vladimir Putin who regards Lenin as the worst thing that ever happened to his country. Meanwhile, China, the BRICS giant that many on the left regard as the ultimate challenge to US imperialism, will no longer lend money to Venezuela.

Everybody was for a socialist Venezuela or a socialist Greece but when it failed to materialize, the knives came out. Maduro and Tsipras become traitors to the cause. When I first got on the Internet in the early 90s, I used to hear sectarians lambasting the FSLN for not being revolutionary enough. I told them that they were quite right. Daniel Ortega should have invaded the USA in 1986 and beheaded the serpent in its nest.

Just by coincidence, I stumbled across a new blog today titled Cold and Dark Stars that is the voice of someone who describes himself or herself as an immigrant from an underdeveloped country in Canada. With piquant humor, the author identifies the search for traitors on the left in an article titled The Global Economy Doesn’t Care About Your Local Chicken Farm  that I agree with totally. My suggestion is to read this article and bookmark this most auspicious new blog that offers such keen insights:

Once, an economist friend told me that they have a term for quacks, and its called “marxism.” Indeed, a common rightist trope is that leftists don’t understand the economy. The social programs leftists advocate, such as public housing, life stipends, and universal healthcare, are deemed as economically unsustainable.

I do think there’s some truth in this. Leftists are so obsessed with winning elections and taking power at all costs within the confines of the nation-state that they become blind to global economic forces. Perhaps the starkest, recent example of this phenomenon was the failure of Syriza at Greece. Syriza was an outspoken anticapitalist party, with many of the groups forming the coalition having the sort of leftist pedigree that exist only in the fringe in the rest of the developed world. They ran on an anti-austerity campaign and they won the national elections in 2015. What happened next? In the face of imminent financial doom, Syriza ended doubling down on austerity. In the Greek case, groups that had “communist” in their name ended up as managers of capitalist crisis, delivering the unadulterated program of neoliberalism, a platform that will leave old people dying penniless, and young people unemployed, sick without access to life-or-death medication.

Simpleminded analysis will find Syriza as traitorous. The harder wings of the left will say that Syriza was doomed since the beginning, since revolution is not a matter of simple electoral victory. Yet, even the hardest of the hard lefts, with the most ambitious programs for economic and social restructuring, will have faced similar dilemmas. That is because capitalism is a global system. The basic goods that sustain any nation-state are the product of a division of labor and a logistical network that spans the whole globe – minerals that are used in electronics are mined in Africa, hydrocarbons that power the factories that make vaccines are extracted from Canadian ground. This gives rise to a global economy that uses the abstractions of stocks, bonds, debt, and currency to mediate the distribution of technology, labor time, and natural resources necessary to sustain any sovereign nation-state. The rules of this global economy are studied by mainstream economists, rules that the Right claims the Left doesn’t understand. Any national, left wing movement will inevitably  face off the blind, idiot god of international capital, and most certainly, be consumed by it.

The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision

As the mainstream pundits are putting it, the NDP leadership race just got more interesting with the declaration by Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario NDP MPP, is in the race. He has real charisma and would break the white-only leadership barrier for the first time.

There seems at first glance to be little in the way of major policy differences between the four candidates who preceded Singh in the race.  While all are smart, able politicians with a solid understanding of the issues there seems to be scant recognition of the need for the party to distance itself from the Layton-Mulcaire period wherein the party decided to go for power and made the inevitable rush to the centre to do so.

The Liberals won that race and now have an almost unshakable grip on that centre. The overarching purpose of the NDP is perhaps the most important issue of all and is not being debated. Will the new leader follow in the footsteps of Mulcaire and his political whiz kids and go for the ring or will they decide to reinvent the party as a principled, unabashedly left-wing party eager to actually challenge corporate power?

The two candidates who stand in greatest contrast on this all important issue are Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and newcomer Jagmeet Singh. Singh is eagerly poised to fill the role as the man who can take down Justin Trudeau (literally it turns out, claiming his mixed martial arts would be too much for Justin) and become prime minister. He oozes self-confidence but gets creepily close to being a bit too attracted to himself. He doesn’t quite refer to himself in the third person, but he gets close as in this Toronto Star interview:  “If people see that I’m dynamic and exciting and approachable, that’s a good thing.”

But while charisma is an important aspect of leadership it has to be matched by policy depth and transparency. Singh is famous in Ontario for his expensive, perfectly tailored suits and his brightly coloured turbans. But he is a provincial politician with no experience with federal government issues. He has been given an easy ride by the Toronto Star (no friend of the NDP) and has even been featured in the Washington Post.

