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'Bipartisan' Today Means Rule by a White Rightwing
Minority, So Get Rid of John C Calhoun's 'Filibuster'
Our Constitution does not require a 60-vote Senate majority for debate and decisions. The 'filibuster' is only a Senate rule allowing endless debate concocted by John C Calhoun to block anti-slavery measures. It's time to dump it.
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What’s the Greatest Danger to American Democracy Right Now?
By Robert Reich
LA Progressive

The greatest danger to American democracy right now is not coming from Russia, China, or North Korea. It is coming from the Republican Party. 

Only 25 percent of voters self-identify as Republican, the GOP’s worst showing against Democrats since 2012 and sharply down since last November. But those who remain in the Party are far angrier, more ideological, more truth-denying, and more racist than Republicans who preceded them. 

And so are the lawmakers who represent them. 

Today’s Republican Party increasingly is defined not by its shared beliefs but by its shared delusions.

Last Friday, 54 U.S. senators voted in favor of proceeding to debate a House-passed bill to establish a commission to investigate the causes and events of the January 6th insurrection. This was 6 votes short of the number of votes needed for “cloture,” or stopping debate – meaning any further consideration of the bill would have been filibustered by Republicans indefinitely. 

So there will be no investigation. 

The 54 Senators who voted yes to cloture – in favor of the commission – represent 189 million Americans, or 58% of the American population. The 35 who voted no represent 104 million Americans, or 32% of the population.

In other words, 32% of American voters got to decide that the nation would not know about what happened to American democracy on January 6. 

Furthermore, the 35 who voted against the commission were all Republicans. They did not want such an inquiry because it might jeopardize their chances of gaining a majority of the House or Senate in the 2022 midterm elections. They also wanted to stay in the good graces of Donald Trump, whose participation in that insurrection might have been more fully revealed. 

Eight of these Republicans voted against certifying Joe Biden as president on January 6. Some of their constituents were responsible for the insurrection in the first place. 

The Republican Party is also pursuing new laws in many states making it harder for likely Democrats to vote and opposing voting reforms in Congress.

It is actively purging any Republican who has the temerity to criticize Trump. They have removed from her leadership position Liz Cheney, who called Trump’s efforts to overturn the election and his role in inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot the greatest “betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.” 

Local Republican leaders have either stepped down or been forced out of their party positions for not supporting Trump’s baseless election claims or for criticizing the former president’s role in inciting the deadly Capitol riot.

American democracy is at an inflection point. 

Senate Democrats must get rid of the filibuster and push through major reforms – voting rights, as well as policies that will enable more Americans in the bottom half – most of them without college educations, many of whom cling to the Republican Party – to do better. 

In the 1930s, Franklin D. Roosevelt noted that the survival of American democracy depended on the adoption of policies that comprised the New Deal. In that Depression decade, democracy was under siege around the world, and dictators were on the rise. 

Joe Biden understands that America and the world face a similar challenge. And like FDR, Biden is making a strong case that the adoption of his policies will buttress democracy against the forces of tyranny, not only as an example to the rest of the world but here at home. ...Read More
White Supremacy and the Filibuster:
From John C. Calhoun to Mitch McConnell
Conservatives simply don't want majority rule. Since before the Civil War, the filibuster has been their weapon

By Carl Pope 

MARCH 31, 2021 - Mitch McConnell's claim that "the filibuster is the essence of the Senate" has been tossed aside by his opponents as bad history, violently inconsistent with how Jefferson, Hamilton or Madison aimed to structure the Senate, and perhaps even unconstitutional. All true. But what McConnell's screed should remind us is that the filibuster has always been the essence of the politics of white supremacy — even as it now poses a broader threat to democracy itself.

McConnell draws on a playbook stretching back to John C. Calhoun, who as vice president in 1841 forged the filibuster into a conscious instrument to block majoritarian democracy as part of his project of creating a durable framework for slavery in a nation he knew would eventually vote against it. Calhoun, generations of Southern senators and now McConnell have shared a determination that majority votes should not be the last word in the United States. Privileged minorities should be able to override the will of the entire people — if their interests are endangered. Yes, Calhoun was focused on slavery and race, but his first filibuster was over national banking. The interest he sought to protect from a national majority was that of the South as a region, extending beyond slavery to issues like tariffs.  

Chuck Schumer's attempts to shame McConnell for being anti-democratic — by seeking to shrink the electorate instead of persuading it — thus land flat on the right. McConnell is tapping into one of conservatism's deep obsessions: How can America avoid majoritarian democracy? And Calhoun, who was twice vice president and twice almost president, devised the precise answer that McConnell is deploying today. When McConnell refers to "consensus," he doesn't mean compromise that generates broad acceptance across divergent perspectives within a single electorate. He means that certain important subgroups — such as those who owned human beings as chattel, in Calhoun's day — should be allowed to veto legislation, however large the popular majority that favored it. Jefferson had asserted, "It is my principle that the will of the majority should always prevail" but Calhoun twisted this by asking, "Which minority cares the most?"

White supremacists have always been the exemplar of such a protected group. Calhoun devised his doctrine to protect them, calling such a system "concurrent majorities." (He envisaged them as interest groups, not political parties — his major difference with McConnell.)

Calhoun passed the torch to the leaders of the secession movement who then rooted the theory of the Confederacy in the soil of concurrent majorities. The Confederate constitution was thoroughly imbued with Calhoun's doctrine. As the Civil War drew to an end, Jefferson Davis made clear that he would not accept majority rule: "We seceded to rid ourselves of the rule of the majority…. Neither current events nor history shows that the majority rules, or ever did rule."

After the Civil War, the Reconstruction Amendments were intended to make America a democracy where the male majority ruled, regardless of race. This vision was subverted, using Calhoun's example, by repeated Senate filibusters blocking legislation to implement civil rights, a power specifically granted Congress by their authors. The justification? That "states" were a protected minority entitled to nullify majority decisions — in other words, the very issue that the Civil War was supposed to have settled!

The deep logic of filibuster and "concurrent majority" theory alike is the grant of white minority rights denied to an African-American minority. Carrying out Calhoun's theory as he envisaged requires deciding, a priori, that one race is entitled to greater deference than the other. (This exact logic led the Supreme Court to conclude, in the infamous Dred Scott decision, that to sustain the rights of slaveowners it was unavoidable to declare that Americans of African descent had no rights at all.) On matters of racial justice, defenders of the filibuster have always argued that reducing current inequalities between two groups required a supermajority, while sustaining inequality required only a robust minority. 

White supremacists sustained this doctrine throughout the 20th century. Civil rights bill after civil rights bill went down in the Senate, throttled by the filibuster and defended with the argument, as Mississippi's Theodore Bilbo put it, that "a mob is a majority; without the filibuster, the minority would be at the mercy of the majority." Bilbo's fears, of course, were not for the rights for the majority of Mississippians — the state was still 50% Black, and during the Jim Crow period, African Americans had been a majority. The all-white political structure was the minority whose concurrence Bilbo demanded.

The broader conservative application of the concurrent majority concept was most clearly articulated by the John Birch Society after World War II with its singular focus on one goal: "America is a Republic, not a democracy. Let's keep it that way." But outside the South, ideological conservatives were too few in the Senate to otherwise abuse the filibuster. 

The conventional wisdom after 1965 was that the debate about white supremacy — and the stain that most Americans thought it had laid on our national identity — had been ended by the civil rights movement, specifically the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But while explicit arguments for restricting access to the franchise by ethnic minorities, the poor or immigrants largely vanished, stripping the filibuster of its obvious racist identity actually made possible its contemporary weaponization.

