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Monthly Archives: November 2016



November 27, 2016


There is little agreement on the broad American left. But the ascension of Donald Trump to the top of the political heap caused a virtual panic from the most conservative corporate Democrats to the hardest core anarchists and communists. Which resulted in a sudden, and probably brief, unity of purpose across the various factions. Then, quickly converting their excess emotional energy into useful activity as is typical in times of crisis, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets in the days after the election to protest the very idea that a controversial billionaire businessman and reality TV personality is now president of the United States. Including many Democrats who have never attended a protest in their lives.

This a welcome development. Many important social movements perennially suffer from a lack of grassroots participation. So the sudden entry of huge numbers of infuriated mainstream Dems to oppositional politics is positive on the balance.

If, that is, these new entrants remain willing to take direct action in defense of democracy and fight for a host of necessary reforms—from serious attempts to curb global warming to winning real national healthcare to putting racist police under community control.

As long as the new Republican administration remains somewhere within the bounds of traditional American politics, and doesn’t attempt to crush protest outright, then there is a lot of room for the full panoply of transformative social movements to maneuver.

Assuming Trump is unable to solve the central contradiction of his campaign—making big promises to both fellow CEOs and working Americans alike—there is a strong chance that the Republicans will lose control of one or both Congressional houses in two years, and the presidency in four.

Aside from conservatives gaining as many as three seats on the Supreme Court in that period, much of any damage that Trump may do can then be undone. It’s likely that the Democrats will be back in power by 2021.

The problem being, which Democrats? Will it be a newly-emboldened grassroots-led social democratic party? Or will it be the same neoliberal center-right party that was just resoundingly defeated after failing to heed the populist feedback it was receiving from significant parts of its base?

I hope that the former possibility wins out. At the moment, however, it’s far more probable that the currently discredited Democratic leadership will use its power and connections to simply reassert its authority, raise a ton more money, and work to win back Congressional majorities and the Oval Office without changing its political line a jot.

Which leaves a question for all the angry Democrats currently in the streets for social justice: Are you just fighting to get corrupt and elitist Democratic Party leaders back in command in DC? Or are you all willing to go further and fight for the establishment of genuine left-wing political alternatives in both electoral politics and in daily life?

If the recent past is any guide, many of you will stop fighting for racial justice, women’s liberation, LGBT rights, a living wage, public jobs programs, national healthcare, clean energy infrastructure, etc., the moment the Democrats win back the presidency. You’ll figure “great, everything is back to normal.”

But the politics of most leading Democrats—activist progressives like Elizabeth Warren excepted—is one that results in never-ending war, insufficient action on global warming, expanding corporate globalization, gradual privatization of successful public programs, widening poverty, and continuing the so-called Drug War, the prison-industrial complex, and racist policing.

So real social change will not occur unless grassroots Dems stay in the streets and fight their own leadership for primacy—until we can build a more fair, just, and humane society.

That strategy will necessitate either taking over the Democratic Party and forcing it left, or starting a major new left party. In addition to winning myriad (and quite necessary) issue-specific campaigns.

If all that can be accomplished, America and the planet have a chance. If not? If the Republicans hold power for many years? Or the corporate Democrats come back to power and continue allowing Wall Street to drive national policy?

Then we’re going to be in a very bad place very fast.

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

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:
iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube




November 17, 2016


In early November, I wrote the following commentary for the third episode of the Beyond Boston video news digest that my organization produces monthly in collaboration with several Boston area public access TV stations. Given the nature of the political crisis sparked by the victory of President-elect Trump, I think it’s fitting that I run it as my first post-election column.

In contemporary Massachusetts, we don’t typically have as many open attacks on immigrants and refugees as some other states one could name. But we all know that anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and (lately) anti-Muslim sentiments, are always among us. Just a quick glance toward central Mass shows the scale of the problem—lurking beneath the surface of polite discourse like a toxic iceberg. Because in the town of Dudley, a recent effort by the Islamic Society of Greater Worcester to purchase a 55 acre abandoned farm to use as a cemetery for its co-religionists, has been stopped cold by local officials fielding a series of excuses that make it clear that deep-seated prejudice is actually at the heart of their protests.

Now it’s understandable, if misguided, that some Americans might feel threatened by more people arriving to our shores as immigrants and refugees every year—given ongoing economic instability. And it’s legitimate to express reasoned critiques of Islam, or indeed any religion, in our democratic society. Although it’s more typical to hear illogical and paranoid ones.

But before the anxiety and the critiques, it’s imperative for citizens to remember a couple of important facts. First, unless you’re Native American—and I mean basically full-blood Native American, Hawaiian, or Alaskan (or an African-American whose ancestors were enslaved and dragged here in chains)—then your family crashed a country that used to belong to someone else. The United States was stolen from those original inhabitants by a combination of pandemic disease, broken treaties, forced removal, and outright genocide. So the idea that you have some inviolable moral or legal claim to this land is laughable.

Second, unless you’re a white anglo-saxon protestant—a WASP whose ancestors arrived here prior to the American Revolution—then your family was once a bunch of immigrants or refugees who were considered just as suspect and dangerous as far too many immigrants and refugees, especially Muslims, are considered by far too many Americans today. And since those old line WASPs controlled politics in the US well into the 20th century, guess what some of them did from time to time? They banned or attempted to ban immigration from most nations on the planet, and also led vicious riots against many people that did not fit into their narrow vision for this land of opportunity. Sadly, they were eventually joined in that series of unfortunate crusades by members of other ethnic groups who had gradually managed to establish themselves as American over time.

