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The Hearings Pause, And The Plot Thickens. Beware of Snares
The cartoon to the right has a lot to say. The North Carolina GOP side stands for a Neoconfederate America, trying to overturn, at least, the 14th and 15th Amendments, and return to the Constitution of the original 13 states, all slaveholding at the time.
The 'Moral Monday' side depicts the Rev William Barber's Third Reconstruction America, one founded in The Civil War Amendments and the Gettysburg Address. The Reconstruction governments were multiracial democracies, with Black freedmen and Unionist poor white labor as the core. They stood for Black freedom and the common cause of all labor. History doesn't move in straight lines but in spirals and zigzags. After the last round of 'Redemption' launched by Reagan and refreshed by Trump, the old order is dying, and a new one is struggling to be born. We need gravediggers and midwives.
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Howard Zinn Centennial
TUES., 8/23: TEACHING OUTSIDE THE TEXTBOOK ABOUT THE RED SCARE: SUBVERSIVES IN LABOR ORGANIZING AND THE BLACK FREEDOM STRUGGLE
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Photo: Donald Trump and his personal 757 airplane (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
The Walls Are Finally Starting To Close In
— So Expect Trump To Announce His 2024 Run Soon
Boy has it been a bad week for Donald Trump. He is Losing his grip
By Heather Digby Parton
JULY 27, 2022 - I will be shocked if Donald Trump doesn't announce his candidacy in short order. Why? Because for the first time since he became president, beguiling Republican voters with his astonishing upset in 2016, Trump seems to be losing his iron grip on Republican voters.
Sure, he still has many avid followers but that sense of control and command over the party, the awe at his sheer ability to survive and prevail even when he loses, is suddenly looking a bit weak. Watching his appearances over the last couple of weeks, it appears that Trump is aware of the shift and since giving up is clearly not in his nature — particularly when the need for vengeance and vindication is his reason for being — he will have to try to grab the spotlight and take control sooner rather than later.
It’s Not Too Late to Turn the Midterm Election Tide
Trump's inner turmoil: He craves credit for January 6 — but can't admit it for fear of prison
In fact, it's been a bad summer. The January 6th Committee hearings have obviously gotten under Trump's skin. His shrill, shrieking tantrums on Truth Social, his sad social media platform, attest to that. He seems brittle and unfocused at his rallies, even though his most devoted supporters still cheer for his patented insults and chant along with the greatest hits. The act is stale — but he's too narcissistic to admit it.
On Tuesday, Trump went back to Washington, D.C. for the first time since his ignominious departure on January 20th, 2021. He was there ostensibly to deliver a policy speech on law and order but when has he ever delivered such a thing? He had his prepared remarks which sounded suspiciously like a reworked version of his infamous "American carnage" inaugural address but, as usual, he quickly devolved into his schtick, whining about the 2020 election and mocking people for sport. His only "policy" pronouncements were an idea to round up homeless people to put them in camps outside of America's cities, the summary execution of drug dealers and allowing the president to call in the National Guard to crack heads without regard to governors' wishes, basically turning the service into a presidential Praetorian Guard.
Of course, Trump has never read nor would he understand the Constitution and has shown repeatedly that he doesn't care about it, so any protestations that these ideas are unconstitutional and unAmerican would fall on deaf ears. But his crowd of D.C. sycophants seemed to love it. Still, it was a ragged performance, verging on a nostalgia act, and you get the sense that on some level he knows it. ...Read More
To Defeat Maga Fascism, Every Ally Possible Will Be Needed
By Max Elbaum
July 26, 2022 - The recent burst of Supreme Court rulings and January 6 Committee revelations have put the MAGA agenda and its plans to seize power front and center in U.S. politics.
From white supremacist militias through the Supreme Court majority, from Trump and DeSantis over to “Republican Team Normal,” the MAGA-controlled GOP is all in. They have their differences (some of which we might be able to take advantage of), but they are collectively laser-focused on taking back the House and Senate in 2022 and conducting a “legal coup” to add the presidency to the Republican column in 2024.
Most of the U.S. population (and the majority of the electorate) rejects the MAGA agenda. That’s the fundamental reason MAGA can be stopped. But that will only happen if at least some of the political players trying to galvanize that majority exceed our opponents in focus and all-in determination to win.
This means facing some stubborn political facts:
One, the 2022 and 2024 electoral outcomes are at the pivot of determining whether the U.S. returns to the racist authoritarianism and vigilante “justice” that stomped out Reconstruction or makes a fresh start on the road to multiracial democracy.
Two, only an electoral coalition that stretches all the way from socialists to GOP Never-Trumpers has the capacity to stop the MAGA steamroller.
These realities have big implications for the left—those of us who understand that MAGA is not a creation of Donald Trump, but a political tendency rooted in the structure and history of this country which Trump tapped into and further unleashed. All temptation to look away (“Don’t Look Up!”) must be resisted. It may make us uncomfortable, but we simply do not get to choose the terrain on which we have to do battle.
We are too small to defeat MAGA on our own. But we have the potential to play a crucial role as a catalyst that moves larger forces into action. It falls to the left to offer a vision that can motivate people who are exploited, angry, and marginalized to vote and take part in politics in other ways. It is our responsibility to model both combativeness and a unity-building spirit that will attract and stiffen the spines of the wavering elements among the anti-MAGA majority. And we are the ones who can tell the truth about the structural obstacles we are up against and why we can win.
If we shoulder those responsibilities—that is, if we focus and go all-in—we will not only maximize the chances of beating MAGA in 2022 and 2024. We will build a larger base and expand the reach of progressive organizations and leaders, thus strengthening our capacity to shape the country’s agenda once MAGA is pushed to the sidelines.
MAGA: Fascism American-style
MAGA’s rollback program is far from limited to what the Supreme Court has already done by overturning Roe, barring serious gun control, gutting any federal effort to fight climate change, and shredding the doctrine of separation of church and state. And it goes beyond the removals of all rights won under the rubric of privacy (for example, birth control and gay marriage) as signaled in Clarence Thomas’ opinion.
The protections offered by the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (the “Reconstruction Amendments”) which first put the country on the still-blocked road to a multiracial democracy are squarely in the MAGA Court’s gunsights. It’s a toxic brew of white nationalism, Christian supremacy, and strongman authoritarianism wrapped in the American flag and the “Onward Christian Soldiers” cross. This is fascism American-style.
And MAGA’s laser focus on gaining the political power needed to impose this agenda is no longer limited to using voter suppression, gerrymandering, and giving money unchecked power in electoral contests.
It has now incorporated the “independent state legislature doctrine,” which would give GOP-controlled bodies full control of elections—up to and including deciding that their own preferences override the will of the voters. MAGA is anticipating a SCOTUS ruling upholding this doctrine next year and is making plans to deploy it to conduct a “legal coup” if needed in 2024.
Not a moment for business as usual
Progressives and the left entered the 2022 fight against MAGA far better prepared than in previous years. Numerous social justice organizations learned much and expanded their reach in the intense 2020 contest.
Their rich experiences, Bernie’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns, the efforts which produced and then expanded “The Squad” in Congress, the increased links many organizations have made between electoral and non-electoral organizing, the energy unleashed by the George Floyd uprising, and the new surge of worker militancy and union organizing—all these give us a stronger baseline from which to fight than we had going into 2016, 2018, or 2020.
But we need more. We—the Left and progressive world as a whole—have not yet matched MAGA in acting on the understanding that we are at a turning point. Taking the coup effort which culminated on Jan. 6, 2021, as a trial run, MAGA has dispensed with previous “norms” and is subordinating everything to its relentless drive for power.
We need to be just as audacious. Proceeding in a business-as-usual manner will not cut it. Only if we adjust our thinking, priorities, and strategies to match the urgency of the moment will we prevail in the battle right in front of us.
What this means for each specific left organization and sector will vary. In the remaining months before the mid-terms, and even more between those contests and November 2024, we will need to be proposing, debating, testing, and evaluating strategies on a host of questions. In which sectors and districts can we have the most impact? What messages best motivate key constituencies? How can we best synergize electoral with non-electoral work? But three general points already stand out:
First, defeating MAGA at the ballot box is not sufficient for stopping the MAGA bid for power, but it is an indispensable precondition. We need to prepare for mass direct action to protect electoral results—up to and including a scale of protest that can prevent rogue state legislatures and an illegitimate Supreme Court from imposing their will should they make the attempt.
But to gain the moral and political high ground for such actions to succeed, it is absolutely essential to win majority votes in local, battleground state, and federal races, especially in House and Senate contests, and the race for president.
And a lot is at stake in how we conduct our electoral work and coordinate it with other efforts. Investment in long-term, no-quick-results organizing is crucial to revitalize the labor movement, rebuild the peace movement, and sink deep roots in the multiracial, gender-inclusive working class. Without gains in those and other areas, we will never get past one emergency defensive election after another.
Second, we have to be pro-active—not passive, much less opposed—in the challenging work of building a “unite all who can be united” electoral front. We need a stance comparable to that of January 6 Committee stalwart Rep. Jamie Raskin when asked about his friendship with Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney.
We on the left are eager to get back to putting our main energy into fighting with establishment Democrats and conservative Never Trumpers on all the things we disagree about. And we aren’t suspending our contention with them over policy issues amid the current crisis. But the central issue in the 2022 and 2024 elections is whether we will live in a country where it is possible to do political battle by anything close to one-person, one-vote, democratic means.
Many who are anti-MAGA have views the left rightfully finds abhorrent. But if they vote against MAGA, even actors with abhorrent politics are defending a democratic space that was won by decades of mass struggles against racism, sexism, and class-based exclusion at great cost in blood and treasure. And retaining those rights provides the most favorable terrain for all progressive struggles to proceed going forward.
Three, our current fragmentation diminishes our ability to build the kind of anti-MAGA front we need. Many groups and circles on the left agree in general with the above two points. But that is not sufficiently translated into coordinated work and think-outside-the-box unity-building steps. It weakens our call for uniting all those who can be united against MAGA when the left looks to those just a few steps away from us as a set of separate groups divided by small differences.
Stretch beyond our comfort zones
Putting the above considerations central to our thinking and action in the next three years will be uncomfortable for much of the left. In protests and the battle of ideas, which for many years constituted the main forms of progressive activity, it is necessary to stress our differences with others, to put out our distinct program, and fight for it against all comers.
But in the fight for political power, protests and the battle of ideas are only parts—and not the main parts—of the left’s task.
The main political responsibility of the left is to identify, assemble, animate, and unite the social forces capable of accomplishing the primary breakthrough required at each moment. A left that accomplishes that not only fulfills its responsibility to move the class struggle forward from one stage to the next. It maximizes the left’s influence when—in the next stage—there is a changed set of circumstances which require a different set of alliances.
MAGA has gotten as far as it has because its driving core has focused laser-like on stitching together its divergent parts into a common bloc fighting for power. It is our job to exceed the MAGA core in political acumen, willingness to push the envelope, take risks, and determination to inspire and unite all who can be united to stop them.
This article originally appeared in Convergence. ...Read More
Manchin’s Climate Reversal Comes With Major Caveat: Expanding Oil and Gas
BY Sharon Zhang
July 28, 2022 - Conservative coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) announced on Wednesday that he has come to an agreement with Democratic leaders for a reconciliation bill with key climate, prescription drug price, and tax reforms — with a major caveat to expand oil and gas exploration.
