Category Archives: History

Where Free Speech Ends, Ignorance Begins

At the risk of sounding like a geezer complaining about “these kids today,” back in my college days, when it came to points of view we were unhesitatingly exposed to literature, teachers and on-campus speakers covering the ideological waterfront.

In one instance, the student body was addressed by civil rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory, radical Irish activist Bernadette Devlin and the conservative writer and critic Russell Kirk — all in the course of a week or so.

Such variety was a common occurrence, and freewheeling, open discussion was encouraged. We didn’t always like or agree with a lot of what we heard or read — from time to time there were vehement protests — but all of it was invaluable. None of us were harmed in the making of our education.

So I was appalled other day when I read about the attempt by Republican Arkansas legislator Kim Hendren to ban from that state’s public schools all books written by the great radical historian Howard Zinn, including his seminal “A People’s History of the United States,” a truthful, lacerating look at the heroes and villains of America — especially the oligarchs and kleptocrats who once again have their heels on the necks of the poor and middle class.

But I also was deeply troubled by the incident at Vermont’s Middlebury College on March 2, when controversial social scientist Charles Murray was invited by a conservative student group and attempted to speak on campus. Here’s what happened, according to the Associated Press:

“Hundreds of students chanted as Murray began to speak Thursday, forcing the college to move the lecture to an undisclosed location. Murray’s talk was live-streamed to the original venue, but protesters drowned it out. The topic, he said, was the divergence of the country’s culture into a new upper class separated from mainstream America.

“Afterward, a group of protesters surrounded Murray, professor Allison Stanger and college administrator Bill Burger as they were leaving, he said. The protesters became violent, with one pulling Stanger’s hair, twisting her neck, the college said.

“After Murray and the two Middlebury staff members got into a car to leave, protesters banged on the windows, climbed onto the hood and rocked the vehicle, the college and Murray said.”

Professor Stanger, by the way, went to the ER and was subsequently diagnosed with concussion. She’s a respected political scientist at Middlebury and a fellow at the progressive New America, and was there the other night because the conservative student group had asked her to provide a counterpoint to Murray’s speech, to interview him from the stage after his prepared remarks. She had prepared some tough, challenging questions.

Many of Charles Murray’s opinions are indeed odious and his research highly questionable, He was co-author of “The Bell Curve,” a notorious book that seemed to link race and IQ. He describes himself as a libertarian, but the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) calls him a white nationalist and reports:

“According to Murray, the relative differences between the white and black populations of the United States, as well as those between men and women, have nothing to do with discrimination or historical and structural disadvantages, but rather stem from genetic differences between the groups… Murray’s attempts to link social inequality to genes are based on the work of explicitly racist scientists.”

At the beginning of Murray’s attempt to speak at Middlebury, students turned their backs to him and chanted in protest. I probably would have done the same. But to not let him speak and to allow the protests to lead to violence is inexcusable. I realize that this raises all sorts of questions about freedom of speech and academic liberty, the nature of dissent and when and if political violence is ever justified, but looking at what happened coolly — and admittedly, from a distance — it seems clear that this went far beyond the boundaries of civil discourse that especially today must be defended against the barbarians who already have run roughshod, pushing through the gates and seizing the reins of power and governance.

Professor Stanger said it best herself. She wrote:

“To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed. We must all realize the precious inheritance we have as fellow Americans and defend the Constitution against all its enemies, both foreign and domestic. That is why I do not regret my involvement in the event with Dr. Murray.”

And then she quoted James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I can be as guilty as the next person about tuning out and trying to ignore the voice of someone with whom I vehemently disagree. I know, too, that this indeed is a time to speak out against the ignorance and despotism sweeping our nation. Further, I realize that the religious, racial and homophobic hate crimes that have been on the upswing since Donald Trump’s candidacy and election — and increased in 2016 for the second year in a row according to the Southern Poverty Law Center — far exceed in numbers and intensity any violence or brutishness that has occurred on college campuses. No question that they’re more frightening and dangerous.

But, in the words of Andrew Sullivan, “Universities are the sanctuary cities of reason. If reason must be subordinate to ideology even there, our experiment in self-government is over.”

Two sides of the same coin: whether the Trump White House or those who would physically attack a college professor. Their unthinking, unyielding enslavement to a single viewpoint is fatal.

Ignorance begets ignorance and hate begets hate. And like a virus, each can infect without regard to race, gender, creed or political perspective. At a time when those in charge are fueling a pandemic of intolerance we must make sure not to succumb ourselves.

