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Task of the Day: Isolate and Deconstruct the GOP Death Cult
The GOP efforts against public health are not only a public danger in themselves. Now this militant minority of the rightwing populists are violently attacking and disrupting local school boards, local doctors and nurses, and others defending the common good. Organize to block them, and urge local officials to stand up.

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John Case, Shepherdstown W VA: Interesting development in WV. The UMWA has decided to adopt an aggressive organizing posture directed beyond coal. A discussion yesterday indicated they are interested in committing to campaigns along the I-81 corridor, mfg and warehousing. State cops too. 

We are exploring this in Eastern panhandle. The state fed is very interested. The corridor is filled with a diverse and growing workforce. The warehousing facilities include two giant Amazon fulfillment centers, one half open and still under construction in Hagerstown. 

We'll see if the UMWA is capable of forming the alliances needed to give this legs. Never underestimate Cecil -- that has been my experience. He has got a Jim Matles - like temperament. The mineworkers wear their solidarity traditions proudly at state labor gatherings. They convey toughness, unity -- including Black-white unity -- and discipline in their conduct and presentations at those meetings. Let me say that conveying -- and demonstrating -- the STRENGTH that solidarity can deliver is probably the most important tactical challenge of union organizing in this era, maybe any era!

As part of an "Appalachian socialism" -- I think Carl coined that -- kind of campaign -- this could shape up into something very cool.
Photo: James Campbell, presente! A founding leader of CCDS, whose memorial was held this summer in South Carolina. Buy his memorial book HERE.

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WHERE WE STAND: We see the immediate problem of defeating the GOP Trumpists. This task is framed by the centrality of a path forward focused on taking down white supremacy, along with all other forms of oppression and exploitation. Naturally, this will include important battles within the Democratic party as well. This is the path to class unity and popular solidarity.

We are partisans of the working class and the oppressed--here and in all countries. We explore all the new challenges of shaping and fighting for a democracy and socialism for the 21st Century.

We want to build organizations to win elections, strikes and other campaigns, and put our people in the seats of power as well.

As such we seek unity on the left and an effort to shape and unite a progressive majority. Lend a hand by contributing articles and sharing us widely. 

We also work closely with another Left Unity project, the Online University of the Left. It has a list of some 10,000 Facebook 'Friends' who get a weekly notification and posting of LeftLinks. `Check it out.
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Photo: At a rally in Georgia Sept 25, Trump once again turned facts upside down, declaring that “we won at the Arizona forensic audit yesterday at a level that you wouldn’t believe.”

Arizona 'Vote Audit' Fuels the MAGA Coup Express

By Max Elbaum
Organizing Upgrade

Sept 27, 2021 - Last week the MAGA bloc told the country once again what they think and what they intend to do. The only uncertainty about their proclamations is how successful we in the anti-Trumpist majority are going to be in blocking their plans.


The MAGA message that got the most media attention was their response to the right-wing-sponsored audit of the 2020 vote in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Never mind that the only hard numbers provided by this charade expanded Biden’s margin of victory. Forget the immediate debunking of every one of the audit’s allegations about irregularities by the Maricopa County Election Board. All that mattered was the boasting from MAGA Maximum Leader Donald Trump:

  • “[The audit] “uncovered significant and undeniable evidence of FRAUD!” It “conclusively shows there were enough fraudulent votes, mystery votes, and fake votes to change the outcome of the election 4 or 5 times over.”

So, without even a hiccup, the “Stop the Steal” movement is barreling ahead. Faster than January 6 was transformed from an embarrassing fiasco to a model of patriotic heroism, the audit was converted from a humiliation into more ammunition for the Big Lie. On the surface a claim about something that already happened, the Big Lie is mainly a weapon to shape the future. It is wielded to de-legitimize the results of any future election that Republicans don’t win. That’s why Republicans are now pushing audits in other states – even ones that Trump carried last November.

The purpose goes beyond ginning up the base. The Big Lie drives a legislative and judicial action program to expand voter suppression and give Republican state lawmakers greater control over elections. Governors and state election boards are to be pushed aside; gerrymandered state legislatures will be empowered to disregard any election result they don’t like. Any secretaries of state who are inclined to put observance of the law over partisan interest are to be targeted and purged. According to Reuters, 10 of the 15 declared Republican candidates for secretary of state in five battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada — have either declared that the 2020 election was stolen or called for their state’s results to be invalidated or further investigated.

It’s all out there in plain sight: The MAGA bloc aims to determine both who votes and who counts the votes. Or put another way, whose votes should count and whose should not.


For proponents of the Big Lie, it’s not about illegitimate votes, it’s about illegitimate voters.

The most watched host on cable television – Fox News’ Tucker Carlson – was explicit about that on September 16:

  • “To our leaders illegal immigrants have a very specific functional purpose. They are a tool to change the country forever… to reduce the political power of people whose ancestors lived here, and dramatically increase the proportion of Americans newly arrived from the third world … In political terms, this policy is sometimes called the great replacement – the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from faraway countries.”

The great replacement thesis is a core tenet of white nationalism: “legacy Americans” (and they don’t mean Native Americans, they mean white people) count. Others – those with dark skins, those from the Third World (or in Trump’s memorable phrase, “shithole countries”) – don’t. Trump is the choice of the majority of “real Americans.” Therefore, he should have been declared the winner in 2020. If he isn’t put back in office before 2024, the white-nationalist-driven MAGA faction plans to correct that mistake by making sure gerrymandered state legislatures – backed by the Supreme Court and about-to-be-purified Republican congressional delegations, will determine the outcome.


MAGA’s coup preparations include violence as part of their arsenal. Threats of violence are already being used to make sure there are no repeats of 2020 when a handful of Republicans put following the law above partisan loyalty and upheld the election results.

Tricia Raffensperger, wife of the Georgia election official who has been one of Trump’s top targets, has been getting chilling messages for months: “You and your family will be killed very slowly” and “We plan for the death of you and your family every day.”

Last week threats against another object of Trumpian wrath bore fruit. Anthony Gonzalez, one of ten GOP Representatives who voted for impeachment, announced he would not run for re-election. Gonzalez said he no longer wanted to “have my wife and kids escorted through the airport” by security or receive ominous messages that “We’re coming to your house.”

Against the backdrop of the January 6 assault on the Capitol and the public welcome of armed militias into the MAGA fold, does anyone still cling to the illusion that such threats are not credible? Or that if they show more success in driving Republicans out of office, they won’t be extended to Democrats and progressives – and carried out?

Any complacency on that score ought to be put to rest immediately. If Trump’s response to Gonzalez’s announcement – “One down, nine to go!” – isn’t convincing enough, how about the words of Andrew Kloster, a GOP Attorney now on the team looking into how Wisconsin’s election was conducted:

  • “We need our own army of local bureaucrats. And we need to fight for our locales. We need our own irate hooligans (incidentally, this is why the left and our national security apparatus hates the Proud Boys) and our own captured DA offices to let our boys off the hook.”


There’s no shortage of voices from across the anti-MAGA spectrum that are sounding the alarm. “Never Trump” Republicans have been roasting the Trump enablers among their former colleagues for several years now, and the latest blast from ultra-Neocon Robert Kagan is one of the most comprehensive indictments yet:

  • “Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his [2024] victory by whatever means necessary…. the amateurish ‘stop the steal’ efforts of 2020 have given way to an organized nationwide campaign to ensure that Trump and his supporters will have the control over state and local election officials that they lacked in 2020.”

