Our democracy is broken

While in so many obvious and petrifying ways politics has never been bleaker, there is a level on which I have never felt more optimistic. And for better reasons than “it is the start of January and optimism is required” or “things had to get this broken before energy would be mustered to fix them”.

A huge amount of thinking is starting to crystallise around solutions that approach multiple crises at once, in innovations such as locally owned renewable energy, a basic citizen’s income or a mass social housing programme. The ideas are there to enact; but that won’t happen without sustained and coherent democratic pressure, which in itself is not possible unless we reconnect with our democracy. It’s rather an abstract, utopian ideal – to fall back in love with institutions, representation, all the process involved in the pooling of power. Yet there is exhilaration in the detail.

The broad consensus is that everyone is sick of politicians. On the one hand, eminences grises such as Gus O’Donnell (chosen randomly as the most recent example) connect living standards to the disenchantment. The more stagnant people’s wages, the worse their conditions, the higher their rents, the more disillusioned with mainstream politics they’re likely to be. The counter-argument is that MPs are simply bad people: witness the expenses scandal, or Iain Duncan Smith. Far from giving a clear map of the terrain, these perspectives are just features of it: bogs and pitfalls.

The real crisis of faith is not in politicians but in democracy, and this is common across the OECD countries. The World Economic Forum details its extent: from Sweden to New Zealand, Britain to the US, the percentage of people who say that it is “essential” to live in a democracy has dropped from around 70% among those born in the 1930s, to around 25% for those born in the 1980s.

Part of this is sheer amnesia. People born in the 1930s remember what the alternatives to democracy look like; it is ardently to be hoped that the young can be reminded by argument, and don’t have to see first-hand the devastation of authoritarianism before they believe it. The young are disillusioned, according to the Global Shapers survey, by bureaucracy, insincerity, lack of action and accountability, and a sense that the government doesn’t understand them.

That last point dovetails with the perception of insincerity. There is a problem with selection, a sense that politics is a career for insiders, people heavily invested in the status quo, who see their job as protecting it from the demands of the people. In 2012 a team of Italian physicists, economists and political scientists modelled a parliament in which some members had been chosen at random, like juries, and found the resultant system to be both more efficient and better at pursuing broad social welfare – as well as more diverse and thus more representative.

Party discipline perverts constructive action, while monolithic structures alienate voters with their tribalism and internecine wrangling. To choose all MPs at random would be to disconnect voters entirely from the process I prefer a significant element of deliberated choice, achieved through open primaries either within or across parties, in which voters rather than a party machine choose a candidate, based on open debate. The idea is gaining ground with Crowdpac, which, although the brainchild of Steve Hilton (whom I did not expect to namecheck in any utopian vision of anything), has a progressive pioneer in its chief international officer, Paul Hilder, co-founder of 38 Degrees and Open Democracy.

Once candidates are in place, progressives need to build an alliance, as championed by the think-and-do-tank Compass. This is not an idea conceived in despair at the failures of the traditional left: it is natural for a modern politics to evolve to build enough consensus to cooperate, while accommodating enough disagreement that we don’t feel our political identities have been compromised.

Finally, there is an urgent need to reconnect voters to issues, beyond politicians issuing mere platitudes and then being amazed when polls come back rejecting them. MPs are doing a poor job at making the case for humanity in the refugee crisis, higher taxes to fund the NHS, public investment to solve the housing shortage. It is not because they are inadequate people – though some could use a little more courage – rather, these issues are intricate, and cannot survive the over-simplification required when the primary means of dissemination are mass media and, if you’re Jeremy Corbyn, rallies.

Citizens’ juries – yet more jury-fication – involve choosing a group at random, asking their opinions at the start of a project, giving them a range of expert views to cross-examine, then drawing out their conclusions. At close range, this experiment can radically change people’s attitudes to a given issue, but more importantly it creates a sense of participation and inclusion.

I’d also broaden the net of what we think of as democratic action: voting is just the endpoint of the process, decision-time. It is given meaning by prior elements: the structures we have built together (the NHS); the resources that belong to us all (land, rivers, forests, air, schools, universities); the systems that we all keep afloat with mutual trust (money creation, social security). To take money as one example, even while, plainly, we don’t all have the same amount, we all have the same stake in its creation. At the moment, give or take a bit of quantitative easing, all money is conjured into existence by private banks, 85% of it as loans on existing residential property. It’s a recipe for unaffordable housing and unmanageable private debt, but it’s also undemocratic: the creation of money, which is essentially the creation of debt, affects all of us. There is no reason to surrender it to private banks, whose interests tend not to be the public good and whose accountability is pretty patchy.

Opinion is divided as to the solution: the economist Ann Pettifor favours tighter regulation of banks. This could involve a social benefit duty, forcing banks to prove that any debt created contributes to a better future for us all – lending to new businesses; lending for skills; lending for new houses ahead of existing ones and such like. Fran Boait, head of Positive Money, favours sovereign money, created by the government after public deliberation. The sine qua non is that the citizen is invited into the process, and understands enough to make the invitation relevant. A survey, now two years old, found that only one in 10 MPs understood how money was created; currently, we can’t even be bothered to educate our own legislature. There is an assumption of exclusivity, money as the preserve of the moneyed and nobody else’s business, a masonic code that leaves greed in charge.

All that fixed, the democratic to-do list will read: democratise renewable energy production; establish proportional representation; devise nationwide constitutional conventions; fund broad-based citizen journalism; and then arrive at the sunlit uplands.

None of these ideas are even as revolutionary as the “bread and butter” business of our current government – destroy trading partnerships, hose money at border control, stoke up racial hatred. What is daunting is neither the radicalism nor the effort required, but, rather, the hope. Pessimism is anaesthetising, and fatalism comforting; optimism leaves you vulnerable to every gust of disappointment, but it’s the very first of our civic duties.

— source theguardian.com By Zoe Williams

What Is a Country For?

Many of the folks I know are getting ready to play serious defense in 2017, and they’re not wrong. Before we take up our three-point stance on the national line of scrimmage, however, maybe we should ask ourselves not only what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for. What kind of United States of America do we actually want? Maybe, in fact, we could start by asking: What is a country for? What should a country do? Why do people establish countries in the first place?

Playing Defense

There is, without question, much that will need defending over the next four years, so much that people fought and died for in the twentieth century, so much that is threatened by the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the white nationalist right, and the Republican Party.

The twentieth century saw the introduction of many significant laws, regulations, and — yes — entitlements: benefits to which we have a right by virtue of living in, and in many cases being citizens of, this country.

We could start earlier, but let’s begin with the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. It established the right of workers to collectively negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers and made collective bargaining the official “policy of the United States.”