By way of example, let’s take a look at my family. We’re Greek. Both my mother’s and father’s sides came here over a century ago. Now today, when people think about Greek-Americans, media stars like Maria Menounos and Zach Galifianakis pop to mind. The associations are generally positive, and no one would ever think to question our credentials as good Americans. But in my grandparents’ day, in many parts of the US, Greeks were literally compared to vermin and contagious diseases. Newspapers of the time talked about our strange ways and inherent criminality and said we would never fit in with “Anglo-Saxon civilization.” They called for our expulsion and worse. Greeks were the victims of nativist riots that drove us out of cities like South Omaha, Nebraska on more than one occasion. Yet, despite all that, today I have relatives that would be more than happy to let Donald Trump ban all Muslims from entering the US.

Sound familiar?! If not, then you need to take closer look at your family history. And after you’ve done that, you need to do your level best to stop yourself from tarring entire nationalities and religious groups—especially people fleeing wars and tyranny at least partially caused by American foreign policy—with the broad brush of the bigot. Every society in history has had its share of zealots, criminals, and terrorists. Including ours. So the mere fact of their presence in any group of immigrants or refugees doesn’t negate that group’s humanity. If you don’t want to turn into one of those big bads yourself in defense of an American purity that never existed, then you need to treat everyone seeking shelter on our shores as a human being worthy of basic respect—and afford them a chance to become a part of our messy yet still vital democratic experiment.

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

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube





November 8, 2016


This is not a dream. For your whole life, you’ve seen images on screens showing brutal political struggles in faraway places like Ukraine and Yemen. And in the rare moments you’ve paid attention to the suffering you’ve seen, you’ve asked yourself, “How could things get so bad that people started shooting at fellow citizens?” Now you’re worried such madness will happen here.

Fortunately, things have not devolved to that point in American politics since that little dustup we call the Civil War. Yes, this has been the ugliest presidential race in recent memory. Yes, it has gone outside the pale of what has been considered acceptable political behavior in the last few decades. But there is nothing even approaching a violent mass uprising on the horizon of American politics. There have barely been any physical altercations at all in the race that finishes today — and the few that erupted didn’t get far beyond the level of shoving matches. So it’s important to keep things in perspective.

However, the danger of political instability has not passed. It has only just begun — regardless of which candidate wins. Because our already tenuous democratic traditions are under threat, and humanity is on the precipice of extinction. The first problem is intimately tied to the second. So it’s critical we get our political house in order if we’re going to be able to grapple with the linked crises that face us. And that means everyone who believes in democracy is going to have to get involved in the following three key battles in the coming years — no matter who is in the Oval Office in January.

Democratize America. Contrary to the official narrative, the US has never really been a democracy. It’s fair to say that we’ve made great progress toward democratization across the arc of our short history. But this nation has always been an oligarchy with elements of a democracy. We can and must do better than that if we’re going to leave a safer and healthier world for our grandchildren than we have now. For starters, we need to reverse Citizens United to help lessen the influence of money on politics, institute proportional representation and instant runoff voting where possible, and look seriously at moving to a multiparty parliamentary system — allowing us to have a politics that more closely represents the will of the full spectrum of the electorate. Such reforms will go a long way toward normalizing civic discourse. Which will in turn help end the threat of American politics getting any uglier anytime soon. Because when people feel like there’s a place for them in the political system, they’re a lot less likely to follow demagogues, join militias, and commence shooting up fellow citizens. To get involved in the movement for a more democratic America, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution organization looks like the best jumping off point — given its solid position on stopping Citizens United with a constitutional amendment.

Ban nuclear weapons. There are still 15,000 of those deadly devices in the world, and the US has about half of them. Studies suggest that only 50–100 “small” Hiroshima sized weapons would have to be detonated to trigger a nuclear winter which would wipe out a good chunk of humanity through starvation. Far more are likely to be used in a shooting war between the US and Russia or China. Yet the US has maintained its policy of allowing a “first strike” with nuclear weapons, and has been pressuring both fellow nuclear superpowers in hot spots like Syria, Romania, Ukraine, the Baltics, and the South China Sea for a variety of bad geopolitical reasons. With smaller nukes available, it will be tempting for the next administration to use one in any military crisis that might result from such brinksmanship. Once a single weapon is used, automated retaliation protocols on all sides will virtually ensure that more will be used. No matter who wins the presidential contest. So the movement to eliminate American nuclear weapons, and win a global nuclear weapons ban is one that everyone needs to join at speed. Check out the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to get involved.

Stop global warming. Neither presidential candidate is prepared to do what is necessary to end the terminal crisis presented by the human-caused warming of the planet. And if we don’t make a near total conversion from an energy system based on burning coal, gas, and oil to one based on (genuinely) clean energy by 2030, scientists are saying that we have no hope of holding warming to an average increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. Another four years of federal status quo will make that transition even less likely to happen in time. Dooming us — at minimum — to the inundation of coastal cities like Boston due to rising sea levels, mass starvation as our growing lands turn to desert and our oceans acidify, and general havoc created by ever-worsening storms and ever-warmer weather. The movement remains the best organized US-based campaign devoted to minimizing this crisis. So drop them a line right away.

Otherwise, stay active. Stay woke. Another world is possible.


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

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:
iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube