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Monthly Archives: May 2017


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A better way forward for the federal government

May 30, 2017


At this point, anyone who pays attention to current affairs in even a cursory manner will be aware that President Donald Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget is a savage attack on working families — and a slap across the collective face of the working people who voted for him.

Appropriations for Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Meals on Wheels, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Public Service (student) Loan Forgiveness program are to be slashed — with funding for programs like Child Care Access Means Parents in School, the Legal Services Corporation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowment for the Arts to be wiped out entirely.

But fear not because Trump offsets domestic immiseration with major increases to the military and law enforcement budgets. Which translates to more dead peasants globally, more dead immigrants at our borders, and more dead black kids at home. Making America great. According to the administration anyway.

No real surprise to anyone who was paying attention to the company Trump was keeping (defense contractors and theocrats and charter school flacks, oh my) during his campaign. Even as he mouthed populist rhetoric that convinced enough white working and middle class voters in swing states to back him that his victory in the Electoral College was assured.

So what’s the alternative? At the moment, the People’s Budget: A Roadmap for the Resistance FY 2018 proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus does a reasonable job of pointing to a more positive future for the nation. It hasn’t gotten much coverage, unsurprisingly, but it’s definitely worth a look. Bullet points from the CPC website follow.

Massachusetts Reps. Jim McGovern (D), Mike Capuano (D), and Katherine Clark (D) have all sponsored the forward-thinking budget. Plus a raft of left-leaning Democratic groups and organizations to their left are supporting it. The proposal is obviously a long shot, but you can’t have a successful movement for change without some aspirational campaigns like this one. For more information, and to plug into local activism for the passage of the People’s Budget, check out mass-peoples-budget.orgReaders seeing this column online on Tuesday 5.30.17 can take immediate action at the March Against President Trump’s Budget Plan, tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30 am at the Tip O’Neill Federal Building on Causeway Street in Boston.

Invest In America

  • Invests $2 trillion to transition to a 21st Century infrastructure to transform our energy, water and transportation systems
  • Closes loopholes so our government agencies use materials made in America
  • Expands our commitment to efficient renewable energy and green jobs
  • Invest $100 billion to increase access to reliable, high-speed internet

Affordable Health Care

  • Maintains critical coverage gains under Affordable Care Act
  • Lowers costs of prescription drugs
  • Allows states to transition to single-payer health care systems
  • Expands access to mental health care and treatments for opioid and heroin addiction
  • Repeals excise tax on high-priced healthcare plans for workers and replaces with public option

Fair Tax System for Working Families

  • Ends corporate tax break for offshoring American jobs and profits
  • Stops companies from renouncing their American citizenship to dodge U.S. taxes
  • Closes wasteful corporate tax loopholes that cost billions of dollars
  • Taxes Wall Street to fund Main Street
  • Ensures profits from investments are finally taxed at the same rate as income taxes
  • Raises revenue from the wealthiest few who can afford to pay more
  • Expands the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Credit

Justice and Fair Elections

  • Ensures the justice system is fair and effective for all Americans by increasing funding for voter protection and legal assistance programs
  • Rebuilds trust in the justice system by developing community oriented policing reforms
  • Protects American election systems from any interference and increases protections for voting rights by strengthening key election reforms
  • Funds public financing of campaigns to curb special interest influence in politics
  • Supports policies and initiatives to significantly reduce gun violence

Educational Opportunities for Every Student

  • Delivers on the promise of lifting working families up by investing $1 trillion in effective early learning opportunities and for a child care for all program
  • Makes debt free college a reality for all students
  • Greater investments in K-12 education
  • Increases computer science opportunities for all students
  • Allows refinancing of student loans
  • Fully funds IDEA and provides Pre-K for all

Pathways Out of Poverty and Empowering the Middle Class

  • Supports a minimum wage increase and collective bargaining rights
  • Provides a plan to reduce poverty by half in ten years
  • Increases discretionary funding to invest in women, communities of color and their families
  • Provides an increase in Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers
  • Strengthens the Small Business Administration’s ability to provide support to America’s small business owners
  • Addresses the pay equity gap

Comprehensive and Just Immigration Reform

  • Implements comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship
  • Prohibits funding for construction of any border wall and any immigration policies which seek to ban people from entering the U.S. because of their religion
  • Supports continued funding to sanctuary cities