Recent writings from the liberal camp have also escalated their warnings. Typical is an essay in The Atlantic by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die:

  • “We are convinced that the Republican Party leadership is willing to overturn an election. Moreover, we are concerned that it will be able to do so – legally.”

And Bill Fletcher, Jr, a prominent voice from the section of the left that has warned about the danger of Trumpism from day one, minced no words in a recent article:

  • “The Republican Party has announced itself to be the political party-for-dictatorship.”


The point on which these disparate political voices agree provides the basis for the kind of broad, defend democracy coalition that can successfully defeat the MAGA bloc. But of course each component of this coalition has a different idea of the key to victory, related to different visions of what a post-MAGA country ought to look like.

Kagan pins his hopes on the few Republicans who have been critical of Trump coalescing into a determined battalion of “Constitutional Republicans” who will actually fight Trump, not just issue occasional statements or cast symbolic votes.

Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that the Republican Party needs to be “de-radicalized,” and doing that requires incentives that will force the GOP to compete for a majority of voters rather than suppress votes. They propose a set of reforms to “expand access to the ballot, reform our electoral system to ensure that majorities win elections and weaken or eliminate antiquated institutions such as the filibuster so that majorities can actually govern.”

If the constituencies that Kagan and Levitsky/Ziblatt address embraced and acted on the ideas these authors propose, they would up their contribution to defeating the authoritarian threat.

But it wouldn’t be enough. That’s where the action program advocated by Fletcher and other radicals comes in. To beat the Trumpists we need to learn from our experience in 2020 and start preparations now to galvanize massive voter turnouts in 2022 and 2024 and equally massive outpourings of energy to defend the results. To do that requires linking the fight for political democracy to the fight for improvements in the material conditions of the lives of the majority.

It is the organizations and individuals currently on the frontlines of the fights for racial and gender justice, climate justice, workers’ rights, and peace in all their specific manifestations – on both electoral and non-electoral terrain – that are key to making that happen at scale. The challenge to the ecosystem of social justice formations that has grown so much since 2016 is to link the work of building and unifying the broadest possible front against Trumpism with building its own reach and institutional power (for the long haul).

It’s not an easy road to navigate. And no force on the left has yet demonstrated its particular strategy and practice offers the most promise of success. But perspectives within the broad framework of “block the right and build the left” have become more developed and grounded in U.S. history than even a few years ago. (See for example, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Barbara Ransby, Tarso Ramos, and Calvin Cheung-Miaw). That – and the extensive preparations underway for 2022 and 2024 by the host of progressive and left groups that threw down to beat Trump in 2020 – are the reasons we can succeed.

Max Elbaum has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since the 1960s. He is an editor of Organizing Upgrade and the author of Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso Books, Third Edition, 2018). ...Read More
For America’s Sake, We Can’t Afford
to Cut $3.5 Trillion Spending Plan

This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class. They want to maintain the status quo in which the rich get richer.
By Bernie Sanders
USA Today via Portside

President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan is at risk in Congress partly because it strikes people as a lot of money. But - the net cost of the plan, after taking into account offsetting tax increases and spending cuts, is only one-quarter as big.

We live in an unprecedented moment as our country faces enormous crises, including COVID-19, climate change, attacks on democracy, income and wealth inequality, and the multidecade decline of the American middle class.

We Really Need $6 Trillion

As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, I proposed a $6 trillion reconciliation bill that would begin to address these long-neglected problems. A strong majority of the Democratic caucus supported that proposal, but not all.

As a result, we made a major compromise to reduce that budget from $6 trillion to $3.5 trillion. This entire package would not add to the deficit and would be paid for by demanding that the wealthiest people in our country and large, profitable corporations start paying their fair share of taxes.

Poll after poll, especially among working-class people, shows overwhelming support for what we are trying to accomplish.

Now, for whatever reason, pundits say we should compromise even more and cut back on addressing the long-neglected problems facing working families as well as climate change. Really? Please tell me where we should cut.

Should we end the $300 direct payments to working-class parents that have cut childhood poverty in our country by nearly half? Should we continue to ignore the dysfunctionality of our child care system that forces millions of working families to spend up to 35% of their limited incomes on child care and keeps more than a million women out of the workforce?

Should we deny low- and moderate-income young people the opportunity to get the higher education and job skills they need by making community colleges tuition free?

Should we continue allowing the pharmaceutical industry to charge us, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?

Should we continue a situation where many millions of seniors are unable to afford to go to a dentist to get treatment for their rotting teeth, or buy the hearing aids and eye glasses they need – or should we expand Medicare to cover those basic health care needs?

Should we continue being the only major country on Earth not to guarantee paid family and medical leave?

Should we, as an aging society, force older and disabled Americans into expensive nursing home care, or should we expand home health care and allow them the opportunity to stay in their own homes?

Should we have 600,000 homeless Americans, or should we finally begin building the millions of units of low-income and affordable housing that we need?

And then there is the existential threat of climate change.

When the planet becomes warmer and warmer, with unprecedented forest fires, drought, floods, extreme weather disturbances and acidification of the oceans that are causing mass destruction, and when scientists tell us that we only have a few years to avoid irreparable damage to our country and planet, should we really continue to ignore this global crisis?

This reconciliation bill is being opposed by every Republican in Congress as well as the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry and the billionaire class. They want to maintain the status quo in which the rich get richer while ordinary Americans continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Well, I disagree. Now is the time, finally, for Congress to stand up for working families and have the courage to take on the big money interests and wealthy campaign contributors who have so much power over the economic and political life of our country.

[Bernie Sanders is serving his third term in the U.S. Senate after winning re-election in 2018. His previous 16 years in the House of Representatives make him the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history.] ...Read More
Digging Deeper into the Current Conjuncture:

Photo: The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C., commemorates the 32nd president of the United States. (Scott J. Ferrell / Getty Images)

When Democrats Go Small, They Lose Big

If Democrats allow corporate-aligned “centrists” to downsize the budget plan, abandoning FDR’s legacy, they will lose not just the battle but the war.

By John Nichols
The Nation

Sept 30 2021 - President Franklin Delano Roosevelt taught Democrats how to keep power by enacting bold programs that spoke to the pressing needs of working-class Americans. Unfortunately, the heirs to what is still referred to as “the party of FDR” have spent the better part of 75 years trying to unlearn that lesson.

This week, as Democrats toy with the politics of compromise and concession in a high-profile fight over spending priorities, they are once again breaking faith with what was best about FDR’s approach. At the same time, they are setting themselves up for another in a long string of devastating midterm election defeats.

Media coverage of the wrangling over the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation proposal imagines a struggle between the tight-fisted “centrists” and free-spending progressives who make up the Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate. But what’s being overlooked about the corporate-aligned “centrists” who seek to downsize, or perhaps even abandon, the budget plan is that they’re preventing their party from enacting enormously popular proposals.

Crafted by Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders in cooperation with the administration and Senate leadership, the plan would expand Medicare and caregiving; provide paid family and medical leave; extend the $300 child tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year; and make community colleges tuition-free. “Poll after poll, especially among working-class people, shows overwhelming support for what we are trying to accomplish,” notes Sanders...
Photo: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talks with a reporter as she protests the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium on the House steps of the U.S. Capitol on August 3, 2021, in Washington, D.C. DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES

Progressives Remain United on Holding Democrats to Infrastructure Promises

By Jon Queally 
Common Dreams via Truthout

Sept 30, 2021 - The progressive activists in the stands at Wednesday night’s congressional baseball game held up a series of banners, one of which said “Dems Don’t Fuck This Up,” and another that read “Our Lives Are a Game: Pass $3.5T.” A third banner declared: “Reconciliation First / Hold the Line.”

