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Monthly Archives: December 2015



Image by Tak Toyoshima

December 29, 2015


As the new year approaches, it’s the tradition for journalists who have the honor of writing a regular column for the general public to prognosticate about the year to come.

Well I am a journalist. I have a regular column. But I’m not going to make any predictions this year.

I’m just going to ask a single question: Do you want to live in a democracy?

I want you to take some time by yourself, then I want you to sit down and really think about my question. Do you want to live in a country where you have a say about what happens in your daily life? A say about what happens where you live, where you work, and where you hang out. Do you want to live in a country where everyone has that say? Regardless of their race, sex, or sexual identity. Regardless of where they were born. Regardless of whether they are poor or rich. Regardless of whether they believe in a god or gods or none at all.

Do you want to live in a country where everyone has freedom of speech? Freedom of expression? Freedom to participate in politics? Freedom to hold and act on any of a broad spectrum of political views?

Really think about it. Because I’m concerned that too many people don’t think about democracy much lately.

And with a Presidential election looming in which most of the candidates are awful, and with some of the candidates clearly interested in moving away from even the modestly (and highly flawed) democratic form of government we have toward outright fascism—an authoritarian system specifically organized against democracy and equality—I think my question is worth some consideration.

Think about every institution in this society with the tradition of voting. Government at all levels, sure, but also political parties, neighborhood associations, benefit societies, community service organizations, clubs, co-operatives, labor unions, and some significant religious groups. Democratic organization is built into the fibre of this nation. Yet the core democratic impulse to participate in collective decision-making is withering away in many ways—replaced by a sort of dispirited individualism. The internet, ostensibly built to enhance democracy, may actually be harming it by increasing the power of unelected technocrats to determine the direction of key institutions.

Important decisions increasingly get made over our heads by corporate leaders in tandem with government staffers and politicians that are absolutely convinced they know how to “fix” societal problems without meaningful public input. All while allowing a small number of people to make tremendous profits at the expense of the rest of populace. Without genuine discussion, debate, or voting. They are enabled by technology that allows them a degree of social control undreamed of by history’s worst dictators to date.

These developments point to the very real danger that this layer of new oligarchs will use their money, power, and connections to simply drop the pretense of democracy sometime in the near future and start ruling by fiat. Unless Americans—and immigrants and refugees who wish to join us, and allied institutions and nations the world over—decide to revive our democratic traditions and stop the descent into an autocratic abyss. From which humanity may never emerge in this age of ecological crisis.

So after you’ve thought about my question, and talked it over with friends and family, if you decide that you do want to live in a democracy I’d like you to look for people and organizations that share that belief. And to start working to expand democracy in every part of your lives. In 2016, and in every New Year’s Day to come. My simple admonition to you all.

And don’t forget to party, too.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.



Image by Tak Toyoshima

December 21, 2015


Popular culture always tells us a lot about the spirit of the time in which it was created. So when three movies get released featuring the same little-known supernatural character in the same year, it’s safe to say that something new is running through America’s collective unconsciousness.

And this holiday season, that something is stern. It’s righteous. It’s Krampus.

Yes, St. Nick’s goatlike pal himself. For the uninitiated, in parts of Europe—especially in alpine villages in Austria—Santa Claus is the jolly guy Americans are already familiar with. He gives toys and treats to all the good little girls and boys. But when it comes to naughty kids, it’s all about Santa’s demonic companion Krampus—who hunts them down, whips them with a bundle of sticks, chains up the really bad apples, and drags them off to hell.

Unless you’re from Austria, the first time that you might have heard of Krampus was probably by watching a December 2013 “American Dad!” episode. Still, shortly after the show aired, US awareness of the pugnacious personality seemingly returned to its usual level of zero.

This year, out of nowhere, Krampus is suddenly on America’s radar in a big way (see: “Krampus,” “KRAMPUS: The Reckoning,” and “A Christmas Horror Story”). So I’m thinking all the sudden exposure for an archaic European folk monster could have something to do with the fact that Americans are feeling like there are a bunch of naughty people and institutions in serious need of some festive correction hereabouts.

And why not? Nationally, making a 2015 naughty list is no challenge at all. Just look at most of the Presidential candidates. From open fascists like Trump 2.0 to neoliberals like Clinton—all backed by Wall Street and a bunch of supremely naughty billionaires—it’s like: naughty, naughtier, naughtiest. So Krampus should pretty much drag off the whole lot—and maybe let Sanders off with a light switching for his militarist foreign policy, and keep him here on Earth to do a better job of running the country than anyone else who conceivably has a shot at the Oval Office next year.

Here in Massachusetts, deciding who to turn in actually takes thought. So I checked with friends on social media and quickly drew up a short list of our baddest local apples. And I’m happy to pass it on to the K man right now. In hopes that he’ll appear and apply cloven hooves to backsides later this week.

For starters, anyone who had anything to do with pushing a Boston 2024 Olympics—from John Fish to Shirley Leung—is naughty. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, already naughty for his role in the Summer Games debacle, is also naughty for not acting faster to fully replace the Long Island homeless shelter and affiliated treatment centers that his administration shuttered last year in the midst of a growing homelessness crisis. And for a number of other infractions.

The Boston Police Department is naughty for engaging in racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk practices that have disproportionately targeted Black and Latino communities for years. Then trying to brush off a damning ACLU report on the matter this summer. And basically succeeding with the help of a very naughty Boston mainstream press. Who just can’t write enough glowing fluff about the BPD to satisfy their naughty (and largely white suburban) audiences.

The Democrat-dominated Mass legislature is naughty for joining Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and paving the way for privatizing the MBTA. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food giants are naughty for paying their Bay State workers sweatshop wages—and fighting tooth-and-nail to stop them from unionizing. Retail outlets like Primark and Walmart are naughty on the same grounds.

Hardly an exhaustive list. Plus right-wingers won’t find much to agree with. Because there’s good reason to think that the horned one leans left. Both the fascists who ruled Austria between 1934 and 1938, and the Nazis who followed them until 1945, banned Krampus. And they wouldn’t have done that if they thought witches and socialists and free-thinkers were first in line for some magical non-consensual bondage every winter solstice.

But hey, this is fun for the whole family! Make your own naughty list. Have a Krampus party and read it out loud. Then wait for all the sweet holiday retribution to start. And look forward to a much more compassionate (and chastened) Commonwealth in the new year.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. He has a bundle of sticks and is willing to use it.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Image by Kent Buckley

December 16, 2015


On Saturday, one important global process ended and another began. The process that ended manifested in the form of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The process that began—or more correctly, accelerated—manifested in cities all over the world. Here in Boston, it took the form of Jobs, Justice and Climate—a rally and march to “defend New England’s future.”

Over 2,000 people attended the action last Saturday. A fine turnout by current standards, and the largest regional climate justice rally in recent memory. The organizers—representing a coalition of nearly 150 labor, social justice and environmental organizations —are to be commended. As are their 600,000-plus colleagues across the globe. Including the Paris climate activists who have been harassed and detained by the French security state in the aftermath of the tragic November 13 attacks by supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. As if people exercising their democratic rights to take to the street to stop capitalism from destroying the planet have anything in common with people who slaughtered dozens to push Western states into precisely that sort of undemocratic reaction.

The UN-brokered climate justice process launched at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro ended in failure. The so-called Paris Agreement that 195 participating countries negotiated this month at best still leaves the door open to the possibility of a real climate pact in the future, and at worst is just an empty PR move by powerful nations and multinational corporations intent on continuing their carbon-burning business as usual at any cost. Built, as it is, on non-binding voluntary commitments without real enforcement mechanisms.

If there is ever to be a real pact to stop global warming, it will only come about if the grassroots democratic process—which started years before the 1992 Earth Summit—makes it happen. That process must take center stage now, and should only finish when its activists come home “with their shields or on them”—to paraphrase an old saying attributed to ancient Spartan women by Plutarch.

That is a tall order to be sure.

Here in New England, in addition to the work by a growing number of climate justice organizations and institutions that goes on day-to-day—collecting solid climate research, conducting popular education, training new activists, reaching out through the media, pressuring climate criminals and lobbying the government at all levels—there must be a constant and ever-larger series of public political actions to demand the swift transition to a carbon-free economy before it’s too late.

It’s important to keep the scale of the task in mind. There were over 14,000,000 people in New England in 2010. There are more now. There will be more still every year until at least mid-century—assuming food supplies remain stable, which we cannot assume as the impact of global warming worsens. A significant percentage of those people need to be mobilized and kept mobilized for years if there is to be a climate justice movement strong enough to overcome the vast panoply of money and political power arrayed against it. Those growing numbers must then be deployed to push through binding local, state, and regional climate agreements that pave the way for binding national and global climate agreements.  

