Monday, 12 December 2016

Media Complicity Is Key to Blacklisting Websites, by Norman Solomon

We still don’t have any sort of apology or retraction from the Washington Post for promoting “The List” -- the highly dangerous blacklist that got a huge boost from the newspaper’s fawning coverage on November 24.

The project of smearing 200 websites with one broad brush wouldn’t have gotten far without the avid complicity of high-profile media outlets, starting with the Post

On Thursday -- a week after the Post published its front-page news article hyping the blacklist that was put out by a group of unidentified people called PropOrNot -- I sent a petition statement to the newspaper’s executive editor Martin Baron.

“Smearing is not reporting,” the RootsAction petition says. 

“The Washington Post’s recent descent into McCarthyism -- promoting anonymous and shoddy claims that a vast range of some 200 websites are all accomplices or tools of the Russian government -- violates basic journalistic standards and does real harm to democratic discourse in our country. 

“We urge the Washington Post to prominently retract the article and apologize for publishing it.” 

After mentioning that 6,000 people had signed the petition (the number has doubled since then), my email to Baron added:

“If you skim through the comments that many of the signers added to the petition online, I think you might find them to be of interest. 

“I wonder if you see a basis for dialogue on the issues raised by critics of the Post piece in question.” 

The reply came from the newspaper’s vice president for public relations, Kristine Coratti Kelly, who thanked me “for reaching out to us” before presenting the Post’s response, quoted here in full:

“The Post reported on the work of four separate sets of researchers, as well as independent experts, who have examined Russian attempts to influence American democracy. PropOrNot was one.

“The Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list of organizations that it said had -- wittingly or unwittingly -- published or echoed Russian propaganda. 

“The Post reviewed PropOrNot's findings and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.”

But that damage-control response was as full of holes as the news story it tried to defend.

For one thing, PropOrNot wasn’t just another source for the Post’s story. 

As The New Yorker noted in a devastating article on Dec. 1, the story “prominently cited the PropOrNot research.” 

The Post’s account “had the force of revelation, thanks in large part to the apparent scientific authority of PropOrNot’s work: the group released a 32-page report detailing its methodology, and named names with its list of 200 suspect news outlets…. But a close look at the report showed that it was a mess.” 

Contrary to the PR message from the Post vice president, PropOrNot did not merely say that the sites on its list had “published or echoed Russian propaganda.” 

Without a word of the slightest doubt or skepticism in the entire story, the Post summarized PropOrNot’s characterization of all the websites on its list as falling into two categories: 

“Some players in this online echo chamber were knowingly part of the propaganda campaign, the researchers concluded, while others were ‘useful idiots’ -- a term born of the Cold War to describe people or institutions that unknowingly assisted Soviet Union propaganda efforts.”

As The New Yorker pointed out, PropOrNot’s criteria for incriminating content were broad enough to include “nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself.” 

Yet “The List” is not a random list by any means -- it’s a targeted mish-mash, naming websites that are not within shouting distance of the U.S. corporate and foreign policy establishment.

And so the list includes a few overtly Russian-funded outlets; some other sites generally aligned with Kremlin outlooks; many pro-Trump sites, often unacquainted with what it means to be factual and sometimes overtly racist; and other websites that are quite different -- solid, factual, reasonable -- but too progressive or too anti-capitalist or too libertarian or too right-wing or just plain too independent-minded for the evident tastes of whoever is behind PropOrNot. 

As The New Yorker’s writer Adrian Chen put it: 

“To PropOrNot, simply exhibiting a pattern of beliefs outside the political mainstream is enough to risk being labeled a Russian propagandist.” 

And he concluded: 

“Despite the impressive-looking diagrams and figures in its report, PropOrNot’s findings rest largely on innuendo and conspiracy thinking.” 

As for the Post vice president’s defensive phrasing that “the Post did not name any of the sites on PropOrNot’s list,” the fact is that the Post unequivocally promoted PropOrNot, driving web traffic to its site and adding a hotlink to the anonymous group’s 32-page report soon after the newspaper’s story first appeared. 

As I mentioned in my reply to her: 

Unfortunately, it's kind of like a newspaper saying that it didn't name any of the people on the Red Channels blacklist in 1950 while promoting it in news coverage, so no problem.” 

As much as the Post news management might want to weasel out of the comparison, the parallels to the advent of the McCarthy Era are chilling. 

For instance, the Red Channels list, with 151 names on it, was successful as a weapon against dissent and free speech in large part because, early on, so many media outlets of the day actively aided and abetted blacklisting, as the Post has done for “The List.” 

Consider how the Post story described the personnel of PropOrNot in favorable terms even while hiding all of their identities and thus shielding them from any scrutiny -- calling them “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.”

So far The New Yorker has been the largest media outlet to directly confront the Post’s egregious story. Cogent assessments can also be found at The InterceptConsortium NewsCommon DreamsAlterNetRolling StoneFortuneCounterPunchThe Nation and numerous other sites. 

But many mainline journalists and outlets jumped at the chance to amplify the Post’s piece of work. A sampling of the cheers from prominent journalists and liberal partisans was published by under the apt headline “Why Are Media Outlets Still Citing Discredited ‘Fake News’ Blacklist?” 

FAIR’s media analyst Adam Johnson cited enthusiastic responses to the bogus story from journalists like Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar and MSNBC’s Joy Reid -- and such outlets as USA Today, Gizmodo, the PBS NewsHour, The Daily BeastSlateAPThe Verge and NPR, which “all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback.” 

On the MSNBC site, the Rachel Maddow Show's blog added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that ‘it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign. 

With so many people understandably upset about Trump’s victory, there’s an evident attraction to blaming the Kremlin, a convenient scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. 

But the Post’s blacklisting story and the media’s amplification of it -- and the overall political environment that it helps to create -- are all building blocks for a reactionary order, threatening the First Amendment and a range of civil liberties. 