While the Democrats went on to lose the charity game to their Republican opponents, the messaging from the crowd mirrored the overnight blitz of messaging ahead of a still uncertain vote in the House tentatively scheduled for Thursday on a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

The battle has become a proxy war over the Democratic Party’s agenda — one in which a handful of corporate Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona. They have teamed up with a number of industry-backed Democrats in the House, to block passage of sweeping social investments contained in the large Build Back Better Act, including expanding Medicare, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, extension of a more robust childhood tax credit, and aggressive investments to tackle the climate crisis.

At least some of the banner drops at the game were organized by a group called the People’s Watch, which says it has had “enough” of obstruction and delay and is calling on Democrats to pass the “full recovery agenda” promised by the Biden administration and on which so many Democrats ran in 2020. ...Read More
Idaho GOPer Urges COVID Vaccine After Unvaxxed Mom Dies
'Frankly, there’s some anger,” Greg Chaney said. “I think there are people in our political realm … who are essentially killing people with misinformation.'

By Ed Scarce
Crooks and Liars

Sort of remarkable in this day and age to hear a Republican lawmaker be so candid, saying "there are people in our political realm … who are essentially killing people with misinformation." I wonder how much longer he stays in the Republican Party.
On Sept. 20, Rep. Greg Chaney found himself putting on a gown, gloves and face mask as quickly as he could. He was going to visit his mother’s hospital room.

Fifteen minutes later, she died of COVID-19.

She had chosen not to get vaccinated.

Those two things — his mother’s death and his mother’s choice — have been difficult to reconcile.

  • “Acknowledging that what happened was a product of Mom’s choice kind of throws a strange wrinkle in the grieving process,” Chaney, a Caldwell Republican, said in a phone interview. “Because she didn’t exactly choose to die. But she chose, based on her age and physical condition, that she was highly likely to end up there if she got COVID. It’s a hard thing to wrap your brain around.”

Chaney, who couldn't convince his mom to get vaccinated, was unsparing in who he blames for the deliberate misinformation campaign which stoked his mother's skepticism. Sort of remarkable candor, coming from a Republican.

“Frankly, there’s some anger,” Chaney said. “I think there are people in our political realm … who are essentially killing people with misinformation.

“But they’ll get away with it, because you can never really tell at what point somebody was convinced of a lie. Was it the fifth time it was repeated? Was it the 50th time? Was it the 500th time? Nobody really knows. But this politically-motivated misinformation campaign that’s out there is deadly.” ...Read More
US Supreme Court Asked to Find Texas Abortion Ban Unconstitutional as GOP States Copy Bill

Photo: An abortion rights activist holds a sign in support of Planned Parenthood at a rally at the Texas State Capitol on September 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. JORDAN VONDERHAAR / GETTY IMAGES

By Jessica Corbett 
Common Dreams via Truthout

Sept 24, 2021 - While Republican lawmakers in several states are working to replicate an abortion ban recently enacted in Texas, healthcare providers and reproductive rights advocates on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider blocking the “patently unconstitutional” measure.

“For 23 days, we’ve been forced to deny essential abortion care for the vast majority of patients who come to us,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, in a statement about the new request.

“Most of those we’ve turned away told us they would not be able to make it out of Texas for care,” she said. “I don’t know what happened to these patients after they left our clinics, but I can’t stop thinking about them. Forcing our staff to tell patients ‘no’ day after day is cruel. This chaos must come to an end, and that is why we are going back to the Supreme Court today.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), also emphasized the urgent need for an intervention to ensure access to essential healthcare.

“Planned Parenthood call centers have become crisis hotlines and health center staff have become crisis counselors,” said the PPFA leader, whose group is representing Texas healthcare providers, abortion funds, and other plaintiffs alongside the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), the Lawyering Project, the national ACLU, the ACLU of Texas, and Morrison & Foerster LLP.

“For half a century, the Supreme Court has upheld the fundamental right to end a pregnancy. But for the past three weeks, five justices have shrugged their shoulders while Texas politicians do an end run around the Constitution and impose devastating harm on countless Texans, especially people of color,” said Julia Kaye, a staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “It is past time for the Supreme Court to step in and right this grave injustice.”

The high court allowed Texas’ Senate Bill 8 to take effect earlier this month in a 5-4 ruling for which Chief Justice John Roberts joined the three liberals. Though some critics say that move effectively overturned Roe v. Wade — the 1973 case that affirmed the right to abortion — the justices did not consider the constitutionality of the ban in their decision.

S.B. 8 not only bans abortion after six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant — without exceptions for rape or incest, it also empowers anti-choice vigilantes to enforce the law with the offer of a $10,000 “bounty,” which the U.S. Department of Justice has noted is part of an “unprecedented scheme” to make the law harder to challenge in court.

Thursday’s filing points out that since the justices’ decision to refrain from blocking the law and let it move through the judicial system, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Circuit has indicated that its position is “under circuit precedent, federal courts are powerless to preemptively block enforcement of a privately enforced state-law prohibition.”

The filing further notes that “although the 5th Circuit expedited the appeal, it will not hold argument until December at the earliest,” and asserts quicker action is needed, given that S.B. 8 is already interfering with the healthcare and rights of Texans and residents of neighboring states, whose clinics have seen an increase in demand since the law took effect.

As CRR president and CEO Nancy Northup put it: “We’re asking the Supreme Court for this expedited appeal because the 5th Circuit has done nothing to change the dire circumstances on the ground in Texas. We need this case to move as quickly as possible.”

The filing highlights that “already, legislators in other states are taking notice and vowing to adopt copycat laws,” and says there is no “reason to think abortion is the only constitutional right that will be targeted,” echoing widespread warnings about other fundamental rights.

HuffPost reported that House Bill 167, introduced Wednesday by Florida Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27), would go even further than S.B. 8 — expanding the window of time in which lawsuits by private citizens could be brought against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion beyond the six-week limit “from four years under the Texas law to six years in the Sunshine State.”

At least two cases have already kicked off under Texas law; they both target Dr. Alan Braid, a longtime abortion provider in San Antonio who over the weekend publicly admitted to violating S.B. 8, in hopes that the disclosure would help overturn the state’s new ban.

The threat to reproductive rights posed by the Texas law, copycat legislation, and an upcoming Supreme Court case — a challenge to a Mississippi abortion ban that experts warn could reverse Roe — have collectively elevated calls for the Democrat-controlled Congress to take action.

Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelsoi (D-Calif.) announced the chamber will soon vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA), legislation to codify Roe that is broadly backed by rights advocates.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 60 other organizations on Thursday sent a letter to lawmakers detailing the devastating impacts of state-level attacks on abortion rights like S.B. 8 and urging them to pass WHPA (H.R. 3755/S. 1975).

“The Women’s Health Protection Act is an important step in ending these harmful laws,” the groups argued, “and promoting the health, economic security, and well-being of those whom we have forced through law and policy to live at the margins.” ...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), 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.

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

NOT TO BE MISSED: Short Links To Longer Reads...
Photo: Steel Plant In McKeesport, Pa. in 1957. Iron extracts are heated In the blast furnaces on the left, and the resulting steel is stored in the unit on the right. (Photo by KeystoneFrance /GammaKeystone via Getty Images)

The History And Possible Futures Of An American Steel Town

McKeesport, Pa. has been through two Great Depressions. Its recovery from the first holds lessons for today.