Insisting on a Senate supermajority had been a challenging, expensive and rare option almost exclusively put in play to defend Jim Crow and white privilege. Now it became a strategic but routine Senate procedure, first deployed by Bob Dole to hamstring the Clinton administration and then by Harry Reid against George W. Bush. Finally, with Obama's election, Mitch McConnell unleashed the full force of the 60-vote loophole and imposed upon the Senate the very supermajority the founding fathers had specifically rejected. The toxin that Calhoun had first injected into the Senate to counter the future threat of majority rule now found its moment. The virus spread.

While the filibuster — the essence of Mitch McConnell's Senate — is the most powerful weapon the right-wing opponents of democracy have seized, Republicans in 2020 are deploying the full panoply of anti-democratic strategies devised over two and a quarter centuries by Calhoun's followers. The most important campaigns being waged by conservatives at this moment emphasize the spread of gerrymandered districts, purged voter rolls, legalized bribery, a politicized judiciary, state pre-emption of local home rule and crippling the executive authority of majoritarian governors, even Republican ones.

Every tool is designed to reduce the ability of the majority to govern. Changing voting rules or Senate processes such that the minority can prevail over the majority is a feature, not a bug. If endless voting lines in minority precincts in Georgia creates an opportunity to influence voters by offering them water, why else is the solution to make offering water a felony, rather than offering those citizens adequate numbers of voting booths?

Yes, the motivations may be — as some Republicans conceded in a Senate hearing last week — that if every American could vote easily, Republicans would lose because they are a minority. But Schumer's complaint about derailing majority rule, for many conservatives, misses the point. Some on the American right doesn't think the majority deserves to rule. Even more of it believes that voting and participation in governance are privileges to be earned, not rights to be protected. That's their understanding of "the consent of the governed." Mitch McConnell now has the Senate that John Calhoun always schemed for. That is the dilemma facing American democracy.

Carl Pope is the co-author of "Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet." He is the former CEO and chairman of the Sierra Club. ...Read More
From the CCDS Socialist Education Project
New from Changemaker Publications

A China Reader
Edited by Duncan McFarland

A project of the CCDS Socialist Education Project and Online University of the Left
244 pages, $20 (discounts available for quantity), order at :

The book is a selection of essays offering keen insight into the nature of China and its social system, its internal debates, and its history. It includes several articles on the US and China and the growing efforts of friendship between the Chinese and American peoples.

China's rise in the 21st century is of great significance for the world, socialism and communism, and the US Left, as well as the Chinese people. Yet an understanding of China, even basic facts of Chinese history, is not good enough. The text provides historical background and political education by reprinting valuable articles and publishing new material. The book is based in the struggle for peaceful coexistence and opposes hegemonism and a new cold war on China. Contributors include activists, organic intellectuals, and academics. We regard it necessary to consider both Chinese perspectives and US and Western views for balanced understanding.

Topics: New cold war and China's foreign policy; China's economy, socialism, and capitalism; women founders of people-to-people friendship; towards a democratic and socialist way of life.

Authors and reviews include: Samir Amin, Gordon H. Chang, Carl Davidson, Cheng Enfu, Gary Hicks, Paul Krehbiel, Norman Markowitz, Duncan McFarland, VJ Prashad, Soong Qingling, Al Sargis, David Schweikart, Agnes Smedly, Helen Foster Snow, Anna Louise Strong, Harry Targ, Jude Woodward, Xi Jinping and others
How Critical Race Theory Became
The New Conservative Bogeyman
Critical race theory is not primarily about history. It is about the effects of history on institutions, policies, laws, and, most importantly, ideas. And that makes the rightwing deeply uneasy.
By Linda MartÍn Alcoff 
The Indypendent

May 25. 2021 When I was a student at Florida State University many moons ago, the state legislature took a surprising amount of interest in our course offerings. So much so that one of the advanced-level philosophy classes I took had been cleverly retitled as “PostHobbesian Materialism” although everyone knew it was a course on Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume One.

Today, several state legislatures around the country are considering banning the teaching of critical race theory. Proponents of the ban are arguing in every public venue they can find that CRT is grounded in “identity-based ideologies” that promote division and resentment. Trying to sound a wee bit woke, critics say we should avow pluralism, but not purism. Over the decades, targets shift, but the basic fear remains: Are they teaching our kids to hate this country, or, if white, to hate themselves?

I can sort of understand the concern. Raoul Peck’s incredible documentary on the history of European colonialism (Exterminate All the Brutes on HBO) is giving me nightmares. I am not showing it to my 10-year-old grandson, yet. But he has a need to know about the truth of the history that has affected his life. And he deserves to be respected enough to be taught the truth.

Critical race theory is not primarily about history. It is about the effects of history on institutions, policies, laws, and, most importantly, ideas. Some ideas that appear to be good allies in the fight against racism have proven helpful for those who want to maintain the sad state of the status quo. The tools we currently have from the classical liberal lexicon of modern European philosophy — the ideals of neutrality, individual freedom, universalism, representative democracy — were created so that the bourgeoisie could fight off the aristocracy. This fight was primarily against the inherited rights of the nobility, which thwarted entrepreneurial activity. The philosophical tools developed to unseat (or unhead) monarchies were quite useful in this struggle, but they have proved ineffective in redressing broader social injustices since the ostensible end of Jim Crow.

By 1970, civil rights legislation had ended officially sanctioned racial segregation. Overtly racist practices in regard to employment, education, and housing were no longer tolerated. Affirmative action worked to diversify the professional-managerial class, law schools, medical schools, the top journalism schools, and so on, with a predictable sea change in the public sphere. Imagine NY1 without Errol Louis! Or MSNBC without Ali Velshi!

But affirmative action policies have always had to tread lightly. They have to show that their practices are one-offs, merely temporary deviations of the ideals of neutrality and universality, ideals that the state must continue to take as the bedrock for defining what justice means (and for establishing its legitimacy). “Affirmative discrimination” policies that favor minority-owned businesses or minority applicants must continually operate on the defensive.

Infamously, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed the University of Michigan to continue to use demographic diversity as one of its criteria for selecting students approved it only because it could establish ‘universal effects.’ The Court let the university take demographics into account because diversity would contribute to the educational experiences of white students. Affirmative action could not be validated because of its effects on Black and Brown students, but because of its effects on improving the education of the majority, meaning whites, though this was cloaked under the concept of universality.

This example reveals why critical race theory was born. The goal of this loose and interdisciplinary collection of scholars was to take civil rights to the next level by rethinking the ideas and practices undergirding current conceptions of justice. This requires discerning and unraveling the material and ideological effects of slavery, colonialism, land annexation, and genocide that are still with us in our institutions, our ideas, and our lives.

To get to this next level, we need to do some theory to see what policy proposals might work better. Liberal norms may retain some utility, but let’s put them on the defensive for once, to explain how they continue to allow racial disparities in every major social sector to grow and fester, and sometimes worsen. Let’s be open to considering how they might need some revision.

Neutrality can harbor racism like a stealth bomber that flies below the radar. 