This policy faces an immediate threat. Identical Republican-sponsored bills in the House and Senate would end the right of unions to require the workers they represent to pay union dues. These bills would, in other words, reproduce at the federal level the so-called right-to-work (more accurately, right-to-starve) laws already in place in more than half the states. If — or as seems likely, when — they pass, millions of workers will face the potential loss of the power of collective bargaining and find themselves negotiating with employers as lonely individuals.

Then there was the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay to many workers (although not, notably, those laboring in agricultural fields or inside other people’s homes — workplaces then occupied primarily by African Americans, and later by other people of color as well).

Andrew F. Puzder, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of labor, opposes the very idea of a minimum wage. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since his current day job is as CEO of the parent company of two fast-food franchise operations, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

We could mention other New Deal era victories under threat: Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (now known as TANF for Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or more commonly simply as “welfare”), which was created to promote the wellbeing of children in families facing poverty. In the coming Trump years, we can expect predation on all these programs — from renewed efforts to “privatize” Social Security to further restrictions on welfare. Indeed, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Trump’s transition team point man on Social Security, is a firm believer in “privatization,” the idea that the federal government should encourage people to gamble on the stock market rather than rely on a guaranteed government pension.

The one entitlement program that will probably survive unscathed is SNAP, because its primary beneficiaries are not the people who use it to buy groceries but the giant agricultural corporations it indirectly subsidizes. It’s no accident that, unlike other entitlement programs, SNAP is administered by the Department of Agriculture.

Then there was the 1937 Housing Act, designed to provide financial support to cities so they could improve the housing stock of poor people, which eventually led to the creation of the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Ben Carson we are about to have a HUD secretary who, in addition to having announced that he’s not qualified to head a federal agency, doesn’t believe in the very programs HUD exists to support.

And so it goes with the victories of the second half of the twentieth century. In Jeff Sessions, for instance, we have a potential attorney general staunchly opposed to the civil and voting rights won by African Americans (and women of all races, in the case of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). In Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, we’ll have a climate-change denier and fossil-fuel advocate running the Environmental Protection Agency.

Medicare entitles — there’s that word again — older people and some with chronic illnesses to federally subsidized healthcare. Its introduction in 1965 ended the once-common newspaper and TV stories about senior citizens eating pet food because they couldn’t afford both medicine and groceries. That program, too, will reportedly be under threat.

There’s more to defend. Take widespread access to birth control, now covered by health insurance under Obamacare. I’m old enough to remember having to pretend I was married to get a doctor to prescribe The Pill, and being grateful for the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that guaranteed me a legal abortion, when a gynecologist told me I couldn’t conceive. (He was wrong.) Then there are the guarantees of civil rights for LGB (if not yet T) people won in the 1990s, culminating in the astonishing 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. All of this could be wiped out with a couple of Trumpian Supreme Court picks.

Nor should we forget that in addition to people’s rights, there are actual people to defend in the brave new world of Trumplandia, or at least to help defend themselves: immigrants, Muslims, African Americans — especially young black men — as well as people facing poverty and homelessness.

One potentially unexpected benefit of the coming period: so many of us are likely to be under attack in one way or another that we will recognize the need for broad-based coalitions, working at every level of society and throughout its institutions. Such groups already exist, some more developed than others. I’m thinking, for example, of United for Peace and Justice, which came together to oppose Bush-era wars and domestic policies, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community organizations led by people of color, and National People’s Action, another effective coalition of community organizations, to name just three. On the state level, there is the powerful work of the Moral Mondays project, led by the North Carolina NAACP and its president, the Reverend William J. Barber II. In my own backyard, there are the many community groups that make up San Francisco Rising and Oakland Rising.

Such multi-issue organizations can be sources of solidarity for people and groups focused on important single issues, from the Fight for Fifteen (dollars an hour minimum wage) to opposing the bizarrely-named First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect the right of proprietors of public accommodations to refuse service to people whose presence in their establishments violates “a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Defense Matters, But We Need More

As important as such defensive actions will be, we’re going to need something beyond a good defense: a coherent reason why all these disparate things are worth defending. We need to be able to say why black lives, women’s lives, workers’ lives, brown and immigrant lives matter in the first place. We need a vision of a society in which not only do all people’s lives matter, but where they all have the possibility of being good lives. We need a picture of what a country is for, so that as we fight, we understand not only the horrors we oppose, but what it is we desire.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start any description of what a good human life consists of from scratch. People have been discussing the subject for at least as long as they’ve left written records, and probably far longer. In the third century BCE, for example, Aristotle proposed that the good life — happiness — consists of developing and using both our intellectual and moral capacities to the fullest possible extent across an entire lifetime. The good life meant learning and then practicing wisdom, courage, justice, and generosity — along with some lesser virtues, like being entertaining at a dinner party.

Aristotle wasn’t an idiot, however. He also knew that people need the basics of survival — food, clothing, shelter, health, and friendship — if they are to be happy. Not surprisingly, he had a distinctly limited idea about which human beings could actually achieve such happiness. It boiled down to men of wealth who had the leisure to develop their abilities. His understanding of the good life left a lot of people, including women, slaves, and children, out of the circle of the fully human.

Although it may sound strange to twenty-first-century American ears, Aristotle also thought that the purpose of government was to help people (at least those he thought were capable of it) to live happy lives, in part by making laws that would guide them into developing the capacities crucial to that state.

Who nowadays thinks that happiness is the government’s business? Perhaps more of us should. After all, the Founding Fathers did.

“We Hold These Truths…”

Where should we who seek to defend our country against the advance of what some are now going so far as to call “fascism” enter this conversation about the purpose of government? It might make sense to take a look at a single sentence written by a group of white men, among them slaveholders, who also thought happiness was the government’s business. I’m referring, of course, to the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Its much-quoted second sentence reads in full:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Political philosopher Danielle Allen has pointed out that modern versions of the Declaration’s text “update” the original punctuation with a period after “happiness.” But that full stop obscures the whole point of the sentence. Not only do people self-evidently possess “unalienable” rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but the very reason we form governments in the first place is to “secure” those rights. Furthermore, when a government — rather than protecting life, liberty, and happiness — “becomes destructive” of them, we have the right to abolish it and put a better one in its place, always keeping in mind that the purpose of any new government should be to “effect” the people’s safety and happiness.

Of course, beginning any conversation with those words from the Declaration raises the obvious question: “Who’s ‘we’?” Can those of us who are women, people of color, descendants of slaves and/or slaveholders, all claim participation in that “we”? Should we want to? Allen, who describes herself as biracial and a feminist, addresses the contradictions inherent in claiming this document for our own in her valuable book Our Declaration. She concludes that we not only can, we must. There is too much at stake for us to cede equality to a white, male minority.

