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Donald Trump Uses Right-Wing Populism to Unite Divergent Groups

By Mark Karlin

July 8th, 2017

No, the right wing is not a monolithic force. One of the key points Matthew N. Lyons details in his book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire is that the right wing is composed of groups with different historical roots. Trump, Lyons argues in this interview, is a right-wing populist.

Mark Karlin: Why is it important to break the far right in the United States into distinctive components?

Matthew K. Lyons: Because different branches of the far right represent different types of threats. They have different social bases, target different scapegoats, pursue different strategies, and have different strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these differences helps us fight them more effectively.

For purposes of analysis in Insurgent Supremacists, I define the US far right as encompassing those political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural, desirable or inevitable; and (b) reject the legitimacy of the existing political system. That cuts across a lot of political divides. Many far rightists put race at the center of their program, but others focus more on religious doctrine, or gender or a more generic form of elitism. Some far rightists advocate paramilitary organizing while others focus on electoral activism, or building community institutions, or a “metapolitical” transformation of cultural norms and assumptions. Some sections of the far right are working-class oriented while others have a base that’s predominantly middle class or professional. Some recruit whole families while others are only interested in men.

Matthew N. Lyons.Matthew N. Lyons.PM Press

It’s not just the differences and divisions within the far right that are important, but also the interactions and creative tensions between different factions. Every far-right upsurge in the US over the past 40 years has been powered by different rightist currents coming together. In the 1980s, the convergence between Klan and Nazi forces — which had distrusted each other for half a century — gave us the modern white nationalist movement. In the 1990s, the explosion of Patriot/militia groups was fueled by a new mix of white nationalism, Christian Reconstructionism, John Birch-style conspiracism and gun rights ideology. Over the past decade, the rise of the “alt-right” has followed the same dynamic.

Where does the “alt-right” fit in?

The “alt-right” is the newest major far right current to emerge in the United States. It started to cohere around 2010, when Richard Spencer founded the online journal to foster intellectual debate and discussion among right-wing critics of mainstream conservatism. A lot of different ideological ingredients have gone into the mix, but some of the most notable ones have been paleoconservatism (a dissident branch of US conservatism that has advocated economic nationalism and white Christian cultural dominance and opposed most US military interventions abroad), the European New Right (a high-brow initiative to rework fascist ideology that started in France in the late 1960s) and the manosphere (an online anti-feminist subculture that has fostered some of the most virulent misogyny, in both theory and practice). White nationalism has always been a dominant force in the “alt-right,” and at this point, those “alt-rightists” who didn’t embrace white nationalism have apparently all left the movement. Both Nazi and non-Nazi versions of white nationalism are represented.

A key feature that sets the “alt-right” apart from earlier far-right movements is its emphasis on web culture, social media and the use of memes. Neo-Nazis have pioneered in the use of computer networks and information technology since the 1980s, but the “alt-right” started out by developing a major online presence and only later started to form member organizations and hold physical rallies. “Alt-rightists” got very skilled at using political irony and mounting meme campaigns, such as the #cuckservative campaign in 2016, which significantly helped Donald Trump in the presidential primaries by attacking his main Republican competitors. Borrowing a tactic from the manosphere’s Gamergate campaign, “alt-rightists” also barraged political opponents with vicious online harassment, such as flooding their inboxes with rape and death threats.

The “alt-right” has suffered a series of setbacks over the past year, through a combination of internal failings and external pressures, and it’s a lot weaker and more isolated than it was when Trump was elected. But it’s had a lasting impact, not only by helping to put Trump in the White House, but also by fueling supremacist violence and injecting supremacist ideology into mainstream discourse. And even if the “alt-right” itself never recovers, it’s likely that sooner or later we’ll see a resurgence of another far-right movement that builds on its example, promoting similar ideas in different form.

Why do you think there are so many different perceptions of fascism?

To some extent, it’s because fascists have never developed an agreed-upon body of political theory the way Marxists, anarchists, liberals and even conservatives have done. Mussolini declared that fascists were more concerned with action than with doctrine, which has misled some critics into thinking that fascism doesn’t stand for anything except grabbing power and brutalizing people. But opponents also perceive fascism differently because of their different starting points, different ways of understanding the world. Is fascism fundamentally an expression of “hate,” a mass psychology of exclusion? Is it an outgrowth of capitalism, or even a “stage” of capitalism in decline, as many Marxists have claimed? Or is it, as some conservatives have argued, essentially “big government” run amok?

People on both the left and the right have often used “fascism” more as a political epithet, a way to denounce your opponents, than a term of analysis. There’s a long tradition of liberals and leftists denouncing every repressive move by right-wing politicians as “fascist,” from Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts to George W. Bush’s “war on terror” to Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. To me, all of these are actually examples of authoritarian conservatism, which is a top-down impulse to defend the established order and ruling-class interests. I see fascism as an outgrowth of an organized mass movement that wants to sweep away established institutions and impose a new kind of supremacist order. Fascism may cut a deal with established elites, but is at root an autonomous force with its own agenda, not a ruling-class puppet. Contrary to popular usage, fascists are not the only ones who impose dictatorships, and they are not the only ones who carry out genocide.

Are many far right groups populist in nature?

Yes, in the United States, pretty much all of them are populist to one degree or another. I follow political scientist Margaret Canovan’s approach in defining populism as an effort to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. There are a lot of different versions of populism, some of which have positive elements. But right-wing populism, as Chip Berlet and I and others have argued, is a subcategory in which anti-elitism is combined with a drive to bolster the oppression, exclusion or annihilation of one or more oppressed or marginalized groups. In addition, the anti-elitism that right-wing populists promote is distorted, in that it diverts people’s anger away from the actual systems of power (such as capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy) onto a scapegoat (such as “globalist elites,” or “liberal intellectuals” or “Jewish bankers”).

There have been many right-wing populist movements in US history, but most of them have been system loyal, in the sense that they have not really called the established political order into question. The far right of recent decades is part of a larger right-wing populist upsurge, which regards the limited gains made by oppressed social groups since the 1960s as the result of a plot by “sinister elites” to undermine Western civilization. There are different versions of this narrative — some racial, some religious, some economic, and so on. System-loyal right-wing populists essentially argue that the sinister elites can be put in their place through reforming the existing system, while far rightists believe that the system is beyond repair and a political revolution is needed — a revolution of the right, an insurgency to impose a new supremacist order.

What are the relationships between national security forces, law enforcement and the paramilitary right?

This is a complex story and delving into it is one of the elements that sets Insurgent Supremacists apart from most books about the US far right. There’s a long history of federal agencies colluding with — or actively sponsoring — right-wing violence against people of color, organized labor and the left. For example, in the early 1970s, federal agencies sponsored right-wing organizations in the Chicago area and southern California that carried out break-ins, physical attacks and assassination attempts against leftists. In 1979, an FBI informer and an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms both helped plan an operation in which neo-Nazi and Klan groups murdered five members and supporters of the Communist Workers Party in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists than any other major presidential candidate in living memory.

But when right-wing paramilitaries have turned against the state, federal agencies have cracked down hard on them. In the 1980s, security forces smashed The Order, a neo-Nazi group that had issued a declaration of war against the “Zionist Occupation Government” in Washington, and rounded up members of half a dozen other armed fascist organizations. In the 1990s, the FBI created a phony neo-Nazi organization called the Veterans Aryan Movement to help it gather intelligence about genuine far-right groups — a classic counterinsurgency tactic. The federal government has also sometimes used far-right violence as a useful scapegoat to justify increases in state repression. For example, the Clinton administration used the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to help push through the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which civil liberties advocates have excoriated. Yet in recent years, federal security forces’ responses to the paramilitary right have been largely reactive, inconsistent and even passive. At the Bundy Ranch confrontation in 2014, federal officers backed down when confronted by armed Patriot movement activists pointing guns at them, and the government waited almost two years before bringing any charges for the incident.

This kind of cautious response partly reflects pressure from conservatives, but it may also point to awareness that federal government efforts to control the paramilitary right have sometimes backfired — spectacularly. In the 1960s, FBI infiltration of Ku Klux Klan groups (carried out not to end racist violence, but to bring to heel a heavily armed network operating outside government control) significantly weakened the Klan in the short term, but it massively discredited the Bureau in the eyes of white supremacists, and helped push many of them to embrace revolutionary, far-right politics. The 1992 assault on the home of white supremacist Randy Weaver — in which federal agents shot to death Weaver’s teenage son and gunned down his wife while she was holding their baby — helped spark the rise of the Patriot movement as a reaction against fears of government tyranny.

Federal security forces do their job clumsily at times and skillfully at others, are subject to a variety of internal biases and external pressures, and have to contend with shifting political circumstances. Fundamentally, however, their purpose is to protect ruling-class power. Broadly speaking, paramilitary rightists serve that purpose when they defend the existing order, and clash with that purpose when they seek to overthrow it.

How does Trump fit in with the history of insurgent supremacists in the United States?