When liberals have green lighted a witch-hunt, right wingers have been pleased to run with it. President Harry Truman issued an executive order in March 1947 to establish “loyalty” investigations in every agency of the federal government. 

Joe McCarthy and the era named after him were soon to follow. 

In media and government, the journalists and officials who enable blacklisting are cravenly siding with conformity instead of democracy.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

In Resistance to Trump, “Community” Should Be a Verb, by Norman Solomon

Against a Trump regime that is totally unacceptable, we’ll need resistance that’s sustainable.

Like a healthy forest, the resistance will depend on great diversity to thrive -- a wide range of people engaging in a vast array of activities.

And our resistance will need community.

I’m not talking about the facile gloss of the word “community” that often follows an adjective denoting race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

The kinds of community that will make ongoing resistance possible have little to do with demographic categories.

The most powerful, most vital bonding will be transcendently human.

Facing a Trump presidency, we’ll have an imperative opportunity to go deeper as individuals and groups of people working together -- nurturing and growing the social, cultural and political strength that can overcome the Trump regime.

Our resistance has got to be broadly inclusive, offering and inspiring a great variety of nonviolent tactics and approaches, whether they emerge with a few people around a kitchen table or with many thousands of people at a public protest.

The strength of the united front that we need will depend on the extent of truly cooperative efforts.

Trump and his allies have already injected huge quantities of toxins into the body politic, with much more on the way. The antidote is democratic engagement from the grassroots.

Right now, as the new regime rolls out its top henchmen, early steps include doing all we can to block Trump’s horrendous Cabinet picks.

To challenge the enemies of democracy who have gained power, we’re just getting started.

What’s at stake for U.S. society includes basic social decency, human rights, economic justice, civil liberties, rule of law -- in short, democracy. Also at stake: climate change, nuclear weapons, the fate of the earth.

Trump has clearly shown his intention to destroy many decades of progress for the rights of women, people of color, Muslims, undocumented immigrants and many other people, while tightening the knot of the corporate state and the warfare state.

From Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue to the Pentagon, the purveyors of mega-corporate technocracy, oligarchy and militarism have given “power” a bad name. 

And yet the solution to anti-democratic power is power -- truly democratic power -- from the grassroots, from the bottom up -- really our only hope. 

From protests and electoral work to public education and lobbying and legal interventions and so many other forms of organizing and activism, countless essential tasks await us. 

During the presidency of Popular-Vote Loser Trump -- maybe more profoundly than at any other time in our lifetimes -- we’ll need each other to make resistance personally sustainable, socially viable and political effective.

This is all about energizing ourselves and each other, now and for the long haul.

That’s why community should be a verb.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

For The Trump Era: Fight Not Flight, by Norman Solomon

A lot of U.S citizens are now talking about leaving the country. Canada, Europe and New Zealand are popular scenarios.

Moving abroad might be an individual solution. But the social solution is to stay and put up a fight.

The most right-wing U.S. government in our lifetimes will soon have its executive and legislative branches under reactionary control, with major ripple effects on the judiciary.

All the fixings for a dystopian future will be on the table. In a realistic light, the outlook is awfully grim. 

No wonder a huge number of people in the United States are struggling with mixtures of grief, anger, frustration, fear. 

If Donald Trump and major forces backing him get their way, the conditions described by Frederick Douglass -- still all too prevalent now -- will worsen in the years ahead:

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

As James Baldwin wrote, “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

Those quotes from Douglass and Baldwin are in a book of paintings by Robert Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth

Another portrait in the collection appears under these words from Helen Keller:

“When one comes to think of it, there are no such things as divine, immutable, or inalienable rights. Rights are things we get when we are strong enough to make good our claim on them.” 

That statement from Keller aptly describes our current predicament and possibilities. 

The impending Trump presidency is a direct threat to basic human rights. 

To make good our claim on those rights will require that we become “strong enough,” individually and collectively. 

Gaining such strength will require that we provide much more support for independent progressive institutions -- the array of organizations that can serve as collective bulwarks against the momentum of systemic greed, bigotry, massive violence, economic exploitation and environmental destruction. 

We’re now being flung into a new era that will intensify many of the oppressive aspects of the U.S. governmental apparatus and political economy. 

An ongoing imperative will be to mitigate serious-to-catastrophic damage in many realms. 

We need a united front -- against the very real threat of severe repression that could morph into some form of fascism. 

At this highly precarious time, progressives certainly don’t need the tempests of factional disputes and ideological battles. 

And we certainly don’t need the kind of reflexive capitulation that so often comes from the upper reaches of the Democratic Party.

We’re at the start of a protracted crisis that could become cataclysmic.

We need progressive unity and unrelenting determination.

Only with eyes wide open do we have a real chance to understand clearly and organize effectively against the Trump regime.

Failure to put up a fight should be unthinkable.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Dear Democrats, by Matthew Cooper

Dear Democrats,

I know you’re feeling pretty bummed today. Well, I don’t blame you. You just lost the House, the Senate and the White House – all three in the same night. 

But you’re not alone: I feel the same way. And I bet the last thing you’ll want to hear right now is an angry lefty blogger telling you ‘I told you so’. 

But if you don’t want this to happen again, please, please hear me out.

I’m a ‘white’ (see below), male, Christian millennial, and an economically left-of-center Wisconsin native on the very bottom rung of the middle class. 

For clarification, I live in an apartment, have no credit score, and spent the last year and a half functionally unemployed and separated from my family. 

I am exactly the sort of voter you couldn’t afford to lose, and you not only lost me, but you actively chased me away for genuinely believing in the important things that Obama represented when he came to office in 2008: a realist foreign policy, a rejection of needless austerity measures and voodoo economics, universal health care, a fair and stable economy that works for everyone rather than just the privileged few. 