By Michael Winship / Moyers & Company

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Dance of Death

The ruling corporate elites no longer seek to build. They seek to destroy. They are agents of death. They crave the unimpeded power to cannibalize the country and pollute and degrade the ecosystem to feed an insatiable lust for wealth, power and hedonism. Wars and military “virtues” are celebrated. Intelligence, empathy and the common good are banished. Culture is degraded to patriotic kitsch. Education is designed only to instill technical proficiency to serve the poisonous engine of corporate capitalism. Historical amnesia shuts us off from the past, the present and the future. Those branded as unproductive or redundant are discarded and left to struggle in poverty or locked away in cages. State repression is indiscriminate and brutal. And, presiding over the tawdry Grand Guignol is a deranged ringmaster tweeting absurdities from the White House.

The graveyard of world empires—Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Khmer, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian—followed the same trajectory of moral and physical collapse. Those who rule at the end of empire are psychopaths, imbeciles, narcissists and deviants, the equivalents of the depraved Roman emperors Caligula, Nero, Tiberius and Commodus. The ecosystem that sustains the empire is degraded and exhausted. Economic growth, concentrated in the hands of corrupt elites, is dependent on a crippling debt peonage imposed on the population. The bloated ruling class of oligarchs, priests, courtiers, mandarins, eunuchs, professional warriors, financial speculators and corporate managers sucks the marrow out of society.

The elites’ myopic response to the looming collapse of the natural world and the civilization is to make subservient populations work harder for less, squander capital in grandiose projects such as pyramids, palaces, border walls and fracking, and wage war. President Trump’s decision to increase military spending by $54 billion and take the needed funds out of the flesh of domestic programs typifies the behavior of terminally ill civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell, it was trying to sustain an army of half a million soldiers that had become a parasitic drain on state resources.

The complex bureaucratic mechanisms that are created by all civilizations ultimately doom them. The difference now, as Joseph Tainter points out in “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” is that “collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole.”

Civilizations in decline, despite the palpable signs of decay around them, remain fixated on restoring their “greatness.” Their illusions condemn them. They cannot see that the forces that gave rise to modern civilization, namely technology, industrial violence and fossil fuels, are the same forces that are extinguishing it. Their leaders are trained only to serve the system, slavishly worshipping the old gods long after these gods begin to demand millions of sacrificial victims.

“Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create even more dangerous messes,” Ronald Wright writes in “A Short History of Progress.” “Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.”

The Trump appointees—Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, Wilbur Ross, Rick Perry, Alex Acosta and others—do not advocate innovation or reform. They are Pavlovian dogs that salivate before piles of money. They are hard-wired to steal from the poor and loot federal budgets. Their single-minded obsession with personal enrichment drives them to dismantle any institution or abolish any law or regulation that gets in the way of their greed. Capitalism, Karl Marx wrote, is “a machine for demolishing limits.” There is no internal sense of proportion or scale. Once all external impediments are lifted, global capitalism ruthlessly commodifies human beings and the natural world to extract profit until exhaustion or collapse. And when the last moments of a civilization arrive, the degenerate edifices of power appear to crumble overnight.

Sigmund Freud wrote that societies, along with individuals, are driven by two primary instincts. One is the instinct for life, Eros, the quest to love, nurture, protect and preserve. The second is the death instinct. The death instinct, called Thanatos by post-Freudians, is driven by fear, hatred and violence. It seeks the dissolution of all living things, including our own beings. One of these two forces, Freud wrote, is always ascendant. Societies in decline enthusiastically embrace the death instinct, as Freud observed in “Civilization and Its Discontents,” written on the eve of the rise of European fascism and World War II.

“It is in sadism, where the death instinct twists the erotic aim in its own sense and yet at the same time fully satisfies the erotic urge, that we succeed in obtaining the clearest insight into its nature and its relation to Eros,” Freud wrote. “But even where it emerges without any sexual purpose, in the blindest fury of destructiveness, we cannot fail to recognize that the satisfaction of the instinct is accompanied by an extraordinary high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfillment of the latter’s old wishes for omnipotence.”

The lust for death, as Freud understood, is not, at first, morbid. It is exciting and seductive. I saw this in the wars I covered. A god-like power and adrenaline-driven fury, even euphoria, sweep over armed units and ethnic or religious groups given the license to destroy anything and anyone around them. Ernst Juenger captured this “monstrous desire for annihilation” in his World War I memoir, “Storm of Steel.”