But his flash fell short when he was interviewed by CTV’s Evan Solomon. After saying ‘Glad to be here, man’ Singh looked very uncomfortable when Solomon pressed him three times on his position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. He dodged it three times falling back each time on a nearly identical rehearsed answer: “We are going to come out with a comprehensive plan…” He similarly dodged a question on whether he would support retaliatory action against the US for its softwood lumber tariff. When Solomon pressed him on what kind of leader he was going to be he fell flat suggesting that he was not ready for prime time questioning.

Singh’s discomfort with these questions (and one on immigration levels) reveals a politician who is a bit of a blank slate. In fact, there is a certain irony in his eagerness to take on Justin Trudeau – another politician who, when he went for the Liberal Party leadership, seemed to have few ideas of his own. The other candidates have been immersed in these issues and their positions seem rooted in personal conviction.

When you haven’t developed a clear vision of the party  you want to lead you end up relying on others which is exactly what Trudeau did – and is largely why he has broken the specific promises he has. They were never his in the first place. It begs the question with Mr. Singh: who is he going to rely on for his vision of the party and the country?

One of the people he is relying on is none other than Brad Lavigne, Jack Layton’s and Tom Mulcaire’s strategic genius – you remember, the guy who thought it was cool to work for Hill and Knowlton the people who brought you the first Gulf war. While Lavigne is only a volunteer and there are other people advising Singh, there is little doubt that Lavigne will be hard-selling the ‘we can win’ kool aid again.

Niki Ashton is about as different from Jagmeet Singh as you can get – about the only thing they share is that they are both young. Where Singh has given no sign of how (or if) he would rebuild the post-Mulcaire party, Ashton has been clear that she wants to transform the party into a movement. Whereas Singh attributes the loss of the 2015 election to the fact that Mulcaire didn’t “connect emotionally” Ashton’s take is more substantive: “In the 2015 election, we allowed the Liberals to out-left us. In the last little while we have lost our sense of being a movement. …We need to reconnect with activists and community leaders who share our same values …We need to build the NDP as a movement for social, environmental, and economic justice.”

While we have to wait for Singh’s answers to fundamental questions, Ashton’s answers seem instinctive but rooted in policy depth. She has has served NDP critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Status of Women and Post-Secondary Education and Youth. As the NDP’s critic on Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development led a country-wide, eleven city tour engaging young people on the issue of precarious work faced by millennials.

Perhaps the strongest symbol of Ashton’s boldness is her stance regarding the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. After posting support for Palestinian independence she was, of course, subjected to the knee-jerk bullying from B‘nai Brith which “demanded” an apology -which it never got. Under both Mulcaire (and unrepentant Zionist) and Layton the party was terrified of the issue. As I detailed a few months ago Canadians’ views on the conflict are clearly in line with Ashton’s.

Jagmeet Singh might well be the ideal candidate to continue the party’s centrist quest for power. He has charisma, he’s a social media star, young people love him, and breaking the white-only barrier is a very attractive proposition and would be a huge step forward in Canadian politics. If the party wants to try for a quick come-back in 2019 they could certainly do worse.

But if the party wants to rebuild, return to its social democratic roots and show the boldness that will be required to seriously challenge climate change, inequality, reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and peace in the Middle East they will need to take the long view and build a movement. That’s Niki Ashton’s pledge though she would have to take on the party establishment to do it.

We’ll just have to wait to see what NDP members decide they want their party to be.

G7 Taormina Statement on the Fight Against Terrorism and Violent Extremism

1. We, the Leaders of the G7, stand united in expressing our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of the brutal terrorist act in Manchester in the United Kingdom. We condemn in the strongest possible terms terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. 2. Countering terrorism and violent extremism, acts of which have struck G7 Members, as well as all regions of the world, regardless of country, nationality or belief, remains a major priority for the G7. We stand (...)

Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech

Many today find the idea of free speech appalling—an awful fact to those who believe in freedom, quaint as it sounds. Left-liberals agitate to prevent disagreeable expression. Their masked street allies physically attack those who engage in it. Left-liberal defenses of such hostility and assault follow. NYU Vice Provost Ulrich Baer’s recent New York Times’ opinion piece, “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech” serves in the latter role. But Baer aims even lower, attacking what he considers the foundations of free speech arguments. In so doing, a perhaps unforeseen notion arises: both postmodernism and identity politics, on their long march to social power, sought to overthrow their respective enemies with ideological forms that mirror or caricature those of their enemies, or what they imagine in their enemies. That is, in a sense, they fight fire with fire. In the instance of postmodernism, per Baer’s example (addressed below), it fights fire with fire in that it fights a reasonable-posing irrationality with a different reasonable-posing irrationality. (Certainly I am not the first, nor the best, to notice that postmodernism, or its elements (such as identity politics), end up fighting fire with fire. Helen Pluckrose, in her recent masterful “How French ‘Intellectuals’ Ruined the West: Postmodernism and Its Impact, Explained“, summarizes a long section thus, managing to bring in the bugbears of postmodernism’s leading saints: “Postmodernism has become a Lyotardian metanarrative, a Foucauldian system of discursive power, and a Derridean oppressive hierarchy.” That is, it is what its proponents rail against.) In the other case, identity politics fights fire with fire more directly by adopting a key feature of racism and bigotry (essentialism) to attack racism and bigotry. This essay focuses on these two instances in turn, and concludes with a more general defense of free speech.