Conservatives (the most ardent defenders of classical liberalism, ironically) have a religious zeal about the concepts of individualism, freedom, and neutrality. These are taken as self-evident truths, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, with inviolable validity and value. Yet, there is no reason to take any concept as received wisdom, as sacred, or as untouchable. Concepts are simply ways we have of making sense of our world. I experience myself as being able to think differently than my parents; in this way, I claim my individuality and my ability to think for myself. This was the banner of the Enlightenment: Think for yourselves! It was a prescription, or exhortation, but it was also predicated on a view about the reality of human beings. We each have brains, and we can each make full use of them and come to new and sometimes contrary ideas. Individualism is thus a value and a goal, wherein political (and educational) institutions should allow it and nurture it without trying to pummel it into mush. But individualism is also a description of human beings.

Here is where we can see the limitations of liberalism. The description of human life that individualism sometimes assumes can be way off. I am influenced by others; I am affected by the concepts I have readily available to me in my milieu; I am embedded within relationships that I did not freely choose but that incur significant obligations and duties; and so on. Individualism needs to be tempered with a heavy dose of social realism about the ways in which our lives work, as well as the way societies create the conditions for individual freedom, or not. Laws and policies structure the choices we have available to us. Individualism is not entirely false, but it is often interpreted in a way that is hugely false.

Critical race theory has endeavored to start with the facts, such as persistent racial disparities, and then move backward into the theories that are obviously inadequate in addressing them. Neutrality can harbor racism like a stealth bomber that flies below the radar. Jim Crow said “White men wanted”; neutral, colorblind policies say “Anyone can apply.” But how will “anyone” be judged if they have a criminal record, a spotty employment history, an accent? The word ‘felon’ is unraced, neutral, applicable to anyone, and thus an apparently fair and universal standard to apply.

Such neutral words ignore the effects of history, and in fact, makes it impossible to factor in the effects of history. This is what some call the ‘dumb theory of equality’ – as if all claimants are equal, and all deviations from neutral norms suspect.

Opponents say that critical race theory is teaching our kids to see racism where it doesn’t exist. But in truth, it is simply an effort to see how racism may be working beyond what liberal concepts can reveal.

Linda Martín Alcoff is a professor of philosophy at Hunter College. She is the author of The Future of Whiteness (Polity, 2015). ...Read More
Graphic: From The Taymouth Hours (Yates Thompson MS 13, folio 62r), 14th century. Courtesy the British Library

800 Years
of Rape Culture

Rape in the Middle Ages was seen as a routine part of women’s lives, even as it was condemned. How far have we really come?

By Carissa Harris

May 24, 2021 - One of the most memorable lies about medieval rape appears early in Mel Gibson’s blockbuster film Braveheart (1995). As he ponders how to entice his English noblemen to live in Scotland, King Edward I declares that it’s time to reinstitute an old custom called prima nocte, or first night. He explains: ‘When any common girl inhabiting their lands is married, our nobles shall have sexual rights to her on the night of her wedding.’ (Just to be clear: this ‘old custom’ is fabricated to embellish a compelling narrative of Scottish suffering under English oppression.)

In the next scene, a large group of armed Englishmen interrupts a festive Scottish peasant wedding celebration. While their comrades restrain the struggling bridegroom with a dagger to his throat, two soldiers seize the bride by her arms. She looks back powerlessly at her new husband from the back of the English lord’s horse as it rides away.

Media portrayals of the Middle Ages often depict rape as a routine, legally sanctioned part of life for women, especially servants and peasants. They sensationalize medieval life and imply that things are so much better now by comparison, enabling us to bask in an unearned sense of progress. This fits with other popular ideas about that time period – that life back then was short and violent, marked by gaping disparities between nobles and commoners, and that women had no power whatsoever.

But did medieval rape culture in Europe really look like the Braveheart scene? And how much has actually changed between the Middle Ages and our own #MeToo era? The answers are surprising, and require a bit of unpacking to understand.

In England and Scotland between 1200 and 1600, rape – defined legally as a man having sex with a woman against her will and ‘by force’ – was considered a criminal offense, and there were laws in place to deal with rapists. Women themselves could press rape charges without the help of a father, brother or husband, in contrast to stereotypes of medieval women as helpless damsels in distress, dependent on men to come to their aid. Women could bear witness in court regarding their violation and try to seek justice and reparation.

We can still hear their voices today in the form of survivor testimonies from medieval court records. These testimonies are often short on detail and laced with legal jargon, but we can nonetheless read them in the vein of present-day survivor narratives. While short and broad, the medieval documents nonetheless conjure contemporary traumas, such as the gut-wrenching account of Chanel Miller, found unconscious and half-naked behind a dumpster at Stanford University in 2015 after being sexually assaulted by Brock Allen Turner, then a student and swim team champ. Her missive, which went viral, expresses outrage that Turner, who faced 14 years in prison for felony sexual assault, in fact received just a paltry sentence of six months in 2016.

Had that much changed in 800 years?

One case from Glasgow shows how survivor testimonies from the distant past can challenge our contemporary assumptions about medieval women, rape and power. A servant named Isobel Burne claimed that one John Anderson had tried to rape her by accosting her while she was at work. He threw her down on her back and hit her on the head with a clod of earth before ‘speaking sundry abominable words, not worthy of rehearsal’. Anderson confessed that Burne was telling the truth about her experience. As punishment, he was banished from the town ‘for the great offense to God and the slander to Isobel’. Even though Burne was a servant and a woman, the court sided with her rather than her more powerful assailant.

In another case, William de Hadestock and his wife Joan claimed in civil court that James de Montibus had broken into their home in London on a summer evening in 1269 with a group of armed men. One witness corroborated her account and testified that ‘after [James] had entered the house, he closed the door and tore [Joan’s] dress down to the navel, threw her to the ground and raped her, breaking her finger’. The court imprisoned Montibus until he could pay a hefty settlement of £5 to the couple. The rape, which actually occurred before Joan’s marriage to William, didn’t destroy her marital prospects. Instead, her new husband stood by her side in court as she sought justice and fought successfully for monetary compensation.

Other cases feature surprising or unexpected moments that show women seeking justice in a variety of ways. One case from Peebles in southern Scotland points to something resembling contemporary notions of restorative justice: in 1561, Robert Bullo was sentenced to appear before his local church congregation on a Sunday to ask publicly for Marion Stenson’s forgiveness after he raped her.

Some women took justice into their own hands. In a rural area of Shropshire near the Welsh border in 1405, Isabella Gronowessone and her two daughters ambushed Roger de Pulesdon in a field, tied a cord around his neck, cut off his testicles, and stole his horse. All three women were subsequently pardoned, implying that they had exacted a brutal form of vigilante justice for rape.

Survivors had to follow several difficult steps in order to have any hope of conviction

Isabella Plomet won a substantial settlement in civil court in 1292 after her doctor drugged her with a narcotic surgical drink and raped her, demonstrating that intoxication-facilitated sexual assault was viewed as a violation that deserved restitution.

In medieval times, rape was categorized legally as a property crime, and thus a felony, with penalties such as castration, blinding or hanging. As you can imagine, criminal convictions for rape were very rare, since all-male juries were reluctant to condemn their fellow men to such harsh penalties on the basis of a woman’s claim, and these penalties were rarely enforced even when the assailant was convicted.

Survivors had to follow several difficult steps in order to have any hope of conviction: they were required to report their rapes immediately and publicly, to recount identical narratives of their trauma multiple times to local court officials in their own jurisdiction as well as in neighboring jurisdictions, and to show evidence of a violent attack – such as torn clothing, bloodstains, disheveled hair or physical wounds – to ‘men of good repute’. If a survivor wanted to avoid this process or felt that another form of justice would be more fitting, she could negotiate for out-of-court restitution or file a civil case for monetary damages rather than pursuing criminal charges, as Joan de Hadestock chose to do after Montibus raped her in her home. This enabled women to receive tangible recompense for what they’d suffered and to bypass a complicated and traumatic criminal justice process.