Access to Housing

  • Fully funds programs to make housing affordable and accessible for all Americans
  • Invests $12.8 billion to end family homelessness

Protecting our Environment

  • Closes tax loopholes and ends subsidies provided to oil, gas and coal companies
  • Identifies a price on corporate carbon pollution
  • Invests in clean, renewable, and efficient energy and green manufacturing

Protecting Our Veterans

  • Eliminates veterans’ homelessness
  • Increases access to mental health care for all veteran and service members
  • Invests in job training opportunities for transitioning service members and veterans

Sustainable Defense: Promoting Peace And Security

  • Modernizes our defense system to create sustainable baseline defense spending
  • Ends emergency funding for Overseas Contingency Operations
  • Increases funding for diplomacy and strategic humanitarian aid
  • Adds robust funding for refugee resettlement programs

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 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:
 iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube


Fascist Rally Photo by Luke ONeil.jpg

Photo by Luke O’Neil

‘Boston Free Speech’ protesters and counter demonstrators both lose the day

May 17, 2017


Last week’s right-wing Boston Free Speech protest at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common did not require a response from the left wing. Let’s get that out of the way up front. The small rally and march of — to be generous — maybe a couple hundred people throughout the course of the day was not newsworthy. Because its political message was incoherent.

By way of proof, check out this rally speech from an older activist I’ll call Scooby Doo:

There’s a reason why these people think the way they do. They are being indoctrinated. They have been indoctrinated since they were very young. Since they were in elementary school that whites are the evil people, that here are the evil white boogeyman. That the white man has his boot on the neck of every minority out there. And that they somehow have to right the wrongs of their ancestors. This is nonsense, people. This is bullshit what they’re trying to do. As if they’re trying to destroy western civilization. And to do that they’re going after whites.

Then compare that to this talk from a younger activist I’ll call Scrappy Doo:

But the shot that was heard was our voices, people. Today we come together united. [Unintelligible] all races, all nationalities, all genders, we don’t discriminate. Contrary to what the left says, if you’re a liberal, you love the constitution, you belong here with we the people. People, this is just the beginning of this movement.

And compare both to these remarks from another younger activist I’ll call Dooby Doo:

This isn’t a Massachusetts thing, this isn’t a white thing, this isn’t a black thing, this is an American thing. And it’s not wrong to say make America great again. It doesn’t mean racist things. Make America great again means let freedom ring. And not it be silenced. We have our veterans to thank for that. So let’s support our veterans to support our rights to freedom of speech, our Second Amendment, and the cops. To all you police, we’re with you.

To review, the speakers platform was shared by an older unreconstructed racist who thinks a decent history education is some kind of communist plot, a younger very accepting guy who thinks the broad left doesn’t like the Constitution, and another younger guy who thinks Trump’s campaign slogan was meant for everyone Black and white — while sending unconditional love to all cops everywhere. Including, by default, racist killer cops. No one was exactly what I’d call “on message.” Because the rally’s message was all over the road … and even the demands its organizers listed in their press release were gonzo: “First, encourage public institutions to reaffirm their commitment to the First Amendment or face cuts to their federal funding; second, label ‘Antifa’ a domestic terrorist organization due to the violence at previous Free Speech events; and third, end the culture of fear surrounding political correctness.”

                       Photo by Luke O’Neil

So, like a hundred small left-wing actions that have been staged at the same location in recent decades — with the same intent of “reaching the public” while suffering from a serious lack of political focus — there was literally no danger at all of rally organizers reaching anyone they weren’t already reaching. Let alone recruiting significant numbers of new people to any hard right organization. Both because it was poorly attended for a regional event and because it was confusing. Like, really confusing. Since the language [e.g. “Kekistan”] and symbols [e.g. the “Kekistan” flag] used by many attendees and speakers are meaningless to anyone who doesn’t spend a large part of their life in online forums shaking their virtual fists of aimless rage at the hated sky.

All in all, if you held a political rally on an island in the middle of a frozen lake in the deepest wilds of the Canadian tundra, you’d likely have more effect on the public discourse than this event would have had.

And how could it be otherwise? The action was run by a mismatched coalition of older right-wing extremists and a larger number of younger hacker types. The main thing that seemed to bring attendees — who were mostly white (with exceptions like three members of a conservative Black family) and male — together was disdain for sectors of the American left that believe it’s important to try to shut down right wingers’ ability to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. Hence the name of the event.

This was an action, therefore, run in no small part by amateurs. By “noobs” in the parlance of dank corners of the internet — like the 4chan and 8chan imageboard websites where many of the rally organizers found each other. Newbies. People with very little experience in politics, in this case.

That’s great, right? No harm, no foul. A group of people smaller than you’ll find in the average chain restaurant at lunchtime, yelling to each other with megaphones for a couple of hours. Then “taking to the streets” to yell at random passersby. Then calling it a day.

Well, that’s how it would have gone … until some younger inexperienced left-wing activists decided that the event was a manifestation of some kind of new mass fascist organization on our doorstep. And went off on the very “black bloc” trip that pissed off a lot of the hackers enough to have a “free speech” rally in the first place. Given that, as readers may recall, Bay Area black bloc types recently played a role in forcing the cancellation of talks by conservatives Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley. That is, in the absence of forethought, they thought that hiding their faces from the majority of the population who are their natural allies against the confused array of outright reactionary and merely unschooled ideas on offer at the rally was somehow a good plan.

And so it came to pass that an even smaller group of mostly younger people politicized and organized in a different set of internet forums donned a motley assortment of heavy clothing (black being the most prominent color), masks, and in some cases helmets, and stood on Flagstaff Hill looking down on the right wingers around the bandstand from some distance away. Ready to fight if necessary. They were joined by a slightly larger coterie of area left-wing activists — also mostly younger people, but with more political experience overall — who had taken a nonviolence pledge before attending. The Boston police formed a cordon between the right- and left-wing groups. And a shouting war started between the two sides capped by another conservative I’ll call Scooby Dum crossing the skirmish line and belting a left winger after shoving a Pepsi at the person (in an apparently ironic reference to the Kendall Jenner commercial scandal). Both antagonist and victim were arrested. The BPD version of equal justice, one supposes.

                        Photo by Luke O’Neil

This tyro armageddon provided red meat for the press that would otherwise have ignored the event, and resulted in coverage that would not have happened if the counter demonstrators had left well enough alone.

Now it’s true the organizers of the right-wing action fell on each other shortly afterwards in a torrent of mutual social media recriminations involving the absurd neologism “cuck.”

But the critical lesson of the whole sorry affair should not be lost on erstwhile “anti-fascists” on the fringes of the American left: There are indeed times when it’s important to stand up against the right wing in militant and very public ways … but you never want to hold response actions to dysfunctional right-wing events that will result in their learning to become more effective organizers. You don’t want to help them evolve. You don’t want to act like an overdose of old antibiotics on a mutating strain of TB. You need to be smart and LET THEM FAIL. So badly that they’re forced to scurry back under their disconnected individual rocks to lick their wounds and perhaps even rethink their more extreme political positions.

In this situation, the correct thing to do was let the right wingers have their wonky little rally and then faction fight themselves into oblivion over its failure. Instead, the ill-conceived counterdemo got that rally far more attention than it deserved, and taught the fringe right that it’s really easy to bait the more jumped-up sectors of the left to play the part of “bad freedom haters” in their latter-day Old Glory-waving passion play. Helping them organize more disaffected young people … and possibly turning them from a sideshow of a sideshow into a serious threat in the process. Not good.

Here’s hoping that the younger left activists who participated in the counter demonstration now decide to turn their energies toward better educating themselves politically and then focus on reaching out to engage society at large with organizing campaigns to challenge the root causes of racism and racist white reaction. And that the more established left-wing organizations that inexplicably decided to join them on the Common revert to their usual activities along those lines. Helping build the majoritarian movement for democracy that America desperately needs, rather than comporting themselves in ways that could end up bringing ruin down on the heads of the left at large. At the hands of a right wing that will always be better at violence in this period than macho posturing fringe leftists looking for a shortcut to their ill-considered version of “revolution.”

Note: This column was written based on my analysis of news coverage and social media posts about the Boston Free Speech rally from the perspective of a longtime political activist who has run large numbers of left-wing protests. I did not attend the event.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 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:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube


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Only multiparty democracy will ensure that left policies are enacted in Mass

May 10, 2017


There is a persistent myth that Massachusetts is a left-wing state. The basis of this demonstrably false conceit is that the Commonwealth has had a Democratic majority in its legislature for as long as anyone can remember. In that context, a recent State House News Service article, “Mass Progressives See Something Missing on Beacon Hill,” makes sense. It examines the political travails of the left-leaning Democratic Party pressure group Progressive Massachusetts, and questions why a progressive grassroots organization in such an ostensibly progressive state can’t get its bills passed with any regularity.