Postmodern thinking booted reason in the 80s and 90s, says Baer. Before that, to the dismay of some, good sense held sway in the academy. The shift entailed favoring “personal experience and testimony” over “reason and argument”. About this, Baer is not so much disappointed. Nor is he worried about the related recent censorial turn of campus protest. To Baer, this “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship” because “speech that invalidates the humanity of some people” itself restricts free speech. He doesn’t explain how disagreeable speech keeps some people from talking. We are meant to take his word for it. Further, he says, we should not be worried about privileging personal experience over reason and argument. This despite the obvious potential for manipulation inherent in the former’s “powerful emotional impact.” Rather, we should be strong (or weak) and “resist the temptation to rehash these debates.” In other words, shut up and don’t worry your pretty little heads.

Regarding reason’s overthrow, Baer cites as an exemplary cause of this a case offered by Jean-François Lyotard of an unnamed Holocaust denier (unnamed by Baer; I will name him later) who demanded impossible evidence. The crank expected no less than eyewitness testimony from those killed in the Holocaust. If this was impossible—as of course it was—then the Holocaust did not happen, argued the denier, disrespectful of the dead as well as reason. Paraphrasing Lyotard, Baer suggests that this absurdity helped to encourage the shift from privileging reason and argument to favoring personal experience and testimony. But even a cursory look at the Holocaust denier’s argument tells us it was not a rational argument that happened to offend. Rather, it was offensive absurdity couched in rationalism. Taking this emblematic example into account, as well as the shift Baer mentions, we find that an irrational argument couched in rational language encouraged the ousting of rationalism by the new focus on personal experience and testimony, itself plainly irrationalist. This is fighting fire with fire and not worrying who gets burned. But this reaction in kind is not unique to postmodernism generally. Left-liberal identity politics does a similar thing. It uses what it claims to oppose, essentialism, as a method of attack.

Left-liberal identity politics is undeniably the main arena (perhaps theater) today in which the aforementioned “personal experience and testimony” are, aptly enough, acted out. The origins of this politics prove as startling, perhaps, as that of postmodern thinking. Identity politics engaged its fight with bigotry, in part, not by rejecting essentialism, but by embracing it. (Essentialism means to regard an apparent human trait as inherent rather than socially constructed. It is the central feature of bigotry as well as nationalism.) But by inverting bigoted notions, left-liberal identity politics reify, as Nancy Fraser put it, “identities that themselves are products of oppressive structures.”[1] What was despised becomes respected. What was respected is scorned. While class politics aim not to perpetuate the oppressed group, but “to put the group out of business as a group”[2], identity politics fundamentally opposes that. Like rightwing identitarianism, left-liberal identity politics elevate “the group’s ‘groupness’”,[3] but little else, and “can hold out no future.”[4] Michael Rectenwald would agree. Seeking to counter what he considers a “paucity of analysis” on this matter, he addressed it adroitly and deserves to be quoted at length:

The problem with identity politics, then, is that it is one-sided and undialectical. It treats identities as static entities, and its methods only serve to further reify those categories. It aims to liberate identity groups (or members thereof) qua identity groups (or individuals), rather than aiming to liberate them from identity itself. Identity politics fails not because it begins with various subaltern groups and aims at their liberation, but because it ends with them and thus cannot deliver their liberation. It makes identities and their equality with other “privileged” groups the basis of political activity, rather than making the overcoming of the alienated identity, for themselves and all identity groups, the goal. The abolition of the one-sidedness of identity – as worker, woman, man, or what have you – represents real human emancipation. Always failing this, identity politics settles for mere linguistic emancipation, which is offered (and policed so assiduously, as [Mark] Fisher notes) by the defenders of the sanctuary of identity.

The result is a politics that is parochial and indifferent, if not hostile, to universalist and liberatory ideas. It is a politics in part necessarily hostile to liberal notions of free enquiry and expression since essential, static identities and the claims about society based on them cannot be challenged without attacking “personal experience and testimony”. Where reasoned but mistaken arguments can be countered, “personal experience and testimony” devoid of reasoned argument can only be respected or disrespected. Hence, no free speech. Just an up or down vote, and it better be up.

The issue of free speech brings us full circle to the original matter. Two examples of government punishment for speech and their contexts illustrate some of the points here. The first regards the Holocaust denier cited by Lyotard and unnamed by Baer, namely, Robert Faurisson, a former French academic who, in the 1970s, began publishing his attempts to refute the mountains of evidence for the Holocaust. For his denials—just speech, recall—Faurisson was suspended from the University of Lyon where he taught, and subject to various trials (yes, in court) charging him with falsifying history and damaging victims of Nazism. Around 1980, Noam Chomsky and others were asked by the French libertarian socialist Serge Thion to sign a petition in defense not of Faurisson’s views, but merely his right to express them. Something Chomsky and the others reasonably considered obvious. Well, France in 1980 did not (and does not now) have much patience for free speech—an attitude U.S. society increasingly mirrors. Given his fame, Noam Chomsky was singled out from the signers for special abuse. His support for Faurisson’s right to speak was taken as an endorsement of Faurisson’s Holocaust denial, an obvious absurdity given Chomsky’s known and oft-expressed views to the contrary. The very ugly environment that arose kept him away from France for some thirty years. In the United States, there was little reaction. But among those who replied, Alan Dershowitz and Werner Cohn, for instance, they did not so much attack the notion of free speech. Instead, like some in France, they peddled the aforementioned idea that Chomsky was a Holocaust denier himself. They based this libel in part on the notion that anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel is the same thing, a contemptible trick still in use today.[5]

The second example regards a story from the UK. In 1992, the news outlet ITN obviously faked a story about a supposed Serb-run death camp at Trnopolje in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Filming near a refugee center which also held some prisoners of war under rather lax circumstances, the British news crew entered a small storage enclosure surrounded by barbed and chicken wire and filmed some of the bedraggled refugees and detainees through it, focusing on one skinny man. The scene gave the impression the place was a Nazi-like death camp. A German journalist, Thomas Deichmann, wrote a story about this deception which was published in the small UK journal, Living Marxism. Since this was Britain, ITN sued LM for libel. The outcome was mixed in an important sense. LM lost the case, and were driven out of business, not because the story of the death camp was true, it was not. Rather because LM had not proved ITN faked the story intentionally or knowingly (see this, this and this)[6] To this day, arguably, attacks on free speech (by smearing critics as “genocide deniers[7]) help make this famous nonsense story seem true, particularly for its “powerful emotional impact,” if for no good reason. The ITN/Serb “death camp” story is an illuminating example of postmodern news production and hostility to free speech and the service they both provide power.

The balance of Baer’s argument is not much better. He leans on a 1974 Yale University report on the problem of free expression. (The very moment neoliberal capitalism and identity politics were really gearing up to create the society we now more or less live in. Which might tell us something.) In the document, perhaps, we see an early expression of the notion that speech is a physical act rather than a verbal one. In a suggestion regarding this passage, Michael Rectenwald points out that this view “is apparent in poststructuralism and deconstruction well before this point.” In any event, the report’s signator, Kenneth J. Barnes, declares that while free expression should be valued, other concerns often overshadow it. What concerns? “Under certain circumstances,” he writes, “free expression is outweighed by more pressing issues, including liberation of all oppressed people and equal opportunities for minority groups.” Laudable goals, but clearly we are meant to assume disagreeable speech can, despite all efforts, prevent their achievement. In postmodern America, facts are less real than words. Summarizing the report, Baer asserts free speech is fine in a homogenous society, but dangerous and destructive in a diverse one.

Finally, while the two abovementioned examples regard punishment by governments for disagreeable speech, is that the only sort of punishment that matters? According to John Stuart Mill it is not even the most important one. Today, we frequently hear it said that curtailment of or punishment for disagreeable speech in corporations or in public places is not censorship because the government, mostly, is not doing it. Mill strongly disagreed with such a view. In fact, the core of his argument focuses on social not political tyranny. Already in the introductory lines of his essay, ‘On Liberty,’ he offers “social liberty” as the key matter, insisting on “limits [on] the power which can be legitimately exercised by society [and not just by government] over the individual.”[8] A key passage is worth quoting in full:

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.[9]

In any event, our governments have not quite reached the French or British levels of insane illiberality regarding speech, countries which still prosecute people far more than does the United States for saying things the government says you cannot. Yet, given the socially tyrannical climate on many campuses and elsewhere and the rationalizations of the Baer’s of the world, not to mention measures against so-called fake news on social media and ominous proposals for laws against it as are now under consideration in California, fuller government suffocation of the very notion of free speech in the United States (where liberty is literally mocked on social media) can hardly be ruled out.

At the outset, I claimed that both postmodern thinking and identity politics, towards overthrowing their respective enemies, used ideological forms that mirror or caricature those of their enemies. Postmodernism fought fire with fire (at least in Baer’s example, but it appears, more generally), when it found fault with the reasonable-posing irrationality of Faurisson’s Holocaust denial not for its irrationality, but for its apparent rationalism (which was a pose). In response, postmodernism offered “personal experience and testimony” in place of reason and argument. Fighting fire with fire more directly, identity politics adopted a basic characteristic of racism and bigotry (essentialism) in order to attack racism and bigotry. These examples lend themselves to the argument that rather than countering irrationalism with rationalism (in keeping with an Enlightenment approach), postmodernism and identity politics compound the irrationalism and contribute further to an endarkenment already festering at the heart of Western intellectual culture. This turn of events and their impacts on free expression, if they are not disturbing enough, ought to be considered in light of the following quote from Noam Chomsky’s defense of Robert Faurisson’s right to free speech: “It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.”

Notes.

[1] Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Post-Socialist” Condition, (New York. Routledge, 1997), 19. Fraser 1997, 19

[2] Fraser, 19.

[3] Ibid..

[4] Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995), 74.

[5] Robert F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky, A Life of Dissent, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 182.

[6] See also Diana Johnstone, Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002), 72 – 3, and Peter Brock, Media Cleansing, Dirty Reporting: Journalism and Tragedy in Yugoslavia (Los Angeles: GM Books, 2005), 246–56.

[7] Ann Garrison, “Denying’ the Srebrenica Genocide Because It’s Not True: an Interview with Diana Johnstone,” www.counterpunch.org, July 16, 2015, accessed May 07, 2017, .

[8] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1860), (London: ElecBook, 2001), 1.

[9] Ibid., 12-3.

Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison

Larry Yarbrough was sentenced in 1997 to life without parole for the sale of one ounce of cocaine. It’s hard to imagine someone being sentenced to that much time for such a small amount of drugs. But under the new guidance from Attorney General Sessions we will see more sentences like this handed out. Just last week Sessions told prosecutors to charge drug offenders with the harshest possible sentences they could give allowing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines to kick in in federal cases.

Through the hard work of supporters who advocated for Larry’s release, last year Gov. Mary Fallin gave Larry a commutation of his sentence. This allowed him to see the parole board who then denied his release despite Larry being at deaths door from a very serious heart condition.

On May 16 2017, Yarbrough appeared again before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board and this time he was finally granted parole. He will be released in about a month.

Larry was a non-violent offender who was serving a life sentence for an ounce of cocaine. He has been married for 42 years to his wife Norma and has 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Before his incarceration, Larry and Norma owned and operated a popular BBQ restaurant in Kingfisher where he was known for giving back to his community. During his incarceration he has been a model inmate and has received commendations from the Department of Corrections and nonprofits for training guide dogs for the blind and disabled.

His story is featured in an upcoming documentary “Voices in a Jailhouse : The Larry Yarbrough Story” which examines and in-depth view of the Prison Industrial Complex. The documentary reveals the racism that exists in cases like Larry Yarbrough.

Several years ago I wrote about Larry in a piece titled “How Three Joints and an ounce of Coke Got an Oklahoma Grandfather Life without Parole.” Larry has had many supporters helping him regain his lost freedom. This includes his lawyer Debbie Hampton, Dennis Will, activist Gwendolyn Black and former Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson. According to Sen. Johnson, Larry Yarbrough’s case is an excellent example of disproportionate and unfair sentencing. Compared to sentences received by others for similar amounts of the same drugs (an ounce of powder cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes), Yarbrough’s life-without-parole sentence is clearly excessive.

Larry’s case is one of many that was featured in a report by the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU ) titled A Living Death: Life without Parole for Non Violent Offenses. The report documents thousands of cases of individuals who are sentenced to die in prison for non-violent crimes. It also points out that family members of those sentenced also suffer as prison does not end at the prison wall, it extends far beyond touching many lives.

Mark Faulk an advocate for Yarbrough for many years told me by email of the great news. He said “We are elated that Larry Yarbrough will get to live out the remainder of his life with family and friends, and we hope this victory will provide a road map for others in his situation to find a path to freedom.”

He goes on to say “you know the system is horribly broken when we are celebrating the freedom of a black man in Oklahoma who was wrongly convicted, spent 23 years in prison, and is now in a wheelchair, and the very next day a white police officer in Tulsa is acquitted after killing another unarmed black man. There is still no justice in our justice system.”