I see Donald Trump as a right-wing populist who is system loyal, but whose rise is symbiotically connected to the far right. Trump has skillfully appealed to the double-edged sense of grievance that many Americans feel — a fear that their traditional privileges have been or are being eroded, coupled with an anger and resentment at economic, political and cultural elites above them. Many successful US politicians have done this, but few of them have opposed the political establishment as squarely as Trump did, and few of them have leaned on far-right support the way he has. Candidate Trump got more help from far rightists, especially the “alt-right,” than any other major presidential candidate in living memory. And in turn, his campaign helped “alt-rightists” gain visibility, media access and a degree of legitimation they would never have had otherwise. Several of the advisers Trump picked for his administration echoed the “alt-right” to varying degrees. Some of them (such as Steve Bannon) have left, but others (such as Stephen Miller) are still there.

Most “alt-rightists” supported Trump’s candidacy because of his anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant positions, because he repudiated standard taboos (for example, advocating torture, calling for violence against political opponents and bragging about sexual assault) and because he made establishment conservatives look like fools. In the early days, long before anybody thought he could win, “alt-rightists” saw him as somebody who could destroy the Republican Party. Their view of Trump was essentially: He is not one of us, but he is useful to our cause, because he can buy us time and open up more space for us to get our message out. Since the inauguration, “alt-rightists” have applauded some of Trump’s moves, but they’ve also been frustrated and alienated by some of his actions (such as his missile strikes against Syria) and what they see as his capitulation to the conservative establishment on many issues.

As many “alt-rightists” have understood clearly from the beginning, Donald Trump is not a far rightist. His policies are racist but not white nationalist (because he doesn’t advocate a white ethno-state and the mass expulsion of people of color) and authoritarian but not fascist (because he wants to suppress opponents but doesn’t aim to impose one totalitarian ideology on all spheres of society). Also, unlike fascists, he did not build an independent organization, but instead cobbled together an elite coalition of “America First” nationalists and mainstream conservatives, and over time the latter have mostly come out on top. Despite some inconsistent steps away from the establishment line on free trade and foreign policy, Trump’s main impact has been to intensify conventional conservative policies, such as deregulating industry, making the tax system even more regressive and making life even harder for undocumented immigrants.

To be clear, Trump isn’t just more of the same. He builds on his predecessors (Republican and Democrat), but he is qualitatively worse than them. Trump is accelerating the decline of the United States’ liberal-pluralist system (often mislabeled “democracy”), and his rise has helped to mobilize popular forces that have the potential to turn toward more insurgent forms of right-wing politics. In this situation, it’s important for leftists to join with others in opposing the growth of repression, demonization and supremacist violence. At the same time, it’s also important for us to strengthen and amplify our own critiques of the established order, our own visions of radical change — and not let far rightists present themselves as the only real opposition force.

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Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire

There are many different strains to far right groups in the US. To take on their insidious challenge, Matthew Lyons educates us about their histories and ideologies.
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Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout. He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for 10 years before joining Truthout in 2010. BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards. Karlin writes a commentary five days a week for BuzzFlash, as well as articles (ranging from the failed 'war on drugs' to reviews relating to political art) for Truthout. He also interviews authors and filmmakers whose works are featured in Truthout's Progressive Picks of the Week. Before linking with Truthout, Karlin conducted interviews with cultural figures, political progressives and innovative advocates on a weekly basis for 10 years. He authored many columns about the lies propagated to launch the Iraq War.

Copyright, Reprinted with permission

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The Dark Side of the Silicon Gold Rush

Q&A with Richard Walker, author Pictures of a Gone City

By Richard Florida
July 3rd, 2018

Pictures of a Gone City i
s the culmination of the life’s work of Richard A. Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley. A student of the great Marxist geographer David Harvey, Walker brings a profoundly historical approach to his scholarship. His lens spans economics, urban design, politics, and the environment, to name just a few of his interests.

Walker’s new book is urban geography for our times. It illuminates the basic crisis and contradiction of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is an example of capitalism at its most innovative and dynamic, and simultaneously the site of severe inequality and failing public policies and infrastructure. Walker has lived and worked in the Bay Area for most of his life. I was delighted to speak with him about topics ranging from the real geographic definition of the Bay Area, to its history of innovation (stretching back to the Gold Rush days), to the contemporary movements that might help the Bay Area reclaim its radical roots.

One of the things I like most about your book is its historical perspective. The Bay Area has always been a much desired and relatively expensive place to live. What’s different now?

In the 1950s postwar era, when the Beats were going strong, and right through the 1960s, San Francisco was remarkably cheap, actually, because it wasn’t as in demand as New York. So people could find places to rent in North Beach, which now is regarded as very luxurious. What [happened] is, around 1970, there’s an inflection point where prices in California in general take off and start to outrun most of the rest the country. And then there’s another inflection point around the 1990s.

Trying to explain this, of course, is what everybody’s got their pet theory about—but it’s not simple. Certainly, it has to do with the unbelievable success of California, and particularly with the success of the Bay Area, which has outrun California. California created enormous numbers of jobs for a very long time, and then it’s generated massive wealth, particularly here in the Bay Area.

That means that the upper 20 percent of the population have an enormous amount of disposable income they can spend on rent, [so] they’ve bid the rents up for the desirable parts of the city.

What is it about the area that allowed it to create such an advantage in high-tech industries?

It’s always had a very high component of skilled labor. It always had tons of capital—it really was the number-two financial center in the country since World War II. And that had always supported new industries. There’s a certain social culture of openness and opportunity. It really goes back to the Gold Rush. This is something that runs very deep in the Bay Area, and California as a whole.

The Bay Area is a major tech economy, but not a one-industry economy, the way steel was to Pittsburgh or autos were to Detroit. Talk more about that breadth.

It’s much more on the New York model or even the Chicago model than some of these more one-horse places. It is “Tech Town,” the most dominated by the tech industry of any place in the world. But at the same time, it has this long history of manufacturing, especially related to agriculture, as well as mining and canning and food production.

Because of higher education and research, it developed biotech ahead of everybody. This is where the beginnings of gene splicing [were] done. So we have this huge medical-tech and health-service complex; [a] higher-education complex. And then a surprising amount of logistics, because of the Port of Oakland. San Francisco was the biggest port on the West Coast up until World War II. And then Oakland took over as one of the major container ports for many years, with all the associated warehousing and transport. That’s still pretty big.

And the tech industry is itself different because it is so fertile in terms of the potential uses of electronics and chips—that we could go from chip-making to the internet is a huge leap. And then you could leap into the software of the internet and social media and all the rest.

One of the things you also write about is how big and fractured the Bay Area is: 125 municipalities sprawling out in every direction—with its own Inland Empire. Give us a picture of what this region really looks like.

New York absorbed its challenger in Brooklyn in a way that San Francisco never was able to do with Oakland; and then Silicon Valley pops up, and so you have a third head. The book Edge Cities used the outer East Bay as one of the prime cases of the Edge City along the 680 corridor, with the decentralization of offices that was going on there starting in the 1980s. And now we have suburbs going all the way into Central Valley. We’re merging with Stockton and even Sacramento.

Even people here are just waking up to this. But it’s important to see that we have an Inland Empire, to see the whole and not just the parts. It’s important for people elsewhere to realize how enormous this place is. It’s the fourth biggest city [metro area] in the United States after Chicago.

In your book, you talk about the perils of prosperity. You outline the dynamism of the Bay Area and the problems that come with it—unaffordability, inequality, poverty, sprawl, environmental degradation, and more.

I call it the Communist Manifesto problem. Marx and Engels write one of the great paeans to capitalism in that statement. It has produced wonders far beyond any previous civilization—massive potential for well-being. And at the same time, tremendous immiseration of the working people, disruption, “all that is solid melts into air,” modernity that undermines all fixed conditions.

I try to keep juggling the two sides. I think it’s too easy—and I think the left often falls victim to this, and I’m on the left so I’m saying this sympathetically—to go for the low-hanging fruit. Like, the emptying out of Detroit is catastrophic, how could a country could let this happen?
But in this case, I want to show that this is the center of the dynamism of capitalism today. As one person put it, “Tech makes capitalism fun again.” And there is a sense of that. I think you have to recognize the excitement of this industry, the excitement that modernity has always generated.

My challenge is to say, “Okay, given that this place is so successful, perhaps the most successful place on Earth certainly in the last decade, what’s still wrong and how could it go so wrong?” How could you have this gross inequality, how could you have so many working people earning minimum wage? A quarter of them are earning minimum wage; a third of them can’t earn a living wage. And then the homeless situation is just beyond immoral. Perhaps the most disgusting homeless situation anywhere in this pretty heartless country. And so that’s what I do, is take it apart and show both sides.

So what are the things that have gone badly wrong in the Bay Area?

We are one of the leading generators of inequality, which is hidden because we look at our high median income—the highest in the world of any big city—and say, “Wow, that’s great.

Capitalism lifts all boats.” On the top you see that most of the big boats are bobbing around quite nicely, steaming ahead. But then the little boats are getting swamped.