A population alienated and beset by despair and hopelessness finds empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical landscape. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources with abandon. It is seduced by the fantastic promises of demagogues and the magical solutions characteristic of the Christian right or what anthropologists call “crisis cults.”

Norman Cohn, in “The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Messianism in Medieval and Reformation Europe and Its Bearing on Modern Totalitarian Movements,” draws a link between that turbulent period and our own. Millennial movements are a peculiar, collective psychological response to profound societal despair. They recur throughout human history. We are not immune.

“These movements have varied in tone from the most violent aggressiveness to the mildest pacifism and in aim from the most ethereal spirituality to the most earth-bound materialism; there is no counting the possible ways of imagining the Millennium and the route to it,” Cohen wrote. “But similarities can present themselves as well as differences; and the more carefully one compares the outbreaks of militant social chiliasm during the later Middle Ages with modern totalitarian movements the more remarkable the similarities appear. The old symbols and the old slogans have indeed disappeared, to be replaced by new ones; but the structure of the basic phantasies seems to have changed scarcely at all.”

These movements, Cohen wrote, offered “a coherent social myth which was capable of taking entire possession of those who believed in it. It explained their suffering, it promised them recompense, it held their anxieties at bay, it gave them an illusion of security—even while it drove them, held together by a common enthusiasm, on a quest which was always vain and often suicidal.

“So it came about that multitudes of people acted out with fierce energy a shared phantasy which though delusional yet brought them such intense emotional relief that they could live only through it and were perfectly willing to die for it. It is a phenomenon which was to recur many times between the eleventh century and the sixteenth century, now in one area, now in another, and which, despite the obvious differences in cultural context and in scale, is not irrelevant to the growth of totalitarian movements, with their messianic leaders, their millennial mirages and their demon-scapegoats, in the present century.”

The severance of a society from reality, as ours has been severed from collective recognition of the severity of climate change and the fatal consequences of empire and deindustrialization, leaves it without the intellectual and institutional mechanisms to confront its impending mortality. It exists in a state of self-induced hypnosis and self-delusion. It seeks momentary euphoria and meaning in tawdry entertainment and acts of violence and destruction, including against people who are demonized and blamed for society’s demise. It hastens its self-immolation while holding up the supposed inevitability of a glorious national resurgence. Idiots and charlatans, the handmaidens of death, lure us into the abyss.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Ta-Nehisi Coates Calls for Harvard to Pay Reparations; University President Says ‘No’

In an attempt to atone for its role in human bondage, Harvard University on Friday, March 3, hosted a conference addressing the institution’s historic, and oftentimes forgotten, ties to slavery, with some participants even advocating for monetary reparations.

The conference, titled “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History,” was the latest in a series of efforts taken by the Ivy League university to confront its dark history of enslavement, The Harvard Crimson reported. The day-long symposium drew hundreds of guests from all over, featuring historians and representatives from several universities and a keynote address by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

University President Drew G. Faust delivered the opening remarks.

“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century,” said Faust, who announced plans for the conference in March 2016. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand. Today’s conference is intended to help us explore parts of the past that have remained all but invisible.”

Coates built upon the president’s remarks in his keynote address, describing slavery and the impacts of racial discrimination that arose from it as “systems of plunder that haunt us to this day.” As an outspoken advocate for reparations, the well-known journalist pushed the idea on conference attendees Friday, asserting that racial progress requires institutions like Harvard to pay its debts to those that it enslaved.

“I think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,” Coates said, as the audience erupted in applause. “I don’t know how you get around that, I just don’t. I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and just say ‘Well,’ shrug — and maybe, at best, say ‘I’m sorry’ — and you walk away.

“I think you need to use the language of ‘reparation,‘” he continued. “I think it’s very, very important to actually say that word, to acknowledge that something was done in these institutions.”

In the past few years, the Cambridge, Mass., university has taken a number of steps to acknowledge its connection to slavery. In March of last year, the institution bent to mounting pressure to remove the family seal of notorious slave owner Isaac Royall. The controversial seal represented the law school for nearly a century and was adopted in 1937 to honor Royall’s contribution to the university, according to Atlanta Black Star.

Months later, the prestigious university recognized four enslaved persons — Titus, Venus, Jubah and Bilhah — who lived and worked on university grounds by dedicating the official residence of Harvard’s presidents in their honor.