Numerous case records illustrate the inherent flaws and loopholes in medieval systems of rape justice, showing how women could find their charges dismissed if they’d had consensual sex with their rapist before the rape, or failed to follow complicated reporting procedures, or became pregnant from the attack. One case from Wiltshire illustrates the still-common myth that someone cannot claim rape if they previously consented to sex with their assailant: an unmarried woman named Edith claimed that William le Escot raped her in 1249. The record states: ‘It is testified that William lay with Edith but he did not violate her because she was already known to him.’ In other words, because Edith and Escot had had consensual sex in the past, this particular incident didn’t count as a violation. The case features intriguing additional details: Edith also accused a woman named Alice of helping to facilitate Escot’s rape and of stealing a brooch from her.

The pervasive distrust of women in medieval culture – illustrated by popular proverbs such as ‘women can lie and weep whenever they wish’ – meant that women faced an uphill battle in convincing juries that they’d been violated. Legal records repeatedly feature women who bring charges of rape and are subsequently charged with false reporting after the jury concludes that the accused is not guilty or that the victim didn’t properly report her assault.

In Wiltshire in 1249, an unmarried woman named Eve accused Adam Mikel of raping her. Mikel first refused to appear in court, then later denied her claim. The jury agreed that he wasn’t guilty, so Eve was arrested for bringing false charges. She was later pardoned because she was poor.

Other times, women were charged and imprisoned after failing to follow prohibitively specific and difficult reporting procedures. In 1248, Margery, daughter of Emma de la Hulle, testified that a man named Nicholas had raped her outdoors on a summer evening four years earlier, and that she had been a virgin at the time. She specified the location of the rape as ‘between Bagnor and Boxford in a certain place which is known as Kingestrete near Bagnor wood’; search for this certain place online today, and you’ll find maps for scenic walks through Bagnor Wood in West Berkshire. Margery supported her claim against Nicholas with confidence and courage, as the record states that ‘she offers to prove this against him as the court sees fit’. Nicholas responded that Margery didn’t report the assault in a timely fashion, and also neglected to bring her appeal to the neighboring county court. The jury concluded that Margery’s failure to follow these procedures invalidated her rape charge, and they sentenced her to prison for false reporting, even as they also acknowledged that Nicholas had had sex with her, and required him to pay a fine.

The jury said this was a ‘miracle’ as ‘a child could not be engendered without the consent of both parties.'

One disturbing case backfired spectacularly against its victim, Joan Seler, an 11-year-old from London. Seler testified in 1321 that Reymund de Limoges had seized her by the left hand as she stood in the bustling street just a couple of feet from her father’s house at twilight. Limoges dragged her to his rented upstairs chamber and raped her there. The testimony is graphically detailed and agonizing to read, in spite of its heavy use of legal jargon; Seler claimed that Limoges took her between his two arms and against her consent and will laid her on the ground with her belly upwards and her back on the ground, and with his right hand raised the clothes of the same Joan the daughter of Eustace up to her navel, she being clothed in a blue coat and a shift of light cloth, and feloniously "… with both his hands separated the legs and thighs of this same Joan, and with his right hand took his male organ of such and such a length and size and put it in the secret parts of this same Joan …"

Seler added that the attack left her bleeding, and that Limoges kept her in his chamber all night before freeing her.

Limoges countered that Seler failed to first notify the local coroner of the rape, waited six months to bring charges against him rather than doing so within 40 days, and gave two different dates for the assault in two separate depositions: in one account, she’s claimed it had happened on a Sunday evening, and in another that it was on a Wednesday. Limoges asked the court to dismiss the case due to this discrepancy ‘because she could not twice be deprived of one and the same maidenhead’, joking about the very serious charges against him. The jury acquitted Limoges and ruled that he had sustained £40 in damages, which Seler – as an 11-year-old and a saddlemaker’s daughter – was of course unable to pay. The court ordered Seler be arrested, then pardoned because of her age.

Erroneous beliefs about consent and pregnancy enabled victims to be blamed and perpetrators to escape unpunished. Another verdict resting on such beliefs is the case of a 30-year-old woman named Joan who accused a man known as E of rape in 1313. She had an infant, whom she claimed was conceived from the attack. The jury concluded that this was a ‘miracle’ because ‘a child could not be engendered without the consent of both parties’. The jury exonerated E and sent Joan to prison for making a false report. The jury’s opinion echoed a popular 13th-century law book, which asserted that ‘no woman can conceive if she does not consent’.

People today often bristle at the term ‘rape culture’, dismissing it as feminist hysteria. However, rape culture is a useful framework for making sense of these cases and their outcomes. Even though the medieval legal system designated rape as a crime and contained prosecution mechanisms such as castration, blinding or hanging, medieval culture – which influenced the authorities who wrote the laws as well as the juries who enforced them – enabled the loopholes that prevented many survivors from receiving the justice that they sought. The social scientists Anastasia Powell and Nicola Henry in 2014 defined rape culture as a constellation of widespread attitudes, practices and myths ‘in which sexual violence is tolerated, accepted, eroticized, minimized and trivialized. In a rape culture, violence against women is eroticized in literary, cinematic and media representations; victims are routinely disbelieved or blamed for their own victimization; and perpetrators are rarely held accountable or their behaviors are seen as excusable or understandable.’

Medieval rape culture was based on several pervasive beliefs about women and sex – that women lie about rape; that they are naturally hornier than men and unable to control their desires; that they habitually change their minds about sex; and that rape must be proved with physical injuries, immediate outcry, repeated identical accounts of the trauma delivered to the proper authorities and copious tears in order to count as ‘real rape’. ...Read More
The New Confederates Are Using Media Spectacle to Shape and Sustain Their Irrliberal Hegemonic Bloc. Here's a Case in Point:
Photo: Tucker Carlson speaks onstage during Politicon 2018 at Los Angeles Convention Center on October 21, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. RICH POLK / GETTY IMAGES FOR POLITICON

Tucker Carlson Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg
in Right-Wing Media’s War on Truth

BY Henry A. Giroux 

May 27, 2021 - The poisonous influence of the right-wing social media can in part be measured by the attention it gives to a host of far-right extremists who trade in hate-filled, deplorable and dehumanizing references, and analogies designed to turn politics into shock theater.

The most recent example can be seen in Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s outrageous attempt to suggest that requiring people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is tantamount to the Nazis requiring millions of Jews to wear fabric stars during the Holocaust. This is just the latest example of the current right-wing assault on truth, history and the public imagination. Of course, Greene is only one of many right-wing shock troops that are fueling the conditions moving the United States into a fascist politics. The power of the corporate and right-wing media gives new meaning to the notion that politics follows culture, especially given the current attacks being waged on social, racial and economic justice.

The war to destroy the public imagination is now waged on many fronts, particularly through those corporate-controlled cultural apparatuses that mold our views of the world. The power to dominate the public is done not only through military force, but also through a corporate-controlled media empire that includes right-wing talk radio, social media, right-wing cable programs, and mainstream platforms that shape knowledge, dominate ideas, provide an emotional base, and filter and control the public discussion of major social issues. Right-wing media empires increasingly provide a culture, language, psychological space and melting pot of conspiracy ideas, all of which provide fertile soil for a fascist politics.