As such, I went third-party.

But at certain points I was tempted, and could very easily have, gone over to the bloviating orange-faced grifter in anger and frustration, as many in my respective demographics did.

For a little bit of personal context, I write this as, last night, I got a letter back from my DFL senator Amy Klobuchar, who – when I wrote expressing my concerns that either this administration or the next would get us into a potentially disastrous war with Russia, and asking her what she planned to do about it – sent me back a form letter that says absolutely nothing pertinent about my question, but talked about the need for ‘targeted strikes’ against Daesh and the need to welcome Syrian refugees into Minnesota. 

As a result, I went to sleep thinking the Democrats deserved to lose all the way across the board in this election. And boy oh boy, last night did you ever get it. 

And you know what? I’m nowhere near close to happy about that fact.

Why am I not happy? Well, where to begin?

Trump has no intention of doing a damn thing to protect the interests of people like me, let alone the folks worse off than me: the white working stiffs who gave him their votes, and who would be well-served by things Trump has no interest in – like a reformed money system that doesn’t take us back to the dark ages, and decent, publicly-managed infrastructure and services.

For another thing, I belong to the (((wrong kind))) of white people. For yet another thing, I’m married to a Chinese immigrant who came here legally. 

I know the rhetoric is that Trump only cares about getting rid of illegal immigrants, but for some reason I doubt either he or his supporters are willing to countenance such minutiae in practice.

For still another thing, I happen to have a deep affection for Iran, her civilization, her art and her people, whereas Trump sees them all as terrorists and wants to go to war with them over ‘rude gestures’. 

So here’s a bit of real talk from a realist. 

If you don’t want another election result like this one (and I know I don’t), perhaps you’ll listen to me. 

But I’m going to break it down point-by-point. 

1.) Cut the ‘narrative’ bullshit. 

Give us the policies. I don’t want to hear, and I honestly couldn’t care less, about how hard Clinton had it coming up through the Walmart executive ranks, or about how women ‘identify’ with her.  

But that’s a huge portion of what I heard from the Salon, Vox, Jezebel and New York Times crowd in this election cycle – how she’s always faced a double standard in her career, how she should be given a break because she’s a woman, and how I personally am a sexist for disagreeing with her policies.  

Well, you know what? I give women way more credit than that. I think most adult women can handle a few tough questions about policy, no?

Which leads me to my next few points:

2.) Stop supporting the damn bankers.  

Let’s get back to basics. Stop taking their donations and their endorsements. They’re clearly not doing you any good.

Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, CitiGroup and the rest of them clearly don’t give a damn about us in flyover country.

So how does it look to us when our representatives and senators do everything they can to bail them out, and don’t lift a finger to help us out with our credit problems? And believe me, we still have credit problems. 

Don’t tell us that Bernie’s plans for reforming the banks and providing public postal savings banking are somehow pie-in-the-sky, or aren’t feasible, or aren’t realistic.

I’ve lived in China – I did research on the PSBC for Positive Planet China, for crying out loud.

I know for a fact how well they work for rural people, especially when they are compared side-by-side with the big privately-owned banks. 

What’s lacking isn’t know-how.

What’s lacking is political will, and the big bankers stole that from you a long time ago with the temptations of lucre.

3.) Take a better stand on providing decent public goods. 

 You know, like health insurance

Practically every other nation with an advanced economy – and even several others without – have universal health care policies that work just fine and that most people are happy with.

Hillary Clinton’s new-public-management muddling, triangulation and incrementalism are precisely the wrong kind of signal that needs to be sent in a campaign season when ordinary folks are worried about their premiums going up, and not being able to afford the privatized health insurance plans that you made them buy.

4.) Support domestic manufacturing. And actually listen to the unions while you’re at it. 

Boy, you really screwed the pooch on this one, and you let Trump outflank you from the left.  

If you want to win us back in the slippery Midland states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, well, this is how you do it. 

Again, it’s not a matter of ‘can’t be done’ – we have plenty of need for actual things in this country that people want to buy. Including high-tech things.

We don’t need to outsource manufacturing to make those things for ourselves at an affordable cost.

We just need the manufacturers to accept slightly-lower profit margins instead of chasing down the cheapest possible Southeast Asian near-slave labor.

We could create a domestic manufacturing boom tomorrow by shunting some of our misbegotten military budget into, say, NASA and space exploration, and give guarantees to laid-off contract workers that they can take their union benefits straight into those space jobs.

And no, I’m afraid extraction-based boondoggles that ship overseasdon’t count as supporting domestic manufacturing.

Or, better yet:

5.) Write a job-guarantee policy.

Set out a plan to actually implement Humphrey-Hawkins Act which is already on the books – a solid piece of Democratic legislative craft which deserves to have a far more distinguished legacy than it does.

Putting Humphrey-Hawkins into practice will involve some necessary changes to monetary policy, though, be forewarned – and in the short run those changes may be fairly painful.

But the long-term benefits will be very, very much appreciated by the people whose votes you ought to be trying to win.

6.) Stop getting us into all these hare-brained wars. 

Stop rattling the saber with Russia over a former piece of the Ukraine that isn’t going back anytime soon. 

Stop funding and arming the Saudis – they’ll just sell the weapons to crazy people. 

Stop bombing the Houthis, the Pakistanis and the Afghans. 

Stop supporting color revolutions and ‘soft coups’.

Stop saying ‘Assad must go’ when clearly he isn’t going anywhere.

Stop creating needless refugee crises that we then have to ‘fix’ by (selectively) opening our borders.

Stop making Trump – a man who, may I remind you, wants to go to war with Iran over ‘rude gestures’ – look like a voice of reason on foreign affairs!

7.) Allow room in your party for pro-lifers.

You don’t ever need to lose another election if you stop worshipping at the altar of Moloch. I’m completely serious about this.

Every single one of those Western European social democracies you profess to admire so much has far more stringent legal restrictions on abortion, particularly late-term ones, than we do – and they provide first-class health care and welfare services for new mothers.

The future working-class demographic shouldn’t be artificially and brutally pruned with eugenic family-planning policies designed by the upper class, and we’re not monstrous misogynists or the enemies of women for saying so.

8.) Stop hating on gun owners. 

I’m all for common-sense restrictions and gun licenses that keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the same way and for the same reason we keep cars out of the hands of drunks.

But guns are a tool, just like cars are. The fact of owning a gun doesn’t make one a child murderer or a brute or a troglodyte.

But generally:

9.) Stop telling people you disagree with to FOAD. 

Dismissing people as ‘racists’ for failing to conform to the latest highfalutin academic missives on white privilege might make you feel good and virtuous, but for obvious reasons, it’s not good politics in any sort of representative system of government.

Same with calling people ‘sexists’ or ‘bros’ for daring to oppose a woman with bad policies, on the grounds that her policies suck

Same with telling millennials that they’re being spoiled brats for supporting a politician with actual values. 

Same with ganging up on people on Twitter to shout them down for tacky fashion choices

Same with trying to get people fired from their jobs for disagreeing with you. 

Cut that classist bullshit right out.

Well, there it is. 

If you don’t want this to happen again, then may I humbly suggest you get back to the values that you once stood for. 

Bernie Sanders, who would have wiped the floor with Trump in the states you needed to win, left you a signpost, even if he didn’t take that road all the way.

It’s up to you to follow it now.



Thursday, 3 November 2016

Dangerous Myths About Trump That Some Progressives Cling To, by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Even now, in the last days of this horrendous campaign, we’re amazed by fervent assertions coming from some progressives about Donald Trump. Here are three key myths:

Myth #1: “Trump can’t win.”

The popularity of this illusion has waned, but still remains remarkably stubborn.

This week the polling has moved in Trump’s direction. Several battleground states that were close now seem to be trending toward Trump, including Ohio.

A couple weeks ago, the respected forecasters at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website gave Trump a 12 or 13 percent chance of becoming president. Now it’s a 1 in 3 chance.

Myth #2: “If Trump becomes president, he’ll be blocked from implementing the policies he’s been advocating.” 

Some progressives have apparently convinced themselves of this comforting thought. 

One longtime Green Party activist claimed in an email a few days ago: “Trump would not be allowed by the ruling class or by us to actually implement his retrograde domestic social policies.” 

Such claims from self-described radicals involve a notable faith in the ruling class that we don’t share. 

And let’s not have an inflated view of our own power to block the policies of a President Trump.

Myth #3: “Trump couldn’t do much damage as president.” (Variation on Myth #3: “Trump is no more dangerous in the White House than Hillary Clinton.”) 

If progressives watched Fox News a bit more, they’d understand that Trump plans to appoint to the most powerful policy positions of the U.S. government individuals who are as whacked out as he is: Rudy Giuliani, Dr. Ben Carson, war fanatic John Bolton, to name just a few.

And hundreds like them to other top posts. (Clinton surrounds herself with corporatists and hawks, but overall they’re a less virulent strain.) 

A Trump presidency -- made possible by his demagogic appeals to racism, misogyny, immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia -- would empower the worst elements of U.S. society. 

That’s why an official Ku Klux Klan newspaper, the Crusader, devoted its latest front page entirely to supporting Trump. 

These forces are already in motion, as Politico on Wednesday with this headline:

“White nationalists plot Election Day show of force; KKK, neo-Nazis and militias plan to monitor urban polling places and suppress the black vote.” 

We have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. 

Neither one of us live in a swing state (we’re residents of New York and California where Clinton leads in each state by 20 percent); in our “safe states,” we’re voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. 

But if we lived in a swing state, we would vote for Clinton as the only way to prevent a Trump presidency

Because it’s the state-by-state electoral votes, not the popular votes, that determine who will inhabit the White House. 

As Noam Chomsky said in May:

“If Clinton is nominated and it comes to a choice between Clinton and Trump, in a swing state, a state where it’s going to matter which way you vote, I would vote against Trump, and by elementary arithmetic, that means you hold your nose and you vote Democrat. 

“I don’t think there’s any other rational choice. Abstaining from voting or, say, voting for, say, a candidate you prefer, a minority candidate, just amounts to a vote for Donald Trump, which I think is a devastating prospect.”

Which are the crucial swing states? 

The latest assessment from FiveThirtyEight points toward these dozen states as potentially decisive: Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Other pollsters include Arizona, Georgia and Iowa as battleground states.

We need clarity and not mythology about the threat of a Trump presidency.

Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon are the co-founders of

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Amazing, Inspiring and Dedicated Workers, by Archie MacKay

“We don’t believe that County Hall has made any attempt to properly explain the value of Teaching Assistants to parents and the public, and we just want a fair opportunity to tell people why we feel the need to take this action.” 

In their own words, that was the brief reason why two of County Durham’s Teaching Assistants (TAs) wanted to talk to me as ballot papers on strike action were being posted to the majority of the county’s TAs.

“Durham County Council (DCC) have even taken to calling us ‘classroom helpers’ in their press statements now, instead of ‘teaching assistants’ – even though that’s what we’ve been called since our jobs were re-evaluated by the same council in 2012 – because they want to distance us from the word ‘teaching’,” said Mary, who asked that her real name not be used, as did her colleague Ann.

“But the reality,” added Ann, “is that we aren’t just Teaching Assistants, we are assistant teachers.” 

“A lot of people think that we are in school to make sure classrooms are tidy before and after lessons and that’s the extent of our role.

“They don’t realise that not only are most of us educated to degree level, but we are also highly experienced and trained in specialised areas.