The bill, named the Inflation Reduction Act, contains roughly $433 billion in new spending, $369 billion of which is for climate and energy proposals, according to a one-page summary of the bill.
That there are climate provisions at all is an improvement over Manchin’s supposed opposition to any and all climate spending, which aides and staffers thought was his position two weeks ago. But the climate provisions could be severely undercut by new proposals put in on behalf of Manchin to expand oil and gas exploration on public lands.
Crucially, according to Bloomberg, the bill essentially locks the government into permitting new oil and gas leases for the next decade; any time the Interior Department wants to allow new wind and solar rights on federal lands, the bill mandates that the agency will have to hold oil and gas lease sales first.
This is a major caveat to the bill’s touted climate spending, undermining years of climate activists’ calls for President Joe Biden to end oil and gas lease sales and going against even conservative energy organizations’ recommendations for the country to stop all new fossil fuel projects or else completely miss the global goal of limiting global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
According to the bill’s summary, it would cut U.S. emissions by about 40 percent by 2030, though it’s unclear where that figure comes from. Still, it falls short of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-New York) promise of 45 percent reductions last year, and falls even further from the goal of cutting emissions in half by 2030 that Democrats promised last August.
It would achieve these reductions through electric vehicle and clean energy tax credits, as well as provisions to incentivize oil and gas companies to cut their methane emissions and consumer incentives for things like heat pumps and rooftop solar. Previous suggestions like the Clean Electricity Performance Program to punish utilities for failing to make certain clean energy shifts are out.
The bill also allocates $64 billion toward extending enhanced subsidies for the Affordable Care Act to lower premiums for low-income Americans. These proposals, as well as a $300 billion reduction in the deficit, are paid for by several revenue-raising provisions.
The bill would raise roughly $388 billion from allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for a limited number of drugs and would cap annual out-of-pocket drug expenses for seniors at $2,000. The rest would be raised by tax reforms, including a 15 percent corporate minimum tax, an increase in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to increase tax enforcement, and closing the carried interest loophole, which allows private equity managers and other wealthy taxpayers to dodge top tax rates.
Nearly all of these proposals are far smaller than the bill that Democrats and progressives had been fighting for last year, and provisions like paid family and medical leave, universal pre-kindergarten, a Civilian Climate Corps and Medicare expansion are left out completely.
There’s still no guarantee that the bill will pass. Climate advocates will surely take issue with the oil and gas leasing provisions, while conservative Democrats like Rep. Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey) and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) may oppose proposals to tax corporations and the wealthy, drug pricing provisions and what climate spending is in the bill.
Gottheimer has already been rallying fellow conservatives to oppose any new taxes in the bill and was key last year in killing Democrats’ larger prescription drug pricing goals for the Build Back Better Act. Meanwhile, Sinema, who has yet to comment on the Inflation Reduction Act, dealt a major blow to the climate portion of the Democrats’ reconciliation bill last year and ultimately played a large hand in killing the bill altogether. ...Read More
Digging Deeper into the Current Conjuncture:
Trump Claims “Absolute Immunity” Protects Him Against Jan. 6 Civil Lawsuits
BY Chris Walker
July 28, 2022 - Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have filed a legal motion to the D.C. Circuit Court, appealing a judge’s ruling from February that said civil lawsuits against the former president surrounding the January 6 Capitol attack can move forward.
In their argument, Trump’s lawyers claim that this and other lawsuits relating to the events of January 6, 2021, cannot move forward because Trump was still in office during the attack and therefore had “absolute immunity” regarding his speech to his loyalists.
Absolute immunity is a legal standard that protects presidents from being held accountable for their words or actions if they are acting within their constitutional capacity.
The civil case was brought forward last year by two Capitol Police officers who believe that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric on January 6 — including telling his followers that they’d “never take back our country with weakness,” and ordering them to descend upon Congress — led to their “physical and emotional injuries,” and that his “wrongful conduct incit[ed] a riot.”
In his decision in February, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta disagreed with the “absolute immunity” standard being used for Trump’s defense.
“The President’s actions [on January 6] do not relate to his duties of faithfully executing the laws, conducting foreign affairs, commanding the armed forces, or managing the Executive Branch,” Mehta wrote, specifically citing a president’s duties that are laid out in the U.S. Constitution. “They entirely concern his efforts to remain in office for a second term. These are unofficial acts.”
In their filing to appeal that ruling this week, Trump’s lawyers say that Mehta’s findings were wrong, and argue that Trump “was acting well within the scope of ordinary presidential action when he engaged in open discussion and debate about the integrity of the 2020 election.”
“The actions of rioters do not strip President Trump of immunity,” Trump’s lawyers claimed, adding that they believe the “scope of presidential absolute immunity” is being undermined simply because the “act in question is unpopular among the judiciary.” ...Read More
The Most Dangerous Upcoming Supreme Court Decision You Never Heard Of
Spread the word, because the midterms elections have become even more crucial
By Robert Reich
July 25, 2022 - Friends, On June 30, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case called Moore v. Harper. With all the controversial decisions handed down by the Court this term, its decision to take up this case slid under most radar detectors.
But it could be the most dangerous case on the Court’s upcoming docket. You need to know about it.
Here’s the background: Last February, the North Carolina Supreme Court blocked the state’s Republican-controlled general assembly from instituting a newly drawn congressional district map, holding that the map violated the state constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering.
The Republican Speaker of the North Carolina House appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, advancing what’s called the “independent state legislature” theory. It’s a theory that’s been circulating for years in right-wing circles. It holds that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures alone the power to regulate federal elections in their states.
We’ve already had a preview of what this theory could mean. It underpins a major legal strategy in Trump’s attempted coup: the argument that state legislatures can substitute their own judgment of who should be president in place of the person chosen by a majority of voters. This was the core of the so-called “Eastman memo” that Trump relied on (and continues to rely on) in seeking to decertify Biden’s election.
The U.S. Constitution does grant state legislatures the authority to prescribe “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections.” But it does not give state legislatures total power over our democracy. In fact, for the last century, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the independent state legislature theory.
Yet if we know anything about the conservative majority now controlling the Supreme Court, it’s that they will rule on just about anything that suits the far-right’s agenda. ...Read More
Photo: A Ukrainian soldier somewhere on the front lines. Looks like Kharkiv region
Ukraine Update: All Eyes On Kherson As Ukraine Tightens The Noose
kos for Daily Kos
Daily Kos Staff
July 29, 2022 - After a flurry of activity the last few days, things have settled down, if by “settled down” we mean “back to HIMARS systematically degrading Russia’s ability to wage its war.” Last night, the Russian-occupied cities of Ilovaisk, Nova Kakhovka, Brylivka, and Kherson all enjoyed dramatic fireworks displays at the expense of a great deal of Russian ammunition.
Illovaisk is a valuable railway hub for Russian logistics in Donetsk oblast, about 40 kilometers from the front lines.
This ammo dump might’ve been feeding Russian artillery currently pounding Avdiivka, north west of Donetsk. Too bad, for Russia, they’re going to have to push out those ammo dumps even further away from the front lines.
Ilovaisk was also the location of the bloodiest day in Ukraine’s 2014 war, where treacherous Russians offered surrounded Ukrainian troops a “green corridor” to withdraw, then opened fire.
Negotiations were going on and a humanitarian corridor was being prepared for them to leave, they were told, and yet their withdrawal was repeatedly postponed.
Then, on the morning of 29 August 2014, came the command to gather and leave Ilovaisk in two columns [...]
They began to move, they passed the first ring of encirclement smoothly but within a few kilometers, their column came under fire.
"It was just a shooting range and we were the targets," he said [...]
According to official Ukrainian data, 366 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Ilovaisk battle.
The true figure may be at least 400, when you include soldiers registered missing or unidentified by their relatives.
The other three targets were all in Kherson Oblast, where Ukraine continues to shape the battlefield in preparation for a promised offensive that some say has already begun. Ukrainian presidential advisor Aleksey Arestovych clearly laid out the strategy:
There won’t be a single day, when you will be able to tell, that it had started. In a way – it already has started. It will be accurate destruction of Russian forces top-down, starting from operational, then operational-tactical, then tactical levels. Decisive forces – artillery (guided 155mm shells) , rocket artillery (HIMARS), aviation.
Ukraine will not throw soldiers in one large assault, they will first make sure Russia has no fuel, no ammo, no command, only then approach with infantry. Of course, there will be maneuvers, forcing Russia to respond and deploy defense. This is not yet NATO level, when most damage can be done remotely, but close to that. Most emphasis is on remote fire, isolation of battlefields, and incremental destruction.
The Ukrainian objective is for its infantry to encounter weakened Russian forces without supplies, fuel, ammo, or command.
Russia shapes the battlefield by leveling everything in its path with artillery. The United States and NATO do so using aircraft to establish air superiority, then supporting infantry by surgically targeting and suppressing defenses from the air.
Ukraine doesn’t have the aircraft and has no interest in leveling its own cities and killing civilians. So this is their version—using HIMARS and 155mm precision-guided munitions to eliminate Russia’s ammo, fuel, supplies, and commanders, then denying them the ability to either resupply or retreat.
Civilian partisans inside Kherson city and other defensive zones will feed target coordinates to Ukrainian artillery, allowing the erosion of those defenses from afar. Russia’s response will be their usual “spray it” style of artillery … until they run out of shells. No barge can keep hungry howitzers fed for long, and given the daily reports out of Kherson oblast, that Russian artillery is still blasting away. Here’s is last night’s report from Ukrainian General Staff. (The “South Buh” is Kherson oblast, referring to the South Bug river which flows down from Poland, around Mykolaiv, and into the Black Sea.)
- In the South Buh direction, shelling from tanks, barrel and rocket artillery was recorded in the areas of the settlements of Ivanivka, Tokarevo, Kariyerne, Osokorivka, Blahodatne, Kobzartsi, Chervona Dolyna, Lepetiha, Andriivka, Velyke Artakove, Vesely Kut, Partyzanske, Shevchenko, Myrne, Shyroke , Prybuzke, Luch, Posad-Pokrovske, Lyubomyrivka, Stepova Dolyna, Tavriyske and Oleksandrivka. The enemy carried out airstrikes near Velike Artakove, Bilohirka and Potemkino.
That’s a lot of shelling. No one’s told them the bridges are out? Hopefully, they burn through their entire ammo supply ASAP. Ukrainian infantry won’t be able to push forward until Russian guns run empty. When that happens, Russian defenders will have three choices—swim across a river in retreat, leave equipment behind, surrender, or die for the dumbest stupid reason. Either option A or B will start looking really good before long.
None of this is breaking news, but Ukraine needs Kherson. It was the first real city to fall, the only regional capital in Russian hands since the start of this phase of the war. It was captured through treachery and treason. And while Russia isn’t pushing through to Odesa and Transnistria (in Moldova) anytime soon, its control and current efforts to annex the region feed into Putin’s grand delusions.
Militarily, taking Kherson would pull this entire chunk of territory out of the war, allowing Ukraine to reposition forces in Zaporizhzhia oblast:
It would further cut off a major supply route from Crimea, leaving Russians between Nova Kakhovka and Melitopol reliant on a single route from Crimea (which Ukraine will sever) and from a single rail line from the east which Ukraine can cut at Tokmak.
Green lines are rail lines.
Taking Kherson would crush Putin’s grand delusions about Novorossiya (New Russia) stripping Ukraine of its entire Black Sea coast (and thus its main economic connection to the world). Crimea itself would be in danger of once again losing its water supply at Nova Kakhovka. ...Read More
Sri Lankan Uprising Is a Cry for Regaining
Democracy Brutalised by the Rajapaksas
With the stranglehold on polity and economy, characteristic of South Asian politics, the Rajapaksas used a toxic glue of racism and religious enmity to bind the Sinhala majority to their political will, which expectedly misfired.
By Harshana Rambukwella
There are some familiar and tired tropes that have long characterized South Asian politics. Some of these are the rise of populist demagogues, authoritarian rule, the breakdown of the rule of law, militarisation, and ethnonationalist and religious conflicts. Much of this has been true of Sri Lanka’s seven-plus decades of post-independence history. The country has seen a 30-year militant conflict fuelled by majoritarian ethnonationalism, two bloodily suppressed Maoist youth uprisings, and increasing religious tensions.
Indeed, the last decade after the conclusion of the war in 2009 has been one of rising ethnic and religious polarisation alongside a growing gap between an affluent urban minority, used to a culture of conspicuous consumption, and a large majority of the population struggling to maintain a decent standard of life.
It was over this highly iniquitous society that the extended Rajapaksa family – led by the charismatic demagogue Mahinda Rajapaksa – built what appeared to be an unshakable political dynasty. But on Saturday, July 9, the Rajapaksa project came to a staggering halt amidst a spectacular people’s uprising, never-before witnessed in Sri Lanka and anywhere in South Asia.
Economic deprivation and cry for political change
The people’s uprising had a singular goal of forcing the incumbent president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa (or Gota), Mahinda’s younger sibling, to resign along with his government.
Gotabaya, elected to power in 2019 with an overwhelming majority, further consolidated by a sweeping electoral win by his party the SLPP (Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna) in 2020, failed to deliver on the vistas of prosperity that his election manifesto promised.
Instead, with faltering income from tourism due to the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks – which those campaigning for Gotabhya weaponized into an anti-Islamic discourse that shored up majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist sentiment and projected Gota as a national savior – and mismanagement of the economy along with drastic tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and a disastrous overnight attempt to switch to organic farming, Gotabhaya’s political stock had all but expired.
By July 9 there was virtually no fuel in the country, public transport had ground to a standstill and on the evening before, the chief of police declared an illegal ‘police curfew’ in a desperate attempt to discourage protestors.
Despite these many obstacles, from early Saturday morning, people began streaming into the capital Colombo from all parts of the country. Thousands thronged railway stations and forced officials to operate trains. Others walked, cycled, rode on lorries, or scrambled aboard trucks usually used to transport sand. By mid-day hundreds of thousands had gathered in the vicinity of the Presidential Secretariat in the heart of Colombo’s business district – a site which had seen a three-month long ‘occupy’ movement and an encampment named the ‘Gota Go Gama’ (Gota go home village).
Following pitched street battles between the protesters and the police and armed forces, in which protesters were beaten up and multiple rounds of teargas fired, the Presidential Secretariat, the President’s official residence and the Prime Minister’s office and residence were literally and symbolically ‘taken’ over by the people.t appeared that the security forces realizing the overwhelming strength of the protesters simply gave up. There were ecstatic scenes as people swarmed the Presidential Palace and office with some even jumping into the swimming pool and images and video footage of the triumph circulating widely on social media – a medium that played a vital role in mobilizing and sustaining the protest movement called aragalaya (struggle) in Sinhala.
Throughout the ‘occupy’ movement the Rajapaksa regime and its national security apparatus underestimated the will of the people repeatedly. It all began on March 31 when thousands thronged the President’s personal home in the suburbs of Colombo demanding solutions to power cuts that extended up to 10 hours a day, shortages of fuel and cooking gas, and skyrocketing food prices due to runaway inflation.
Jolted by this sudden uprising the regime responded with overwhelming force – beating up protesters and excessively using teargas followed by mass arrests. But this repression resulted in the establishment of ‘Gota go Gama’ and a nationwide protest campaign with mini protest sites mushrooming in many towns across the country.
A similar scenario occurred on May 9 when government-backed ‘thugs’ attacked the Gota go Gama site but were unprepared for the instant national backlash with houses of government politicians being torched – ultimately resulting in the resignation of premier Mahinda Rajapaksa. From this point onwards it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out, with the appointment of Ranil Wickramasinghe as prime minister – a man with long political experience – who moved swiftly to undermine the protesters by attempting to restore fuel and other supplies.
However, the ‘economic rationality' of the political elite failed as was evident on July 9. While it was undoubtedly extreme economic deprivation that brought people to the streets, there was and is a clear demand for political change.
A true democratic movement
While some commentators have mischaracterized July 9 as a form of “mob action”, there is a distinct democratic core to the people’s struggle.
Political change in Sri Lanka since 1948 has been through elections where patron-client relationships established by the political elite have often played a key role. Politicians have long wielded a stranglehold on access to key resources. Whether you are a businessman seeking government contracts or a poor farmer looking for subsidized fertilizer, the political class controlled access. The Rajapaksa regime expanded and entrenched this patron-client system as never before and used a toxic glue of racism and religious enmity to bind the Sinhala majority to their political will.
Following the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), the violent militant group that claimed to represent minority Tamil interests, the Rajapaksa’s positioned themselves as saviors of the nation and aligned with a crony-capitalist class and a highly militarised form of governance swiftly moved to build an ethnocratic national security state – cheered on by a triumphalist Sinhala majority high on the military victory and an unsustainable post-war economic boom propelled by heavy government borrowing in international financial markets.
There was a temporary respite when Mahinda was ousted from 2015 to 2019. But with the election of Gotabhaya in 2019, it seemed the Rajapaksas had regained control until the events described above.
The aragalaya can be identified as a democratic movement due to a number of reasons. It broke the vicious cycle of patron-client politics. People marched to Colombo not because of the promise of a monetary handout, some liquor and food – the usual package doled out by political parties to attract supporters to rallies. It was largely a youth-led movement that was able to speak across ethnic, racial and class divides. It also utilized art and culture in creative ways not witnessed in Sri Lankan politics before. ...Read More
Photo: The state mistakenly charged Lane Norris roughly $20,000 for crimes she did not commit.Credit...Trent Bozeman for The New York Times
Alabama Takes From the Poor and Gives to the Rich
By Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein
New York Times Opinion
Mr. Kaiser-Schatzlein, a journalist, writes frequently about economic policy, inequality and criminal justice. For this essay, he spent four months reporting on fines and fees in Alabama.
July 27, 2022 - In states like Alabama, almost every interaction a person has with the criminal justice system comes with a financial cost. If you’re assigned to a pretrial program to reduce your sentence, each class attended incurs a fee. If you’re on probation, you’ll pay a fee to take your mandatory urine test. If you appear in drug court, you will face more fees, sometimes dozens of times a year. Often, you don’t even have to break the law; you’ll pay fees to pull a public record or apply for a permit. For poor people, this system is a trap, sucking them into a cycle of sometimes unpayable debt that constrains their lives and almost guarantees financial hardship.
While almost every state in the country, both red and blue, levies fines and fees that fall disproportionately on the bottom rung of the income ladder, the situation in Alabama is far more dramatic, thanks to the peculiarities of its Constitution. Over a century ago, wealthy landowners and businessmen rewrote the Constitution to cap taxes permanently. As a result, today, Alabama has one of the cruelest tax systems in the country.
Taxes on most property, for example, are exceptionally low. In 2019, property taxes accounted for just 7 percent of state and local revenue, the lowest among the states. (Even Mississippi, which also has low property taxes, got roughly 12 percent from property taxes. New Jersey, by contrast, got 29 percent.) Strapped for cash, all levels of government look for money anywhere they can get it. And often, that means creating revenue from fines and fees. A 2016 study showed that the median assessment for a felony in Alabama doubled between 1995 and 2005, to $2,000.
In most of the country, if residents of a school district or county want to raise taxes to pay for a new library or electrical systems, they are free to impose a new tax on themselves. Not so in Alabama. Its cities and counties do not have home rule, so they have to go through the State Legislature, which often has to initiate a constitutional amendment allowing them to pass a law. It’s an astonishingly backward system, and it’s why Alabama has the longest Constitution on the planet, with an absurd 977 amendments. (The U.S. Constitution has only 27, even though it has been around almost twice as long.) “Alabama wants totalitarianism,” said Leah Nelson of Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, “but they just don’t want to pay for it.”
As I traveled through Alabama in April, I asked almost everyone I met — gas station attendants, Starbucks baristas, and grocery store clerks of all races — if they knew anyone who had been affected by court fines and fees. Many told me stories of family and friends who had. Some had themselves.
Lane Norris told me she left prison after serving 14 years (nine of them in solitary), only to be hauled before a judge five times for fines and fees she accrued during her incarceration. A legal service found that the state had mistakenly charged her more than $20,000 in fees for, among other things, crimes she did not commit. Many of those fines were later erased, but she doesn’t believe she’ll ever pay off her remaining balance.
Marquita Johnson fell behind on her court debt and spent 10 months in jail. Martez Files, who lives outside the Black Belt, has a degree from Brown University and a new tenure-track job at the University of Pittsburgh, and yet he said he cannot crawl out from under the debt resulting from a series of tickets he got in Alabama. Teon Smith told me about how police ticketed her multiple times in a county just north of Montgomery on her way to work at a casino. It got so bad, she quit the job and moved to Montgomery. She always taught her six children to do the right thing, to follow the law, but even in Montgomery, she couldn’t seem to avoid or pay off her tickets. (She has since paid off the debt incurred from them.)
Niaya Williams, a mother of three, received a series of tickets for traffic infractions, ended up with a mountain of debt and, because she missed her court dates, spent roughly three weeks in jail. In much of Alabama, wherever you see working people, you’re bound to find a story like hers.
Mrs. Williams and millions of others in the state live in the wreckage of a system starved of funding: The state has chronically underfunded schools, bad public transit, a dearth of well-paying jobs, little affordable child care and a diminishing health care system. During the 20th century, some public schools began asking students for recommended donations, or what might amount to tuition. They also asked parents to donate books, toilet paper and other supplies. Many school districts had no school buses. Most places have a simple and effective method for quickly ameliorating these problems: They raise property or income taxes. But Alabama often refuses to do so or makes it exceptionally difficult, dooming many to living standards unthinkable for a country as rich as the United States.
To understand how Alabama came to be so underdeveloped, you need only look to the Black Belt, a large region originally named for its rich black dirt that sweeps across the lower midsection of the state. The earth is full of crushed limestone left behind by the sea that once covered the land. Montgomery, Alabama’s capital, is in the heart of the region. It’s an agriculturally rich area that was once blanketed by cotton plantations worked by enslaved people. Much of the area is still rural and agricultural, but the product isn’t cotton; it is, among other things, timber. Drive just a few minutes outside Montgomery and you’re flanked by forest. Rows of loblolly pine stand sentinel along the roads, waiting to be turned into America’s paper. Much of the land is owned by multinational corporations, international investors, hedge funds, some families that live outside the Black Belt and some whose ancestors cultivated the land before the Civil War.
