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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Why “Apparent Horizon”: This column explained


September 19, 2015


APPARENT HORIZON: Your Gateway to a Better Universe is the full title of my new column and it was inspired by a somewhat rarefied area of scientific inquiry. Current hypotheses in theoretical physics — notably one recently propounded by Stephen Hawking — discuss the region surrounding a black hole as an “apparent horizon.” Unlike the older model of black holes, Hawking et al propose that they do not contain infinitely dense singularities and that there are no sharp event horizons separating them from the rest of the universe. Matter (plus energy) is captured by the superdense gravity of a black hole, but its constituent information doesn’t make it inside. It stays in the apparent horizon in chaotic form. Where it remains until Hawking radiation, produced as the black hole slowly evaporates, carries it back to normal spacetime. Or possibly to another universe, since Hawking suggests that apparent horizons may be gateways to alternate universes. So this column functions as an apparent horizon for discussions of Boston politics, visual art and other topics of interest. Information gets chopped up, reordered and may transport the reader to another, hopefully better, universe of possibilities. Enjoy.

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.

LABOUR HATERS: The Boston Globe’s Worrisome Rightward Lurch


September 17, 2015


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.



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


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.