Campaigning for Democracy And Socialism
The Week in Review: Truth vs Delusion Is a
Battleground for Democracy Over Fascism
The cartoon to the right is a sign of the times, one that reveals our current turmoil over history and culture. It's not new. In the 1960s, we fought for, and won, many of the 'Studies' programs--African American, Chicago, Women, and more. We also fought for more teachers and students to make good use of them.

We had an impact--not nearly as much as we would have liked, but we got our collective foot in the door, and today's young students were the better for it. That's exactly the cause of the turmoil in the cartoon. The fascist neoconfederate right wants to reverse the verdicts of the 2nd Reconstruction, and the First as well. Don't let them. We are in a strategic 'war of position' in this new civil war, with smaller 'wars of movements,' like the George Floyd elemental rising, within it. Some battles are small, some larger. But they all matter. Don't surrender. Go to the library and school board meetings. Write to the editor of your local paper. Don't surrender.

Please send us your letters, comments, queries, complaints, new ideas. Just keep them short and civil. Longer commentaries and be submitted as articles.

Click Here to send a letter


We're going to try something new, and you are all invited.

Saturday Morning Coffee!

Started in August 2020, then going forward every week.

It will be more of a hangout than a formal setting. We can review the news in the previous days' Leftlinks, or add new topic. We can invite guests, or just carry on with those who show up. We'll try to have a progressive stack keeper, should we need one. Most of all, we will try to be interesting and a good sounding board. If you have at point you would like to make or a guest to invite, send an email to Carl Davidson,

Continuing weekly, 10:30 to Noon, EDT. The Zoom link will also be available on our Facebook Page.

Meeting ID: 868 9706 5843

Let's see what happens!
Reducing the Threat
of Nuclear War:

Social & Economic Costs of Nuclear Weapons Buildup

Saturday, Jan 21, 2023 -
1:00 - 6:00 PM online

This annual gathering is one of the major national conferences addressing this acute problem. Given the tragic events in Ukraine, tensions with China over Taiwan, and provocations from North Korea, we need to accelerate effort toward clear analysis, peaceful resolutions and nuclear disarmament.

The subtheme this year will be “The Social and Economic Costs of the Nuclear Weapons Buildup”. Particular attention will be given to the destructive effect of excessive weapons spending on human needs. Attendees should sign up for one Breakout in the first set (3 pm) and one in the second set (4:30 pm).

Speakers include: Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester, Marcy Winograd, Phyllis Bennis, Sandy Eaton, Medea Benjamin, and Cole Harrison, among many others.

Boston Review's Reading List:
Reviving the Radical King

“Forget the dream, he called for a revolution.” An MLK Day reading list on how his radicalism was erased.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is a national hero. Canonization in the United States, however, often encourages conservatism. To Americans who have grown up celebrating his birthday every January, King is often depicted solely as a champion of unity, rather than the radical organizer, anti-war protestor, and critic of capitalism that he actually was.

This is hardly surprising when each year around this weekend, King’s “least controversial words are quoted and contorted to suit every political whim” as Simon Waxman remarks. Indeed, as Christopher Petrella and Justin Gomer made clear in their 2017 essay, Reagan used the very founding of MLK day to undermine racial justice. “The day was legislated as part of a strategy to defang King of his most radical qualities while co-opting him into the ideology of colorblindness,” they write.

“We all love him now that the worms got his body. But when he was speaking the truth, he was radically unsettling folk.”

In fact, King was so radical that 72 percent of Americans and 50 percent of Black Americans disapproved of him at the time of his murder. “We all love him now that the worms got his body,” Cornel West commented in a 2018 conversation. “But when he was speaking the truth, he was radically unsettling folk. And he was willing to be unpopular precisely because he loved the people so.”

But others were receptive to King’s message, especially the Institute of the Black World, which worked hard to foreground King’s radicalism. ...Read More
Casey Hayden, Presente!

Casey Hayden, a Force for Civil Rights and Feminism, Dies at 85

While working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the early 1960s, she helped write two memos that spurred the modern women’s movement.

By Neil Genzlinger
The New York Times

Jan. 16, 2023 - Casey Hayden, an important organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during its push for civil rights in the early 1960s and the co-author of two papers that called out sexism within that organization and in society in general — documents that are credited with helping to inspire second-wave feminism — died on Jan. 4 at her home in Tucson, Ariz. She was 85.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Rosemary Lotus Boyce, who did not specify a cause.

Ms. Hayden, a native Texan, was a graduate student at the University of Texas in Austin in early 1960 when she joined Black students in anti-segregation protests. According to newspaper accounts at the time, she was one of the first white students to do so.

Later that year she was a delegate to the United States National Student Association Congress at the University of Minnesota. The congress, Ms. Hayden wrote in an essay in “Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts of Women in SNCC” (2010), consisted mostly of white students, many from the South and “all for law and order.” A contingent of Black students representing the newly formed Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was not finding much sympathy and went looking for “a pro-sit-in white Southerner” to add to a panel on civil disobedience. Ms. Hayden took the assignment.

“Twenty-two years old, I had a strong Southern drawl and hardly spoke above a whisper,” she wrote. But her words resonated.

“I cannot say to a person who suffers injustice, ‘Wait,’” she told the audience that day. “Perhaps you can; I can’t. And having decided that I cannot urge caution, I must stand with him.”

The crowd gave her a standing ovation, and the event gave a boost to the idea of student activism, bringing new credibility to S.N.C.C. and other groups, including Students for a Democratic Society, which became known for its opposition to the Vietnam War. Ms. Hayden was on her way to becoming a force in the peace and social justice movements.

She had met Tom Hayden at the conference, and she joined him and others in getting Students for a Democratic Society off the ground. She and Mr. Hayden married in 1961, and though the marriage lasted only two years, Wesley Hogan, a research professor at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute at Duke University who has studied Ms. Hayden’s life, said Ms. Hayden was at the center of things in those formative years.

“She was a pivotal voice as Tom Hayden, her then-spouse, wrote the Port Huron Statement,” Professor Hogan said by email, referring to a pivotal manifesto issued by S.D.S. in 1962. “Both Tom and Casey were philosophers, and though Tom has been credited as the author of the document, Casey’s substantial, if largely unrecognized, influence on the thinking of the time grew from the fact that for several prior years, she had tried to live out democratic values in the Southern crucible.” ...Read More
The Socialist Education Project of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) presents its 4th Monday Webinar with:

Vijay Prashad, on the new edition of his book, 'The Rise of ‘The Darker Nations’ in the 21st Century: Responses to Crises of War, Poverty, and Environmental Disaster'

January 23, 2023 
9 pm Eastern Time,
8 pm Central,
7 pm Mountain,
6 pm Pacific
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." 

He recently published a revised version of his groundbreaking book, “The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World,” New Press, August, 2022 which he will discuss followed by questions and comments.

Register at: 

Co-Sponsor list in formation...
Last Week's Saturday Morning Coffee
News of the Week, Plus More
Photo: Solomon Pena and Jose Trujillo, one of the men he reportedly paid to do the drive-by shootings, are seen here in a car. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Police Department)
Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico Shooting: Ballistics, Cell Phone Data, and an Informant: Court Records Lay Out The Case Against GOP Election Loser Solomon Pena

By Elise Kaplan
Albuquerque Journal

JANUARY 17, 2023 - As Albuquerque Police Department detectives began their investigation into drive-by shootings at the homes of four Democratic lawmakers in December and early January, it wasn’t long before they heard the name of failed Republican candidate Solomon Pena.

A Bernalillo County commissioner told investigators about an upsetting encounter she’d had with the 39-year-old when he came to her home to insist the election was fraudulent. Officials said they learned he had visited two of the other victims’ homes as well.

Then, on the night of Jan. 3, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man on gun and drug charges who was driving Pena’s car. He had been stopped less than five miles from a shooting that had occurred about 40 minutes earlier at the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez.

Police Chief Harold Medina announced last week a suspect was in custody on unrelated charges and detectives were continuing to investigate.

Over the past two weeks those detectives have used ballistic evidence, text messages, searches on Apple maps and a statement from a “confidential witness” to build the case against Pena.

Monday evening they announced that they believe he paid four men to carry out the shootings and that he participated in one of them. No one was injured in any of the incidents, but the politicians’ homes were riddled with bullets and, in Lopez’s case, rounds pierced the bedroom where her 10-year-old daughter slept.

Pena was arrested after a brief SWAT standoff at his condominium near the ABQ BioPark Zoo Monday afternoon. A second SWAT activation took place later that night in the Valley Area Command as investigators executed a search warrant. An APD spokesman said “evidence was gathered, but nobody was arrested.”

Pena is charged with four counts each of shooting at a dwelling, shooting at or from a motor vehicle and conspiracy to commit a shooting at a dwelling; and one count each of possession of a firearm by a felon, attempt to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal solicitation to commit a shooting at a dwelling.

Neither a public defender nor the attorney who has represented him in a previous case as a candidate responded to requests for comment.

Nobody else has been charged in connection with the case.

Ballistics, footage

When Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa’s home was struck by gunfire on the afternoon of Dec. 4, neighbors reported that a truck was possibly involved, according to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court.

That same day, a woman reported her SUV had been stolen and then found it less than half a mile from Barboa’s house. Bullet casings found inside the SUV matched those found outside Barboa’s house, according to the complaint.

A similar scenario played out after state Rep. Javier Martínez’s home was shot up on Dec. 8, except it was almost a month until a casing was found and compared to casings found in a stolen truck that had been left in the San Jose neighborhood. Martínez was elected as House Speaker on Tuesday.

And on Dec. 11, after County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley’s home was struck by about 12 rounds, she told investigators about a visit she’d had from Pena. She told the Journal on Monday that Pena had wanted to talk about what he believed was election fraud and was “kind of aggressive.”

Security camera footage of that visit showed Pena arriving at O’Malley’s house in a black 2022 Audi, which investigators say matched the description of the car that witnesses later said was used in the shooting at her home.

Then, a little after midnight on Jan. 3, the ShotSpotter gunshot detection system registered gunfire near Lopez’s home. An officer arrived at the scene and collected casings but didn’t see the damage since it was dark.

Lopez said she had heard loud bangs but she’d dismissed them as fireworks, according to the complaint.

Lopez’s daughter told her mother that she thought a spider had crawled on her face while she slept and that it felt like sand was in her bed. When the sun rose, Lopez realized that the sand was actually sheetrock dust, dislodged by bullets passing through the bedroom.

About 40 minutes after the gunfire, and less than five miles away, a BCSO deputy arrested 21-year-old Jose Trujillo on a warrant after stopping him for having an expired registration. The car he was driving was registered to Pena.

Trujillo had more than 800 pills, believed to be fentanyl, a large amount of cash, a Glock pistol with a drum magazine and an AR pistol with him at the time, according to the complaint. He is now facing federal drug trafficking and firearm charges.

Last week, detectives executed a search warrant on the phone of 41-year-old Demetrio Trujillo – Jose Trujillo’s father.

That’s when, according to the complaint, APD’s acting Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock found that Pena had sent the home addresses for the four lawmakers to Demetrio Trujillo, who searched for it in Apple maps and in some cases passed the information on to Jose Trujillo.

Demetrio Trujillo, 41 (Courtesy of the Metropolitan Detention Center)
And Pena had texted Demetrio Trujillo a photo of a book with a highlighted passage that said “yet we argue, it was only the additional incentive of a threat of civil war that empowered a president to complete a reformest project” along with a text that said “they just certified it. They sold us out to the highest bidder” and “they were literally laughing at us while they were doing it.”

He also sent a photo of Jose Trujillo eating a hamburger surrounded by guns and a photo of himself and Jose Trujillo in a car.

Demetrio Trujillo was arrested last week on charges of receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle, possession of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence. ...Read More
Graphic: Depiction of U.S. Civil War battle at Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia that took place in June of 1864. The color illustration was produced in 1891. (PhotoMontage/Getty Images)

Is the United States on the Verge of Civil War II?