Many of those families’ agricultural interests were top of mind when state lawmakers rewrote Alabama’s Constitution. In 1874, less than a decade into Reconstruction, the Democratic Party, representing the landowning, formerly slave-owning class, took over the state government in a rigged election and quickly passed a new Constitution that mandated taxes on property would remain permanently low.
In the next couple of decades, as cotton prices crashed, poor sharecroppers, both white and Black, banded together in a populist movement to unseat the elites who controlled the state. In response, in another set of contested elections, the elites called another constitutional convention to further consolidate their power over the state. “What is it that we want to do?” the convention president, John B. Knox, asked. “Establish white supremacy in this state.” But this time, he said, they wanted to “establish it by law — not by force or fraud.” ...Read More
New Journals and Books for Radical Education...
Dialogue & Initiative 2022
& Peace, Labor
Edited by CCDS D&I Editorial Group
A project of the CCDS Socialist Education Project
228 pages, $10 (discounts available for quantity orders from email@example.com), or order at :
This annual journal is a selection of essays offering keen insight into electoral politics on the left, vital issues for the peace and justice movements, and labor campaigns.
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.
NOT TO BE MISSED: Short Links To Longer Reads...
Photo: A lawsuit against the Census Bureau points to Wisconsin, where a law passed in 2011 requires voters to present a photo ID at their polling place but limits what kinds of ID are acceptable. | Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images
The Forgotten Constitutional Weapon Against Voter Restrictions
A former Justice Department lawyer thinks he’s found a way to penalize states that undermine voting rights.
By Michael Linhorst
July 27, 2022 - It’s been a hard few years for people worried about voting rights in America. Republican-controlled states are imposing a raft of new restrictions. A divided Congress has failed to pass any legislation in response.
And the Supreme Court just agreed to hear a case that could give state legislatures unchecked power over election rules.
But perhaps a largely forgotten provision of the Constitution offers a solution to safeguard American democracy. Created amid some of the country’s most violent clashes over voting rights, Section 2 of the 14th Amendment provides a harsh penalty for any state where the right to vote is denied “or in any way abridged.”
A state that crosses the line would lose a percentage of its seats in the House of Representatives in proportion to how many voters it disenfranchises. If a state abridges voting rights for, say, 10 percent of its eligible voters, that state would lose 10 percent of its representatives — and with fewer House seats, it would get fewer votes in the Electoral College, too.
Under the so-called penalty clause, it doesn’t matter how a state abridges the right to vote, or even why. The framers of the constitutional amendment worried that they would not be able to predict all the creative ways that states would find to disenfranchise Black voters.
They designed the clause so that they wouldn’t have to. “No matter what may be the ground of exclusion,” Sen. Jacob Howard, a Republican from Michigan, explained in 1866, “whether a want of education, a want of property, a want of color, or a want of anything else, it is sufficient that the person is excluded from the category of voters, and the State loses representation in proportion.”
That approach could come in handy for discouraging states from imposing more limits on voting, as the country witnesses what Adam Lioz, senior policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, calls “the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow.”
There’s just one problem: The penalty clause isn’t being enforced — and never has been.
One man is now waging a legal campaign to change that. It’s a longshot, but if he succeeds, it could serve as a sharp deterrent against voting rights restrictions and even reshape the entire electoral map. At minimum, the push highlights why such language was included in the Constitution in the first place.
Jared Pettinato thinks he’s finally figured out how to make the penalty clause come to life: Sue the Census Bureau.
Pettinato is a lawyer, though election law isn’t his specialty by trade. He worked at the Department of Justice for nine years with a focus on environmental issues, leaving soon after the 2016 election. (“The people of the United States decided on a different boss for me, and I didn’t really want to work for that boss,” he says.)
The 43-year-old Montana native got the idea for the lawsuit after listening to a podcast hosted by the libertarian group Institute for Justice. A mention of the penalty clause piqued his interest, and he started reading up on it. He says he’s been aided by his expertise in administrative law from his time at the Justice Department along with an undergraduate degree in math.
“I could see how to put all these pieces together,” Pettinato says. “My background doing the environmental law work gives me a different perspective than most of your voting rights attorneys.”
So he filed a lawsuit late last year against the Census Bureau, which is responsible for deciding how many House seats each state receives after the census is completed every decade. The suit argues that the Census Bureau’s job of apportioning seats also requires it to apply the penalty clause, and that it already has the information it needs to figure out how many people in each state have experienced harm to their voting rights.
Pettinato filed the lawsuit in D.C. federal court on behalf of a nonprofit he runs, Citizens for Constitutional Integrity. It is something of a labor of love for him. There is no big law firm pitching in to provide resources and expertise. None of the states that might stand to gain from penalty clause enforcement has come to his aid. Voting rights activists aren’t focused on the challenge. Pettinato is working on contingency, paying the bills through work on other cases. “We’re scraping together enough to pay the filing fees,” he says. ...Read More
There Is No
Justice Without Reproductive Justice
‘The broader Left
needs to embrace reproductive justice as a mass movement issue that folks can and do and will get activated on.’
By Elise Higgins
and Maikiko James
July 27, 2022 - Kansas-based Elise Higgins is a state policy expert and reproductive rights and justice movement leader. In conversation with Convergence’s Maikiko James, she highlights the critical need for state-level organizing; movement models for community care; and the centrality of reproductive justice.
Maikiko James: Let’s jump in and talk about the reproductive rights landscape and the work ahead. Where should we focus our organizing, given the current context?
Elise Higgins: To start, we should not abandon states and localities as places of organizing. We get seduced by the celebrity of Congress and the White House, but as long as the filibuster exists there is no compelling reason to sink resources into most DC fights when there’s enormous room to change culture at state and local levels.
In the last decade and with the establishment of the Tea Party, we saw state legislatures become conservative super-majorities, which ushered in the first wave of anti-abortion policies, even in purple states, and we didn’t invest there in state legislative or electoral fights.
As a result, terrible policies spread across the Midwest and South, chipping away at the right to abortion week by week, caveat by caveat, waiting period by waiting period.
MJ: What kind of framework shift do we need to go along with this shift in focus?
EH: People organizing on abortion rights in divested-from places now often operate with a scarcity mindset. Many of these reproductive rights organizations, particularly Planned Parenthood affiliates, are white-led and have made the mistake of an extreme narrowness of scope, focusing on defense, abortion, and contraception above all else.
That’s been the case with mainstream reproductive rights organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL for decades; massive, well resourced, white-led, federally focused, and utterly disconnected from the reproductive justice framework until recently–-and only then because the Black and Brown women leading reproductive justice organizations dragged them into a more righteous and comprehensive analysis.
Here we are now: Roe has fallen, and we’re learning lessons in some ways right on time, but in some ways a half-century too late. Black women and Black trans folk have been trying to teach us about reproductive justice models for a very long time. We finally have an opportunity to build a better movement with more radical goals.
Reproductive justice is also a deeply socialist framework rooted in multinational human rights values, not just US values. It’s about a vision of a state that supports people however they want to have and create a family and however they want to engage with their bodies and sexualities. There are deep intersections between trans rights and reproductive justice – bodily autonomy, pleasure, self-determination – and our enemies are the same, with one white Christian nationalist agenda.
MJ: How has the Right been winning in the culture war on this issue?
EH: One way the Right is winning is they’re co-opting being pro-family and pro-baby. The professional Left has for decades failed to name the racism in anti-family policies aimed at poor Black and brown people. The movement did not show up to the Supreme Court battle over welfare family caps, did not show up to the Supreme Court battle over Medicaid funding for abortion. WOC led organizations have been showing up, but we, the Left, have not had a loud race-forward lens on family formation, on policies that separate families. The Right, using the tools of white supremacy, claim the moral high ground. When in fact, they use every possible win to make it more difficult to have a family if you are not white, middle class, able bodied, etc.
This Congress, because of conservatives, won’t give us a single day of paid family leave, but because the feminist left has not brought as much power to bear on that issue, living wages, Medicare for all, assistive reproductive technologies, or family caps on welfare for example, we find ourselves unable to mount a convincing counter case.
Another way the Right has won culturally is that they pretend that being religious means you have to oppose abortion and queer and trans rights.
That couldn’t be further from the truth, and in fact the coalescence of evangelical Christian and Catholic church leadership around abortion and queer and trans rights is a relatively new political phenomenon begun in the 1980s to ensure conservative political dominance and provide an issue that was seen as more acceptable to talk about than integration.
Exclusive: Neo-Nazi Marine Plotted Mass Murder, Rape Campaigns with Group, Feds Say
While tasked with protecting the nation, Matthew Belanger was plotting a killing spree against minorities and to rape “white women to increase the production of white children,” according to federal prosecutors
By Adam Rawnsley
& Seamus Hughes
Federal prosecutors say a former U.S. Marine plotted mass murder and sexual assault to “decrease the number of minority residents” in the United States as part of his membership in a far-right neo-Nazi group, “Rapekrieg.”
Matthew Belanger was arrested on June 10 in New York and charged with making false statements to a federal firearms licensee in order to make straw purchases of an assault rifle and handgun. Belanger pleaded not guilty to the firearms charges during an arraignment hearing on Monday.
In a July 14 court memo, federal prosecutors say that while a Marine, Belanger plotted far more serious crimes as part of the neo-Nazi group.
The memo says Belanger trained with airsoft guns in the woods of Long Island as part of a plot to attack the “Zionist Order of Governments.” The memo also says Belanger was the subject of an FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce investigation into allegedly plotting to “engage in widespread homicide and sexual assault.”
Much of Belanger’s ideology and plotting, the memo says, is based around a desire to lessen the number of nonwhite Americans and to rape “white women to increase the production of white children.”
In a criminal complaint against Belanger filed June 8, prosecutors allege he violated federal firearms policy twice by purchasing guns via a strawman. In one case, prosecutors claim an unnamed New York police officer purchased a PTR91 assault rifle for Belanger while he was stationed in Hawaii.
Belanger allegedly had the same officer purchase a Luger, a handgun “which was used by the Nazi armed forces during World War II,” for almost $1,000, FBI agents noted in an affidavit.
Belanger was part of the Marine Corps from 2019 until May 2021, when the Marine Corps discharged him with an Other Than Honorable Discharge. That so-called “bad paper” discharge is issued for misconduct, and means the recipient is ineligible for certain veterans’ benefits and cannot reenlist.
In October 2020, Marine Corps officials and the FBI searched Belanger’s Marine Corps barracks housing and his electronic devices. They found “1,950 images, videos and documents related to white power groups, Nazi literature, brutality towards the Jewish community, brutality towards women, rape, mass murderers,” along with “violent uncensored executions and/or rape” and “previous mass murderers such as Dylan Roof.”
Belanger is currently detained at a federal detention center in Honolulu. He has not been charged with crimes related to his alleged membership in Rapekrieg, but a federal judge sided with prosecutors who argued that Belanger should be held in pretrial detention, citing his extremist beliefs and calling his alleged plots “both a danger to the community and a risk of non-appearance.”
The Justice Department, the Marine Corps, and Belanger’s attorneys did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment.