Life, Liberty…

What would it mean to take seriously the idea that people create governments so they can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What would the United States look like if that were its purpose?

Let’s start with life. It’s reasonable to think that the Declaration’s authors were following the ideas of another dead white man, John Locke, who believed that people create governments so that they don’t have to spend all their time and energy preventing other people from hurting them, or taking revenge when they’ve been hurt. Instead, people delegate this authority to governments.

But what has the U.S. government done with those delegated powers?

Over the last 15 years of what we still call the “war on terror,” Americans have been told repeatedly that we have to choose between life and liberty, between “security” and freedom. We can’t have both. Do we want to be safe from terrorists? Then we must allow mass collection of our telephone and Internet-use data. And we must create a registry of Muslims living in this country. Do we want to be safe on our streets? Then we must allow federal and state governments to keep 2.2 million people locked up and another 4.5 million on probation or parole. Ours is the largest prison population in the world, in raw numbers and in proportion to our population. Safety on the street, we’re told, also demands an increase in the amount of daily video surveillance Americans experience. And that’s just to start down a long list of the ways our liberties have been curtailed in these years.

At the same time, successive Congresses and administrations have cut the programs that once helped sustain life in this country. Now, with the threatened repeal of Obamacare (and so the potential loss of medical insurance for at least 20 million Americans), the Republicans may literally cut off the lives of people who depend on that program for treatments that help them survive.

The preamble of the Constitution also establishes the importance of life, liberty, and happiness, with slightly different language. In it, “We the people” establish that Constitution for the following purposes:

“to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Is it possible that our common “defence” is not, in fact, aided by maintaining the world’s most powerful military, garrisoning the planet, and endlessly projecting power across the globe? After all, the United States is protected by an ocean off each coast and friendly countries on our northern and southern borders (although we may not always deal with them as friends should be treated). Certainly, I want my government to defend me from invading armies; on the other hand, I’m not convinced my safety is increased when the United States does the invading.

It’s useful, too, as we think about the purpose of government, to consider the idea of the “general Welfare.” This phrase implies something important: my welfare, my good life, is bound up with yours. The people established the Constitution to promote the welfare of all of us, and not of a tiny, mega-rich minority, which is now running our government. We could do worse than reclaim the importance of the general welfare, with its suggestion that it is the primary business of any decent government to promote our wellbeing.

…And the Pursuit of Happiness

Surely the definition of the good life, of happiness itself, is such a personal thing that it can’t be the subject of legislation or the object of government. Perhaps that’s true, but I’d like to introduce one more thinker here, also white, and, sadly, deceased: the political philosopher Iris Marion Young. In her Justice and the Politics of Difference, she offered a definition of a good human life. We can say, she argued, that a society is more or less a just one depending on the degree to which it satisfies basic physical needs, and equally importantly (as Aristotle also believed), “supports the institutional conditions necessary” for people to participate in self-development. To her, that means “learning and using satisfying and expansive skills,” as well as the expression of “our experience, feelings, and perspective on social life in contexts where others can listen.” But self-development and expression, she says, are not sufficient for a good life. We also need self-determination — that is, participation in the decisions that affect our lives and how we live them.

We have much to defend, but we also should have a vision to advance. As we fight against a secretary of education who abhors public schools, we should also be fighting for the right of all of us to develop and use those “expansive and satisfying skills” — from reading and writing to creating and doing — that make life worth living. In a society with less and less demand for non-robotic workers, education will be more important than ever, not just so people can earn their livings, but also so that their lives are valuable and valued.

As we fight against an administration of generals and billionaires, we should also be fighting for a country where we are free to express ourselves in language, dress, song, and ritual, without fear of finding ourselves on a registry or all our communications in the files of a spy agency. As we fight against a president elected by a minority of voters, we fight for a country in which we can take part in the decisions that affect all aspects of our lives.

For many years I’ve opposed most of what my country stands for in the world. As a result, I often tended to see its founding documents as so many beautiful but meaningless promises spoken in our time to convince us and the world that the coups, invasions, and occupations we engaged in do represent life and liberty.

But what if we were actually to take those words at face value? Not naively, but with the bitter nuance of the black poet Langston Hughes who, recognizing both the promise and the sham, wrote:

“ O, let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”

Maybe it’s not so strange that, in these dismal times, I find my hope in a dream, now hundreds of years old, of a country dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I guess it’s time to develop those satisfying and expansive skills of thinking, organizing, and acting to bring back that mighty dream again, that dream of a land that never has been yet — but will be.

— source tomdispatch.com By Rebecca Gordon

When Fear Comes

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago,” his profound meditation on the nature of oppression and resistance in the Soviet gulags, tells the story of a man who was among prisoners being moved in the spring of 1947. The former front-line soldier, whose name is lost to history, suddenly disarmed and killed the two guards. He announced to his fellow prisoners that they were free.

“But the prisoners were overwhelmed with horror; no one followed his lead, and they all sat down right there and waited for a new convoy,” Solzhenitsyn writes. The prisoner attempted in vain to shame them. “And then he took up the rifles (thirty-two cartridges, ‘thirty one for them!’) and left alone. He killed and wounded several pursuers and with his thirty-second cartridge he shot himself. The entire Archipelago might well have collapsed if all the former front-liners had behaved as he did.”

The more despotic a regime becomes, the more it creates a climate of fear that transforms into terror. At the same time, it invests tremendous energy and resources in censorship and propaganda to maintain the fiction of the just and free state.

Poor people of color know intimately how these twin mechanisms of fear and false hope function as effective forms of social control in the internal colonies of the United States. They have also grasped, as the rest of us soon will, the fiction of American democracy.

Those who steadfastly defy the state will, if history is any guide, be decapitated one by one. A forlorn hope that the state will ignore us if we comply will cripple many who have already been condemned. “Universal innocence,” Solzhenitsyn writes, “also gave rise to the universal failure to act. Maybe they won’t take you? Maybe it will all blow over.”

“The majority sit quietly and dare to hope,” he writes. “Since you aren’t guilty, then how can they arrest you? It’s a mistake!

“Does hope lend strength or does it weaken a man?” Solzhenitsyn asks. “If the condemned man in every cell had ganged up on the executioners as they came in and choked them, wouldn’t this have ended the executions sooner than appeals to the All-Russian Central Executive Committee? When one is already on the edge of the grave, why not resist?”

“But wasn’t everything foredoomed anyway, from the moment of arrest?” he asks. “Yet all the arrested crawled along the path of hope on their knees, as if their legs had been amputated.”

Resisting despotism is often a lonely act. It is carried out by those endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls “sublime madness.” Rebels will be persecuted, imprisoned or forced to become hunted outcasts, much as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are now. A public example will be made of anyone who defies the state. The punishment of those singled out for attack will be used to send a warning to all who are inclined to dissent.

“Before societies fall, just such a stratum of wise, thinking people emerges, people who are that and nothing more,” Solzhenitsyn writes of those who see what is coming. “And how they were laughed at! How they were mocked! As though they stuck in the craw of people whose deeds and actions were single-minded and narrow-minded. And the only nickname they were christened with was ‘rot.’ Because these people were a flower that bloomed too soon and breathed too delicate a fragrance. And so they were mowed down.”

“These people,” he goes on, “were particularly helpless in their personal lives; they could neither bend with the wind, nor pretend, nor get by; every word declared an opinion, a passion, a protest. And it was just such people the mowing machine cut down, just such people the chaff-cutter shredded.”

When I returned to the newsroom at The New York Times after being booed off a commencement stage in 2003 for denouncing the invasion of Iraq, reporters and editors lowered their heads or turned away when I was nearby. They did not want to be touched by the same career-killing contagion. They wanted to protect their status at the institution. Retreat into rabbit holes is the most common attempt at self-protection.

The right-wing cable shows were lynching me almost hourly. Soon I was given a written reprimand and public rebuke by the newspaper. I was a leper.

The machinery of the security and surveillance state, the use of special terrorism laws and the stripping of civil liberties become ubiquitous. The lofty rhetoric of liberty and the reality of the chains readied for the public creates magic realism. Reality and the language describing reality are soon antipodal. The pseudo-democracy is populated with pseudo-legislators, pseudo-courts, pseudo-journalists, pseudo-intellectuals and pseudo-citizens. Nothing is as it is presented.

Demagogues, Solzhenitsyn reminds us, are stunted and shallow people. “Unlimited power in the hands of limited people always leads to cruelty,” he writes.

“The overall life of society comes down to the fact that traitors were advanced and mediocrities triumphed, while everything that was best and most honest was trampled underfoot,” he observes. Ersatz intellectuals, surrogates “for those who had been destroyed, or dispersed,” took the place of real intellectuals.

“After all,” Solzhenitsyn writes, “we have gotten used to regarding as valor only valor in war (or the kind that’s needed for flying in outer space), the kind which jingle-jangles with medals. We have forgotten another concept of valor—civil valor. And that’s all our society needs, just that, just that, just that!”

This kind of valor, he knew as a combat veteran, requires a moral courage that is more difficult than the physical courage encountered on the battlefield.

“This unanimous quiet defiance of a power which never forgave, this obstinate, painfully protracted insubordination, was somehow more frightening than running and yelling as the bullets fly,” he says.

The coming arrests mean that a wide range of Americans will experience the violations that poor people of color have long endured. Self-interest alone should have generated sweeping protest, should have made the nation as a whole more conscious. We should have understood: Once rights become privileges that the state can revoke, they will eventually be taken away from everyone. Now those who had been spared will get a taste of what complicity in oppression means.

“The traditional image of arrest is also what happens afterward, when the poor victim has been taken away,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “It is an alien, brutal, and crushing force totally dominating the apartment for hours on end, a breaking, ripping one, pulling from the walls, emptying things from wardrobes and desks onto the floor, shaking, dumping out, and ripping apart—piling up mountains of litter on the floor—and the crunch of things being trampled beneath jackboots. And nothing is sacred in a search! During the arrest of locomotive engineer Inoshin, a tiny coffin stood in his room containing his newly dead child. The ‘jurists’ dumped the child’s body out of the coffin and searched it. They shake sick people out of their sickbeds, and they unwind bandages to search beneath them.”

“Resistance,” he writes, “should have begun right there, at the moment of the arrest itself. But it did not begin.” And so the mass arrests were easy.

And what at that point constitutes victory?

“From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy past firmly behind you,” he writes. “At the very threshold, you must say to yourself: ‘My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am condemned to die—now or a little later. But later on, in truth, it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious and important to me.”

“Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “Only the man who has renounced everything can win that victory.”

The last volume of Solzhenitsyn’s trilogy chronicles camp uprisings and revolts. These revolts were impossible to foresee.

“So many deep historians have written so many clever books and still they have not learned how to predict those mysterious conflagrations of the human spirit, to detect the mysterious springs of a social explosion, not even to explain them in retrospect,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “Sometimes you can stuff bundle after bundle of burning tow under the logs, and they will not take. Yet up above, a solitary little spark flies out of the chimney and the whole village is reduced to ashes.”

How do we prepare? Solzhenitsyn, after eight years in the gulag, answers this too.

“Do not pursue what is illusory—property and position; all is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life—don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don’t freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart—and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory!”

— source truthdig.com By Chris Hedges

The Real Purpose of the U.S. Government’s Report on Alleged Hacking by Russia

Some thoughts on “Russia’s Influence Campaign Targeting the 2016 US Presidential Election,” the newly released declassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

1. The primary purpose of the declassified report, which offers no evidence to support its assertions that Russia hacked the U.S. presidential election campaign, is to discredit Donald Trump. I am not saying there was no Russian hack of John Podesta’s emails. I am saying we have yet to see any tangible proof to back up the accusation. This charge—Sen. John McCain has likened the alleged effort by Russia to an act of war—is the first salvo in what will be a relentless campaign by the Republican and Democratic establishment, along with its corporatist allies and the mass media, to destroy the credibility of the president-elect and prepare the way for impeachment.

The allegations in the report, amplified in breathtaking pronouncements by a compliant corporate media that operates in a non-fact-based universe every bit as pernicious as that inhabited by Trump, are designed to make Trump look like Vladimir Putin’s useful idiot. An orchestrated and sustained campaign of innuendo and character assassination will be directed against Trump. When impeachment is finally proposed, Trump will have little public support and few allies and will have become a figure of open ridicule in the corporate media.

2. The second task of the report is to bolster the McCarthyist smear campaign against independent media, including Truthdig, as witting or unwitting agents of the Russian government. The demise of the English programming of Al-Jazeera and TeleSur, along with the collapse of the nation’s public broadcasting, designed to give a voice to those not beholden to corporate or party interests, leaves RT America and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! as the only two electronic outlets with a national reach that are willing to give a platform to critics of corporate power and imperialism such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, Ralph Nader, Medea Benjamin, Cornel West, Kshama Sawant, myself and others.