By Taylor C. Noakes
Belt Magazine 

Sept 28, 2021 - Visitors to the McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center are encouraged upon arrival to enter a corridor and enjoy a ‘walk through time.’

The corridor, lined with outlandish fashions and records taped to the walls, features exhibits on McKeesport’s former department stores, its now shuttered daily newspaper, and a former landmark hotel.

Perhaps atypically for a former steel town, the images featured focus not on smokestacks or furnaces, but on McKeesport’s former central business district, and the pleasant Boomer memories of post-Second World War prosperity.

McKeesport today bears little resemblance to the city commemorated in its history museum. It’s no longer the nation’s leading producer of steel pipes, nor the commercial and industrial center of the Mon Valley Region, but rather a small suburban community on Pittsburgh’s periphery. The city’s poverty rate is more than double the state and Pittsburgh metro levels, at more than thirty-one percent, with forty-nine percent of children under the age of eighteen living in poverty. Its median home value, $48,000, is a quarter of the state’s and a third of the rest of the Pittsburgh metro. Twenty percent of housing units are vacant, and half the population moved between 2000 and 2014. In 2019, a national trade association for the home security industry ranked McKeesport America’s fourth most dangerous city.

The story of what happened to McKeesport, like so many places in the Rust Belt, is a story of the relationships between labor and industry, of the collective power of communities to shape their circumstances, and of the forces that conspire to keep this power at bay. Its history is shaped by two ‘Great Depressions’—first, the one everybody knows about, in the 1930s, and again in the 1970s and 80s, when the oil crisis led to a downturn in steel production and a tremendous loss of jobs and industry (cumulative job losses since the mid1970s are estimated at 175,000).

The Mon Valley and the community of McKeesport never recovered from that second crisis. This contrasts sharply with the first, when organized labor succeeded, albeit briefly, in securing for steel industry workers the wages, benefits, and job security that had so long been denied them by U.S. Steel and its local political allies.

That hardwon prosperity and security would ultimately last only two decades before a combination of factors conspired to undermine and overwhelm what was once the beating heart of the American steel industry—but it carries important lessons for those who hope to rebuild thriving communities in the Rust Belt... ...Read More

Belt Magazine ( is a digital publication by and for the Rust Belt and greater Midwest. Sign up for Belt’s weekly newsletter, including links to original features and a roundup of regional stories, at

Photo: Ohio Cooperative Solar in Cleveland

Worker-owned Businesses Becoming Viable Options

By Bill Knight
Canton Daily Ledger

Despite living in a nation that reveres democracy, most Americans have few rights on the job, as if a big chunk of each week is lived in a dictatorship.

However, a commercial structure that can balance workers’ wellbeing and the bottom line exists – worker coops. There, ideally, worker-members share equally in profits and have influence on decisions.

“Employees who own the businesses where they work have a share in the wealth they help create, and that connection makes companies stronger, more stable, and more rooted in their communities,” said Mary Boettcher, Board Chair for the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO).

Employee-eowned enterprises vary widely, though, from informal community food coops to the 265location HyVee supermarket chain, from Soviet-era “collective farms” to Chicago’s successful ChiFresh Kitchen, where formerly incarcerated women in a worker coop prepare 1,000 healthy meals each week.

An inspiring example is the Rural Electric Administration cooperatives. Since the 1930s, REA coops have brought electricity to rural America and maintained its systems, with a slogan “owned by those we serve.”

A disappointing version was the Peoria Journal Star. For much of the 1980s and ’90s, the daily newspaper had an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, but it was set up so employees could not “vote their shares,” and a requirement for the corporation to repurchase its stock from departing employees ultimately forced it to sell to a chain.

As Boston College professor David Ellerman wrote in 1985, there’s a difference between Employee Stock Ownership Plans and cooperatives – “ESOPs & Coops” – “worker capitalism” vs. “worker democracy.”

In Cleveland, the Great Lakes Brewing Company technically is employee owned, but feelings by workers that they had no “place at the table” caused staff to unionize.

Founded in 1986, the company now has the Great Lakes Organizing Committee seeking recognition or a National Labor Relations Board election.

“This is about giving us a voice,” a GLOC activist told the Cleveland Scene alternative weekly, “but we also feel that a union would be good for business.”

Business in this country usually means a lot of people are constantly on the edge of financial ruin. Regardless of circumstances, you better show up to work or you’ll lose pay or the job. Then you won’t have health insurance or could face eviction. That’s reality.

A worker cooperative is an alternative, said Janine Jackson, program director of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) – “the way they treat workers, and productivity and the balance of worker health and company success, in a pandemic and every day.

“COVID laid bare a number of conflicts, hypocrisies and frank inequities that ‘normal times’ kept hidden,” she continued. “Some faceless thing called ‘the economy’ could demand that people return to work but would not be responsible for protecting their lives and their health when they did.” ...Read More
Photo: MODERATOR: Angela Siefer, executive director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Overcoming Digital Disparities Requires More Than Hotspots And Handouts

By Judy Stringer
Crain’s Cleveland

Sept 11, 2021 - A panel of local government, business and nonprofit leaders convened by Cuyahoga County Public Library recently met to discuss the needs – and opportunities – linked to digital equity and inclusion in Greater Cleveland.

Prior to the pandemic, leaders at the Columbus based National Digital Inclusion Alliance felt a bit like Chicken Little, said executive director Angela Siefer.

The organization had been sounding alarms about the dire consequences of digital inequities to largely unmoved audiences.  

The COVID shutdown, however, changed that. Suddenly, it became clear that connection matters, according to Siefer and a panel of local government, business and nonprofit leaders convened by Cuyahoga County Public Library in partnership with Crain’s Content, StudioCleveland.

The purpose of the private virtual discussion: Discuss the needs – and opportunities – linked to digital equity and inclusion in Greater Cleveland.

Cuyahoga County Public Library, like public libraries across the nation, has served for years as a bridge across the digital divide, providing access to public computers, a reliable highspeed broadband connection, and staff who can assist residents lacking basic digital literacy skills. When the pandemic forced libraries to close their buildings to the public, the community’s broadband safety net essentially disappeared.

While laptop and hotspot giveaways were constructive early responses, those stopgaps are not enough, participants in the virtual discussion noted. Bridging the digital divide, they said, will require long-term, affordable solutions on the technology side, as well as systemic change aimed at rooting out socioeconomic inequalities that accompany digital exclusion.

“Digital equities are just a subset of the equity issues that we need to address in this county,” said Maple Heights City School District Supt. Dr. Charlie Keenan. “The digital part can be a part of it, but I think we have to keep in focus that there’s a bigger picture here of equity that we need to address to get this resolved.”

Keenan was one of 11 county leaders who took part in the hourlong Aug. 19 conversation, which was led by Siefer with participants reflecting on the role COVID has played in bringing awareness to digital disparities.


Eric Fiala, head of corporate responsibility for KeyBank, said the pandemic not only illustrated the depth of the disparity in terms of the number of people affected, but it highlighted “the implications across education, across health care, across finance, in terms of how the digital divide impacts people’s daily lives.”

As broadband connectivity has finally become a centerpiece of our nation’s infrastructure plans, we felt it was important to host a local conversation with diverse perspectives to understand where opportunity exists in Cuyahoga County and where we need to focus our collective efforts to address digital equity and inclusion. ...Read More

Photo: Cuba's Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, accompanies Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, during Independence Day celebrations in the Zocalo in Mexico City, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.