It is worth noting that the spread and resurgence of white supremacy and right-wing populist movements by radio hosts such as Fox News host Tucker Carlson signal the increased power of right-wing media and culture to promote the symbolic and pedagogical dimensions of an ongoing attack on truth, rational discourse and enlightenment values. Rather than be dismissed as a source of entertainment or the rantings of fringe elements on the right, Carlson and a number of other Trump-aligned radio hosts provide confirmation of both the reconfiguration of the racial state, and the need for progressives to understand how issues of commonsense, culture, language and social media work to reproduce an upgraded form of fascist politics. As Amelia Mertha points out, “Spectacle is a necessary condition for white supremacy. When it does not manifest in covert forms, white supremacy is the most emphatic and twisted stage show of all.” The consumption and spectacle of Black pain and suffering has a long history in the United States, only now it does not draw large crowds to public lynchings but to media platforms such as right-wing talk shows and the internet.

Carlson has a huge audience with over 3 million viewers and has one of the highest-rated and most-watched cable news programs in the United States. Carlson and his reactionary counterparts flood media space with racist, anti-government and Trump-based lies. They hide the truth in the shadows of a poisonous spectacle. This is about more than the current assault on facts, evidence and truth. Fox News, Breitbart, Newsmax, One America News and other toxic cultural apparatuses represent a new front in the war to use social media to both depoliticize individuals and discredit critics that would oppose white supremacy and authoritarian nationalism.

They also use music, online games, cartoons and videos not only as ideological props to recruit young people, but also as part of an appeal to community and a shared culture with its own language and sense of solidarity, with its false promise of solidarity through appeals to hatred, bigotry, antisemitism, misogyny and racism. As I have said elsewhere, this is the neoliberal dream machine where war, violence and politics have taken on a new disturbing form of urgency within image-based cultures. Violence is not merely reported, it is replayed, stoked for entertainment value, and its new currency is white supremacy ramped up in the service of a fascist politics led by the former president of the United States and his merry band of lackeys.

In sync with this new cultural movement, Trump’s Republican Party, militia groups, QAnon followers, online hate-filled communities and conspiracy theorists, Carlson’s public flirtation with right-wing violence prompted the conservative columnist Max Boot to claim that Carlson “is inciting violence and abetting terrorism. He hits a new low every time he takes to the airwaves.” This is language of the spectacle in the service of a right-wing Republican Party wedded to prospect of authoritarian rule at any cost.

Fascist politics works best amid the merging and constant repetition of ignorance, resentment and hatred. First, it destroys the truth, then the institutions that produce it, and finally anyone who cultivates and expresses critical ideas. Carlson’s presence in U.S. politics is crucial to understand because he is one of the prominent media personalities engaging in a successful politics of depoliticization by encouraging his audience to suspend their critical faculties. He floods the media with lies, promotes the fear of people of color, and produces a constant barrage of misrepresentations, such as his claim that immigrants are making the U.S. “poorer and dirtier.” He has defended the actions of 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two peaceful protesters participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He has railed against the idea of diversity and pushed racist immigration narratives that make him a favorite on neo-Nazi websites such as The Daily Stormer.

Carlson openly touts “white replacement theory, which argues that “‘western’ identity is under siege by massive waves of immigration from non-European/non-white countries, resulting in a replacement of white European individuals via demographics,” as Judd Legum notes. Carlson calls white supremacy a hoax, and shamelessly defends replacement theory knowing full well that it was used as a rallying cry for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The march was organized by a motley crew of racist, antisemitic, heavily armed white nationalists and white supremacist groups, including neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Repeating slogans evoking “similar marches of Hitler Youth,” the marchers yelled, “Blood and soil!” “You will not replace us!” “Jews will not replace us!”

Carlson also denies the source of the violence that took place against the Capitol on January 6, 2021, retreating, Astead W. Herndon writes, “to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like Antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd.” Carlson’s lies function largely as permission to legitimate his white nationalist and racially inflammatory rhetoric. He uses language in the service of violence against immigrants, Black people and members of the left. Moreover, his embrace of right-wing violence is used in the service of authoritarianism and lawlessness while functioning to encourage a distrust, if not hatred, of justice, equality, social responsibility and democracy itself.

Carlson and many of his media cohorts embrace the unfounded and disproven lie that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. As Michael Gerson observes, the spreading of such falsehoods in the name of cult-like loyalty to Trump may not be the “moral equivalent of fascist propaganda. But it serves the same political function. A founding lie is intended to remove followers from the messy world of facts and evidence. It is designed to replace critical judgment with personal loyalty. It is supposed to encourage distrust of every source of social authority opposed to the leader’s shifting will.”

Moreover, the spreading of the big lie in the age of Trumpism echoes the belief stated by the Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, that the bigger the lie, the easier it was to spread than a small one, and that if spread widely enough, the more like it would be believed. Not only is the most effective propaganda produced through the repetition and saturation of the big lie — evident in the millions who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen — but it is the foundational element in spreading manufactured ignorance, empowering racist haters and legitimating white supremacy and a range of dangerous conspiracy theories.

Carlson, Trump and their acolytes do more than mark a break from reality; they undermine the formative cultures, civic institutions, and modes of empowering education necessary to equip people with the critical skills they need in order to recognize and resist authoritarian models of power. This fog of manufactured ignorance, reproduced through what Ruth Ben-Ghiat calls a “high-volume diffusion of falsehoods, partial truths, and conspiracy theories,” weakens the individual and society’s ability to resist the pernicious effects of such propaganda. Borrowing from Jason Stanley’s work on propaganda (How Propaganda Works), Carlson promotes a “flawed ideology” that legitimates the dehumanization of other groups while functioning as “barriers to rational thought and empathy that propaganda exploits.”

Carlson operates in the service of fascist agitation, and his aim is to unmoor language from critical reason, while turning politics into theater. He is symptomatic of the new face of fascist agitprop, ensuring that the media transform violence into a cheap spectacle. He has become the symbol of a tabloid politics emptied of social responsibility. Carlson’s racist babble testifies to the inflated relevance in the media eco-spheres of a political theatricality and performance that merges the politics hate with the razzle-dazzle associated with the tawdry underside of the entertainment industry. His racist and nativist dribble spread fascist myths about racial purity and cleansing while urging the faceless masses to buy into a “boiling primordial soup from which more developed and more dangerous forms of fascism might emerge.”

Trading in the politics of disposability, Carlson uses the media to promote what Etienne Balibar calls “production for elimination … of populations that … are already superfluous.” In this instance, an ideology forged in racist contempt, dehumanization and threat of death now functions “as a form of political and economic currency.” The public imagination is now in crisis. Radical uncertainty has turned lethal. In the current historical moment, the forms of pedagogical oppression that now circulate among so much of the right-wing media create ways of thinking and feeling that prey on the fears of the isolated, disenfranchised and powerless.

These neoliberal forms of pedagogy substitute disillusionment and incoherence for a sense of comforting ignorance, the thrill of hyper-masculinity and the security that comes with the militarized unity of the obedient masses waging a war on democracy. The public imagination is formed through habits of daily life, but only for the better when such experiences are filtered through the ideals and promises of a democracy. This is no longer true. The concentration of power in the hands of a ruling elite has ensured that any notion of change regarding equality and justice is now tainted, if not destroyed, as a result of what Theodor Adorno called a retreat into apocalyptic bombast marked by “an organized flight of ideas.”