“For example, I have expertise in autism and looking after other children with special needs. That’s not training that teachers have received, so they are absolutely reliant on us to help children with complex requirements.”

The list of specialisms is wide ranging, from speech and language therapy to emotional counselling, allowing TAs to work one to one with children who may need additional support and freeing teachers to work with the remaining pupils.

“We also regularly plan and even take classes when teachers are absent,” said Mary.

“I know of many TAs who have taken classes for several days when a teacher is off sick. We’re effectively used as teachers to save the school the cost of hiring in expensive supply teachers. 

“The reality is that our role has changed significantly over the decades, as has the role of teachers, and we are now a profession in our own right and should be seen as such.

“But they [Durham County Council] just don’t value us for the work we do, which is ridiculous given some County Councillors are school governors and even ex-teachers.

“They know better than most how important TAs are to the proper functioning of a school.” 

Durham County Council, after a consultation in which TAs claim they have not been listened to, has decided to sack the majority of the county’s teaching assistants after they overwhelmingly voted to reject a compensation offer which would delay for two years life-changing pay cuts of up to 23%.

The ‘compensation’ is in fact an offer to retain their current salary - already up to £4,000 a year less than other local authorities in the North East - for two more years before the swingeing cuts are introduced.

The authority claims that this exercise is not about money, but about equality

That is to say, it is not a cost-cutting exercise by a council which says it must find £30m of savings this year, and £64m between now and 2020. 

They say that TAs are paid as if they work all year when in fact they only work term time. As a result, the council is open to equality claims from staff who are already on term-time only contracts such as school cleaners and cooks.

They deny that teaching assistants are already employed on term-time only contracts that, historically, were divided by 12 and paid in monthly instalments so that TAs did not have to sign on during the school holidays. 

The authority has already admitted that, in the years since the last review of teaching assistant pay, in 2012, when TAs lost their SEN allowance, there has not been one solitary equal pay claim.

It says instead that, even though no one sought to launch an action in the past four years, there are several claims awaiting the outcome of this exercise.

One might be tempted to ask whether the phrase ‘equal pay claims’ was first mooted by a disgruntled employee, or whether it was identified within the local authority legal department as a convenient Trojan horse for future cost cutting.

Certainly, the authority does not talk about the £3m that will be saved from the schools budget. It doesn’t say whether next year that saving will be identified as a surplus and clawed back in a future budget.

Neither does it report the projected long term savings this measure will recoup – both in wages and pensions.

Somewhat ironically, the projected £3m savings from firing and re-hiring 2,700 teaching assistants is almost exactly equivalent to the combined salary shared by Durham County Council’s 28 Chief Officers and Heads of Service.

County Durham Teaching Assistant Activists Committee (CDTAAC), the group formed within the TA workforce to challenge the council’s attack on their pay, used the authority’s own pay calculator to publish details of the financial impact on a Level 3 TA earning £18,560 a year with over 5 years experience. 

Under the new terms, if such an employee was to work an additional 4.5 hours per week, they would still lose £154.66 per month or £1,856 per annum – 10% of their salary.

However, if the same TA is unable to work the additional time and instead has to remain on their current 32.5 hours per week contract, that person will lose a whopping £323.96 a month, £3,887 a year and see their salary slashed by 21%, reducing their earnings to just £14,672.

By contrast, the equivalent person, working just a dozen miles away in Darlington, under another local authority, will be earning up to £23,061.

The equally devastating effect on pensions – and the substantial savings to be made by DCC – are easy to see, even if the council don’t want to mention them. 

“If it’s not about money, why are they enforcing a pay cut of up to 23%?” asks Ann. 

 The county are yet to provide an adequate reply, saying only that they have “tried really hard to mitigate the impact of changes linked to paying staff for the hours they actually work.” 

“They haven’t ‘tried really hard’,” suggests Ann. 

“The fact is they haven’t tried at all. If they had the will, they could very easily re-grade TAs so they keep their current salaries, but they haven’t.” 

“We’re not asking for more money,” says Mary, “We’re just asking to be paid what we currently earn. All councillors have to do is re-grade us so that we keep our salaries.

“It’s a simple solution that will completely resolve this dispute, but for a county that says they’ve tried ‘really hard’ and who claim they want to ‘mitigate the impact of changes’ to our contracts, they haven’t even entertained that option.” 

There are very few people in any profession who could cushion the financial impact of a 23% pay cut, let alone some of the lowest paid workers in the country, already earning well below the national average and expected to budget for a pay cut which in many cases is more than their monthly rent.

There is already an example of a recently bought home being sold in fear of mortgage payments becoming unaffordable. 

“There aren’t many of us who can live on between £300 and £500 a month being taken out of our wages, but on top of that, we have to listen to Durham County Council constantly trying to devalue the work that we do,” said Ann. 

 “In fact, many of us would be better off quitting and going on the dole, where we would be financially better off,” is her alarming conclusion. 

“All that we ask,” they both reiterate, “is that Durham County Council values us for the work that we do, and doesn’t drive us out of a profession that we love.” 

Indeed, ‘value’ is a word that has become rooted in this dispute, with the hashtag ValueUs used by the TAs in their highly effective social media campaigns, which have brought them to the notice of national media, including one of the country’s leading film directors, Ken Loach, who mentioned their campaign during a recent interview published in the Guardian

The TAs’ campaigning has also finally persuaded Unison, the union that represents the majority of teaching assistants, to throw its full weight behind the dispute. 

TAs had been critical of a perceived lack of support from Unison, but last week its General Secretary, Dave Prentis arrived in Durham to address a packed Miners Hall, saying: 

“I hope and expect Durham TAs will vote for strike action next week. When schools are closed or short-staffed by industrial action, perhaps then Durham Council will appreciate their immense value. 

“I know that communities across Durham understand what a difference teaching assistants make to the lives of the children they work with. 

