For real progressives, Jill Stein is now the only choice

In a CNN town hall, Green party candidate Jill Stein showed that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein speaks during a rally of Bernie Sanders supporters outside the Wells Fargo Center on the second day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 26, 2016. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
‘Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.’ Photograph: Dominick Reuter/Reuters

This was perhaps the only opportunity the presidential candidate I have endorsed – Jill Stein – and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, to have the ear of a large portion of the mainstream American electorate. There was little room for error.

They spent little time directly criticizing Donald Trump. This was a wise move, since virtually no one among Stein’s potential base of support is considering Trump as a viable option. Instead, she focused on Hillary Clinton.

At a moment where the Clinton campaign is still attempting to secure the support of frustrated Bernie Sanders primary voters, Stein demonstrated that Clinton’s brand of liberalism does not represent the tone or spirit of the Sanders campaign. By highlighting Clinton’s pro-corporate politics and active role in hawkish foreign policy, Stein raised considerable doubt about Clinton’s leftist bona fides.

“I will have trouble sleeping at night if Donald Trump is elected,” Stein said. “I will also have trouble sleeping at night if Hillary Clinton is elected.”

Throughout the event, both Stein and Baraka rightly refuted the idea that superficial identity politics are enough to constitute a progressive movement. Stein destroyed the notion that a vote for Clinton is a feminist move, as Clinton’s pro-war stances and neoliberal economic policies have compromised the lives and prosperity of women and families around the globe. Baraka drew from Barack Obama’s presidential record to show that electing a black president has not signaled a turn away from anti-black racism at the systemic or interpersonal levels.

Stein also raised doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness. While these arguments are not new, they carried a different level of veracity when separated from the hypocritical and sexist “crooked Hillary” rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Drawing from Clinton’s own anti-Trump playbook, Stein used Clinton’s email scandal and missteps abroad as a springboard to question Clinton’s judgment.

Of course, such critiques would have been more effective if the possibility of a nuclear armed Trump weren’t lingering in the back of voter’s minds, but they nonetheless focused appropriate scrutiny to the secretary’s actions.

But Stein and Baraka did not merely tell voters what to vote against, they also gave them something to vote for.

Throughout the night, the candidates used their time to articulate the Green party’s vision for the future. Specifically, Stein talked about workable plans to create peace in the Middle East, a plan that includes nuclear disarmament, a call to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and a loosening of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization’s economic strangleholds on the globe’s most vulnerable nations.

Baraka offered a workable vision of a nation without state violence, inner cities without police as occupying forces and vulnerable citizens not viewed as enemy combatants. For the first time since Bernie Sanders stepped out of the Democratic race, the American public was given an opportunity to dream out loud for a few hours about freedom, justice and true democracy.

Despite the town hall’s success, the Green party has a long way to go to snag a significant slice of undecided, Independent and Clinton-leaning voters. The challenge of the Stein-Baraka campaign will be to convince voters of a long-term political vision, one that isn’t prisoner to our collective obsession with individual elections or hyperbolic fear of particular candidates.

They will have to persuade voters to believe that the two-party system, when underwritten by endless corporate money, does not offer the “lesser of two evils” but a fundamental threat to democracy itself. Surely, they have a long way to go to achieve these goals. But they’ve made an incredible start.

The Birthday by FIDEL CASTRO


Tomorrow I will turn 90 years old. I was born in a territory called Birán, in the eastern region of Cuba. It’s known by that name, although it has never appeared on a map. Given its good conduct it was known for close friends and, of course, a stronghold of political representatives and inspectors who involved in any commercial or productive activity typical of the neocolonized countries of the world.

On one occasion I accompanied my father to Pinares de Mayarí. I was eight or nine years old. How he enjoyed talking when he left the house in Birán! There he was the proprietor of the land where sugar cane, pasture and other agricultural crops were planted. But in Pinares de Mayarí he was not a proprietor, but a leaseholder, like many Spaniards, who were the owners of a continent under the rights granted by a papal bull, of whose existence none of the peoples and human beings of this continent were aware. The transmitted knowledge was already largely treasures of humanity.

The altitude rises to approximately 500 meters, with inclined, rocky slopes, where the vegetation is scarce and at times hostile. Trees and rocks obstruct transit; suddenly, at a certain height, a vast plateau begins which I estimate extends over approximately 200 square kilometers, with rich deposits of nickel, chromium, manganese and other minerals of great economic value. From that plateau dozens of trucks of pines of great size and quality were extracted daily.

Note that I have not mentioned the gold, platinum, palladium, diamonds, copper, tin, and others that at the same time have become symbols of the economic values that human society, in its present stage of development, requires.

A few years before the triumph of the Revolution my father died. Beforehand, he suffered a lot.

Of his three sons, the second and third were absent and distant. In revolutionary activities both fulfilled their duty. I had said that I knew who could replace me if the adversary was successful in its elimination plans. I almost laughed about the Machiavellian plans of the presidents of the United States.

On January 27, 1953, after the treacherous coup by Batista in 1952, a page of the history of our Revolution was written: university students and youth organizations, alongside the people, carried out the first March of the Torches to commemorate the centenary of the birth of José Martí.

I had already reached the conviction that no organization was prepared for the fight we were organizing. There was complete disorientation from the political parties that mobilized the masses of citizens, from the left to the right and the center, sickened by the politicking that reigned in the country.

At the age of 6 a teacher full of ambitions, who taught in the small public school of Birán, convinced my family that I should travel to Santiago de Cuba to accompany my older sister who would enter a highly prestigious convent school. Including me was a skill of that very teacher from the little school in Birán. She, splendidly treated in the house in Birán, where she ate at the same table with the family, was convinced of the necessity of my presence. Certainly, I was in better health than my brother Ramón – who passed away in recent months – and for a long time was a classmate. I do not want to be extensive, only that the years of that period of hunger were very tough for the majority of the population.

I was sent, after three years, to the Colegio La Salle in Santiago de Cuba, where I was enrolled in the first grade. Almost three years past without them ever taking me to the cinema.

Thus began my life. Maybe I will write, if I have time, about this. Excuse me for not having done so before now, it’s just I have ideas of what a child can and should be taught. I believe that a lack of education is the greatest harm that can be done.

Humankind today faces the greatest risk of its history. Specialists in these areas can do the most for the inhabitants of this planet, whose number rose, from one billion at the end of 1800, to seven billion at the beginning of 2016. How many will our planet have within a few years?

The brightest scientists, who now number several thousand, are those who can answer this question and many others of great consequence.

I wish to express my most profound gratitude for the shows of respect, the greetings and the gifts that I have received in recent days, which give me the strength to reciprocate through ideas that I will transmit to the militants of our Party and relevant organizations.

Modern technical means have allowed for scrutiny of the universe. Great powers such as China and Russia can not be subject to threats to impose the use of nuclear weapons. They are peoples of great courage and intelligence. I believe that the speech by the President of the United States when he visited Japan lacked stature, and it lacked an apology for the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima, in spite of the fact that they knew the effects of the bomb. The attack on Nagasaki was equally criminal, a city that the masters of life and death chose at random. It is for that reason that we must hammer on about the necessity of preserving peace, and that no power has the right to kill millions of human beings.

Fidel Castro’s column appears in Granma.


Listen, your party is the “neo” kind of liberal

Why do the Democrats always disappoint their most loyal supporters? Thomas Frank’s excellent book helps explains the party’s betraying ways, says Lance Selfa.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

THE NEW York Times headline on July 28 said it all: “After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore.”

Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick’s article proceeded to document the myriad ways in which corporations, from the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group to for-profit college giant Apollo Education Group, peddled influence at fancy parties around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

Yes, that Democratic convention. The same one that featured dozens of speakers denouncing Wall Street and crushing student debt? Whose presidential nominee pledged to get big money out of elections?

Turns out that “it’s business as usual,” as Libby Watson of the Sunlight Foundation told the Times writers.

Author Thomas Frank wouldn’t be surprised by this latest glimpse of how the Democratic Party does business. His Listen, Liberal is an engaging and witty demolition of the party, especially its modern post-New Deal incarnation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE DEMOCRATS don’t see it as a contradiction to issue election-year platitudes about supporting “working families” while courting millions from the “rocket scientist” financial engineers behind the Wall Street hedge funds or the self-styled “disrupters” who run for-profit educational corporations.


Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 320 pages, $12.99. Find out more at

As the GEICO TV ad might say, “It’s what they do.”

To Frank, this provides much of the explanation for why the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment for those who believed in candidate Obama’s message of “hope and change” in 2008.

In 2008, the economy was melting down, taking free-market orthodoxy with it. The Democrats swept to power in Congress and the White House. If there was ever a time that the conditions were ripe for a bold reformist program–which would have been massively popular–this was it.