Belanger’s attorney, Leighton Lee, had argued that his client should be allowed home detention with an ankle monitor. In court documents, Lee claimed Belanger was not a flight risk in part because he had not fled despite being aware that he was under federal investigation for nearly two years.
Rapekrieg, according to prosecutors, has “overlapping beliefs and membership with other neo-Nazi groups such ‘Rapewaffen’ and ‘Atomwaffen,’” a neo-Nazi terrorist group whose members have been charged with federal firearms offenses and threatening journalists, and have been linked to at least one murder.
The groups, prosecutors wrote in the detention memo, are “similar” and “espouse racially motivated violent extremist neo-Nazi rhetoric and call for acts of violence to further their extremist ideology.” A Rapekrieg manifesto cited in the memo speaks approvingly of the “rape ideology” as an “effective tool” against the group’s enemies. It also warns that those who believe themselves unable “to pull the trigger on a Jewish child” are unfit for membership in the group.
Prosecutors say the FBI began investigating Rapekrieg in 2020 and learned more about Belanger’s participation in the movement from two unnamed witnesses: “W1,” a friend of Belanger and Rapekrieg members, and “W2,” a member of Rapekrieg. ...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 firstname.lastname@example.org), 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.
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.
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Photo: McMullin's dog lifts his paws up to McMullin. Utah Senate candidate Evan McMullin with his dog, Moose, near his home in Highland, Utah, on July 5. | Kim Raff for POLITICO
Evan McMullin Thinks
He Knows How to Defeat Trumpism
The Utah independent is cobbling together a new alliance that could point the way to a less Trumpy future in red states.
By Samuel Benson
July 25, 2022 - It’s a Tuesday evening, and Evan McMullin is out for his nightly ritual: a walk around his neighborhood with his dog, Moose, a stout Rhodesian Ridgeback. We’re 20 paces from the house when McMullin freezes. “I did not bring poop bags,” he says, and darts back to the rear patio.
McMullin first burst onto the national scene in 2016 by running as a protest presidential candidate against Donald Trump and taking more than 20 percent of the vote in his home state of Utah. He’s spent the intervening years working as a conservative anti-Trump advocate, but he’s back on the ballot this fall. He’s running to replace Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee in another independent campaign — but this time with a serious chance to win, not just play gadfly.
McMullin comes bounding out the back door, bags in hand, and we’re off to discuss the heady topics of the day: the weather, his newly expanded family (he became a husband and stepfather to five last summer) and a grand experiment to defeat Trumpism and its acolytes.
McMullin’s candidacy represents the perfect trial balloon for the kind of cross-partisan effort that, in theory, could come together to beat far-right Republicans in red states. It requires Democrats in a mood to compromise, independents and disgruntled, Trump-skeptical Republicans. Utah has all three.
Utah Democrats — who’ve had little-to-no success in statewide races over the past 40 years — badly want Lee out, and they see the independent McMullin as the only viable option. So, at a raucous state convention in April, a majority of delegates voted to hold their noses and formally back McMullin instead of a veteran Democrat.
And while Utah is also deeply conservative, it has some unorthodox tendencies. Most Utahns, McMullin included, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a group that has shown an unusual aversion to Trump (hence McMullin’s success in 2016). As an ex-Republican, McMullin offers himself as a principled alternative to Lee, whom he views as a far-right extremist tied to a former president who tried to overthrow the government.
“The only way to replace [Lee] is to build a coalition,” McMullin says. “We’re still bringing people together.”
If his motley lot can swing the election, McMullin figures, perhaps it could serve as a template for other races around the country to take on the far right or the far left.
So far, his backers run the gamut. They include national figures from both parties, like former DNC Chair Howard Dean and former RNC Chair Michael Steele. More important, he’s pocketed prominent local endorsements, including Jenny Wilson, the mayor of Salt Lake County and the state’s highest-ranking Democrat. Ben McAdams, a former Democratic congressman, who thought about running against Lee but saw it as an unwinnable race for his party, is serving as McMullin’s liaison to Utah Democrats.
An eyebrow-raising non-endorsement comes from Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney, who views both McMullin and Lee as “friends” and so will stay out of the race. Still, it’s rare for a senator not to endorse a home-state colleague from the same party, and McMullin counts the neutrality as a win. “I respect that and appreciate it very much,” he quips.
If McMullin sees his campaign as a tale of strange bedfellows, he doesn’t let on. To him, it’s a democratic do-or-die moment. Lee has betrayed Utah voters, he says. “Mike Lee’s politics lead to nothing,” he says. “What have they led to for Utah — an embarrassment every other week?”
McMullin’s laundry list of his opponent’s betrayals is long: Lee went from Trump critic to loyalist; Lee is more of an obstructionist than a legislator; Lee advised efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It’s the last point that gets McMullin animated. “We now know, despite his lies to the contrary, that Sen. Lee was very involved in the plot to identify fake electors from swing states to overturn our democracy,” McMullin says, referring to a series of texts between Lee and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows which the Jan. 6 committee released earlier this year. The texts appear to contradict Lee’s previous statements about his opposition to Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, though Lee’s office rejects that characterization.
Even before Lee faced McMullin, he had to overcome a primary challenge against two capable Republicans. The day after the primary, McMullin tweeted that Lee “barely hobbled over the finish line,” though in fact, Lee won with ease, garnering over 60 percent of the vote. “It’s all relative,” McMullin says, denying that his statement was hyperbolic. “In some states, that might be an impressive result for a Republican. In Utah, it’s not.” Lee’s two Republican challengers told me they’re still undecided whether they will stand by the party or endorse McMullin.
So McMullin is toeing a narrow line. He talks of the Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans in his corner, and speaks optimistically about his polling. A recent Deseret News poll showed him trailing Lee by a mere 5 points, though Lee’s campaign disputes this figure.
“Like the polls published by the media during the Republican primary, these polling numbers continue to significantly vary from our internal polling that shows Sen. Lee much further ahead,” says campaign spokesperson Matt Lusty. “Evan McMullin is trying to be all things to all people.”
As we walk with Moose — and before any poop bags are needed — we turn a corner, and there sits a neighbor outside his home, a registered Democrat who feels no need to hold his nose. “I will do anything in my power to get rid of Mike Lee,” says Gary Gardner when I ask whether he’ll vote for his neighbor.
“I will do anything in my power to get rid of Mike Lee,” said Gary Gardner, a McMullin supporter pictured right, when asked if he'll vote for the independent. | Kim Raff for POLITICO
Not all Utah Democrats are as committed. At the state party’s convention earlier this year, supporters of Democratic candidate Kael Weston repeatedly sought to block the motion to back McMullin. It ended up passing with 57 percent of the vote.
“He’s gotten roped into the party,” says Weston. “They say, ‘Evan has the Democratic nomination, he’s a Democrat.’ Well, you look at him on policy. He’s not a Democrat.” Weston has not yet made an endorsement, citing a desire to “not get ahead of the voters,” though he remains open. McMullin says he reached out to Weston prior to the convention about setting up a meeting and “would still love” to do so.
It’s not just Democrats he has to win over. Many hard-line conservatives are likely to have qualms with McMullin, who’s more recognizable as a Never-Trump presidential candidate than as the one-time chief policy director for House Republicans. McMullin flirted with forming a new party last year as an alternative to the GOP; now he views his staunch independence as a strength, noting that the Constitution guarantees committee assignments for all senators, regardless of party affiliation.
I ask who would make that assignment, as it’s usually the party bosses. “Well, we will see,” he says, then quickly shifts focus. “But I will say this — that I’m going to maintain my independence because that is my commitment to this coalition.”
Coalition, cadre, alliance — call it what you will, but it’s a bet that he, and perhaps others, can recruit enough people to cross party lines even in a deeply polarized age. “Wherever we have extremist incumbents who poorly represent a majority of a state, then this kind of coalition is the answer,” he says. “It’s the way to hold them accountable and protect our country.” ...Read More
Samuel Benson is a staff writer for the Deseret News.
Stranded in Chairman Mao’s China
In a remarkable new memoir, Jaime FlorCruz recounts how he became a political exile in China during the Cultural Revolution — and went on to study alongside many of the country’s future leaders.
By Dominic Morgan
July 07, 2022 - In 1971, Jaime FlorCruz boarded a flight to China. The young Filipino planned to spend a few weeks in the country on a study tour, seeing the Cultural Revolution with his own eyes, before returning to college in Manila.
He wouldn’t see his home again for 12 years.
Days after arriving in Beijing, FlorCruz discovered he was among a group of student activists who had been blacklisted by Ferdinand Marcos’ government. The then-20-year-old was stranded in China — a political exile in a country he barely knew.
It was the beginning of a remarkable journey, as FlorCruz recounts in his new memoir “Class of ’77: How My Classmates Changed China,” which is set for release next week.
FlorCruz would be trapped in China for over a decade, living through the grim final years of the Cultural Revolution, the tumultuous transition to the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, and then the country’s embrace of market reforms.
- I went through struggles. But I ended up with a front-row seat to China’s evolution. - Jaime FlorCruz, author
In the process, he would become part of Peking University’s famous class of ’77 — the first cohort of students to enroll at China’s most prestigious college after the end of the Cultural Revolution — studying alongside many of the country’s future leaders, including current premier Li Keqiang.
The experience would later propel his career as a journalist for TIME magazine and CNN, where he became a legendary correspondent documenting China’s transformation into a global power.
“I went through struggles,” FlorCruz tells Sixth Tone. “But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I ended up with a front-row seat to China’s evolution.”
When he first arrived, FlorCruz never imagined his fate would become intertwined with China’s. As a child, he’d known almost nothing about the country. China and the Philippines — then a close ally of the United States — had been enemies throughout the Cold War.
But, like left-leaning students all over the world, FlorCruz had been captivated by images of the Cultural Revolution — and the protests they’d inspired in Paris and elsewhere. When China moved to repair ties with the United States and its allies in 1971, and offered 15 Filipino students the chance to visit the country, he knew he needed to be on the plane.
“I was curious and young and foolish,” FlorCruz laughs. “It was all, ‘Gee whiz.’ We thought we were looking at the socialist utopia.”
His joy at making it to China didn’t last long. Within hours of his arrival, a bomb exploded at a political rally in Manila. The Marcos government began rounding up hundreds of activists, and later declared martial law. It quickly became clear that FlorCruz and four other students on the tour would be detained — and possibly tortured — if they returned to the Philippines.
And so the five students began a strange new existence as refugees in China. Keen to earn their keep, they told their hosts they wanted to do something productive. Within weeks, they found themselves on a state-run farm in central China’s Hunan province.
The following months were a crash course in the realities of the Cultural Revolution. FlorCruz, who had grown up in a middle-class family, found the romance of “learning from the masses” quickly wore off. The work was back-breaking, the winter nights bone-chillingly cold, the tedium mind-numbing.
“I came face-to-face with the real China,” FlorCruz recalls. “In reality, China was in fact quite poor and it was a hard life being a farmer, using basic implements to try and coax rice from these rice fields.”
After a year on the farm, FlorCruz was transferred to a fishing company in the eastern Shandong province. He spent the next two years working on trawlers in the East China Sea, dropping and hauling in heavy fishing nets. In his spare time, he studied Chinese by copying out an English-Chinese dictionary filled with Maoist slogans — and tried to control his feelings of isolation and homesickness.