A state that just 50 years ago could build public housing, significantly expand public transportation, and build public colleges, today can’t pass any forward-thinking social program of any significance. Unless you think cutting taxesslashing public spending, and throwing public money at giant corporations like General Electric is a social program. Yet all along, the state has been run by politicians calling themselves progressive Democrat.

The answer to this quandary lies in the fact that the meaning of key terms in politics is  always shifting, as thought leaders modify them to suit the times. So, “progressive” has  had a variety of definitions over the last three centuries — all of which center around the  idea of modernity. From early “laissez-faire” free market capitalist modernity in the 1700s  and 1800s, to socialist modernity from the mid-1800s to the present, to the capitalist  social reformer modernity of the Progressive Era in the US between the Civil War and  WWI, to welfare state social democratic capitalist modernity from the 1930s to the 1970s,  followed by a full-circle return to free market ideology with neoliberal capitalist modernity  since that time. And its meaning continues to be contested to this day.

Key terms sidebarEspecially since a main feature of neoliberalism has been its ability to seduce once social democratic formations like the Democratic Party and produce so-called “Third Way” political leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton — who have proved themselves more than willing to do tremendous damage to their core working and middle class constituencies. Via right-wing economic policies barely obscured by an ever-shrinking layer of critical social welfare programs, and a somewhat thicker layer of policies extending human rights guarantees to LGBT folks and other oppressed minorities.

So, in a sense, virtually all the legislators in the Mass State House today can call themselves progressive with a straight face. And many do, including lots of neoliberal Clintonite Democrats who play the role of Republicans in Bay State politics — the actual  Republican Party being quite weak here. Which leaves left-leaning Democrats like the  organizers of Progressive Massachusetts, heirs to the social democratic tradition of  reform-minded Keynesian welfare state policies as they are, in a bit of a pickle.

Because the main version of progressivism in American politics — electoral politics anyway — remains the neoliberal one. The Hillary Clinton wing of the Democrats, which just drove the party off a political cliff, and will continue to speed its descent to earth as long as its corporate paymasters wish them to do so. That wing, backed by multinational corporations, took power from the earlier generations of union-backed social democrats within the Democratic Party by the 1990s. It will not give power up without a major political struggle, and therein lies the heart of the problem facing groups like Progressive  Massachusetts.

In countries with more democratic electoral systems, this would be less of a problem than it is in the US. Or in Mass. We would have a multiparty democracy. The Republicans would be a smaller (but still powerful) right-wing capitalist party with smaller ascendent hard right parties on its flanks. The Democrats would be a smaller (but still powerful) center-right capitalist party. Progressive Massachusetts would be part of a center-left social democratic capitalist party. Socialists like me would have at least one significant left-wing party. And there would be smaller hard-left parties on its flanks.

Both the Democrats and Republicans would have to form coalition governments at the national and state levels. And it would be possible for smaller parties to drive their policies through in exchange for joining such ever-shifting coalitions. Messy perhaps, but far more democratic than our two party American system — where both “big tent” parties are dominated by corporations and the rich.

In that situation, a center-left party built around a group like Progressive Massachusetts could actually get its bills passed and have more influence in state politics. And a democratic socialist party of the type I’d like to see formed would join it in fighting for all of the good reforms it would back: single payer health care, free higher public education, etc. Then seek to influence the center-left party to back its policies … like a state bank and municipal control of utilities, for example.

The term “progressive” might devolve back to its original meaning: “believers in human progress, in modernity.” And be used more sparingly as a yardstick of societal advancement rather than a marker of a particular political camp.

Until then, many people — being creatures of habit we all are — will continue to use “progressive” to refer to the broad left. Or the even more misused term “liberal.” Various kinds of capitalists will continue to refer to themselves as “conservative,” “libertarian,” and, yes, progressive, and liberal. Massachusetts politics will remain to the right on economic matters and to the left on social ones — until new mass movements rise to shatter the status quo.

And we’ll muddle through somehow until then.


Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 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:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube