Category Archives: Poverty

Nations Want Liberation: The Black Belt Nation in the 21st Century

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The following article below was originally published by the political news blog Return to the Source:

By Vince Sherman & Frank Thomson, with contributions from Black Uhuru
June 24, 2012

Thousands rally for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL.

In the past year, the United States has experienced an upsurge in black political consciousness as hundreds of thousands of organizations and people poured into the streets to demand justice for Trayvon Martin, the 17 year-old African-American youth brutally murdered in Sanford, FL. Martin’s case has drawn enormous attention to the daily terrorism inflicted on African-Americans by both the US government and vigilante terrorists, like George Zimmerman, who uphold and enforce a vicious system of white supremacy.

As the movement against police brutality and racist oppression continues to grow, Marxist-Leninists must grapple with the burning question of how to build a revolutionary national liberation struggle capable of ending white supremacy and imperialism in the United States.

Seeking to capitalize on the growing struggle against racism, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has republished a series of articles from the 1980s reflecting their understanding of “The History of Black America” in its newspaper, Socialist Worker. Complete with all of the errors endemic to their bizarre Trotskyite understanding of revolutionary history, these articles are a flaccid attempt for a mostly white organization – an organization that expelled several activists of color from its Washington DC branch in 2010, no less – to make itself relevant to the struggle of African-Americans against white supremacy.

However, one article in particular, republished on Saturday, June 16, stands above the rest in its historical revisionism, its fallacious analysis, and its generally poor syntactical construction. Lee Sustar’s piece, “Self-determination and the Black Belt” is a hit piece on the Marxist-Leninist demand for African-American self-determination, the entire concept of the Black Belt nation, and black nationalism in general.

Rife with historical errors, strawman characterizations, and misspellings, Sustar’s piece itself is barely worth a response. Never missing an opportunity to denounce and slander Josef Stalin, Sustar makes the totally absurd claim that “The Black Belt theory was part of a sharp “left” turn by the Communist International (Comintern) used by Joseph Stalin to mask his bureaucracy’s attack on the workers’ state,” arguing that somehow upholding the demand for African-American self-determination allowed Josef Stalin to better consolidate his so-called “state capitalist regime in Russia.” (1) The relationship between the struggle for black nationalism and the USSR is never explained or warranted by Sustar.

Neither is his claim that the demand for black self-determination was based “on the works of a Swedish professor who aimed to theoretically justify the political turns of the bureaucracy which was coming to control Russia.” (2) Sustar never names this Swedish professor, supposedly the progenitor of the demand for black self-determination, nor does he offer any evidence that such a professor had any impact on the development of the black national question adopted and implemented by the Communist International (Comintern). But a lack of evidence never stands in the way of the ISO’s vicious slander of Marxism-Leninism so the omission of key facts is both unsurprising and expected.

However, the continued relevance and renewed importance of the black national question in the 21st century demands serious consideration by Marxist-Leninists. It is important to respond to these unprincipled criticisms and slander of the experiences of black nationalist organizations and the CPUSA. The ISO may have published this piece nearly 30 years ago, but the same theoretical bankruptcy demonstrated in this re-published essay continues to inform their strange blend of Cliffite-Trotskyism today.

Instead, Marxist-Leninists must put forward a principled and materialist evaluation of the successes and failures of these various groups struggling for black liberation that appropriately contextualizes their specific struggles.

The Soviet Union and the National Question

V.I. Lenin

The Marxist-Leninist position on the African-American national question and the Black Belt South developed directly out of the Soviet Union’s own experience with actualizing the demand for self-determination for oppressed nationalities. The October Revolution of 1917 and the founding of the Soviet Union marked the end of tsarist oppression of the nations in the transcaucasus and Central Asia. In addition to Russia, many other nations under the Tsarist empire participated in the proletarian revolution in October 1917, and the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, began to work towards the creation of a voluntary federation of free, self-determined nations.

The destruction caused by the Russian Civil War, waged between 1918 and 1922, along with the Allied invasion of Russia by fourteen countries in 1921, forged a sense of unity between the underdeveloped constituent nations of the former Russian empire and the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary government. After exiting World War I through the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and emerging victorious over the tsarist White Army, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) met with representatives from these formerly oppressed nations and formed the Soviet Union in 1922. The Soviet Union’s recognition of its constituent nations’ right to self-determination finds its embodiment in the 1917 “Declaration of the Rights of the Russian People,” which legally guaranteed “equality and sovereignty of the peoples of Russia, the right of peoples of Russia to free self-determination up to secession and the formation of independent states, abolition of all national and national-religious privileges and restrictions, [and] free development of national minorities and ethnic groups inhabiting the territory of Russia.” (3) Thus, any analysis of the Soviet Union must account for the complexities of its international composition, rather than viewing it as a purely Russian political phenomenon.

After the formation of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) implemented a policy of korenizatsiya to encourage the indigenous development of revolutionary leadership among the USSR’s constituent nations. While the CPSU argued that the process of socialist construction for each nation was generally the same, it acknowledged a firm belief that “each nation which has overthrown capitalism seeks to plot the course of its economic, political and cultural development in such way as to be most in conformity with its concrete historical features and progressive traditions.” (4) Korenizatsiya was a means by which the CPSU would help create indigenous communist parties, culture, and economies tailored to the specific needs of the nation in question. The central component of this, in the view of the CPSU, was the cultivation of native communist leadership in each nation’s party and the promotion of national minorities in higher Soviet institutions. (5)

In practice, the CPSU “supported local languages, educated and promoted local elites and thus built new loyalties to the socialist cause” as a part of korenizatsiya. (6) Reza Zia-Ebrahimi of the London School of Economics & Politics describes this process in a 2007 article entitled “Empire, Nationalities and the Fall of the Soviet Union,” pointing out that “each Soviet republic was flanked with an official culture, official folklore and national opera-house. (7) Soviet authorities went as far as to develop written systems for local languages that had previously lacked them.” (8) She notes that this policy of nativization also had the effect of combating Russian national chauvinism, citing Ukraine in the 1920s as an example, in which “a Russian residing there also had to be educated in Ukrainian.”(9)

Though the precise manifestations of korenizatsiya oscillated over the history of the USSR and at times nations had less operational freedom – particularly during the glasnost period brought on by Gorbachev – the Soviet state’s dedication to raising the status of national minorities and guaranteeing political representation demonstrates a genuine ideological commitment to national self-determination that inspired oppressed nations around the world. (10)

Developing the Black National Question

Harry Haywood, one of the founders of the Marxist-Leninist line on the Black Belt nation.

Among the many activists inspired by the Russian Revolution was African-American communist Harry Haywood. In his autobiography, Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Haywood recounts his excitement at the many achievements of the Russian Revolution, noting its specific importance to African-Americans: “Most impressive as far as Blacks were concerned was that the revolution had laid the basis for solving the national and racial questions on the basis of complete freedom for the numerous nations, colonial peoples and minorities formerly oppressed by the czarist empire.” (11) Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ handling of the national question in North Asia prompted Haywood to join the CPUSA in the winter of 1923 and to visit the Soviet Union as a part of a student delegation in 1925.

Sustar views genuine African-American revolutionaries like Haywood, who developed the demand for black self-determination in the Soviet Union, with condescending contempt. He writes, “For these leaders, the Comintern’s theory of self-determination for the Black Bell (sic) must have appeared as a revolutionary commitment to fighting the enormous racism in the U.S.” (12) The implication, of course, is that Haywood, Otto Hall, and James Ford were more or less passive recipients of the black national question line – a falsehood that flies in the face of historical fact – and that they were basically duped into accepting a position hoisted upon them by Stalin.

In actuality, the black national question established by the Comintern came about through vibrant debate and struggle between African-American comrades, the white comrades in the CPUSA, and Soviet comrades, who contributed their own first-hand experience in building a multinational republic of the 15 unique constituent nations of the USSR. During his four-year visit to the Soviet Union, Haywood meticulously analyzed the character of black oppression in the US alongside other comrades.

The CPUSA’s position at that time was that black workers were subject to harsh societal prejudice based on race, but fundamentally they experienced the same capitalist exploitation as white workers. Haywood and the Communist International (Comintern) came to criticize this position because “To call the matter a race question, they said, was to fall into the bourgeois liberal trap of regarding the fight for equality as primarily a fight against racial prejudices of whites.” (13) This simplistic view placed total emphasis on building the trade union movement irrespective of race, leading the CPUSA to mistakenly see the struggle for black civil rights “as a diversion that would obscure or overshadow the struggle for socialism.” (14)

Furthermore, looking at the exploitation of African-Americans purely as a question of race “slurred over the economic and social roots of the question and obscured the question of the agrarian democratic revolution in the South.” (15) In describing Reconstruction, Haywood writes that the “revolution had stopped short of a solution to the crucial land question; there was neither confiscation of the big plantations of the former slaveholding class, nor distribution of the land among the Negro freedmen and poor whites.” (16) The White Supremacist counter-revolution of 1877 brought an end to Reconstruction, and through fascist terrorism by paramilitary groups like the Ku Klux Klan, African-Americans were denied the political rights and economic opportunities afforded to White citizens. Thus, Haywood writes in his 1948 book, Negro Liberation, “The uniqueness of the Negro problem in the United States lies in the fact that the Negro was left out of the country’s general democratic transformation.” (17)

Influenced by Lenin’s Draft Theses on the National-Colonial Question and Josef Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question, both of which identify African-Americans as an oppressed nation within the US, Haywood and the leadership of the Comintern launched an intensive study of the character of African-American people. (18)  In Marxism and the National Question, Stalin outlines the objective conditions for nationhood, which are, “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” (19) Using the criteria set out by Stalin, Haywood notes that “Under conditions of imperialist and racist oppression, Blacks in the South were to acquire all the attributes of a single nation.” (20)

A common territory is one of the criteria for nationhood. Although African-Americans were spread out across the US, Haywood argued that the “territory of this subject nation is the Black Belt, an area encompassing the Deep South,” because even after the post-war Northern migrations of black workers, the Black Belt “still contained (and does to this day) the country’s largest concentration of Blacks.” (21) Additionally, Robin D.G. Kelley writes in his book, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression that “This region, dominated by cotton plantations, consisted of counties with a numerical black majority.” (22) The demographic concentration of African-Americans, along with their historical tie to the land, led the Comintern to adopt a resolution affirming the presence of a black nation in the American South at its Sixth World Congress in 1928. (23)

The Black Belt Nation, derived from James Allen’s 1938 pamphlet, Negro Liberation.

Sustar’s article spins a web of sophistry in trying to back-handedly argue that Lenin would have opposed the Comintern’s line on the black national question. While he acknowledges that Lenin viewed African-Americans as an oppressed nation, he then proceeds to ignore that fact in painting Lenin’s position as one in harmony with the ISO’s Trotskyite position: That the struggle for national liberation is simply “a means to fight chauvinism and racism in the working class.” (24)

In actuality, Lenin maintained that “it is necessary that all Communist Parties render direct aid to the revolutionary movements among the dependent and subject nations (for example, in Ireland, among the Negroes in America, etc.) and in the colonies.” (25) True to Trotskyite form, Sustar leaves out any mention of the other toiling masses besides the proletariat, whose support is vital to the national liberation struggle. Lenin writes, “the cornerstone of the whole policy of the Communist International on the national and colonial questions must be a closer union of the proletarians and working masses generally of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle to overthrow the landlords and the bourgeoisie.” (26) The term “working masses” unmistakably refers to the peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie of the oppressed nations, who can and must support the proletariat for a revolutionary national liberation struggle to succeed. Much as Trotsky held contempt for the Bolshevik line on a strategic alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry in Russia, the ISO holds contempt for the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the other nationalist classes comprising the oppressed African-American nation. He can hold that position, but it is characteristically anti-Leninist, as is the entirety of Trotsky’s theory of revolution.

The Comintern’s groundbreaking new line on the African-American question maintained that “African-Americans had the right to self-determination: political power, control over the economy, and the right to secede from the United States.” (27) In a broader sense, however, Haywood’s line on the national question represented an affirmation of the revolutionary character of black nationalist movements, whose efforts could strike blows against US imperialism from within. While Marxist-Leninists view nationalism as a bourgeois ideology, it can nevertheless fuel revolutionary movements against imperialism in colonized nations, whose economic and social development were held back by foreign exploitation.

Organizing in the Black Belt Nation

Sustar has an incredibly superficial understanding of the black national question in theory, but his historical evaluation of its impact is equally flawed.

When Haywood returned to the US in 1930, the CPUSA had already begun implementing the African-American national question by sending party cadre into the Black Belt to organize and raise the demand of black self-determination. Suster claims that “the new perspective launched the CP into a series of senseless sectarian attacks on reformist Black and working-class leaders, alienating the party from the mass of workers,” the actual effect of the Party’s focus on the black national question was tremendous growth in its black membership. (28) The Alabama Communist Party was particularly successful in building strong ties with African-Americans through applying the theory to political organizing. Kelley notes that “From the beginning, Birmingham blacks exhibited a greater interest in the Party than did whites.” (29) The party’s appeal among African-Americans came from its outspoken opposition to racism and its support for national self-determination. Kelley writes that “During the 1930 election campaign, the Communist Party did what no political party had done in Alabama since Reconstruction: it endorsed a black candidate, Walter Lewis, for governor. The election platform included complete racial equality and maintained that the exercise of self-determination in the black belt was the only way to end lynching and achieve political rights for Southern blacks.” (30)

The Alabama Communist Party’s orientation towards building a strong, independent African-American movement translated into exponential growth in black cadre. Starting with a mere three organizers in 1929, the Party “was augmented to over ninety by the end of August 1930, and over five hundred working people populated the Party’s mass organizations, of whom between 80 and 90 percent were black.” (31) Contrary to Sustar’s baseless claims, the correct application of the national question to organizing fueled the early rapid levels of growth for the CPUSA among African-Americans.

Black workers were hit hardest by the Great Depression’s rampant unemployment due to racist firing preferences by White managers. In response to the mass demand among African-Americans for jobs, the Alabama Communists organized an unemployment relief campaign in 1933. By the end of the year “the Party’s dues-paying membership in Birmingham rose to nearly five hundred, and its mass organizations encompassed possibly twice that number.” (32) The unemployment relief campaign was particularly successful in its goal “to increase the number of black female members, who often proved more militant than their male comrades, from open confrontation to hidden forms of resistance, and would later prove invaluable to local Communists continuing their work in the mines, mills, and plantations of the black belt.” (33) The Alabama Communist Party maintained high diversity because of its attention to the plight of African-Americans, and in particular, the plight of African-American women.

Southern communists heavily involved themselves in the sharecropper labor movement, whose composition was primarily African-American. In Alabama, for instance, the Party organized the Share Croppers Union (SCU) in 1931, which grew to “a membership of nearly 2,000 organized in 73 locals, 80 women’s auxiliaries, and 30 youth groups.” (34) The SCU was openly organized by Alabama communists, and while it drew substantial support from the African-American community, it was also subject to a harsh crackdown by state and non-state actors. (35) Nevertheless, “the SCU claimed some substantial victories. On most of the plantations affected, the union won at least seventy-five centers per one hundred pounds, and in areas not affected by the strike, landlords reportedly increased wages from thirty-five cents per hundred pounds to fifty cents or more in order to avert the spread of the strike.” (36) The mass appeal of the SCU, an explicitly red trade union, and its tremendous victories demonstrate the power once possessed by the CPUSA in the American South.

Because sharecropping and rural wage labor was dominated by African-Americans, the SCU gave Alabama communists an interesting opportunity to apply the national question to trade union organizing. African-American communist Al Murphy was chosen as the Secretary of the SCU, and the bulk of the union’s leadership was always black. (37) Kelley writes that as Secretary, “Murphy, an unflinching supporter of the Party’s demand for self-determination in the black belt, had very definite ideas about the radical character of the SCU. He saw within each and every member ‘standard bearers of Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass,’ and regarded the all-black movement as the very embodiment of black self-determination.” (38) The SCU came to represent the embodiment of Black self-determination applied to organizing because African-American cadre themselves comprised the union’s leadership, rather than the white labor bureaucrats that marked most other industrial trade unions in the 1930s. Nearly all of the Party’s black leadership had no prior experience in radical movements, making the SCU an authentic people’s trade union reflecting the class conflicts of the South. (39)

Perhaps the only aspect of Sustar’s piece with a kernel of principled criticism is his claim that the black national question was never “consistently put forward in practice.” While the CPUSA did implement and adapt the theory to much success, the rise of fascism and the breakout of World War II produced zig-zags in the Party’s line on African-American liberation, much to the detriment of the Party. For instance, the CPUSA abandoned Haywood’s line on the national question in 1935 in order to collaborate with conservative middle class black organizations in anti-war work related to fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. (40)

It is important to understand that Sustar is completely wrong in his assessment of the line’s implementation. Contrary to Sustar’s claim that the black national question “means subordinating the needs of workers to those of the middle class in the oppressed nation,” it wasn’t until the CPUSA dropped the demand for black national self-determination in 1935 that the Party began tailing the conservative black petty-bourgeoisie. (41) While the demand for a black nation was gaining traction among the black proletariat in the American South, the political pivot to a more rightist position proved costly to the CPUSA and actually fueled their waning influence in the working class. Sustar’s claim is outrageously ahistorical, and the facts actually demonstrate that abandoning the line seriously damaged the proletarian character of the black nationalist movement that the Party was building.

This political zig-zag was the product of Northern communists, who dominated the CPUSA leadership at the time. (42) Additionally, the sudden appearance of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), one of the only national trade unions to allow black members, prompted communist leaders to fold the SCU into the CIO in 1936. Although organizing within the CIO had tactical advantages in terms of available resources, the dissolution of the SCU “exacted a costly toll from the Alabama cadre, especially black party organizers.” (43) Because of racist internal policies limiting African-American leadership, “Black Birmingham Communists, for the most part, did not (and often could not) become pure union bureaucrats in the way that their comrades had in Northern and Western CIO unions.” (44) Reflecting deeper changes in their political line, the Alabama Communist Party’s influence declined across the South as it gradually lost its mass base among the African-American Nation.

One of the more bold claims made by Sustar is his claim that the CP pushed a line not shared by African Americans: “in the early 1930s, it was the Communist Party–not Black workers and farmers–who called for self-determination of the Black Belt.” Exactly who else is to put out slogans and calls? Is it a communist party’s job to wait until the people have perfected their demand and in the meantime there is nothing to do but twiddle one’s thumbs and hope for the best? Absolutely not. We say it is the job of the party to collect the best sentiments of the masses and translate them into coherent revolutionary action. Additionally, the tremendous success of the Communist Party in the South, especially among African-Americans and despite incredible state repression, indicates that the workers and sharecroppers in the South responded positively to the line precisely because they demanded it.

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Capitalism, not government policy, is the cause of the stagnant economy

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The following editorial below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

June 6, 2012

On June 1, the Labor Department reported that only 69,000 net new jobs were created in May, less than half of what economists had expected and less than a third of the relatively strong job growth of the December through February period. Immediately the Republicans and the Romney campaign blamed President Obama and his policies, especially the health care reform act. The Democrats and the Obama administration quickly fired back, blaming the Republicans for blocking their economic stimulus proposals in Congress.

The U.S. economy is showing signs of stagnation – that is, slow economic growth combined with ongoing high unemployment – ever since the financial crisis and deep recession in 2008-2009. When economic stagnation first showed up in Europe in the 1980s, mainstream U.S. economists blamed the European social democratic policies of high taxation and extensive social welfare programs like universal health care. Then economic stagnation spread to Japan in the 1990s and again mainstream U.S. economists blamed the Japanese government policy of supporting certain industries.

Now the third center of world capitalism, the United States, has joined Europe and Japan. With unemployment still more than 8% almost three years after the official end of the recession, it would take about six more years at the current rate of job growth just to gain back the jobs lost during the last downturn. The U.S. economy has followed a much more free-market approach of deregulation of industry, cuts in social welfare programs and attacks on unions since the 1980s. But Wall Street bankers, freed from regulations dating back the Great Depression, let their greed run amuck, leading to a boom and then bust in the housing markets that ultimately led the biggest financial crisis in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In a capitalist economy production of goods and services is done to make a profit. This drive for profits leads businesses to pay their workers less than the value of what the workers’ labor creates, which is what Karl Marx referred to as exploitation. This can be seen today in the United States as the purchasing power of wages has been flat while the value of what an average worker produces has been rising. This has led to record corporate profits, while more and more working people are living paycheck to paycheck and sinking into poverty.

At the same time, competition among businesses leads them to reinvest most of these profits into expanding their businesses and introducing new technology. This is what Marx called the accumulation of capital, which leads to the ability to produce more and more goods and services. But this ability to produce more comes into conflict with the fact that exploitation limits the ability of workers (who make up 90% of the population in the United States) to buy the goods and services that they have produced. The result is crisis of overproduction, or what are called recessions today.

During a recession, goods and services go unsold – not because they are not needed or desired, but because they cannot be sold at a profit. The most glaring example today is in the housing market, where there are a record number of homes standing empty at the same time as there are record numbers of homeless (counting not just those on the street, but including people living in cars and staying at friends and relatives).

This can explain the regular pattern of alternating periods of economic growth and recession, or what is called the business cycle. Here in the United States there have been 33 such cycles over the last 200 years.

For more than a hundred years, huge corporations have developed in more and more types of businesses, so that a small handful, or even just one, giant corporation can dominate an entire industry. What Marx called the concentration and centralization of capital can be seen in the recent takeover of more and more types of retail businesses such as office supply, bookstores and hardware stores by two or three companies.

These giant corporations can cut back on production to limit overproduction, but then end up with overcapacity, or the ability to produce more than they can produce and sell on the market for a profit. This overcapacity can be seen in many industries: car makers can produce more cars than can be sold, steel producers can produce more steel than there is a market for, etc.

With the ability to produce more than what can be sold, corporations are sitting on literally trillions of dollars of profits that are not being spent to expand business. This is what leads to stagnation: the lack of reinvestment of profits means slower economic growth and fewer jobs, i.e. the economic stagnation that we see today.

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats offer a real solution to the economic woes for working people. The Republicans want to increase corporate profits by increasing the exploitation of workers using the methods of cutting pensions, smashing unions, limiting health care benefits and cutting unemployment insurance and other social safety net programs. In addition the Republicans would cut taxes and regulation on business to make them even more profitable. But this would only increase the contradiction between the limited purchasing power of workers and the ability of corporations to produce more, leading to another crisis of overproduction.

The Democrats would prefer to use the government to increase corporate profits through subsidies and loans for selective industries with new technology (like electric batteries and solar panels) or the health insurance industry (with the health care reform law). While the Democrats talk about helping out working people with cuts in payroll taxes and extending unemployment insurance, their support for balancing the budget will lead to more austerity: higher taxes and cuts to social programs, including the two biggest, Medicare and Social Security.

Only a socialist economy, where production is aimed at peoples’ needs, not for profit, can overcome the cycle of boom and bust and the economic stagnation that we face today. A socialist economy, with government and collective ownership of the means of production (and not just the extensive social welfare programs as seen in Europe), cannot be won at the ballot box, since both major parties are in favor of the 1% that benefits from capitalism. Only mass struggle can bring about the fundamental economic change that will benefit working people.

When the respectable become extremists, the extremists become respectable: Colombia and the mainstream media

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By James Petras
May 20, 2012

By any historical measure, whether it involves international law, human rights conventions, United Nations protocols, socio economic indicators, the policies and practices of the United States and European Union regimes can be characterized as extremist.

By that we mean that their policies and practices result in large scale long-term systematic destruction of human lives, habitat and likelihood affecting millions of people through the direct application of force and violence. The extremist regimes abhor moderation which implies rejection of total wars in favor of peaceful negotiations. Moderation pursues conflict resolution through diplomacy and compromise and the rejection of state and paramilitary terror, mass dispossession and displacement of civilian populations and the systematic assault on popular sectors of civil society.

The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the West’s embrace of extremism in all of its manifestation both in domestic and foreign policy. Extremism is a common practice by self-styled conservatives, liberals and social-democrats. In the past, conservative implies preserving the status quo and at most tinkering with change at the margins. Today’s ‘conservatives’ demand the wholesale dismantling of entire social welfare systems, the elimination of traditional legal restraints on labor and environmental abuses. Liberals and social democrats who in the past, occasionally, questioned colonial systems have been in the forefront of prolonged multiple colonial wars which have killed and displaced millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

Extremism both in terms of methods, means and goals has obliterated the distinctions between center left, center and rightwing politicians. Moderate opponents to policies subsidizing a dozen major banks and impoverishing tens of millions of workers are called the “hard left”, “extremists” or “radicals”.

In the wake of the extremist policies of public officials, the respectable, prestigious print media have engaged in their own versions of extremism [1]. Colonial wars that devastate civil society and materially and culturally impoverish millions in the colonized country are justified, embellished and made to appear as lawful, humane and furthering secular democratic values. Domestic wars on behalf of oligarchies and against wage and salaried workers, which concentrate wealth and deepen despair of the dispossessed are described as rational, virtuous and necessary. The distinctions between the prudent, balanced, prestigious and serious media and the sensationalist, yellow press have disappeared. The fabrication of facts, blatant omissions and distortions of context are found in one as well as the other.

To illustrate the reign of extremism in officialdom and among the prestigious press, we will examine two case studies: US policies toward and the Financial Times and New York Times reportage on Colombia and Honduras.

Colombia: The “Oldest Democracy in Latin America versus “the Death squad Capital of the World”

Following on the heels of euphoric eulogies of Colombia’s emergence as a poster boy in an April issue of Time, and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, the Financial Times ran a series of articles including a special insert on Colombia’s political and economic “miracle”, “Investing in Colombia” [2]. According to the FTs leading Latin American journalist, one John Paul Rathbone, Colombia is the “oldest democracy in the hemisphere” [3]. Rathbone’s rapture for Colombia’s President Santos extends from his role as an “emerging power broker” for the South American continent, to making Colombia safe for foreign investors and “exciting the envy” of other less successful regimes in the region. Rathbone gives prominence to one Colombia business leader who claims that Colombia’s second biggest city “Medellín is living through its best of times” [4]. In line with the opinion of the foreign and business elite, the respectable print media describe Colombia as prosperous, peaceful, business friendly-charging the lowest mining royalty payments in the hemisphere – a model of a stable democracy to be emulated by all forward-looking leaders. Colombia under President Santos, has signed a free trade agreement with President Obama, his closes ally in the hemisphere [5]. Under Bush the trade unions, human rights and church groups and the majority of Congressional Democrats were successful in blocking the agreement on the bases of the basis of Colombia’s sustained human rights violations. When Obama embraced the free trade agreement, the AFL-CIO and Democratic opposition evaporated, as President Obama claimed a vast improvement in human rights and the commitment of Santos to ending the murder of trade union leaders and activists [6].

The peace, security and prosperity eulogized by the oil, mining, banking, and agro-business elite are based on the worst human rights record in Latin America. With regard to the murder of trade unionists Colombia exceeds the entire rest of the world. Between 1986-2011 over 60% of the trade unionists assassinated in the world took place in Colombia, by the combined military-police-paramilitary forces, largely at the behest of foreign and domestic corporate leaders [7]. The “peace” that Rathbone and his cohort at the Financial Times praise is at the cost of over 12,000 assassinations and arrests, injuries, disappearances of trade unionists between January 1, 1986 and October 1, 2010[8]. In that time span nearly 3,000 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, hundreds were kidnapped or disappeared. President Santos was the Defense Minister under previous President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010). In those eight years, 762 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, over 95% by the state or allied paramilitary forces [9].

Under Presidents Uribe Santos 2002 – 2012 over 4 million peasants and rural householders were displaced and dispossessed of their homes and their lands were confiscated and taken over by landlords and narco-traffickers [10]. The terror tactics employed by the regimes counter-insurgency strategy served a dual purpose of repressing dissent and accumulating wealth. The Financial Times journalists ignore this chapter in Colombia’s “resurgent growth”. They are especially enthused by the “security” that ensued because large scale foreign investment, over $6 billion dollars, in 2012 flowed into mining and oil regions that were formerly “troubled” by unrest [11].

Leading drug lords, who were closely linked to the Uribe-Santos regime, and were subsequently jailed and extradited to the US, have testified that they financed and elected one-third of the Congress people affiliated with Uribe-Santos party in what Rathbone refers to as Latin America’s “oldest democracy”. According to Salvatore Mancuso, ex-chief of the former 30,000 member United Self-Defense of Colombia paramilitary death squad, he met with then, President Uribe, in different regions of the country and gave him money and logistical support in his re-election campaign of 2006. He also affirmed that many national and multi-national corporations (MNC) financed the growth and expansion of the paramilitary death squads. What Rathbone and his fellow journalists at the FT celebrate as Colombia’s emergence as an investor’s paradise is writ large with the blood and gore of thousands of Colombian peasants, trade unionists and human rights activists. The gory history of the Uribe/Santos reign of terror has been completely omitted from the current account of Colombia’s “success story”. Detailed records of the brutality of the killings and torture by Uribe/Santos sponsored death squads, which describe the use of chain saws to cut limbs from peasants suspected of leftist sympathies, are available to any journalist willing to consult Colombia’s leading human rights organizations [12].

The death squads and military act in concert. The military is trained by over one thousand US Special Forces advisers. They arrive in a village in a wave of US supplied helicopters, secure the region from guerillas and then allow the AUC terrorists to savage the villages, killing, raping and disemboweling men, women and children suspected of being guerilla sympathizers. The terror tactics have driven millions of peasants out of the countryside

Allowing the generals and drug lords to seize their land

Human rights advocates (HRA) are frequently targeted by the military and death squads. President Uribe and Santos first accuse them of being active collaborators of the guerillas for exposing the regime’s crimes against humanity. Once they are labeled, the HRA became “legitimate targets” for armed assaults by the death squads and the military who act with complete impunity. Between 2002-2011, 1,470 acts of violence were perpetrated against HRA, with a record number of 239 in 2011, including 49 assassinations during the Presidency of Santos. [13] Over half of the murdered HRA are Indians and Afro-Colombians.

State terrorism was and continues to be the main instrument of rule under Presidents Uribe and Santos. The Colombian “killing fields” according to the Fiscalia General include tens of thousands of homicides, 1,597 massacres, thousands of forced disappearances between 2005 – 2010 [14].

The practice, revealed in the Colombian press, of “false positives” in which the military kidnaps poor young men, dresses them as guerrillas and then assassinates them, comes across in the respectable US print media as evidence of Santos/Uribe’s military successes against the guerrillas. There are 2,472 documented cases of military false positive murders [15].

Honduras: New York Times and State Terrorism

The New York Times featured an article on Honduras, emphasizing the regime’s “co-operation” with the US drug war.[16] The Times writer Thom Shanker speaks of a “partnership” based on the expansion of three new US military bases and the stationing of US Special Forces in the country.[17]

Shanker describes the successful operation of the Honduras Special Operations forces guided and directed by trainers from the US Special Forces. Shanker mentions a visit by a delegation of Congressional staff members who favorably assessed the local forces respect of human rights, and cites the US ambassador in Honduras as praising the regime as an “eager and capable partners in this joint effort”.[18]

There are insidious parallels between the NY Times white wash of the criminal extremist regime in Honduras and the Financial Times’ crude promotion of Colombia’s death squad democracy.

The current regime headed by “President” Lobos- which invites the Pentagon to expand its military control over swathes of Honduran territory- is a product of a US backed military coup which overthrew an elected liberal President on June 28, 2009, a point Shanker forgets to mention. Lobos, the predator president, retains control by killing, jailing and torturing critics, journalists, human rights defenders and landless rural laborers seeking to reclaim their lands which were violently seized by Lobos’ landlord backers.

Following the military coup, thousands of Honduran pro-democracy demonstrators were killed, beaten and arrested. According to conservative estimates by Human Rights Watch 20 pro-democracy dissidents were murdered by the military and police.[19] Between January 2010 and November 2011 at least 12 journalists critical of the Lobos regime were murdered.

In the countryside, where NY Times reporter Shanker describes a love fest between the US Special Forces and their Honduran counterparts, between January and August 2011,30 farm workers in northern Honduras Bajo Aguan valley were killed by death squads hired by Lobos backed oligarchs .[20] Nary a single military, police and death squad assassin has been judged and jailed. Coup leader Roberto Micheletti and President Lobos, his successor, have repeatedly assaulted pro-democracy demonstrations, especially those led by school teachers, students and trade unionists and have tortured hundreds of jailed political dissidents. Precisely in the same time span as the NY Times publishes its most euphoric article on the friendly relations between the US and Honduras, the death toll among pro-democracy dissidents rose precipitously: eight journalists and a TV commentator have been killed over the first 4 months of 2012. [21] In late March and early April of 2012 nine farmworkers and employees were murdered by pro-Lobos landlords.[22] No arrests, no suspects, impunity reigns in the land of US military bases. The Times follows the Mafia rule of omega-silence and complicity.

Syria: How the FT Absolves Al Qaeda Terrorists

As western backed terrorists savage Syria, the Western press, especially the Financial Times, continues to absolve the terrorists of setting of car bombs killing and maiming hundreds of civilians. With crude cynicism their reporters shrug their shoulders and give credence to the claims of the London based terrorists propaganda mongers, that the Assad regime was engaged in destroying its own cities and security forces. [23]

Conclusion

As the Obama regime and its European backers publically embrace extremism, including state terror, targeted assassinations and the car bombing of crowded cities, the respectable press has followed suit. Extremism takes many forms –from the omission of reports on the use of force and violence in overthrowing adversary regimes to the cover-up of the wholesale murder of tens of thousands of civilians and the dispossession of millions of peasants and farmers. The “educated classes”, the affluent reading public are being indoctrinated by the respectable media to believe that a smiling and pragmatic President Santos and elected President Lobos have succeeded in establishing peace, market based prosperity and securing mutually beneficial free trade and military base concessions with the US—even as the two regimes lead the world in the murder of trade unionists and journalists. Even as I read, on May 15, 2012 that the US Hispanic Congressional caucus has awarded Lobos a leadership in democracy award, the Honduran press reports the murder of the news director of station HMT Alfredo Villatoro, the 25th critical journalist killed between January 27, 2010 and May 15, 2012.[24]

The respectable press’s embrace of extremism, its use of demonological terminology and vitriolic language to describe imperial adversaries is matched by its euphoric and effusive praise of state and pro-western mercenary terrorists. The systematic cover-up practiced by extremist journalism goes far beyond the cases of Colombia and Honduras. The reportage of the Financial Times Michael Peel on the NATO led destruction of Libya, Africa’s most advanced welfare state, and the rise to power of armed gangs of fanatical tribal and Islamic terrorists, is presented as a victory for a democracy over a “brutal dictatorship”[25]. Peel’s mendacity and cant is evident in his outrageous claims that the destruction of the Libyan economy and the mass torture and racial murders which ensued NATOs war, is a victory for the Libyan people.

The totalitarian twist in the respectable press is a direct consequence of its toadying to the extremist policies pursued by the western regimes. Since extremist measures, like the use of force, violence, assassination and torture, have become routinized by the incumbent presidents and prime ministers, the reporters have no choice but to fabricate lies to rationalize these crimes, to spit out a constant flow of highly charged adjectives in order to convert victims into executioners and executioners into victims. Extremism in defense of pro-US regimes has led to the most grotesque accounts imaginable: Colombia and Mexico’s Presidents are the leaders of the most thoroughly narcotized economies in the hemisphere yet they are praised for their war on drugs, while Venezuela the most marginal producer is stigmatized as a major narco pipeline. [26]

Articles with no factual bases, which are worthless as sources of objective information, direct us to seek for an underlying rationale. Colombia has signed a free trade agreement which will benefit US exports over Colombian by over a two to one ratio [27]. Mexico’s free trade policy has benefited US agro-business and giant retailers by a similar ratio.

Extremism in all of its forms permeates Western regimes and finds its justification and rationalization in the respectable media whose job is to indoctrinate civil society and turn citizens into voluntary accomplices to extremism. By endlessly prefacing “reports” on Russia’s Putin as an authoritarian Soviet era tyrant, the respectable media obviate any discussion of his doubling of living standards and the 60% plus electoral triumph. By magnifying an authoritarian past, Gadhafi’s vast public works, social welfare programs and generous immigration and foreign aid programs to sub-Sahara Africa can be relegated to the memory hole. The respectable press’s praise of death squad Presidents Santos and Lobos is part of a large scale long term systematic shift from the hypocritical pretence of pursuing the virtues of a democratic republic to the open embrace of a virulent, murderous empire. The new journalists’ code reads “extremism in defense of empire is no vice”.