We’re definitely on the brink of—or in the middle of—something.

By Robert C. Koehler
Common Dreams

Jan 20, 2023 - “Folks keep talking about another civil war. One side has about 8 trillion bullets, while the other side doesn’t know which bathroom to use.”

The words — actually a 2019 Facebook post — are those of then-Iowa Republican congressman Steve King, loosing a puerile smirk as he stirred the pot of violence on the American political right. The politics of stupid has intensified since then, as white supremacy and fear of the Great Replacement Theory take over the GOP.

Are we truly on the brink of a civil war? What, indeed, is a civil war? When does violence move from being random and individual — psychological — to strategic and political, which is to say, militarized? Can this happen without a quasi-governmental entity emerging, officially declaring “war” on the political establishment whose decisions it hates? Or is having 8 trillion bullets enough?

Resorting to violence — indeed, celebrating and honoring its use for just and moral purposes — requires a surrender to the temptation of force. No matter how disempowered you are, intellectually and spiritually, force is always available as a means of making your presence felt, if not actually getting your way. Force is a lost soul’s last resort. It often turns into the first resort.

Say you’re a Republican and you lose an election. What a nuisance! Consider the troubles faced by MAGA-T-shirt-wearing, would-be state rep Solomon Peña, who ran for a New Mexico House seat in November, Yeah, he lost, garnering only 26 percent of the vote, but refused to concede and challenged the legitimacy of the election. That accomplished nothing, so . . . what choice did he have? He allegedly hired some guys who drove past at least four houses of local politicians — two state legislators and two county commissioners — and fired bullets into walls and doors. He was arrested a few days ago and charged in the shootings.

There was a time when this would have been seen, in most respectable circles, as insanity. Now I fear it’s just one more example of Republican fun and games, as the party members come to grips with their (is it possible?) permanent minority status. Voter suppression is no longer adequate to ensure victories. Donald Trump has given losing GOP candidates their mantra du jour: The election was rigged.

And thus, as Stephen Marche wrote recently in The Guardian: “The United States is a textbook example of a country headed towards civil war. The trends increasingly point one way, and while nobody knows the future, little — if anything — is being done, by anyone, to try to prevent the collapse of the republic. Belief in democracy is ebbing. The legitimacy of institutions is declining. America is increasingly entering a state where its citizens don’t want to belong to the same country. These are conditions ripe for political violence.”

The iconic specter of mainstream GOP violence was, of course, the Jan. 6 insurgency, as thousands of angry white people, egged on by their dear leader, broke into the capital as Congress was in the process of transitioning to the Biden presidency, shouting things like “Hang Mike Pence!”

Since then, Republican outrage has morphed into such actions as the break-in last October at Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home. “Where’s Nancy?” the intruder shouted — alas, she wasn’t there — eventually attacking her 82-year-old husband, Paul, with a hammer, fracturing his skull.

“But on the right, support for violence is no longer a fringe position,” Rachel Kleinfeld points out at Politico. “. . . This is not a marginal movement: It is people who see violence as a means to defend their values, an extension of their political activity.”

She notes that violence isn’t just a matter of wielding weapons: “One particularly pernicious culprit in violence is jokes and memes,” she writes. “Jokes are actually far more likely to normalize prejudice than an overtly prejudiced argument because sharp-edged humor circumvents our brain’s usual pathways for rational thinking.”

For example, shortly after the Pelosi attack, Donald Trump Jr. posted an image on Instagram of a hammer and a pair of underwear, commenting: “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready.”

“When a key figure on the right can tweet a joke about an 82-year-old man getting hit by a hammer, and thousands of people like it, that is a sign of real danger,” Kleinfeld writes.

I ask again: Are we truly on the brink of a civil war? We’re definitely on the brink of — or in the middle of — something, but we always have been. With an ever-expanding (currently $858 billion) military budget, a nuclear arsenal and 750 or so military bases all across the planet, we seem to be a major participant in a global civil war. Perhaps it’s not surprising that such a war would have domestic consequences.

This brings to mind the words of another King, not the former Iowa congressman but the man whose Day was recently celebrated.

“There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

The speaker, of course, is Martin Luther King, in 1964, delivering his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, pointing out to the world that: “. . . in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. . . . Violence ends up defeating itself.”

We may celebrate his birthday, but do we actually hear his words? I recommend them to anyone who thinks that all it takes to win America’s emerging civil war — that is to say, to heal its historical wounds, to repair its broken social structure — is 8 trillion bullets. ...Read More
Florida Rejects Black History AP Curriculum, Saying It 'Lacks Educational Value'

The rejection of the proposed class is 'another racist act that limits education for students'

By Chris Walker 

January 19, 2023 -- The administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has rejected a request from the nonprofit organization that manages Advanced Placement (AP) high school classes to expand a course on Black studies in the state.

The College Board, which runs various AP programs and the SAT test, has run a pilot program of an AP standard African American studies course in 60 schools across the country. Details of the curriculum have not yet been made public, though topics within the coursework include speeches by Malcolm X, the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast and medical programs, and the history of Juneteenth, the national holiday commemorating the end of slavery after the Civil War.

“Drawing from the expertise and experience of college faculty and teachers across the country, the course is designed to offer high school students an evidence-based introduction to African American studies,” a description of the class reads. “The interdisciplinary course reaches into a variety of fields — literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science — to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.”

While several states have banned or sought to restrict the teaching of critical race theory (or rather, officials’ errant interpretations of it), academics have made it clear that the AP course does not violate those statutes.

“AP African American Studies is not CRT. It’s not the 1619 Project. It is a mainstream, rigorously vetted, academic approach to a vibrant field of study, one half a century old in the American academy, and much older, of course, in historically Black colleges and universities,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the country’s foremost experts in Black history, told TIME in August.

Nevertheless, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) rejected the application to expand the teaching of the course throughout the state, likely relying on the standards of the “Stop WOKE Act,” which DeSantis signed in 2022 to restrict Florida educators from teaching about race and racism in American history.

FDOE justified its decision to reject the course in a letter dated January 12, claiming that, “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the letter went on.

It’s unclear what parts of the lesson plan FDOE has deemed inaccurate, as the details of the curriculum are unknown. But many believe the rejection of the course is simply another attempt to restrict lessons on racism, rather than a response to any actual inaccuracies.

“DeSantis Blocks AP African-American Studies Course. Another racist act that limits education for students,” Karla Hernández, president of the United Teachers of Dade, said on Twitter.

“This political extremism and its attack of Black History and Black people, is going to create an entire generation of Black children who won’t be able to see themselves reflected at all within their own education or in their own State,” state Sen. Shevrin Jones (D) said.

Some human rights advocates noted that FDOE rejected the curriculum briefly after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was publicly commemorated by many Republican politicians in the state, including DeSantis.

“One day after quoting MLK on MLK Day, Florida MAGA Gov Ron DeSantis cancels AP African American Studies Program, saying it ‘Lacks Educational Value.’ How ridiculous,” human rights lawyer and author Qasim Rashid said.

Parents of Black students in Florida also criticized the move. Delilah Andrews, a Black mother of two children near Orlando, told WESH, the local NBC affiliate station, that the state’s action was disappointing.

“It saddens me, you understand, because some of the children, they don’t get that African American history at home,” she said. ...Read More
Photo: Wagner Group mercenaries in Ukraine in October. [Wagner Group]

With Mounting Losses, Russia Recruits
Former Afghan Forces To Fight In Ukraine

WAGNER GROUP Recruiters are targeting former Afghan security forces living in Afghanistan and Iran, and leveraging desperate economic situations to convince the soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

By Hamza
Central Asia News

[Editor's Note: The source relies a lot on the US DoD. Keep your grain of salt handy, but it's worth the read nonetheless]

2022-11-24 - KABUL -- Russia has begun recruiting former Afghan security personnel in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to bolster its war of aggression in Ukraine, according to former Afghan military commanders.

Russia invaded Ukraine February 24.

Moscow's recruitment -- with the help of Tehran and Russian private military company (PMC) Wagner Group -- started in earnest about a month ago and some fighters have already deployed to Russia, they said.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, founded the Wagner Group, which is now openly fighting in Ukraine and in other hotspots around the world on Moscow's behalf.

"Surveillance, torture, widespread acts of revenge, security threats and severe economic challenges have forced Afghan security personnel to flee the country and to fall into the trap of mercenary recruiters," said Farid Ahmadi, former lieutenant-general and ex-commander of Afghanistan's Special Operations Corps.

"Foreign private security companies that have worked in Afghanistan, with which some politicians and former senior ... officials co-operate or have partnerships, assist in the recruitment of [former] security personnel," he said.

The recruitment is happening right now in Iran and in Afghanistan, he said.

"They offer them salaries, visas for family members and relocation to other countries in exchange for going to war for them [the Russians]."

PMCs are for-profit entities, Ahmadi said. "They violate human rights, rights of refugees and international conventions for personal gain."

"In my conversations with former security personnel, I have warned them about the dangerous consequences of such a decision and that there will be no return for them," he added.

"I hope [my warnings] work and that they will pursue other solutions to their problems."

Afghans 'will be sacrificed'

Russia is recruiting former Afghan troops, confirmed Abdul Raof Arghandiwal, former major general and ex-commander of the 207th Zafar Corps and ex-chief of staff to the then-minister of defense.

"More than 30,000 Afghan security personnel, including members of the National Army, National Police, and National Directorate of Security, fled to neighboring countries, especially to Iran and Pakistan, to save their lives," he said.

Arghandiwal himself now lives in the United States.

"They faced problems in Iran once their visas expired and they were on the verge of being deported by the Iranian regime."

"In the meantime, according to a plan, Russia, Iran and the Russian Wagner Group took advantage of the situation and started recruiting Afghan commandos to fight for Russia in the Ukraine war," he said.

"Registration and recruitment of the Afghan commandos in Iran started a month ago and some personnel are already registered," Arghandiwal said.

"A few groups of these fighters have been sent to Russia for a trial period," he said, adding that their exact location is unclear.

"Based on the information my comrades have shared with me, the next groups will be sent to Russia and to the war in Ukraine in the coming weeks."

Russian recruiters promise to pay the Afghans and to move their families to Iran or Russia, Arghandiwal said.

However, "the commitment made by Russia is informal and not legally binding. Russia may just deceive them, as they will have no way to return once they are on the battlefield," he warned.

"It may pay salaries to recruited personnel for a month or two to encourage the rest of the [Afghans] to join, but in the end, they will be trapped with no way to return alive from the Ukraine war," he said.

"Although Afghan personnel are not interested in joining the Russian forces in the Ukraine war, they are pushed and have made a dangerous choice," he said. "They will unfortunately be sacrificed."

Arghandiwal called on Afghans "not to stand with the occupying Russian forces".

"Like Russia, which has occupied parts of Ukrainian territory, the former Soviet Union invaded our country, too," he said. "It dropped thousands of bombs on our people, killing 1.5 million Afghans and injuring and maiming millions of others."

"I call on the heroic security personnel not to sacrifice their lives for the sinister goals of the aggressors in the Ukraine war."

Russia turning to Iran

Arghandiwal accused Iran of being complicit in Russia's crimes and aggression against Ukraine.

"The Iranian government is a partner in Russia's crimes in the Ukraine war," he said. "It provided Russian troops with various types of weapons and drones so that its strategic ally would not be weakened against the US and NATO in the Ukraine war."

"At the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, Putin thought he would overthrow the Ukrainian government in one to three months and install a regime loyal to Moscow's interests."

"He thought he would expand his influence, achieve his strategic objectives and defuse [alleged] threats posed to Moscow from the US and NATO," Arghandiwal said.

"But contrary to Putin's calculations, the war dragged on, and not only could Moscow not achieve its objectives, but it suffered heavy casualties and lost many weapons, pieces of equipment and planes. Its regional and international standing is damaged."

Faced with troop shortages in Ukraine, Russia has asked Iran to provide it with experienced combatants, said Rahmatullah Hassan, a former Afghan army colonel, now a military analyst based in Sweden.