“Whether they’re learning to talk or learning to read, TAs are there from before the first bell and still there long after the last child has gone home. 

“Together we can end the injustice of massive pay cuts for those who care for our kids. 

“Together, we can and will show Durham Council they have messed with the wrong group of amazing, inspiring and dedicated workers.” 

It remains to be seen whether Durham County Councillors are sobered enough to return to the negotiating table by the image of such highly skilled workers languishing on benefits while schools, parents and, most critically, children are robbed of their valuable experience.

If not, it will be more than the county’s Teaching Assistants who are the poorer for it.

You can contribute to the County Durham Teaching Assistants strike fund here.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Small c Defence of Corbyn, by Adam Young

British politics is built on being a two-party system, with little room for a third party except in specific seats.

Out of necessity, then, to be active in politics and hope to get some change done, one has to pick one party or the other.

At this time, it is Conservative or Labour. Those are the options. Of course, that does not mean that I believe that people should stick to those parties dogmatically.

What I am suggesting is simply that a voter should be realistic about prospects of winning elections and should actually study the policies of both parties before making a choice, although this is not a criticism of non-voting.

As such, in my view when it comes to British politics at the moment, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is the much saner choice from a small “c” conservative perspective.

Not once have I felt that Theresa May believed in what she said. The Conservative Party Conference of last year was filled to the brim with speeches that led many commentators to identify a leftward move by the party. “Reclaiming the centre,” or something to that effect.

Dan Hodges, when he was still at the Telegraph, dubbed Cameron at that time, “the New Leader of the British Left.”

May’s speech, on the other hand, was considered the token right-wing speech. It discussed the negatives of mass immigration. She averred that even if Britain could handle mass immigration, it “shouldn’t”. 

This is all well and good, if you ask me. However, anyone who has basic knowledge of immigration will understand that to prevent mass immigration, one must leave the European Union.

So when the time came for MP’s to come out in support for leaving the EU, one would expect May to jump all on board onto the Leave campaign. Yet she supported Remain. 

Now if May truly cared about reducing immigration, as she so fervently made out in her speech, then would she not back leaving the EU? 

May is a political chameleon, much like Tony Blair or David Cameron. She couldn’t name the philosophy she subscribes to, much like other members of the “Third Way” movement. 

I find this more dangerous than someone who has their own dangerous ideology. You know where you where stand with them.

But those of the supposed “Third Way”, which is not an original idea as Blair made out, are impossible to define and almost always appeal to the hedonistic and knee-jerk aspects of society.

Her purported support for grammar schools, seems to me to be nothing more than bold talk to appease the actual conservatives in her party. Much like Cameron’s laughable promise about “a bonfire of the quangos” in 2010.

I am doubtful that grammar schools are anything more than talk from May, who is trying to incorporate some conservative aspects into her perfectly coordinated look.

Her talk of “compassionate conservatism” and of “an economy that works for all” is the same as the “moderniser” terms used by Cameron and Osborne, and the New Labour spin of Blair. 

May is the continuation of this political farce that has ruined our humbled institutions and much of our civil society and liberty.

She is much the heir to Blair as Cameron said that he was.

This leads me to Corbyn. 

Corbyn is not that continuation. Corbyn is a break from what is considered the political narrative. That can only lead to good.

Corbyn’s greatest achievement so far has been the systematic destruction of the Blairites in his party, preventing them from ever again gaining a foothold in Labour.

One Blairite party was dangerous enough, but having two, with those as the two major parties, would have made it practically impossible to prevent national decline.

Furthermore, Corbyn is the only mainstream leader of any political party who openly disagrees with what is our current mainstream foreign policy consensus.

That is, of blindly following Washington neoconservatives who happily bomb Middle Eastern countries in a perpetual war for American exceptionalism and the mighty crusade for universal democracy.

Additionally, though we disagree on the solutions to such problems, we agree that neoliberalism is a broken ideology that will eventually lead to an economic hardship in the near future.

Certain elements of Corbyn I find rather disagreeable, of course. I am a Colonel Blimp, after all. But I can find comprises with most of them.

He is an egalitarian, I am not. But that is purely an argument of ideas rather than policies themselves.

He has happily talked to Gerry Adams, a man I personally dislike, in the past. But in the end, so have Prince Charles and David Cameron, and, when given the chance, so will Theresa May.

He did not sing the National Anthem, but I can think of few people whom I know for sure would know all the lyrics to God Save the Queen

The EU referendum was possibly the only real issue I could take with Corbyn. Critiquing May for backing Remain whilst not critiquing Corbyn for also backing Remain would be hypocritical of me.

But they were in two different situations. May could easily have supported leaving the EU, as did Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and other Cabinet Ministers.

But she did not. Not out of care for the issue, but out of a desire to protect her position in power.

Corbyn, on the other hand, was leading a party in which the vast majority of his MPs were hoping to see him make a mistake, in order to justify a Leadership contest.

If Corbyn had supported Leave, then Labour MPs against him would have argued he was going against the party’s “values” (New Labour values), and would have claimed that he had weakened the case for staying in the EU.

So Corbyn, out of necessity, was required to support the EU, whether he wanted to or not.

Nevertheless, although both are of course flawed, when I weigh what I think about May and Corbyn, I think that in the current climate I could only safely put myself on the side of Corbyn.

Corbyn is option closer to my views, and the only one that I could expect to deliver what he had promised. May is a purveyor of political chitchat, with bold talk, but without much action or delivery.

Corbyn is what he says that he is. That is a rarity in politics, and he is all the better for it.

Monday, 19 September 2016

AFL-CIO to Planet Earth: Drop Dead, by Norman Solomon

At a meeting with the deputy political director of the AFL-CIO during my campaign for Congress, she looked across her desk and told me that I could get major union support by coming out in favor of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

That was five years ago.

Since then, the nation’s biggest labor federation has continued to serve the fossil fuel industry. Call it union leadership for a dead planet.

Last week, the AFL-CIO put out a statement from its president, Richard Trumka, under the headline “Dakota Access Pipeline Provides High-Quality Jobs.”

The rhetoric was standard flackery for energy conglomerates, declaring “it is fundamentally unfair to hold union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.”

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is steadfast against the Dakota Access pipeline: “We will not rest until our lands, people, waters, and sacred sites are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline.”

In sharp contrast to the AFL-CIO’s top echelon, some unions really want to restrain climate change and are now vocally opposing the Dakota pipeline.

Communications Workers of America has expressed solidarity with members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe “as they fight to protect their community, their land and their water supply.”

At National Nurses United, Co-President Jean Ross cites “an obligation to step up climate action to protect public health and the future for the generations to follow us.”

Ross said: “We commend the leaders and members of the Standing Rock Sioux, the many First Nation allies who have joined them, and the environmentalists and other supporters who have participated in the protests against the Dakota Access pipeline.”

NNU points out that “the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline would carry nearly a half million barrels of dirty crude oil every day across four states.”

Ross says that such projects “pose a continual threat to public health from the extraction process through the transport to the refinery.”

As for the AFL-CIO’s support for the pipeline, NNU’s director of environmental health and social justice was blunt.

“We’re deeply disappointed in our labor federation siding with those that would endanger and harm the land, the water, the lives of the people along the pipeline path and the health of the planet itself in the name of profits,” Fernando Losada said.

He added that the Dakota pipeline is part of “a drive to extract fossil fuel that is untenable for the future of the planet.”

The nurses union is part of the AFL-CIO, but dominant forces within the federation are committed to corporate energy priorities.

Losada said that “some elements in the AFL-CIO” have caused a stance that “is a narrow position in the alleged interests of their members for some short-term jobs.”

Compare that narrow position to a recent statement from Communications Workers of America:

“The labor movement is rooted in the simple and powerful idea of solidarity with all struggles for dignity, justice and respect.

“CWA will continue to fight against the interests of the 1% and corporate greed and firmly stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the environmental and cultural degradation of their community.”

A venerable labor song has a question for the leaders of the AFL-CIO: Which side are you on?

When it comes to planetary survival, the answer from the top of the AFL-CIO hierarchy remains: We’re on the wrong side.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of the online activist group His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Debut of Our Revolution: Great Potential. But., by Norman Solomon

While Bernie Sanders was doing a brilliant job of ripping into the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the livestreamed launch of the Our Revolution organization on Wednesday night, CNN was airing a phone interview with Hillary Clinton and MSNBC was interviewing Donald Trump’s campaign manager.

That sums up the contrast between the enduring value of the Bernie campaign and the corporate media’s fixation on the political establishment.

Fortunately, Our Revolution won’t depend on mainline media. That said, the group’s debut foreshadowed not only great potential but also real pitfalls.

Even the best election campaigns aren’t really “movements.” Ideally, campaigns strengthen movements and vice versa.

As Bernie has often pointed out, essential changes don’t come from Congress simply because of who has been elected; those changes depend on strong grassroots pressure for the long haul.

It’s all to the good that Our Revolution is encouraging progressives around the country to plan far ahead for effective electoral races, whether for school board, city council, state legislature or Congress.

Too many progressives have treated election campaigns as impulse items, like candy bars in a checkout line.

Opportunities await for campaigns that might be well-funded much as Bernie’s presidential race was funded, from many small online donations.

But except for presidential races, the politics of elections are overwhelmingly local -- and therein lies a hazard for Our Revolution.

A unified set of positions nationwide can be helpful; likewise publicity and fundraising for candidates across state borders.

But sometimes hidden in plain sight is a basic fact: National support does not win local elections. Local grassroots support does.

Backing from Our Revolution will be close to worthless unless people are deeply engaged with long-term activism in local communities -- building relationships, actively supporting a wide range of sustained progressive efforts, developing the basis for an election campaign that (win or lose on Election Day) will strengthen movements.

Sooner or later, some kind of culture clash is likely to emerge when social-change activists get involved in a serious election campaign.

Running for office involves priorities that diverge from some tendencies of movement activism (as I learned when running for Congress four years ago).

The urgencies and practicalities of election campaigns aren’t always compatible with how grassroots progressive groups tend to function.

As a 501c4 organization, Our Revolution won’t be running campaigns.

Instead, it’ll raise funds and provide support for campaigns while being legally prohibited from “coordinating” with them.

And -- most imminently with the urgent need to stop the TPP in Congress during the lame-duck session -- Our Revolution could make a big difference in pressuring lawmakers on key issues.

Overall, the livestreaming debut of Our Revolution continued a terrific legacy from the Bernie campaign of educating and agitating with vital progressive positions on such crucial matters as economic justice, institutional racism, climate change, Wall Street, corporate trade deals and health care.

But throughout Our Revolution’s livestream, war went unmentioned. So did Pentagon spending. So did corporate profiteering from the massive U.S. military budget.

In that sense, the evening was a step backward for Bernie.

After virtually ignoring foreign policy and military-related issues during his campaign’s early months last summer, he gradually criticized Hillary Clinton’s record of supporting regime change.

In early spring, during the New York primary campaign, he laudably called for evenhanded policies toward Israel and Palestinians.

Although he never delivered more than occasional and brief glancing blows at the military-industrial complex during the campaign, Bernie did offer some valuable critiques of foreign policy.

But from the debut of Our Revolution, including Bernie’s 49-minute speech, you wouldn’t have a clue that the United States is completing its fifteenth year of continuous warfare, with no end in sight.

Now, sadly, there may be a need to reactivate the petition headlined “Bernie Sanders, Speak Up: Militarism and Corporate Power Are Fueling Each Other,” which 25,000 people signed on a RootsAction webpage 12 months ago:

Senator Sanders, we are enthusiastic about your presidential campaign’s strong challenge to corporate power and oligarchy.

We urge you to speak out about how they are intertwined with militarism and ongoing war.

Martin Luther King Jr. denounced what he called ‘the madness of militarism,’ and you should do the same. 

As you said in your speech to the SCLC, ‘Now is not the time for thinking small.’ 

Unwillingness to challenge the madness of militarism is thinking small.”

As the petition page noted, Dr. King “explicitly and emphatically linked the issues of economic injustice at home with war abroad.”

In a society desperately needing “adequate funds for programs of economic equity and social justice,” the challenge remains clear:

“Overcoming militarism is just as vital as overcoming oligarchy. We won’t be able to do one without the other.”

If Bernie and Our Revolution continue to evade the present-day realities of “the madness of militarism,” their political agenda will be significantly more limited than what our revolution requires for a truly progressive future.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Clinton’s Transition Team: A Corporate Presidency Foretold, by Norman Solomon

Like other Bernie Sanders delegates in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, I kept hearing about the crucial need to close ranks behind Hillary Clinton. 

“Unity” was the watchword. But Clinton has reaffirmed her unity with corporate America.

Rhetoric aside, Clinton is showing her solidarity with the nemesis of the Sanders campaign -- Wall Street. 

The trend continued last week with the announcement that Clinton has tapped former senator and Interior secretary Ken Salazar to chair her transition team.

After many months of asserting that her support for the “gold standard” Trans-Pacific Partnership was a thing of the past -- and after declaring that she wants restrictions on fracking so stringent that it could scarcely continue -- Clinton has now selected a vehement advocate for the TPP and for fracking, to coordinate the process of staffing the top of her administration.

But wait, there’s more -- much more than Salazar’s record -- to tell us where the planning for the Hillary Clinton presidency is headed.

On the surface, it might seem like mere inside baseball to read about the transition team’s four co-chairs, described by Politico as “veteran Clinton aides Maggie Williams and Neera Tanden” along with “former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.” 

But the leaders of the transition team -- including Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, who is also president of the Clinton-Kaine Transition Project -- will wield enormous power.

“The transition team is one of the absolute most important things in the world for a new administration,” says William K. Black, who has held key positions at several major regulatory agencies such as the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

Along with “deciding what are we actually going to make our policy priorities,” the transition team will handle key questions: 

“Who will the top people be? Who are we going to vet, to hold all of the cabinet positions, and many non-cabinet positions, as well? The whole staffing of the senior leadership of the White House.”

Salazar, Podesta and the transition team’s four co-chairs is withering.

“These aren't just DNC regulars, Democratic National Committee regulars,” he said in an interview with The Real News Network.

“What you're seeing is complete domination by what used to be the Democratic Leadership Council. So this was a group we talked about in the past.

“Very, very, very right-wing on foreign policy, what they called a muscular foreign policy, which was a euphemism for invading places.

“And very, very tough on crime -- this was that era of mass incarceration that Bill Clinton pushed, and it's when Hillary was talking about black ‘superpredators,’ this myth, this so dangerous myth.”

Black added:

“And on the economic side, they were all in favor of austerity. All in favor of privatization. Tried to do a deal with Newt Gingrich to privatize Social Security. And of course, were all in favor of things like NAFTA.”

As for Hillary Clinton’s widely heralded “move to the left” in recent months, Black said that it “was purely calculated for political purposes. 

“And all of the team that's going to hire all the key people and vet the key people for the most senior positions for at least the first several years of what increasingly looks likely to be a Clinton administration are going to be picked by these people, who are the opposite of progressive.”

In that light, Salazar is a grotesquely perfect choice to chair the transition team. 

fter all of Clinton’s efforts to present herself as a foe of the big-money doors that revolve between influence peddlers and government officials in Washington, her choice of Salazar -- a partner at the lobbying powerhouse WilmerHale since 2013 -- belies her smooth words. 

That choice means the oil and gas industry just hit a political gusher.

On both sides of the revolving doors, the industry has been ably served by Salazar, whose work included arguing for the Keystone XL pipeline. His support for fracking has been so ardent that it led him two years ago to make a notably fanciful claim: “We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone.”

Salazar is part of a clear pattern. Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine for vice president underscored why so many progressives distrust her. 

Kaine was among just one-quarter of Democrats in the Senate who voted last year to fast track the TPP. 

When he was Virginia’s governor, Kaine said that “I strongly support” a so-called right-to-work law that is anathema to organized labor.

A few years ago he faulted fellow Democrats who sought to increase taxes for millionaires.

Clinton announced the Kaine pick while surely knowing that many progressives would find it abhorrent.

A week beforehand, the Bernie Delegates Network released the results of a survey of Sanders delegates showing that 88 percent said they would find selection of Kaine “unacceptable.” 

Only 3 percent of the several hundred respondents said it would be “acceptable.”

The first big post-election showdown will be over the TPP in the lame-duck session of Congress.

Clinton’s spokesman Brian Fallon reiterated a week ago that “she is against the TPP before the election and after the election.” 

But her choices for running mate and transition team have sent a very different message. 

And it’s likely that she is laying groundwork to convey anemic “opposition” that will be understood on Capitol Hill as a wink-and-nod from a president-elect who wouldn’t mind “aye” votes for the TPP.

Blessed with an unhinged and widely deplored Republican opponent, Hillary Clinton may be able to defeat him without doing much to mend fences with alienated Sanders voters.

But Clinton’s smooth rhetoric should not change the fact that -- on a vast array of issues -- basic principles will require progressives to fight against her actual policy goals, every step of the way.

Norman Solomon, national coordinator of the Bernie Delegates Network, is co-founder of the online activist group His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.