Harvard isn’t the only university that has come clean about the role of slavery in its establishment. Earlier this year, a history professor at Columbia University published a report detailing how the transatlantic slave trade helped finance the school in its humble beginnings, while Georgetown University extended legacy admissions privileges to the descendants of 272 enslaved workers who were sold to keep the institution financially afloat in 1838.

History professor Sven Beckert, who has investigated Harvard’s ties to slavery in the past, said the process of unearthing this bitter history started in 2007 with a self-led seminar on the history of slavery at the university. Over the years, Beckert said his students discovered stories of enslaved Blacks who worked on campus under two Harvard presidents and uncovered endowment investments tied to the slave economy. One student, who presented the findings as part of her senior thesis on Friday, revealed that Harvard had used the Caribbean plantation of a former slave-holding donor as a botanical research outpost until 1961.

“When the students began to uncover a different history, they and others who listened to them were surprised,” Beckert said. “Yet, in retrospect, it seems that the only thing that should surprise us was our surprise and that it took so long for us to allow ourselves to be surprised by that history.”

Unlike Coates, Faust has stopped short of supporting reparations. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson last fall, Faust said offering repayment or preferential treatment like Georgetown University has wouldn’t be appropriate for Harvard, since it didn’t directly own slaves.

“I am not aware of any slaves that were owned by Harvard itself, and slavery was much less of a presence and an economic force in New England than it was in Washington, D.C., and the South,” she said. “Mostly, slave records were kept as economic records, business records, and the records we have of slaves at Harvard are much scarcer and less complete.”

Coates disagreed at Friday’s conference, asserting that atonement must involve some sort of monetary repayment.

The institution’s faculty committee is expected to continue studying Harvard’s ties to slavery and plans to release a set of recommendations to the University in the coming months, according to the newspaper.

By Tanasia Kenney
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Time to Change the Democratic Party: How Not to Spend $1 Billion, Lose More Than 1,000 Elections and Have the Least Power in 75 Years

The race for Democratic National Committee chair is not just about who has the glamour and skills to turn around a party that spent more than $1 billion last year, lost more than 1,000 statewide and congressional seats during Obama’s presidency, and has the least power in 75 years. It’s about how that turnaround will be done.

What’s emerging at candidate forums en route to a late February vote among 447 DNC members is a revealing conversation into the nuts and bolts of campaigns and elections—and not what has been portrayed in mainstream media. The biggest splits aren’t between Berniecrats and more tenured Democrats, who comprise most members as state officials, party leaders and key allies. Nor is it clear whether one candidate, due to race or gender, is the obvious standard-bearer, because all of the candidates are diverse and committed to progressive values.

The issue is whether there’s one candidate who is compelling and capable of changing what’s broken about the DNC—not just naming it in public forums, which many of the candidates have done in eyebrow-raising fashion. So far, at least among longtime party activists, no one stands out as the perfect choice.

“Not one of these candidates gives you everything—not one,” said Debra Kozikowski, vice chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, senior vice president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs and a critic of recent DNC leadership under ex-chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “The last time the Democratic Party nationally had a leader who was the everything ‘it’ guy was Howard Dean. He was a governor who ran for president and got his butt beat, but he knew how to do it, and he also cared about state parties.”

Democrats face a “multi-layered complicated problem that includes small-d democracy, big D Democrats, inspiration and perspiration—the whole package,” Kozikowski said, adding that no one among the leading or best-qualified candidates is presenting that complete picture. Instead, what’s seen at the candidate forums are striking critiques from candidates with front-row views who are pulling back the curtain on some of the party’s most loathsome habits that translate into losing elections.

One stunning example concerns how the party was able to spend more than $1 billion and lose so badly in 2016. DNC members know that Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid for TV ads in Wisconsin and Michigan, but wouldn’t give those states’ parties money for a grassroots presence despite their pleadings. That’s partly because, as Ray Buckley, the New Hampshire state party chair and candidate said, the DNC brass has an incestuous relationship with Washington-based media-buyers who repeatedly have made multi-millions on TV ads and mailings, no matter who wins or loses, and siphoned money away from field operations.

“You look at the polls, the American people support our agenda. They just didn’t hear it, because we were too busy running TV and sending mail that ended up in the trash,” said Buckley, a five-term state chair and president of the national Association of State Democratic Chairs, at an Arizona forum. “The reality is we just take a small percentage of that money and invest it in every single state, in every single county, in every single neighborhood, and we will start winning offices up and down the ballot throughout this country and we will reject Donald Trump… Our message is hope and opportunity, but we stopped giving people hope and opportunity because we weren’t able to get real people talking to other real people.”