Anthony Papa is the manager of media and artists relations for the Drug Policy Alliance. He is the author of This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency.

A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months

While the media and the nation sit transfixed over the Trump scandals and attacks on democracy, those of us who work for justice and peace know that we have to keep working, resisting, and mobilizing people across the country if we are going to have the social, economic and political transformation we need for our survival.

In other words, we’ve only just begun. Instead of giving up, giving in, or throwing in the towel, instead of sitting glued to the tube, we’re going forward. The campaign for a new culture of nonviolence is on!

No, you may say, it’s too much, I need to take a break from the news, from the movement, from the struggle. There’s nothing we can do, anyway. We can’t make a difference. I give up.

That is not only not helpful, it’s simply not true. We have more power than we realize. If we mobilize together and resist, we can prevent injustices, wars and other horrors from occurring. Doing nothing because we are overwhelmed or too dispirited is not helpful to anyone and certainly not the poor, the victims of our wars, or Mother Earth. It’s also not helpful to ourselves. For the sake of our own humanity, our own integrity, our own sanity, we need to carry on the struggle now more than ever, with boldness, creativity and steadfast nonviolence.

To this end, my friends and I at Campaign Nonviolence have issued a new call inviting people to commit themselves to the struggle over the next 18 months, from now through the Congressional elections of November, 2018, to building a movement of movements that connecting the dots of violence and injustice for a groundswell of activism, organizing, marches, demonstrations, and political conversion we’ve not yet seen.

“The time has come for us to pool our nonviolent power to resist the tragedy we face and to signal, once and for all, our determination to build a world of peace, racial justice, economic equality, and a healthy planet for all,” the statement begins. “We call on you—and all people everywhere—to join us in training for nonviolent action, in creating community for nonviolent action, and in taking nonviolent action in this challenging time.”

This call to mobilize over the next eighteen months is not just an electoral strategy, we insist. What we want is “a referendum for a nonviolent future.”

Campaign Nonviolence proposes the following concrete steps:

First, join the September 16-24, 2017 national week of action, where more than 1000 marches and rallies calling for an end to war, racism, poverty and environmental destruction and for a new culture of peace and nonviolence will take place across the nation covering all 50 states. (Register your event at www.campaignnonviolence.org)

Second, take a nonviolence training and then organize nonviolence trainings in your community.

We all need to brush up on our nonviolence, and these trainings offer principles and methods for nonviolent, strategies and guidance and the hand’s on help of role-playing and practicing your nonviolent response. (Look for trainings and trainers on the Nonviolence Hub co-sponsored by Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene at www.nonviolencetraininghub.org.)

Third, form and join an affinity group. We are in deep water these days, and we cannot sustain our nonviolent resistance or build a movement on our own; we need one another. We encourage everyone to form or join an affinity group of just 5 to 10 people where you can support one another for public action, study nonviolence, reflect on the current situation and envision a way forward. Affinity groups have long played a part in our movements. In Latin America, where they are called “base communities,” they are practically a requirement for survival.

Fourth, join the Nonviolent Cities project and announce your city as a “Nonviolent City.” Based on the ground-breaking work of “Nonviolent Carbondale,” Illinois, the Nonviolent Cities project supports local leaders around the country who are envisioning their community as a city of nonviolence. With more than 40 cities currently exploring this vision, Campaign Nonviolence calls upon activists, organizers, students and religious and political leaders to use this tool as a way to organize locally, resist injustice, end violence, and set a new path for your community to one day become a culture of peace and nonviolence.

Fifth, plan a local or regional gathering or conference in the Spring, 2018, to build for the fall convergence, help spread the word, and mobilize the groundswell of public action. We encourage everyone everywhere to organize your own day-long planning sessions or retreats next spring so that we can stay focused on the task of movement building.

Sixth, mobilize thousands of local public actions across the nation during the Campaign Nonviolence national week of action next September 15-23, 2018, as well as come to Washington, D.C. for the Campaign Nonviolence Convergence, where we will conduct nonviolence training and a day of lobbying for justice and disarmament on Capitol Hill, and a silent march from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to the White House. With the impending mid-term Congressional elections, we will call for a referendum for a nonviolent future.

“We are in new territory, and things will likely get worse before they get better,” our call declares. But they will definitely get worse if we all do not think big, take bold action, envision a new future, and join together across every divide in an unprecedented historic movement. We need to commit ourselves now to redoubling our efforts over these next 18 months, to mobilize like never before. In the past, if we were peaceful people, we now also have to become activists. If we were activists, now have to become organizers. We all have to step up to the plate in new mature ways and meet this time head on with boldness, love and determination.

