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MASS BAIL REFORM NOW

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November 9, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Lots of innocent people are spending time in jail in Massachusetts. And unsurprisingly many of those people are poor and a disproportionate number are people of color. But they are not convicted criminals. They are people who are charged with a crime—often a minor infraction—and can’t afford to pay the cash bail they’ve been assigned. So judges consign them to what to amounts to debtors’ prison while they await trial.

The number of people in the Commonwealth’s pretrial holding has grown nearly 13 percent since 2008, according to a recent study by MassINC, Exploring the Potential for Pretrial Innovation in Massachusetts, while “arrests have declined by 10 percent and the number of commitments annually to state prisons and county houses of correction has fallen by 22 percent.”

Although bail data are woefully scarce statewide, numbers released by the sheriffs in three Massachusetts counties are telling. The study shows that “Black residents are overrepresented in the pretrial population by a factor of 10 in Barnstable County. As a share of Franklin County’s jail population, the proportion of Black detainees is nine times higher than the share of Black residents in the general population; in Norfolk County, the disparity is a multiple of five.”

Furthermore, defendants of color face much higher bail. “In Barnstable County, the median bail amount for African-American defendants is four times higher than for white defendants. Median bail amounts for African-Americans in Berkshire County are five times higher than for white defendants.”

Clearly, the Commonwealth’s mostly white judges have some explaining to do.

Regardless, immediate reform is needed. Advocates are proposing a number of approaches to improve the system, but the one that will likely have the fastest effect is to significantly reduce the use of cash bail. Judges already have the ability to release people charged with a crime on their own recognizance until trial. And it would be good if they did that more often—especially for Black defendants that are currently being slammed with cash bail at a higher rate and for a larger amount than white defendants charged with the same crimes in the same jurisdictions. An even better option would be for Mass. courts to use unsecured bonds that only require a cash payment if a defendant fails to appear for court and abide by conditions of release.

Readers interested in getting involved in the campaign for bail and other pretrial reforms should check out the Pretrial Working Group and the Massachusetts Bail Fund. Those organizations are working on “An Act reforming pretrial process” (H.1584/S.802) that will introduce a raft of solid improvements to the Bay State’s bail system if enacted.

If you want to help affected folks right away, go to the Mass. Bail Fund website and donate whatever you can afford. They help defendants who owe $500 bail or less stay out of jail prior to trial by directly paying their bill. It’s a stopgap solution, but a necessary one until real bail reform gets passed.

The idea that defendants are innocent until proven guilty is enshrined in common law, in the US Constitution, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We cannot allow such a core democratic principle to be nullified for anyone in our society. Especially here in Massachusetts. So join the fight for bail reform now.

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.

BOSTON ARTISTS UNITE

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Kenmore image by Henry Han via Wikimedia Commons

November 2, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

If you work in one of the creative professions, then you know how tough it has become to make a living in the Boston area in recent years. But there are a couple of upcoming events that are aiming to improve the political economic situation for local artists, writers, musicians, dancers, designers, filmmakers, journalists, and other creative workers, and both are definitely worth attending.

First, the annual Artists Under the Dome event is happening at the Massachusetts State House this Wednesday (Nov. 4) from 9:30 am to 2 pm. It’s hosted by the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition (MALC) together with the State Treasury, the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

MALC’s mandate is “to make Massachusetts one of, if not the best, State in the Nation for artists of all disciplines to live and work in,” and “to empower artists of all disciplines to become part of public policy dialog on the issues that impact their livelihoods.” As such, Artists Under the Dome is essentially a grassroots lobby day when creative workers are encouraged to connect with their state representatives and senators, and to speak with them about key legislation affecting the creative professions. According to MALC, legislators and other state government officials will assemble to “thank and talk directly with the artists community regarding issues, legislation, and regulations that directly impact working artists of all disciplines.”

There are a number of important arts-related bills coming up this legislative cycle—including An Act Establishing a Public Art Commission (HB 3667)—that will stand a much better chance of getting passed if lots of creatives show up to bend their legislators’ ears on Wednesday.

Second, on Nov. 19, creative professionals are invited to join my Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism colleagues and I for a panel discussion we’re organizing called “The Crisis in the Creative Professions: How Can We Make a Living in Boston Again?” The free public forum at the Community Church of Boston will take a look at how creative workers might organize more effectively to improve our situation. Speakers will include professionals from the affected fields and advocates from relevant advocacy organizations. The event is co-sponsored by Getting by in Boston, Mass. Creative Workers, and Community Church of Boston.

If you’re a creative worker and wondering how you can makes ends meet while doing what you love, plan to attend … and spread the word. For starters, go to Facebook and click “Like” on The Crisis in the Creative Professions event page to get plugged in.

Hope to see Apparent Horizon readers at both events.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director, a member of the MALC steering committee and active with Mass. Creative Workers and Getting by in Boston. He is a visual artist and journalist.

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

SHUT PILGRIM NOW … AND SAVE MASS FROM NUCLEAR DISASTER

Image by Kent Buckley

October 26, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

About 50 people—most from the South Shore and Cape Cod—held a protest rally last Thursday at the Grand Staircase in the Massachusetts State House to demand the immediate closure of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station on a long list of public safety grounds. This in the wake of the facility’s owner, Entergy Corp., announcing it will shutter the plant by 2019 because it’s become too expensive to run.

The demonstrators, led by the several grassroots groups that comprise the Pilgrim Coalition, say that’s an improvement from the 2012 decision, by the industry-friendly Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to allow the plant to remain open until 2032. But every minute that Pilgrim remains open increases the possibility that some calamity could render large swaths of the Bay State radioactive for thousands of years.

It was the kind of event that left me thinking, “We need 50,000 people here, and another 50,000 people surrounding Pilgrim until Entergy shuts it down.” So great is the existential crisis of such a dangerous and aging nuclear reactor being allowed to continue operating far closer to Boston than the now-infamous Fukushima Daiichi nukes are to Tokyo.

Photo by Jason Pramas

Photo by Jason Pramas

Seriously, the Fukushima plant is 141 miles from Tokyo. Pilgrim is only 38 miles from the State House—well within the 50-plus mile distance of the furthest communities that ended up being contaminated by the radioactive plume from Fukushima.

In early 2014, Gov. Deval Patrick confirmed what area activists had been saying for years: there is no viable evacuation plan in the event of a disaster at Pilgrim. Many people living in areas affected by releases of radiation would essentially be told to “shelter in place” by Entergy and the Mass. Emergency Management Association. At the time, Patrick asked the NRC to step in and to close the plant if it failed to comply with regulations. Later that year, the NRC kicked the responsibility for developing real plans back to Patrick. In short: there is still no evacuation plan for communities near the plant, let alone for Boston.

As the protesters pointed out last week, following the 2011 meltdown at Fukushima, the NRC told Americans who were living and working within 50 miles of the plant to evacuate. Given that there are no evacuation plans for the less densely populated communities near Pilgrim, what exactly would we do in Boston if Pilgrim were to suffer a similar disaster? No responsible party has an answer to that very obvious question.

To make matters worse, the Pilgrim nuke is a General Electric Mark I type. Exactly the same type as five of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi—including all four of the reactors that suffered catastrophic failures in 2011. Like Fukushima, Pilgrim is situated right on the ocean, and is therefore susceptible to damage from the kinds of super-hurricanes and massive winter Nor’easters that are expected to hit the Massachusetts coast with increasing frequency in the coming decades due to global warming—much like how Fukushima was hit by a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake.

Pilgrim has already had numerous safety violations over the years—some of which, as with Fukushima, were not properly reported until recently. Nevertheless, the NRC has repeatedly downgraded the safety rating of the plant due to such problems, making it one of the lowest rated plants in the country.

Given these facts, the only sensible thing to do is to shut the plant down immediately. So I join the protestors in calling for Gov. Charlie Baker and the legislature to take all appropriate actions necessary to make that happen now, and for Entergy to think about more than just its bottom line. Rally speakers Sen. Dan Wolf and Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives can be looked to for legislative leadership in this fight, though it won’t be their last. Seabrook is only 39 miles from the State House and has similar problems, but that’s a column for another day.

Readers interested in getting involved in this critical campaign can check out the Pilgrim Coalition website.

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

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

SANDERS SHRUGGED

Image by Kent Buckley

October 20, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

One of the marks of what scholars call hegemonic discourse is the assumption that a society’s ruling ideology is considered so “normal” that it does not even need to be named, let alone explained. So it is with the Boston Globe and capitalism.

Most of the Globe’s editorial board, columnists, and reporters,  like virtually the entire mainstream American press corps,  start from the position that capitalism is the best of all possible political economic systems. And, while it may need periodic reform on behalf of “the neediest” in our society (as they like to put it), fundamentally “there is no alternative”—as Margaret Thatcher famously quipped—to capitalism. Understood as free markets, free trade, and corporate globalization. Yet only a handful of Globe staff, like conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby, openly state that position with any regularity.

How then are the Globe’s mainstream capitalist journalists to deal with the increasingly successful Presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders, a socialist running as a Democrat?

If recent articles referencing Sanders are any measure, the Globe is choosing to deal with him by setting up straw men about his stated ideology and then knocking them down.

Take Joan Vennochi’s latest column, “When did Democrats become the party of free stuff?” In it she states that “progressive ideology” (whatever that is) “is increasingly about asking government to provide more for its citizens—and more for noncitizens, too.” She juxtaposes that already problematic typification to JFK’s famous call to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for you country.” She cites that call as being “strongly rooted in the notion of self-reliance,” and in the belief that “government is not there to serve us. We are there to serve it.”

No Bernie Sanders Scandinavia is not a socialist utopia The Boston Globe

She then moves on to paint Sanders and his ideas as essentially a threat to said Kennedy values. The crux of her argument hinges on the definition of socialism that she chooses to use. Which, to get to the point, is incorrect. In this case, Vennochi cites a recent Washington Post blog post that describes socialists “as people who believe ‘that the government should provide a wide range of basic services to its citizens free of charge or at a discount, typically including university education and health care, as well as child care, housing, telecommunications, energy, and more.’ They also believe these services ‘should be available to everyone, not just the neediest.’”

The problem with that definition of socialists and socialism is that it describes a welfare state, not socialism. Welfare states are possible under pretty much any type of modern government. One of the earliest welfare states began under a German emperor in the late 1800s. There have been welfare states in fascist nations, like Italy under Mussolini, in capitalist dictatorships like Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, and here in the United States to a degree between the 1930s and the present. And yes, also in social democratic (a.k.a. democratic socialist) countries like Sweden—particularly from the 1960s to the 1980s.

So the definition of socialism is not the fact that it allows for a strong welfare state.

Socialism encompasses a broad sphere of ideas, but most socialists share in the belief that human beings should have equal rights (not one set of rules for privileged groups, and another for everyone else), that there should be democratic control of both political and economic institutions worldwide, and that a socialist society must strive to eliminate private control over the means of production. So that the working people of the world—the “99 percent”—can finally control our own destiny.

It’s commonly thought that socialism has to spring from national governments, but elements of socialism can also be introduced by regional and local governments, and critically by trade unions, nonprofit organizations, and co-operatives. Many anarchists are in fact libertarian socialists who believe that networks of very democratic local governments and smaller scale non-governmental organizations should run society— not nation-states, multinational corporations, and huge political parties of the traditional left, right, or center.

There can still be capitalism in socialist societies, but it is typically limited—and kept away from the commanding heights of core economic sectors like healthcare, housing, education, and energy. Also, politics is kept more free from the influence of concentrations of individual and corporate wealth in such societies, helping to ensure that the rich don’t use their funds to seize control over government as completely as they are now doing in the US.

Other articles referring to socialism in the Globe recently have the same flaw as Vennochi’s piece. To the extent they address socialism directly at all, they mischaracterize it. Then dismantle their mischaracterization.

I’ve been watching capitalist reporters take that kind of “ranting at an empty chair’ approach for my entire adult life when it comes to any ideology left of the Democratic Party, and have always thought it to be a cheap tactic and intellectually dishonest. If the Globe was a real forum of ideas, they would at least invite prominent socialist thinkers—of whom there are a number in Boston—to openly discuss and debate what socialism, democratic or otherwise, might mean for America on an ongoing basis.

A good step in that direction would be running the text of the speech that Sanders is planning on the meaning of democratic socialism in its entirety. A better one would be allowing local thinkers across the political spectrum—the full political spectrum, including intellectuals on the anti-capitalist left—to debate the merits of Sanders’ speech in the Globe’s pages. There are several people I could recommend. But why not invite the most famous left thinker on the planet, who lives here in the Boston area, and who theGlobe has resolutely snubbed for the last 50 years: Noam Chomsky.

Here’s his email: chomsky@mit.edu. He answers all communications faithfully. Heck, if the Globe wants, I’ll invite him for them. Globe editors are welcome to flag me at jason@binjonline.org. Anytime. My line, as ever, is open.

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

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

INTRODUCING #BINJBADBOSS

BINJBADBOSS LUMB

October 14, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Do you have a bad boss?

I don’t just mean a boss that you don’t want to hang out with after work. I mean a boss that’s ripping you off or otherwise harming you systematically over time. And doing the same to your co-workers.

Think about it. Have you worked overtime repeatedly, but not been paid for it? Are you not allowed to take legal holidays and sick days off? Are you not given time off at all?

Is your boss violating health and safety regulations, refusing to provide necessary safety equipment, and forcing you and your co-workers to risk life and limb on the job?

Does your boss repeatedly sexually harass you and your co-workers? Or worse?

If you’re a tipped employee, does your boss steal your tips?

If you’re a temp, part-timer, contractor, independent contractor, day laborer or any other type of contingent worker, should you be? Like is your job really the kind of job that needs to be short-term or “flexible” in some way, or is your boss just misclassifying you to avoid having to give you a decent job?

Does your boss refuse to give you and your co-workers raises, no matter how long you’ve worked at your job?

Did your boss ever threaten to fire you and your co-workers if you even talk about forming a union at your workplace?

Has your boss engaged in outright wage theft? Just taken cash money that’s owed to you in one way or another? Like, as was the case with a restaurant that I heard about last week, not paying employees wages at all — only tips, skimming those too, and threatening to rat out the largely undocumented immigrant waitstaff to ICE if they say boo to anyone who might help them?

If this kind of nonsense or anything like it is happening to you and your co-workers on the job, then the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism is here to help.

We’re not a replacement for starting a union or talking to the Mass Attorney General’s office or the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But if you really feel you and your co-workers have a legitimate actionable grievance, we — as journalists working in the public interest — can do that thing that most bosses hate the most: we can shine light on your bad situation.

In doing so, we can help government, labor, and nonprofit advocates to find you and fight with you for a better deal on the job. And we can get you support from the general public when it counts.

So here’s how this will work: You flag us at #BINJbadboss on Twitter or by email at badboss@binjonline.org. Let us know what’s up. You can be as public or anonymous as you like when you contact us. If we see evidence of systematic abuse at your workplace, we’ll get on the case. We’ll publish columns or news articles that will shed some light on your bad boss.

Sound good? Good. My colleagues and I look forward to sharing your stories.

 

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

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

 
 

UMASS BOSTON WILL ALSO BE USELESS UNDERWATER

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Image by Kent Buckley

October 5, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

This week’s column is a codicil to last week’s column on the need for local policy wonks and politicians to stop proposing major public infrastructure projects in parts of Boston that are going to flood during the increasingly frequent global warming-driven super storms slated to hit us in the coming decades. Which, together with rising oceans, stand a good chance of wiping our city off the map if we don’t begin a “strategic retreat” now.

Despite this very real and looming crisis, hapless Boston Globe columnist Shirley Leung devoted her latest missive to the idea of building dorms for UMass Boston. The wildly unpopular Boston 2024 Olympics she flacked for revived a wildly unpopular plan to build dorms at the campus (in the form of an Olympic Village for athletes), and now Leung is trying to help manufacture a groundswell of support behind the original plan for 2,000 dorm beds — complete with positive quotes from some select bigs who are already on the way to making it a reality.

I’ve long been opposed to dorms at UMB. The school was founded with an “urban mission,” that dictates that its primary purpose is to educate Boston residents. Most residents being working and lower middle class people of color who often can’t even afford one of our increasingly expensive community colleges, let alone one of our increasingly expensive state universities. Not without crushing and criminal lifelong student loan debt.

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UMass Boston was specifically created as a commuter school with a mandate to educate and uplift the people of the city. And a commuter school it should stay. Having sat on a campus advisory board for future infrastructure development as a leader of the UMB graduate student union in 2006–2007, I believe that the biggest reason for wanting to build dorms (beyond sadly typical sweetheart deals with private developers) was — and remains — to attract young white upper-middle class suburban students whose families can afford to pay an outrageous sticker price for what should be a free (or at least cheap) school. Thus allowing the UMass Board of Trustees, the Mass. Board of Higher Education, and the state legislature to absolve themselves for their rank irresponsibility in refusing to fight for proper funding for the state public higher education system. All of which primarily benefits big “private” universities like Harvard, MIT, BU, and Northeastern that don’t want public competition for the huge amounts of federal and state money they suck up every year.

That said, there’s another reason why it’s a bad idea to build dorms — or indeed any new construction at the current UMass Boston campus: Because the campus is right on Boston Harbor, and therefore just as much at risk for future super storm destruction driven by global warming as proposed coastal projects like the North-South Rail Link that I criticized last week.

It’s time for UMass Boston and other public institutions to think seriously about the flooded future that climate scientists are predicting for the Boston coastline, and start moving their operations inland to higher ground. A sensible step for UMass and state higher ed leaders would be to start buying up property on hills near the present site of UMB — with an eye toward building a new campus. But having attempted to debate with some of them in the past on this very issue, I’m not holding my breath for any of them to do the right thing until it’s too late.

In the meantime, students, faculty, and staff in the UMass system might also change the conversation by pressuring those leaders to do the right thing. And if anyone gets some campus action going on this critical political front, I’m happy to help publicize the effort. I can be reached, as ever, at jason@binjonline.org.

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

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

A NORTH-SOUTH RAIL LINK WON’T DO ANY GOOD UNDERWATER

UNDER-WATER

Image via ELM Action Fund

October 2, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

When I heard that two former Massachusetts governors — Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld — are both pushing for a North-South Rail Link between North Station and South Station in downtown Boston, my first reaction was, “I guess they didn’t get my memo.”

The “memo” in question was my March 7, 2014 Open Media Boston editorial, in which I criticized a proposed “remediation strategy” by various local think tanks and officials in response to the negative effects of global warming over the next few decades. Said strategy largely involves ignoring the magnitude of the existential crisis facing Boston (and the planet), and sort of squirreling around its edges rather than tackling it head on while there’s still time to do so.

One of my key points was that even level-headed climate scientists are predicting a significant amount of sea level rise by 2100. Couple that with Boston getting slammed by ever more frequent “super storms,” and the net result of these linked disasters makes it a virtual certainty that Boston’s floodplain — which includes much of our present downtown area — will be reclaimed occasionally, and eventually permanently, by the Atlantic Ocean.

Funny thing about tunnels like the proposed North-South Rail Link, and about our famously sketchy Big Dig tunnels … they don’t work if they’re flooded. Much like New York’s subway system didn’t work after Hurricane Sandy.

So proposing any major infrastructure projects — let alone a rail tunnel — on a known floodplain in the age of global warming is a laughably bad idea. Especially when Boston has no real plan to slow the inevitable flooding of low-lying areas. And stopping the flooding is probably beyond our current technology, or any technology we are likely to develop in the coming decades.

But slowing the effects of rising oceans long enough to move key Boston infrastructure to higher ground by pursuing a “strategic retreat” strategy is possible (using tactics like our own version of Holland’s famous dike system). Unless global warming’s other negative impacts render our region uninhabitable within the lifetime of the current generation of children. In which case all bets will be off for our fair city anyway.

Assuming we don’t end up facing one of the absolute worst case scenarios, the best course of action that Boston regional planners and politicians can take going forward is to start strategic retreat projects immediately, avoid building anything significant near the harbor, and gradually develop the hills around the city as the new Boston. Starting with transportation hubs on that higher ground. That’s where the big money needs to go. To the projects that will help our city survive. Not to the rail link that should have been built decades ago.

Check out the full version of this column on Medium at: https://medium.com/apparent-horizon/.

Apparent Horizon is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ network director and a professor of critical media, visual art and political economy at the Global Center for Advanced Studies.

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

LABOUR HATERS: The Boston Globe’s Worrisome Rightward Lurch

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September 17, 2015

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There was a time when the Boston Globe was led by what Americans like to call “good liberals.” In global terms that would have made them perhaps center-left at best. Reliably progressive on social issues. Able to at least consider the public good in political economic discussions while trumpeting the wonders of capitalism like every other mainstream news outlet. Of late, however, with staff cuts continuing apace and much of their content devoted to advertising-friendly fluff, they’re well on their way to becoming little more than corporate cheerleaders.

How else to explain yesterday’s bizarre editorial “The Labour Party’s worrisome leftward lurch”?

Why the pressing need for the Globe editorial board to bash the ascendency of a genuinely pro-worker socialist like Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom — which was, after all, founded as a socialist party? And governed as such for decades post 1945.

The piece attempts to smear Corbyn as wildly unrealistic and out of touch after the long and ostensibly glorious reign of Tony Blair’s corporatist New Labour wing of the Labour Party. This position relies on the low levels of American awareness of international politics. Because only near total public ignorance of foreign affairs could embolden Globe editors to paint the devastating effects of nearly four decades of successive warmongering neoliberal Thatcherite and Blairite governments as being positive on the balance for the vast majority of UK residents.

Worst of all, the Globe editorial board fails to mention that the UK public is overwhelmingly in support of Corbyn’s major policy proposals. But can barely restrain its glee in attacking those very same proposals. Most puzzling. They seem to be simply echoing their counterparts in the corporate media across the pond. And this passage in the middle of the hectoring editorial is where the knives really come out:

“The election of Corbyn as Labour Party leader represents a large leftward lurch even from the politics of Miliband. Corbyn’s stands include such outmoded ideas as nationalizing the UK’s railroads and energy companies, imposing a maximum wage on private-sector salaries, and the widespread reimposition of rent control. Some prominent Labour MPs are already upset about his refusal to rule out joining the campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union.

The polemic continues: “On foreign policy, Corbyn has called for unilateral nuclear disarmament for Britain, is against air strikes targeting ISIS, and supports a ban on the sale of weapons to Israel. He has talked of having Britain leave NATO, though more recently has called for a rethinking of NATO’s mission. He labeled the killing, rather than trial, of Osama bin Laden ‘a tragedy.’”

Let’s get this straight:

  • Corbyn’s “large leftward lurch” includes renationalizing the UK’s railroads and its energy industry — both of which did just fine as public services. Privatizing energy, an extremely undemocratic and brutal process in the case of the once-mighty coal industry, caused massive layoffs and the ongoing immiseration of entire sections of the country. Not to mention providing worse service across the board for higher prices while profits for stockholders soared. Privatizing rail resulted in “series of failures, scandals and fatal crashes, each at great expense to taxpayers” according to the pro-renationalization activist group Bring Back British Rail. Nevertheless, the Globe thinks such privatization was positive, and that Corbyn’s thinking about deprivatizing those industries is bad. Got it.
  • And a maximum wage is also bad? In an age when fewer and fewer people control more and more of the world’s wealth — and then use the money to rig political systems to their ever-increasing advantage — we don’t want to cap CEO salaries? Why would this a bad thing? Here’s what Corbyn has to say on the matter: “Why is it that bankers on massive salaries require bonuses to work while street-cleaners require threats to make them work? It’s a kind philosophical question really. There ought to be a maximum wage. The levels of inequality in Britain are getting worse.” Sounds like a fine idea from this corner. Especially here in the US where CEOs make more than 350 times as much as the average worker — compared to UK CEOs, who make 183 times as much as their average worker … up from 160 times as much in 2010.

  • And rent control? Why is that bad? The Globe itself reports on the huge and growing housing crisis in the Boston area. And is continually amazed that “letting the market handle it” isn’t working. Of course the market isn’t handling the crisis at all. It’s not designed to do that. It’s designed to make profits for the real estate and construction corporations. So some sort of rent control is definitely one reform that needs to come back to both the UK and Boston. Were the old rent control systems perfect? No. Could they be handled better now? Sure. Were they better than the current situation for working and middle class families in both locales?Hell yes. Then why can’t rent control be on the table, too?
  • Also, is pulling the UK out of the European Union bad? Even if the existing foundational treaties can’t be renegotiated to benefit the people of Europe? When the Greek crisis recently exposed the EU as just a front for German banks and American financial service hucksters providing toxic loans to entire countries via the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund in collusion with various local oligarchs? And then reducing those countries to penury if they refuse to pay up under the worst possible terms? Is allowing bankers to hold sovereign nations hostage an example of the “good governance” that Globe writers are always crowing about?
  • And then … seriously now … is unilateral nuclear disarmament bad? Of what possible use are nuclear weapons to Britain or any country? They’re massively expensive, utterly pointless — except to the war companies that profit from their manufacture, and the reactionaries that insist on huge militaries — impossible to defend against, and if they’re ever used by anyone then … the entire planet is completely screwed. Because even if it’s “only one” nuke, the door will then be open for using more. And more. And more. Until the Earth is a cinder. So why is nuclear disarmament bad?
  • By the same token is banning “bomb diplomacy” against enemies like ISIS — which has worked so very well when the US, a servile UK and other puppet allies du jour used it in Iraq that it spawned ISIS in the first place — a bad idea? Is disbanding NATO — a cold war relic that a parade of US and European neocons are using to reignite hostilities with the Russia via proxy wars in border countries like Ukraine — so terrible?

Not that the Globe offered anything at all in the way of proof of its positions. It simply stated them. In the confident normative tone that is the mark of the edicts of hegemonic power. That is to say, these kinds of truisms are the stock in trade of journalists who are acting as mouthpieces for the rich and powerful. Which rich and powerful people and institutions don’t really matter.

What does matter is that attacking the kinds of positions that Jeremy Corbyn represents is pro-corporate, pro-war, anti-democratic and therefore quite right wing.

And how do we account for this strong rightward drift from Globe editors? One could speculate, as above, but it’s not clear.

So Globe readers need to contact them and ask them. Early and often. Boston is about the last city on the planet that needs two major right wing corporate newspapers.


PS: Shout out to the Boston Carmen’s Union, who slapped down Joan Vennochi’s pro-Pioneer Institute column in last Friday’s Globe with a feisty fact-laden rejoinder on their website.

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


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

LABOR BLUES

Fight-for-15-photo-bw-Jason-Pramas-Copyright-2015-Jason-Pramas

Boston Fight for 15 March, April 2015 — Photo © 2015 Jason Pramas 

BY 

A number of contradictions hung in the air at the Greater Boston Labor Council’s annual Labor Day breakfast on Monday. Foremost among them was that the Democratic Party-dominated Massachusetts legislature has agreed to release the MBTA from the provisions of the anti-privatization Pacheco Law for three years — which will allow Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, to start to privatize some of the beleaguered transportation agency’s services.

This unfortunate decision by the Dems spurred hundreds of Boston Carmen’s Union members to stage a protest outside the labor breakfast. With Pres. Barack Obama about to headline inside, the transit workers demonstrated in favor of keeping the T public and saving good union jobs. A worthy goal to be sure. So worthy that Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, spoke at the rally as well as the breakfast. To his credit. But neither he nor any other labor leader at either event laid out any specific plan to punish politicians who support replacing decent unionized jobs with lousy non-union jobs. Vague warnings were about as heated as things got. And ironically, the rally primarily targeted the Republican governor who proposed the hated privatization move rather than the Democratic legislature that disposed it. Or perhaps not so ironically.

In an ordinary year at an ordinary Labor Day breakfast, the rally and maybe the remarks of the ranking local politician present would have been the biggest excitement of the day. But this year, Obama not onlyaddressed the breakfast, but also used his speech to announce an executive order providing up to seven days of annual paid sick leave to 300,000 federal contractors. Unable — and often unwilling — to push larger versions of this and similar labor reforms through either friendly or unfriendly Congressional sessions, Obama has taken to using executive orders to improve the situation of discrete groups of workers that he can affect directly when it suits his political purposes.

The problem being that any future President can reverse such executive orders upon taking office. And Presidents often reverse their predecessors’ executive orders. So they are a policy tool of only limited usefulness.

The other problem, and certainly the most significant contradiction on offer Monday, is that it has been decades since the Democratic Party has been reliably pro-labor — which means that neither major party genuinely supports American workers in this era.

Despite this monumental political crisis facing American labor, two linked spectacles were on display — for those who cared to look — at Monday’s breakfast that demonstrated the reluctance of current union leadership to break away from the Dems. The first was that the Boston labor establishment hosted Democratic leaders and candidates shortly after the legislature they control handed a new Republican governor a victory on his dangerous agenda to further privatize and destabilize critical public services like the MBTA. As a fellow union held a significant protest against that agenda outside. Some offending pols were then scolded by speakers, but most current labor leaders will not actually follow through on threats. Instead they’ll do what they have grown too accustomed to doing: brag about minor achievements, and remain silent as a tomb about their many failures.

The second was the even larger spectacle of the President of the United States — a Democrat — flying national labor leaders up to Boston in Air Force One, and offering unions an olive branch in the form of adecent (but minor) reform. All the while eliding the fact that he has personally inflicted some of the most bruising defeats on labor in history — including winning fast-track approval authority for a so-called “trade agreement,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, earlier this summer. An agreement that, among other very bad things, will accelerate the “race to the bottom” among the global workforce by allowing corporations to more easily outsource jobs to countries with worse labor standards than our own. Yet those same labor leaders ate up the President’s very temporary attention with gusto. At least in public.

While it may seem strange that labor continues to cleave to a political party that is openly committed to supporting the very capitalist forces that are ripping this country and planet asunder, it makes sense if one understands that most labor leaders are terrified to let the increasingly feral and triumphalist Republicans gain any more political ground. Yet they have no strategy to break free of the two-party duopoly. And the Republicans are hammering labor mercilessly, it’s true. Because the Democrats not only let them do so, but ally with them more often than not.

This regrettable alliance with the Democrats prevents labor from organizing waves of mass mobilizations and other forms of direct action against corporations and the rich that might actually change the American political scene. Because such mobilizations would be difficult to control. Too much like Occupy, which scared some labor leaders (and some ostensibly left-leaning non-profits) so much that they tried to co-opt it or outflank it on a number of occasions.

By way of example, the Service Employees International Union did lead the latest in a series of marches and rallies Monday for its version of the Fight for 15 campaign following the Labor Day breakfast. But it was a march of hundreds — a good number of whom, as ever, were staffers from participating unions and progressive non-profits. Not the needed march of tens of thousands of enraged and emboldened Boston workers, synced with marches of millions of workers in cities around the country. And thus it presented no challenge at all to a Democratic establishment that has failed to enact needed reforms, even when it has controlled the entire Congress and Presidency (as was the case after Pres. Bill Clinton’s 1992 win, and Obama’s 2008 victory). Or entire state governments, as with Massachusetts under eight years of Gov. Deval Patrick.

Improving this difficult situation for labor will require a number of internal reforms, even as the various external crises are taken on. Highest on the list should be democratizing the more authoritarian unions to allow free, full, and ongoing discussions of key political economic issues. Followed by regular, binding, union-wide referenda on vital questions like: “What politicians, if any, should we support in the next election cycle?” And: “What politicians should we punish?” Such a program of reform is absolutely necessary if labor is going to transform itself into the militant independent force for democracy that it once, at its best, was. And stop the kinds of weak back room deals that have passed for political programs in many sectors of American labor for far too long.

At the end of the day, it’s up to union members to change their organizations from one-stop free money and campaign worker shops for the pro-business Democratic Party into standard bearers for the just society to come.

Will they do so before American labor unions cease to be a meaningful social force? That remains to be seen.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network. APPARENT HORIZON is the first column syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is a longtime labor activist and BINJ network director. He recently lost his job as assistant professor of communication after helping lead a successful core faculty union drive at Lesley University with SEIU Local 509. He is currently challenging the Lesley University administration’s refusal to renew his contract at the National Labor Relations Board.