Violence in the United States has become a form of domestic terrorism; it is omnipresent and works through complex systems of symbolic and institutional control. As the famed artist Isaac Cordal observes, “We live in societies … that use fear in order to make people submissive…. Fear bends us [and makes us] vulnerable to its desires…. Our societies have been built on violence, and that heritage, that colonial hangover which is capitalism today still remains.” Under capitalism in its neoliberal fascistic form, the poverty of the civic and political imagination is taking its last breath.

Authoritarian societies do more than censor and subvert the truth, they also punish those who engage in dangerous thinking. The current plague of racism fueling neoliberal fascism is rooted not only in structural and economic forms of domination, but also intellectual and pedagogical forces, making clear that is education central to politics. It also points to the urgency of understanding that white supremacy is first and foremost a struggle over agency, assigned meanings and identity — over whose lives count and whose don’t. ...Read More

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Hear from a panel of speakers from the Harold Washington administration in conversation with the new generation of Chicago's left electoral organizers as we assess the legacy and lessons of the Harold Washington years.

Featuring: David Orr, 
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Biden Should Quickly Normalize Relations with Cuba
By Media Benjamin
LA Weekly

Silvia from Miami, Eduardo from Hialeah, Abel from Lakeland. The names pour in on the donations page for “Syringes to Cuba” as Carlos Lazo promotes the campaign on his popular Facebook livestream. An energetic Cuban-American high school teacher in Seattle, Lazo created a group called Puentes de Amor, Bridges of Love, to unite Cuban Americans who want to lift the searing U.S. blockade that is immiserating their loved ones on the island. 

Puentes de Amor is the latest addition to the Syringes to Cuba initiative, which was started by the Saving Lives Campaign and the humanitarian organization Global Health Partners to help Cuba vaccinate its people against COVID-19. With the help of two other groups, The People’s Forum and CODEPINK, the campaign has raised over $350,000 and has already placed an order for four million syringes. Two million will arrive in June and the balance in July. 

This initiative is in response to the dire economic situation in Cuba, where the economy shrank by 11 percent last year—Cuba’s worst economic downturn since the early 1990s when the country was left reeling from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. The present economic meltdown is largely a result of the COVID-induced shutdown of the tourist industry and a tightening of the embargo under Trump. Reversing the gains made by the Obama-Biden administration in normalizing relations with Cuba, Trump added over 200 restrictive measures, including limiting remittances Cuban Americans can send to their families, stopping U.S. flights to every city but Havana, and prohibiting cruise ships from docking in Cuban ports. As a final stab in his parting days, Trump took the completely bogus step of adding Cuba to a U.S.-created list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that discourages investments and substantially limits the entry of foreign currency.

To the surprise and disappointment of many Cuba watchers, and despite the fact that most of Trump’s policy changes could be reversed with a single executive order, Biden has not moved an inch.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden pledged to “promptly reverse the failed Trump policies that have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” Early in the Biden administration, the White House announced that it was undertaking a review of Cuba policy. But to the surprise and disappointment of many Cuba watchers, and despite the fact that most of Trump’s policy changes could be reversed with a single executive order, Biden has not moved an inch. Questioned about this at an April 16 press conference, Press Secretary Jen Psaki callously claimed that changing U.S. policy towards Cuba was “currently not among the president’s top foreign policy priorities.”

On May 25, the State Department even announced that it would continue Trump’s determination that Cuba does not cooperate with U.S. anti-terrorism efforts. The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs fired back, calling this action “irresponsible and shameful” and reminding U.S. officials that Cuba itself has been “the victim of 713 terrorist attacks, in their majority organized, financed and executed by the U.S. government or individuals and organizations that are protected and act with impunity in U.S. territory.” 

On June 23, the U.N. General Assembly will hold its yearly vote calling for the U.S. to lift its embargo on Cuba. Every year since 1992, the world’s nations overwhelmingly reject the embargo, leaving the U.S. and one or two of its allies, like Israel and Brazil, clinging to this unpopular and anachronistic policy. In 2016, the Obama administration broke with 25 years of U.S. opposition to the UN resolution by abstaining. A new lobby group ACERE (Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect), with the support of over 100 organizations, is calling on Biden to follow President Obama’s lead by not opposing this year’s resolution, and instead using the occasion to announce the measures that his administration will take to provide relief for the Cuban people and a return to the path of normalization.

A push for action has also come from the grass roots, through creative and growing anti-blockade car and bicycle caravans held on the last Sunday of every month. The largest of the nation’s caravans winds through the heart of the pro-blockade world: Miami. In the most recent May 30 Miami caravan, over 200 people participated, most of them Cuban-Americans. “We’ve had 10 of these caravans so far,” said organizer Jorge Medina (a.k.a. El Proteston Cubano on YouTube). “Each one is bigger than the last and the energy is fantastic.” But so far, the media–and the Biden administration–have ignored them.

Congress has been pushing Biden as well. In March 2021, 80 representatives, led by Congressman Bobby Rush, sent a letter to Biden urging him to take swift executive action to reverse the Trump administration’s draconian policies and return to the diplomatic path charted by the Obama–Biden administration, and Congressman Rush later introduced a bill to that effect. On May 21, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the bipartisan Freedom to Export to Cuba Act that would eliminate the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba, a move that would be particularly popular with farm and business groups interested in trade and export opportunities.

Unfortunately, Biden seems more concerned about catering to right-wing Cuban Americans in southern Florida, where the Democrats, failing to stand up to Trump’s red-baiting, lost the state and two congressional seats in the last election. Despite the talk that his administration is guided by human rights concerns, Biden ignores what the humanitarian group OXFAM, in its detailed report on the devastating effects of U.S. policy, called “The Right to Live Without a Blockade.” 

But Biden ignores the crisis in Cuba at his own peril. The dire food and medicine shortages may well spark a migration crisis that will exacerbate the rush of Central American asylum seekers at the Mexican border that the Biden administration is already unable to cope with. Cuba expert Bill LeoGrande predicts “a mass exodus of desperate people” if Biden doesn’t act soon. 

Biden would do well to heed the warning and with the stroke of a pen, lift trade and travel restrictions and allow unrestricted remittances. These measures would quickly infuse more money into Cuba’s economy and alleviate the needless suffering Cubans are experiencing at the hands of an administration that does not consider the well-being of 11 million Cubans “a priority.” ...Read More
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This Week's History Lesson:
Sacco and Vanzetti’s Trial of the Century
Exposed Injustice in 1920s America
 Illustration: Judge Thayer with Sacco and Vanzetti (Bettmann / Getty Images)

The pair’s path to becoming media sensations began 100 years ago. To this day the two remain emblems of prejudice in the American justice system

By Annika Neklason

MAY 27, 2021 - For six years, starting in 1921, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti watched from death row as writers argued for their freedom, politicians debated their case, and radicals held protests and set off bombs in their names. They managed to rally support even from people who initially condemned them. But by May 1927, the pair of leftist ideologues had exhausted their options for an appeal. They had little left ahead of them but the electric chair.

Vanzetti contemplated his impending martyrdom to a visiting reporter. “If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life, talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure,” he reflected. But now?

"Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life can we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as we now do by dying. Our words, our lives, our pains—nothing! The taking of our lives—lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler—all! That last moment belongs to us—that agony is our triumph."