- I tend to look at China as a glass half full, rather than glass half empty, because I’ve seen the old China as a virtually empty glass. - Jaime FlorCruz, author
By the time he returned to Beijing in 1974, FlorCruz had changed utterly. He’d discarded his bell-bottom jeans for baggy blue pants, and smoked a pack of Zhengzhou cigarettes a day. He spoke almost fluent Chinese. He’d also started looking at the world in a different way, he says.
“After going through that, it seemed like nothing could defeat me,” he says. “And that experience of the past conditioned my way of viewing China … I tend to look at China as a glass half full, rather than glass half empty, because I’ve seen the old China as a virtually empty glass.”
The years of toil paid off. Back in Beijing, many elite schools had finally been allowed to reopen, and FlorCruz was able to enroll in a Chinese program at the Beijing Language and Culture University. Then, in 1977, he won a place to study history at Peking University — one of China’s most prestigious institutions.
FlorCruz arrived on campus at an historic moment. Months earlier, Deng Xiaoping had established himself as China’s paramount leader — outmaneuvering his ultra-leftist opponents — and signaled that China needed to move on from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.
As part of his modernization program, Deng had reintroduced China’s college-entrance exams, known as the gaokao. FlorCruz’s classmates — the famous class of ’77 — were the first students selected to study at Peking University based on merit, rather than political loyalty, in over a decade.
The class of ’77 proved to be an extraordinary cohort. Most of them had been “sent down to the countryside” during the Cultural Revolution. They arrived at university after years of manual labor, viewing the gaokao as their final chance to change their destiny. Many had prepared for the exam using their old high school textbooks or banned “bourgeois” literature, which they had somehow kept stashed away for years.
But these experiences had given the students a drive that set them apart, according to FlorCruz. They would go on to become the “shock troops” of Deng’s reform drive. Some, like Li Keqiang — who FlorCruz knew as a gregarious law student with an obsessive desire to master English — would even rise to the very top of the Communist party hierarchy.
“They had spent years doing practical work, so they knew Chinese society up close … They knew the ills of a closed-off China,” says FlorCruz. “So they brought with them all these questions: What went wrong? Where should China go? What does it mean to reform and open up?”
Beijing was an exhilarating place to be at that time, FlorCruz recalls. Society was undergoing rapid change. During the Cultural Revolution, “book learning” had been viewed with suspicion. So had music, fashion, and any form of extramarital dating. Now, those old controls were gradually fading.
Peking University students became obsessed with ballroom dancing. Then, FlorCruz secretly introduced them to disco. People ditched their Mao jackets, and some daring women even began wearing fitted dresses. FlorCruz was finally able to date a Chinese woman without fear of severe punishment. (In a sign of the times, she would soon leave him to go study in the United States.)
FlorCruz and his classmates eventually graduated in 1982, leaving the sheltered Peking University campus to find their way in the new China. The school’s unofficial motto — “conquer or die” — would serve them well in the years of upheaval and breakneck growth that followed.
FlorCruz found a job at Newsweek, then moved to become a reporter at TIME magazine’s Beijing bureau, realizing a long-held ambition. Not long after, the Philippines’ ambassador to China brokered a deal to allow him to travel back to Manila safely.
But by that stage, China was in FlorCruz’s blood, and he would spend the next 40 years covering the country as a foreign correspondent. Of the five Filipino students exiled in China, three would ultimately rise to become Beijing bureau chiefs at major Western media outlets. Among the foreign press corps, they were affectionately known as the “Filipino mafia.”
FlorCruz retired as head of CNN’s Beijing bureau in 2015, before returning to his beloved Peking University as an adjunct professor. Throughout this long journalistic career, his experiences — and contacts — from his early years in China were a continual source of guidance, FlorCruz says.
Speaking with Sixth Tone by phone from his home in Manila, FlorCruz discusses the legacy of the class of ’77, the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, and China’s trajectory today. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Sixth Tone: You arrived in China as a left-leaning student who wanted to learn about the Cultural Revolution. But after some time, you write that you came to see the China of the 1970s as a “socialist dystopia.” How did this transition happen?
FlorCruz: After we got there in August 1971, it was all, ‘Gee whiz.’ We thought we were looking at the socialist utopia, where even though people weren’t prosperous, they were enjoying a stable life. No policemen visibly carrying guns. Roads were clean and wide, at least in Beijing. So, I acknowledge that I romanticized the red China that we first saw. Then, of course, we ended up having to stay longer than the three weeks, and that’s when we came face-to-face with the real China.
Another “a ha” moment came in 1975, when I was a language student. One time, I was in the dormitory chatting with a Chinese classmate — a party member, a mature man. And he said, ‘You know, Jimi, they’re criticizing Deng Xiaoping now as a capitalist roader in the papers and on campus. Actually, I think he’s a good man and trying to do good things for China.’ To me, that was a shock, because he was a party member — a loyal one. From then on, I kept reminding myself to keep an open mind.
Sixth Tone: Working on the farm and the fishing trawlers sounds like a grueling experience, especially for someone with no previous experience of manual labor. What did you take from it?
FlorCruz: It was physically hard, but even more difficult mentally. We were very homesick. We were often lonely, especially when we weren’t yet fluent in Chinese. But on those lonely nights when our trawler boats would anchor out at sea, I felt like I was a monk in a temple. While all my fellow workers slept, I had time to reflect and to just focus on improving my Chinese. I’d hand copy entries from an English-Chinese political dictionary. I filled three notebooks with around one-third of the entries.
Sixth Tone: When describing your classmates from the class of ’77, you write that they were “survivors of the Cultural Revolution … a perspective that colors their approach to power, politics, and the meaning of life.” What did you mean by that?
- The students were passionate about education and about turning China around. And they knew this was their last ticket to change their lives. - Jaime FlorCruz, author
FlorCruz: Unlike the generation of college students who followed them, many of whom went straight from high school to taking the gaokao, these cohorts from ’77, ’78, ’79 had spent years on the farm, in factories, or serving in the army. So, they knew Chinese society up close, they knew what worked and what didn’t work. They knew the ills of a closed-off China — closed-off in society and closed-off from the rest of the world.
So by the time they got into Peking University, they brought with them all these questions. What went wrong? Where should China go? What does it mean to reform and open up? I saw that in my experience studying with them, with all the debates inside the classroom and especially outside the classroom. They were passionate about education and about turning China around. And they knew this was their last ticket to change their lives, change their careers.
Sixth Tone: As you show in the book, this generation would play a key role in driving China’s transformation over the following decades. Today, however, the younger generations have no memory of the Cultural Revolution — and often know very little about it. What will that mean for China’s future?
FlorCruz: Well, I hope the younger generations will learn about China’s recent past. There is a learning gap now. I hope their parents will tell them more about their personal experiences. It’s important, because otherwise I think the next generation will simply end up feeling entitled. And they will lose the direction that my classmates from the class of ’77 had. I’m also curious: what’s the next generation thinking right now? Where will they want to take China from here to 40 years from now?
Sixth Tone: Today, there is a lot of discussion about the rise in nationalism among young Chinese. As someone who has seen many Chinese youth movements over the decades, how do you think this generation compares to previous ones?
FlorCruz: I feel that China’s challenge now is there’s a kind of spiritual void among many Chinese. In the recent past, there were political campaigns to destroy the “four olds”: old religions, old traditions, etc. Then, after the Cultural Revolution, communist ideology was, in many ways, discredited, and so many Chinese are now left with a void. And then, to fill that void, there’s nationalism, especially among the youth. There’s nothing wrong with it per se. But if it turns into an against-the-rest-of-the-world nationalism, then I think you’re playing with fire.
Sixth Tone: At the end of the book, you identify the “common prosperity” campaign as representing another shift in China’s trajectory. How significant do you think it will prove in the long term?
FlorCruz: The current leadership has done a lot, but they also face a host of challenges. Prosperity has come at a big price: corruption, regionalism, lawlessness, inequality, and the rising costs of living, education, and health care. That’s why many women who are now allowed to have more than two children are reluctant to do so: rearing children is expensive. And that’s where the common prosperity concept is coming from — it’s addressing all these nitty-gritty issues.
The question, of course, is are they the right solutions to what obviously are valid problems? Will they align with the aspirations and goals of Chinese families, especially the emerging middle class? This will really require the leadership to be adaptable and nimble in making appropriate changes. China is changing very fast, society is changing very fast. And the leadership needs to be attentive to those changes.
Editor: Killian O’Donnell.
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This Week's History Lesson:
Inside the Rosenwald Schools: Photographer Andrew Feiler documented how the educational institutions shaped a generation of black leaders
Photo: Hope School in Newberry County, South Carolina, active 1926-1954 Andrew Feiler
By Michael J. Solender
Little more than a century ago, deep in America’s rural South, a community-based movement ignited by two unexpected collaborators quietly grew to become so transformative, its influence shaped the educational and economic future of an entire generation of African American families.
Between 1917 and 1932, nearly 5,000 rural schoolhouses, modest one-, two-, and three-teacher buildings known as Rosenwald Schools, came to exclusively serve more than 700,000 black children over four decades. It was through the shared ideals and a partnership between Booker T. Washington, an educator, intellectual and prominent African American thought leader, and Julius Rosenwald, a German-Jewish immigrant who accumulated his wealth as head of the behemoth retailer, Sears, Roebuck & Company, that Rosenwald Schools would come to comprise more than one in five Black schools operating throughout the South by 1928.
Only about 500 of these structures survive today, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Some schools serve as community centers, others have restoration projects underway with the support of grants from National Trust for Historic Preservation while others are without champions and in advanced stages of disrepair. Eroding alongside their dwindling numbers is their legacy of forming an American education revolution.
Photographer and author Andrew Feiler’s new book, A Better Life for Their Children, takes readers on a journey to 53 of these remaining Rosenwald schools. He pairs his own images of the schools as they look today with narratives from former students, teachers, and community members whose lives were molded by the program. A collection of photographs and stories from the book are also set to be featured in an exhibition at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, later this spring.
When Feiler, 59, first learned of Rosenwald Schools in 2015, it was a revelation that launched a nearly four-year journey over 25,000 miles throughout the southeast where he visited 105 schools.
“I'm a fifth-generation Jewish Georgian and a progressive activist my entire life. The story’s pillars: Jewish, southern, progressive activists, are the pillars of my life. How could I have never heard of it?” says Feiler, who saw an opportunity for a new project, to document the schools with his camera.
That the schools’ history is not more widely known is in large part due to the program’s benefactor. Rosenwald was a humble philanthropist who avoided publicity surrounding his efforts; very few of the schools built under the program bear his name. His beliefs about the philanthropic distribution of wealth in one’s own lifetime contributed to the anonymity, as his estate dictated that all funds supporting the schools were to be distributed within 25 years of his death. Many of the former students Feiler met with were unaware of the scope of the program, or that other Rosenwald Schools existed outside of their county, until restoration efforts gained national attention.
As Feiler outlines in the book, Rosenwald and Washington were introduced by mutual friends, and Washington lobbied Rosenwald to join the board of directors at Tuskegee Institute, the Alabama university for African Americans he co-founded. They began a lengthy correspondence about how they might collaborate further and soon focused on schools for black children.