Buckley, who is white, gay and arguably has the most experience beating Republicans than anyone else in the race for DNC chair, admits he doesn’t have the backing of the DNC’s Washington establishment. That candidate, as seen by endorsements from former Vice President Joe Biden, and longtime Bill Clinton fundraiser—now Virginia’s governor—Terry McAuliffe, is Tom Perez, the ex-Secretary of Labor under Obama and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights before that.

Perez, for his part, has been emphasizing a different ugly feature of the DNC’s national leadership: how it can be patronizing, dismissive of state parties and grassroots activists, and takes constituencies for granted.

“The thing I hear the most from DNC members is you want to be part of a team,” Perez told the forum. “You don’t want to be spoken to. You don’t want to have a command and control structure. You want to be part of the decision-making. We can enhance everything we do by doing just that… I have had experience changing cultures of institutions. It takes work. It doesn’t happen overnight. But when you get there, as we were able to do at the Department of Labor. It’s because good leaders are good listeners.”

Pointed remarks like these, and similar ones from other contenders, such as Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison—who has been endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and former vice-president Walter Mondale—are what you’d expect from someone seeking to lead a party out of a wilderness. What’s striking about Ellison’s remarks is his take-it-to-the-streets attitude, which resonates with Sanders’ base and younger Democrats, although he tones it down when selling himself to the party’s insiders at candidate forums.

“I love your enthusiasm. We’re going to need it,” Ellison told the Arizona audience. “All over the country, what we see are Democrats [who] are not in the majority and Republicans are passing policies that are hurting our people. And so, I am running for the chair of the DNC because I have demonstrated an ability to see Democrats get elected. There are no statewide Republicans in Minnesota. The reason why is I have turned up the vote and the turnout in the Fifth Congressional District. I used to have the lowest turnout in the state of Minnesota. Now my congressional district has the highest. And because we have the highest, we have put in [Senator] Al Franken, and [Governor] Mark Dayton, and Democrats all over the state. We win elections and that is how we get the majority back.”

There are striking critiques from other candidates, such as Jaime Harrison, South Carolina state party chair. When asked how to best respond to Donald Trump, he gave the audience a small lecture to stop focusing on what to say and start focusing on creating a trusted way to communicate to voters.

“The vehicle in which the message is delivered are state parties, and my friends, state parties are broken,” he said. “Now that ain’t sexy. It ain’t what most people want to hear about. But let me tell you the reality of the situation. In 2008, we had complete control. We had the majority of the governorships in this country, the majority of the statehouses in this country. We controlled Congress. We were even able to get up to 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. And in almost 10 years, we have lost it all. Republicans control 69 out of 99 statehouses [chambers]. Republicans control 33 governorships. And they now have complete control over the federal government.”

“So the vehicle by which we get out message out to our voters, on the grassroots level, is the state parties,” Harrison continued. “But you have state parties at this moment that barely have $50,000 cash on hand, and have to cut their staff. And in 2018 they either have a governorship race that they have to run in a coordinated campaign, or one of the 25 Democratic U.S. senators are up for grabs, and 10 of them are in Trump [majority] states… So until we fix that basic foundation of our party, we can have the best message in the world, but it ain’t going anywhere other than in our email boxes.”

Harrison made the same point as Buckley—the only other state party chair in the race—by slamming the DNC power brokers for wasting millions on messaging that most voters just tuned out. “The TV ads?” he said, indignant. “We spend hundreds of millions on TV ads. How many of you watch those TV ads? None of you! The mail, where does it go? File 13. You don’t even look at it, but we spend millions and millions of dollars on that….We need to be a community organization, going into the communities on a grassroots level, helping people solve the issues important to them.”

What becomes of these open criticisms is anybody’s guess. Kozikowski, who has been in Democratic Party circles for decades, also runs a non-partisan non-profit that helps all eligible voters get a ballot that will be counted. She said all of the candidates are coming up short with specifics when pressed, such as describing where organizations like hers fit into the professed desire to be more supportive of party grassroots.

It is a truism that campaigns are about the poetry of running for office and governing is about the detailed prose of making things work. But the jobs of DNC chair and vice chair are arguably more about how the party operates, the prose, than the magnetism of who leads it—even though leadership charisma still matters. The Republican Party, for example, generally promotes state party chairs to RNC chair, such as Wisconsin’s Reince Priebus, suggesting the GOP sees the post as more of a performance-oriented job.