Seven pages of the report were dedicated to RT America, on which I have a show called “On Contact.” The report vastly inflated the cable network’s reach and influence. It also included a few glaring errors, including the statement that “RT introduced two new shows—‘Breaking the Set’ on 4 September and ‘Truthseeker’ on 2 November—both overwhelmingly focused on criticism of the US and Western governments as well as the promotion of radical discontent.” “Breaking the Set,” with Abby Martin, was taken off the air two years ago. It could hardly be tarred with costing Hillary Clinton the election.

The barely contained rage of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at the recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyber threats was visible when he spat out that RT was “promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, et cetera.” His anger was a glimpse into how the establishment seethes with hatred for dissidents. Clapper has lied in the past. He perjured himself in March 2013 when, three months before the revelations of wholesale state surveillance leaked by Snowden, he assured Congress that the National Security Agency was not collecting “any type of data” on the American public. After the corporate state shuts down RT, it will go after Democracy Now! and the handful of progressive sites, including this one, that give these dissidents space. The goal is censorship.

3. The third task of the report is to justify the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization beyond Germany, a violation of the promise Ronald Reagan made to the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Expanding NATO in Eastern Europe opened up an arms market for the war industry. It made those businesses billions of dollars. New NATO members must buy Western arms that can be integrated into the NATO arsenal. These sales, which are bleeding the strained budgets of countries such as Poland, are predicated on potential hostilities with Russia. If Russia is not a threat, the arms sales plummet. War is a racket.

4. The final task of the report is to give the Democratic Party plausible cover for the catastrophic election defeat it suffered. Clinton initially blamed FBI Director James Comey for her loss before switching to the more easily demonized Putin. The charge of Russian interference essentially boils down to the absurd premise that perhaps hundreds of thousands of Clinton supporters suddenly decided to switch their votes to Trump when they read the leaked emails of Podesta. Either that or they tuned in to RT America and decided to vote for the Green Party.

The Democratic Party leadership cannot face, and certainly cannot publicly admit, that its callous betrayal of the working and middle class triggered a nationwide revolt that resulted in the election of Trump. It has been pounded since President Barack Obama took office, losing 68 seats in the House, 12 seats in the Senate and 10 governorships. It lost more than 1,000 elected positions between 2008 and 2012 nationwide. Since 2010, Republicans have replaced 900 Democratic state legislators. If this was a real party, the entire leadership would be sacked. But it is not a real party. It is the shell of a party propped up by corporate money and hyperventilating media.

The Democratic Party must maintain the fiction of liberalism just as the Republican Party must maintain the fiction of conservatism. These two parties, however, belong to one party—the corporate party. They will work in concert, as seen by the alliance between Republican leaders such as McCain and Democratic leaders such as Sen. Chuck Schumer, to get rid of Trump, silence all dissent, enrich the war industry and promote the farce they call democracy.

Welcome to our annus horribilis.

— source truthdig.com By Chris Hedges

Wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. History

A barrage of Senate confirmation hearings is set to begin Tuesday for what could be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern American history. This comes despite concerns that ethics clearances and background checks are incomplete for several of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks. Senator Jeff Sessions faces questions Tuesday for his nomination as attorney general, along with Trump’s pick to head Homeland Security, retired Marine General John Kelly. On Wednesday, hearings are set for former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, along with education secretary [nominee] Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao and CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson’s net worth is at least $300 million, and several other nominees hold assets of more than a billion dollars, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose confirmation hearing is on Thursday. As Cabinet appointees, the nominees are required to submit a financial disclosure report that’s used by the agencies they’re to take over, along with the Office of Government Ethics. The New York Times reports some of the nominees have so many assets, there are not enough boxes on the standard form for them.

The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote in a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts that, quote, “This schedule has created undue pressure on [the Office of Government Ethics’] staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews.” Senator Warren later tweeted, quote, “Cabinet officials must put our country’s interests before their own. No conference hearings should be held until we’re certain that’s the case,” she tweeted. Trump’s transition team responded with a statement: quote, “In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process,” unquote. This comes as NBC reports it requested emails between the Office of Government Ethics and Trump’s transition team and found Shaub had emailed Trump aides in November to say, quote, “We seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election.”

Richard Painter talking:

we have historic elections for the office of president of the United States every four years and a transition from one president to another at least every eight years. So we’ve all been through this process before, and so has the Office of Government Ethics. The Office of Government Ethics has been spending at least a year preparing for the transition that is taking place right now. But it’s critically important for the nominees to have finished their Form 278, which is the financial disclosure form that lays out what their assets are and what their sources of income are, and then also to have entered into an ethics agreement with the agency that they’re going to go into that specifies what assets are going to be sold in order to avoid conflicts of interest and what matters, government matters, they are going to have to recuse from in order to avoid financial conflicts of interest with respect to the remaining assets.

This is critically important because there is a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits any executive branch official from participating in a matter in which that person has a financial interest. So they either need to sell assets or recuse. We cannot have people who are going to be having leadership positions, with respect to national security, with substantial investments or any investments in Turkey, Russia, Indonesia—countries that are strategically very sensitive for the United States. We can’t have a secretary of education who’s invested in the for-profit education business. These are investments that are going to have to be divested in order for the person to do their job.

And the job of the Office of Government Ethics is to make absolutely sure that happens and to work with the nominees and their lawyers before the Senate confirmation hearings begin, so the senators see exactly what the assets are, what the sources of income are and what the plan is with respect to addressing conflicts of interest. And that’s what they’ve done with Rex Tillerson, and I believe they have a plan ready to go. The assets are fully disclosed. So I think the Senate can have that hearing.

But I understand that with respect to some of the others, that they do not have a complete Form 278. They do not have an ethics agreement in place. And those hearings will have to wait. This is exactly the point that Senator Mitch McConnell made in 2009 when he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid about it. We can’t have the hearings until we have the financial disclosure forms and the ethics agreement. And Senator McConnell was exactly right on that. So that’s what they need to do now, is make sure they have those agreements and those financial disclosure forms in place before they have the hearings.

Robert Weissman talking:

I think what we’re seeing with the failure to comply with these ethics rules is a reiteration of what we knew early on after the election, which is we’re going to see the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States. And we’re going to see now two kinds of corruption, one that is extremely likely because of the failure to take ethics rules seriously, which is scandals and violation of the law. I mean, the reason you do this stuff in advance is to avoid breaking the criminal statutes that Professor Painter is referring to. It’s actually to help the Cabinet officials themselves. And it’s also to give the Senate its only opportunity to actually enforce these rules.

