Each MDC DSA Weekly Update includes a section called GOOD READS/ESSENTIAL TRAFFIC. Our purpose is twofold: First, to make sure our readership doesn’t miss important current news, whether it is in the MSM or in outlets, print and digital, that get less circulation. Second, to build a record of what issues and problems persist in our communities, society and the planet – and how people are solving them. It can be scattershot but the info-chunking that GOOD READS/ESSENTIAL TRAFFIC provides can bring out those patterns in even very recent history that allow us — socialists — to leverage information into power.
Here is a year’s harvest from 2021. And a reminder: We count on our members to spot and propose entries for this weekly roundup, and many of you do. More should. If you spot important articles that are not behind paywalls, send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org — include a blurb if you have time or leave that part to us.
2021 started off with the near collapse of Democracy — a crazed pack of costumed fascists attempted to either intimidate or assassinate democratically elected officials in order to keep casino mogul Donald Trump in power. What went down? CrimethInc. compiled a summary, including a rough timeline and receipts. The Intercept explains how law enforcement appeared to have blatantly ignored the public planning for the Capitol siege, and Documented reports on the dark money groups which set the conditions for the plot. Following the coup, many companies alleged they would halt donations to Republican boosters of the plot. Surprise: six months after the assault, corporate pledges fell flat (AP).
DC Attorney General (and District progressive stalwart) Karl Racine filed a suit against the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers in December, although it’s unclear if there will be a proper response to this mess. Revelations of how the plot developed were unearthed in Rolling Stone in October — organizers worked with Congress and White House staff in preparation for the attack. All this casts doubt that there will be an official response mobilized against fascist consortiums swelling deep in the United States. What a mess.
But how did Trump and friends assemble the forces necessary to mount a credible attack on democracy? A Coloradan draws from his experience in puritanical circles to explain how material circumstances churn into the sort of nightmare fuel that breeds alienation, and isolation breeds the sort of modern conspiracy and cult circles which were mobilized to act as fodder in the fascist assault (Medium).
When vaccines are funded entirely with public money from beginning of development to injection into recipients, aren’t they owned by the public, not Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna? The Nation’s discussion on the privatization of public health.
The distinct failures of the scattershot local and national vaccine rollouts (looking at you, Larry Hogan) highlight a problem that preceded Trump and persists now, Robert Kuttner argues in the Prospect: “Government needs to restore the competence of public systems and not wait for crises.”
A good example of the maxim (attributed to S. Colbert) that facts have a liberal bias. The more details in a scrupulously bend-over-backward-to-be-fair piece of journalism, the more it leans our way. “The Pandemic’s Existential Threat to Black-Owned Businesses” from ProPublica.
Racial Capitalism and COVID-19 — From Monthly Review via Portside: “Many social scientific analyses of the global political economy … are race neutral or willfully indifferent to the persistent racial pattern of global inequalities. If they do address … colonialism, they ignore embedded racial logics of oppression.”
The inequality in vaccine distribution is now a clear line drawn between the global rich and poor — the rich have hoarded most of the vaccines while leaving many behind. As Maria De Jesus explains in her recent article in The Conversation, “Overall, countries representing just one-seventh of the world’s population had reserved more than half of all vaccines available by June 2021. That has made it very difficult for the remaining countries to procure doses, either directly or through COVAX, the global initiative created to enable low- to middle-income countries equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
What’s the story with COVAX — what was its promise and origin, and why is it falling way short in getting Covid vaccines to poor nations? A huge exploration by STAT and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism finds the answers in its history.
Public provision benefits societies. Who knew? From NYT, Pandemic Aid Programs Spur a Record Drop in Poverty.
More evidence that Maryland did not cruise through the pandemic, despite Larry Hogan’s propaganda: “The pandemic laid bare the fragility of our local food system, in particular our reliance on non-local food sources, the millions of Marylanders at risk for hunger, and weaknesses in distribution and storage infrastructure …”
730DC compiled responses from a wide survey of District residents on the way the coronavirus impacted their lives. Though it can sometimes feel that the nightmare year was all a bad dream, for many (particularly those vulnerable to health, social and economic burdens elevated by the pandemic), the memories of lockdown and health turmoil are not so easily cast aside.
Bernie’s opening shot from his perch as Budget Committee chair, from The Guardian via Portside: “Joe Biden Must Put an End to Business as Usual. Here’s Where to Start”
Ezra Klein argues that to avoid the midterm catastrophe, Democrats have to blow up the Senate filibuster in order to provide change that helps people, and that people see helping them. “You don’t get re-elected for things voters don’t know you did.” A similar warning from Bernie, in a Newsweek article.
How to Make Joe Biden’s Budget Better — Good accounting of how something like a Green New Deal would (and could!) be financed, published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
SHELTER SKELTER — Despite the efforts of Cori Bush and even Pelosi and Biden, the formal end of the eviction moratorium and tattered catch-up moves have laid bare the shoddy work by many state and local governments in moving more than a tiny fraction of rent-relief funds that Congress appropriated through choked-up pipelines to the renters and landlords who need it. Politico recounts the shortfall.
Big surprise right? “Corporate America launches massive lobbying blitz to kill key parts of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion economic plan” — from the newspaper owned by the billionairey-est billionaire there is. Guess they would know.
How a False Narrative Against Government Spending Shapes Legislation: The [policy] contents of the Build Back Better bill are extremely popular. But the relentless conservative propaganda against the bill requires a concerted effort to reshape the narrative. From Economy for All and Indymedia.
We shouldn’t lose sight of what “cancel culture” really looks like: a capable woman at the top of her field is slandered as a communist and ousted from a federal appointment. In Financial Times, Biden’s strong pick to lead a big US bank regulator steps down following nativist smears and red-baiting from GOP creeps.
As the GOP frets about the Biden plan for raising corporate tax rates, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy reports “at least 55 of the largest corporations in America paid no federal corporate income taxes in their most recent fiscal year despite enjoying substantial pretax profits in the United States.” Many favorites are included: Duke Energy, FedEx and new Slack owner SalesForce. Some companies used CARES Act provisions — meant to throw a lifeline during the pandemic — to claw back taxes they paid in 2018 and 2019. Boosted in the Popular Resistance newsletter.
The degree to which the PRO Act’s provisions are needed is emphasized in this American Prospect report, “How Workers Really Get Canceled on the Job” — Pre-hiring personality screening and ongoing employer monitoring explicitly weed out workers likely to agitate for a union. Boosted on Portside.
“The warning signs of defeat were everywhere,” Jane McAlevey explains in her recent article “Blowout in Bessemer: A Postmortem on the Amazon Campaign.” National hope grew among progressives that the Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, AL, would vote to unionize, but were crushed when they rejected it. McAlevey’s article dives into why it was doomed to fail from the start and lessons learned for others who want to unionize.
Unusual Whales provides a breakdown of their report around how Senate members got richer in 2020, outperforming market averages through various trading during the pandemic.
Tax talk (unglaze those eyes!) from our economist comrade and frequent GOOD READS contributor Dave R: “‘Unless the stepped-up basis loophole is closed, we will soon have a large class of hugely rich people who have never worked a day in their lives.’ PS Every dollar a wealthy person has that he/she didn’t work for is a dollar that a worker worked for that he/she doesn’t have.”
Popular Information reports Amazon was sued for inflating prices across the internet. The lawsuit, filed by the DC Attorney General, alleges Amazon uses monopolistic practices to artificially inflate prices for products — even those offered for sale on other websites.
Bring your calculator. David Sirota in the Daily Poster (and in the Popular Resistance aggregator) meshes the covert role of private equity in financialization of international capital and the tasty meal ticket that pension funds — usually worker funds — provide for those coat-n-tie gangsters. Randy Barber and Jeremy Rifkin, call your office.