Right now, if the DNC’s two top contenders are indeed Perez and Ellison (the party is not doing any polling), then neither quite fit that mold. Perez is seen by the grassroots, especially Sanders’ base, as too connected to DC insiders associated with Clinton’s campaign and that political apparatus. Ellison is seen as too combative by officials who want a leader who can pull the party back together.

“They are looking for the best person and we don’t have a best person,” Kozikowski said, when asked what fellow DNC members are looking for. “We have the best we’ve got. My estimation at this point, and that can change, is that Tom Perez has the inside track. And I don’t mean that in any negative way.”

Meanwhile, outside DNC circles, people who were active in the 2016 campaign are paying close attention—especially those who worked with Bernie Sanders to reform the Democratic Party.

“People have definitely not written this race off,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, co-founder of Brand New Congress, which grew out of Sanders’ campaign and is organizing a national strategy for the 2018 midterm elections. “Almost everyone I’m talking to is waiting with baited breath to see what happens. People are ready to write the party off, but if Keith [Ellison] gets the chair, it shows a glimmer of hope that we can rebuild this party to be a party that works for people again.”

“At this moment in time, it is probably the most important decision coming up for the Democratic Party,” he added. “If, after everything that happened in the last year, the Democrats still pick Perez, it is really going to signal to everyone that this party is beyond repair.’

But just as Kozikowski said there was no candidate who checks all the boxes to rebuild the party from the inside out, Chakrabarti said that those watching on the outside have a different set of doubts about whether the Democrats really understand their failures.

“I see it as a battle right now between one camp that recognizes that there are big, systemic problems in the American economy and in our democracy and wants to put forth a vision for fixing it, vs. a camp that believes the Democratic Party (and America) is basically okay and all the Democrats need to do is fix their messaging problem,” Chakrabarti said, adding that Democrats risk losing young supporters if they don’t make evolutionary changes. “I think this correlates heavily with youth vs. old because a lot of the problems facing this country are affecting youth—young people are buried in debt, see this giant problem of climate change ruining their future, and see the bleakness of a corrupt and broken democracy that is completely incapable of addressing these problems.”

The DNC convenes in Atlanta on February 23 for its winter meeting. Between now and then, you can be sure the criticisms inside and outside party circles will only become more pointed. The stakes are nothing less than the party’s future, into renewed relevance or obsolescence.

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count

Katherine Johnson
Image: NASA.gov

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

Born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was a research mathematician, who by her own admission, was simply fascinated by numbers. Fascinated by numbers and smart to boot, for by the time she was 10 years old, she was a high school freshman–a truly amazing feat in an era when school for African-Americans normally stopped at eighth grade for those could indulge in that luxury.

More at NASA. gov

Posted by Libergirl

The Silencing of Coretta Scott King Is an Act of Systemic Racism

On Tuesday night, during debate about the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Republican extremists silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren as she was discussing Sessions’s record. They did not object to the facts she cited. They refused to hear them.

This is what systemic racism looks like in America.

As part of her remarks, Senator Warren read from Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the nomination of Sessions to a federal judgeship. The letter was never entered into the record by then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Strom Thurmond.

Mrs. King’s words, however, were based on facts she had observed about Sessions’s beliefs and conduct. She knew, for example, that as US Attorney Sessions had tried to prosecute one of her late husband’s pallbearers for helping elderly citizens vote in Alabama. Mrs. King knew that her husband had died for standing up to men like Jeff Sessions. She wasn’t attacking his character or pretending to know what was in his heart. She had witnessed the heart of his policy.

Senator Sessions, and anyone else who has a history of supporting systemic racism, cannot be protected from the truth of their own record. We need to have a grownup conversation about race in America and the ways it shows up in the heart of policies.

Refusing to restore the Voting Rights Act is systemic racism. As King wrote in 1986, “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.”

More recently, Sessions opposed restoring and updating section 4 of the Voting Rights Act after the Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision. He sat idly by as the Supreme Court and politicians dismantled and attacked voting rights. As a US Attorney in Alabama, he unjustly prosecuted voting rights advocates who worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. This baseless, politically motivated case ended in unanimous acquittal of these defenders of civil rights. “A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench,” King wrote.