The second kind of corruption, which is guaranteed—100 percent guaranteed—is the revolving door kind of corruption. So we have all kinds of people coming in from corporate America—billionaires, huge contributors—and they’re going to rule on matters that directly relate to corporate interests, their own personal interests, whether or not they have—are going to be transgressing the conflict of interest rules. So we have the amazing spectacle of the former CEO of Exxon nominated to be secretary of state. You know, Exxon runs its own foreign policy; now Exxon is effectively taking over the foreign policy of the United States.

At the Department of Labor, not up this week, I think, we have Andy Puzder, fast-food chain mogul, about the worst possible place to look for someone to enforce labor laws, now proposed to enforce national labor laws. At the Environmental Protection Agency, we have Scott Pruitt, the attorney general from Oklahoma, who has sued the agency, who has written letters on behalf of oil companies, drafted by oil companies, attacking EPA regulations, now proposed to run the agency. And you go on down the list, and it’s kind of endless. Each one of these people, by themselves, would be an outrage in any other administration. But the totality of what we’re seeing from the Trump administration has no precedent in American history.

Tom Price is a member of Congress. He has been nominated to run the Department of Health and Human Services. It turns out he’s been an active trader in pharmaceutical stocks. Thanks to a recently passed law, members of Congress are required to disclose what they trade and when. And we’ve seen that his stock trades seem to correlate very closely with another member of Congress, Representative Collins. Representative Collins sits on the board and owns a one-sixth share in a small Australian biotech company called Innate Immuno. And Representative Price has also traded in this penny stock from Australia, that very few people ever would have heard of, at moments that correlate closely with the trades by Representative Price—by Representative Collins.

So we don’t know for sure that something is wrong here, but it doesn’t look good, and it certainly merits an investigation. We’ve actually—Public Citizen has called on the Office of Congressional Ethics, the thing that was being attacked last week, to undertake that investigation. And we think that investigation ought to take place before Mr. Price is confirmed for the Department of Health and Human Services. You just don’t want people who are transgressing ethics rules as a matter of course in charge of these vitally important agencies.

I think there’s a few things happening, but I think the biggest one is that President Trump—President-elect Trump has shown his utter disregard and lack of concern for ethics rules as regards himself. And, you know, just like Meryl Streep was saying in those remarks last night, what the president-elect does and the president-to-be does, that filters down. So members of Congress figure, “Ethics rules don’t matter for him. Why should they matter for—why should we be bothered with them? Let’s get rid of this pesky agency that actually enforces them.” And the Senate Republicans figure, “Why should we bother with having these tough ethics reviews from the Office of Government Ethics, if this kind of standard doesn’t apply to the president-elect and maybe he’s able to get away with it?” Now, I think, actually, that’s a miscalculation. They’re not going to be able to get away with it, as we saw last week. And even if they do momentarily, it’s going to come back to bite them, because we’re guaranteed to see multiple scandals because of their casual disregard for ethics standards.

Richard Painter talking:

This is critical to the integrity of our government and avoiding violation of a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits a government official from participating in any matter that has a direct or predictable effect on that government official’s financial position. And so, Senator McConnell was absolutely right in 2009 when he wrote that letter to Senator Reid. This is not just some procedural posturing. This is all about conflicts of interest. And we need to make absolutely sure that we don’t have them in this administration, just like we did in the last administration and in the Bush administration. There needs to be proper vetting of the nominees for financial conflicts of interest before they go in.

And that’s happened with some of them. Rex Tillerson has disclosed his assets, and he has disclosed that he’s going to sell the oil company stock. And so far as I’m concerned, from the financial conflicts of interest perspective, that clears him to go into the hearing and then discuss his views on such critically important issues as global warming, which I understand he actually believes in the fact that there is global warming, which anybody but an idiot, of course, would believe by 2017. But that may put him in the top half of the class at the Trump University there. So, let’s give him a chance, now that he’s made his disclosures and divestment decisions.

But every one of these nominees has to do the same. And the president of the United States himself should set the right example by divesting himself of his own assets that create conflicts of interest. We’re looking forward to an announcement on that this week. And I will give President Trump—President-elect Trump credit for last week having blasted the United States House of Representatives for that absurd plan to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. They didn’t get that idea from him. They’ve been planning that for a long time, because they don’t like being investigated. And I think the voters ought to find out whether their congressmen voted for that. I know my congressman voted for getting rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and we’re going to hold them accountable in 2018, because that’s unacceptable.

Carl Icahn—the position the transition is taking right now with respect to Carl Icahn is that he is not going to be a government employee. Well, that’s just wrong. If he is going to be advising the president and be given a title and advising the president as to who the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission is going to be, who the top regulators are going to be, he needs to disclose his assets and divest from the assets that create conflicts of interest. And you can’t just get around a criminal statute by saying, “Well, he’s not a government employee, because he doesn’t want to get paid.” He’d rather go in there and influence government policy with respect to his billions of dollars’ worth of assets. That doesn’t get around the criminal conflict of interest statute. So Carl Icahn needs to either be a government employee, subject to the same rules as everyone else, or he needs to butt out.

And I would ask every single person who is put up for a position, who has had communications with Carl Icahn, including the new nominee for the Securities and Exchange Commission—the senators need to ask specifically what conversations took place with Carl Icahn. He has no business helping choose these nominees and performing United States government functions, when he’s not going to be a United States government employee. And the senators need to know exactly what’s going on and should refuse to confirm those nominees.

he’s a well-known corporate raider and skirts very close to the edge of rules with respect to the securities laws that are enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission. I don’t understand why a president would put Carl Icahn in charge of choosing who the next SEC chair is going to be. And I want to know exactly what was said between the nominee, Mr. Clayton, and Mr. Icahn, before I even think about a confirmation vote on that one. Same with the energy sector and everything else. He owns a lot of energy companies that would like to see everything get deregulated over there, so he can make more money. Well, that may or may not be in the public interest.

Once again, if he is going to get involved in the United States government decision-making and advising the White House, he needs to be a United States government employee. He needs to file a financial disclosure form like everybody else and divest of the conflict-creating assets, or he’s going to end up violating criminal statute. And they’re not going to get around that simply by saying he’s not a United States government employee. They can say that all they want, but if he’s functioning as a U.S. government employee, he has to follow the rules.

Robert Weissman talking:

it’s going to be a test for the Republicans to see if they’re willing to say, “Look, they’re not following the rules. We’re not going to let this thing proceed.” And so far, it looks pretty bad.

it’s during the committee process that you have a chance to really hold them accountable. And, you know, this Carl Icahn example shows why the rules are so important and why Mitch McConnell is so wrong. These are not just procedural technicalities. Carl Icahn is not just making—giving advice on matters that relate to enriching him personally, although he is doing that, because he’s got huge stakes in the oil and gas industry, and he wants to get that regulated. And as Richard Painter was saying, he plays fast and loose with the SEC rules, and he wants to make sure those aren’t too toughly enforced either. But he is giving advice on broad matters of policy that will materially affect all Americans, including by worsening the prospect of climate change. So these are not just technical matters, that, you know—picayune rules that are kind of a pain to follow. They go to broad policy questions. And that’s why it’s so important that they be enforced. That’s why it’s so important that the traditions be respected. It’s why it’s so important that the committees have a chance to delve into these matters before they take votes. And it’s why we’re on course for the most scandal-prone and corrupt administration in American history.

folks can go to CorporpateCabinet.org and get a quick look at some of these worst nominees and their conflicts. Of course, we’re trying, with many others, to mobilize opposition across the board, including to many of the worst, most conflicted and corrupt picks.

Richard Painter
professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota. He was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from February 2005 to July 2007.

Robert Weissman
president of Public Citizen, which has just launched the CorporateCabinet.org website, tracking the corporate connections and conflicts of interest of Trump Cabinet appointees.

— source democracynow.org

Class Struggle in Vermont

THE GRANAI CLAN was like many Italian immigrant families settling in Barre at the end of the 19th century. By 1912 Cornelius, one of 18 children, was working as a stone cutter for the Jones Brother Company. His parents were ex-followers of Guiseppe Garibaldi, peasant leader and soldier in the wars of Italian unification.

Decades later, in an interview with a friend, oral historian Roby Colodny, for Vermont’s Untold History, Granai recalled hearing stories about more than a dozen members of one Garibaldi expeditionary force that settled in Barre. Other immigrants called themselves Republicani, followers of Mazzini, elder statesman of the Italian Republic. Whatever their previous affiliations, most considered themselves socialists. And many joined the two main unions for those who cut stone, the Quarry Workers and the Granite Cutters International Association.

Eugene Debs, three-time Socialist candidate for president, visited Barre, as did his successor Norman Thomas in the early 1930s. Fred Suitor, secretary-treasurer of the local Quarry Workers from 1911 to 1930, ran for governor as the Socialist Party candidate in 1912, and was later elected mayor of Barre on the Citizens ticket. According to Granai, everyone knew he was a Socialist.

So much has changed. Barre was Vermont’s third largest city by 1900, right behind Burlington and Rutland. Although a single industry had fueled its growth, no one family or company dominated the local economy or culture. And its population represented a diverse ethnic mix, from French Canadians to immigrants from Italy, Spain and Scotland.

During the historic 1912 strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, at least 200 children of the strikers were sent to the central Vermont city. On February 17, musical bands from Barre, Bethel and Waterbury greeted the kids as they arrived at the train station. They were “divied out” at a crowded Socialist Hall on Granite Street as people sang “son qui” (here I am), the famous duet from Tosca, Puccini’s opera about Italy’s struggle for independence.

Even Yankee farmers from the countryside took children in.

In the 1920s the case of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti captured broad local sympathy, especially in the immigrant neighborhoods. The two self-professed anarchists had been convicted of murder and armed robbery after a controversial trial in which the judge consistently denied defense motions. As new evidence emerged, more people decided that it was a frame-up, part of the red scare that began during the war. Sacco and Vanzetti became a cause célèbre, and attracted worldwide attention and support.

“Barre was never so stirred up,” Granai recalled. “They were seen as victims of their beliefs…victimized by circumstances.” When a play about the two immigrant martyrs was performed at the old Barre Opera House, a thousand tickets were sold for 300 seats. But unlike the Lawrence Strike a decade earlier, there was no victory this time. Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted shortly after midnight on August 23, 1927.

The ideas and sympathies of the newcomers sounded “radical” to many of their Yankee neighbors. But their agenda was a campaign for bread and butter, a decent home and education for their children. Like many urban areas in the U.S., Barre witnessed frequent agitation for shorter hours, higher wages and improved working conditions, from “squat sheds” and provocations to lockouts and strikes. Silicosis-producing dust sent many granite workers to the sanitarium on Blakely Hill. Accidents due to drilling and dynamite blasting were common.

A 40-hour workweek, with Saturday afternoon off, was instituted in 1914. Two years later Robert Gordon became Barre’s first Socialist Mayor, winning by 100 votes over the editor of the Barre Daily Times. But the political dynamics were fragile. After war was declared against Germany in 1917 it quickly became a battle against militant labor as well, especially the IWW. Most of its top leadership was rounded up and put on trial. As the Red Scare and deportation of suspected foreign radicals began the city’s socialist movement faded.

A teenager during the war years, John Lawson attended local socialist meetings with his dad. He and his family had reached Barre from Scotland in 1911, and Lawson took it upon himself to revive the Party after the war. It was a lonely task. Most IWW members – called Wobblies – were either in jail or struggling to hold onto union support. Many businesses were tired of dealing with labor demands.

By the early 1920s, although the unions were still strong, the socialist movement was in decline and a new slogan was creeping into use – The American Plan. Cloaked in patriotism, the Plan was a business strategy designed to deny recognition, even to well-established unions, and tar almost any demand for better wages or working conditions as “bolshevism.”
“The owners were represented by the Quarry Owners Association and the Barre Granite Association,” Lawson recalled. “Both were backed up by a common Board of Control which sat in Boston.” Through the intransigence of its President James Boutwell, the Board strove to preserve a “united front,” especially during a lockout that ran for months in 1922 and 1923. The Quarry Workers and Granite Cutters held out and some of the smaller companies eventually signed union contracts.
But the “united front” strategy was a partial success. Four months after the strike began scabs were brought in from sheds and quarries in Canada and Massachusetts. Some companies even promised them higher wages than the union was demanding. Once they arrived, however, the wages dropped.
By the time the strike ended, open shop working conditions had taken hold. The Rock of Ages Company was launched soon afterward, a rebranding of the older Boutwell, Milne and Varnum Granite Company, and actively promoted the American Plan. By purchasing other smaller companies – a strategy known as growth-by-acquisition – it became the best-known name in the granite industry. Rock of Ages wasn’t unionized until 1941.

Organizing in Hard Times

IN THE YEARS after World War I, migration to larger Vermont communities accelerated, prompting a building boom in regional centers like Burlington. Milk production was on the rise, although the number of farms was dropping rapidly. Fruit production was also high, at least for a few years, but less butter, hay and other grains were being produced. Both manufacturing and agricultural diversity declined as tourism took a firmer hold on the economy.

At its peak, a trolley system carried over 16 million passengers around Southern Vermont – until the flood of November 1927. But that historic disaster, which hurt rail travel and reduced trolley passengers to less than 2 million, ended up helping the summer home and winter sports sectors of the recreation industry by spurring highway spending and the building of airports. In the early 1930s half of the state’s $12 million annual budget was devoted annually to highway construction. During the same period only $1 million was spent yearly on education and health.