Cuban and Mexican Presidents Strengthen Solidarity in Remarkable Display

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commemorating Grito de Dolores, invited Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel, to share the podium with him as an act of solidarity.
By W.T. Whitney  
Counterpunch via Portside

Sept 27, 2021 -  The independence of Mexico and of Cuba, got a big hearing in Mexico City on September 16. On that day in 1810, in Dolores, Mexico, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo called upon parishioners to join him in rebelling against Spain’s viceregal government. Mexico finally gained independence in 1821. Every year, at 11 PM on September 15, and on September 16, Mexicans and their presidents pay homage to Hidalgo’s iconic Cry of Dolores (Grito de Dolores).

This year, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commemorating that important day, had a surprising guest. Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel was at his side and they both spoke. Shared goals and strong friendship were evident. The extraordinary encounter may portend new substance and heightened commitment for efforts to free Cuba, at long last, from aggressive U.S. interference with Cuba’s sovereignty.

The Cuban president later joined president López Obrador in reviewing Mexican armed forces assembled in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s central plaza. No visiting foreign president had ever done so.

Excerpts of their remarks appear below. What they actually said may more readily communicate concepts, reasoning, convictions, and deep feelings than would have been the case with summarization. The object here is to enhance appreciation of the nature and strength of the two nations’ friendship now and into the future.

To begin: President López Obrador observes that “[Hidalgo] who initiated independence matters more to Mexicans than Iturbide, who consummated it. The priest defended the common people while the royalist general represented the higher-ups … [But] his adversaries never forgave [Hidalgo’s] audacity in wanting to make poor people the equals of the most favored classes.”

“We Mexicans.” he adds, “feel pride in this hero and others, because here, like nowhere else, the independence movement did not begin by simply re-accommodating with the power elite, or act solely through nationalist feelings, but it was the fruit of a craving for justice and freedom. Indeed, the call for liberty and justice preceded the call for political independence.”

López Obrador turns to Cuba:

“Today we remember that heroic deed [of Hidalgo] and we celebrate it with the participation of the President of Cuba. He represents a people who resolved, like few others in the world, to defend with dignity their right to live free and Independent, without allowing the interference of any foreign power in their internal affairs. I have already said and I repeat: we may or may not agree with the Cuban Revolution and Cuba’s government, but to have resisted 62 years without surrender is a historical feat, undoubtedly.

“I believe, therefore, that through their struggle in defense of their country’s sovereignty, the people of Cuba deserve a prize for dignity. That island has to be considered as the new Numantia for its example of resistance. And I think for the same reason that the country has to be declared a patrimony of humanity. Now I only add that the government I represent respectfully calls upon the government of the United States to raise its blockade against Cuba, because no state has a right to subjugate another people, or another country. … ”

(Numantia was a hill fortress in northern Spain contested by Roman soldiers and the native Spaniards between 154 B.C. and 133 B.C. The latter did not surrender. Finally, Roman general Scipio Aemilianus and 60,000 soldiers surrounded the fortress with entrenchments. After 15 months, all 6000-8000 Iberian soldiers inside were dead of starvation.) 

The Mexican president continues: “I say with complete frankness: It looks very bad that the U.S. government uses the blockade to hurt the people of Cuba with the purpose of having them be forced by necessity to confront their own government. If this perverse strategy achieves success – something that doesn’t appear likely given the dignity we referred to – it would be a Pyrrhic victory, a vile and scoundrelly one. A stain like that is not washed away by all the water of the seas.

“Let President Biden, who possess much political sensitivity, take a wider view and put an end, for always, to the politics of grievances against Cuba. In the search for reconciliation, he must also help the U.S. Cuban community and put aside electoral and partisan issues …It’s a time of brotherhood and not of confrontation. As Jose Martí pointed out: “to avoid shock, we rely upon exquisite political tact that derives from the majesty of disinterest and the rule of love.”

President Miguel Díaz-Canel speaks:

“Among all the brothers Our America gave to us, Mexico counts for Cuba as one of the dearest ones, for many reasons. The affection that unites our lands begins with amazement at its diverse and deep traces in the literature and history of America.” Diaz Canel cites Cuban authors José María Heredia and particularly José Martí. He reads Martí’s portrayal of Hidalgo.

Díaz-Canel remarks that, “Through its characteristics, the independence process in Mexico … showed a remarkable component of social demands, on behalf of indigenous peoples especially. It differed in that way from other processes typical of the era of independence struggles. Without question, its impact on the freedom and anti-colonialist struggles of our region, particularly in Cuba, was extraordinary.”

He points out that Mexicans joined Cuba’s first War for Independence from Spain (1868-1878) that Mexico extended recognition to that leader’s insurgent government. He mentions Cubans fighting with Mexicans in their wars against Texan Anglos and U.S. invaders in 1846-1848. Díaz-Canel refers to Martí, who “joined our two nations eternally in all his work, but especially in letters to his great Mexican friend Manuel Mercado.”

On the eve of Cuba’s Second War for Independence (1895-1898), Martí communicated to Mercado his idea of “Using the independence of Cuba to stop the United States in time from extending throughout the Antilles and falling with even more force upon our American lands.”

Díaz-Canel mentions the murder in Mexico City by Cuba’s Machado dictatorship of the young Cuban Communist leader Julio Antonio Mella in 1929. He praises Mexicans’ assistance to preparations there for the Granma expedition led by Fidel Castro in 1956. And, recalls the Cuban president, “faithful to its best traditions, Mexico was the only country in Latin America that did not break relations with Cuba when we were expelled by the OAS by imperial mandate.”

Díaz-Canel emphasizes that, “Mexico’s solidarity with Cuba has awakened in our people a greater admiration and the deepest gratitude … the decision to invite us has an immeasurably greater value, at a time when we are suffering the onslaught of a multidimensional war, with a criminal blockade, opportunistically intensified.” Because we are “under fire in a total war …Cuba will always remember your expressions of support, your permanent demand for the lifting of the blockade and for the annual United Nations vote to be converted into concrete deeds.”.

The Mexican-Cuban alliance has value for Cuba. Mexico’s government has a U.S. ear, if only because disruption of amicable U.S.-Mexican relations might significantly destabilize aspects of life in the United States. Additionally, Mexico does provide material aid to Cuba and has the potential for promoting support for Cuba throughout her Latin America.

An analyst writing for offers perspective: “Mexico, during López Obrador’s presidency, has begun a process of winning back its regional influence… The U.S. – Cuba conflict is another relevant factor in Mexico’s position … [Already] documented is the mutual love between the Mexican and Cuban peoples … [Therefore,] the building of a new relation of the region with and Washington cannot exclude Havana, and on that López Obrador has been strong.”

Cuba’s friendship with Mexico hardly matches the importance of its alliance with the Soviet Bloc. Material aid from that source helped assure the revolutionary government’s survival. Soviet military might and worldwide influence discouraged U.S. excesses in regard to Cuba. But activated friendship with Mexico now may add tangible benefits for Cuba’s cause that are lacking with other solidarity efforts, for example: pro-Cuba votes in the United Nations, hit-and-miss material aid, various solidarity statements, and assistance from NGO’s.