"Iran did not send its 60,000-strong Afghan fighting force [the Fatemiyoun Division], which it has used in wars in Iraq and Syria, since the Fatemiyoun is Shia. Instead, it decided to take advantage of the tough situation of Afghan commandos who are taking refuge in Iran and started recruiting them in a joint decision with Russia and the Wagner Group," he said.

"Russian soldiers are not interested in fighting in Ukraine," he said. "They know that the war in Ukraine is aggressive and unjust. Therefore, many Russian soldiers have fled from the front to Turkey, Central Asia and other countries." ...Read More
Digging Deeper into the Current Conjuncture:
42 States Ban or Challenge Critical Race Theory

All have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory

By David 'Katya' Ketchum
LA Progressive

JAN 18, 2023 -On January 10, newly inaugurated Arkansas governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed seven executive orders. One of these banned teaching critical race theory in Arkansas schools, continuing a trend we’ve consistently seen over the last two years. Education Week has documented that:

“42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Eighteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.”

Arkansas’ ban extols the virtues of education over indoctrination, insisting that educators “should teach students how to think—not what to think.” It then states that:

“Critical Race Theory (CRT) is antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness. It emphasizes skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject; … .”

For anyone who has followed the ongoing and surreal journey, you might not need an explanation of why this pushback continues whenever we attempt a fuller reckoning with our racist past and present. But it probably is good to remember at least some of the reasons why CRT has been targeted in this way. As EducationWeek points out, CRT simply

“refers to a decades-old academic theory that holds that racism is systemic, perpetrated by structural forces rather than individual acts of bias. But over the past two years, the phrase has been warped from its original meaning, used by opponents to refer to anything that makes race or gender salient in conversations about history, current events, or literature.”

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To put this another way, this is an overt attempt to discredit and erase a set of ideas and practices that helps us understand how racism works in the world. And it replaces CRT’s analysis of how racism operates within structures and cultures with an emphasis on individual bias. This very conveniently allows discussions about racism to focus on individuals, shielding the true engines driving White supremacy from view or change.

This is why, last year, the ACLU rightly observed that “At their core, anti ‘CRT’ laws are thinly veiled attempts to silence discussions of race and gender amongst students and educators.” The language is often vague, creating confusion and putting teachers in stressful situations, uncertain about what they are and are not allowed to say and teach. For example, in 2021, a group of Tennessee parents appealed to the state’s anti-CRT law to remove books from the curricula that teach about the Civil Rights Movement. The books labeled as offensive included a children’s book about the March on Washington, two books about Ruby Bridges and school desegregation, and a picture book about the integration of southern California schools in the 1940s. The basis for the appeal is that:

“the Tennessee law makes lesson plans illegal if students ‘feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish.’ / [One parent explained that] the Williamson County curriculum makes students feel bad about their race, meaning the law should invalidate it.”

The practical result is that teachers are pressured to self-censor, in order to avoid any controversy. And children are robbed of the opportunity to learn about how humans have hurt one another, how they have stood up for what is right, and how they have healed those wounds and created – or tried to create - communities where we learn to live with justice, equity, and compassion. ...Read More
U.S. Union Membership Rate Declined In 2022 Despite Organized Labor’s Gains

The labor movement added 273,000 members, but couldn’t keep pace with nonunion job growth.

By Dave Jamieson
Huffington Post

Jan 19, 2023 -Despite high-profile organizing victories at companies like Starbucks and Amazon, the overall rate of union membership in the U.S. declined again in 2022 to a new modern low, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Thursday.

The agency said the share of American workers who belong to unions dropped from 10.3% in 2021 to 10.1% last year, based on its monthly surveys of households. That is the lowest number the government has recorded since it began compiling comparable data in 1983, when the membership rate was nearly double, at 20.1%.

“Unions' gains couldn't keep up with non-union job growth.”

However, the raw number of union members increased by nearly 2%, to 14.3 million last year. The bulk of those gains came in the private sector, which added 193,000 members. But unions’ footprint in the workforce still managed to shrink because the increases couldn’t keep pace with job growth in a strong economy. Overall employment grew by nearly 4%, most of it in nonunion jobs.

“This disproportionately large increase in [total employment] compared with the increase in the number of union members led to a decrease in the union membership rate,” BLS said in a statement explaining the numbers.

Union membership is much stronger in the public sector, where roughly one in three workers belongs to a union, a rate relatively unchanged from the previous year. Membership remained higher among Black workers (11.6%) than white (10%), Hispanic (8.8%) or Asian workers (8.3%). Younger workers aged 16 to 24 were less than half as likely to be union members as workers aged 45 to 54.

Organized labor has made gains recently with several high-profile campaigns, unionizing workers at Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, REI and Trader Joe’s, none of which previously had unionized workforces in the U.S. The National Labor Relations Board, which conducts elections in the private sector, said last fiscal year saw the largest number of union election petitions since 2016.

The Amazon Labor Union’s upset victory at the online retailer’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, last spring was perhaps the most notable union election win in decades. Meanwhile, the union Workers United organized more than 200 Starbucks stores last year, spreading its campaign that began in Buffalo, New York, from coast to coast.

But so far, those major victories only touch a small fraction of the U.S. workforce.

For perspective on labor’s challenges, Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse was among the largest single U.S. worksites to unionize in years, with some 8,325 workers in the bargaining unit. But that massive facility is still just a tiny slice of the overall workforce of 165 million, and no other Amazon sites have unionized since JFK8. (Recent victories also wouldn’t be fully reflected in BLS data, which is based on monthly population surveys.)

The AFL-CIO, a labor federation that includes 58 unions, said the new numbers don’t display all the reasons for optimism, citing organizing victories last year among teaching assistants, baristas, museum workers and video game developers, among others. Unions managed to add members despite intense anti-union campaigns run by well-funded companies like Amazon and Starbucks, the federation’s president, Liz Shuler, said in a statement.

“Organizing victories are happening in every industry, public and private, and every sector of our economy all across the country,” Shuler said.” The wave of organizing will continue to gather steam in 2023 and beyond despite broken labor laws that rig the system against workers.” ...Read More
Photo: Havana street scene. Alexander Kunze / Creative Commons

China Donates $100m to Cuba

By Roger McKenzie
Morning Star / UK

CHINA donated $100 million (£80m) to Cuba on Wednesday as part of a cooperation agreement between the two socialist nations.

Cuba’s ambassador to China, Carlos Pereira, and the vice-president of the China International Development Cooperation Agency, Tang Wenhong, met in Beijing to sign the historic cooperation agreement for financial support to the Caribbean island blockaded by US sanctions.

Mr Pereira said the agreement formalizes the donation pledged by China during the visit of President Miguel Diaz-Canel to the nation in November 2022.

The ambassador said the donation will go towards projects of high social impact.

Mr Pereira said it is ratification “of China's strategic participation in our economic and social development plans.”

The Chinese government is committed to Cuba's development based on cooperation, Mr Diaz-Canel said, particularly on biological and information technology, energy, and cybersecurity.

Diplomatic relations between the two nations date back to 1960, with Cuba being the first Latin American country to establish diplomatic ties with China.

Cuba’s economy has been hit by illegal US-imposed sanctions for more than 60 years, an embargo regularly condemned by the United Nations general assembly. ...Read More
Photo: Haitian migrant family crosses the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juárez to surrender to the border patrol in the United States with the intention of requesting asylum (Shutterstock)

U.S. Economic War On Venezuela Has Fueled The Migrant Crisis

People from poor countries that can no longer rely on energy assistance from Venezuela are arriving at the border in record numbers.

By Edward Hunt
Foreign Policy in Focus

January 18, 2023 - The U.S. economic war on Venezuela is one of the main reasons for the record number of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, where there has been a surge in migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Years of U.S. efforts to destroy the Venezuelan oil industry and overthrow the Venezuelan government has fueled the humanitarian catastrophe. As U.S. sanctions have pushed Venezuela into one of the worst crises in the hemisphere’s history, more than 7 million people have fled the country. Hundreds of thousands more have fled Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, poor countries that have lost access to low-cost Venezuelan energy.

The migrant crisis was largely anticipated by U.S. officials. Once they began working to subvert the Venezuelan oil industry and the Venezuelan-led regional agreement Petrocaribe, which provided low-cost petroleum to poor countries in the Caribbean and Central America, U.S. officials acknowledged that an economic crisis in Venezuela could result in a regional humanitarian crisis.

“If Petrocaribe were to fall because of events in Venezuela,” John Kerry said in 2015, when he was secretary of state in the Obama administration, “we could wind up with a serious humanitarian challenge in our near neighborhood.”

The New Migrant Crisis

Over the last two years, the United States has seen record numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. According to data compiled by the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. Border Patrol encountered nearly 1.7 million migrants in 2021 and more than 2.2 million migrants in 2022, the highest numbers since the U.S. government began keeping records in 1960.

Many migrants have been arriving from Mexico and Central America, but a growing number of migrants have been coming from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, particularly over the last two years.

“These four countries account for most of the people now traveling into Mexico to try to start a new life,” President Biden explained in a speech earlier this month.

Officials in Washington have presented many theories for the unprecedented increase in migrants. Republicans falsely claim that the Biden administration has made it easier for migrants to cross the border, while Democrats counter that migrants are fleeing repressive governments that are unable to meet their needs.

“If you’re trying to leave Cuba, Nicaragua, or Haiti… do not just show up at the border,” President Biden implored people thinking of leaving.

What officials in both parties have refused to acknowledge is their own responsibility, which stems from their years-long effort to destroy the Venezuelan oil industry and overthrow the Venezuelan government. By waging an economic war on Venezuela, officials in both parties have fueled the migrant crisis, one that several analysts foresaw as a likely consequence of the collapse of the Venezuelan oil industry.

The U.S. Economic War on Venezuela

The Obama administration set the stage for the economic war on Venezuela. During its second term in office from 2013 to 2017, the administration began working to undermine Petrocaribe, despite the benefits it was providing many poor countries in the Caribbean and Central America.

Countries “have benefited substantially from Petrocaribe,” Ben Rhodes acknowledged in 2015, when he was deputy national security advisor in the Obama administration. “We’re not going to be able to simply substitute American oil for Venezuelan oil.”

Instead, the Obama administration sought to reduce Venezuela’s influence in the region. It imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials and pressured Caribbean countries to shift their imports away from Venezuelan petroleum products. Under the Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, the Obama administration encouraged countries in the region to transition to renewable energy and liquefied natural gas provided by U.S. suppliers.

“We have to engage with this region in order to be able to bring about that kind of transformational change to renewable energy and natural gas,” Amos Hochstein, the administration’s special envoy for energy, said in 2016.

Many U.S. analysts supported the Obama administration’s efforts, even while acknowledging the possible implications for countries that relied on Venezuelan oil.

A 2014 report by the International Security Advisory Board, a federal advisory committee, warned the State Department that “countries highly dependent on Petrocaribe could be economically and politically destabilized if supports disappear.”

Analysts at the Atlantic Council foresaw similar ramifications. In two major reports that assessed the prospects of weakening Petrocaribe and pushing more U.S. liquefied natural gas into the region, analysts David L. Goldwyn and Cory R. Gill noted that countries could suffer economic shocks if they lost access to Venezuelan energy assistance.

“In the Caribbean, the sudden decline of Petrocaribe and other Venezuelan credit programs could trigger humanitarian crises and unauthorized migration flows to the U.S. mainland,” Goldwyn and Gill wrote.

Trump’s Escalation

It was not until the Trump administration entered office, however, that U.S. officials began ignoring the warnings in order to wage an all-out economic war against Venezuela. During its four years in office, the Trump administration directed a major economic attack against Venezuela, first with economic sanctions against the country’s finances in 2017 and then with crippling economic sanctions against its state oil company in 2019.

Administration officials openly acknowledged that they were trying to overthrow the Venezuelan government. In 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proudly proclaimed that “we’re leading a 59-nation coalition to oust Maduro,” the Venezuelan president. Years later, John Bolton, who had spent little over a year as Trump’s national security advisor, acknowledged that the administration had backed a coup attempt in Venezuela.

As the Venezuelan economy collapsed in the face of the Trump administration’s economic war, many critics warned about the humanitarian consequences. For years, Mark Weisbrot reported that U.S. economic sanctions were accelerating the country’s economic collapse. In 2019, Weisbrot collaborated with Jeffrey Sachs on a study that estimated that U.S. sanctions had resulted in the deaths of more than 40,000 Venezuelans from 2017 to 2018.

U.S. sanctions “are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans,” Weisbrot and Sachs wrote.

Officials in the Trump administration responded to these criticisms by blaming the Venezuelan government for the country’s collapse, but they faced strong pushback, sometimes from U.S. analysts.

Shortly after the Trump administration left office, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report in which it found that U.S. sanctions had probably played a role in Venezuela’s economic collapse. “The sanctions, particularly on the state oil company in 2019, likely contributed to the steeper decline of the Venezuelan economy, primarily by limiting revenue from oil production,” the G.A.O. reported.

More recently, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has condemned the Trump administration for its actions. At a hearing in September, Murphy said that “it’s really hard to overhype what a disaster President Trump’s Venezuela policy was,” particularly its failed efforts to “try to facilitate a coup.”

“We are stuck inheriting a policy that did not work, that has in part contributed to a humanitarian disaster that now brings thousands and thousands of Venezuelans to our border,” Murphy said.

The Effects on Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua

What these criticisms have missed is that the U.S. economic war on Venezuela has also harmed other countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Several countries that had been relying on low-cost Venezuelan energy have been facing their own economic crises, just as U.S. officials and analysts had initially foreseen.

For years, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua benefited from low-cost Venezuelan energy. All three countries forged deals with the Venezuelan government that enabled them to save money on energy and redirect government spending toward social programs.

As U.S. sanctions worsened Venezuela’s economic collapse, however, the Venezuelan government began suspending assistance. Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua faced growing economic challenges, spurred by losses of low-cost Venezuelan energy.

From 2018 to 2019, protests erupted across Nicaragua and Haiti as their governments began rolling back social spending to address their predicament. In 2020, additional protests swept across Cuba, which began experiencing its own economic crisis, largely caused by U.S. sanctions and a decline in Venezuelan aid.

In recent years, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua have come under additional pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic, climate-related disasters, and the increase in the price of oil. No longer able to rely on the cushion that low-cost Venezuelan energy had once provided them, their governments have faced dire economic circumstances, leading people to leave their homes in record numbers.

In one of the most troubling signs of the regional implications of Venezuela’s collapse, Haiti has undergone its own dramatic collapse, devolving into social chaos and gang warfare. Former President Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated in July 2021, had once supported Petrocaribe, even being in a strong enough position to push back against U.S. efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

Last year, the Venezuelan economy began to show some signs of recovery, but progress has been limited. The Biden administration’s recent move to allow Chevron to grow some of its energy operations in Venezuela comes with many restrictions.

“We will continue to enforce our sanctions program,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said earlier this month.

As officials in Washington continue their partisan bickering over the migrant crisis, they seem hardly interested in acknowledging their responsibility for it. Until they come to terms with the fact that their years-long economic war on Venezuela has been one of the main causes of the crisis, they will continue to put the people of Venezuela and the broader region at risk.
New Journals and Books for Radical Education...
From Upton Sinclair's 'Goose Step' to the Neoliberal University

Essays on the Ongoing Transformation of Higher Education

Paperback USD 17.00
This is a unique collection of 15 essays by two Purdue University professors who use their institution as a case-in-point study of the changing nature of the American 'multiversity.' They take a book from an earlier time, Upton Sinclair's 'The Goose-Step A Study of American Education' from 1923, which exposed the capitalist corruption of the ivory tower back then and brought it up to date with more far-reaching changes today. time. They also include, as an appendix, a 1967 essay by SDS leader Carl Davidson, who broke some of the original ground on the subject.

Social Justice Unionism
25 Years of Theory and Practice

By Liberation Road

This new 222-page book is a collection of articles and essays covering 25 years of organizing in factories and communities by Liberation Road members and allies.

It serves as a vital handbook for a new generation of union organizers on the left looking for practical approaches to connect their work with a wider socialist vision.

Copies are available for $10 plus shipping at Changemaker.

Revolutionary Youth and the
New Working Class

The Praxis Papers,
the Port authority Statement, the RYM Documents and Other Lost Writings of SDS

Edited by Carl Davidson

A Collection of 12 essays featuring some of the most creative and controversial work of
the U.S. New Left
of the late 1960s.

Most items are difficult to find, and in one important case, The Port Authority Statement, written in 1967 to replace the Port Huron Statement, appears here for the first time. Important for today's radical youth.

$20 paper, $3 as an e-book at Changemaker
NOT TO BE MISSED: Short Links To Longer Reads...
Inventing Santos: How a Far Right Con Man Lied His Way Into Congress

George Santos is a classic con man, and Kevin McCarthy’s GOP is all in.

By Sasha Abramsky

January 19, 2023 - Over the past few months I have, episodically, watched the Netflix series Inventing Anna, which tells the story of the true-life con artist Anna Sorokin. It’s a fascinating portrait of a truly loathsome character, a person who slashed and burned her way through New York’s high society, cheating, duping and cajoling people into trusting her — and then abusing that trust by ripping them off.

The longer the George Santos saga goes on, the more Santos reminds me of Sorokin, conning friends and strangers alike. Two of his former roommates say he has been wearing clothing that he stole from them — including the scarf that he wore prominently at the “Stop the Steal” rally in D.C. on January 6, 2021.

The same roommate also told reporters that Santos used a made-up name (“Anthony Zabrovsky”) for himself while running a GoFundMe for a fake nonprofit animal rescue group because he thought “the Jews will give more if you’re a Jew.”

And now a New Jersey veteran with a disability has come forward accusing Santos of stealing $3,000 from an online fundraiser created for the lifesaving surgery needed by the veteran’s service dog.

And like Sorokin, his broader story is a tissue of lies, all of them crafted with two goals in mind: self-aggrandizement and access to easy money.

Despite what he has said in his campaigns for a congressional seat on Long Island, Santos isn’t rich, isn’t Jewish, isn’t college educated and didn’t work for top financial institutions. He claimed his mother was a victim of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center — yet, she died 15 years later, and reports have recently surfaced suggesting that far from working at the World Trade Center that day, Santos’s mother had been living in Brazil since 1999.

Meanwhile, in addition to facing blowback over the fabricated biography that he shared with voters while campaigning, Santos is also facing intensifying scrutiny into his campaign finances.

And revelations about the financial relationship between Santos and the New York fund manager Andrew Intrater (the cousin of a Russian oligarch named Viktor Vekselberg) have also raised new questions. As Mother Jones notes:

“A Total Fraud”: Democrats File an Ethics Complaint Against George Santos
They urge the House Ethics Committee to investigate the Santos campaign’s questionable financial practices.

Intrater was one of Santos’ top political donors. At Santos’ behest, he invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with a firm where Santos worked. And even after this company was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of running a Ponzi scheme that threatened Intrater’s investment, Intrater and his domestic partner continued to pour money into Santos’ political campaign…. [Intrater] has told associates that he, like others, was conned by Santos.

There is, quite simply, no there there. No grand ideological vision. No redeeming altruism that might, conceivably, mitigate the con. Like Anna Sorokin, so with Santos this seems to be simply about the frisson of ill-gotten celebrity and faux success. This is, ultimately, the story of a young man on the prowl, hunting for wealth and influence enhancement, and willing to burn those who stand in his way. ...Read More
Photo: Leonard Peltier, was convicted of murdering two FBI agents and has been held in maximum security prisons for 46 of the past 47 years. Photograph: Courtesy of Jeffry Scott

FBI’S Opposition To Releasing Leonard Peltier Driven By Vendetta, Says

Exclusive: retired FBI agent Coleen Rowley calls for clemency for Indigenous activist who has been in prison for nearly 50 years

By Nina Lakhani
The Guardian

Jan 18, 2023 - The FBI’s repeated opposition to the release of Leonard Peltier is driven by vindictiveness and misplaced loyalties, according to a former senior agent close to the case who is the first agency insider to call for clemency for the Indigenous rights activist who has been held in US maximum security prisons for almost five decades.

Coleen Rowley, a retired FBI special agent whose career included 14 years as legal counsel in the Minneapolis division where she worked with prosecutors and agents directly involved in the Peltier case, has written to Joe Biden making a case for Peltier’s release.

“Retribution seems to have emerged as the primary if not sole reason for continuing what looks from the outside to have become an emotion-driven ‘FBI Family’ vendetta,” said Rowley in the letter sent to the US president in December and shared exclusively with the Guardian.

Rowley added: “The focus of my two cents leading to my joining the call for clemency is based on Peltier’s inordinately long prison sentence and an ever more compelling need for simple mercy due to his advanced age and deteriorating health.

“Enough is enough. Leonard Peltier should now be allowed to go home.”

Peltier, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe and of Lakota and Dakota descent, was convicted of murdering two FBI agents during a shootout on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. Peltier was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an Indigenous civil rights movement founded in Minneapolis that was infiltrated and repressed by the FBI.

Rowley refers to the historical context in which the shooting took place as “… the long-standing horribly wrongful oppressive treatment of Indians in the U.S. [which] played a key role in putting both the agents and Peltier in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

The 1977 murder trial – and subsequent parole hearings – were rife with irregularities and due process violations including evidence that the FBI had coerced witnesses, withheld and falsified evidence.

Peltier, now 78, has been held in maximum security prisons for 46 of the past 47 years. He has always denied shooting the agents. Last year, UN experts called for Peltier’s immediate release after concluding that his prolonged imprisonment amounted to arbitrary detention.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian about her intervention, Rowley, who retired in 2004, said that for years new agents were “indoctrinated” with the FBI’s version of events.

“The facts are murky, and I’m not going to say either narrative is correct. I wasn’t there. But I do know that if you really care about justice, then the real issue now is mercy, truth and reconciliation. To keep this going for almost 50 years really shows the level of vindictiveness the organisation has for Leonard Peltier. ...Read More
'We Need Medicare for All': Record Number in US Postponed Health Care in 2022

'After health insurance companies raised prices 24% last year and made nearly $12 billion in profits last quarter, 38% of Americans now report they or a family member put off needed medical care because it was too expensive," said Sen. Bernie Sanders. "We must end this corporate greed.'

By Kenny Stancil
Common Dreams

Jan 18, 2023 - Nearly 40% of people in the United States said they or a family member delayed medical care last year due to the prohibitively high cost of treatment under the nation's for-profit healthcare model, according to a Gallup survey published Tuesday.

As U.S. residents faced soaring prices for private insurance, the percentage of them forgoing medical services as a result of the costs climbed 12 points in one year, from 26% in 2021 to 38% in 2022.

Of those who reported postponing treatment last year, 27% said they or a family member did so "for a very or somewhat serious condition," up nine points from the previous year.

"After health insurance companies raised prices 24% last year and made nearly $12 billion in profits last quarter, 38% of Americans now report they or a family member put off needed medical care because it was too expensive," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted in response to the new findings. "We must end this corporate greed. We need Medicare for All."

Gallup has been collecting self-reported data on this issue since 2001. The firm's latest annual healthcare poll, conducted from November 9 to December 2, found the highest level of cost-related delays in seeking medical care on record, topping the previous high of 33% (2019 and 2014) by five points and marking the sharpest annual increase to date.

The proportion of people who said they or a family member postponed treatment for a serious condition in 2022 (27%) also surpassed the previous all-time high of 25% (2019).

Lower-income households, young adults, and women in the U.S. are especially likely to have postponed medical care due to high costs.

According to Gallup:

In 2022, Americans with an annual household income under $40,000 were nearly twice as likely as those with an income of $100,000 or more to say someone in their family delayed medical care for a serious condition (34% vs. 18%, respectively). Those with an income between $40,000 and less than $100,000 were similar to those in the lowest income group when it comes to postponing care, with 29% doing so.

Reports of putting off care for a serious condition are up 12 points among lower-income U.S. adults, up 11 points among those in the middle-income group, and up seven points among those with a higher income. The latest readings for the middle- and upper-income groups are the highest on record or tied with the highest.

Another recent survey found that just 12% of Americans think healthcare in the U.S. is handled "extremely" or "very" well. Such data provides further evidence of the unpopularity of a profit-maximizing system that has left 43 million people inadequately insured, kicked millions off of their employer-based plans when the coronavirus caused a spike in unemployment, and contributed to the country's startling decline in life expectancy. ...Read More

From the CCDS Socialist Education Project...
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 orders from, or 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.

Reviewed HERE in MLToday, Click here for the Table of Contents
Taking Down
White Supremacy

Edited by the CCDS
Socialist Education Project

This collection of 20 essays brings together a variety of articles-theoretical, historical, and experiential-that address multi-racial, multi-national unity. The book provides examples theoretically and historically, of efforts to build multi-racial unity in the twentieth century.

166 pages, $12.50 (discounts available for quantity), order at :

  Click here for the Table of contents

Solidarity with Ukraine! 
The Ukraine Solidarity Network believes that the victims of aggression have every right to defend themselves and should receive the support of those who support national self-determination and justice.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Foreign Policy in Focus

Jan 16, 2023 - When the Russians began their invasion of Ukraine, it seemed to me to be a no-brainer regarding how progressive forces should respond. After all, the Russians violated international law–quite openly—and it was carried out by a regime that increasingly has the characteristics of a semi-fascist cabal. Thus, I was stunned by some of the responses to the invasion, including from people that I had known for years and, in some cases, considered comrades.

What was at stake in this weird combination of silence, ambivalence, and, in some cases, complicity with regard to the Russian aggression? To a great extent, it is related to a form of linear or one-dimensional thinking, i.e., our principal opponent, namely U.S. imperialism, must be our only opponent. Further, that we must take issue with every foreign policy advanced by the United States.

The difficulty with such an approach is that it converges with isolationism rather than internationalism, and it also is myopic in not appreciating that there can be multiple enemies at any one moment. And, in response to multiple enemies, one must identify, in concrete circumstances, who or what is the main opponent. In the Haitian Revolution, for instance, the enemy alternated between the French, British, and Spanish. As C.L.R. James wrote, in the iconic Black Jacobins, at different moments the Haitian revolutionaries had to make dramatic adjustments such that the enemy of yesterday might not be the enemy of today.

For many of us on the left side of the aisle in the United States, such an approach seems overly burdensome. It is far easier to simply declare that we should oppose anything that the United States does overseas, full stop.

Interestingly, this sort of approach is not new and, prior to World War II, found support in segments of oppressed communities. I am referencing the pro-Japanese movement that University of Massachusetts Professor Ernest Allen has documented, a movement that grew in the aftermath of the Japanese defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). The Japanese victory sent shockwaves throughout the colonial and semi-colonial worlds, as well as within Black America. A country from among the “darker races” had defeated a white, European power!! This compelling image obscured the fact that an imperial Japanese project was being undertaken which, while in opposition to European and U.S. imperialisms, was in no way a champion of self-determination and freedom. For many, however, the “enemy of my enemy was my friend.”

The Ukraine Solidarity Network was recently formed with a different approach and framework. Our framework begins not with justifications for spheres of influence, but the notion that great power domination must be explicitly opposed through support for the right of nations to self-determination. Violations of that right, and violations of international law regarding the sovereignty of nations, needs to be opposed by supporting those who are the victims of aggression. Indeed, the victims of aggression have the right to engage in resistance to the violators of international law. You can read our mission statement below.

Many of our friends on the left have ignored the notion of the right to national self-determination, in the case of Ukraine, in part because of an ignorance of the historic colonial and semi-colonial relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and in part due to our shared opposition to NATO expansion into eastern Europe. NATO expansion was not justified and fostered the instability of the region.

Yet NATO expansion into eastern Europe was not the reason for the war or, in effect, a justification for the Russian invasion. That would be like saying that the 1919 Versailles Treaty ending World War I caused, if not justified, Hitler invading Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Poland. In other words, such a linear argument would ignore any agency on the part of the supporters of Nazism and place the entire matter of the origins of World War II on that treaty. Few people would accept such an argument.

Russian President Putin was fairly clear as to his objectives, prior to the invasion and on the night of the invasion, in declaring that Ukraine was a national fiction. Putin went further in denouncing the arguments that had been raised by Soviet leaders Lenin and Stalin in favor of national self-determination. In effect, Putin was arguing for a Russian sphere of influence. The last time that I checked, left and progressive forces were supposed to stand in opposition to spheres of influence.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought to the surface tensions that have been haunting the Western left and progressive movements for years. Fundamentally, the question becomes one of whether there can be multiple enemies of the world’s oppressed and, secondly, whether the proliferation of opponents of U.S. imperialism—regardless of the nature of these opponents—is a good thing that should be supported.

In 1937, the great African American progressive scholar W.E.B. Dubois was prepared to applaud the alleged social accomplishments of the Japanese-occupied puppet state of Manchukuo (Manchuria), the same year as the Japanese “rape of Nanjing,” one of the most notorious horrors of the World War II era. All of this, apparently, in the name of recognizing Japan’s alleged right to its own empire, an empire of a people of the “darker races,” an empire that was prepared to crush the forces of progress. In other words, the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend, regardless of how nefarious. Dubois later regretted this stand.

A final point. In the face of aggression, does a nation have the right to resist? Should they have such a right, do they have the right to obtain the weapons that are needed, or must they engage in a purity test in order to guarantee that the weapons are from a non-imperialist source?

The Ukraine Solidarity Network, unapologetically, believes that the victims of aggression have every right to defend themselves and should receive the support of those who support national self-determination and justice. To do anything else means, in effect, calling for the victims of aggression to surrender. Such an approach is completely unacceptable.

Ukraine Solidarity Network Mission Statement
Solidarity with Ukraine!

THE UKRAINE SOLIDARITY NETWORK (U.S.) reaches out to unions, communities and individuals from diverse backgrounds to build moral, political and material support for the people of Ukraine in their resistance to Russia’s criminal invasion and their struggle for an independent, egalitarian and democratic country.

The war against Ukraine is a horrible and destructive disaster in the human suffering and economic devastation it has already caused, not only for Ukraine and its people but also in its impact on global hunger and energy supplies, on the world environmental crisis, and on the lives of ordinary Russian people who are sacrificed for Putin’s war. The war also carries the risk of escalation to a direct confrontation among military great powers, with unthinkable possible consequences.

It is urgent to end this war as soon as possible. This can only be achieved through the success of Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s invasion. Ukraine is fighting a legitimate war of self-defense, indeed a war for its survival as a nation. Calling for “peace” in the abstract is meaningless in these circumstances.

The Ukraine Solidarity Network (U.S.) supports Ukraine’s war of resistance, its right to determine the means and objectives of its own struggle – and we support its right to obtain the weapons it needs from any available source. We are united in our support for Ukraine’s people, their military and civilian defense against aggression, and for the reconstruction of the country in the interests of the majority of its population. We stand in opposition to all domination by powerful nations and states, including by the United States and its allies, over smaller ones and oppressed peoples.

We uphold the following principles and goals:

1) We strive for a world free of global power domination at the expense of smaller nations. We oppose war and authoritarianism no matter which state it comes from, and support the right of self-determination and self-defense for any oppressed nation.

2) We support Ukraine’s victory against the Russian invasion, and its right to reparations to meet the costs of reconstruction after the colossal destruction it is suffering.

3) The reconstruction of Ukraine also demands the cancellation of its debts to international financial institutions. Aid to Ukraine must come without strings attached, above all without crushing debt burdens.

4) We recognize the suffering that this war imposes on people in Russia, most intensely on the ethnic and religious minority sectors of the Russian Federation which are disproportionately impacted by forced military conscription. We salute the brave Russian antiwar forces speaking out and demonstrating in the face of severe repression, and we are encouraged by the popular resistance to the draft of soldiers to become cannon fodder for Putin’s unjust war of aggression.

5) We seek to build connections to progressive organizations and movements in Ukraine and with the labor movement, which represents the biggest part of Ukrainian civil society, and to link Ukrainian civic organizations, marginalized communities and trade unions with counterpart organizations in the United States. We support Ukrainian struggles for ensuring just and fair labor rights for its population, especially during the war, as there are no military reasons to implement laws that threaten the social rights of Ukrainians, including those who are fighting in the front lines.

A list of signatories is available here.
Photo: Republican U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance speaks with supporters in Middletown, Ohio, on Oct. 19, 2022. (Gaelen Morse/Getty Images)

J.D. Vance and the Myth
of White Exceptionalism

How a chronicler of hillbilly culture and incoming U.S. senator positioned himself as a representative of people he despises

By Meredith McCarroll
New Lines Magazine

Meredith McCarroll is the author of “Unwhite: Appalachia, Race, and Film” and co-editor of “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy”

Here is a also link to the Online University of the Left's study of 'Ramp Hollow' a left alternative book on Appalachia, as part of a history of the Rust Belt.

Jan 10, 2023 - J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist and author of the runaway bestseller and cultural sensation “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” took a seat in the U.S. Senate on Jan. 3, representing the state of Ohio. What can his rise tell us about America’s relationship with whiteness, the power of narrative and the utility of poverty for a politician?

The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates warned: “It is often said that [former President Donald] Trump has no real ideology, which is not true — his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power.”

Vance has been criticized for his own shifting alliances and lack of firm principles. So as he enters as a freshman senator, let us not misunderstand him as a passive figure with no clear agenda, or regard him merely as a tool of Trump or the tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who donated millions to his campaign. What we understand about Vance depends on what we can understand about the complex positioning of a new white exceptionalism.

The narrative of exceptionalism is most broadly defined as a belief that one group is different from all others and assumes a uniformity within the group. American exceptionalism, though a term first used by Josef Stalin in 1929 to critique revisionist American communism, has evolved into a form of bragging from within America; a way of claiming a status beyond and above all other nations. Black exceptionalism, on the other hand, depends upon the same assumption of group uniformity but posits that anyone who is both successful and Black is the exception.

In the debates at the turn of the last century, W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and northern philanthropists who promoted the idea of “raising the race” considered whether a reliance on the top 10% of the Black population to acquire classical education or an extension of industrial education to a broader Black population would be most effective. Foundational to this idea, which Du Bois advocated and is sometimes called “The Talented Tenth” — referring to that top 10% — is an assumption of a lack of ability associated with Blackness during the Reconstruction Era. More than a century later, the concept of Black exceptionalism continues to prevail and to be tied to an assumption of Black poverty and low ability. Individual Black success happens in spite of Black culture, according to this framework, and depends upon a damning and monolithic representation of that group. Whether it is Michelle Obama, Michael Jordan or Nina Simone, Black exceptionalism asserts that success is due to individual exceptionalism, which does not reflect upon Blackness but rather exempts individuals therefrom.

Success for a white person in America is not the exception. White exceptionalism is an oxymoron. In his 1997 book “White: Essays on Race and Culture,” Richard Dyer observed that while factors like region, religion, socio-economic class, gender expression and other identity markers can have an impact on overall experience, “whiteness generally colonizes the stereotypical definition of all social categories other than those of race. To be normal, even to be normally deviant (queer, crippled) is to be white.” In other words, whiteness trumps other markers of identity.

J.D. Vance has positioned himself within an oxymoronic white exceptionalism of his own design, which is derived more from frameworks of Black exceptionalism than American exceptionalism and relies upon a history of the Appalachia region as “not quite white” or “unwhite” — existing outside the realm of white American experience. His reliance on personal experience allows him to carve out a white victimization that is at the heart of contemporary white identity politics. What is confounding, upon closer examination, is Vance’s assertion of the intractable flaws of the (white) people who raised him, and his reliance on the narrative of Black exceptionalism to claim his own place as an individual success. His success, given this complex position as a person who claims whiteness but asserts his ancestors’ predisposition to failure, makes him an exception to the rule. He got up and out on his own accord. Now that he has done so, his response is to blame the poor for their poverty, blame the addicted for the opioid crisis and blame Appalachia itself for the extraction of its resources.