It was an unlikely triumph. Sacco and Vanzetti, ages 29 and 31 at the time of their arrest, came from a background more typically conducive to obscurity and suspicion than to sympathetic celebrity: They were radical, working-class Italian immigrants who advocated for the violent overthrow of political and capitalist institutions in the hopes of building, in Sacco’s words, a world of “no government, no police, no judges, no bosses, no authority.” They had dodged the draft to avoid serving in World War I, refusing to fight for a government they believed to be oppressive.

Beyond that, the crime for which they were convicted and sentenced to death—two murders committed during a robbery at a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1920—was not a particularly remarkable one. Even many of their sympathizers acknowledge, to this day, that they may very well have been guilty. But in an era of anti-immigrant, anti-leftist sentiment, their case became an emblem of prejudice in the American justice system—and a rallying point for those who wished to combat it.

In the trial and appeals process that began 100 years ago, the duo’s defense team set out to turn the case into a public sensation, and it undoubtedly succeeded. How much that success truly meant is less apparent. It didn’t save Sacco and Vanzetti; less than four months after Vanzetti spoke about agony and triumph, they were both dead. And the tolerance, the justice, the understanding that he believed himself to be dying for remain, at best, a work in progress.

With their arrest, Sacco and Vanzetti stepped into the center of a firestorm of converging fears, prejudices and swelling radical political power. Nativism and xenophobia were on the rise in the United States. The second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan had formed in 1915, targeting Black Americans, Catholics, and immigrants—including Italians. Anti-immigrant sentiment was gaining traction in more legitimate spaces, too: In 1921 and 1924, while Sacco and Vanzetti were battling the Massachusetts court system, Congress passed restrictive immigration acts intended to stem a post-war influx of “undesirables” and the radical politics they feared might accompany them.

Fear of radicalism “was part and parcel of the xenophobia that was going on at the time,” says Erin Bush, a historian at the University of North Georgia. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had given rise to the first Red Scare, and a slate of assassinations of world leaders since the 1890s—including that of President William McKinley—had further sowed fears of anarchism. In early 1919, a series of bombings enacted by followers of the Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani against prominent American politicians and capitalists “put the violence on the front page,” Bush says, making anarchism feel all the more like “a palpable threat to people.”

Sacco and Vanzetti—themselves suspected Galleanists—had met in 1916 at a factory strike Vanzetti helped organize. Over the following years, they were united by their advocacy for workers and their opposition to World War I; they even fled to Mexico together in 1917 to escape the draft. They were arrested for the robbery and murders in Braintree—which police believed were carried out to fund the anarchist groups ongoing efforts to foment revolution— in May 1920. They entered an American justice system that had spent the attacks’ aftermath pursuing and prosecuting leftist leaders, with a particular focus on Italian anarchists not unlike themselves.

Details about Sacco and Vanzetti immediately began to filter into the news: descriptions of the evidence that had led the police to them and, not far behind, the first inklings of their backgrounds and political leanings. “Alleged Red Literature In Vanzetti’s Room,” declared a Boston Globe headline the week of the arrest. “During the war he was in the last draft and left town,” the article observed.

“Chief of Police Murphy of Milford has identified Saco [sic] as one of the agitators in an attempted industrial disturbance in Milford three years ago,” another Globe article read. “He was arrested and paid a fine. It is also said that Saco was included in the draft and disappeared before he was called.”

The case itself, as described in these early accounts, seemed straightforward. Reportedly, multiple witnesses could identify both Sacco and Vanzetti. Police had found them in possession of weapons, and a number of local officers—cited by name in the papers—gave every sense that they were confident of the culprits’ identities.

Maybe for that reason, the case received only limited press during the initial trial, and almost all of that within Boston. But as they fought to overturn the conviction the defense team worked to change that—and did. Vanzetti’s attorney, Fred Moore, was himself an anarchist and began publicly arguing that the two men had been unfairly prosecuted because of their political beliefs. He dispatched a member of his staff to Europe to spread word among communist parties there and reached out to the newly established American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). ...Read More

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Do We Have a Horse in This Race?

MAY 26, 2021/ 


They’re coming down the home stretch. Will last time’s winner be able to hang on? Or will some former champ come on strong to win by a nose?
The last time Mexicans went to the polls, in 2018, candidates running under the banner of the fledgling Morena Party stampeded into federal, state, and municipal office alongside Morena’s presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador, or AMLO as everyone in México knows him. Morena candidates left the former stable of winners from the neoliberal PRI and PAN parties so far back in the dust that none of their usual electoral shenanigans could deny Morena an overwhelming victory.

Three years have sped by, and now, in less than two weeks, Morena is looking to repeat its electoral success. AMLO won’t be on the ballot himself. His single six-year term has three more years to run. But in México, as in the United States, midterm elections matter. No Mexican president can make good on election promises without a legislative majority. Over the past three years, AMLO had that majority. With it, he didn’t just increase public benefits for poor and middle-income families. These benefits became constitutional rights.

And where has the US government been during this spring’s midterm electioneering? On matters Mexican, the United States has never been an uninterested spectator. This time around, as in 2018, the US government has gone beyond cheerleading for Morena’s opposition. US tax dollars, as Kurt Hackbarth reports below, are once again boosting Morena’s competition. US officials cry foul when Russians attempt to meddle in US elections. But we have yet to see any official US response to AMLO’s demand for an explanation of why the US is interfering in Mexico’s voting.

And what about US working people, what stance should we be taking? AMLO hasn’t been perfect the past three years. He’s occasionally stumbled and will undoubtedly stumble again. So does that mean we should pay this race no mind? Hardly. Just look at the competition, those former PRI and PAN winners who spent their years in office impoverishing the people and enriching themselves.

Most of all, we need to remember that we don’t have a horse race here. We have a serious political choice. At stake in that choice: the lives of people on both sides of the border.

Jesús Hermosillo, an LA-based nurses union rep with a deep knowledge of health issues, also rates as a perceptive analyst of political currents in his native México. Those two areas of expertise inform his recent article in the journal Current Affairs, México: Land of Pandemics and Hope. Hermosillo challenges the mainstream narrative on México’s handling of the pandemic, noting that after decades of neoliberal misrule, the country is fighting to recover from more than just Covid. ...Read More
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Video: The Continuity of US Imperialism
Indian-born Vijay Prashad is a voice from the global South who tells it like it is. He says the Biden foreign policy is the long-standing imperial policy of the country. It is the view of the foreign policy Establishment that sees the U. S. as “the indispensable nation,” the words of Madeleine Albright, without which there can only be “chaos and disorder,” in the words of Richard Haas, head of the Council on Foreign Relations. This is an imperial project for U.S. hegemony.

Prashad is Executive-Director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research. He is author of The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, Washington Bullets, and nearly 30 other books. Prashad has taught at Trinity College in the U.S., the American University in Beirut and currently at Renmin University of China. He is Chief Editor of LeftWord Books, a correspondent for Globetrotter Media and columnist for Frontline.

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Book Review Reconsidered: The Lord of the Flies, Our Introduction to Anti-Communism, Turns Into Its Opposite
A still from the 1963 film of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Photograph: Ronald Grant

The Real Lord of the Flies: What Happened When Six Boys Were Shipwrecked for 15 Months

When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding’s bestseller, writes Rutger Bregman

Mano Totau interview: a survivor’s story of shipwreck and salvation
Rutger Bregman interview: ‘Our secret superpower is our ability to cooperate’

By Rutger Bregman
The Guardian

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.

When I started writing a book about this more hopeful view, I knew there was one story I would have to address. It takes place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. A plane has just gone down. The only survivors are some British schoolboys, who can’t believe their good fortune. Nothing but beach, shells and water for miles. And better yet: no grownups.