The next thing is housing. The housing crisis is really grotesque here. Hundreds of thousands of people are being priced out of the city and having to move either far out into the Central Valley, where you’re 100 miles away from the center, or they give up and go to Las Vegas or Reno or Oregon, or wherever the possibilities seem better for ordinary working folks.

“You look at the revival of San Francisco and many of the centers, like Oakland. But at the same time, urban sprawl goes on forever, with all the negatives of that.”

Urban sprawl—that has not been solved at all. You look at the revival of San Francisco and many of the centers, like Oakland. But at the same time, urban sprawl goes on forever, with all the negatives of that, which I discuss in a whole chapter on environmental impacts, because that is still eating land like crazy and eating resources and water, and we’re dealing with its air pollution.

Another big thing is the ideology of the tech industry. The siren song of the innovators and of the tech moguls saying that they’re creating this new world, a much better world, which we’re all discovering is not the utopia that we were promised. Far from it: In some respects it’s a nightmare.

The last thing is, we have a long and pretty honorable tradition of progressive politics in the Bay Area. And the question is, where’s that going? Even though we’re still the bluest of the blue, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our radical edge, our progressive edge, is doing well. A lot of that has been blunted.

You made the point that tech made capitalism fun. But it doesn’t feel like fun anymore. As you say, it seems to be turning into a nightmare for many people and communities. We can all sense the growing backlash against Big Tech. What is causing this shift in the Bay Area, specifically?

I think it’s a problem Americans have always had, and illusions that we’ve always had about the promise of technology. We want to believe that technology will deliver us from evil without cost, which never turns out to be what you hoped. It may be wonderful and dynamic and deliver a lot of goods. But it delivers a lot of social change, social upheaval, new kinds of problems that you never imagined. And that’s what we’re getting: a lot of the unexpected consequences.

Americans have always thought that the market delivered competition and that we’re a country of small business. Now you may have a proliferation of little-guy startups, which seems very dynamic and kind of fulfills the American Dream, but what happens of course if the industry is really successful [is] a few of these guys turn into corporate giants like Google and Facebook, and then they start gobbling up the little guys.

That becomes the endpoint of a startup—it’s not to enter the market and compete, but to end up being acquired by a corporate giant, and you become a multimillionaire. You’re delivered your cut of the goodies, but it doesn’t deliver the promised competition, and instead you end up with these mega-monopolies who made most of their money off advertising. What could be more boringly American and less like the promised land than simply having to deal all the time with electronic billboards?


Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.

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The Young C.L.R. James in Against the Current

By Jason Schulman
Against the Current
July-August 2018

The Making of C.L.R. James

The Young C.L.R. James:
A Graphic Novelette
Illustrated by Milton Knight
Edited by Paul Buhle and Lawrence Ware
PM Press, 43 pages, $6.95 paper.

THERE’S LITERALLY NO reason for any socialist to not pick up this illustrated novellete, even if you’ve already read all of C.L.R. James’ writings and have read the biographies and studies of his works written by Paul Buhle (the novellete’s co-editor), James D. Young, Kent Worcester, Frank Rosengarten and others.

This pamphlet is a delight, a charming caricature drawn in a whimsical style by Milton Knight, an artist who’s worked on everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics to World War 3 Illustrated.

As one would expect from its title, The Young C.L.R. James mainly concentrates on the relatively little-known details of James’ early life. It also has much to say about culture in early-20th century Trinidad, then a British colony, such as the annual carnival in Tunapuna, described as “[a] celebration of West Indian Cultures” and “[a] festival of sport, music — and debauchery” which the British authorities consistently failed to repress.

This allowed for “a period of physical and emotional release” under “the incredible color-obsessed ‘order’” imposed by Britain. James himself finds escape from both racist colonialism and the “armor” of his household’s “respectability” though calypso music, magazines and literature, and — as anyone who’s read his book Beyond A Boundary knows well — cricket. (Young James’ growing obsession with cricket quickly makes his parents less than happy.)
Even as he studies British history, enters Queens Royal College and acts as a “good British subject,” James soon finds himself becoming a literary “bohemian” within the black Beacon Group, all of whom are devotees not only of calypso but the American jazz of Louis Armstrong.

A section of the pamphlet depicts the rise and fall of big band jazz and specifically swing dancing, which ends as a mass phenomenon with the closing of the Savoy Ballroom in 1958.
A text piece points out that James was a swing dance devotee, attracted to its “promise of freed and rhythmic motion” and presaging the insights into American popular culture found in his book American Civilization, written in 1950 though not published until 1992.

The increasingly radicalized James declares that “Blacks would be fools and worse to go through life as imtiation whites,” and while in London he writes Toussaint L’ouverture, an explicitly political three-act play about the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution of 1791. James is surprised to find that the “Stage Society” will only produce it provided that renowned singer Paul Robeson accepts the leading role, which he does.

Perhaps ironically, Robeson, whom James greatly admired, would become a devout supporter of the Soviet Union, while James, in the heterodox wing of American Trotskyism, would denounce the USSR as totalitarian state capitalism.

James’ opposition to Stalinism is mentioned in the novellete’s opening text piece but is not depicted via graphics. Aside from Knight’s excursion into swing music history, The Young C.L.R. James ends with the first performance of Toussaint L’ouverture in 1936, even though James had become a Trotskyist in 1934.

Of course, there are many other sources where one can study James’ Trotskyist “career” as well as his later development into a forerunner of what was later labeled Autonomist Marxism. Biographies of James abound, and there’s little reason for another to appear.

Instead, The Young C.L.R. James does an excellent job at performing its particular task — as its co-editors describe, explaining “how such a universal mind could have grown from humble origins in a backwater of the British Empire.” It’s also a fun read.

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Q&A with Richard Walker, author Pictures of a Gone City in the San Jose Mercury News

By Kate Murphy
San Jose Mercury News
June 28th, 2018

The geographer Richard Walker is out with an unflinching examination of the San Francisco Bay Area, the epicenter of the tech boom — and he opens the book with a poem published more than a half-century before the iPhone:

“The world is a beautiful place / to be born into / if you don’t mind happiness / not always being / so very much fun / if you don’t mind a touch of hell / now and then / just when everything is fine / because even in heaven / they don’t sing / all the time,” it begins.

The work by Lawrence Ferlinghetti — “Pictures of a Gone World” — has always resonated with Walker, and it inspired the title of his new book: “Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

The 394-page volume is both literally and thematically heavy, discussing the winners and losers of the latest tech boom along with themes of racial and economic segregation, displacement, urban sprawl, the foreclosure crisis and today’s housing crisis. The retired UC Berkeley geography professor said he wrote it with the “educated public” in mind, people “who want to figure out what’s going on” in this prosperous, yet turbulent time.

We caught up with Walker, who still lives part-time in Berkeley, about his latest book. This interview has been edited for length and clarity:

Q: What do you mean by “Gone City?”

A: There’s a book of poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who opened City Lights bookstore and was one of the founding members of the beat movement in San Francisco in the early ‘50s. And there’s one poem in that collection that I have always loved. It speaks to the present reality. It speaks to the contradiction of living in a place that’s kind of fantastic — “gone,” in the lingo of the post-war era, meant good, but it also meant that it’s disappeared, a city that isn’t there anymore. Ferlinghetti’s poem speaks to that sense of being in a place and enjoying the life and the scene of a city as the writer moves through it, and at the same time having to step over homeless people. The poem is written in these couplets, of the world is a beautiful place if you don’t see the problems around you.

Q: There is one line where you talk about “the entire urban fabric being made over by forces beyond popular control and the powers of local government.” You write, “By the time it settles down again, the city will never be the same.” How so?

A: Having lived long enough and being an observer of this city since I was a teenager, I’ve been impressed, again and again, by the radical changes every decade or so. Every time there’s one of these major growth booms, the city is turned upside down. And then we forget. … We take the city again as normalized, we get used to it. And especially as young people come of age or people move into the Bay Area, you take the city as you find it and you think “Oh, that’s the way it’s always been.”

Q: You also take aim at a popular narrative that the fundamental problem behind the Bay Area’s high housing costs is artificially low housing supply, and that local restrictions on new development are largely to blame. Why is this wrong?

A: It’s wrong for a couple of reasons. It takes developers literally years to get a project off the ground, and that’s not the fault of regulation. It’s the reality of what it takes to assemble properties in a private market, to get financing, to get your architects and engineers and draw up the plans, organize your contractors, especially in a time where everyone wants contractors, and eventually get the darn thing built. Everybody knows it takes two, three, four, maybe five years. So the idea that a housing market can just respond like that if people get out of the way is nuts, it’s just completely false.

The second problem is that it ignores what’s going on right now, which is one of the greatest booms in the history of the Bay Area, in a city that is one of the most fast growing and the richest in the world. When you have a place that’s growing extraordinarily fast, extraordinarily rich, extraordinarily unequal and then to ignore all that and say, “Well the problem is the supply” — no, the problem is the demand, the demand generated by a boom, possibly a bubble, this extraordinarily high average income and enormous wealth at the top. In that kind of hot-house situation, prices rise very fast, there are extreme bottlenecks of supply that are generated by this exaggerated demand, and prices go through the roof.

Q: You also write that the housing crisis has produced a “flurry of policy debate and new legislation — most of which is based on erroneous ideas about how property markets work.” What do you mean by that?

A: This simple idea that if you just clobber all local governments and all local regulations, really come down hard on them, that will release this massive, pent-up supply, that’s what’s wrong. If you look at permitting in places like San Francisco or Berkeley you’ll find that there’s actually hundreds of permits for new units that are already approved but haven’t been built. It’s not like all local governments have been restraining the caged tiger of the developers.

Most local planning regulations actually make a lot of sense: Where are you going to build the building? How big is the building? Does it fit the neighborhood? … However it is true that there are a number of exclusive enclaves — like Palo Alto, Atherton, Orinda, most of Marin County — that could accommodate a lot more apartments and density, and they refuse.

Q: You predicted that the peak of the real-estate market would be in 2017, but prices are still going up. Will it be in 2018?

A: Looks like I’m wrong again. It peaked the first time in 2015, started softening in 2016, then it took off again in 2017 and there were signs of softening in 2018, but prices seem to still be going up. There have been repeated debates amongst economists and stock-market watchers over the the last three years about when is the next recession going to hit. Because it will, it always does — that’s the nature of capitalism, and there’s no getting away from it. The question is when?

Q: What do you make of the rent-control debate and the ballot initiative — which is eligible for the November ballot — to repeal Costa Hawkins, the state law restricting local policies?

A: Rent control is based on a battle between the class of renters and the class of property owners and landlords. There’s an awful lot of active intervention to drive up rents and transform who is living in these buildings, particularly in the very high-rent centers like San Francisco. Landlords are taking more money out of renters’ pockets every month. How do renters fight back? One way is politically, through rent control. When we had a movement in the ‘80s, the landlords went to the state with their very powerful lobbies and said we’ve got to cut these guys off at the knees, and that’s when they got Costa Hawkins in 1995. It was an effort to stop the rent control movement. It was a political battle that the landlords won in a much more conservative time, when California swung way to the right.

The point is not that rents don’t go up. It’s that you allow them to go up at a much more measured pace so that it keeps up with cost of living. You don’t put a lid on the market without a safety valve.

Q: Did you say you were a renter?

A: I have a rented house in West Berkeley. I have a very nice landlord — because there are some — who doesn’t raise the rent much. I’ve had some very good landlords. I’ve also had some crummy landlords in my day.

Q: What kind of reception has “Pictures of a Gone City” gotten?

A: It’s clearly hit a nerve. People are very engaged, very excited about a book that speaks to the problems that they see. Now, again, I don’t want people to get the wrong impression because this book is not simply a complaint. It’s about how important and dynamic and amazing this urban area is, and how vital it is to the world economy, especially the tech world.

Richard A. Walker

Age:  70

Hometown: Stanford

Education: Palo Alto High School, bachelor’s at Stanford University, Johns Hopkins for Ph.D

Career: professor of geography at Berkeley, teaching from 1975 to 2012

Family: one stepdaughter, age 41, one daughter age 25

Five things about Richard Walker

1. He splits his time between Berkeley and a village in Burgundy, France, where he owns a home.

2. His 25-year-old daughter lives with him in Berkeley because she can’t afford the rents.

3. He grew up at Stanford University in the 1950s and 60s and watched Santa Clara County turn into Silicon Valley — so his first scholarly project for his Ph.D was a study of the how and why of suburbanization.

4. He is “very old-stock American” who thinks this country was built on immigrants — his long-ago ancestors include a German who fought in the Revolutionary War.

5. He fell in love again at 70, “something I never thought would happen.”

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(H)afrocentric Comics in Socialism & Democracy

By Paul Buhl
Socialism & Democracy
June 2018

A new generation of African American-comic art is now in full swing.

For those who have followed the likes of Milton Knight, Lance Tooks and Afua Richardson, among others on hand for the memorable African-American Classics (2011), the new styles may seem rather jarring. (H)afrocentric is rooted at once in alternative comics and in the main- stream superhero mold. It is jarring in the sheer vulnerability of its characters, especially the lead, one Naima Pepper.

The “Ronald Reagan College [RRC] perched atop the hilly red- woods in Oakland” sounds suspiciously like Mills College, an old line liberal school for women that has been transitioning itself for decades into something uncertain (including, with luck, survival). Like real-life Mills, RRC is a top-flight school situated within a poor, black community undergoing gentrification from neighboring Berkeley and the whole Bay Area link to Silicon Valley. How to navigate the connections and disconnections of students from modest backgrounds on the way up, and yet tied to the community with threads of sympathy and empathy – this is a problem with no evident solution.

Campus radicals a half century ago, this reviewer included, passed out leaflets, published “underground” newspapers, and sometimes even supported candidates for office on campus and off. Today’s activists would naturally act differently in several key ways, with social media at hand and a desperate need to get to other students, often enough, through the world of beige-toned corporate liberalism. What makes Naima especially interesting are her own contradictions. She’s a suburban girl by origin, and perhaps for that reason, definitely sees through the self-image offered her as role model, future business success and so on. But where does that leave her?

Often enough, and very realistically, a bit disoriented. Especially in Oakland, once home of the Black Panthers, the legacy of the 1960s hangs heavy, sometimes inspiring and sometimes more burden than help. How to live up to civil rights and Black Power giants? What lessons do their lives, often enough wrought with tragedy, have for today in general, and for Naima in particular? She wants badly to know, because she has emerged as a leader of a proto-political group whose members have their own problems and confusions, political and per- sonal. What to do with fellow students, for instance, looking for the magic of some kind of psychic energy? or with fellow co-eds who get beyond fashions and boyfriends, and then seem to slip back? What about Naima’s own deep desire to be mighty good looking and dressed? And most of all, what to do with the African American males who are definitely awed by Naima but not so eager to be led, actually led, by a woman?

She says, on one page and after the death of an aged community resident, “looks like we won the battle but lost the war against gentrification.” The odds are too great. And then ... she bounces back by recalling the spirit of George Jackson, the “Soledad Brother” shot dead by prison guards in 1971. The ghost tells her to ask herself, and she finds another self, a Fairy Godmother with “a striking resemblance to Fanny Lou Hamer,” who gets her a job as a “racial interpreter” – “translating” words, actions and above all, the meaning of the great silence between potential agents of intersectionality. She’s not happy with what she finds, mainly well meaning but befuddled white liberals.

And here, in the complexity of these pages, the accomplishment of this comic art – drawing and narrative line alike – shows its strongest side. We might recall that a small group of especially notable African American artists found their calling or at least a living in animation, until the animation industry moved off shore or simply eliminated the work with further automation. Milt Knight and Lance Tooks draw comics like animators would, with extraordinary effort given to a
kind of visual depth and density. Another stream, best represented by multiple award-winner Afua Richardson, have made their mark through something close to mainstream or semi-mainstream fantasy and superhero genres, and perhaps Richardson’s larger-than-life heroic women are a bit closer to the work in (H)afrocentric.

But there is something else here, rooted (in my view) in the existing limitations of the indie comic world. Diverse in almost every sense, often politically radical, and very d.i.y. in both production and distribution, it has been blessed with too few artists of color, and too few probings into the world of black youth today. With admirable exceptions, it has not much treated the legacy of the great past movements that reshaped African American life, and the victories denied by repression and the steady advance of neoliberalism. (H)afrocentric would be remarkable if only for its subtle take on these legacies and how they are perceived, ignored or understood, refigured or recycled by the following generations, marked indeed by mixed-race youngsters, the source of the “H” in the comic’s title.

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Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Milenko Srećković
Translated by Kosta Tadić
May 19th, 2018

The recent publishing of Noam Chomsky’s collected texts about Yugoslavia has caused a wave of outrage among the supporters of “humanitarian” military interventions on social networks. The disastrous imperialistic military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria have showed the real face of the human-right military aggressions, proving that they have caused nothing but the complete collapse and tragedy in the life of normal, ordinary people. These intervention supporters have found their last shelter in the mythological Hollywood interpretation of the breakup of Yugoslavia, where the bad guys (the Serbs) can be stopped only by the NATO bombing. The Middle East military interventions are usually justified by the Bosnian war, and the phrase “Srebrenica: Never Again!” has become a battle cry of the American military-intelligence propaganda machine.

This is why the Chomsky’s analysis of the German and American role in triggering the wars in Croatia and Bosnia is so annoying to the imperialistic agents – the same ones who have “found” weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and lied about chemical attacks in Syria. The hypocrisy of the Western media is shown in their constant horrification by the war crimes in Yugoslavia, their repeating that NATO should have acted more aggressively in their prevention… and their silence when it comes to the imperialistic support to the militant nationalists and separatists on each side: to Alija Izetbegović – the Muslim fundamentalist who spent some time in a Yugoslav prison in the early 1980s because of his religious fanaticism – and to Franjo Tuđman – who gained the political power by using the resurrection of the Croatian WWII fascist Ustasha Movement. On the other hand, the West didn’t mind the Milošević’s Serbian nationalism but his “communism”, and he was labeled “the last communist dictator in Europe”, while the Serbian opposition leaders like Vuk Drašković and Zoran Đinđić enjoyed the constant Western support because of their transparent nationalism and anti-communism.

