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Saturday, March 31, 2012

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The "99% Spring" Movement to Train 100,000 Activists: Co-Opting Occupy or Helping Spread its Message?

Despite borrowing a few of the Occupy movement's favorite slogans, the massive and controversial effort known as the 99% Spring is coming from the institutional left.

March 26, 2012  |  



Photo Credit: The 99% Spring



Next month, activists and organizers across the country are planning to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action for what they call The 99% Spring. But despite borrowing one or two of the Occupy movement’s favorite slogans, The 99% Spring hasn’t been called for by any general assembly. Rather, this massive and controversial effort is coming from the institutional left — a diverse coalition of labor unions, environmental and economic justice groups, community organizations and trainers’ alliances. While some celebrate what appears to be a mainstreaming of resistance thanks to Occupy, others are crying co-option.

“This spring we rise!” write 99% Spring organizers in a letter to “America.” “We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time. We are the 99%. For the 100%. And this is our moment.”

In a press call organized by The 99% Spring, Liz Butler of the Movement Strategy Center affirmed the effort’s solidarity with the Occupy movement. “The focus,” said Butler, “is to give additional amounts of people the tools to take direct action around these issues, complementary to what is happening in the Occupy movement.” On the same call, MoveOn.org’s Justin Ruben explained that his organization is promoting the training for nonviolent direct action to its more than five million members.

Joy Cushman, an organizer and trainer from the New Organizing Institute, insists that the intention of the project is not to compete with the Occupy movement. Rather, it’s a framework so that existing organizations can incorporate direct action into the work they’re already doing and capture some of the Occupy spirit. “The hope is that if people are not directly connected to campaigns, they will be able to take action locally for what is affecting them,” she told me.

What is now The 99% Spring actually began last summer. Inspired by the Madison Capitol protests and the Tar Sands actions, leadership from Jobs with Justice, National People’s Action and the National Domestic Workers Alliance realized that the 2012 election year needed to be about issues, not the candidates.

A meeting was called for November 2011 — and then, in mid-September, Occupy Wall Street began. “As a professional organizer, I was really humbled” says Cushman about OWS. “They were able to shift the entire national debate with the way they were organizing. We realized that nonviolent direct action is the way we have to go because the democratic system isn’t responsive anymore.”

Earlier this month, more than 70 people participated in a two-day national training in preparation for the upcoming regional trainings. The hope is that more than 1,100 trainers will be equipped to organize local trainings in their communities during the week of April 9–15, when more than 700 trainings around the country have already been scheduled.

Each training will have its own local flavor, depending on who the trainers are and where it is located, but a common curriculum ties The 99% Spring together. In an email sent from SEIU Vice President Steve Thorton to potential trainers, he broke down what to expect at each event: storytelling; teach-ins on economics; community-building skills; goals, strategies and tactics to mount campaigns; and, of course, techniques of nonviolent direct action.

OWS Press team volunteer Dana Balicki sees this as at least a step in the right direction. “The groups of the 99% Spring are groups that can engage mainstream America,” she says. “They haven’t stepped up enough, they need to be pushed, but this effort can be a good thing.”

Both OWS and the organizations involved in The 99% Spring encompass a wide range of views regarding electoral politics and the means for social change. MoveOn.org actively campaigns for Obama, while other participating groups like the Ruckus Society are known for more radical, issue-based campaigns involving direct action.

Still, some are skeptical that an organization like MoveOn.org must be up to something. An anonymous writer at CounterPunch has alleged that The 99% Spring is really a MoveOn.org front for the Democratic Party, here quoting activist John Stauber:

[“]In this latest case, the so-called 99 Spring, MoveOn is enlisting other NGOs to create the appearance of a populist uprising from the Left, when it’s all about keeping the rabble in line and aimed at the Republicans to re-elect Obama,” he continued.

As will be seen throughout this series on foundation-funded Democratic Party aligned non-profit groups poisoning the genuine grassroots, MoveOn.org is far from the only culprit playing this rotten and cynical game.

CounterPunch also cites former MoveOn.org employee Ilyse Hogue’s controversial article in The Nation, “Occupy is Dead! Long Live Occupy!”, which contends that Occupy’s modus operandi has outlived its usefulness — while having fired up the more established institutions. A 99% Spring, therefore, would seem to be Occupy’s grown-up, more institution-friendly replacement. The CounterPunch article has circulated on Occupy organizer email lists, spreading fears that progressive organizations are trying to hijack OWS’ energy or co-opt its message for their own purposes.

But, in the same issue of The Nation, historian Frances Fox Piven rejects the “false dilemma” between electoral politics and protest movements. Piven argues that

movements work against politicians because they galvanize and polarize voters and threaten to cleave the majorities and wealthy backers that politicians work to hold together. … [T]he great victories that have been won in the past were won precisely because politicians were driven to make choices in the form of policy concessions that would win back some voters, even at the cost of losing others.

The Occupy movement and establishmentarian anything — politics, corporations, non-profits — will always have an odd relationship, but that they would have some relationship is inevitable. Just as many Occupy organizers have backgrounds working in more traditional organizations, it’s hard to imagine The 99% Spring without the inspiration of Occupy. “It says something about the power of the Occupy movement,” says Zack Malitz, a Tar Sands Action volunteer who is planning a 99% Spring training,“to have made it politically possible for so many organizations to commit to training 100,000 people for nonviolent direct action.”

But OWS is about more than just direct action. Its emphasis on horizontalism and decentralization is at the heart of its approach to achieving social change as well. The OWS General Assembly’s “Statement of Autonomy” warns, “Any organization is welcome to support us with the knowledge that doing so will mean questioning your own institutional frameworks of work and hierarchy and integrating our principles into your modes of action.” It’s not clear to what extent organizers of The 99% Spring intend to do this. It may end up happening just by default, because so many people have been involved in Occupy encampments over the past few months, participating in Occupy culture.

The organizers of The 99% Spring have been careful not to imply that they are OWS. “We don’t want to pretend that this is an Occupy-endorsed thing,” says Joy Cushman. “But the 99 percent and 1 percent frame is very helpful to explain our understanding of the world and our constituency.” She adds that individual occupiers have been involved as trainers and in shaping the curriculum for The 99% Spring. “The energy that they bring, the moral clarity is very helpful for more institutional groups — unions, MoveOn. It’s radicalizing them, in a way.”

But Dana Balicki, like others in the Occupy movement, remains cautious. “So long as they don’t come out with a whole long list of demands,” she says, “we can work together.”

Jake Olzen is an activist/organizer, farmer, and graduate student at Loyola University Chicago. He is part of the White Rose Catholic Worker community.

COMMENT:  The Obama campaign is a many-headed serpent disguised as one thing or another.  No surprise that Occupy is rapidly becoming coopted by the Democrats.  One of the reasons enthusiasm has waned.  No one is certain what is if you know what I mean?  Money talks and democratic change walks.


Less Visible Occupy Movement Looks for Staying Power

Less Visible Occupy Movement Looks for Staying Power


Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

A protester being arrested last weekend at a march in New York.


Published: March 31, 2012

WASHINGTON — Six months after the Occupy movement first used protests and encampments to turn the nation’s attention to economic inequality, the movement needs to find new ways to gain attention or it will most likely fade to the edges of the political discourse, according to supporters and critics.

 “They have fewer people, and it’s not a new story anymore that there were people protesting in the streets or sleeping in parks,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal organization that has strong ties to top Democrats and has encouraged the protests. “They need to think of new ways to garner attention and connect with people around the country.”

Driven off the streets by local law enforcement officials, who have evicted protesters from their encampments and arrested thousands, the movement has seen a steep decline in visibility. That has left Occupy without bases of operations in the heart of many cities and has forced protesters to spend time defending themselves in court, deterring many from taking to the streets again.

In Oakland, Calif., which at one point last year appeared to be one of Occupy’s strongholds, activists have had less than a handful of marches this year and no longer have any encampments in the city, according to a police official there. In New York, where the police evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park in November, the few protests in the past few weeks have been smaller than the ones last year, the police said.

With less visibility, the movement has received less attention from the news media, taking away a national platform.

Occupy does not have a traditional leadership structure, making it difficult for the movement to engage in conventional political organizing in support of state legislators and members of Congress, like the Tea Party has. And some activists, angry at politicians across the board, do not see electoral politics as the best avenue for the movement, complicating efforts to chart its direction.

Occupy activists acknowledge that building and maintaining a populist movement is daunting and that the clashes over the right to protest have drained some energy.

Bill Csapo, a 58-year-old member of Occupy Wall Street, the New York branch of the movement, answered the phone number listed on its Web site and offered his take on the group’s standing.

“Are we a little scarred? Of course,” he said.

He added: “The people who were driven out of Zuccotti Park in November haven’t gone anywhere and are still working. All the original committed people are still here. This is not a game — we are trying to save our civilization.”

Brian Grimes, a member of the movement who has been spending his days at McPherson Square in Washington, where the police still allow sit-ins and tents, acknowledged that the group needed to adapt its tactics to remain relevant.

“Like you’ll find in anything, you can’t stick to the same thing,” said Mr. Grimes, 35, of Montgomery County, Md. “Whether it’s education, health care or protests, you cannot be static, and you have to change your tactics.”

Mr. Grimes said that new ways of gaining attention could come in the form of flash mobs or banner drops from buildings, like the ones used by protesters in Europe.

“We need to keep them guessing,” he said, referring to the news media and the police.

The movement’s staying power will depend on the success of several events planned for the coming weeks. Despite recent actions that have fizzled, including an Occupy Corporations day in February, organizers are planning a strike and demonstrations on May 1, International Labor Day. But the response has been mixed, and activists now say that Americans could show sympathy for the cause in other ways, like not shopping that day.

Chris Longenecker, 24, a member of the group who is helping to organize the strike and protests in May, said the lull in attention over the past few months was due to the group’s focus on building up capacity for larger events.

“We are looking to late spring and summer,” he said. “We are reconnecting with our passive supporters who saw us lay more dormant in the winter. We have spent the vast majority of the winter laying roots across community organizations and labor and immigration.”

Whether Occupy has a resurgence, it has already had a significant influence on American politics, making economic inequality — and specifically the top “1 percent” — a major issue in the national dialogue.

In December, 48 percent of Americans said they agreed with the concerns raised by Occupy, although only 29 percent approved of the way the protests were being conducted, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.

After that poll, Pew stopped surveying specifically about the movement. “The movement was not in the news as much coming into 2012, and the nation’s focus and our polling turned to the Republican primary,” said Michael Dimock, an associate director of research at Pew.

News coverage of Occupy has fallen off significantly since late last year, according to an analysis by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In October, coverage of Occupy made up 6 percent of the news generated by news organizations in the United States. That number climbed to 14 percent in the middle of November and then slid to 1 percent in December. The number remained below 1 percent in January and February and has been so small this month that the Project for Excellence in Journalism said it was equivalent to no coverage.

Although the coverage has fallen off, concerns about economic opportunity and equality are at the highest levels since the mid-1990s.

In a poll released by Pew on March 2, 19 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that “success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside of our control,” the highest number since 1994.

What is more, 40 percent of Americans — also the highest number since 1994 — agreed with the statement that “hard work and determination are no guarantee of success for most people.”

Ms. Tanden, of the Center for American Progress, said that even if the Occupy movement did not regain significant visibility, it would continue to have an impact on the presidential election, having forced even Republicans to begin talking about inequality.

“It wasn’t Democrats who said that Mitt Romney was a ‘vulture capitalist,’ it was Rick Perry,” she said, referring to the Texas governor and former Republican presidential candidate.

Erik Eckholm contributed reporting from New York.

General strike marks another step forward for indignados

General strike marks another step forward for indignados

Posted: 30 Mar 2012 07:53 AM PDT

Post image for General strike marks another step forward for indignados

The major success of Thursday’s general strike in Spain hails the maturation of the movement and the emergence of a new type of networked labor action.

By Raimundo Viejo and Carlos Delclos

Predictably, most of the neoliberal media’s coverage of the general strikes in Spain focuses on the targeted property damage that took place during the protests in Barcelona, where hundreds of masked citizens seriously damaged several major banks, a Starbucks and the Opus Dei-related, upper-class hypermarket El Corte Ingl├ęs. It is no mistake that conservative representatives of that country’s eroding institutions are resorting to desperate terms like “criminal instinct” in order to paint the protests as some form of violence. Faced with a situation in which property destruction is increasingly accepted as legitimate, and having exhausted their repertoire of fear-inducing discourse and repressive measures in the weeks prior to the mobilizations, the only thing left for a proto-fascist like Felip Puig (the Catalan Minister of the Interior) to criminalise is that human instinct which favours life over property.

These attempts to divide citizens through an abstract debate over “violence” clash with the reality of what took place all over Spain yesterday, and what’s been happening in that country in recent months. There were certainly a number of violent acts directed towards people on Thursday, but none of them were carried out by protestors. In Torrelavega, Cantabria, a shop owner attacked a picketer with a knife. In the Basque country, a 19 year old was left in the ICU with serious head injuries after the Ertzaintza (Basque national police) beat him down with clubs and fired a rubber bullet into his head from point-blank range. In Barcelona, 20 people were injured by rubber bullets, one 22 year old is in the hospital with a ruptured spleen and one man lost an eye. And on a broader scale, Spanish banks and their complicit government kicked 58.200 families out of their homes in 2011 alone, with no support and heavily indebted (since foreclosures in Spain do not pay off mortgage debts and, in fact, simply increase interest rates).

The fact of the matter, and what is so terrifying to Spain’s elite, is that Thursday’s strikes were another success for movement-based politics. The ruling Partido Popular proved this when the city governments in their control chose to turn the streetlights on during the day to offset the effects of the strikes on energy consumption (the indicator by which strikes tend to be measured in the media). They also demonstrated how clumsily they manipulate the basic rules of the game.

Yet, when we say “strikes” and not the singular “strike” it is because, in reality, this general strike contained two different types of strikes. On the one hand, it was a traditional general strike called for by the often timid mainstream labour unions, which are generally prudent to a fault when it comes to mobilizations and have, over the course of the last three decades, allowed successive governments and parties to take the lead in the bargaining process over labour rights. On the other hand, it also contained an emerging form in the repertoire of collective action which has only recently begun to take its first steps, but which, if we look back to the previous general strike of 29 September 2010, appears to be maturing remarkably fast. What we see is that the general union strike is giving birth to another kind of strike: the metropolitan strike, protagonised by the precariat and animated by networks of activists who are constantly learning, aggregating and experimenting with a variety of tactics.

The metropolitan strike goes beyond the old repertoire of transport paralysis, factory paralysis and the collapse of production from inside the workplace to reveal another innovative and dynamic repertoire that is capable of synergistically projecting movement-based politics beyond their traditional forms and achievements: strategically located universities had been occupied since Monday to strengthen transport blockades, a consumption strike which gave people who couldn’t strike a chance to participate, metropolitan picket lines made up of women, youth, immigrants or senior citizens, and black bloc-style anonymity facilitating targeted property destruction (including the a small-scale casino heist) all contributed to the success of 29M. Once again, the tactical richness of a multitude that ignores the institutional limitations of the concerted social action favoured by mainstream unions proved surprisingly effective (surprising, at least, to the ruling elite).

The evolution of this new repertoire is no easy task. It has yet to be institutionalized or clearly define a common strategy. And the traditional left, after years of focusing on resistance and defensive positions, has on many occasions viscerally and ideologically attacked these types of actions without offering any alternatives beyond those traditional forms of action and representation over which they maintain a certain hegemony. But this matters less and less, and the wave of mobilizations continues to leave a trail of successes in its wake: the 29F and 17N educational mobilizations, the 15O global day of action, the birth of the indignados movement on 15M and the general strike and Bank of Spain occupation of 29S are just some of these landmark moments of its still recent history.

This wave is unstoppable, at least as long as the political regime does not change course, which doesn’t seem likely. In fact, this past summer the Partido Socialista and Partido Popular agreed to shield the regime against all possibilities of change by modifying the Constitution of 1978 to include a balanced budget amendment that was not submitted to public debate or referendum. Despite the indignados’ persistent calls for a substantial modification of electoral law, the ruling parties, obscene beneficiaries of the status quo, are apparently willing to uphold this fundamental component of their dominance for as long as possible.

In effect, the only form of mass opposition available to people in Spain is in the streets. Through mobilization, dissociation and the emergence of new types of actors, distances are opening up between the formal constitution of the government and the material constitution of society to reveal new possibilities for the future. As each day passes, breaking with the current regime and establishing an alternative are less the ideological desires of revolutionaries and more an issue of necessity for the average person in light of the dire circumstances they face daily. Those who wish to work will have to do it through cooperatives. Those who wish to learn will have to organize their own alternative universities. Those who wish to inform themselves will have to look to the alternative media. And those who wish to have cultural goods will have to share them. This is the politics of the common that we saw in action in our streets today, and which we will see in the alternative institutions of tomorrow.

Obama, Trayvon, and American Racism By Paul Street


Obama, Trayvon, and American Racism

March 31, 2012 By Paul Street



Paul Street's ZSpace Page / ZSpace

“If I had a son,” the President of the United States said last week, “he’d look like Trayvon.” It’s hard to know exactly what to make of Barack Obama’s comment on the “stand-your-ground” chase and gun-murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a white neighborhood watch captain in the central Florida town of Sanford. We can be sure, however, that Obama has no intention of putting his administration behind a serious investigation of the many ways in which anti-black racism remains deeply entrenched in the American System he nominally heads.


Let us recall the supposedly great race speech Obama gave four years and 12 days weeks ago in Philadelphia to save his political career by distancing himself once and for all from his former preacher Jeremiah Wright. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Obama’s instantly heralded Philadelphia oration was its portrayal of the racism that created black anger in America as a function of the past. As Black Commentator’s Bill Fletcher noted, Obama “attributed much of the anger of Rev. Wright to the past, as if Rev. Wright is stuck in a time warp, rather than the fact that Rev. Wright's anger about the domestic and foreign policies of the USA are well rooted – and documented – in the current ! reality of the USA.”[i][1]  The racial oppression that angered Wright and other black Americans as the “post-racial” Obama clinched the nomination was more than an overhang from the bad old days. The humiliation and hopelessness felt by millions of those Americans was being reinforced, generated, and expanded by numerous objecti! vely racist policies and practices in the present, including the follo wing:


  • Endemic racial discrimination in home rental, selling, and financing/lending and the persistent hyper-segregation of housing markets.
  • Endemic racial discrimination in hiring and job training.
  • Endemic racial (and related neighborhood) profiling in police pedestrian and automotive stop, frisk, and search activities.
  • The persistent hyper-segregation and related savage under-funding and under-equipping of black students and the hyper-concentration of black children in high-poverty schools.
  • The excessive use of mind-numbing and authoritarian school curriculums pegged to “high stakes” standardized testing and of related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly black schools.
  • Systematic under-investment of private and public investment and development funds in and around black communities.
  • The endemic and excessive disproportionate use of force – including lethal force – against black criminal suspects (think Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Rodney King, Terrence Shurn [killed by Benton Harbor, Michigan police in the summer of 2003[ii]! [2]], John Deng [gunned down by a white county deputy in Iowa City, Iowa in the summer of 2009],[iii][3] and…the list is endless] and prisoners by police, prison guards, prosecutors, and executioners.
  • The wildly disproportionate surveillance, arrest, sentencing, mass imprisonment, and felony-marking of blacks in the name of “the war on drugs.”
  • The refusal of many employers to hire people with felony records and prison histories – and one of many different and related obstacles to opportunity faced by the very disproportionately black millions of Americans stigmatized by the nation’s “new Jim Crow” system of racially disparate criminal marking.


Another alarming aspect of Obama’s immediately enshrined Philadelphia speech was the candidate’s pronounced understatement of the nation’s racial disparities. “Race,” then Senator (D-IL) Obama said, was “a part of our union that we have yet to perfect.” Yet to perfect was more than a bit mild in a nation where: an astonishing 1-to-15 black-to-white wealth gap afflicted black American families; 1 in 3 three adult black males had been strained with the deadly felony branding; black poverty and unemployment rates were double those of whites; blacks made up 12 percent of the nation’s population but 40 percent of its globally unmatched 2 million prisoners and 42 percent of i! ts death row inmates.


In Obama’s “home city” of Chicago, the racially moderate Chicago Urban League (CUL) reported in the fall of 2005,  more than a quarter of the children lived at less than half the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level in 15 of the city’s 77 officially designated community areas.  Fourteen of those community areas were located in predominantly black stretches of the city’s South and West sides and 12 were at least 94 percent black. Combining statistics from the twenty-two 90-percent-or-more black neighborhoods that together housed three-fourths of the city’s black population, the CUL’s research department found that the predominantly black city withi! n a city had poverty rates three times greater than that of the overall metropolitan area.  The CUL also discovered that there were nearly 20,000 more blacks in the Illinois prison state system than enrolled in the state’s pubic universities and that the number of black males with a felony record was equivalent in number to 42 percent of the black male workforce in Chicago (CUL, Still Separate, Unequal: Race, Place, Policy and the State of Black Chicago, 2005).


Blacks’ situation has worsened both in absolute terms and relative to whites since the onset of the Great Recession, itself triggered in part by the financial sector’s racist home lending practices. The foreclosure crisis was particularly devastating to blacks, whose tiny share of the nation’s inherited wealth is disproportionately tied up in home ownership. “Wages, homeownership rates and employment levels all grew worse for African-Americans between 2000 and 2007” even as the overall economy expanded,  Washington Post reporters Michael Fletcher and John Cohen observed last year. Since then, things have gotten much worse. With the crash, Fletcher and Cohen noted, “African-America! ns and Hispanics were more likely to be left broke, jobless and concerned that they lack the skills needed to shape their economic futures.” Elaborating on the downturn’s disproportionate toll on blacks, Fletcher and Cohen reported that:


“The downturn obliterated years of African-American economic progress…The share of black adults who were working slid to 52 percent,…the crisis pushed the black homeownership rate down to 45 percent, far below the 74 percent rate for whites…Federal, state and local governments, which employ a disproportionate share of African-Americans, are shedding jobs, a trend expected to continue in coming years. ….black unemployment soared to its highest levels in a generation on Obama’s watch.”  (M. Fletcher and J. Cohen, Washington Post, February 20, 2011 at 2011 at http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2011/feb/20/21econ/)


By mid-2010, official black unemployment hit 16 percent. (Real black unemployment was closer to 25 percent.) In 35 large U.S. cities the official joblessness count for blacks rose to between 30 and 35 percent – levels like those suffered at the depths of the Great Depression.  


True to his color-blind campaign and to his claim (in the 2004 speech that made his career) that “there is not a Black America and a White America….there’s the United States of America,” Obama as president has refused to offer any special help to address the particularly oppressed plight of black America. In early December 2009, he received some criticism from the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). Accusing the White House of ignoring the distinctively terrible economic plight of minorities, 10 members of the caucus boycotted a key House committee vote on financial regulations. “We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the world view of Wall Street,” the CBC announced, adding that “policy for the least of these must be integrated into eve! rything we do.” Obama flatly rejected the criticism in a special interview with USA Today and the Detroit Free Press. “It’s a mistake,” Obama told journalists, “to start thinking in terms of particular ethnic segments of the United States rather than to think that we are all in this together [emphasis added] and we are all going to get out of this together.” Just because he happened to be black, Obama announced early on, black Americans should not think he would be any more willing than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton (or Herbert Hoover for that matter) to acknowledge and act against the distinctive oppression and poverty experienced by the nation’s black population.


Even as he has been willing to transfer trillions of taxpayer dollars into the opulent coffers of a small minority of white financial and corporate parasites who already own most of the nation’s wealth and who crashed the national and global economy in 2007 and 2008, the technically black former community organizer and state legislator “from” Chicago’s poor and predominantly black South Side has had little to offer the cause of racial justice – little is beyond the simple fact of his own technical blackness, a “beer summit” for the black-bourgeois Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates (and Gates’ alleged white police abuser),  and a statement that the late Trayvon Martin bears a certain resemblance to the preside! nt. Little, that is, beyond a fuzzy and symbolic sort of identity politics that is woefully short on substance when it comes to the real facts of racial inequality in not-so color blind America.


At a recent significant black-led demonstration for Trayvon and against racial profiling I attended in predominantly white and liberal Iowa City, Iowa, 4 nights ago, a parade of black and anti-racist white speakers did not mention Obama once. They did quote the great black democratic socialist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and referred repeatedly to the continuing problem of racism understood as an institutional and cultural system of oppression and inequality. Their presence and language was (like those of the Occupy Movement that arose in Iowa City and more than 1000 other locations across the country last fall) a testament to the wisdom of the late radical American historian Howard Zinn (onetime advisor to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) on th! e limits of the nation’s candidate-centered major party politics as an avenue for progressive change.  “The really critical thing,” Zinn once wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in – in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.  Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating – those are the things that determine what happens.”


More and more black Americans are questioning what they have gotten from Obama beyond the fading psychological wage of helping elect a first black U.S. president in the land of slavery. The material dividend has been less than impressive, to say the least. I am reminded of Marxist commentator Doug Henwood’s sardonic title for a brilliant essay he wrote in early 2008 on the false hope represented by the fake-progressive Wall Street tool Obama: “Would You Like Change With That?” I am reminded also of something that the anti-colonial psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote 60 years ago (at the age of 27) in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks: “What matters is not so much the colour of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.”


But, of course, Obama’s skin color does matter and not necessarily in progressive ways.  It helps make everyday racial oppression yet more officially invisible in the neoliberal era and it is taken by many whites as final evidence that racism is over as a significant barrier to black advancement and racial equality in the U.S. It has been used by the nation’s concentrated power and propaganda centers to create an illusion of progressive transformation that cloaks the reality of deepening corporate and financial power.[iv][4] It is taken by the ever-conciliatory Obama and his political advisors to mean that the president must always be exceedingly careful about doing anything that might threaten white America’s convenient faith in racism’s demise.


For what it’s worth, Obama’s comment on what a son of his would look like was not the oddest thing he said when asked about the Trayvon Martin killing. His strangest remark was that he was “glad that the Justice Department was looking into it [the killing].” Hello? One hopes that the former constitutional law professor in the oval office knows  that he directs the Department of Justice from the White House.


Meanwhile, the local news in Chicago reports that an off-duty detective shot and killed a 22-year-old black woman named Rekia Boyd on the city’s West Side. Ms. Boyd appears to have been an innocent bystander in a dispute over noise in a public park – a dispute in which the officer just had to stand his ground.  The struggle continues.


Paul Street, an Iowa City resident,  is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (2007), Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (2008), The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (2010) and (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio)  Crashing the Tea Party (Paradigm, 2011).  Street can be reached at paulstreet99@yahoo.com.




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[i][1] Bill Fletcher, “Obama Race Speech Analysis,” Black Commentator (March 20, 2008), read at http://www.blackcommentator.com/269/269_cover_obama_race_speech_analysis_ed_bd.html. See also Paul Street, “Obama’s Latest ‘Beautiful Speech,’” ZNet (March 20, 2008), read at http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16947


[ii][2] Paul Street, “No Justice, No Peace: A Police Killing and a Riot in Benton Harbor,” ZNet (June 30, 2003) at http://www.zcommunications.org/no-justice-no-peace-by-paul-street


[iii][3] Paul Street, “ ‘In Cold Blood’: White Deputy’s Killing of  Homeless Black Man Sparks Mild Protest in Iowa City,” Black Agenda Report (August 11, 2009) at http://blackagendareport.com/content/%E2%80%9C-cold-blood%E2%80%9D-white-deputy%E2%80%99s-killing-homeless-black-man-sparks-mild-protest-obama-mad-iowa-c


[iv][4] John Pilger put it very well at a socialist conference in 2009, commenting on the imperial corporatist Obama’s remarkable ability to bamboozle progressives into thinking that he was on their side: “The clever young man who recently made it to the White House is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed exciting to see an African Americ! an at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century, and race together with gender and even class can be very seductive tools of propaganda [emphasis added]. For what is so often overlooked and what matters, I believe, above all, is the class one serves . George W. Bush’s inner circle from the State Department to the Supreme Court was perhaps the most multiracial in presidential history. It was PC par excellence. Think Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell. It was also the most reactionary.”



The True Cost of US Military Equipment

What's Next for Occupy? Response

What's Next for Occupy?



By Michael Albert

Friday, March 30, 2012



Occupy doesn't have 99% of the population supporting it, or, far more importantly, 99% participating in its endeavors. Instead, Occupy has some significant support, though not very deep, and still has quite low participation in its endeavors. To win anything, and especially to win a new world, it needs much more support and involvement.


Continued:  See earlier post.

Many have responded to this article, and particularly the statement above.  The problems of support and participation must be solved, I think, before Occupy can move forward and become a significant vehicle for positive change in the USA.  As we move into the “American Spring” with promises of national strikes and other massive actions, I fear that many of these initiatives will attract a relative handful of people.   The reasons for this lack of participation are complicated and have to do, among other things, with the lack of clearly defined goals and strong leadership.  Occupy has been driven so far by dogmatic anarchists who have focused on the establishment of encampments,  general assembly “democracy” where small groups end up defining and implementing actions that do not represent the needs of the majority of 99% , and the employment of violent, confrontational tactics that alienate most Americans.

The general tone of responders to the statement have focused more on what is believed to be the “nature” of the American electorate:  “True, the 99% do not support Occupy because 90% of those people are either stupid or too cowardly to stand up. As long as their cable TV works, they could care less, except to bitch and moan about how bad everything is then go back to their PBR and American Idol.”  Perhaps.

The United States was founded on revolutionary ideas and action, and we have a long history of successful organizing and protest.  The labor movement is one excellent example of the people uniting for change and creating powerful protections for American workers:  child labor laws;  the 8 hour 5 day work week;  pensions;  reasonable living wages.  What separates the current batch of workers – the jeans and flip flop rather than work boots generation – from their grandparents’ generation?

One big difference I see between the 19th century worker and our work force is the addition of the notion of consumer-driven economy. The old workers and new share the same lack of preparation for political life: narrow training and mediocre levels of literacy. While the 19th century worker was, frankly, too tired to engage, the current workforce is mesmerized by the yearning for the perfect Thing that promises to enrich life and concretize dreams. The Thing keeps changing, however, and the worker lives in a state of perpetual yearning. Horror. Doesn't matter if you ever achieve ownership of any Things. The high priests of Things, the politicians/corporations and their media manipulators, promise over and over again that better times are almost here and soon you may have the honor of standing in lines for hours to acquire the next iThing. I don't think the 19th century worker spent much time dreaming about big houses, horses and hogs simmering on the spit.  It was the recessions and depressions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that galvanized our grandparents’ 99%.  Starvation and homelessness are great motivators. 

The capitalist system is deeply flawed and the realities of poverty and fear eventually intrude and the blind begin to see. In Europe, especially Spain and Greece, iThing has been replaced with iSurvival and the emblems of consumption are set afire. It is only a matter of time before American workers, like those in Europe, are stripped of their “entitlements” and workplace protections to pay for the mistakes of the banks, corporations, and their bought politicians.  Reelecting Obama will only prolong the illusion of prosperity and safety with his masterful manipulation of false hopes and hidden lies. 

I say elect Santorum or one of Objectivist conservatives. Experience the elimination of women’s' rights. Watch mom and dad die without insurance in some poor house. See the implementation of Objectivist capitalism move forward with leaps and bounds: no public education; labor for less; experience falling through what was the safety net and smashing into the concrete of capitalist realism. Then there will be revolution. Even Ayn Rand couldn't retire without Social Security.

Friday, March 30, 2012



Skrillex ULTRA MUSIC FEST 2012 Spaceship HQ

LifeNet: About LifeNet

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In the wake of major disasters, the failure of existing communications infrastructure and the subsequent lack of an effective communication solution results in increased risk, inefficiencies, damage and casualties. Current options such as satellite communication are expensive and have limited functionality. A robust communication solution should be affordable, easy-to-deploy, require low-to-zero infrastructure, consume little power and facilitate Internet access.

LifeNet is a WiFi-based data communication solution designed for post-disaster scenarios. It is open-source software and designed to run on consumer devices such as laptops, smart-phones and wireless routers. LifeNet is an ad hoc networking platform over which critical software applications including chat, voice messaging, MIS systems, etc. can be easily deployed. LifeNet can grow incrementally, is robust to node failures and enables Internet sharing. A novel multi-path ad-hoc routing protocol present at its core, enables LifeNet to achieve these features.

Problems in existing communication technologies
The primary drawback of existing communication technologies such as cellular networks, WiFi networks, etc. is that reliability is not built into their design. They are designed and engineered to be efficient; reliability and fault-tolerance are secondary. Reliability is typically traded off for ''performance at optimal cost''. Their designs often evolve into single-point failure systems making them vulnerable to disasters.

Figure 1 - Typical Cellular Network

Figure 1 is the schematic of a typical cellular network. Various types of cellular networks that we see today, such as GSM, CDMA, 3G, 4G, etc. all have a similar architecture. Mobile Switching Centre (MSC), Base Station Controller (BSC), Base Transceiver Station (BTS) and cell phones are the main blocks of the architecture. The wireless network is divided into a number of cells, each defined by a radio frequency (RF) radiation pattern from a respective BTS antenna. Every cell contains several cell phones that directly communicate only to the BTS. The BSCs mediate the communication between BTSs and MSC. MSC is the main node of the network, that connects a network under itself to outside networks (their respective MSCs) and handles all the required routing and packet-switching. Since this architecture provides a clear functional hierarchy and optimal communication, technologies have evolved over the years but this architecture has persisted.

Since all the key components, such as MSCs, BSCs or BTSs function hierarchically, and together they have a single point of failure. MSCs are present at the root of the hierarchy. Failure of an MSC leads to the failure of the entire network (Figure 2(a)). BSC's failure leads to the failure of the network below it in the hierarchy (Figure 2(b)). When any BTS fails, then the communication in its entire cell is hampered (Figure 2(c)). Although this architecture provides optimal performance, it lacks fault-tolerance and reliability and hence remains vulnerable to disasters.

Figure 2: (a) - MSC failure, (b) - BSC failure, (c) - BTS failure

WiFi is another type of wireless network that we use everyday. Figure 3(a) is the schematic of a typical WiFi network. WiFi network usually consists of end-user devices such as laptops, smart-phones, etc. associated to a WiFi router. WiFi router interfaces the Internet connection (usually through a modem and a cable) with the WiFi network. It handles the required routing and packet switching.