In “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance speaks confidently in the first-person plural, placing wholesale blame on a vast group of people:

  • We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs. Sometimes we’ll get a job, but it won’t last. We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minutes restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance — the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.

We’ve seen this before, in places like the Moynihan Report and “The Bell Curve” (both discussed below). Each time we see this move, white identity shifts ever so slightly — as it has since it was invented.

In 1964, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor (later a U.S. senator), crafted an unsolicited report to warn the White House of the inevitable failures of civil rights legislation. Titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” the text known as the Moynihan Report asserted that “at the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” Critics accused Moynihan of blaming the victims for their dilemmas. In the nearly six decades since the report was made public in the spring of 1965, Moynihan has been criticized less for his study and more for the conclusions he drew. He asserted that only internal racial self-help could reverse problems in the family structure, ignoring structural injustices and criticizing reform measures. The Moynihan Report blamed Black families and asserted, by implication, the moral, social and characterological superiority of white families.

The same year that Moynihan and his staff were writing their report, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “War on Poverty” from a Kentucky porch belonging to a local resident, Tommy Fletcher, an unemployed sawmill operator. While this “war” had many fronts, the Johnson administration focused attention on white rural Appalachian areas to garner support. Urban poverty, which disproportionately affected people of color, had a different edge to it than the representation of poverty created during the early days of the War on Poverty.

This early, intentional representation of white rural poverty in 1964 was tied to and came out of the same moment that created the Moynihan Report. What if photographers had instead gone to Chicago and photographed young Black children in that urban setting, knowing that the funding and programs enabled by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 — programs like Head Start and Job Corps — extended to impoverished areas and people across the country? Johnson understood then that white poverty was more palatable than Black poverty, and so his administration gave its War on Poverty a white face.

Vance’s white exceptionalism is derived from two essentialist frameworks: the victim-blaming of Black families represented in the Moynihan Report and the pathos for white poverty shown in War on Poverty depictions of Appalachia. Both presume monolithic cultures and rely on simplistic arguments. Black people are poor as a rule because Black families are broken, whereas white people are poor as the exception and deserve assistance. Vance has crafted the most powerful position for himself in which he is white and could be exceptional in his poverty as a child, but he posits himself as exceptional in that he came from a backward place that deserves to fail. In applying Moynihan’s victim-blaming to a region (mis)represented as white and rural, he can be a white victim whose rise is exceptional.

In 1964 and 1965, both Black families and Appalachia were depicted as deeply broken. Moynihan argued that legislation could not correct the flaws within the Black family. Measures such as the Economic Opportunity Act were designed to rescue impoverished people like those in Appalachia. The success of the act had everything to do with the white face of the War on Poverty. The argument Moynihan deployed against Black families in his report was not central to Johnson’s approach to Appalachia. Dwight Billings has pointed to this aspect of “Hillbilly Elegy,” calling it “the pejorative Moynihan report on the Black family in white face.” Vance, however, braids together the Moynihan argument with the Appalachian narrative to justify his assertion that his “culture in crisis” is irredeemably flawed, allowing him to claim an exceptionalism centered on his individual merit.

From the earliest determinations of the region as a region, travelers, geologists, and botanists worked to define and label Appalachia. As early as the 1720s, William Byrd II established many of the stereotypes about the region that remain today in “The History of the Dividing Line,” which chronicled his travels near the Virginia-North Carolina boundary. He showed the “up-country” people as primitive, lazy and unkempt. A century and a half later, William Goodell Frost wrote “The Southern Mountaineer,” in which he mythologized the “pure” race of the region, writing about what he called “our contemporary ancestors” living in the mountains of Appalachia. He helped create the notion that the mountains were filled with people untouched by the passage of time. These myths of Appalachia — as white and out of touch — prevailed and were utilized in the media to promote the War on Poverty in the following century.

Just as Johnson’s administration was situating poverty in Appalachia, the “Life” magazine photographer John Dominis was sent to document the poverty of Kentucky. His images convey a sense of despair, destitute poverty and fragility. Along with the images, the captions situate the subjects as deserving of pity. With one photograph, he wrote, “Appalachia stretches from northern Alabama to southern Pennsylvania, and the same disaster that struck eastern Kentucky hit the whole region — the collapse of the coal industry 20 years ago, which left Appalachia a vast junkyard.” This kind of generalization of a 13-state region (including northern Mississippi and southwestern New York, which Dominis’ photo caption overlooked) — calling Appalachia a vast junkyard — does damage.

It did damage to kids like Vance, who came to feel such a deep shame about Appalachia that he now does all he can to distance himself from his hometown and to blame Appalachia for his individual shortcomings.

News crews and photographers followed Johnson’s path through Appalachia, seeking out the most impoverished areas. Dominis and others like him captured, in undeniably beautiful, haunting, poignant images, a face for the War on Poverty and presented it to the world. This face, and these images, set in place a type — an expectation — for future documentarians, photographers, journalists and writers, so that when visitors to the region sought images that were familiar, they made their way to the same rickety porches, coal mines and family farms.

Vance takes the same path down that well-rutted road, driven as much by stereotypes of the region as his own lived experience. Ivy Brashear, an Appalachian writer and organizer, has observed:

  • Vance’s willingness to tap into that long history of misleading images of the place and the people who live there proves his end game: monetary gain and national notoriety to bolster a potential political run for office — supported, of course, by his carefully created and curated self-image as the so-called “expert” on the white working class of Appalachia, a place where he has never lived. His only connection to its realities were visits with grandparents who traveled home for short periods for a few summers when Vance was a child.

Vance might have positioned himself as one of those down-home factory workers “done good” who can’t stand the direction in which liberal elites are moving the U.S. But that isn’t the story he tells. Instead of aligning himself with Appalachia and calling for a conservative turn to restore power to locals, he points out the reasons that locals can’t be trusted. He writes, “Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us … . These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.” In playing the white exceptionalism card, Vance posits that his success is in spite of the world in which he was raised, rather than due to it.

The historian Bob Hutton highlights that Vance was pointing out problems but discouraging solutions. Hutton writes:

  • [A]t no point does Vance suggest that Kentucky and Ohio residents might benefit from higher wages, better health care, or a renewed labor movement. That would run in the face of his bootstraps thesis. Such concepts would interfere with Vance’s aim in writing “Hillbilly Elegy,” for the book is primarily a work of self-congratulations — a literary victory lap — and a vindication of a minimalist safety net.

While Vance writes about Appalachia as a monolithic white region, he depends upon narratives that have been applied to both Appalachia and to non-whites — specifically Black Americans. The narrative of Appalachia as backward is tied to the narrative of Appalachia as expendable. The narrative of Black families as dysfunctional is tied to the narrative of Black labor as expendable. Both have long histories, tied to capitalism and extractive industries. The success of these systems depends upon narratives of backward cultures deserving of erasure. These are the narratives that Vance co-opts in “Hillbilly Elegy,” where he first cast himself as the exceptional white victim.

Just as coal companies feel justified to blast the tops off mountains and developers call it progress to grade mountainsides and fill them with second homes, Vance extracts a narrative to launch his political career, with no commitment to change the circumstances of those he represents and in fact with quite a bit of resentment toward them. Using the framework of victim-blaming familiar from the Moynihan report, Vance uses the stereotypes of Appalachian people to his benefit, to launch himself as a politician who was smart enough to escape this doomed place.

The myth of the mountaineer trades on two primary tropes that depend upon one another, reminiscent of historic representations of Native Americans. Like Native Americans, mountain people belong to another era. Left too long in isolation, they have not adapted to progress. On the one hand, this paints them as quaint, leading to a romanticized narrative of an old-fashioned people. Yet, as with Native Americans, rootedness in traditional customs is freighted with an inability to adapt. For the Cherokee, this meant forced removal from their ancestral home. For “white” Appalachians living on the land for generations, this means and has meant a removal of agency, a presumption of ignorance and an abuse at the hands of those who own resources, through a manipulation of mineral and timber rights. Much of this has been shaped by narratives of the region, represented as a socially impoverished but geologically wealthy place that cannot manage its resources and does not deserve support.

Scholars of the region understand Appalachia to be — and to always have been — a diverse place. First inhabited by Indigenous people, Eastern Band of the Cherokee remain in Southern Appalachia near sites like Kituwah, the Cherokee Mother Town. Appalachia was settled by European immigrants, like those who settled across the east coast. Scholars like Karida Brown, Phillip Obermiller and others have written about Black migration to Appalachia, while William Turner and Edward Cabell have emphasized the long history of Black Appalachians. Mexican in-migration over the past 30 years has further increased the racial and ethnic diversity of the region. From the 1990 to the 2000 census reports, the (predominantly Mexican) Latino population increased by 394%. Appalachia has never been an ethnic monolith. Together, scholars have demonstrated a consistent and complex “non-white” presence across the region. And yet Appalachia exists as white and rural in the American imagination. The dual position of Appalachia follows the patterns of dehumanization for the sake of extraction and colonization; inhabitants of Appalachia have been cast as backward, simple and deserving of their own poverty.

Progress and development tend to be met with simultaneous embrace and regret. An outhouse becomes an emblem, despite the rather universal agreement that indoor plumbing is at least far more convenient. Conceptually, the good old days exist to remind us of a simpler time; a better time. We romanticize remnants of the past — especially in America, where our past is so relatively short. But we tend to idealize only the parts of our past that align with our professed values and ignore other parts that are messier. This might mean turning away from the Black history and culture that have deeply shaped what we consider American culture. It might mean ignoring Indigenous stories. And it might mean focusing on whiteness and committing to tell a story of Appalachia as a white place. But what if whiteness doesn’t exist? What if whiteness is made up and mutable?

Historians of race — from Nell Irvin Painter to Ibram X. Kendi — have demonstrated how whiteness is a slippery thing. It is not an identity-driven by region, culture or presumed experience but one driven by hierarchies of power. This is how the Irish, Jews and Italians variously became “white” as they acclimated to a country whose caste system was built upon skin color. In his influential 1995 book “How the Irish Became White,” the historian Noel Ignatiev demonstrates how the Irish shifted from an oppressed group to the oppressors themselves, in large part due to their willingness to embrace the system by mistreating non-whites, particularly Black Americans. Their skin color made them eligible for membership in the dominant racial stratum, but it didn’t automatically translate into acceptance — indeed, when they first arrived in America, the Irish were regarded by the Anglo-Protestant elite as a lower order, sometimes called “white Negroes.” It was adherence to the American racial scheme, not just their phenotype, that allowed the Irish (and others) to “become white.”

Whiteness, Ignatiev argued,

  • is not a culture. There is Irish culture and Italian culture and American culture — the latter, as Albert Murray pointed out, a mixture of the Yankee, the Indian, and the Negro (with a pinch of ethnic salt); there is youth culture and drug culture and queer culture; but there is no such thing as white culture. Whiteness has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with social position. It is nothing but a reflection of privilege, and exists for no reason other than to defend it. Without the privileges attached to it, the white race would not exist, and the white skin would have no more social significance than big feet.

Critical White Studies emerged in the mid-1990s from Critical Legal Studies, spiraling into a range of fields and evolving toward a contemporary understanding of race as a social construct with whiteness as an identity devoid of meaning but full of power. The “identity politics” created by movements like these have led, in part, to the white supremacy du jour, which is out in the open and available as a political platform.

It was this sensibility that Trump tapped into in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. As Coates argued so effectively in his essay “The First White President,” Trump benefited from a latent racism and fear of change, and effectively threw fuel on a bed of coals. Trump, Coates wrote, was “not the product of white supremacy so much as the product of a backlash against contempt for white working-class people.” Trump invigorated voters who resisted one conception of identity politics (while engaging in their own white identity politics) and “moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed.” According to Coates, the possibility of Obama’s presidency served as a personal affront to Trump, who set out to reverse Obama’s policies as if erasing his presence altogether.