His support to repeal health care access, which impacts 3 million African Americans, is systemic racism. His refusal to support living wages to the 54 percent of African Americans who make less than living wages is systemic racism. Scapegoating Muslim refugees and mobilizing a deportation force is systemic racism. Senator Sessions has a clear record of promoting xenophobia and religious bigotry; his former aid, Stephen Miller, who learned political extremism in my home state of North Carolina, is reported to be the chief author of Trump’s Muslim ban. Sessions has defended the legitimacy of religious tests in immigration policy that could be used to ban immigration by Muslims.

None of this is an attack on Senator Sessions’s character. Senator Warren knows as well as Mrs. King did that Jeff Sessions can smile and be cordial. But his whole political career has been about defending systemic racism. This fact cannot be silenced in our public discourse.

Racial inequality persists in America not because of men in white robes but because of the policies supported by men like Jeff Sessions. Gutting public education in the name of “choice” is systemic racism and has been since Brown v. Board of Education. Using dog whistles to attack so-called “entitlement” programs, which actually serve more white people than black or brown people, is systemic racism. Promoting “law and order” policies that target poor black and brown people for mass incarceration is systemic racism. Talking about voter fraud and crime-ridden communities while plotting voter suppression is systemic racism.

If Senate rules allow this truth to be shut down then the Senate rules are wrong. While many extremist leaders continue to try to hide the truth of their embrace of systemic racism, we as moral activists will not be silenced. We are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. We will show up. We will sit in. We will cry out. We will not stand down. Those politicians who believe in a moral agenda for this nation must do the same.

By Dr. William J. Barber II/TheNation

Posted by The NON-Conformist

[THE WAY FORWARD] It’s Time For A Different Kind Of Politics

As the political landscape changes with a new White House, so must we

I’m from Mississippi. The night Donald Trump was elected president, my first reaction was, Look at what these White folks have done. The second was, While this is certainly a moment of crisis, it is also one of possibility.

What we need to do is focus on three areas that have a bearing on the long-term future of our communities: education, jobs and criminal justice. If Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, Betsey DeVos, is confirmed, it’s going to change the landscape of education. We’re going to have to adopt a strategy for the ballot box and one for the streets, both designed and executed by local organizers. Organizers are going to have to figure out who they’re going to run for the local school board; who they’re going to run for office that holds a vision of public education as a public good; and who they’re going to run that can push back against the forces of privatization. To bring these issues to the forefront will require wildcat strikes on the part of students and teach-ins on the part of those of us who are allied with public education. It’s going to require a kind of coalition building among progressives outside and inside public education.

We’ve got to do something similar around jobs.

Since [Trump] is talking about [rebuilding America’s] infrastructure, we’ve got to position ourselves to get some of those new jobs. We’ve got to ask what it means to organize for a livable wage . There are organizers in the South who are working hard to link White and Black workers across the tracks, such as the extraordinary work we see the Rev. William Barber II doing in North Carolina as part of the Forward Together movement. Even though that state went for Trump, its residents voted out Republican Gov. [Pat] McCrory and have been engaged in a kind of electoral politics that isn’t reducible to simply electing people. They’ve also been organizing around public education, undocumented workers, the right of women to choose, prison reform—staging a movement that cuts across a variety of constituencies and emphasizes the power of everyday ordinary people.

Which takes me to the third point: If confirmed, [Republican Sen.] Jeff Sessions will be our attorney general. So we need the best legal minds in the country to be thinking up strategies to challenge what’s about to happen. Affirmative action is about to be gutted. The Voting Rights Act will continue to be eroded. We are going to see a new legal regime impact the very ways in which we struggle. We also need to start talking among ourselves about what it means to be on juries—particularly with regard to our children. We must embrace jury nullification and declare, If I’m going to serve on a jury, I’m not going to convict a child as an adult.

Fortunately, there are already models for resistance. Color of Change started a super PAC around [district attorneys], those individuals who aren’t charging police [in cases where they kill our people]. We’ve seen Project NIA, Assata’s Daughters and Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago mobilize and organize, and what did they do? They got rid of the DA who refused to indict police officers—particularly the one who killed Laquan McDonald. And in Duval County, Fla., they got rid of [State’s Attorney] Angela Corey, who indicted and convicted Marissa Alexander [for firing a warning shot during a domestic dispute]. These organizations have shown us how adopting a different kind of local politics can have a significant impact, right where people live.

By Eddie Glaude Jr./Ebonymag

Posted by The NON-Conformist