While North Dakota shines as a great example of public banking, South Dakota is revealed as more like the Cayman Islands: a tax haven for the rich and covert. Chuck Collins, who runs the Inequality Project at IPS, gives us a primer on what we can expect from the Pandora Papers once the data dump dust settles.
From Politico, ‘We Know Occupation’: The Long History of Black Americans’ Solidarity with Palestinians. Why the Black Lives Matter movement might help shift the conversation about a conflict thousands of miles away.
A detailed report from the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies shows that “Twenty years after 9/11, the War on Terror has contributed to thoroughly militarized foreign and domestic policies at a cost of $21 trillion over the last two decades.” The report, whose three authors include our comrade Ashik S, details the mis-spending over 20 years of public panic-inducement and private greed, outlining how much good that money could have done if directed to human needs.
Our local DMV comrade Bill Fletcher tackles the question of international oppression, how to parse the role(s) of imperialism and the incomplete analysis that may have put the Left in disarray on the question. From CounterPunch.
A chunk of the difficult argument: “Averting Afghanistan’s Economic and Food Crises” — The Taliban’s cruelties are horrendous, but withholding international support and maintaining blanket sanctions will only hurt the long-suffering Afghan people, says the author, who is Asia Advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. From Foreign Policy in Focus.
New Study Finds The US Military Is Spreading Disease Around The World — Dr. Margaret Flowers in the Popular Resistance newsletter analyzes a new study out of York University in Toronto, showing the US military plays a large role in the spread of diseases globally, including past and present pandemics. Important factors in the spread of disease are Status Agreements that the US military makes with local and national governments that exempt members of the military from being required to follow public health measures, as well as a culture of impunity within the military.
What ever happened to “fake news?” The term developed in 2016 but has largely fallen off. Fake news, of course, wasn’t a new phenomenon, but in the wake of President Trump’s constant lies and obvious propaganda factories, humanity may have once again learned that lies are common elements in both politics and war.
Subsiding or thriving as a concept, some of the main carriers of “fake news” nevertheless are the big social media and search platforms. Here’s a very thorough roundup of the issues surrounding the (highly recommended here) public control of those platforms as public utilities.
In New York Magazine, Sarah Jones discusses the liberal rehabilitation of George W. Bush and the murderous, oppressive legacy of his “compassionate conservatism.”
From The Guardian via Portside, a roundup on state-level efforts to suppress teaching the actual history of Black people in America under the catchall (incorrectly used) term “critical race theory.”
Thin Blue Line … Dem activists correctly argue that critical race theory dust-ups in local school systems are the work of right-wing propagandists, but is it effective? “Those [dismissive national] Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind” warns this article in Politico — paranoia strikes deep, or just opportunistic reporting? ‘People are scared’: Democrats lose ground on school equity plans
Our local comrade David Schwartzman, a scholar and published author on the climate crisis, has a critique of a new film, We Demand Tomorrow, on Popular Resistance: He calls the self-described Marxist documentary on the climate-extinction crisis “well worth seeing, with its deep analysis of capitalism,” but suggests that in the film, “the dismissal of the Green New Deal (GND) as another capitalist solution is not helpful. There are many versions of the GND, not only those promoted by ‘green’ capital, but an alternative ecosocialist Global GND.”
The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), a Takoma Park-based effort to further the “Blue Green Alliance” in more radical directions, has completed and published this important study on how workers in affected sectors view the possibility and promise of a Just Transition.
An update from Liza Featherstone at Jacobin lays out a perspective on DSA’s campaign for a Green New Deal for Public Schools and the struggle to wedge into portions of the reconciliation bill: “A major socialist-led grassroots campaign is underway to pass Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools — a strategically savvy measure that combines forthright climate action with large-scale investment in working-class schools.”