Increased specialization of labor, along with the growth of services industries and transportation systems, drew Vermont more deeply into the national money and credit network. In 1929 that structure collapsed. Unemployment skyrocketed as the standard of living dropped.

In Barre, a two-month strike by granite workers became a “straight out union fight for survival,” recalled Lawson. The strike officially began on April 1, 1933, shutting down six major companies within a week. The only exception was E. L. Smith, which paid above union scale and used workers from Canada. Lawson was president of the Graniteville local, while Granai consulted closely with the strike committee as a lawyer.

The union asked the sheriff and his deputies to let the strikers police themselves. “A police force was established by the wearing of white arm bands,” according to Granai. But at that point agent provocateurs rode in and workers fought back. In some cases the latter brandished shotguns for self-defense. Some strikers were jailed by anti-union judges. The protest was losing ground.

Shortly after the strike began, the sheriff had assisted in the use of 150 strikebreakers. But local residents backed the union, tradesmen and farmers distributed free food, and a federal arbitration board sought a compromise. On April 29, the Quarry Workers union rejected extension of the old contract for a second time. But the Granite Cutters accepted binding arbitration and the strike was almost settled by May 5.

Interpretations of why the National Guard was called in vary. As Granai remembered it, Governor Stanley C. Wilson didn’t issue the order. Rather, people connected with the Granite Cutters made the request “to get rid of agent provocateurs.” Lawson and others recall the situation differently. “Protests against the Guard were lodged by farmers, churchmen, the ACLU, the Vermont federation of labor, and a committee of Barre businessmen,” he insisted.

Whatever the reason, the Guard’s arrival created easier access for strikebreakers. Soon most quarries were back to business as usual. The workers had been demanding union recognition in the open shop quarries, but the presence of the Guard, combined with the action of the Granite Cutters union, left many people high and dry.

Members of both unions returned to work on June 1 and agreed to 1932 wages. But the hearings dragged on until August and many lost their jobs. Two of the three quarries now had open shops. One of the only compensations was that the federal government began to clean up the sheds. Suction machines designed to remove silica dust were in use before the end of the decade.

French Canadian workers played a role in this and other strikes, often as scab labor. They had been coming to the state for mill jobs since the Canadian rebellion of 1837, when reformers rejected the political repression of Britain’s parliament. Vermont also provided better farming prospects, and a chance to work in lumbering or on railroad crews. Often called the “Chinese of the Eastern States,” these immigrants worked cheap and asked few questions. But their exploitation as strikebreakers hurt their relations with the Irish.

When mills began to close in the 1930s, many Canadians turned to farming in Franklin, Orleans and Essex Counties at the state’s northern end. Others stayed in the Burlington area but avoided union work. By then the church in Quebec had declared unions atheistic.

History’s long march rarely moves in a straight line.

Epilog: My Socialist Family Ties

THE ROMANS MAY have been the first rulers to exploit southern Italy, their behavior so brutal that it eventually sparked the revolt of Spartacus. But some believe the darkest period may be the 200-year rule of the Spanish dynasty, which subjected the Mezzogiorno to a long series of predatory feudal barons and viceroys. Officially, feudalism ended in 1806, but its passing also meant that peasants could no longer turn to a wealthy overlord for aid. They were on their own.

Over the next decades, absentee landlords gained in influence, allowing gross inequities and draconian contracts that exploited most peasants. Some became outlaws and thieves. As a result, when southerners resisted landlord abuse or complained to the government, they were called barbarians and savages. But artisans and storekeepers were often respected across class lines. Each trade had its own mastri and apprentices. They were more likely to take advantage of educational opportunities, and also among the earliest to join the exodus to America.

Born on April 17, 1891 in the small Calabrian mountain town of Parenti, Bruno Lupia was the oldest of three brothers and, in 1902, the first of my family to emigrate to the United States. His parents, Michelina Cardamone and Joseph Lupia, had three other children: Lorenzo, Luciano, and Rosa. Lorenzo came to the US a decade later as a teenager, possibly to apprentice with his brother. Luciano followed in 1921. Both of them returned to Italy, however. According to my mother, the former “got into trouble” for his politics and the latter failed in a restaurant business.

There was obviously much more to this story. After all, grandpa Bruno became a clothing manufacturer and philanthropist, influential enough to merit an audience with President Truman. And Lorenzo ultimately became mayor of his hometown. Not bad for a troublemaker.

Whatever the reasons, evidence suggests that Lorenzo had returned to Calabria by 1919, early enough to fight for Italy in World War I. After the war, he became (or remained) a hard-line Socialist, a “maximalist” who wanted a full-throated social revolution. By 1923, he was criticizing political faddism and the rise of fascism.

“People wake up anarchist in the morning, have a stroll, and become socialist,” he wrote in an article, “at noon comes De Cardona (a political priest), and we all are Popular; in the afternoon, after some drinks, from populist to ’Democratic-Liberal,’ then’fighters’; at night we all dress in black shirts and we are fascist. Without ceremonies!”

Three years later, after a summary trial in November 1926, Lorenzo was “confined” to internal exile. His crime: As secretary of a “dissolved” section of the Socialist Party, he had conducted “active propaganda” throughout the district of Rogliano, defending peasants and challenging fascists. In other words, he was an organizer. But he was also part of the early anti-fascist resistance, and a new decree on public safety, following several attempts to assassinate Mussolini, had increased surveillance, clamped down on dissent, and established a system of “forced residence” (confino).

Once his appeal was dismissed, Lorenzo was sent to Lipari, an island where pigs still cleaned up rubbish in the streets and locals viewed the political prisoners sent there as a pampered “species of nabob.” On the other hand, he also met Carlo Rosselli and Emilio Lussu, democratic organizers and returned soldiers, and Francesco Fausto Nitti, nephew of the deposed prime minister.

When he returned from exile, rather than being intimidated by the time he had spent in prison, Lorenzo continued the struggle for social justice and freedom that characterized his life. As head of the local peasants and laborers organization, he helped to liberate land from the remmaining baronies and fought “agrarian reform” that was being used against peasants and in favor of landowners. He “actively fought fascism with all his might and with the means at his disposal,” one local history noted.

In the first free elections after the fall of the fascist regime, uncle Lorenzo was elected Mayor in 1945, a position he held for the next thirty years, supervising community affairs with rigor, prudence and democratic principles. Unfortunately, due to a political split in the family, we never had the opportunity to meet.

— source vermontway.blogspot.in