[1] There’s a general consensus that the respectable print media include The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

[2] Financial Times (FT) 5/8/12; See also FT (5/4/12)”Colombia looks to consolidate gains in country of complexities”

[3] FT 5/8/12 (p. 1)

[4] FT ibid

[5] BBC News, May 5, 2012

[6] ibid

[7] Renan Vega Cantor Sindicalicidio! Uncuento poco imaginativo) de Terroismo Laboral Bogotá, Feb. 25, 2012.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] Inforrme CODHES Novembre 2010.

[11] FT 5/8/12 p. 4.

[12] See the Annual Reports of CODHES, Reiniciar and Human Rights Watch

[13] Claroscuro Informe Aual 2011; Programa Somos Defensores Bogota 2012; Corporacion Colectivo de Abogados. Jan. – March 2012.

[14] Fiscalia General. Informe 2012

[15] http://www.falsos.positivos.blogspot.com

[16] Thom Shanker “Lessons of Iraq Help US Fight a Drug War in Honduras” New York Times, May 6, 2012.6

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012

[20] Honduran Human Rights, May 12m, 2012.

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] The notorious cover-up of the car bombing is the handiwork of the FT’s star Middle East journalists. See Michael Peel and Abigail Fielding-Smith “At Least 55 Die in two Damascus Explosions: Responsibility for Blasts Disputed”, FT 5/11/12.

[24] Honduras Human Rights, April 24, 2012.

[25] Michael Peel, “The Colonels Last Stand” FT 5/12 – 13/12

[26] One of Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary narco traffickers described the close financial and political ties between the Colombian United Self Defense terrorists and the Uribe-Santos regime. Se La Jornada 5/12/12.

[27] BBC News, 5/15/12. According to the US International Trade Commission estimates the value of US exports to Colombia could rise by $1.1 billion while Colombia’s exports could grow by $487 million.

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Freedom Road Socialist Organization: “The future is ours and the future is bright”

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The following speech below was originally published by Fight Back! News, the news wing of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Mick Kelly, of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, speaking at May Day event. (Fight Back! News/Staff)


FRSO Minnesota May Day celebration: “The future is ours and the future is bright.”

April 29, 2012

Fight Back News Service is reprinting the speech of Mick Kelly, a leader of Freedom Road Socialist Organization, delivered at the FRSO-organized May Day celebration, April 27.

Sisters and Brothers,

It is a real honor to be speaking here this afternoon to so many fighters who have made so many contributions to the people’s struggle.

I look out over this group of people and I see folks who helped change the political landscape in this county at Occupy, who have stood up against the poor bashing politicians at the capitol, who have campaigned against home foreclosures, who have stood strong on picket lines and – yes it is important that we talk about it this year – who have stood up against repression that has been unleashed by the FBI, the Justice Department and the federal government. And as to the last point I will return to it later.

In past years, we in Freedom Road Socialist Organization have organized events like this to celebrate May Day International Workers Day – sometimes on May 1, sometimes not. The basic point is this: all year long we fight for the things we need – for the most basic measure of justice – why not take out one day and celebrate the struggles we waged, the fights we have won, and look forward to the day that society is organized to serve us, not a handful of rich folks – the capitalist class.

You know, we have held celebrations like this for quite a few years, and when we started May Day it’s not what you would call a mass celebration. The upsurge for immigrant rights changed all that, and that is a wonderful thing.

May Day is celebrated as a day of struggle all over the world. From the streets of Cuba, where working people already have political power, to the villages of Palestine, where the masses of people want freedom from the Israeli occupation, to the jungles of Colombia, where the Colombian rebels are defeating the U.S.-backed death squad government.

Many of us will be marching on May 1 on Lake Street demanding legalization for the undocumented and an end to deportations. All of you should join us.

Now this afternoon I’ll be making a few points, presenting analyses, and a way of looking at how this society works. I urge you to think about it and give it some consideration.

Capitalism the enemy

All of us, who have been fighting for a better life this past year, have a lot in common. Other than courage and commitment, we are up against a common enemy.

This country is run by a small clique – a tiny group of people who monopolizes the wealth and power – the 1% that controls the majority of this country’s wealth. And they have at their beck and call a host of bought and paid for politicians that do their bidding in government.

The economic system we live under – capitalism = exists to serve this small elite. In this society you don’t get rich by working hard, you get rich by having others work hard for you. In fact, as many of you know, it’s a rule of thumb: the harder the work, the less you get paid.

Everything of value is the product of human labor; it was created by women and men working hard. This is political economy 101. Look around this room, and try to pick out one thing that was made by a rich man, by a capitalist. Can’t be done. The capitalists own the places where we work, we produce the goods and services and everything worthwhile – they get the profits.

We are dealing with a class that is made up of parasites. Malcolm X was entirely right to say: Show me a capitalist and I’ll show you a bloodsucker.

Not only are they rich parasites, they are thieves, thugs of the worse sort; They have stolen the land, labor, and, indeed, the lives of others.

The history of the owning class of this country is the history of the most sickening sort of brutality and criminality ever known to human kind. It begins with the systematic genocide of the native peoples. Tens of millions of Africans were kidnapped and forced into slavery. The northern part of Mexico was occupied. Hawaii was annexed by force. Puerto Rico was turned into a colony.

Some people say that was then, this is now – I don’t think so. We are dealing with a class of people who got rich through robbery, murder and exploitation. We can’t just say “that’s history”. These are events that have shaped our reality that we’re now living in. Look at the epidemic of police terror around this country. Look at the case of Trayvon Martin. Racist oppression is not a matter of history, it’s the here and now.

Our ruling class is unfit to rule. They are waging a war on the American people. We need to be clear on this.

The class that is in charge does not have any intrinsic god given right to wealth and power. Let me ask you a question: If you took the rich and powerful and plunged them to our condition, cut their wages and food stamps and foreclosed on their homes, what would happen? Would they be carrying picket signs? Hell no! They would be carrying rifles. No ruling class in human history has ever given up its wealth and privilege voluntarily, and this applies double to the rulers of the United States.

It is for this reason that we in Freedom Road have decided to build a revolutionary organization. We have come to the conclusion that the existing order of things is unacceptable and we aim to do something about it. We are serious about this and our enemies know this too.

Every person here knows that over the last 18 months the government has launched a furious attack on anti-war and international solidarity activists. The FBI invaded our homes, convened a grand jury, and in L.A. they are putting veteran Chicano activist Carlos Montes on trial on May 15.

Why have they done this? Well there is a very mundane, common place explanation and that explanation is perfectly true. In the run up to the 2008 Republican National Convention, a police officer named Karen Sullivan was placed into the organizing effort, and she stayed. She got involved in Palestine and Colombia solidarity work, concocted all sorts of lies with her handlers, and the next thing you know we have the U.S. Attorneys’ Office in Chicago talking about “multiple indictments of multiple people.”

You can see the same thing in the case of Carlos Montes. Carlos was here to organize for the RNC protests. He came in contact with Karen Sullivan and her police agent sidekick. According to FBI documents we know the LA Field Office of the FBI got involved.

So this is what happened; A plus B equals C. But there is a broader context. The rulers of the U.S. have built an empire that expands across the globe and it is crumbling. The peoples of the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia do not want to live under foreign domination. So they are rebelling, and the U.S. is lashing out abroad and here at home.

Most Arab and Muslim people in the U.S. do not agree that the liberation organizations of the Middle East are “terrorist organizations” and they do not agree with the occupation of Palestine. So an incredible wave of repression has been visited upon them.

Likewise, many of us in this room do not agree with calling freedom fighters “terrorists” and the government wants to make us pay.

Well it should be obvious at this point – we are not going quietly anywhere. We might suffer, but we will never suffer in silence.

We intend to defeat this repression and a campaign is underway to put pressure on the District Attorney in Los Angeles to drop the charges against Carlos Montes.

And the government has added a strange McCarthyite anti-communist twist to the attack that targets Freedom Road.

They are angry because we are working class internationalists. We are glad when other peoples across the globe are able to strike a blow at the rulers of this country.

They are mad because we are Marxist-Leninists. For real, the prosecutors talk about this. For us Marxism is a science. It helps us understand the world in order to change it. We see capitalism as a human destroying, blood sucking vampire and we want to put a stake through its heart. To do this we need a plan, a strategy. Marxism allows us to do just that.

You know, I am sure that some of you have read in some books, or seen in some movies or on TV, that communists are terrible people that want to do awful things. What do they want? What do communists, or revolutionaries, or socialists advocate that causes so much alarm?

In the context of the U.S. today, we think everyone has a right to a living wage job. And that those of us who are not working have a right to public assistance. In fact, as far as we are concerned, benefits are too low and the eligibility requirements too tight. The right to survive and, indeed, to thrive is a basic human right.

We think that the systematic discrimination against African American, Chicanos, Latinos, Asians and the Native peoples must come to an end. American capitalism has been built on the super–exploitation of Black, Chicano/Latino and other oppressed peoples. It is this system where some have privileges, and the basic human rights of others are trampled on, that we seek to tear down.

And further more, we think that the polices such as Affirmative Action, that go a little way towards addressing the racist discrimination that is taking place today, should be expanded. We also think that oppressed peoples, nations really, within the borders of our country have the right to determine their own destiny – the right to self-determination.

We cannot and will never accept the oppression of women. In fact we demand an end to inequality and support liberation. This is something deeper than equal pay for equal work. Although we certainly favor that, we are against any sort of social set-up that serves to hold women down.

We call for, and insist upon, full equality for immigrants (documented or undocumented), including the equality of languages.