Meanwhile reality intrudes. In front of Cuba’s Mexico City Embassy on September 16, a few anti-government activists, having arrived from Cuba, tussled with Cubans living in Mexico who support their government. The Mexican media carried critiques of Díaz-Canel’s presence in Mexico that López Obrador’s own political opposition had generated.

More significantly, the entire region on September 18 missed a fragile opportunity of gaining some independence from U.S. domination. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional organization to which the United States and Canada do not belong, was holding a summit meeting in Mexico City that day, The CELAC group refused to consider a proposal put forth by President López Obrador and others that member states abandon the Organization of American States (OAS) or alter its functioning. The U.S. government is accused of using OAS as a tool for controlling the region. ...Read More

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Paulo Freire
at 100 Still Assures Us the Imperative
of Hope

One hundred years ago, the great Brazilian educator was born. He fought to expand his ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and was persecuted by the dictatorship. Even today, Bolsonaro insults his memory.

By Paolo Vittoria
Il Manifesto

Sept 21, 2021 - On the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of the birth of Paulo Freire (Recife, 1921 – São Paulo, 1997), in spite of the commemorative initiatives that have multiplied worldwide—or perhaps precisely because of them—the favorite sport of the Bolsonaro family seems to be insulting the memory of the Brazilian educator, trotting out terms such as “zealot” and, in an obviously derogatory sense, “idol of the left.”

In reality, the colorful expressions used by the former military officer are indicative of last-ditch efforts at reductionism, trying to look for a scapegoat with the intention of diverting attention from the outrageous series of disasters that his government has perpetrated. For no fault of his own, Freire is being set up as the cause of all “evils,” particularly those in the schools and universities.

On the one hand, ridiculing the public education sector is useful for opening up the field to the most unscrupulous forms of private initiative; on the other hand, calling a humble and deeply sensitive educator like Paulo Freire a zealot—energumeno, literally a madman, obsessed, even possessed—serves as a dog whistle for the significant number of groups—not quite moderate themselves—that are disturbingly attracted to witch hunt scenarios.
A few decades ago, Freire used an expression that could be fitting to describe the mentality that emerges from the narrative of his current accusers: the “naive conscience” that “shows a certain simplicity, tends towards a facile interpretation of problems, approaches issues with naivety, does not go deeper into the causality of the fact itself.”

Moreover, he warned about how naive consciousness could degenerate into a massified or fanatical dimension, something we can currently find in the world of fake news, of sectarianism, of the power of falsehood exploited by the extreme right through speeches in which the tenuousness of the cause-effect relationship, and the consequent absence of understanding, is persuasive for those who do not have the will or intention to understand the phenomena in depth.

On the other hand, Paulo Freire’s call to the existential necessity, even the imperative, of hope, resonates much stronger than even the most earnest sentimental appeal and is still capable of striking fear: because hope is not a romantic attitude, but the concrete root of a method based on the denunciation of conditions of oppression and the consequent political organization aimed at overcoming them.

Such reflective and transformational action leads to interpretations of meaning, readings of the world, points of view hitherto unseen. Paulo Freire would not have been exiled by the military dictatorship if his method for literacy, inserted into a broader political-educational system, had not been a true generator of transformation in history: “Hope, as an ontological necessity, must be anchored in practice.”

It is no coincidence that in all the initiatives for the 100-year celebration (in Italy, those who took part were the Educational Cooperation Network, the Basso Foundation, Popoli in Arte, the Paulo Freire Institute, the Freire-Boal Network, Educazione Aperta, the Italian Society of Pedagogy), there is constant reference to the verb esperançar, which means the practice of hope, an action rather than desiring an outcome in itself. His thought can still strike fear, because it finds real correspondence in the experiences of the popular movements, both rural and urban, grassroots communities, peasant women and workers of both genders, who, in the context of undergoing a political process of popular education, are building something that’s not yet there, but can be created: the unprecedented possible.

At the same time, in the meetings, debates, and publications on the occasion of the centennial, the idea has forcefully emerged that re-encountering Freire does not only mean looking back to his time: “I don’t want to be followed, I want to be reinvented,” said the Brazilian educator. His experiences mark a concrete path of research and historical overcoming of a model that he himself called the “banking model” of education, which is not only still dominant, but has even strengthened with the advancement of capitalism. A system in which people are not accustomed to dialogue, ending up by losing the ability to ask questions, unwittingly finding themselves in a deep crisis generated by the passive acceptance of a reality impoverished by the lack of interest in other points of view.

Education is currently being described in terms of “credits” which are due and owed, terms which are very fitting for the financial system, but not so fitting for an educational context: schools and universities are defined as “training agencies”; words such as “efficiency,” “productivity,” “human resources” or “expendability” are being used in the everyday.

In the field of critical pedagogy, inspired by Freire’s thought, there is a growing determination to overcome the technocratic tendencies of educational models in order to open up pathways to a political and educational culture capable of going beyond capitalism, of unmasking its hidden and destructive sides.

It is understood that there is no hope outside of a political struggle that would create ways of life in clear opposition to the dominant system: agroecology, cooperative approaches to work, the fight against corporations and mafias, policies of welcoming and solidarity that are able to reinterpret the phenomenon of migration, permanent information networks, theater of the oppressed, ecofeminism.

These are all political realities and practices that go against the current, identifying their center of gravity in mobilization and political imagination, because “when there is no more room for utopia, for dreams, for choice, for decision, for waiting, all in the struggle—which happens only when there is hope—then there is no more room for education. Only for training.” ...Read More

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How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America
Human Footprints Suggest Surprisingly Early Arrival in the Americas

If dates hold, tracks would put people in New Mexico thousands of years earlier than thought

By Lizzie Wade  

Sept 24, 2021 - These footprints in New Mexico might rewrite the history of the peopling of the Americas. Between 23,000 and 21,000 years ago, people squished through the mud along a lakeshore in what is now New Mexico, alone and in small groups, leaving behind their footprints.

Or at least that’s the conclusion of a new paper that Oregon State University, Corvallis, archaeologist Loren Davis calls “potentially groundbreaking.” If the dates are right, the discovery would be the strongest evidence yet that people reached the Americas during the middle of the last ice age, thousands of years earlier than many archaeologists thought.
“If that’s true … it’s going to be a revolution in the way that we think about archaeology in the Americas,” says Davis, who wasn’t involved with the work. It might reignite debates about how people first reached the continent from Asia. But Davis and others would like corroboration of the surprising dates before they rewrite their understanding of when and how people arrived.

During the maximum extent of the last ice age, from about 26,500 to 19,000 years ago, land connected Russia and Alaska, allowing people to settle the now mostly submerged region archaeologists call Beringia. But glaciers covered much of Canada, blocking the way south into what’s now the continental United States and beyond. Archaeologists once thought the first people arrived in the Americas by walking through a corridor that opened between the glaciers by about 13,500 years ago. In recent decades, however, data from multiple sites have suggested people were in the Americas at least 16,000 years ago, leading many researchers to suspect that the first arrivals skirted the ice by traveling down the Pacific coast by boat.
A smattering of sites have hinted at even older dates, but the claims have been controversial. For example, last year a Nature paper argued that humans left artifacts in a highland cave in Zacatecas, Mexico, at least 27,000 years ago, but many archaeologists doubt the fractured rocks are stone tools.

Footprints are “a whole different level of evidence,” says Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas who discovered the cave there. “When you have human feet printed on the ground, that’s undeniable.”

Over years of fieldwork in White Sands National Park in New Mexico, researchers have found thousands of footprints left by humans and animals around a now-dry lakebed, including extinct megafauna such as mammoths and ground sloths. The new paper, published today in Science, focuses on 60 human footprints found in seven layers of sediment, like a “palimpsest of people walking over a long period of time,” says Matthew Bennett, an ancient footprint expert at Bournemouth University. Based on the sizes of those prints, he thinks most were left by teenagers and children who were perhaps fetching water or just passing the time. “People spend a lot of time playing. And what better place to play than the edge of a lake?” says team member Daniel Odess, an archaeologist at the National Park Service.

“There is no doubt that these are human footprints,” says Kevin Hatala, an ancient footprint expert at Chatham University. Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, agrees. “So the question is then, how old are they?”

To find out, the researchers radiocarbon-dated seeds embedded in several layers of earth between the footprints. The dating put the seeds between about 23,000 and 21,000 years old, during the height of glaciation. If the footprints are that old, people must have made it to the Americas before ice sheets blocked the path, meaning an early land journey might have been possible.

“We kept trying to refute our own findings,” Odess says, for example checking that the ancient lake water’s chemistry didn’t skew the dates. “And it kept coming back as yeah, they really are that old.”

“From the dating perspective I think the authors have done a very sound job,” says Tom Higham, a leading radiocarbon dating expert at the University of Oxford.

But Davis suggests a nagging possibility: that the seeds are older than the footprints because they eroded out of older sediments, then sifted into the mud the team excavated. He’d like to see the team try optically stimulated luminescence dating, a method that reveals when quartz grains were last exposed to light, to date when the sediment around the footprints was buried. “With something so extraordinary, it would be nice if we had multiple lines of evidence,” agrees archaeologist Ben Potter of Liaocheng University.

So far, the team has found no artifacts that could shine a light on the culture of the people who left the footprints. But Kim Charlie, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico, feels a deep connection. “Thousands and thousands of years ago, our ancestors walked this place,” says Charlie, who has visited the footprints and even uncovered some herself. Seeing prints of humans together with extinct megafauna such as camels sheds light on why the Acoma language has a word for “camel,” she says.

Odess says White Sands bolsters other traces of early occupation of the Americas. The prints “make all those other [very ancient] sites more plausible,” he says.

But Potter thinks each site “needs to stand and fall on its own merits.” White Sands, he says, is “one of the stronger cases for a very early occupation. It’s not definitive. But it’s stronger.”

Author: Lizzie is Science's Latin America correspondent, based in Mexico City. ...Read More

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Los Charros y los Carros: Cowboys and Cars
Sept 22, 2021 THIS WEEK’S ISSUE


Labor unions in México first came under direct PRI government control in the late 1940s when the Aléman administration started appointing union presidents. One of the first and worst: Jesús Diaz de León, a character ousted for fraud but then reinstated by his federal friends. Diaz de León always showed up for union events decked out in cowboy regalia, and disgusted union members soon nicknamed him el charro. That charro label would stick, as a tag for corrupt, gangster-ridden, corporate- and state-controlled unions that ensure employers a passive, exploitable workforce in exchange for dues rake-offs to union leaders.
Workers in these charro squeezes find themselves doubly ripped off, by both company and union, the situation for years at the massive General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato.
The US-México-Canada trade agreement signed last year allows each nation involved to sue another for not following the pact’s labor provisions, including the right to free and fair union elections. The Biden administration lodged a complaint against México under this provision after the discovery of fraud in the GM Silao union contract ratification vote earlier this year. In the subsequently ordered re-vote, dissatisfied workers achieved a huge victory. Their ballots scrapped the charro contract and set the stage for efforts to create a true, independent union voice for the Silao plant’s 6,500 workers.
Some observers have framed what’s happened in Silao as the story of a heroic USA waving a fantastic trade agreement in México’s face to rescue helpless Mexican workers. This take on Silao — the US riding in on a white horse to save the day! — neatly fits in with classic north-of-the-border cowboy mythology. But this version of events fails to credit México’s own role in the outcome: the new labor law reform that requires contract ratification votes, the Mexican labor ministry’s serious probe of the Silao plant’s fraudulent first vote, and, most of all, the determination of the Silao workers themselves.
In this week’s issue, we talk with Israel Cervantes, a key autoworker leader and an organizer of the Generando Movimiento, the alternate “GM” that laid the groundwork for the Silao victory. Mexican autoworkers, the Generando Movimiento believes, don’t need cowboys in either black hats or white ones, from either México or the United States. They need the capacity to self-organize within their own plants. They need connections across their industry — and across national boundaries. An audacious goal!
Breaking News: México’s Secretariat of Labor and Social Welfare has just announced its decision to accept the Silao re-vote and terminate the Miguel Trujillo Lopez contract. More below in this issue’s Reflections.

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Book Review Interview: On America’s Residential Caste System—and How to Abolish It
In her new book “White Space, Black Hood,” author Sheryll Cashin makes a compelling case for how segregated U.S. cities are organized as a residential caste system.

By Sonali Kolhatkar 
Yes! Magazine

Sept 27, 2021 - U.S. cities are deeply segregated, often with streets or highways separating higher-income predominantly White neighborhoods from lower-income predominantly Black ones. This is not an accident of history, but rather a geographical modern-day manifestation of age-old institutions such as slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

In her new book, White Space, Black Hood: Opportunity Hoarding and Segregation in the Age of Inequality, author Sheryll Cashin explores the deliberate design elements of racial segregation within cities like Baltimore, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland, and St. Louis, where predominantly Black neighborhoods are marked by lower income levels, poorer quality education, lower access to employment, greater violence, and more racist policing. 

“American caste now exists at the intersection of race, economic status, and geography,” writes Cashin, who teaches Constitutional Law, Race and American Law at the Georgetown University School of Law. Furthermore, “It thrives on certain cultural assumptions—that affluent space is earned and hood living is the deserved consequence of individual behavior.” 

Cashin’s analysis of what she calls a system of “residential caste,” includes how educational disparities arise between White and Black neighborhoods and are reproduced across generations via “opportunity hoarding.” She also shows how disparate policing in neighborhoods is a product of “stereotype-driven surveillance” of Black people in the United States. And, she explains that “the truly disadvantaged descendants of slaves are Black Americans stuck in neighborhoods that higher-income Blacks have fled.”

Once the deliberate design elements of racially divided neighborhoods are clearly identified, the solutions to abolishing residential caste also become apparent, Cashin says. For example, to counter disinvestment in predominantly Black areas, cities need to undertake reinvestment, and Cashin shares examples of cities where such approaches have been applied and found success. 

Cashin recently spoke with YES! about her book White Space, Black Hood and how historical patterns that emerged from slavery persist in the geographies of modern American cities.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Sonali Kolhatkar: In examining the history of racial segregation in housing, why do you begin your book in Baltimore?

Sheryll Cashin: Baltimore had one of the largest populations of free Black people in the antebellum period, and not surprisingly the descendants of those folks stayed around. In the book, I go through all of the historical eras in Baltimore from the turn of the 20th century right through to today. 

In the beginning, African Americans weren’t segregated in the city. In the late 1800s up until 1905 or 1910, Black women could go to stores and try on clothes, try on hats, they could eat where they wanted to. And, with the onset of the 1910s as the Great Migration began, about 6 million African Americans left the South for places farther north and west. 

The primary response to the “great migrants,” wherever they landed in large numbers, was to attempt to residentially contain them in their own neighborhoods and then redline those neighborhoods—cut them off from the largest wealth-building programs sponsored by the federal government—and cut them off from financing. Baltimore endured all of these things. 

Moving forward to today, Baltimore endured urban renewal, so-called “Negro removal.” It endured the federal policy of separate but equal public housing, disinvestment, and the tearing up of neighborhoods through the interstate highway program. There were multiple decades of trauma and disinvestment and also overinvestment in majority White neighborhoods. More recently, Baltimore had been in the news with the Black Lives Matter uprisings after the tragic death of Freddie Gray. 

The overall argument of my book is that we have a system of residential caste where we overinvest in affluent White space and disinvest in, contain, and prey on people in poor, Black neighborhoods. And Baltimore is a very good example of that. 

Maryland had a long-planned light rail line called the Red Line that was going to connect historically defunded and marginalized Black neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore to jobrich centers. As soon as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan took office, he canceled the Red Line. But he didn’t cancel the Purple Line for the affluent suburbs of Baltimore and Washington. So, Baltimore had all the markers of residential caste. 

The living patterns for everyone in this country have been shaped by the decision in the first half of the 20th century to contain then “Negroes” and to construct White space apart from them. We live with those structures to this day. 

Kolhatkar: The word “caste” as a descriptor for racial discrimination in the United States became more popular after Isabel Wilkerson published her bestselling book Caste: The Origins of our Discontents. Why do you also use that term to describe residential segregation in your book?

Cashin: I say “residential caste.” Isabel Wilkerson, as you know, writes about a social caste system and compares the United States to India and to Nazi Germany. I intentionally use the word because so many people have been reading her book.

In pre-civil rights America, we had a caste system based on race. Large numbers of African Americans were trapped in the system of Jim Crow where if you were Black you were excluded from a lot of opportunities and a lot of public and private amenities. 

Today, we have a system of residential caste. In the metropolitan regions, where large numbers of “great migrants” landed, we have affluent White space and high-poverty Black neighborhoods. Those types of neighborhoods have persisted and their boundaries have hardened. 

The chief mechanism for producing racial inequality in the United States today is geography. Everybody who gets in their car and drives in this country is aware that we have communities of abundance and communities of great need often in the very same metropolitan area or city, sometimes right across a dividing line from each other. People know about this, and they make decisions about where to live based on this. One stark example is Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis.

So, geography is central to ideas about who is worthy and deserving of public and private investment and who is not. It’s the chief mechanism both of social distancing but also for making decisions about where public and private investment is focused. ...Read More
TV Review: Margaret Qualley in Netflix’s ‘Maid’
Based on Stephanie Land's memoir, the miniseries centers on a single mother trying to make ends meet while working as a house cleaner.

By Angie Han
Hollywood Reporter

Though Maid is named after the memoir it’s based on — Stephanie Land’s Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive — in truth, the title hardly seems adequate. The Netflix miniseries turns out to be about much more than just its protagonist’s job, encompassing issues of parenthood, domestic violence and the precariousness of life below the poverty line. As that description would indicate, it’s hardly cheerful viewing. But it’s also surprisingly watchable viewing, saved from miseryporn glumness by a stubborn sense of hope and a light touch of humor.

The first time we meet Alex (Margaret Qualley), she’s fleeing her home in the dead of night, with just $18 in her pocket and her 2-year-old daughter, Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) in tow. Though she doesn’t know exactly where she’s headed, what’s more important in the moment is who she’s leaving behind — her boyfriend, Sean (Nick Robinson), an emotionally abusive alcoholic whose latest outburst ended with Alex picking shards of glass from Maddy’s hair. But freedom, necessary as it is, will prove almost as difficult to manage in the days, weeks, and months to come.

With the help of a sympathetic social worker, Alex finds work with a ramshackle cleaning service called Value Maids. Over 10 hour-long episodes, we watch as she hops from job to job and home to home, trying to scrape together a living between her meager paychecks, government assistance, and occasional favors from friends and family — all while trying to retain custody of Maddy, keep her distance from Sean, check in on her unstable mother, Paula (Andie MacDowell, Qualley’s actual mother) and unpack some deeprooted childhood traumas of her own.

What Maid does very well is outline how these misfortunes tend to compound each other when there isn’t enough money to serve as a buffer. Alex is never not aware of exactly how many pennies she has in her pocket, and Maid brings us into her mindset with a popup tally of her expenses and income. A dollar spent on gas means a dollar less for food, and “minor” setbacks like a single lost shift have the potential to send her entire life spiraling out of control. Money can’t solve everything, as Alex comes to realize from her glimpses into her clients’ private lives, but it does tend to change the shape and size of your problems: A rich dude’s unhappiness isn’t any less valid because he owns a Peloton, but his is a different kind of burden than the one Alex deals with every day as she struggles to put food on the table for Maddy.

Qualley is blessed with an expressive face that makes Alex an open book. Even as she fights to maintain her composure in the face of unbearable pressure, a twitching lip, a fluttering eyelash or a flaring nostril gives the game away. MacDowell, on the other hand, is arresting and aggravating in equal measure as Paula, who tears in and out of Alex’s life with the irresistible chaos of a tornado. And Robinson plays Sean’s sweetness with as much earnestness as he does his menace — he’s a man whose painful history explains but doesn’t excuse the pain he himself inflicts in the present.

Everyone in the cast benefits from scripts (by showrunner Molly Smith Metzler, Marcus Gardley, Bekah Brunstetter, Colin McKenna and Michelle Denise Jackson) that refuse to reduce Alex or those around her to the sum of their troubles. Compassion can be found even in the prickliest of hearts, and moments of levity or lust or bravado crop up even on the worst of days. Alex may be having a hard time, but she’s still human enough to notice that Paula’s obelisk statue looks awfully phallic, or that the friendly fellow putting her up for the night looks pretty great without his shirt — and she never fails to find some measure of joy or comfort in Maddy, even when exhaustion or depression get the best of her.

Alex is an easy hero to root for, and all the more so because the odds seem so stacked against her. For viewers lucky enough to be unfamiliar with life in the lower class, Maid provides a wrenching demonstration of just how hard it can be to pull oneself up by the bootstraps in a world littered with bureaucratic catch-22s, unsympathetic employers, and no shortage of bad luck — not to mention, in Alex’s case, a relationship so toxic that it threatens to drown out her entire sense of self. In one particularly crushing detail, Alex can barely name her favorite color when she’s asked by a shelter working helping her pick out clothes.

But if Alex’s easy appeal is one of Maid‘s strongest selling points, it can also become a limitation. As a smart, pretty, young white American woman who never fails to work hard or put her kid first, Alex does little to challenge the usual assumptions about who does or doesn’t “deserve” to be poor. Maid spares little thought for people who might be even worse off than Alex is, even within the same line of work, and as a result, its critiques of the systems that keep Alex down can run only so deep. It’s all too possible to walk away from Maid without any sense of just how ordinary or extraordinary Alex’s journey really is, and therefore without any sense of just how broken the social safety net really is.

Still, there’s value in the story of a single person, and Maid, in fairness, never purports to speak for anyone but its protagonist. (To the contrary, it’s so embedded in Alex’s personal perspective that we’re often treated to fantastical flourishes, like Alex getting swallowed up by a couch while in the depths of her depression, that prioritize her subjective experience over objective reality.) Maid may fall short as a cultural study, but regarded as an intimate personal story, it’s a triumph — a sensitively written, superbly performed drama that finds the humanity even in the coldest of days, and keeps you hooked until the very last minutes.  ...Read More

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