Yet it didn’t happen. Two years later, the Tea Party Republicans took back the House in the midterm elections, and the administration deepened its commitment to austerity and the search for a “grand bargain” for bipartisan support to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Frank rehearses the standard liberal excuses for Obama’s failures, quoting the president himself about how hard it is to get things done (“It’s hard to turn an ocean liner”). Frank then proceeds to knock these down, one by one.

He shows convincingly how, using only executive action, Obama could have unwound the Bush administration bailouts for the Wall Street bankers and pressed bankruptcy judges to reduce or wipe out the mortgage holders’ debt. At the very least, he could have refused to allow executives from the insurance giant AIG to collect their multimillion-dollar bonuses from the taxpayers’ dime.

Instead, Obama and his Treasury team of Ivy Leaguers on leave from Wall Street reassured the banksters that he was on their side. Frank reprises the critical scene from Ron Suskind’s 2010 book Confidence Men: A description of a high-level meeting that began with Obama warning Wall Street that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks”–and ended with a relieved CEO telling Suskind that Obama “could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t–he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

As Frank concludes:

Having put so much faith in his transformative potential, his followers need to come to terms with how non-transformative he has been. It wasn’t because the ocean liner would have been too hard to turn, or because those silly idealists were unrealistic; it was because [the administration] didn’t want to do those things.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW DID the Democrats come to power amid the worst crisis since the Great Depression and basically operate according to the same-old-same-old model? In trying to explain this, Frank lands on an explanation that is inadequate–more on that below–despite the insights it offers.

To him, the Obama team, like Bill Clinton before him–and probably Hillary Clinton after–couldn’t conceive of a different course because they approached problems from their vantage point as wealthy, highly educated professionals.

Like the whiz kids on Wall Street or health care industry policy wonks, they appreciated complex solutions that balanced multiple interests while generally preserving the status quo. Think of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, whose enforcement regulations are still being written six years after its passage.

The roots of this worship of professional expertise and support for market-based policies, according to Frank, can be found in party operatives’ desire to build a new Democratic coalition to replace the New Deal coalition of the 1930s through the 1960s. From George McGovern’s early 1970s “new politics” to the Democratic Leadership Council’s “new Democrats” of the 1980s and 1990s, these figures sought to distance the party from organized labor in favor of the “new middle class” of credentialed professionals.

Voting statistics show that college graduates still tend to be Republican territory more than Democratic. But there’s little doubt that a middle-class ideology of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism” reigns supreme in the Democratic Party today.

To show this in full bloom, Frank considers the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston as exemplars. Both depend heavily on the “knowledge industries” of higher education, finance and health care. And both have been Democratic bastions for generations.

If the Democratic mayors of Boston and a Democratic-dominated statehouse hand out tax breaks to corporations, enact anti-labor pension “reforms,” and promote charter schools or amenities catering to middle-class professionals, it isn’t because Republicans forced them to. It’s because the Democrats actually believe this stuff, and profit from it.

In this “blue state model,” Frank writes:

Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Left behind are places like Lynn, Massachusetts, a once thriving industrial town, now depopulated and deindustrialized–“engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats,” Frank writes. Or Decatur, Illinois, which Frank revisits 20 years after he had reported on the “War Zone” labor battles that dramatized the death of the American dream for thousands of blue-collar unionized workers

In the mid-1990s, Frank writes:

Decatur was far away from Washington, and its problems made no impression that I could detect on Bill Clinton’s wise brain trust. The New Economy was dawning, creativity was triumphing, old industry was evaporating, and those fortunate enough to be among the ascendant were absolutely certain about the direction history was taking.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AS WITH so much about the Democratic Party today, all this somehow works its way back to the Clintons.

Frank’s assessment of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office in the 1990s is a crucial antidote to the free-flowing Clinton nostalgia of 2016. Frank says that while he was writing the book:

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for–you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him– apart from his obvious personal affability, I mean? It proved difficult for my libs…

No one mentioned any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery– he rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office, he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

Frank concedes a few small positive efforts by Clinton: a small increase in taxes on the rich, a failed attempt at health care reform. But the biggest initiatives Clinton won were things that would have been considered Republican policies of an earlier era: the 1994 crime bill that put the “New Jim Crow” described by Michelle Alexander into overdrive; the destruction of the federal welfare system; free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and various forms of financial deregulation.

Frank notes that Clinton was conducting backdoor negotiations with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a scheme to privatize Social Security. That attempt collapsed during the impeachment battle connected to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Frank’s crucial point is this. It took a Democrat–one skilled in the double-talk of “feeling the pain” of ordinary people and bolstering those “who work hard and play by the rules”–to push through a wish list of conservative policies that not even Ronald Reagan could win. As Frank writes:

What distinguishes the political order we live under now is a consensus, at least in the political mainstream, on certain economic questions–and what made that consensus happen was the capitulation of the Democrats. Republicans could denounce big government all they wanted, but it took a Democrat to declare that “the era of big government is over” and to make it stick. This was Bill Clinton’s historic achievement. Under his direction, as I wrote back then, the opposition “ceased to oppose.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

MUCH OF what Frank writes will sound very familiar to regular readers of Socialist Worker. But for liberals who might know Frank from his What’s the Matter with Kansas? or The Wrecking Crew, Listen, Liberal might feel like a bucket of cold water. Especially for those who might be “ready for Hillary” in 2016.

For my money, the entire book is worth the price of the chapter “Liberal Gilt,” where Frank skewers the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and, by extension, what he calls the “liberal class’s virtue quest.”

At the center of this chapter is, of course, Hillary Clinton, whose public persona of “doing good” for “women and children” dissolves against a backdrop of her support for ending welfare in the 1990s and pushing poor women in developing countries into debt through “microcredit.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton marketed global entrepreneurship and the endless “war on terror” as crusades on behalf of women. Through “partnering” on these initiatives with the Clinton Foundation or the State Department, the likes of Walmart and Goldman Sachs can win praise for their social consciousness–or what Frank brilliantly describes as their “purchasing liberalism offsets”:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Frank weaves this analysis around an unforgettable eyewitness account of a Clinton Foundation celebration–held on the socialist holiday of International Women’s Day, no less! The event, at midtown Manhattan’s Best Buy (now Playstation) Theater, touted entrepreneurship for women in the global South. The Clintons, Melinda Gates, Hollywood stars, fashion magazine editors and Fortune 500 leaders came together for an afternoon of self-congratulation.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

YET FOR all that is spot-on in Frank’s critique of the Democrats, the book’s analysis is flawed on two interrelated points.

First, its theory of the Democrats as a party of educated professionals suffers from what might be called a crude class analysis.

When Marxists argue that the Democrats and Republicans are “capitalist” parties, we don’t mean that a cabal of capitalists acts as their puppet masters from behind the scenes. We mean that through various means–from political contributions to expert advice to control of the media–various capitalist interests assure that the mainstream political parties implement policies that allow the capitalist system to thrive and reproduce itself.

Scholars such as Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers have documented why we should understand shifts in the mainstream capitalist parties as shifts in blocs of capital rather than shifts in voting bases. Ferguson has even demonstrated how Obama’s support from Silicon Valley is linked to the administration’s care and nurturance of the surveillance state.

Frank doesn’t cite any of this analysis. Thus, in arguing that the Democrats’ current embrace of Silicon Valley neoliberalism is somehow a product of “well-graduated” Democrats’ fascination with “complexity,” “innovation” and “disruptive” app-driven services like Uber and AirBnB, Frank misses the close integration of the Democratic Party with the capitalist class.

The Democrats may have been capitalism’s B-Team over the last generation, but they’re not the Washington Generals, forever bested by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Second, understanding the Democrats as a party of Ivy League professionals–and not as one of the two big business parties in the U.S.–implies that it can be reclaimed as the “party of the people” or the party of the “working class,” as Frank believes it was in its New Deal heyday.

This characterization forgets that, in many ways, the Democrats were capitalism’s A-Team during that period. And if the Trumpization of the Republicans continues, the Democrats may end up as the first-stringers again. The 2016 Clinton campaign certainly hopes so.

Listen, Liberal is a great read for this election season. While Frank concludes that the state of affairs that brought us to Clinton against Trump “cannot go on,” he’s not sure where to go. Charting that course is a challenge the left faces today.

Leading US historians issue warning on the rise of Trump


By Gabriel Black
20 July 2016

Nearly 800 historians, academics and professionals across the United States have signed an “Open Letter to the American People” warning of the danger, seen from a historical perspective, of Trump and “Trumpism.”

The recently formed group, Historians Against Trump, explains in its letter that “The lessons of history compel us to speak out against Trump.” The letter lists as members of the Historians Against Trump Organizing Committee Brian Dolber, Amy Harth, Caroline Luce and David Schlitt.

The letter, posted on the Internet on July 11, states, in part:

“Historians of different specialties, eras and regions understand the enduring appeal of demagogues, the promise and peril of populism, and the political uses of bigotry and scapegoating. Historians understand the impact these phenomena have upon society’s most vulnerable and upon a nation’s conscience. The lessons of history compel us to speak out against a movement rooted in fear and authoritarianism.”

Alluding to the fascistic and right-wing populist movements that sprang up during the first half of the 20th Century, the letter includes a photograph of Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First rally in October of 1941. Lindbergh, the famous aviator, was a fascist sympathizer and anti-Semite whose demagogic America First speeches downplayed the crimes of the Nazis and promoted neutrality in World War II.

The letter’s authors claim not to support any particular party or politician, but to be united by the belief that Trump “poses a threat to American democracy.” They denounce Trump’s attacks on the press and highlight the Republican presidential candidate’s misogyny, racism and bigoted attacks on immigrants. They describe Trump’s spoken and written words as an “archive of know-nothingism and blinding self-regard.” They characterize Trump’s campaign as one of violence “against individuals and groups; against memory and accountability; against historical analysis and fact.”

The most significant aspect of the letter is the writers’ insistence that history has something to say about the present, and that Trump, far from an accident or aberration—as he is often characterized by Democrats and Republicans alike—is the outcome of a historical process of political degeneration of American society.

The authors write:

“Donald Trump’s candidacy is the latest chapter in a troubled narrative many decades in the making. In another era, civil society institutions such as the academy, the free press and the judiciary were counted on to safeguard constitutional democracy. That this is no longer the case cannot be blamed solely on Trump. Donald Trump’s candidacy has profited from the fears of people living precariously and a political culture of spectacle and cynicism, both of which long predate his emergence as a candidate. The impulses and ideologies that animate the Trump campaign will not disappear once he is defeated in November.”

This statement is correct, as far as it goes. But it avoids an examination of the relation of the process it describes to the class and economic interests that largely determine the course of American politics. Nevertheless, the recognition that the Trump phenomenon reflects a broader social crisis represents a certain advance beyond the platitudes offered up by the Democratic Party and its apologists.

In a pointed criticism of the complacency that prevails among American academics, the letter encourages historians to undertake the task of “equipping the public with historical skills and narratives that are ‘factual, accurate, comprehensive, meaningful, useful, and resistant to cynical manipulators who sell snake oil as historical truth.’”

Not surprisingly, this statement has come under sharp attack by a leading postmodern academic.

In a column published in the New York Times on July 15, Stanley Fish, a literary theorist and legal scholar, denounced the Historians Against Trump letter for its “hubris” in claiming that “historians, because of their training, are uniquely objective observers.”

Fish headed Duke University’s English Department from 1986 to 1992 and now has a visiting professorship at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He is a frequent contributor to both the Wall Street Journal and theNew York Times .

In this op-ed response to the professors’ letter, he writes:

“By dressing up their obviously partisan views as ‘the lessons of history,’ the signatories to the letter present themselves as the impersonal transmitters of a truth that just happens to flow through them. In fact they are merely people with history degrees, which means that they have read certain books, taken and taught certain courses and written scholarly essays, often on topics of interest only to other practitioners in the field.”

Fish continues:

“While this disciplinary experience qualifies them to ask and answer discipline-specific questions, it does not qualify them to be our leaders and guides as we prepare to exercise our franchise in a general election. Academic expertise is not a qualification for delivering political wisdom.”

Fish, in short, asks the professors to stick to their “discipline,” telling them that their place is in the classroom where they teach students to ask the right questions and discern good evidence from bad.

It must be asked, if historical knowledge is a purely academic affair—which Fish makes it out to be—what is the use of studying history? If history has nobearing on politics, then what is the point of it?

As a literary scholar, Fish is known for his 1982 book Is There a Text in This Class? published by Harvard University Press. Harvard’s blurb for the book explains that “in arguing for the right of the reader to interpret and in effect create the literary work, he [Fish] skillfully avoids the trap of subjectivity.”

It is entirely unsurprising that Fish would be repulsed by a section of historians who feel compelled by the “lessons of history” to counter Trump’s “violence” against “historical analysis and fact.” The truth is that Fish and his postmodern cohorts are, in their own way, an expression of the same “culture of spectacle and cynicism” that produced Trump.

The Historians Against Trump document has been signed by at least 786 people. Leading historians such as Ellen Carol DuBois (University of California, Los Angeles), Geoff Eley (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Glenda Gilmore (Yale University), Mary Hancock (University of California, Santa Barbara), Mary Nolan (New York University), Thomas McAfee (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Deborah Dash Moore (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Claire Potter (The New School), Vicki Ruiz (University of California, Irvine), Maurice Isserman (Hamilton), Valerie Johnson (Bennett College) and Kevin Mattson (Ohio University) have added their names.

The letter can be accessed here.

One group is responsible for America’s culture of violence: men

Police officers

Melissa Batchelor Warnke

On Thursday morning, a fire alarm in the Los Angeles Times’ building went off. Fortunately, the dozens of office alarms I’ve heard over the years have always been drills or misfiring systems. For the first time, instead of begrudgingly grabbing my belongings and traipsing downstairs, I was afraid. For the first time, the thought in my mind wasn’t “drill” but “shooter.”

Americans are united in our fear of violence and divided on which members of our society are most likely to perpetrate it. Some of these finger-pointing conversations are productive; they teach us how to address and reduce violence. Some are unproductive; they are rooted in ignorance and reinforce dangerous stereotypes.

In the wake of the Orlando, Fla., shooting, some conservative politicians called for the use of the term “radical Islam” to label the violent movement with which Omar Mateen identified himself. In the wake of the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, many called for a review of violence by law enforcement against black Americans.And after Dallas, some piled on the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting that the gunman was spurred to murder because he’d made reference to the group. Others use the term “black-on-black violence” to refer to the killings of poor black Americans in their communities, playing into what author Ta-Nehisi Coates has labeled “the enduring myth of black criminality.”

What we don’t talk about is how the greatest predictor of violence isn’t religion, occupation or race. It’s gender.

In the United States, 98% of those who commit mass shootings are male; 98% of theofficers who have shot and killed civilians are male; 90% of those who commit homicide by any means are male; and 80% of those arrested for all violent crimes — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault — are male.

When that fire alarm rang at the Times’ building, the image of “shooter” that flashed through my mind wasn’t identifiably white, black, Christian or Muslim. But there was no question in my mind that person was male.

When you look at the numbers, one thing emerges over and over: Violent female offenders are unlikely to kill people they don’t know. Most mass shootings are committed against strangers, although there are notable exceptions, such as in San Bernardino. When women commit murder, their victim is a stranger only 7% of the time. When men commit murder, their victim is a stranger 25% of the time.

If women are less likely to kill strangers, could increasing the number of women on the police force reduce officer-involved killings? A 2002 study by the National Center for Women and Policing shows that, although women comprise 12.7% of sworn police personnel in urban centers, only 5% of citizen complaints for excessive force involve female police officers. The average male officer is two to three times more likely to be named in an excessive force complaint.

“That was nearly 15 years ago,” you may say. “Let’s see some newer data on the role of gender in policing.” I agree. You might also wonder whether male officers are far more likely than female ones to choose assignments in which drawing a weapon is a real possibility.

It’s a significantly under-studied area — which is why it’s so crucial to talk about the role men play in America’s epidemic of violence. We need serious, current research in order to understand why male police officers are more violent in their interactions with citizens and how the culture of policing can be changed.

There are myriad theories as to why men are nearly 50 times more likely to commit murder than women. Some neuroscientists say testosterone is directly connected to aggression and competition, attitudes that are correlated with violence. Some evolutionary psychologists say that more aggressive men have historically been able to procure more women, food and land. Some psychotherapists have argued that men are raised to suppress vulnerable emotions, which leads them to become overwhelmed and express pain physically rather than verbally. Some sociologists, meanwhile, have found a correlation between violent videogame play and increased aggression in the real world, while other studies find no strong link between these games and violent acts.

Regardless of whether there is a causal relationship, popular entertainment, such as video games and action movies, teaches men from an early age that violence is an expression of strength.

Ostensibly, the discrepancy could simply be that men are more likely to kill people than women because they are more able; a man may have the strength to beat or strangle a woman to death, whereas a woman may have the strength only to injure a man. But if physicality alone, rather than brain chemistry or socialization, were the reason that men kill at a much higher rate than women, then we would expect guns to be a leveling technology. The statistics, however, do not bear this out. From 1980 to 2014, the gender gap in gun ownership closed by 17%. Yet the rates at which men and women kill have remained relatively stable.

The reality is that we don’t know exactly why men are exponentially more prone to violence. If we are going to reduce mass shootings, officer-involved killings and the culture of violence in America, however, we need to talk about it.

Batchelor Warnke is an intern in The Times’ Opinion section. Follow her on Twitter @velvetmelvis

Study reveals mass homelessness, hunger among California State University students


By Kevin Martinez
6 July 2016

The California State University (CSU) system released a study last month that documented the rise of hunger and homelessness among the student body. The study, which can be accessed here, reported that of the 474,600 students spread across 23 campuses, 8 to 12 percent are homeless, and 21 to 24 percent go hungry.

If anything these figures, scandalous as they are, are an underestimation. The CSU system is the first public university to study this issue, which has gone largely unreported in the corporate media. Due to the stigma attached to identifying oneself as homeless and hungry, many students do not report their problems to the right authorities and do not know where to turn. The term “starving student” has almost normalized the trend.

In many of the schools, there exists no support for students in either housing or food. Less than half of the CSU schools offer food and housing programs, and only 15 percent are actively reaching out to students in need.

The study, which is only in its preliminary stages and will be conducted over two years, questioned 92 students and four focus groups at different campuses about their food and housing situations. College staff and faculty were also asked about their awareness of homelessness and hunger among students. The study notes that no research was done to examine the retention rates among impoverished students who go on to graduate.

Students were asked their degree of the food insecurity, ranging from having enough money for food, skipping meals, or being unable to eat balanced meals. They were also asked how often they worried about these things, ranging from “always,” “sometimes,” “rarely” or “never.” In a random sample of 4,945 CSU Long Beach students, 21 percent and 12 percent stated they had issues with stable housing and hunger, respectively.

Students were also asked the “places you may have slept at night if you did not have a stable place to live in the past 12 months.” The list of responses included temporarily living with friends, relative or other people that that were not parents and “couch surfing.” At least 46 percent of respondents experienced this while many others reported living in a car, tent, park, bus or train station, abandoned building, motel, camper, shelter or transitional housing or an independent living program.

Not surprisingly, students who experience hunger and homelessness to whatever degree reported increased stress and trouble studying while managing their college and personal life. As one student, Yvette, told the study, “I feel like once I get my bachelor’s under my belt, I can just keep moving forward. Inside I think I’m falling apart.”

Another student, Nikki, told the study she felt the campus staff did not understand her housing needs. She spoke with a residential life staff member about having nowhere to go once the dorms closed and was told it would not be “fair” to others if she were allowed to stay in the dorms.

A staff member also told the study how sympathetic teachers react to hungry and homeless students on a case-by-case basis, often relying on their own funds to help: “A lot of these conversations take place inside our office with the door shut. I’ve seen over and over again the staff members take their own personal money and many times hundreds of dollars, try to eliminate the food crisis or you know, whatever they can do. It’s not really talked about.”

Nationally, the number of students facing hunger and homelessness is unknown and is largely unreported or underestimated. It is significant that the preliminary study done at CSU found “middle income students who had not previously experienced poverty as also experiencing basic need issues due to the high cost of living in California.”

The US Department of Education estimated that 56,588 students nationally and about 10,000 students in California identified as “independent homeless youth” on their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2013-14. No doubt, this a gross underestimation since many students are either unaware of the designation or do not want to identify as homeless, or become homeless afterwards.

Many students, of course, do not know where to turn to or if help is available at their school. Due to state budget cuts and years of underfunding, school programs that would offer free meals or housing are often the “best kept secret” on campus and are not widely known. The study also noted that roughly 2 million students in California reside in households that qualify for food stamps in 2014.

The cause of widespread hunger and homelessness among student youth is not difficult to determine. The authors of the study were forced to admit only the most obvious: lack of affordable housing and “prohibitive” food stamp requirements.

California is indeed one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Combined with that is also the long-term decline of jobs that provided decent wages in the state and nationwide. Students going to college now can only find part-time, temporary work, which hardly keeps up with the cost of living.

The Obama administration in close collaboration with Democratic Governor Jerry Brown have together slashed billions from higher education and social services like food stamps and homeless shelters. Individual schools are now required to meet the flood of demand with barebones and inadequate programs, if they exist at all.

Adding insult to injury, student youth are asked not only to study and pass their classes, but to hold down a job to cover tuition and other costs that are not covered by grants, scholarships and student loans. It is an outrage that so many cannot, and many more do not know, where their next meal is coming from or where they will spend the night. All of this in the richest state in the richest country in the world.



Economic inequality soars in US

By Patrick Martin
2 July 2016

Economic inequality leapt ahead in 2015 in the United States, with the average incomes of the top 1 percent rising twice as fast as the incomes of the remaining 99 percent of households, according to a study released Friday for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. The top 1 percent had an average income of $1.4 million last year.

By far, the largest growth in incomes came in an even narrower section of the super-rich, the top 0.1 percent of households. These one-in-a-thousand households saw their incomes rise by nearly 9 percent to an average of $6.75 million.