We are against any actions or policies that discriminate against gays or lesbians. And let me talk for a moment about the case of CeCe McDonald, the transgender woman whose only crime is self-defense. She is a hero who deserves our support.

I could say a lot more about what communists are for and against – and I’ll be glad to talk with anyone afterwards about it more – but I think folks should get the basic gist of it. We are for justice, for peace, for equality, and for liberation.

And we believe that the only way to achieve those goals is to end the rule of the rich, of the capitalists, and build a socialist system – a system where all political and economic power is in the hands of the people.

This is not a dream. In some places it has been achieved. In Cuba they have already done this. Cuba is not a rich country to be sure. Medical care is free. Government policy aims at the elimination, not the creation, of poverty. No reasonable person can say that about this country.

150 odd years ago Karl Marx, who was the founder of the communist movement, wrote that communists disdain to conceal our aims. In other words, we don’t want to keep our views a secret and we intend to advocate them. That’s what I have been doing here today.

Is it any wonder that the rich would violently oppose such views and changes? For themselves they have built a heaven on earth. We intend to storm that heaven and raise all kinds of hell.

We don’t imagine this kind of change will happen tomorrow, but we do think they will happen.

In this city, state, country and planet, working people are the majority. We have every right to reorganize society in such a way that it serves our interests. Provided that we have the organization, determination, and understanding necessary, the future is ours and the future is bright!

Long Live International Workers Day!

Banksters beware: Archbishop King’s on a mission to save his community and his own home

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By Carol Harvey
April 19, 2012

Archbishop Franzo King, an outstanding activist and diplomat on other critical community issues for years, has stepped out as a major spokesman on the foreclosure crisis. Here he speaks at the March 20 rally for a foreclosure moratorium resolution that was passed by the Board of Supervisors unanimously on April 10. – Photo: Christopher D. Cook

I first met Archbishop Franzo Wayne King and felt his warm wit and humor on a sunny Saturday, Feb. 25, 2012, at the top of Russian Hill. Occupy Bernal performed a street theater auction of bankster Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s top floor condo at 1090 Chestnut overlooking Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay.

The 150-strong rabble’s fanciful bids for Stumpf’s foreclosed condo included a tree stump, five corrupt judges, Jean Quan, Ed Lee and The American Dream. Peppered among these bids, the archbishop tossed “a bag of peanuts,” “one pigfoot,” “a jail cell,” “one American nightmare” and “a one-way ticket to hell.” His final offering was “five security guards” – a nod to the burly dudes standing five-strong across the highrise entrance.

A tiny head poked from a top floor window. This Stumpf servant or granny peered far below upon the archbishop as he told the gathered riffraff:

“I’m Franzo King. I’m the archbishop of the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church. Mr. Stumpf, your Stumpfing is over. No more Stumpfing on the poor. You have used machines to falsify court documents through robosigning rather than properly serving legally required notices to tenants and homeowners.”

Robosigning was just one crosshair in a meshwork of crimes pulled off by Wells Fargo and the other big banks.

Imagine Stumpf two months before semi-confessing his heist sitting down the hall from his indentured looky-loo in his ornate living room high above the riffraff. Around Nov. 18, 2011, DiversityInc’s CEO, Luke Visconti, apparently shot a YouTube video entitled “DiversityInc Interview With John Stumpf, Wells Fargo.”

Read the rest of this entry

Occupy Wall Street protest U.S. Congress

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By B.J. Murphy
February 1, 2012

Occupy Congress on Supreme Court steps (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Washington DC – In response to a call for a nationwide Occupy presence in Washington D.C., thousands joined Occupy Congress, Jan. 17.

People made their way onto the lawn of the Capitol building demanding an end to imperialist wars, condemning the influence of big business on politicians and challenging the system that creates unemployment, increased foreclosed homes and more poverty.

The Occupy protesters were joined by the Veterans for Peace, who called for getting the U.S. out of Afghanistan, South Korea and elsewhere. The anti-war veterans and protesters also demanded an end to the aggressive policies toward Iran.

Tony Ndege, member of Occupy Winston-Salem, stated, “One has to only look at the violence that this Congress has sanctioned its military to commit upon the world to see where they really stand.”

“I didn’t have any hopes for any type of serious legislation being considered or anything game-changing on behalf of our Congress. Why? Because they are part of the problem,” Ndege continued.

By 6:30 p.m. a large mass of protesters marched off the Capitol lawn and began to spread their demands all across D.C. The sound and sight of police sirens could be heard in the streets as the protesters made their way toward the Supreme Court. The Occupy protesters began storming the steps, chanting together, “Money is not free speech!”

Amanda Porter-Cox, another member of Occupy Winston-Salem, expressed her enthusiasm, “The storming of the Supreme Court steps was phenomenal! I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. It was indescribable.”

A single protester was arrested near the bottom of the steps as the police began insisting protestors leave the Supreme Court immediately. Occupiers then marched on the White House. When they arrived, they chanted “Obama, come out! We have some things to talk about!”

When several protesters began climbing the gates and hanging various banners symbolizing their demands to an end of all wars and for-profit economic policies, the police started closing in. The chants “Who’s House? Our House!” and “We won’t back down!” could be heard.

Then, everyone eventually marched back to the Capitol Building. The police tried rerouting the march, but the protesters pushed through and stayed on their original path.
Commenting on the Occupy Congress event as a whole, Ndege stated, “our government overwhelmingly does not think that they serve us, but that instead we serve them. This is one of those moments where ‘we the people’ sent a serious reply to their out-of-control arrogance and elitism.”

Ndege continued, “I thought the march went beautifully. I know that this will not always be the case the deeper the class tensions grow in the future. Despite the media blackout, the event created a strong buzz within the Occupy community and the actions at the Capitol, Supreme Court, White House, etc. are just the first among many. I am hopeful that, by spring, we will be back 100,000 strong.”

Source

A Question on Prostitution and the Revolutionary Left: My response to Meghan Murphy’s analysis

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By B.J. Murphy

The question of prostitution has been a matter of debate throughout the progressive and revolutionary left for many years. To engage this topic as unbiased as possible, I must first admit that, as a white male, I cannot say that I am the best subject to take on this particular question under the personal perspective of the oppressed: that of women, who are predominantly not white.

They are the victims of a racist, capitalist system. And it was Karl Marx who correctly stated, “…the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.” Though, Marx had only addressed the question of prostitution through the understanding of overthrowing capitalism and the Bourgeois State, not what is to be done by that of the revolutionary left while capitalism is still the current socio-economic system.

And that is where I and Meghan Murphy differ on the question of prostitution. She had written a brilliant article, “Why Does the Left Want Prostitution to be ‘a Job Like Any Other’?“, which was published by the People of Color Organize! blog. And I say brilliant, despite my objections, because she made a definitive argument by furthering the question of prostitution under a class analysis.

Having said that, there is a question within the question of prostitution that I do not believe Meghan had answered, at least not openly. That question is: what are we, of the revolutionary left, to do in regards to prostitution while under the capitalist system? She presents a slight, alternative idea known as the “Nordic Model,” in which correctly points out that women usually fall victim to prostitution due to poverty, racism, and sexism. As a result, legal assistance is provided to that of prostituted women instead of locking them up.

The problem with this, though, as the article states quite clearly in the very first paragraph, is that the question doesn’t directly address capitalism as being the reason for said social problems. Instead, the “Nordic Model” wishes to address this problem without addressing capitalism at the same time; it doesn’t want to address the fact that, even as you may provide services for women, under capitalism the problems will continue, regardless of there being safety nets.

What the “Nordic Model” essentially tells women is that, ‘while we’re not going to necessarily end the very system in which inflicts these very problems on you, nor are we going to try and end the system of exploitative and oppressive pimping, we will be there for you when you fall victim to prostitution.’

Is this what we really want for women, whether they be Black, Brown, or white? As someone of the revolutionary left living under this capitalist system, I cannot come to terms with this ideal in which doesn’t address, nor provide solutions to, the question of prostitution. The long-term solution to prostitution is the overall solution to capitalism: socialism! But when it comes to the short-term solution – a temporary solution as the capitalist system remains – the “Nordic Model” only partially answers the question.

Yes, we should provide services for women who suffer from poverty, racism, and sexism. Though, we also must prevent Pimps from harming our women as well through the exploitative and oppressive nature of criminalized prostitution. In fact, the question of prostitution is in correlation with that of the question of drugs under a class analysis.

While we can say that drug use will more than likely decrease exponentially, and quite possibly diminish completely, after the overthrowing of capitalism, to keep drug use criminalized would be to continue oppressing the victim, regardless if you provide services or throw them into prison. It still doesn’t address the questions of poverty or racism, in which drug use directly relates to that of prostitution.

Instead, as is for drug use as well, the temporary solution to prostitution under the capitalist system is this: legalization! It’ll be the only way in which to, 1) end the exploitative and oppressive work of Pimping, and 2) get women off the streets and into a regulated, protected environment of sex work – at least for those who wish to continue selling sex as their means of earning wages. The “Nordic Model” should also be applied to the extent in which we provide services to all women,  addressing the questions of poverty, racism, and sexism.

Those who are not in the business of providing sex for work tend to assert that it’s nothing more than, “about providing pleasure for one party (the male party) without any regard for the woman with whom you are engaging in this supposed ‘sex’ with,” as was so claimed by Meghan Murphy in her article. And while it may seem as simple as this for those of us who are not in the line of work that provides sex for wages, I believe it to be far more complex.