On the very first day, the boys institute a democracy of sorts. One boy, Ralph, is elected to be the group’s leader. Athletic, charismatic and handsome, his game plan is simple: 1) Have fun. 2) Survive. 3) Make smoke signals for passing ships. Number one is a success. The others? Not so much. The boys are more interested in feasting and frolicking than in tending the fire. Before long, they have begun painting their faces. Casting off their clothes. And they develop overpowering urges – to pinch, to kick, to bite.

By the time a British naval officer comes ashore, the island is a smoldering wasteland. Three of the children are dead. “I should have thought,” the officer says, “that a pack of British boys would have been able to put up a better show than that.” At this, Ralph bursts into tears. “Ralph wept for the end of innocence,” we read, and for “the darkness of man’s heart”.

Golding had a masterful ability to portray the darkest depths of mankind

This story never happened. An English schoolmaster, William Golding, made up this story in 1951 – his novel Lord of the Flies would sell tens of millions of copies, be translated into more than 30 languages and hailed as one of the classics of the 20th century. In hindsight, the secret to the book’s success is clear. Golding had a masterful ability to portray the darkest depths of mankind. Of course, he had the zeitgeist of the 1960s on his side, when a new generation was questioning its parents about the atrocities of the second world war. Had Auschwitz been an anomaly, they wanted to know, or is there a Nazi hiding in each of us?

I first read Lord of the Flies as a teenager. I remember feeling disillusioned afterwards, but not for a second did I think to doubt Golding’s view of human nature. That didn’t happen until years later when I began delving into the author’s life. I learned what an unhappy individual he had been: an alcoholic, prone to depression. “I have always understood the Nazis,” Golding confessed, “because I am of that sort by nature.” And it was “partly out of that sad self-knowledge” that he wrote Lord of the Flies.

I began to wonder: had anyone ever studied what real children would do if they found themselves alone on a deserted island? I wrote an article on the subject, in which I compared Lord of the Flies to modern scientific insights and concluded that, in all probability, kids would act very differently. Readers responded sceptically. All my examples concerned kids at home, at school, or at summer camp. Thus began my quest for a real-life Lord of the Flies. After trawling the web for a while, I came across an obscure blog that told an arresting story: “One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip ... Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.”

The article did not provide any sources. But sometimes all it takes is a stroke of luck. Sifting through a newspaper archive one day, I typed a year incorrectly and there it was. The reference to 1977 turned out to have been a typo. In the 6 October 1966 edition of Australian newspaper The Age, a headline jumped out at me: “Sunday showing for Tongan castaways”. The story concerned six boys who had been found three weeks earlier on a rocky islet south of Tonga, an island group in the Pacific Ocean. The boys had been rescued by an Australian sea captain after being marooned on the island of ‘Ata for more than a year. According to the article, the captain had even got a television station to film a re-enactment of the boys’ adventure.

I was bursting with questions. Were the boys still alive? And could I find the television footage? Most importantly, though, I had a lead: the captain’s name was Peter Warner. When I searched for him, I had another stroke of luck. In a recent issue of a tiny local paper from Mackay, Australia, I came across the headline: “Mates share 50-year bond”. Printed alongside was a small photograph of two men, smiling, one with his arm slung around the other. The article began: “Deep in a banana plantation at Tullera, near Lismore, sit an unlikely pair of mates ... The elder is 83 years old, the son of a wealthy industrialist. The younger, 67, was, literally, a child of nature.” Their names? Peter Warner and Mano Totau. And where had they met? On a deserted island.

My wife Maartje and I rented a car in Brisbane and some three hours later arrived at our destination, a spot in the middle of nowhere that stumped Google Maps. Yet there he was, sitting out in front of a low-slung house off the dirt road: the man who rescued six lost boys 50 years ago, Captain Peter Warner. ...Read More
Film Review: 'Riders of Justice,' a Tale of Karma in Estonia

By Matt Zoller Seitz

May 14, 2021 - Brutal, sad, funny, and disarmingly sweet-natured, "Riders of Justice" is not so much a revenge movie as a movie about revenge. That might seem like a distinction without a difference until you get to the end of this surprising feature from writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen ("After the Wedding," "Red Road," "The Salvation") and look back on every place that it has taken you. 

The story starts a few days before Christmas in Estonia. A girl walking along a holiday-decorated street with her grandfather spots a red bicycle offered for sale by a street vendor but asks for a blue one instead. The vendor is part of a crime ring and calls an associate, who steals a blue bike belonging to Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg), which causes Mathilde's mother Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) to have to pick her up at the train station, only to have their car fail to start, which causes them to take a commuter train home.

A statistics and probability expert named Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) gives the girl's mother his seat, and shortly after that, a freight train smashes into the commuter train and several passengers are killed, including Mathilde's mother and a tattooed, bald, scowling fellow who was supposed to testify against a fearsome gang, Riders of Justice. Otto saw another man get off the train before the crash, oddly dropping a full beverage and a nearly uneaten sandwich in the trash on his way out, and becomes convinced that the crash was an assassination and the other victims were collateral damage. As it happens, Mathilde's father is a stony-faced soldier named Markus (Mads Mikkelsen, a frequent leading man for the writer/director).

If this were almost any other movie, you'd be able to write the rest of this review yourself. But you soon figure out that this is not the sort of film that sets up the standard elements and switches to autopilot. For one thing, Jensen makes Otto not merely the messenger who sets the tale in motion and then disappears, but a crucial second lead, and part of a trio filled out by a fellow probability expert named Lennart (Lars Brygmann), whose secret manias and aversions are a constant source of plot complications; and a tightly wound, emotional computer hacker named Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro). All three characters are written and performed with such skill that they form a comedy trio: a motor-mouthed intellectual answer to the Three Stooges. Like Mathilde, Markus, and everyone else who passes in front of Jensen's viewfinder, Otto, Lennart and Emmenthaler are given endearing backstories that feed into the script's fascination with fate, chance, justice, karma, and other subjects rarely discussed in films where the hero is a scary bald dude who can snap a man's neck like a shingle.

"All events are products of a series of preceding events," Otto tells an assembled panel of corporate clients who reject an algorithm he and Lennart are trying to sell them. "Because we often have insufficient data, we categorize events as coincidences." His statement echoes through later scenes, including the church service where Mathilde's mother and Markus's wife is laid to rest. "When miracles happen," the priest says, "we often attribute a divine character to them. However, when lightning strikes, when tragedy becomes reality, we have a hard time assigning a return address, and thus we refer to it as coincidence." Once the stooges enter Markus' life, bloodshed follows, but not in a lockstep, predictable way, thanks to the pinball-machine collisions of all the strong personalities involved (particularly Markus's; he's both hot-tempered and lethal, not an ideal combination).

The big question here is whether the train crash was a premeditated crime or the culmination of a series of things that quite simply happened. A large part of the charm of "Riders of Justice" (what an ironic title, in retrospect!) comes from the way that it keeps us guessing as to what side of the equation, so to speak, it'll come down on, or whether it'll take a position at all. What are we to make, for instance, of a seemingly precise calculation by Otto that the odds of that crash with that outcome were 234,287,121 to one? Or, for that matter, the movie's wry awareness that no matter how bad things get, they could always be worse? "Only thing is, after all this crap, it's unlikely more is going to happen," Mathilde tells Otto. "That's not how things work," Otto replies. "A lot of awful things can happen in your life." ...Read More
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