Figure 3: (a) - Typical WiFi Network, (b) - WiFi Router failure

WiFi is also a single point failure system. As Figure 3(b) shows, if the WiFi router fails, the rest of the end-user devices cannot communicate with each other in spite of having the capability to do so. Most WiFi drivers come with a built-in mode of communication called as ad hoc mode. Although this functionality is useful, it does not have any routing capability.

LifeNet: A solution
In scenarios such as communication in disaster relief, wireless sensor networks, etc. reliability of connectivity is more important and bandwidth requirements are not too stringent. It is critical to establish a baseline wireless channel over which users can communicate and coordinate their on-field activities. The communication solution should be rapidly deployable, self-powered, robust to failures, locally maintainable and extremely easy to use.

I. Ad hoc communication
The first and the most important design decision that we made was to adopt the paradigm of ad hoc communication. All devices on a LifeNet network are considered peers without a hierarchy.

The absence of any functional hierarchy across the system prevents it from becoming a single point failure system. Figure 4 depicts the idea of ad hoc networking. Different end-user devices such as laptops, smart-phones and routers communicate with each other in an ad hoc fashion without any centrally important governing device. Two devices that are close by can communicate directly with each other, whereas communication between far off devices can be relayed by intermediate nodes. This design is the basis behind our argument that LifeNet is fault-tolerant by design. The key challenge that LifeNet addresses is achieving a practical trade-off between the mutually conflicting goals of reliability (fault-tolerance), efficiency and usability.

II. Use of commodity hardware
For higher acceptance levels, a new technology should seamlessly plug into the existing technologies around it. This holds true for both the technologies that the new technology consumes and the technologies that consume the new technology. Re-inventing the wheel may sometimes seem an ideal approach in theory, but it seldom works in practice. We understand this fact and have designed LifeNet accordingly.

Figure 5(a) shows the standard layered wireless networking stack. The bottom two layers (Physical and MAC layer) are dependent on the radio frequency (RF) communication technology used and are hence hardware dependent. The higher layers are pure software components of the operating system and are completely independent of the hardware.

LifeNet is designed as a new pluggable software layer to sit between the MAC and Network layers. It does not require any modifications to the layers that consume it (Network and higher layers) and the layer that it consumes (MAC layer). This design decision allows LifeNet to be interoperable with various popular hardware platforms such as laptops, routers and smart-phones. Along with devices such as routers, LifeNet makes consumer devices like laptops and smart phones capable of forming ad hoc networks. This design decision also simplifies the porting effort onto different RF communication technologies such as different flavours of WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, WiMax, etc.

III. Fault-tolerant multipath routing

As shown in Figure 6(a) LifeNet is designed to use a multipath routing protocol for communication between devices. This protocol, called 'Flexible Routing', lies at the heart of LifeNet and makes it useful for transient environments. By transience we refer to devices moving in the network, device failures, dynamic network traffic conditions, changing physical obstructions, interference, etc. Disaster relief operations, wireless sensor networks are all highly transient environments. Since the routing protocol, called as 'Flexible Routing' is capable of delivering packets under varying degrees of transience, it makes LifeNet a promising solution for transient environments. Figures 6(b) and 6(c) show the importance of multipath routing in handling node failures.

IV. Self-discovery and incremental growth
The current software implementation of LifeNet is based on WiFi (802.11 a/b/g) and runs on commodity devices including laptops, smart-phones and WiFi routers. LifeNet software has a straight-forward installation procedure and does not require the user to perform tedious configuration settings. Once switched ON, the self-discovery mechanisms built into LifeNet automatically discover other users on the network and present a global view of the network to each user. Users can then initiate communication to an individual user (unicast) or a set of users (multicast).

LifeNet does not impose any constraints on network topology. The network can grow and take any shape as new users incrementally join the network.

V. Minimal infrastructure requirements
Traditional wireless communication systems are infrastructure-based. Consider cellular network as an example. Inside a cell, BTS is the routing authority and all end-user devices i.e. cell phones directly communicate only with the BTS. The average radius of a cell is supposed to be somewhere around 1-2 Kms. However, it can vary depending upon the user-density. Thus, capability for communication with every active cell phone in its cell is a primary requirement for every BTS. Infrastructure in form of a large power supply, a high mounting structure or tower and large high gain antenna(s) for achieving the required coverage are needed at every BTS for the establishment of even a basic level of connectivity.

In disasters situations, infrastructure is prone to failures either by direct destruction or indirectly by factors such as failure of power supply. Additionally, because of these infrastructure requirements, it is infeasible to deploy such communication solutions rapidly.

LifeNet exploits multihop communication to provide coverage over comparable areas with minimal infrastructure. Every device functions both as a host and as a router. Two devices close to each other communicate with each other directly, whereas communication between two far off devices can be relayed by low-power intermediate nodes in a multihop fashion. Infrastructure such as large mounting structures and power suppplies are not required. This facilitates rapid on field roll-out.

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