So, a rally of 2,000 is great. But let’s put that in perspective. One can see 2,000 people at the average high school football game. Or at a large religious service. Or at a large nightclub. It’s just not a very large gathering by the standards of our era. Even if each of those 2,000 people directly influenced 10 people to become (or remain) activists—no mean feat—that’s only 20,000 people. Not an unreasonable figure considering the many organizations endorsing the Boston rally. But not enough to fill Fenway Park either. Let alone Gillette Stadium.

It’s true that those 2,000 rally attendees influenced many more through the press coverage they got for the rally. And that 20,000 people can influence many many more with available digital media. But spreading ideas does not automatically impel people to act with the necessary speed, frequency and force to forestall the climate disaster that even now—in this hottest year on record—is starting to take hold as science predicted.

Political organizing is tough work … until it isn’t. Until a movement that dwarfs anything ever seen in human history rises and sweeps through the entire population. Getting to the point where organizing isn’t tough is very difficult indeed. And it’s impossible to predict the arrival of such a mass movement. It will either happen or it won’t. There’s no telling when. Making it all the more important that today’s environmental activists think really really big going forward.

New England is only one small region of the United States with less than 5 percent of its population. And the US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But much of its political and economic power. Therefore, the work that climate activists do in this region and nation today is potentially more effective than work their counterparts do outside such centers of power. That is cause for hope. And it should encourage activists in Boston and around our region to redouble their efforts towards a future where New England—and the world—will no longer have to be defended against global warming. Because global warming will have been stopped by human action. As it was started by human action.

Maybe then humanity will be able to survive to the next stage of our evolution … a global civilization built on principles of democracy, equality, social justice, peace, and ecology. Ad astra per aspera. Through hardship to the stars.

It is that vision that has kept me politically active since the 1980s. Perhaps it will inspire some of you, too. If fellow climate justice activists would like to talk in more depth about the issues I’m raising here, I can be reached—as ever—at

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. He is a longtime climate justice activist.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Image by Kent Buckley

December 8, 2015


Boston Business Journal’s Craig Douglas made an interesting criticism of Raise Up Massachusetts last week (“Excited about the proposed millionaires tax? Cut off your nose while you’re at it,” Dec. 4). For those who missed it, RUM is a progressive labor-community coalition that just collected over 155,000 signatures to field a constitutional amendment referendum in 2018 that will create an additional 4 percent income tax for residents who make more than $1 million a year.

RUM initially estimated that the new tax would generate $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion of new revenue a year if enacted in 2019. Then the state Department of Revenue recently did their own analysis, and projected that the additional revenue will be significantly higher—$1.6 billion to $2.2 billion a year.

This led BBJ’s Douglas to call foul on both the RUM numbers and the DoR numbers. The problem? BBJanalysis shows that projections by amendment advocates and the DoR aren’t taking into account that the number of Mass millionaires fell in 2013 and 2014—leading him to point out that the amount of tax money the amendment will raise could be far lower than expected.

Certainly food for thought. And if Douglas had stopped there he would probably have landed on solid ground. But then he overplayed his hand, arguing that if the amendment passes we can “expect more millionaires—and their earnings—to flee the state like a bunch of flying monkeys.”

That’s just a truism. The kind of spectre that anti-tax jihadis are fond of raising whenever there’s the slightest danger of tax equity in America. And Douglas offered no citation to back up the claim.

Turns out the Commonwealth’s very own UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute did a study called “Raising Revenue from High-Income Households: Should States Continue to Place the Lowest Tax Rates on Those with the Highest Incomes?” in 2012 that states “… the research reviewed in this study suggests that modest tax increases on affluent households are unlikely to make substantial changes in their work effort or entrepreneurship or make them any more likely to leave the state.”

Also, Douglas seems to have forgotten his own article from Oct. 22, “The BBJ Wealth Report: The towns and cities with the most millionaires,” in which he stated that the falling numbers of millionaires in the state were the result of rich people accelerating “income-related activities in 2011 and 2012 in anticipation of the pending rate hikes on high-income earners” and “deferred asset sales and related income-triggering events to avoid the higher rates, hoping instead for a more-favorable tax climate following the 2016 national elections.”

In other words, they played games to make sure that they could report as little income as possible after 2012. Nowhere did he say they left the state, however. Or even that they really lost money.

And that’s basically what I would expect rich people to do if the amendment passes. They’ll play games that allow them to report as little income as possible. Some will drop off the millionaire rolls for a time. But the state will gain a good chunk of desperately needed extra income we’re not getting from any of the various neoliberal shell games that legislators have been playing to avoid taxing the rich. The flying monkeys, meanwhile, will remain safely in their roosts.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.