Through the brilliant work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, we know that nonviolent strategies for social change are twice as effective as violent ones, that when people gather together to do the impossible through nonviolent movements, positive change usually occurs.

But we also know this: movements which activate 3.5 percent of the population are very likely to succeed. For us, that means 12 million people. I believe we can do that. Over the course of the next 18 months, we can build an unprecedented movement of movements to challenge the violence of our country and lay new groundwork for a culture of peace and nonviolence.

“A culture of nonviolence is not an unattainable dream,” Pope Francis wrote last month in his open letter to Chicago, “but a path that has produced decisive results.  The consistent practice of nonviolence has broken barriers, bound wounds, healed nations.”

I hope we can all spread the vision, continue to build up our grassroots movement of nonviolence, and mobilize the nation not just for steadfast resistance but the long haul transformation into a new culture of nonviolence.

To read the call, visit www.campaignnonviolence.org.

Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other

Our Prime Minister here in Canada would like us to believe that the ideology that shaped Israel is designed to fight anti-Jewish prejudice. But, even when anti-Semitism was a significant political force in Canada, Zionism largely represented a chauvinistic, colonialist way of thinking.

On Israel Independence Day earlier this month Justin Trudeau delivered a speech by video to a rally in Montréal and published a statement marking the occasion. “Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism”, declared the PM in a rare reference by a top politician to Israel’s state ideology.

Israel apologists often link anti-Zionism and anti-Jewishness, but it’s disingenuous. Canadian Zionism has long been comfortable with anti-Jewish sentiment and it has never been primarily an anti-prejudicial ideology.

When anti-Semitism was a social force of consequence in Canada it was not uncommon for anti-Jewish politicians to back Zionism. During a July 1922 speech to the Zionist Federation of Canada, anti-Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie King “was effusive with praise for Zionism,” explains David Bercuson in Canada and the Birth of Israel. King told participants their aspirations were “in consonance” with the greatest ideals of the “Englishman.” According to Zachariah Kay in Canada and Palestine: The Politics of Non-Commitment, long-time Alberta Premier E.C. Manning “allowed his name to be associated with the [pre—state Zionist organization] Canadian Palestine Committee, but was known for anti-Jewish statements on his ‘back to the bible’ Sunday radio broadcasts.”

Known to support Zionism as a way to deal with the “Jewish problem,” in 1934 Prime Minister R.B. Bennett opened the annual United Palestine Appeal fundraiser with a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Lauding the Balfour declaration and British conquest of Palestine, Bennett said, “scriptural prophecy is being fulfilled. The restoration of Zion has begun.”

At a policy level the government’s aversion to accepting post-World War II Jewish refugees was a factor in Canadian diplomats promoting the anti-Palestinian UN partition plan. Anardent proponent of the Zionist cause during the 1947 international negotiations dealing with the British mandate of Palestine, Canadian diplomat Lester Pearson believed sending Jewish refugees to Palestine was the only sensible solution to their plight.

Compared to six decades ago, anti-Semitism today barely registers in Canada. But, embers of anti-Jewish Zionism linger. Over the past decade the Charles-McVety-led Canada Christian College has repeatedly organized pro-Israel events – often with B’nai Brith – yet in the 1990s the College was in a dispute with the Canadian Jewish Congress over courses designed to convert Jews. Canada’s most influential Christian Zionist activist, McVety also heads the Canadian branch of Christians United for Israel, which believes Jews need to convert or burn in Hell upon the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This dancing with the enemy is nothing new. Historically some Jews aligned with anti-Jewish Zionists. During World War I many Canadian Jewish Zionists enthusiastically supported Britain and recruited young men to help conquer Palestine, even though London was allied with Russia’s notoriously anti-Semitic czar. (At that time Zionism was commonly promoted as a way for Jews to escape czarist anti-Semitism.)

After World War II some Jewish Zionists tapped into anti-Jewish sentiment to advance their cause. In Canada’s Jews: a People’s journey Gerald Tulchinsky reports, “fully cognizant of the government’s reluctance to admit Jews to Canada, the [Zionist] delegation reminded [anti- Semitic Prime Minister Mackenzie] King that in the post war years, when ‘multitudes of uprooted people … would be knocking on the doors of all countries,’ Palestine could accommodate many of the Jews who might want to come to Canada.”

It is true that the Zionist colonies in Palestine absorbed tens of thousands of refugees after World War II and provided a safe haven to many Jews escaping Nazi persecution in the 1930s. But, its also true that Zionists were willing to stoke anti-Semitism and kill Jews if it served their nationalistic/colonialist purposes. To foil British efforts to relocate Jewish refugees fleeing Europe to Mauritius, in 1940 the Jewish Agency, the Zionist government-in-waiting in Palestine, killed 267 mostly Jews by bombing the ship Patria. In State of Terror: How Terrorism Created Modern Israel Tom Suarez concludes that the Zionist leadership was prepared to kill Jews if it aided the cause, because “persecuted Jews served the political project, not the other way around.”

Generally presented as a response to late 1800s European anti-Semitism — “Zionism … developed in the late 19th century in response to European antisemitism”, according to a recent story on the pro-Palestinian website Canada Talks Israel Palestine — the Theodore Herzl led Zionist movement was in fact spurred by the Christian, nationalist and imperialist ideologies sweeping Europe at the time.

After two millennia in which Jewish restoration was viewed as a spiritual event to be brought about through divine intervention, Zionism finally took root among some Jews after two centuries of active Protestant Zionism. “Christian proto-Zionists [existed] in England 300 years before modern Jewish Zionism emerged,” notes Evangelics and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism. Until the mid-1800s Zionism was an almost entirely non-Jewish movement. And yet it was quite active. Between 1796 and 1800, notes Non-Jewish Zionism: its roots in Western history, there were at least 50 books published in Europe about the Jews’ return to Palestine. The movement reflected the more literal readings of the Bible that flowed out of the Protestant Reformation.

Another factor driving Jewish Zionism was the nationalism sweeping Europe in the late 1800s. Germany, Italy and a number of eastern European states were all established during this period.

Alongside nationalist and biblical literalist influences, Zionism took root at the height of European imperialism. In the lead-up to World War I the European “scramble” carved up Africa and then the Middle East. (Europeans controlled about 10 percent of Africa in 1870 but by 1914 only Ethiopia was independent of European control. Liberia was effectively a US colony.) At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903 Herzl and two-thirds of delegates voted to pursue British Secretary of State for the Colonies Joseph Chamberlain’s proposal to allocate 13,000 square km in East Africa as “Jewish territory … on conditions which will enable members to observe their national customs.”

As much as it was a reaction to anti-Semitism, Zionism was an attempt by European Jews to benefit from and participate in colonialism.

In Canada today Jewish support for Zionism has little to do with combating prejudice. If Zionism were simply a response to anti-Semitism why hasn’t the massive decline of anti-Jewishness lessened its popularity in the Jewish community? Instead, the leadership and a significant segment of Canadian Jewry have become increasingly focused on supporting a highly militarized state that continues to deny its indigenous population the most basic political rights.

In 2011 the leading donors in the community scrapped the 100-year-old Canadian Jewish Congress and replaced it with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. As the name change suggests, this move represented a shift away from local Jewish concerns and towards ever greater lobbying in favour of Israeli policy.

With institutional barriers to advancement overcome a half century ago and an ever more secular society, Rabbis and Jewish organizations have to find a purpose. Israel has become many peoples primary connection to Judaism. In Understanding the Zionist Religion, Jonathan Kay wrote, “in some cases I have observed, it is not an exaggeration to say that Zionism is not just the dominant factor in Jews’ political lives—but also in their spiritual lives.”

Between the late 1960s and mid-2000s there was an inverse correlation between Jewish votes and pro-Israel governments. Though they were less pro-Israel, Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien gained more support from Canadian Jewry than Brian Mulroney or Stephen Harper in his first victory in 2006.

The political trajectory of the Montréal riding of Mount Royal provides an interesting insight into the Jewish community’s shift towards focusing on Israel. Repeatedly re-elected in a riding that was then 50% Jewish, Pierre Trudeau distanced Ottawa from Israeli conduct more than any other prime minister before or since. Still, Pierre Trudeau was incredibly popular with the Jewish community. Representing Jewry’s ascension to the heights of Canada’s power structures, Trudeau appointed the first Jew to the federal cabinet, Herb Gray, and brought in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which strengthened religious freedoms. But, of recent the riding has become a battleground.

During the 2015 federal election Mount Royal was the only riding in greater Montréal the Conservative Party seriously contested. Even though Liberal party candidate AnthonyHousefather is a staunch Israel advocate, he won his seat because of non-Jewish voters.

A similar dynamic is at play in the centre of Canadian Jewish life. Possibly the best placed of any in the world, the Toronto Jewish community faces little economic or political discrimination and has above average levels of education and income. Yet it’s the North American base of the Zionist extremist Jewish Defense League. It’s also a power base for an explicitly racist, colonialist, institution. In what was “reported to be the largest kosher dinner in Canadian history”, three years ago 4,000 individuals packed the Toronto Convention Centre to raise money for the Jewish National Fund in honour of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

No matter what Justin Trudeau says, anti-Zionism and anti-Jewish prejudice have little to do with each other.