The current state of white identity politics tends to blame systems that have oppressed them. A factory worker blames globalism for his loss of employment, but might conflate the objects of his rage — confusing those making decisions (corporate executives) with others who are affected by them (workers in China or Mexico). The liberal elite are blamed for taking away the rights of heterosexual couples as marriage rights are extended to same-sex couples. The media and educators are blamed for creating new ideas around gender identities. A narrow way of life, which held sway for generations and continues to maintain the most privileged position, feels threatened as rights are extended more broadly, hard-won through organizing and advocacy.

As James Baldwin wrote, “No one was white before he or she came to America.” Whiteness is stabilized, conceptually, when reports “demonstrate” the putative flaws (genetic or cultural) of non-whites. We’ve seen this before, too. It has led to genocide.

Charles Murray, the co-author of the controversial 1994 book “The Bell Curve,” uses a genetic premise in his warnings about poor whites. In a 2000 article for National Review (a pillar of American conservatism), he wrote:

  • Try to imagine a … presidential candidate saying in front of the cameras, “One reason that we still have poverty in the United States is that a lot of poor people are born lazy.” You cannot imagine it because that kind of thing cannot be said. And yet this unimaginable statement merely implies that when we know the complete genetic story, it will turn out that the population below the poverty line in the United States has a configuration of the relevant genetic makeup that is significantly different from the configuration of the population above the poverty line. This is not unimaginable. It is almost certainly true.

To maintain a particular imagined whiteness, Murray tightens the circle — asserting that those who are poor actually have a different “genetic makeup.” They are not the right white. It is this conception of whiteness that Vance seems to align with when he similarly blames the poor for their poverty. Yet he positions himself, in the book at least, as genetically predisposed to violence. “We do not like outsiders or people who are different from us, whether the difference lies in how they look, how they act, or, most important, how they talk. To understand me, you must understand that I am a Scots-Irish hillbilly at heart.” This same framework seems to fuel his ridicule of the LGBTQ community.

On International Pronoun Day, an organization tweeted a chart with a list of pronouns and examples of avoiding presumption of pronouns. Vance retweeted it with the comment, “I’ll just speak like a normal person instead.” One reader called him the “ultimate vice signaler.” In a talk at a high school in California, he said that parents should stay in marriages — even violent ones — for the sake of the children. In a speech given at a meeting of a conservative think tank, Vance laughed about the “LGBTQIA+” community, thanking them for adding the “+” so that he didn’t have to remember any more letters. This “anti-woke” sensibility was fueled by Trump, whereas the genetic sensibility tied to blaming the poor comes from Murray.

Vance’s rise from Middletown, Ohio, to Yale Law School — supported by his grandmother and the G.I. Bill — is told, by him, as a bootstraps narrative of independence and hard work. His rise from lawyer to bestselling author occurred as he leaned into the role of the naïve hillbilly. His ascendance was orchestrated early on by the Yale law professor and “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” author Amy Chua, whom Vance thanks in his book for helping him believe “both [his] life and the conclusions [he] drew from it were worth putting down on paper.” Chua is a controversial and divisive figure who most recently came under attack when she defended Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Another major supporter of Vance’s has been Thiel, the venture capitalist who co-authored “The Diversity Myth,” a book in which he asserted that multiculturalism was dumbing down colleges and that date rape charges were merely “seductions that are later regretted.” Thiel pledged $12.5 million to Trump immediately after the “grab ’em by the pussy” tape was released. He later donated $10 million to Vance’s recent senatorial campaign.

Vance’s rise from celebrity and venture capitalist to U.S. senator is enabled by this divisive moment of white identity politics, whose primary narrative is that liberal elites are abandoning “real” Americans and their values. Just as Trump took advantage of white angst resulting from Obama’s presidency, Vance capitalizes on white anxiety. He positions himself as Appalachian enough to be “one of us” but never fails to distance himself from those who raised him. He uses the narratives of monolithic “pure white stock” alongside the critique of the region as deserving of its stereotypes.

It is easy to read Vance as a puppet. His flip-flopping, after all, led Trump to claim, “J.D. is kissing my ass, he wants my support so much.” Hearing him dismiss what he calls the culture wars, laugh about gender identities and roll his eyes at “woke culture” should be a warning. Not only is he writing as an authority on a region he narrowly understands, confirming stereotypes that cause harm and justify mistreatment, he has managed to position himself as a representative of the people he despises. He calls them despicables, but perhaps it is the R beside his name that earns him their votes.

The narrative of white exceptionalism may feel oxymoronic when you pay attention to history, economics, politics or sociology in America. But Vance has just won an election based on the idea that white people are victimized by progressives, and that experience as an exceptional white — better than the rest of Middletown, Ohio — makes him the leader worth following.

Narratives matter. The shifting narrative of Vance requires an understanding of shifting constructions of whiteness, the historical tendency to blame victims for their circumstances and a justification for plundering cultures that are depicted as backward. Trace the position of race, the position of progressives and the position of government responsibility, and you’ll see just how serpentine his path toward power is. Tell a story enough times, though, and it seems true.

As Vance enters the halls of the U.S. Senate with a narrative of oppression — blaming not Purdue Pharma but his addicted mother; blaming not the tax breaks that moved jobs out of the country but the immigrants who seek a new home; blaming not the systems of poverty that were perpetuated in his family but rather the laziness of his own family — the stories he chooses to tell matter. Pay attention to his narratives. They have taken him this far and can continue to shift to carry him even further. ...Read More
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History Lesson of the Week:
A New Discovery Puts Panama as the Site
of the First Successful Slave Rebellion
Photo: A present-day view of Portobelo, which many descendants of the original freedom fighters still call home. Alamy

Deep in the archives, a historian
rescues the tale of brave maroons

By Melba Newsome
Smithsonian, Freelance journalist
January/February 2023

A dogged U.S. scholar has upended the conventional wisdom about enslaved Africans in the New World by demonstrating that the first successful slave uprising in the Americas occurred in Panama, not in Haiti, as many have long believed.

Robert Schwaller, a University of Kansas historian, discovered new details about the Panama uprising at the General Archive of the Indies, a repository in Seville, Spain, devoted to the Spanish Empire in the Americas and Asia. The papers, including letters, royal edicts and court documents, shed new light on several groups of enslaved Africans in and around what is now the Panamanian province of Colón.

The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa first transported captured Africans to Panama in 1513. Around a decade later, the enslaved population began to flee captivity, first individually and then in groups. As the ranks of the self-emancipated grew, they conducted raids on Spanish cities and highways, to gain riches and to free fellow Africans.

These maroons—an English term used for formerly enslaved people who had freed themselves—tied up Spanish forces in a costly guerrilla war for decades, eventually forcing a negotiated peace. In 1579, Panama’s high court granted permanent freedom to resistance leader Maçanbique and his community of maroons throughout Spain’s territories in the Americas. The decree, long overlooked by historians, marks the success of this series of uprisings, which took place more than two centuries before Toussaint Louverture helped lead the Haitian Revolution.

“The success of Panama’s maroons established a precedent for securing freedom and autonomy that other African maroons would repeat in the centuries to come in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Jamaica,” says Schwaller, who details his research in a 2021 book, African Maroons in Sixteenth-Century Panama: A History in Documents.

The 16th-century African freedom fighters formed self-governing settlements in the regions around the Spanish fort of Portobelo. More than four centuries later, the Portobelo community lives on. “The amazing thing about Portobelo is that the people who live there today have a direct connection to the people who came from Congo and Angola, many of whom were maroons,” Schwaller says. “They know their history, even though few outsiders do.”

Other scholars, meanwhile, have been celebrating Schwaller’s finds. Ben Vinson III, a historian and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, says Schwaller’s “exceptional work … has engineered new pathways for teaching about rebellion, as well as understanding how peace was brokered, and how different imperial aims created space for African resistance.”

Melba Newsome is a journalist, writer and editor whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Newsweek and Bloomberg, among others. ...Read More
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How México Views Today's Fractured World
from the Jan 18, 2023 Bulletin
Pedro Gellert, a rank-and-file Morena activist, has been involved in international solidarity efforts with nations that range from Cuba to Palestine. Gellert formerly edited the Morena Internacional newsletter, and his membership in the México Solidarity Project reflects his longstanding commitment to internationalism.
The 10th North American Leaders Summit took place in México City January 9 and 10. What did President López Obrador hope to achieve?
México wants to better its position in relationship to the United States and enlist the US and Canada in efforts “to reduce the poverty and inequality that are growing in the Americas,” as Foreign Minister Marcel Ebrard frames it.

Poverty and inequality underlie migration, a central issue for the 2023 summit. President Biden wants migrants to stay in México. The US is having those migrants who do make it across the border deported back to México, not — thankfully — to their countries of origin. But this policy puts an unfair burden of responsibility onto México, a nation that has had no hand in the region’s political and economic disruptions. 
AMLO, for his part, came to the summit also wanting the United States to regularize the status of the millions of undocumented Mexicans living in the US.
Trade policy has become another critical area for negotiations. México, for example, wants to ban imported GMO yellow corn, as part of its food safety policy.
Corn imports from the US have destroyed the livelihoods of Mexican farmers and the traditional diversity of corn varieties available. 
Does AMLO have any bargaining chips?
GMO corn disguised as organic. Photo: 123RF
His strategy has to rely, in part, on using the China card to force Biden to make concessions. The US wants México to join with it to isolate China and stop its global economic expansion. But Latin American countries have been more favorable to Chinese investments. 
These Chinese investments come with fewer strings than those from Western nations. Many Latin Americans also feel some pride that a third-world country has become able to challenge Washington’s hitherto unchallenged hegemony. After all, the US — and not China — has “underdeveloped” the Latin American region.
Gaining sovereignty over México’s own energy sector has been a major goal for AMLO. His re-nationalization policies brought howls of protest from the US and Canada. 

True, but this issue didn’t sit on the Summit table. It’s being negotiated in other venues.
Have México’s foreign policy goals changed since AMLO’s election?
Yes. AMLO has publicly denounced the Organization of American States, the OAS, as a US tool. The Uruguayan conservative Luis Almagro heads the OAS, and he played a direct and active role in engineering the coup that ousted Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales in 2019. AMLO has played a regional leadership role in urging Latin America to consider forming its own economic bloc without the US.
A second difference: All Latin American countries have opposed the US blockade in Cuba. But AMLO has also gone out of his way to praise Cuba and to stand solidly with Cuban President Díaz-Canel.
Both mainstream politicians and US leftists have criticized México for including Nicaragua — whose leaders have embraced undemocratic practices and violated human rights — in its bloc. What stance toward those practices and violations is México taking?
The Mexican government withdrew its ambassador in protest of those policies. The current imprisonment of the well-known leftist sociologist Oscar René Vargas, a supporter of the Sandinista revolution who once taught at the UNAM in México, has been particularly painful. But the Mexican government under AMLO, in keeping with Mexico’s historic stand of non-intervention, has made no public declarations against the Ortega government. ...Read More
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Book Review: The Roots of Black Pain in America
In “Under the Skin,” Linda Villarosa disproves once and for all the theory that people of color are responsible for their own failed health care

By Kaitlyn Greenidge
New York Times

UNDER THE SKIN: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation, by Linda Villarosa

June 8, 2022- In 1973, two Black girls, 14-year-old Minnie Lee Relf and her 12-year-old sister, Mary Alice, were forcibly taken from their home in Montgomery, Ala., and sterilized at a clinic funded by the federal government. Their parents — who had been displaced from rural Alabama into a cardboard shanty in the city and could not read or write — were tricked into agreeing to the procedure. Two years earlier, doctors had already begun to inject their oldest daughter, 15-year-old Katie, with the Depo-Provera contraceptive, then unapproved even for adult women, never mind teenagers.