The top 1 percent increased its share of total US household income from 21.4 percent to 22 percent. The top 10 percent collected more than half of all US household income, 50.5 percent, up from an even 50 percent in 2014. This was the highest figure for any year in US history, except for 2012.

These figures are based on an analysis of tax data by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is well known for groundbreaking research into income and wealth inequality. The data from the Internal Revenue Service gives a more accurate picture of the growth of income inequality than US Census data, which exclude capital gains and other sources of non-wage income, which go almost entirely to the wealthy.

The year 2015 was unusual compared to the rest of the period since the 2008 financial crash in that the wealthy did not monopolize all of the gains in real income. Average income for the bottom 99 percent rose by 3.9 percent to $48,768, the biggest annual increase since 1998, but only half the rate of increase enjoyed by the top 1 percent. This still left the bottom 99 percent of US families below the level of 2007.

“It is indeed the best growth year for the bottom 90 percent and bottom 99 percent since the late 1990s,” Saez told the Associated Press. “At the same time, top incomes grow even faster, leading to a further widening of inequality, which continues an alarming trend.”

Source: The Washington Center for Equitable Growth

The analysis by the Berkeley economist disproves claims by the Obama administration that the 2012 tax increase on the highest-income households, the result of a bipartisan deal with congressional Republicans, has had a significant impact on income inequality. Instead, the wealthy shifted income between years in order to avoid the impact of the higher tax rates.

“This suggests that the higher tax rates starting in 2013 will not, by themselves, affect much pre-tax income inequality in the medium-run,” Saez wrote, adding, “it seems unlikely that US income concentration will fall much in the coming years, absent more drastic policy changes.”

The Saez study gives the US side of a global phenomenon—the rapidly increasing economic inequality generated by the capitalist system on a world scale and exacerbated by the impact of the 2008 Wall Street crash.

A second report issued this week, by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, examined social polarization within the United States from the standpoint of access to a college education. While 14 million new jobs have been created over the past 68 months (more than five-and-a-half years) of “economic recovery,” it is well known that the vast majority of these jobs are lower-paying and more precarious than the jobs they replaced.

The Georgetown study found that these newly created jobs have been filled almost entirely by college-educated workers. Of the 11.6 million jobs created between January 2010 and January 2016, 11.5 million went to people with some form of college education. Some 75 percent of new jobs went to workers with a bachelor’s degree or better, and fully 99 percent went to workers with some college training. This left few or no new jobs available for those without a college education.

The report argued that “workers with a high school diploma or less hear about an economic recovery and wonder what people are talking about. … Of the 7.2 million jobs lost in the recession, 5.6 million were jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less.”

The study found that high school-educated workers have recovered only about 1 percent of those lost jobs over the past six years, and have seen virtually “no growth among well-paying jobs with benefits” during that period. There are 5.5 million fewer jobs for workers with no more than a high school education than there were in December 2007.

This continues a longer-term trend, with a decline of 13 percent since 1989, a loss of 7.3 million jobs, available to those with only a high school education. The number of jobs held by college-educated workers has doubled during the same period, with the result that “In 2016, for the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprise a larger proportion of the workforce than those with a high school diploma or less.”

College graduates comprise 36 percent of the work force, while 30 percent of workers have some college education, and 34 percent have only a high school education or less.

The Georgetown study demonstrates that, despite incessant claims that education is the road forward for working class youth to escape a life of economic deprivation, there is really no way out under capitalism.

Those who have not gone to college face a future of long-term unemployment, with little prospect of the decent-paying jobs their parents and grandparents once held. Those who have gone to college are employed, for the most part, in dead-end jobs for which they are overqualified, and where the wages are too low to allow them to repay their college loans. This year, student loan debt reached another all-time record, at $1.35 trillion.

These two reports underscore the objective, class basis for rising social discontent among working people and youth in the United States, discontent that finds only the most distorted expression within the political system, controlled by a two-party monopoly in which both parties represent the interests of the super-rich.

In the Republican Party, billionaire Donald Trump appealed to the discontent, particularly of older and less-educated workers, offering them the poison of economic nationalism and anti-immigrant racism.

In the Democratic Party, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won support, particularly among young people, for his condemnation of the “millionaires and billionaires” and his call for college tuition to be free at all public universities. But Sanders is now fulfilling the basic political aim of his campaign—to serve as a lightning rod for social discontent and channel it back behind the Democratic Party. He is folding up his campaign and shifting to support for Hillary Clinton, the candidate of Wall Street, the military-intelligence apparatus, and the bulk of the US political establishment.