Washington knew education was key to black Americans rising from generations of oppression. His memoir, Up From Slavery, inspired many, including Julius Rosenwald, who was impressed with Washington’s zeal for education as it aligned so closely with his own beliefs.
In the Jim Crow South, institutionalized segregation pushed rural black students into poor public schools. Municipal education expenditures were a small fraction of monies spent on educating similarly situated white children. In North Carolina alone, the state only spent $2.30 per black student was spent in 1915 compared to nearly $7.40 per white student and nearly $30 per student nationally, according to research by Tom Hanchett, a Rosenwald Schools scholar and community historian.
“Washington saw group effort as key to real change in America,” says Hanchett. “Education is one way to harness powerful group effort. If everyone can read and write, they can work together in a way they could not previously. The schools themselves were ways to bring not just children together but entire communities that were geographically dispersed.” ...Read More
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Independent Unions in México: Free at Last!
WEEKLY BULLETIN OF THE MEXICO SOLIDARITY PROJECT
from the July 27 2022 Bulletin
Hector de la Cueva, the long-time general coordinator of the Center for Labor Research and Advocacy in México City, has spent the last four decades tirelessly supporting workers looking to get out from under the corrupt company unions that just make their lives more miserable. Today, with the right to free association now the law in México, the Center is redoubling its efforts to give rank-and-file workers the information and skills they’ll need in what still figure to be distinctly uphill battles.
Back in those long years of repressive labor rights conditions, when did you begin to commit yourself to building independent unionism?
I became an activist in my student days, and, of course, with the 1970s mostly years of global left-wing ferment, I belonged to a socialist group. In the ’80s, I got a job in the Ford plant in Cuatitlán Izcalli. Workers there faced terrible conditions, and I began to talk inside the plant about getting rid of the CTM company union. I became part of an underground workers’ group that put out a bulletin called El Pistón, The Piston. No one knew who we were. But, gradually, what we wrote convinced most of the workers to become dissidents. El Pistón became the internal law at the plant!
Some of those comrades working on El Pistón won local union positions and stood poised to run for national union office — and to win. To crush us, in January 1990, CTM sent 200 gunmen into the plant. The clash left 11 injured, and one worker died. But even after that horror — and the firing of a thousand workers — our dissident group almost succeeded in winning leadership. Almost! We lasted ten years, but, in the end, we could not sustain the effort. The right-wing forces had too much strength.
After all that, Ford workers, other labor activists, and supporters of union democracy — lawyers, economists, militants — joined together to form CILAS, the Centro de Investigación Laboral y Asesoría Sindical, whose purpose would be to support independent unionism. CILAS functions today as a network of about 50 people.
Given the odds against independent unions taking root, how did some independent groups, like those at México’s VW and Nissan plants, manage to win and hang on?
In the 1970s, we saw a wave of defections from the “yellow” Labor Congress. And then, in 1994, the Zapatista uprising created a political and an economic crisis as well. With the government in disarray, more unions broke with the Labor Congress. ...Read More
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Film Review: ‘Paradise Highway’ where Juliette Binoche, Morgan Freeman and Newcomer Hala Finley Are On the Road and On the Run In a Solidly Crafted Thriller
First-time feature filmmaker Anna Gutto impresses while putting the pedal to the metal through familiar territory.
By Joe Leydon
For those of you who have always wanted to see Juliette Binoche play a foul-mouthed truck driver — and you know who you are — “Paradise Highway” delivers the goods, and then some. This counterintuitive casting is actually just one of the selling points for writer-director Anna Gutto’s solid and satisfying thriller, a shrewdly constructed melodrama that does not transcend cliches and conventions so much as show how useful and effective they can be in the right hands.
Offering a précis of the plot could arguably do the movie a disservice, since the narrative pivots on human trafficking — specifically, the trafficking of prepubescent girls. It’s a subject that often brings out the excessive worst in even the most well-intentioned directors, and more often elicits an understandable “thanks, but no thanks” response from many potential viewers. Throughout “Paradise Highway,” however, Gutto demonstrates welcome restraint and a meticulous avoidance of anything that resembles exploitation, relying on indirect yet impactful allusions to keep us constantly aware of the mortal stakes involved. All in all, this is a singularly promising debut for a first-time feature filmmaker.
Sally (Binoche), a trucker who hauls freight across the Southeast, gets involved in evil inadvertently, if not accidentally. True, she regularly carries satchels of contraband in the cab of her rig, but only to guarantee the safety of her criminally inclined brother Dennis (an aptly ambiguous Frank Grillo), who is subject to brutal beatdowns by fellow prison inmates if she doesn’t play along. The siblings are co-dependent survivors of an abusive childhood, which makes their bond all the stronger. In fact, except for Dennis, Sally is a loner with no apparent human connections other than other female long-haulers with whom she joshes on her CB radio.
Days before Dennis’ release, Sally agrees to what she assumes will be one last transport of illicit cargo. At first, she strongly objects when told the job will entail taking a little girl, Leila (Hala Finley), across state lines to be used and abused. But when she’s reminded of what might happen to Dennis if she doesn’t comply — well, Sally does her best to keep Leila at arm’s length emotionally until the delivery is made. Things change at the drop-off point, however, when Leila grabs the shotgun Sally keeps in the cab for protection and blasts the creep who’s ready to take delivery. After that, survival instincts, not maternal feelings, kick in. “You may have shot him,” Sally angrily snaps at Leila as she puts pedal to the metal, “but I left him there to die.”
You might think that it’s only a matter of time before the hard-bitten trucker and the resourceful yet frightened little girl recognize what they have in common — industrial-grade emotional scars, for starters — and start to trust each other while on the lam. And, of course, you would be correct in making that assumption. But the thawing of hearts and the lowering of guards take a bit longer in “Paradise Highway” than is common in movies built around such initially contentious relationships. Not only does that enhance the credibility of the plot; it also gives the well-cast leads time to bring out the best in each other, as the young newcomer rises to the level of the Oscar-winning veteran’s game.
Meanwhile, Sally and Leila are pursued by representatives of the traffickers, who craftily employ subcontractors during an especially suspenseful truck stop sequence, and Gerick (Morgan Freeman), a former FBI agent who now works as a “consultant” for the Bureau, thereby allowing him to break even more rules than he did as a federal employee while hunting flesh peddlers. Gerick is partnered, whether he wants to be or not, with a novice special agent, Sterling (Cameron Monaghan), who does everything by the book until he learns better under Gerick’s tutelage. Both of these characters are fairly shameless stereotypes, but the actors play them convincingly — Gerick’s penchant for obscenity likely would be quite tiresome if anyone other than Freeman were launching the F-bombs — and their reactions to evidence of child exploitation help bring a sense of gravity to the proceedings.
Credit DP John Christian Rosenlund for vividly conveying everything from the vaguely menacing look of a neon-lit truck stop late at night to the sense of boundless freedom during daytime drives through naturally beautiful locales. The clever choices of pop tunes on the soundtrack is a plus — note the neat balance of Blondie’s original “One Way or Another”
and a dreamier cover by composer Anné Kulonen and Philip Kay — and the sisterhood-is-powerful twist to the third-act resolution is an inspired payoff to elements planted in the opening scene. Speaking of which, that opening scene is where the film attempts to justify Binoche’s accent. You see, she’s from Canada. Hey, whatever works. ...Read More
Photo: Mike Davis in his San Diego home on July 12, 2022.(Adam Perez / For The Times)
Book Talks: Mike Davis
Is Still A Damn Good Storyteller
By Sam Deanstaff
In late June, I wrote to Mike Davis to see if he’d be up for an interview.
His reply: “If you don’t mind the long trek to SD, I’d be happy to talk. I’m in the terminal stage of metastatic esophageal cancer but still up and around the house.”
Davis does not mince words. Still, he can tell some stories. Like this one: Born in Fontana, raised in El Cajon, he spent the ’60s on the front lines of radical political movements in Los Angeles, where he joined the Communist Party alongside Angela Davis. In solidarity, he gave her a car — a cherry of a ’54 Chevy. A month later, at a Party meeting, he asked how she liked it, only to hear that the battery had supposedly blown up, and a “kind” mechanic had agreed to take it off her hands for free.
Or this: In 1970, he marched on wildcat Teamster picket lines alongside union brothers with sawed-off shotguns under their trenchcoats in the summer sun. Then there was the time he fled the phalanx of sheriffs that descended on Belvedere Park during the Chicano Moratorium.
But the story that put Davis on the cultural map, laid out in his 1990 bestseller “City of Quartz,” is the story of Los Angeles. The book, required reading for anyone who wants to understand the city, detailed a history of L.A. as a corrupt machine built to enrich its elite while the white supremacist LAPD served as attack dogs to beat, jail and kill troublemakers. It also warned another conflagration, Watts 2.0, could be on the horizon. Eighteen months later, in April ’92, the city exploded. Davis looked like a seer, though he said the simmering rage was obvious to anyone who got out of their car. He became a minor celebrity. He also started working alongside the leaders of the gang truce to advocate for reinvestment in South L.A.
An astonishing run of more than a dozen books followed, oscillating between critiques and histories of the American West and sweeping historical analyses of how climate disaster, capitalism and colonialism have ground the global poor between their gears and set us up for future calamity (including global viral pandemics, predicted in 2005’s “The Monster at Our Door”). Recently, he returned to L.A. as a subject with 2020’s “Set the Night on Fire,” an encyclopedic history of L.A. in the ’60s told through social movements.
In person, Davis, 76, is very funny, unfailingly generous and seems, above all, to love people. His home is stuffed with books (he reads “500 pages a day”), pet reptiles and a collection of leftist art and artifacts shared with his wife, artist and professor Alessandra Moctezuma. Our conversation lasted from midday until sunset. Davis regaled me with stories of unfinished projects and outlaws he’d known, dangerous students (arsonists, stalkers) and endangering students (a Fijian prince was stabbed during a class assignment to “hang out in L.A. at night” but thanked him for it), and what he considers his true passions — the dying ecology of California and igneous rocks, which he’s traveled the world to collect and store in his converted-garage office.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Sam Dean: You’ve decided to stop chemo treatments for your esophageal cancer. What are you thinking about, day to day?
Mike Davis: First of all, I have plenty of distractions. I read maybe 500 pages a day — military history, exploration — and in the evenings I cuddle with my kids and we watch some crime show.
I’m a fatalistic Celt, and I have the example of my mother and older sister, who died like Russian soldiers at Stalingrad. I intend to not let [my family] down, to be just as solid as they were. I’m not depressed. The major thing in dying that I was worried about — my father had an especially agonizing death, the trauma of it’s never quite left me — was the thought that it might be so traumatic for my kids that that’s what they remember of me. But thanks to [California’s] aid-in-dying law, I have control over the final act.
But I guess what I think about the most is that I’m just extraordinarily furious and angry. If I have a regret, it’s not dying in battle or at a barricade as I’ve always romantically imagined — you know, fighting.
SD: You were slapped with the label “prophet of doom” after “City of Quartz” came out in 1992 — in which you did seem to anticipate the ’92 uprisings in response to the Rodney King verdict. But you’ve described yourself as a “neo-catastrophist,” in the more narrow sense of believing that history, from geological history to human political history, happens more in violent leaps like earthquakes and meteor impacts and revolutions than in gradual shifts. Do you still think of yourself as a catastrophist today?
MD: Yes. But I mean catastrophist in two ways. One, in resonance with Walter Benjamin, is the belief in the sudden appearance of opportunities to take leaps into an almost utopian future. But of course, catastrophist in the other sense too, of, you know, events like plagues. Now, in my fading days, I sit here with wonderment and read the paper, and people are saying you gotta have more coal, gotta have more oil, a year after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report made clear that we are without question entering at least a 3-degree-Celsius world. Which is almost unimaginable. And what I’ve tried to write about and convince people of is that this is an already anticipated genocide. A large minority, the poorest people on the planet, are in a sense doomed.
And as for the old thing of, well, flying saucers will land and humanity joins in a common cause — look at the bodies piling up on borders and the walls being built. Environmental refugees will simply die.
SD: Your most recent book, “Set the Night on Fire,” covered the movement history of L.A. in the ’60s — and how the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department, along with the FBI, brutally suppressed activist groups.
MD: The LAPD in my mind is unreformable. But the Sheriff’s Department is absolutely frightening. They’ve always been, to some extent: I was in the Chicano Moratorium and Belvedere Park, in all the big Eastside demonstrations in the ’70s, when the sheriffs would just come in shooting. But they’ve never been so wildly and completely out of control as they are now.
The problem is the culture and the cadre. The older sheriffs, like many of the older [LAPD], are simply unreformable. The real solution is just fire them en masse, take over the academies, break up the gangs and, very importantly, require people to live in the areas they patrol, or at least within city limits. There’s no way that you’re going to have an acceptable Police or Sheriff’s Department in a city so full of class and economic contradictions as Los Angeles. That’s not a reason not to reform, but it’s a reason to be realistic about the limits of it.
SD: You’ve spent much of your life on the front lines of struggles for social justice and political change, from CORE [the Congress of Racial Equality] and SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] early in your life to labor activism and international solidarity movements in later years. The act of organizing seems to rest on hope for changing the world, but your books paint a grim picture: ecological collapse, political corruption, white supremacy, the continuing immiseration of the global poor. How do you hold on to hope?
MD: To put it bluntly, I don’t think hope is a scientific category. And I don’t think that people fight or stay the course because of hope, I think people do it out of love and anger. Everybody always wants to know: Aren’t you hopeful? Don’t you believe in hope? To me, this is not a rational conversation. I try and write as honestly and realistically as I can. And you know, I see bad stuff. I see a city decaying from the bottom up. I see the landscapes that are so important to me as a Californian dying, irrevocably changed. I see fascism. I’m writing because I’m hoping the people who read it don’t need dollops of hope or good endings but are reading so that they’ll know what to fight, and fight even when the fight seems hopeless.
SD: In interviews in 2020, you did express some optimism about the energy you saw in the streets during the Black Lives Matter protests. Two years on, where have you seen that energy go?
MD: I’m old enough to say with some authority that this generation is different from any other postwar generation. The combination of seeing rights stripped away on one side and facing declining economic ability on the other has radicalized them and has given struggles over what some people denounce as identity politics a very material force.
Kids are looking at their future. Before I retired from teaching at [UC] Riverside, I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with kids who were just agonized. They’re the first to go to college in their family, and suddenly their parents lose their jobs and they don’t know where to turn because there’s so many expectations and so many sacrifices been made to get them into a university that this will somehow pan out into a real future. And that wasn’t happening.
But the biggest single political problem in the United States right now has been the demoralization of tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of young activists. Part of the problem is the lack of organizational structure, particularly of organizations of organizers. There’s no leadership to give direction.
I mean, I’m a supporter of Bernie Sanders, but the Sanders campaign held up this idea that we use movements to build electoral politics and electoral politics to build movements. If you look at the history of popular movements in relationship to electoral politics, that’s hardly ever been true. I mean, Bernie and AOC and so on, they’re on every picket line and they’re always for the right thing, but they’ve allowed the movement in the streets to dissipate, and kids or young people are so demoralized.
SD: What could be happening instead?
MD: Why is it that the right, the extreme right, owns the streets and not the left? It’s not like Europe, where in a lot of countries youth activism is quiescent or on decline. There are millions of people like [my 18-year-old son], but who’s telling him where to go to fight or what to do?
Who’s inviting him to the meeting? All they get instead, and what I get every day, are 10 solicitations from Democrats to support candidates. I vote for those candidates. I think they should be supported, but the movement’s more important. And we’ve forgotten the use of disciplined, aggressive but nonviolent civil disobedience. Take climate change. We should be sitting in at the headquarters of every oil company every day of the week. You could easily put together a national campaign. You have tons of people who are willing to get arrested, who are so up to do it. Nobody’s organizing that.
The biggest single political problem in the United States right now has been the demoralization of tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands of young activists.
SD: You say aggressive, nonviolent civil disobedience is necessary. But what about political violence? You wrote a book about the history of the car bomb, “Buda’s Wagon.” You also lived through both L.A. uprisings, you were a Friend of the Panthers, you lived in Belfast during the Troubles. Are you ever surprised there isn’t more political violence happening in the U.S.?
MD: I remember at the height of the scare about the Black Panthers, I would tell people: What is so remarkable is there’s so little Black-on-white violence in American history compared to the relentless white violence against people of color.
But we’ve not seen the kind of violence that’s coming from the right, nor have we seen — because we haven’t been dangerous enough recently — what will happen when all the new repressive powers of surveillance, all the antiterrorist legislation, comes down on progressive movements. The Democrats’ reaction to the war on terror, on most crime bills, has been to reform a little bit at the edges but never attempt to dismantle it.
SD: You recently wrote about the megalomania behind Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and concluded by saying, “Never has so much fused economic, mediatic and military power been put into so few hands. It should make us pay homage at the hero graves of Aleksandr Ilyich Ulyanov, Alexander Berkman and the incomparable Sholem Schwarzbard.” All were assassins or attempted assassins, right?
MD: Did you look up that last name? He killed [Symon Petliura,] the great hero of the Ukrainian independence movement. He shot him on a Paris street, and a Paris jury found him innocent once they heard the story of the pogroms and so on. Kind of like the Angela Davis jury. Great character.
One of the major book projects that I never finished, though have been interviewed about it and was published as a separate book in French, was a project called “Heroes of Hell,” looking at violent revolution in the 19th and early 20th century. Bolsheviks were always opposed to individual acts of violence, because Russia had so much experience with that before the revolution — the Leninist argument was that you’re substituting the heroic deed for mass action, the heroic sacrificial individual for the class. It made a lot of sense.
To me political violence is something to be judged much more rationally than morally. And there are instances: After the death of Franco, the Francoist transition to preserve the regime had all been set in place. [Luis] Carrero Blanco was the anointed successor to Franco, and a group blew his car over a cathedral. It totally disrupted the succession, and made relative democratization possible. We know on the negative side that if Fanny Kaplan hadn’t shot Lenin, Stalin might not have happened. To me it’s an open question depending on context and conditions.
I, by the way, never supported the Weathermen. In fact, I profoundly hate the Weather People. Those people did exactly what cops would’ve done, and now they’ve reinvented history to make themselves heroes. To me, they’re just rich kids, along with some ordinary kids, playing “Zabriskie Point” for themselves.
SD: You didn’t decide to go to college until you were nearly 30, and your first book, “Prisoners of the American Dream,” came out when you were 40. Had you always wanted to write?
MD: No, learning to write is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It involved sometimes a whole ream of paper on an electric typewriter just to get the first sentence. It was absolutely brutal.
SD: So why did you want to do it?
MD: Because I was such a miserable failure as an organizer and speaker. The first speech I ever gave was an antiwar rally in Stanford, 1965. I was working on this crazy SDS project in Oakland. I succeeded in driving away three-quarters of the crowd within about five minutes. I’ve spent years in tiny little groups trying to regroup with even smaller groups, going to every demonstration, trying this and that. And writing became the one skill that was useful for p
SD: Who influenced your writing the most? What were you reading that made you want to write?
MD: I’ve never read much fiction, so the fiction I did read had a lot of influence, starting with “The Grapes of Wrath.” The kind of biblical cadence and language of Steinbeck. Then the New Left Review was an early influence on my writing, and in some ways a bad one.
One of my most profound literary and intellectual influences was the Welsh Marxist named Gwyn Williams. He had come out of the communist historians group, [had] been the first to write an article in English on Gramsci, but above all had this command of Welsh history on so many different levels. So to some extent I wanted L.A. to be…
SD: Your Wales?
MD: Yeah! And then of course, in natural history the great influence of mine was my friend Steve Pyne. He’s the fire historian, and just a great all-around character. He was a firefighter and went to Stanford on a baseball scholarship. I picked up his book when I was very homesick in London and read his social history of fire in America. And suddenly I wanted to write the environmental history of L.A. as political and social history.
But the real core of my writing was storytelling. I told one of my colleagues at Riverside, I’m not a writer’s writer at all, but I am a damn good storyteller. And I have been around some of the best storytellers on the planet. You know, in Belfast pubs and logger bars in Butte, Montana, I’ve heard magnificent stories.
SD: What are some of the most surprising reactions you’ve seen to your work?
MD: After “City of Quartz” came out, I became close friends with Kevin Starr. We were set to debate. [The L.A. Times described Starr and Davis as “Dueling Prophets of Next L.A.” in 1994; Starr published a rosier L.A. history book at the same time as Davis’.] He was so charming and nice that I started seeing him for meals with his wife, and he was a regular attendee of Bohemian Grove. So he invited me to Bohemian Grove.
MD: I said, “What? They’d never let me in Bohemian Grove in a million years!” He said, “Oh yes, they will. The only problem is you can’t film or record or ever write about it.” And so I said: “Too bad.” Friends of mine were angry at me. Everybody wanted me to go to Bohemian Grove. But all that happens at Bohemian Grove is that George Shultz and a bunch of billionaires run around peeing on redwood trees acting like 7-year-olds.
I’ve turned down other invitations that really aggravated my friends. I got an invitation to the Vatican.
SD: Who invited you to the Vatican?
MD: The office of Francis. Based on “Planet of Slums.” And I decided not to do that.
SD: Before we wrap up, are there any, I don’t know, exhortations, calls to action, that you want to share?
MD: Uh, no. I’ve resisted various things, one of which is the writerly idea that you have to write something profound about your termination. I have no intention of doing that, nor any compulsion to write some mock-heroic thing. When my older sister died, I became certain I was gonna die too. Though I didn’t know it would be of the same cancer that she had. And I wrote two poems that pretty much sum up my view of life, just straightforward poems. I’ll leave those behind.
I think people who read my stuff pretty much get it. One of the reasons this “aid in dying” is important to me is that it also ensures I won’t lose my sense of humor. But what my older sister taught me when she got the final verdict — and she was just as straightforward and brave as she was in everything else in her life — was that it’s an opportunity to teach your children not to be afraid of this. To be sad but not fear it.
I’m just an ordinary person going through what every ordinary person eventually goes through under circumstances that aren’t especially tragic at all. Except maybe for some of the family.
But no need to make, you know, ponderous statements. It’s been more fun just watching Golden State play or Scandinavian mysteries or reading books, above all relaxing and hanging out with the family. I’m so lucky to be cocooned in all the love I have here. ...Read More
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