An ex-sex worker had addressed this question, herself, in which she stated:

“Anna van Heeswijk states that prostitution is not a job like any other, but why should it not be? Why should I be condemned by society and left unprotected just because I wish to work with my genitals rather than my hands or my brain? They are my genitals and I should be free to choose to do whatever I wish with them. There is a serious problem in society of negative attitudes towards sexual women, whether they charge for sex or not. Women as chattels may not be written in the legislature any longer, but we are still not free to own our own sexuality. The recent slut walks were a reminder that women are still judged as somehow deserving of attack if they fail to conform to the sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice straight jacket imposed by some men and so-called feminists alike.”

She had also addressed the problems with the “Nordic Model”, or as she called it the “Swedish Model”, stating that it’s incorrect to conclude the model in being a “success”, and that the model is wrong in claiming all acts of sex work is violent, in which is, “unsupported piece of propaganda which seeks to encourage patronisation and infantalisation of the many sex-workers who voluntarily choose to earn their living through sex work.”

The violence of sex work isn’t that of the mere act of having sex for money, per se, but the violence in which Pimps inflict upon women and the violence of the Bourgeois State as they release their attack dogs – cops – to raid union-protected establishments in which allow women to have sex for money.

And so, if we are to truly end the violence of sex work, then we must target the violent predators – pimps and police – and not the victims of racist pimp- and state-orchestrated violence! We must legalize prostitution, get women off the streets, end the business of pimping, and end the racist business of state-orchestrated aggression toward women, who are predominantly that of color, and instead toward that of the pimps themselves. Only then will we, of the revolutionary left, be able to address the question within the question of prostitution as we continue our struggles against the capitalist system.

Who Are the 99%? Part II: The Working Class

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Second of four-part series

By Masao Suzuki
November 29, 2011

Editor’s note: This is the second article of a four-article series. The first article was titled, “Who are the one percent?” This article describes the working class, who make up most of the 99%. The next article will be about the rest of the 99% who aren’t part of the working class. The last article will talk about how the history of racism and national oppression is important to understanding what is behind the 1%-99% divide and how the 1% enriches itself while maintaining its privilege and power.

San José, CA – Despite heavy police repression and negative coverage by the corporate-dominated media, the Occupy movement continues and has even grown in places that saw some of the most outrageous police brutality, like the University of California at Davis. The strength of the Occupy movement comes from the fact that over the last 30 years, almost all the fruits of economic growth have gone to the 1% who benefit from the rise in corporate profits at the expense of working people’s wages. The next 19% have broken even, with their incomes just keeping pace with rising prices. And the lower 80%? We have lost ground, as wages fail to keep up with rising prices, the retired have higher health and dental costs and poor people suffer from more and more cuts and restrictions on their government benefits.

This bottom 80% of the population owns only 7% of the income-producing wealth and almost all have to work for others for a living. Those of us who have to work for others and who do not own the means of production make up the working class. The working class makes up about 80% of the population, but is not the same as the bottom 80% by income. There are a number of self-employed and small business people who are not ‘workers,’ yet still in the lower 80% of income. There are also some working class households with two highly paid workers who manage to earn enough to get into the top 20% of household by income.

The importance of the working class is that our interests stand in opposition to the interests of the top 1%. While the top 1% reap income and wealth from record levels of corporate profits, the working class suffers from unemployment, cuts in health care and retirement benefits, and the falling purchasing power of our wages. While the top 1% enjoy massive tax cuts, the working class suffers from cuts in public education, social services and attacks on government workers, as in Wisconsin. While the top 1% and their politicians plan for wars abroad to protect corporate profits and access to resources, it is the sons and daughters of workers who have to do the fighting and dying.

While the working class in the United States makes up the vast majority of the population, there are also large economic differences among workers. The best-off workers have higher incomes, relatively stable jobs and more control over their own work because of their skills, strong unions, or both. This group would include skilled trade workers like electricians, and other semi-professional, college-educated workers like nurses and teachers, skilled clerical workers and some unskilled workers with strong unions, like longshoremen. This upper part of the working class would also include better-off seniors who have both a pension and Social Security, who have paid off their homes, and who have enough income enjoy their retirement.

The upper part of the working class makes up about a fifth of the total population and about a quarter of the working class, but have more influence than other workers through their participation in unions, parents, civic and neighborhood organizations. They see themselves as ‘middle-class’ and often has a middle-class lifestyle, usually owning a home, having health insurance and some retirement savings, and usually are able to send their children to college. Most can take vacations and many have vacation homes.

At the same time this group has also felt the economic crisis. Many have gone for years without a raise while others have been laid off. Their home values and retirement savings have fallen and they have been paying more and more for health insurance. They are often working harder than ever, trying to do the work of their colleagues who have been laid off or retired and not replaced. Some sectors of this part of the class, such as nurses and teachers, have been relatively militant in the fight back against the efforts by the 1% to put the burden of the economic crisis on the backs of workers.

There is a larger group of workers that are not so well-off, put not poor or near poor either. Their incomes are lower the better-off workers, they have less control over their work, but most have full-time, permanent jobs. This group would include many semi-skilled workers such as some construction and manufacturing workers, many clerical workers, auto mechanics and truck drivers. These workers are the middle part of the working class, and make up about 45% of the class and 35% of the total population.

While this group aspires to a middle-class lifestyle, many have had big setbacks in the last few years. With less savings that the better-off workers, they are living paycheck to paycheck and are just one layoff, illness, or divorce away from losing their homes to foreclosure and/or having to declare bankruptcy. They see what has happened to their friends, neighbors and relatives who have lost their jobs, their homes, and their health and worry about the future.

Many in this middle part of the working class have had to cut back on health care, vacations, eating out, or recreational activities. Many retired workers fall into this category, with not quite enough to cover their expenses and have to turn to reverse mortgages or selling their homes to make ends meet. These workers don’t think that they can afford college for their children and see their neighborhood schools taking big cuts or even closing altogether.

Last, but not least, there is a lower-part of the working class that is poor or near poor. Nearly 25% of the population, or 30% of the working class, fall into this category and their numbers are growing. Their jobs are low-paying and are often temporary or part-time. Many are working two or even more jobs to try to make ends meet. Many receptionists, cashiers, retail sales people, childcare workers, cleaners, waiters and waitresses, cooks, home health aides and caretakers of the elderly fall into this category.

The lower part of the working class also includes the million of unemployed and jobless workers who have given up looking for work and are not included in the government’s count of unemployment. There are also many disabled, single parents, and poorer seniors who depend on government benefits that aren’t enough to keep them out of poverty. This includes many homeless, both those living in the streets or cars, and an even larger number who have to depend on friends or relatives for a couch to sleep on.

While a minority of the working class, this lower part is growing in numbers as the economic crisis drags on with continued high unemployment and more and more cuts in government services. Not only former middle working class, but also people who used to be in the upper part of the working class and even a small but growing number of managers and professionals are finding themselves applying for food stamps, lining up at food kitchens, and getting government and charitable help in ways that they would have never thought of a few years ago. This part of the working class is hardest hit by the economic crisis.

While the last article in this series will cover the issue of racism and national oppression, it is important to mention here that because of the historical inequality between whites and others (African Americans, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Chicanos and Latinos, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians), these groups that I call oppressed nationalities are more likely to be found in the lower strata of the working class, and less likely to be in the upper strata. For example, as many as 45% of African American workers can be found in the lower part of the working class, as opposed to less than half as many, or about 20% of white workers. At the same time, only about 15% of African American workers can be found in the upper strata, about half of the 30% of white workers who are in the upper part of the working class.

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Behind Obama’s ‘jobs bill’ & austerity budget

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By Deirdre Griswold
September 22, 2011

No jobs means no future: youth gather for protest near Wall Street Sept. 17. WW photo: G. Dunkel

The vast majority of the people in the U.S. depend on wages to get by. Only 7 percent of those who work full-time are self-employed. Farmers, for example, who a century ago made up almost half the population, now account for less than 1 percent. Vastly more people work for large corporations or retail chains than have their own businesses.

Fully 93 percent of those who work every day rely on that paycheck coming in. This figure shows the tremendous growth of the proletariat — people who have nothing to live on but their ability to work and thus be exploited by a boss.

Without that pay, wage workers are in danger of losing everything: their homes, being able to feed their families, access to health care, retirement funds, higher education for themselves and their children, even their mobility — most workers need cars to get to work. All these things have to be paid for with wages.

Keep this in mind when looking at the unemployment figures put out by the Department of Labor. In August, there was zero job growth. More than 9 percent of the workforce — adding up to 14 million people — have no jobs. Another 9 million people work only part-time, even though they want and need full-time jobs. Close to half of those completely jobless have been looking for work for more than half a year — at least 27 weeks.

These figures don’t even cover the millions who lost their jobs and have given up looking.

Many analysts consider these figures to be understated, but they do show that what has been called a “recovery” means nothing for the workers. The fact is that four years after the housing bubble burst and started a financial crisis, there has been no jobs recovery. Now the markets are heading down again and the prospects are even more ominous for workers.

Obviously, workers are in a terrible crisis — and not just in the United States. The same thing is true throughout the capitalist world. Unemployment is high and there is no relief in sight. In several European countries, half of all young people can’t even get started in the job market.