Jessie Bly, a Black social worker who had brought the Relf family to the state’s attention the year before, recalled the horror of discovering what the state’s own doctors had done to the girls. Interviewing Bly for her remarkable third book, “Under the Skin,” Linda Villarosa writes: “Even nearly half a century later, Bly has no trouble conjuring the image of the younger Relf girls in the hospital, huddled together, looking small and scared in cotton surgical gowns.” At the sight of Bly, they began to cry. Mary Alice, who was born with a developmental disability, could only say: “I just hurt so bad. I just hurt so bad, Miss Bly, help me. Help me, Miss Bly.”

I am writing this review the week after the Supreme Court’s draft ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked. In the days since, some women and activists on social media have predicted that “‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ will become a reality,” conveniently forgetting that it already has been for generations of American women who are not white.

How this country understands birth, personhood and privacy — why its laws even presume to dictate what happens during an individual pregnancy — is deeply rooted in slavery. A couple of hundred years ago, the reproductive health of enslaved Black people literally decided the state of this country’s economy: More Black women able to bear more Black children meant that the plantation economy could prosper. But of course, the system of slavery — and the doctrine of anti-Blackness that sprang up to philosophically justify it — was predicated on inhumane physical, sexual and emotional violence. This entanglement of incentives left a cruel legacy that continues in today’s shocking racial health disparities. Through case histories like the Relfs’ story and the better-known Tuskegee experiment, as well as her independent reporting across the country, Villarosa elegantly traces the effects of this legacy on Black health: reproductive, environmental, mental and more.

Villarosa opens the book with a long personal history of her awakening to these structural inequalities. She was raised in an upwardly mobile Black family that moved from an all-Black neighborhood in Chicago to a white suburb in Colorado when she was a child. She often felt “like a fly in the buttermilk,” she writes, acutely aware of her imperative, as a representative of her race, to help other, poorer Black people. She began her career as a health journalist at the bible of Black women’s bougie ambitions, Essence magazine. The job required her to break down complex scientific and clinical reports into narratives for a general reader. That underrated skill serves Villarosa well in this book, where she repositions various narratives about race and medicine — the soaring Black maternal mortality rates; the rise of heart disease and hypertension; the oft-repeated dictum that Black people reject psychological therapy — as evidence not of Black inferiority, but of racism in the health care system.

A disciple of the gospel of racial uplift, Villarosa implicates herself as one of many well-meaning professionals who assumed that the “problem” of Black health must simply be a matter of education and class. If only poor Black people paid better attention, she once assumed, they would be healthier. In 1994, Villarosa wrote “Body & Soul: The Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-Being,” pitched as an African American “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Angela Y. Davis and June Jordan wrote the foreword to the book. They “had been involved in the civil rights and Black Power movements and understood that structural racism and health care discrimination contributed greatly to the health problems that ‘Body & Soul’ covered,” Villarosa writes. “But as a child of the generation that benefited from earlier struggles but was too young to be involved in the movements, I stayed in my sweet spots — information, education and self-help.”

It is not until a 1991 encounter with Harold Freeman, the head of surgery at Harlem Hospital, that Villarosa begins to rethink this approach. Freeman had recently published a groundbreaking and explosive report in The New England Journal of Medicine that found that “Black men in Harlem lived fewer years than their counterparts in the impoverished country of Bangladesh.” Visiting Harvard during Villarosa’s fellowship there, Freeman admonished her: “If you really care about these issues and want to make a difference, you must not use race as a proxy for poverty or poverty as a proxy for race. … Look deeper, think differently.” Even as she took these words to heart, it would take decades for Villarosa to truly internalize them. This new approach finally came to a head in 2018, with Villarosa’s own groundbreaking reporting on the Black maternal health crisis, told through the experience of Simone Landrum, “a woman whose medical treatment led to the death of her baby and her own near death.” Published in The New York Times Magazine (where she has been a contributing writer since 2017), “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis” made an immediate public impact, inspiring a slew of conferences, initiatives, further articles and testimonies, and culminating in a 2020 executive order by the governor at the time, Andrew Cuomo, requiring all New York hospitals to allow “support people,” i.e. doulas, in delivery rooms. The story formed the seed of this singular and expansive book on the racism of American health care.

But despite this wide influence, Villarosa felt the limits of this country’s understanding. I, along with almost every other Black woman of childbearing age I knew, read the piece and talked about it constantly. Trapped in the American narrative of individualism, I took the same ineffectual lessons from it that Villarosa had espoused at Essence: “to work within the medical system and squeeze everything you could” out of it, not to “challenge that system” but to “self-advocate for fair treatment.” I did all this during my own pregnancy, with Landrum’s story at the front of my mind. I took prenatal vitamins religiously; I followed doctor’s orders even when they suggested I should lose weight during my pregnancy; I hired a doula, and found a doctor who looked like me, and chose a hospital renowned for its low rate of cesarean sections. I still ended up in the hospital for a week before my daughter’s birth — a traumatizing time marked by painful medical interventions that I sometimes feel I am still coming to terms with. I had done everything, had “cared enough” in the face of everyone telling me Black mothers didn’t care. Instead of recognizing the external factors of my suffering, I internalized it into shame.

“Under the Skin” offers an alternative understanding of this suffering, for which there is a long history. Black pain is not, and has never been, the fault of the individual, but a result of the structural racism embedded in the practice of medicine in this country. Many doctors avoid confronting this truth. Hearing Villarosa’s account of Landrum’s harrowing delivery, a group of white Midwestern doctors only questioned why Villarosa was allowed in the delivery room at all. “That was your takeaway?” she replied. “The denial of racial bias can be so extreme that no one believes you even when you have the evidence.”

In this eminently admirable book, there are no easy answers or platitudes. Even as Villarosa meticulously outlines the myriad ways Black people have fought for their own health, from social workers to doulas to community organizers, she stays focused on the nature of a structural problem, which cannot be changed through individual choices. In 1992, Villarosa asked Audre Lorde if she agreed that racism in America was “dying out.” In response, Lorde “warned me that when something dies, it doesn’t just fade away; it fights to the death, desperately clinging to life, and goes out ugly.” If racial bias in medicine is receding, Villarosa concludes, it’s certainly “going out ugly.” ...Read More
Film Review: ‘Saint Omer’ Is an Unforgettable Movie That Deserves Oscars Attention

Alice Diop’s courtroom drama — France’s submission for the Best International Feature Film Oscar — is a powerful meditation on the immigrant experience

Rolling Stone

JAN 14, 2023 - Alice Diop’s Saint Omer is a movie about a trial. But it is not strictly concerned with the question of innocence or guilt as a problem of the law. Far more complex, the movie finds, is the problem of how we should feel about the moral authority of the question — and the moral authority of the domain in which it can be asked. It is a movie about language and testimony, mothers and daughters, and the specific burden of a Black immigrant woman who finds herself subjected to the French legal gaze. It sets before us what is at first glance an inarguable evil — the murder of a child — and asks us to confront, not only what we do not understand, but the terms of that understanding. How it is that a court full of people who’ve not only deemed you a monster, but also an “other” — an outlier to their way of life — may arrive at that understanding, or not.

The woman on trial, Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda), is a native of Senegal who came to France to study philosophy. Wittgenstein. Instead she found a country whose difficulties only inspired in her a grave sense of isolation and anger. Her story is that she fell in with an older French man, named Luc Dumontet (Xavier Maly), and entered into a dispiriting romance that would only result in more isolation. It would also result in a child. Coly has been charged with leaving that child on a beach in Berck-sur-Mer, during a high tide. She does not deny doing this; she will testify to all of it. But when she is asked for her plea, she pleads not guilty. She says that she does not think she is the responsible party in this crime. Early on, she is asked why she killed her daughter. “I don’t know,” she tells the judge. “I hope that this trial will give me the answer.”

That we know anything about her at all is in part because of the format of the trial, predicated on long dispatches of testimony by Laurence while under questioning by a panel of three judges, a prosecutor, and her defense. It is also thanks to Diop’s extremely subtle staging and framing of these proceedings, beginning with our views of the woman that this movie is more directly about: a novelist and professor named Rama (Kayije Kagame), who has come to this trial with an interest in turning it into a literary retelling of the Medea myth. Rama wants to call her project “Medea Castaway.” (She is advised against this title.) She enters the space of the court as an onlooker who is unprepared for what Laurence Coly’s story is going to stir up in her. Or maybe she is here precisely because she sees the signs, sees the similarities, and knows where this may take her — maybe that was her attraction to this story, all along.

Either way, what unfolds in Saint Omer is an unpredictable, psychologically tense inquiry into the inner lives of these two women: one of them on trial, the other a witness, both of them educated Black women, both mixed up in the problem of immigrant identity in a complex nation, both the daughters of mothers whose flaws color their relationships to themselves and the broader world, far into each woman’s adulthood. What unfolds is a narrative that would almost feel procedural — it is largely set in court and lends much of its runtime to the testimonies and questions that occur in that space — but for the clarity of Diop’s intentions. 

The script, co-written with Amrita David, packs entire felt histories into the sparest of monologues. From Laurence, during the trial, we hear the story of a childhood that was relatively privileged, of parents whose affections were not always felt, and a mother in particular (who attends the trial) whose emphasis on European politesse and success demanded that young Laurence abandon Wolof and other cultural ties to their home in Dakar. We hear of her loneliness while studying philosophy, and of the path that landed her in the studio of an older man with a family who never grew to treat her like family, let alone an equal. She tells us about her conception of her child. And about her sense — on which it seems that this trial will hinge — that she has more or less been cursed. You can feel the fractures in this already. How can a woman who speaks educated French, who arrived to study philosophy, who therefore seems willing to agree to and perform Western values, still believe that she has been cursed? Why — a representative from her school asks — would a Black woman study Wittgenstein? How can a woman claim to love a child but hide that child, and the fact of her pregnancy, from everyone around her?

It’s like watching this story in double vision. Diop’s camera is intently focused on faces — particularly Rama’s, who is so in keyed into these proceedings that moments arrive in which the sound of the court proceeding dims and the audio zeroes in on the taut rhythm of her breathing. Diop slowly builds the brick house of Laurence’s personal narrative up only to give us a court that will systematically tease it apart. The faces she offers us throughout — of the judges, the lawyers, Laurence, Rama, Laurence’s mother, the jury (none of them Black) and the other guests in the court (most of them white) — amplify the sense of examination. The trial becomes an occasion to weigh Laurence’s truth against what it considers to be the truth. And in the gap between those frames, Saint Omer suggests, a world of understanding is lost. Laurence describes isolation, confusion, lostness. What she is confronted with are inconsistencies in her own telling. What we come to understand is her means of rejecting this country are wielded, in court, as examples of negligence. 

Diop’s direction of Saint Omer is spare in style but dense in emotional intelligence, heavy with its own inquiries. The visual set-ups seem simple, but they are constantly carving away at the harrowing question of what people are thinking. What it is that this volley between Laurence and the law is making people feel. That is where Rama comes in. The story begins and ends with her. Unlike Laurence, she exists outside of this courtroom. Sharing a space with Laurence, in the room of the court, encourages an encounter between these two womens’ stories that’s one of the most remarkable feats in a movie I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s in the way that Diop encourages us to look back at what we know of Rama, in light of what we learn of Laurence. Suffice to say there are echoes in these women’s stories — that the ways it overwhelms Rama as she watches, inciting brief flashbacks within the movie to her own childhood and the harshness of her own mother, is both to be expected and still surprising. So much of what Saint Omer wants us to understand is in its approach to the fates of the Black mothers it depicts. So much of what it has to say about the experience of immigrants, in particular, is in the echoes we encounter in these women’s stories. How much of her own mother does Rama see in Laurence? And of herself? And then there’s the other tie — an unexpected encounter with Laurence’s mother, who singles her out as the only other Black woman in the court (beyond Laurence). It leads to one of the movie’s best, briefest scenes — a flash of this woman’s mothering that explains Laurence in terms that Rama is unusually positioned to understand. ...Read More
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