The Chomsky’s analysis is completely opposite to the propagandic stereotypes of the Bosnian war – stereotypes created by the “intellectuals” defending the militant humanism, e.g Bernard-Henri Levy and Marko Attila Hoare. Chomsky is not uselessly crying over the war crimes – he is speaking about the imperialistic interests which had encouraged the secessions of the former Yugoslav republics and led to the war. The Western journalists often blame the West for not intervening and preventing the Srebrenica murders, not mentioning that the Western interventions had in fact caused the war by sabotaging the peace negotiations between the belligerent nations. In fact, the Bosnian war started after the Americans had instructed the Bosnian Muslims to withdraw their Lisbon Agreement (Carrington–Cutileiro peace plan) signature and unilaterally declare the Bosnian independence. Chomsky is not the only one dealing with this subject – there are numerous other serious accusations against the US administration. I would like to mention the very precise testimonies by the Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Byron Bissett and the Canadian Major-General Lewis Wharton MacKenzie – known for establishing and commanding Sector Sarajevo as part of the UN Protection Force – which can be seen here:

The book Yugoslavia – Peace, War, and Dissolution consists of three chapters. The first part is dealing with the Josip Broz’s rule, “self-managed socialism” and Yugoslav dissidents. The second part is about the late 1980s and early 1990s Yugoslav crisis. In this chapter, Chomsky is talking about the wider background of the crisis, about the breakup process and the wars in Croatia and Bosnia. The third part is dedicated to Kosovo and Metohija, the events that led to the NATO bombing, as well as the ones after it. An introduction to the book was written by Andrej Grubačić, and every chapter includes the comments by the book editor Davor Džalto. The book was published by PM Press, an independent leftist publishing house, and it can be bought on the publisher’s official website:

The whole process of Yugoslavian breakup could be really understood and seriously analysed only by a person with a serious political experience which Noam Chomsky undoubtedly had and still has. His writings are extremely valuable to everyone who wants to understand the global imperialistic geopolitical interests and the methods used for their achievement. His work is also a testimony about shameful immorality of the numerous war-supporting “intellectuals” and journalists. Hiding behind “humanitarianism”, they – together with the war machine and intelligence agents – are turning the ordinary people’s lives into hell.

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Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution - A Review

By Niklas Pivic
Niklas’ Blog
May 2018

Reading Noam Chomsky’s analyses of political power is always recommendable. Regardless of what one may think of him, his oft-piercing words penetrate the cobwebs that demagogues and kleptocracies throw out in order to maintain their own status quo.

When I was in high school, the war in Yugoslavia broke out.
My dad’s from Yugoslavia and our family sported a Yugoslavian surname, which lead to a bunch of kids coming up to me, asking which part of Yugoslavia I came from. Who do you side with? Even though I knew very little of the past conflicts that had affected Yugoslavia not only recently at the time, but since the start of the 20th century, it was clear to me that this was a war that was reported in disingenuous ways via mainstream media. I read some things, and then heard from my cousins via ICQ and the likes; while the media gaslighted people into thinking that Serbs were basically atrocious murderers, my cousin told me of NATO missiles that precision-bombed apartments belonging to resistance leaders.

I wish I’d had this book as the war went on.

This is not a hagiography, or any kind of finger-pointer, but rather a two-pronged book:

The first part is not written by Chomsky, but mainly by Davor Džalto (Editor) and Andrej Grubacic (Preface), who have constructed a clear-cut view of Yugoslavia from before, during, and after World War II; it helps a lot to understand the complex dealings within Yugoslavia, not to mention how they differed from their (at-times) allies, e.g. the Soviet Union.

The second part consists of a few articles written by and interviews with Noam Chomsky, most of which have appeard in the illustrious Z Magazine. Chomsky lays into NATO as he should, and he basically uses NATO statements to show how they went against the UN in every way, went against NATO member states (e.g. Greece and Italy) in attacking parts of Yugoslavia, and also what most probably lays behind the decisions of NATO; Chomsky radiates at his very best when he investigates the moral claims by the likes of Bill Clinton and NATO commanders, where they used “we couldn’t very well just have stood by and watched this happen” to explain something as horrific as their 78-day-long bombing of Yugoslavia, while doing nothing in countries where NATO could have stopped sheer atrocities.

It would be hard to criticise the makers of this book for anything, really; I found this book both enlightening and uplifting, as one has to understand our history in order to do better. Still, this will probably have no impact whatsoever on US foreign policy which has only escalated and progressed since.

To those who have followed mainstream media for news on the war in Yugoslavia this book will most likely be eye-opening; to me it was, especially where finding out how both the American and British government escalated the killings and why, and also of how mainstream media chose to not be more than stenographers to government.

Examples from the book:

This is by no means the only impressive feat of doctrinal management. Another is the debate over NATO’s alleged “double standards,” revealed by its “looking away” from other humanitarian crises, or “doing too little” to prevent them. Participants in the debate must agree that NATO was guided by humanitarian principles in Kosovo—precisely the question at issue. That aside, the Clinton administration did not “look away” or “do too little” in the face of atrocities in East Timor, or Colombia, or many other places. Rather, along with its allies, it chose to escalate the atrocities, often vigorously and decisively. Perhaps the case of Turkey—within NATO and under European jurisdiction—is the most relevant in the present connection.

Its ethnic cleansing operations and other crimes, enormous in scale, were carried out with a huge flow of military aid from the Clinton administration, increasing as atrocities mounted. They have also virtually disappeared from history. There was no mention of them at the fiftieth anniversary meeting of NATO in April 1999, held under the shadow of ethnic cleansing—a crime that cannot be tolerated near the borders of NATO, participants and commentators declaimed; only within its borders, where the crimes are to be expedited. With rare exceptions, the press has kept to occasional apologetics, though the participation of Turkish forces in the Kosovo campaign was highly praised. More recent debate over the problems of “humanitarian intervention” evades the crucial U.S. role in the Turkish atrocities or ignores the topic altogether.

NATO chose to reject diplomatic options that were not exhausted and to launch a military campaign that had terrible consequences for Kosovar Albanians, as anticipated. Other consequences are of little concern in the West, including the devastation of the civilian economy of Serbia by military operations that severely violate the laws of war. Though the matter was brought to the War Crimes Tribunal long ago, it is hard to imagine that it will be seriously addressed. For similar reasons, there is little likelihood that the Tribunal will pay attention to its 150-page “Indictment Operation Storm: A Prima Facie Case,” reviewing the war crimes committed by Croatian forces that drove some two hundred thousand Serbs from Krajina in August 1995, with crucial U.S. involvement that elicited “almost total lack of interest in the US press and in the US Congress,” New York Times Balkans correspondent David Binder observes.
The suffering of Kosovars did not end with the arrival of the NATO (KFOR) occupying army and the UN mission. Though billions of dollars were readily available for bombing, as of October the U.S. “has yet to pay any of the $37.9 million assessed for the start-up costs of the United Nations civilian operation in Kosovo.” By November, “the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has yet to distribute any heavy-duty kits and is only now bringing lumber” for the winter shelter program in Kosovo; the UNHCR and EU humanitarian agency ECHO have also “been dogged with criticism for delays and lack of foresight.” The current shortfall for the UN mission is “the price of half a day’s bombing,” an embittered senior UN official said, and without it “this place will fail,” to the great pleasure of Miloševi?. A November donors’ conference of Western governments pledged only $88 million to cover the budget of the UN mission in Kosovo but pledged $1 billion in aid for reconstruction for the next year—public funds that will be transferred to the pockets of private contractors, if there is some resolution of the controversies within NATO about how the contracts are to be distributed. In mid-December the UN mission again pleaded for funds for teachers, police officers, and other civil servants, to little effect.

KFOR officers report that their orders are to disregard crimes: “Of course it’s mad,” a French commander said, “but those are the orders, from NATO, from above.” NATO forces also “seem completely indifferent” to attacks by “armed ethnic Albanian raiders” across the Serb-Kosovo border “to terrorize border settlements, steal wood or livestock, and, in some cases, to kill,” leaving towns abandoned. Current indications are that Kosovo under NATO occupation has reverted to what was developing in the early 1980s, after the death of Tito, when nationalist forces undertook to create an “ethnically clean Albanian republic,” taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in “protracted violence” to attain the goal of an “ethnically pure” Albanian region, with “almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs … out of the province.” This “seemingly intractable” problem, another phase in an ugly history of intercommunal violence, led to Miloševi?’s characteristically brutal response, withdrawing Kosovo’s autonomy and the heavy federal subsidies on which it depended and imposing an “Apartheid” regime. Kosovo may also come to resemble Bosnia, “a den of thieves and tax cheats” with no functioning economy, dominated by “a wealthy criminal class that wields enormous political influence and annually diverts hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue to itself.” Much worse may be in store as independence for Kosovo becomes entangled in pressures for a “greater Albania,” with dim portents.

There are other winners. At the war’s end, the business press described “the real winners” as Western military industry, meaning high-tech industry generally. Moscow is looking forward to a “banner year for Russian weapons exports” as “the world is rearming apprehensively largely thanks to NATO’s Balkans adventure,” seeking a deterrent, as widely predicted during the war. More important, the U.S. was able to enforce its domination over the strategic Balkans region, displacing EU initiatives at least temporarily, a primary reason for the insistence that the operation be in the hands of NATO, a U.S. subsidiary. A destitute Serbia remains the last holdout, probably not for long.

Something else interesting happened after that. Yugoslavia brought the case to the World Court. The court accepted it and deliberated for a couple of years, but what is interesting is that the U.S. excused itself from the case, and the court accepted the excuse. Why? Because Yugoslavia had mentioned the Genocide Convention, and the U.S. did sign the Genocide Convention (after forty years). It ratified it, but with a reservation, saying it was “inapplicable to the United States.” In other words, the U.S. is entitled to commit genocide. That was the case that the U.S. Justice Department of President Clinton brought to the World Court, and the court had to agree. If a country does not accept World Court jurisdiction, it has to be excluded, so the U.S. was excluded from the trial on the grounds that it grants itself the right to commit genocide. Do you think this was reported here? Does any of this get reported?
All in all, a very needed book.

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The Global Imagination of 1968 in Foreword Reviews

By Kristine Morris
June 2018

A world without hunger, without war or an international arms race, without militarized nation-states and arbitrary authorities: even now, in the twenty-first century, these goals seem out of reach, but that we can envision them at all is a legacy of the global imagination that emerged to rock the world half a century ago.

In 1968, world-historical social movements erupted in nearly every country; people were seeking freedom, not only from grinding poverty and social injustice, but to create themselves anew. The New Left, with its call for “individual autonomy amidst community” and an end to racial, political, economic, and patriarchal domination, had global appeal.

More than that, global insurgencies benefited from what George Katsiaficas calls the “eros effect,” in which “people’s ties to each other become more significant than patriotic allegiances or class and racial identities.” This term makes the concept of the “global imagination” of 1968 clear, encapsulating how, despite enormous cultural and political differences between nations, revolutionaries everywhere stood together in their dreams of freedom, taking action according to similar revolutionary norms and values and sharing a sense of solidarity.

Katsiaficas provides today’s activists with the wider historical context for action. The Global Imagination of 1968 is a guide to mobilizing the creativity to resist, disrupt, and change the lingering racism and patriarchal structures, attitudes, and economic systems that still restrict our freedom—a challenging task now that the organs of social control are militarized and often act with impunity.

Despite what appears to have been the failure of the New Left, Katsiaficas declares that its passionate challenge to the establishment left an amazing legacy of global progress and the advancement of values and ideals that can fire the imagination and nurture the dreams of a new generation of activists.

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Turning Pages: The literary joys of juvenile delinquents

By Jane Sullivan
The Age

April 27th, 2018

Rita is 15. She knows how to fight with her knees, her elbows, her teeth, how to hold a blackjack, how to spot a cop, how to roll marijuana, how to lure a man into a dark hallway.That's the way they sold Gang Girl, a 1954 piece of pulp fiction from Wenzell Brown, author of Jailbait Jungle, Teenage Terror, Cry Kill and Teen-Age Mafia. The covers of these cheap paperbacks are graced with lurid portraits of young punks brandishing knives and sneering at the reader, and vicious young women displaying large breasts in an aggressive manner.

And nobody worries about blaming the victim: Jay de Bekker's Gutter Gang proclaims "They came from filthy slums – where even their dreams were dirty!"Juvenile delinquents, they called them. In the conservative 1950s, the tabloids fulminated, shocked adults tut-tutted, and couldn't get enough of their stories. The arty end of this prurient fascination produced James Dean, West Side Story, Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, William Burrough's Junkie; the commercial end produced… well, pulp.

I've been having huge fun reading about JD fiction and looking at the outrageously titillating covers in Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, an anthology edited by two Australians, Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette. What was once reviled as rubbishy reading is now collected, curated and revered as retro chic.

Youthsploitation sold, and went on selling for decades, until film and TV took over as the primary entertainments, and until the rise of young-adult literature, when teenage rebels were written about in an altogether more sympathetic way.


But before that there was a pulp procession of shocking kids: beatniks, hippies (best of all, murderous hippies), bikie gangs, rock stars, punks, skinheads and James Bond-style surfer spies.

Many of these books would make even Quentin Tarantino cringe, I suspect: they sound truly awful. But here and there I came across someone churning out quick books for cash who went on to make a more respectable name for himself. One was the science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who went undercover and joined a street gang as research for more than 100 stories and his 1958 debut novel.

He describes how he was later working as a reviewer and picked up a book from a box a publisher sent him. "It's got this horrible, garish juvenile delinquent coming at you with a switchblade knife and it says Rumble. I thought 'What is this piece of shit?' and then I looked at the author and it was me."


Not many pulp authors were women, but they often have the most interesting stories. The lesbian pulp novel, though a rarity, was particularly successful in the 1950s because it was such a taboo subject. Ann Bannon discovered her first lesbian novel in a pharmacy and decided to write one herself. She produced a series with suitably shocking but oddly euphemistic covers: the one for her novel Beebo Brinker describes the heroine as "Lost, lonely, boyishly appealing – this is Beebo Brinker – who never really knew what she wanted – until she came to Greenwich Village and found the love that smoulders in the shadows of the twilight world". Bannon was married with two children. Her husband never welcomed her interest in such subjects, but he welcomed the royalty cheques. Her books have been republished and have been studied by a new generation of young scholars. She recalls a woman who told her that when she was young, she discovered a copy of Bannon's novel Odd Girl Out and then went home to have dinner instead of jumping off a bridge. "Something like that really turns your heart over."

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Dr. Michael Fine: Crony Capitalism Is Bad For Your Health

By Ariel Lewiton
October 5th, 2017

Photo: Sokontha Thuong, Snicca Photography.

For months, the fate of the United States’s healthcare system—one-sixth of the largest economy in the world—has seemed to be up for grabs. In May of this year, the Republican-controlled House passed a “repeal-and-replace” bill that died in the eleventh hour in the Republican-controlled Senate. Mitch McConnell announced that it was “time to move on,” and President Trump, known for graciousness neither in victory nor defeat, tweeted, “Let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” As of this writing, the Graham-Cassidy Act, which would dismantle Obamacare in favor of block grants for individual states, seems to have met an abortive end. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has announced a single-payer plan he calls Medicare for All; though it has no hope of passing the Republican-controlled Congress, its sixteen cosponsors include 2020 presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, signaling universal healthcare’s shift toward the center, at least among Democrats.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the American healthcare system is in dire need of an overhaul. The Unites States spends over $3.2 trillion on healthcare annually, or $10,000 per person—more than twice the per-capita healthcare expenditure of other industrialized nations. Yet we lag behind those nations in important health indicators like life expectancy and infant mortality rates. That’s to say: we pay an exorbitant amount for healthcare that doesn’t even keep us healthy.

Dr. Michael Fine, a family physician, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, and current chief medical strategist for Central Falls, Rhode Island, believes that we’re missing a crucial point in our debates about healthcare. As he put it to me recently, “The problem with Obamacare, and even with the attempts to destroy it, is that they are all attempts to do a little social engineering by using the health insurance process. Obamacare was health insurance reform; it was not health care reform.

“We’ve done it backwards,” Fine says. “We’ve tried to figure out how we’d pay for it, but we haven’t figured out or articulated what it is.”

Instead of figuring out how to finance our ballooning, unsupportable healthcare industry, we should be questioning why American healthcare costs so much in the first place. In order to solve our healthcare crisis, Fine argues, we need to begin by developing a comprehensive understanding of what a rational, effective, and just healthcare system ought to look like.

Dr. Fine’s vision of health and healthcare is localized, community-based, and integrative: not just avoiding or managing illness, but supporting education, affordable housing, public transportation, and sustainable resources—elements that link to health in surprising ways. The cornerstone of Fine’s own healthcare strategy is the neighborhood health station, a facility that aims to provide almost all the care that patients need, in one place. Last fall, he and his team broke ground on the Central Falls Neighborhood Health Station, the first of its kind in the nation.

In a series of conversations in person and over the phone, I spoke with Dr. Fine about the current crisis of American healthcare, the inspiration behind his work, and what healthcare workers and ordinary citizens can do to create the healthcare system we need.

—Ariel Lewiton for Guernica

Guernica: Let’s get started by talking about what’s wrong with healthcare in the United States.

Dr. Fine: We’re spending an ungodly amount of money—international comparisons suggest that we’re wasting between a trillion and 1.5 trillion dollars a year on healthcare. Our per-person, per-year cost is a little over $10,000 now.

The overall infant mortality rate in the United States is three times higher than the best achievable infant mortality rate internationally. And infant mortality among black Americans is more than twice that of white Americans. Yet we spend around three times more than we need to spend, compared to the countries that have the best outcomes. The countries with the best health outcomes, the lowest infant mortality, and the best life expectancy usually spend about $4,000 or less per person per year. They do it by having a healthcare system. In the United States, we have a healthcare market, not a healthcare system.

Guernica: Where does our spending go?

Dr. Fine: It goes into profit for corporate entities, into salaries for healthcare executives, and income for high-earning specialist physicians. In 2003, the average American family was spending about 17 percent of its annual income on healthcare. In 2017, that’s risen to over 30 percent. The Congressional Budget Office projection is that by 2025, healthcare costs will be 50 percent of a family’s income, and somewhere between 2031 and 2038, it becomes 100 percent. I don’t get how that works.

Guernica: Obviously it can’t work. What does family healthcare spending mean in this context?

Dr. Fine: For most of us, healthcare spending is health insurance spending by either you or your employer. It means co-pays and deductibles. It’s coinsurance [a percentage of treatment costs not covered by insurance companies that individuals must pay on their own], because most people who are employed get 25 percent of the cost of their health insurance taken out of their paycheck, and a lot of treatments aren’t covered even after buying this expensive insurance.

In Rhode Island, we spend a little over $12 billion a year on healthcare. Just little Rhode Island. The average healthcare inflation in the United States, including Rhode Island, has been a little over 6 percent a year for as long as everybody can remember, about three times the cost of general inflation. That means the increase in cost in Rhode Island—and remember, we’re not buying anything new, this is just the cost of healthcare inflation—is $720 million a year. That’s equivalent to the salary of about thirteen thousand teachers. It’s enough to build twenty-four units of affordable housing.

If we’re going to improve infant mortality rates and health in general, we need to spend money on education. We need to spend money on safe and healthy housing so that people have safe and secure places to live. We need to spend money on public transportation, community development, public safety, and the environment. These turn out to be the things that matter most for health. The paradox is that the more we spend on medical service expenditures that we don’t need, the less we spend on those things. In a certain way, healthcare is at war with health.

Guernica: You’ve argued that we are not using the right metrics for measuring health, or that we misunderstand what it means to be healthy in this country. How do you define health?

Dr. Fine: You have to think about what the human project is. Health doesn’t exist as a construct on its own. Health is about relationships. And democracy is a critical piece because it creates peace and stability, which allows relationships to be nurtured and mature.

You have to draw an intellectual distinction between personal and public health. It’s an important distinction because personal health is self-defined: most of us don’t want to be in pain, and we want live until seventy or eighty. None of us really thinks that you’re not healthy if you don’t live until 110. Everyone wants an equal shot of getting to eighty, I think, or at least almost everybody does.

Public health is totally different. Public health is a set of measures like life expectancy and infant mortality, concepts like years of potential life lost and reasons for that loss. From a public health perspective, you put these indicators together to give you a measure of how a population in a place is doing. That allows us to compare the ecology and the social organization of different places. In places where they’ve got it figured out, people live a long time, and their kids grow, and you’d think we’d want to emulate the social organization in those places.

Guernica: What’s an example of a place that’s doing it right?

Dr. Fine: Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates and long life expectancies, and the Finns pay about $4,000 a year for healthcare. When you look around the world, many countries that do this well have done what the Finns have done. The Finns build one community health center for every ten to twenty thousand people, and that community health center is responsible for taking care of everybody in that place.

In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease mortality in the world. They flipped it around by doing a bunch of guerrilla public healthcare; they had people who would go into barrooms and convince men in their forties and fifties to go out cross-country skiing and bicycle riding. They got farmers to change what they put in sausages. So instead of using beef fat or pork fat, they started using mushrooms that they were growing. That made the whole country healthier. You can do this. The Finns proved it.

Guernica: You drew inspiration from the Finnish model when you began addressing the healthcare crisis in your own city of Central Falls, Rhode Island. Talk about the work you’re doing there.

Dr. Fine: Central Falls is a city of twenty thousand. It’s a small place, only 1.2 square miles. It’s the poorest city in Rhode Island: about 50 percent of people live below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Fifty percent of people don’t have cars and most people are immigrants from Colombia, Cape Verde, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Liberia, and Nigeria. It’s got an old Polish and Syrian-Christian population. So it’s a really diverse and interesting place.

We’re doing something that I don’t think has ever been done in the United States: we’re actually building a healthcare system. We’re building a single clinical enterprise that is ready to take care of the entire population of the city. It’s classic primary care plus mental and behavioral health, substance use disorder treatment, physical therapy, dentistry, home health, emergency medial services, lab, and X-ray.

Guernica: I’ve heard of community health centers, but you refer to this entity as a neighborhood health station. What is the difference?

Dr. Fine: A community health center is charged with caring for the underserved. The community health center movement in the United States was started in the 1960s by Dr. Jack Geiger. Dr. Geiger was deeply involved in the civil rights movement, so for him this was a way to use healthcare as a social justice intervention, to give people whose lives had been disrupted by racism a shot at equal treatment. There are now 1,375 community health centers in nine thousand locations that care for 25 million Americans—almost 10 percent of the population, focusing on the underserved, those people who live at 200 percent of poverty or less.

With a neighborhood health station, it’s 90 percent of the healthcare services people need, in a single building, using a single medical record, so that 90 percent of the population uses that one clinical entity. We’re bringing primary care to all people, combining primary care and public health for the first time. The neighborhood health station provides services for pregnant women, but also works on improving infant mortality, reducing adolescent pregnancy, extending life expectancy, reducing the number of people who are smoking, reducing the number of deaths from opiate overdoses. The neighborhood health station becomes the agent of public health in every local community. And the vision is, if you can build one of these for every ten thousand people, then you have a real healthcare system.

Guernica: Do you accept health insurance? Do some people pay out of pocket? Is there a sliding scale for people who can’t afford the treatment they need?

Dr. Fine: The money comes from both federal grants (about 10 percent) and from health insurance. Community health centers are paid fairly for this work, which makes it all possible. By law, CHCs care for everyone regardless of ability to pay or immigration status. They all use a sliding scale. Some people pay nothing—they’re charged a minimal amount, but aren’t turned away if they can’t pay it.

Guernica: What is the advantage of bringing all of these services together under one roof?

Dr. Fine: By bringing everyone together in one place and using the single electronic medical record, we can find out lots of things about this population, and begin to improve the health of the population.

Every Friday at 1:15 p.m., twenty-five people get together: People from the state’s largest homelessness organization come. The city housing authority comes. Folks from two different mental health agencies come, as well as someone from the substance abuse recovery agency. The home nursing agency comes. People who do community-based social work and counseling come. We have a couple of clinicians, physicians, nurses, nurse case managers, people who know how to prevent utility cutoffs for people who are sick and can’t pay their bills. People from emergency medical services come. This is all totally voluntary.

Guernica: What do you do once you’ve assembled the twenty-five people?

Dr. Fine: We sit around a table, put our heads together, and think about how we’re going to take care of the people in the city who are most at risk. At each meeting, we discuss twenty-five to forty people. Sometimes we hear about somebody from a doctor, but often we’re hearing about people from the housing authority, or recovery coaches, or the police.

Guernica: Are you able to preserve patient confidentiality? Do your patients sign HIPPA agreements or something similar?

Dr. Fine: Everyone who participates [in these meetings] signs a business associate agreement, which prevents them from sharing any information they may receive. In addition, whenever there’s a non-clinician in the room, we refer to people only by their initials and dates of birth. The data isn’t merged—only the clinical side shares a data system. And HIPPA was never meant to keep clinicians from talking to one another. It was meant to protect people’s privacy in the era of electronic data.

I talk about the neighborhood health station as a single clinical entity that involves multiple disciplines. But that’s different from the multidisciplinary team, which is wider in the community. That includes housing, police, EMS, more extended mental and behavioral health. When people are at greater risk, those people are often already known to most of the caretakers in the community. We can protect people’s privacy while taking advantage of folks who are already involved with them, and their collective knowledge and experience.

In addition, everyone who takes an ambulance ride signs a consent form that includes consent to have their case discussed with the multidisciplinary team. Obviously they can refrain if they don’t want to. And we don’t take that to be that significant, because it’s not full consent when you have an emergency. But on the flip side, when we looked closely at the data about EMS transports, we discovered that most of the time, 70 to 80 percent of the time, people use the ambulance not because they have an emergency but because they don’t have other access to healthcare. By working on this issue, we’ve been able to reduce the number of EMS transports by 15 percent, which saves the city somewhere between $2 to $4 million in a year.

Guernica: What would be an example of a non-emergency reason to call an ambulance?

Dr. Fine: Somebody with back pain, a headache, emotional distress or anxiety. Twelve or thirteen percent are alcohol intoxication. In May, we saw a jump in the number of EMS transports for alcohol intoxication. Now, the literature on alcohol intoxication and alcoholism from Europe suggests that if you shrink the open hours of stores and bars that sell alcohol, you reduce the number of people who get intoxicated. The state legislature decides open hours; local communities can’t. We learned that the people who wanted to sell alcohol had gone to the state legislature and lobbied their way into influence. On May 1, “summer hours” begin, which lets liquor stores stay open later. So we had caused this outbreak of alcohol intoxication with a public policy that was influenced by people with something to sell.

Now we’re in the process of working with the city government and the city’s general assembly delegation to shrink those hours again, at least for Central Falls. But that kind of feedback loop—where you see something happening, you get to its social cause, and you begin to address that social cause politically—is a huge opportunity to think about health and democracy together, and begin to understand the extent to which they’re more intertwined than most of us realize.

Guernica: You’re a family physician, and you’ve called primary care “the only medical service that is affordable and effective.” Can you explain what you mean?

Dr. Fine: Our data shows a clear association between lower-cost and improved health outcomes in places where there are more primary care clinicians per ten thousand people. That data is replicable all across the country and validated by international comparisons. Why should that be? To a certain extent, it’s because of prevention. If you have a primary care clinician, that person will harass you if you’re smoking until you stop, remind you to exercise, tell you to eat right, check your cholesterol, and remind you again to exercise and diet, and then if you can’t do that, may put you on some medicine, but only once nothing else works. If you get pregnant, your primary care doctor gets your prenatal care started when you’re six or seven weeks pregnant, because that’s when we get the best health outcomes. If you’re a sexually active teenager, your primary care person makes sure you’re practicing safe sex and have birth control so you don’t get pregnant in high school, because that has all sorts of its own bad health impacts and costs associated with it. With all of these factors, you’re likely to live longer.

Guernica: So that’s prevention. What’s the other part?

Dr. Fine: The other part is protection. If you’re part of a good primary care practice or community health center and you get sick, you can call up and get someone who knows you to take a look at you right away. They’re going to take care of you, unless they find something [beyond what they can treat onsite], and then they know how to steer you to specialists who are reputable, honest, and aren’t going to subject you to tests or treatments you don’t need.

If you don’t have that person and you get sick, you’re probably going to go to the emergency room. And there, if you have a headache, they’re going to do a CAT scan, an MRI, get you a neurology consult, maybe do a lumbar puncture. They might find a thing that looks a little funny, and that encourages them to do more testing. You’re in the hospital while they’re doing that testing, and hospitals are this soup of bad bacteria, so that increases the chance that you’re going to get an infection that you didn’t come in with, which is a common occurrence. You’re going to be exposed to the things that the healthcare market throws at you in the interest of profit, many of which are quite dangerous.

When you begin to know and understand the epidemiology, a primary care clinician has a huge impact on protecting you from the malfeasance of the medical market, which exists only to sell stuff and which is actually reasonably dangerous. The per-person per-year cost of primary healthcare in the US is $500. We can provide primary care to all Americans and still save $250 billion a year, because of the savings that providing primary care to all will generate.

Guernica: Yet I’ve heard that fewer and fewer medical students are going into primary care. Is that true?

Dr. Fine: Fewer medical students are interested by far. Primary care physicians don’t earn as much as specialists—though compared to average Americans, we should all be ashamed. Some of it is because of the student loan problem. When you come out of medical school with $250,000 worth of debt, it’s a little harder to convince yourself to make a little less money.

Another big reason is because of the industrialization of primary care that’s happened as a result of the dynamics of the health insurance market. Insurance companies now force us to see four patients an hour. Connecting to human beings and trying to build four relationships an hour, and take care of the thing that bothers them, and get their medicines refilled, is really tough. Primary care physicians don’t even get to look at the patient in front of them anymore; they look at the electronic medical records on the computer. It has become a dehumanizing industrialized experience, and that probably dissuades a lot of people from going into primary care as well.

But it’s more than just primary care people who are industrialized and feeling alienated; that sense has now spread across the whole health worker community. Nurses feel this way. Specialists feel this way. PTs feel this way. Everybody’s had their professional integrity undermined by the market. And now the hope is that this group of people will revolt. In fact I don’t think there’s another way out. When healthcare workers revolt, they can actually lead to change. But they’ve got to stand up and do it.

Guernica: Do you see that happening?

Dr. Fine: Well, not as quickly as I’d like it to. But I think those of us who’ve been around a long time need to start standing up and giving people the courage to do it. If people who’ve been doing this for twenty, thirty, forty years don’t stand up, how are people who just got out of residency and have $250,000 worth of debt going to have the courage to do it? This is the responsibility of my generation and hopefully some of us are doing it now and will keep doing it.

We’ve got a little organizing experiment happening in Rhode Island called Healthcare Revolt that’s trying to bring healthcare professionals together to stand up and fight for the stuff that matters. There’s the Lown Institute in Boston that’s trying to do this across the country, called the Right Care Alliance. Not only do we have people’s professional integrity and meaning at stake, not only do we have the health of Americans at stake, but democracy itself is at stake. If people revolt and start building little healthcare systems, neighborhood health stations, one in every community, that’s the recharge that we’re looking for.

Guernica: What can ordinary citizens, non-healthcare workers, do to improve healthcare in their community? What kind of useful pressure can we put on our elected officials or candidates for office? Are there other concrete actions we can take to help improve the health of our communities as well as our own access to good healthcare?

Dr. Fine: What I say to everyone who has been denied healthcare, or lost their financial security, or can’t afford health insurance, is this: Listen up. Someone is stealing a trillion dollars a year from the American people, and all of us are letting them get away with it. You want affordable healthcare? Use the Community Health Center in your own community. Get on its board. Tell your friends, so we engage them as well. You want someone who will stand up to the hospital executives and the pharma people and the insurance industry? Then you better run for office if you can, because the people there are already bought and paid for by the healthcare profiteers. If you can’t run, you better use your vote and vote for people who can stand up. Start writing letters.

It took fifty years to make this mess. It isn’t going to get fixed overnight. Too many people will go broke, and too many will die because of it, but many more will be hurt if we don’t start demanding a CHC or NHS in every community, publicly supplied generic medication, a cap on what we pay executives and doctors at hospitals and through Medicare and Medicaid, to close hospitals we don’t need. Communities can start closing the many unnecessary and incredibly expensive hospitals that are sucking down money we need for primary care, and that contribute nothing to the public health.

Guernica: Part of this revolt seems to require that healthcare workers make a conscious choice to leave for-profit hospitals and private practices. Does staffing a NHS require persuasion, education, grassroots organizing?

Dr. Fine: Our guys mostly work for community health centers. Many healthcare workers did healthcare because they love communities and the people who live in them. People want to work like this. We still have challenges: EMRs [electronic medical records], productivity measures and standards, and way too much bureaucracy in healthcare, driven by way too many healthcare profiteers. But this work is what many healthcare workers long to do. As we build it, they are coming. If there were more neighborhood health stations, there would be more people flocking to do this work. It takes relatively little or no persuasion: pay people a living wage, treat them like human beings, respect their knowledge and skill, and they keep coming. If you talk to people who are in healthcare, they’ll tell you over and over all the dumb things they get asked to do that have much more to do with keeping the billing system going than taking care of people. There are a hundred different ways we can revolt, and hopefully we’ll keep discovering new ones until we humanize this process. Until we have the ability to sit down and listen to patients. Because that’s what this is about.

Guernica: When talking about the factors that go into evaluating health in general, you’ve mentioned access to education, safe and affordable housing, public transportation, and sustainable resources. You’ve described current healthcare in the United States as less a system than a market that is enabled by lobbyists and politician, and plundered by profiteers including hospital executives and Big Pharma. To put this bluntly: Is market-driven capitalism antithetical to health as you’ve defined it?

Dr. Fine: Unregulated crony capitalism that creates substantial and growing income inequality, that exists to extract wealth? That has nothing to do with the maintenance or improvement of the public’s health. That capitalism is not consistent with health; it’s in conflict.

But I can imagine a capitalism that’s more regulated and restrained. Where healthcare is regarded as essential, along with safe and healthy housing, transportation, decent free education through college and graduate school. Where we fund community development as part of the infrastructure of democracy. That’s a capitalism that we have never seen before in the United States, but it’s one I can imagine, and that does not seem to be inconsistent with health. It’s the environment in which I think our democracy and politics make health happen.

Guernica: Some people might hear the examples you’ve just given and call that “socialism.”

Dr. Fine: I don’t think markets are intrinsically evil, but the challenge is when someone takes the market posture as a fundamental belief about society as a whole. That posture has brought us to where we are, and is unsustainable over time.

We must treat healthcare as an essential service, much like police and fire departments, like water treatment and sanitation. We know pretty well what everybody needs and it’s a whole lot cheaper and more effective if everybody has it.

Ariel Lewiton

Ariel Lewiton is the Director of Marketing and Publicity for Sarabande Books. Her essays and stories have appeared in Vice, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Paris Review Daily, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. She lives in New York.

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