Wherever there is oppression based on racism and national origin — which means in all the imperialist countries — the figures on unemployment and poverty in these communities are dramatically worse.

Workers had hope in Obama, but got nothing

Workers in the U.S. have been hoping the Obama administration would come to their aid. They have seen Washington spend trillions of dollars to bail out huge banks and other financial institutions, even those responsible for such disasters as the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, however, nothing has been done to set up a real government jobs program. In fact, just the opposite has happened. In addition to all the millions of jobs that have disappeared as private companies downsize and/or move their operations to low-wage areas of the globe, the working class is now confronted with millions of layoffs in the public sector. Governments at all levels — federal, state, municipal, county and township — are claiming poverty and cutting budgets for all kinds of social services.

This phenomenon — trying to force austerity down the throats of workers as a supposed antidote to the crisis — is being repeated across the capitalist world. The politicians — who have learned their tricks in parties totally beholden to the capitalist class — are fearful of offending their patrons by shifting even part of the state’s burden onto the shoulders of the rich.

They will stampede into their legislative seats to raise their hands for bailouts to billionaires, but they will find any excuse to avoid making the capitalists pay for the catastrophic failure of their system. This bloodletting of jobs in the public sector has only made the overall capitalist crisis of overproduction worse.

After three years of stagnation and decline, in which his popularity dropped in tandem with workers’ hopes of getting any relief, President Barack Obama finally gave a speech about jobs on Sept. 8. He followed that up with another speech on Sept. 19 about reducing the budget deficit.

No jobs, but jobless benefits — with a hook

Obama’s first talk was to push Congress to pass what he called the American Jobs Act. A telling feature of this bill is to continue extended unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks. While, if passed, this would undoubtedly be welcomed by a lot of jobless workers about to have their checks cut off, it contradicts the idea that the act will provide many jobs.

For the “99ers,” people who have already maxed out of the time allowed for unemployment benefits but have not found work, this bill provides nothing.

There is also another side to the proposed extended benefits: recipients who get “training” from a company will receive only their unemployment checks for eight weeks, during which time the boss pays nothing for these full-time new employees.

The average unemployment check in 2010 came to less than $300 a week. This is significantly below the federal poverty level for a family of three. If workers get nothing but unemployment to live on for two years, they will likely exhaust any other assets they might have.

Tax breaks to small businesses

The premise behind the bill is that more tax breaks and other incentives to small businesses will encourage them to create new jobs. This is not a new idea. That was the rationale behind the $825 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

Both became law, but they have had no effect on overall unemployment.

Obama in his talk called this bill a “$447 billion stimulus plan.” Some $105 billion would be spent on infrastructure projects, like schools and transportation, spread out over two years. Considering how badly the infrastructure has deteriorated and how many people are looking for work, that amounts to nothing more than a band-aid.

$50 billion a year wouldn’t cover the annual wages of 1 million construction workers — without even considering the cost of materials, the planning and administration of the projects, and other overhead, which always come to much more than actual wages paid. Meanwhile, there are between 25 million and 30 million unemployed and underemployed workers in this country.

Cutting ‘payroll taxes’ is attack on Social Security

More than half of the $447 billion price tag for this bill would come from reducing payroll taxes paid by businesses and individuals. However, the catch here is that payroll taxes, or FICA, are what both employers and workers pay into the Social Security Trust Fund.

If Obama wants to cut workers’ taxes, why not cut their income taxes? The federal government funnels hundreds of billions of dollars of general revenue to the Pentagon and also to big banks that perpetually suck up huge interest payments on government loans. Both Republicans and Democrats have agreed not to cut these money guzzlers.

What Obama is calling a “payroll tax cut” is really an assault on Social Security and Medicare. This huge pool of money, meant to keep workers out of abject poverty in their older years, was set up as a completely separate fund, not to be used for anything else. It was something that workers were entitled to and finally won through militant struggle.

Now the word “entitlement” is said with a sneer by reactionary politicians who owe their positions to corporate-financed election campaigns. The ruling class wants access to this huge amount of money, to “privatize” it, to draw it into the obscene speculation and gambling that especially characterize this phase of parasitic capitalism.

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Faces, pain behind poverty figures: Millions of poorest Americans trapped, living in despair

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By David Crary
September 19, 2011

Thomas McDaniel, left, Brandi Wells, and her 10-month-old son, Logan, are seen on the porch of an apartment in Kingwood, W.Va. Wells was evicted after she lost her job waitressing last year and couldn’t pay her bills. (Vicki Smith / Associated Press)

At a food pantry in a Chicago suburb, a 38-year-old mother of two breaks into tears.

She and her husband have been out of work for nearly two years. Their house and car are gone. So is their foothold in the middle class and, at times, their self-esteem.

“It’s like there is no way out,” says Kris Fallon.

She is trapped like so many others, destitute in the midst of America’s abundance. Last week, the Census Bureau released new figures showing that nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty — a record 46.2 million people. The poverty rate, pegged at 15.1 percent, is the highest of any major industrialized nation, and many experts believe it could get worse before it abates.

The numbers are daunting — but they also can seem abstract and numbing without names and faces.

Associated Press reporters around the country went looking for the people behind the numbers. They were not hard to find.

Bill Ricker, 74, looks out the door of his trailer in Hartford, Maine. He has two degrees, but now needs food stamps just to get by. (Robert F. Bukaty / Associated Press)

There’s Bill Ricker, a 74-year-old former repairman and pastor whose home is a dilapidated trailer in rural Maine. He scrapes by with a monthly $1,003 Social Security check. His ex-wife also is hard up; he lets her live in the other end of his trailer.

There’s Brandi Wells, a single mom in West Virginia, struggling to find a job and care for her 10-month-old son.

Some were outraged by the statistics. Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund called the surging child poverty rate “a national disgrace.” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., cited evidence that poverty shortens life spans, calling it “a death sentence for tens and tens of thousands of our people.”

Overall, though, the figures seemed to be greeted with resignation, and political leaders in Washington pressed ahead with efforts to cut federal spending. The Pew Research Center said its recent polling shows a majority of Americans — for the first time in 15 years of being surveyed on the question — oppose more government spending to help the poor.

“The news of rising poverty makes headlines one day. And the next it is forgotten,” said Los Angeles community activist and political commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Such is life in the Illinois town of Pembroke, one of the poorest in the Midwest, where schools and stores have closed. Keith Bobo, a resident trying to launch revitalization programs, likened conditions to the Third World.

“A lot of the people here just feel like they are on an island, like no one even knows that they exist,” he said.

Kris Fallon kisses her 4-month-old daughter, Addison, in Palatine, Ill. The Fallon family has been living in poverty for nearly two years. (Robert Ray / Associated Press)

It’s hard to find some of the poorest residents in Pembroke. They live in places such as the tree-shaded gravel road where the Bargy family’s dust-smudged trailer is wedged in the soil, flanked by overgrown grass.

By the official numbers, Pembroke’s 3,000 residents are among the poorest in the region, but the problem might be worse. The mayor believes as many as 2,000 people were uncounted, living far off the paths that census workers trod.

Ken Bargy, 58, had to stop working five years ago because of his health and is now on disability. His wife drives a school bus in a neighboring town. He sends his children, 15 and 10, to school 20 miles away. In the back of the trailer, he offers shelter to his elderly mother, who is bedridden and dying of cancer. The $18,000 the family pieces together from disability payments and paychecks must go to many things: food, lights, water, medical bills. There are choices to make.

“With the cost of everything going up, I have to skip a light bill to get food or skip a phone bill to get food,” he says. “My checking account is about 20 bucks in the hole.”

About 75 miles away, in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates, dozens of families lined up outside the Willow Creek Care Center as truckloads of food for the poor were unloaded.

Among those waiting was Fallon of nearby Palatine, mother of a teen and an infant, who hitched a ride with a friend.

She recounted how she and her husband — once earning nearly $100,000 a year between the two of them — lost their jobs, forcing them to move from their rented home into an apartment and give up their car.

“We fight a lot because of the situation,” she said. “We wonder where we are going to come up with money to pay rent, where we are going to get food, formula for the baby.”

She began to cry.

Ricker’s woes date back to the 1980s, when he injured himself falling through rotten floorboards while doing carpentry at an inn. He hasn’t worked since.

He now lives in one end of a cluttered old trailer in Hartford, Maine, 60 miles north of Portland. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Ricker has two college degrees. As a younger man, he worked as an electronics repairman, a pastor and a TV cameraman. He and his first wife had seven children.

Now he receives food stamps, gets donations from a local food pantry and drives an 18-year-old car with 198,000 miles.

For a treat, he goes out to lunch at a cafe in a nearby town — about once every two months.

Until a few months ago, Wells lived paycheck to paycheck. She was poor, but she got by. Now, the 22-year-old lives “penny to penny.”

Wells started working as a waitress at 17 and continued when she became pregnant last year. She worked until the day that she delivered now 10-month-old son Logan, she says, and came back a week later. But finding child care was a challenge, and about three months ago, after one too many missed shifts, she was fired.

In no time, she was homeless. The subsidized apartment in Kingwood, W.Va., that had cost her only $36 a month came with a catch: She had to have a job. Without one — and with no way to pay her utilities — she was soon evicted. Logan went to live with his grandmother while Wells stayed with a friend for three weeks in a house with no running water.

“I didn’t realize that it could go so bad so fast,” she says now.

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