Can democracy handle the truth? In this rumination from The Guardian, the failure of nominally democratic societies to perform at COP-26 brings despair. “The veteran Earth scientist James Lovelock puts his faith in eco-authoritarianism. Climate change is so severe, he has said, that ‘it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while’.”
Want the full dope on the Glasgow COP-26 meeting, good, bad and ugly? This roundup from The Conversation, “Progress or Greenwash,” has more than you could possibly want to know. And from the same source, the appalling (and exempted) contribution of militaries to climate degradation.
From StreetsBlog USA, a review of the utterly awful 2020 for mass transit: With its instant 75% collapse in mass transit use and political institutions’ refusal to provide more than half of the financial support systems needed to survive the pandemic, “To say that 2020 was an unbelievable year in the sustainable transportation world would be a profound understatement — and to break it down into a neat list of wins and losses is an impossible task. Because in 2020, every 'win’ occurred against a backdrop of vast death, suffering, and injustice, and every ‘loss’ happened amidst a surge in mutual aid, fierce advocacy, and stunning resilience at the community level.”
Life in the Anthropocene
In 730DC — a graduate in month 10 of the job hunt examines the concessions nonprofit workers are willing to make in time and wages in order to feel a sense of purpose in their jobs. With DC’s high concentration of nonprofits burning out its well-intentioned workforce, she reminds us that “nonprofits exist in a for-profit system that leaves them struggling for resources,” and advocates are unionizing as “a way to make purpose-driven work pay fairly and empower employees.”
Two great reads from n+1: a personal account from a local writer discussing the housing crisis, the bureaucratic shortcomings of HUD operations, the demise of hope during the early years of Obama-mania and the precarity of housing in DC; and a chronicle of the “Magic Actions” that powered the George Floyd rebellion, and how it connects with last summer’s abolitionist efforts and freedom fighting around the world.
Proliferation of social media technologies complicates questions of social identity and engagement. Grassroots battles against the Very Online Left became a touchstone topic for socialist organizers in 2021. Some thinking on this: a thoughtful consideration on digital appropriation and internet etiquette across segments of the left-wing internet (Aesthetics for Birds). If you’re into the topic: more on the misuse and weaponization of identity (Gawker):
Maybe we can find solace in culture and music? Old standbys feel less fulfilling, as The Baffler prompted in its look at the complicated legacy of Springsteen. The film adaption of Dune provided a cold-read of colonialism, which made for a sanguine pseudo-escape for lefties across the net. But maybe there’s more to be gained from the sci-fi epic: can Dune teach us anything about looking beyond the aesthetics of supposed wastelands (Portside)?
Local tenant organizers — including a DSA comrade — were interviewed in Current Affairs on organizing tenant strikes in Washington, DC.
Kim Moody explores the significance of Striketober 2021: what it means and — just as importantly — what it doesn’t. TX to our comrade Dave R for bringing this our way.
The neolib Dems and the big-money business sector on whom they feed definitely rallied behind Byron Brown (who is a DNC stalwart) to defeat India Walton, with Brown’s well-financed write-in campaign coupled with the abject refusal of the NY State party structure to support the woman of color who beat Brown in the primary for Buffalo mayor. Not fair, agrees Fredrik DeBoer. But, he adds, “Americans have lived in a capitalist system for generations; that will not be an easy obstacle for socialists to overcome.” A self-described socialist, he argues in the NYT that thinking that our ideas and policies are more popular than they actually are is dangerous.
Where can labor and working people look in 2021 for next steps? Esther Wang in Jezebel proposes a candidate: Sara Nelson, the Labor Movement Leader We Needed Most
Economist Richard Wolff, an old-school Marxist economist who hosts the show Economic Update on YouTube and Means TV, interviewed union leader* Sara Nelson. Responding to a question about the capacity to call for a general strike, Nelson breaks down the need to normalize a strike in common workplaces before this strategy can be deployed en masse.
From Collective Power Network’s The Organizer — Materialism Not Metaphor — Sacramento DSA’s Annabel V. argues that our movement must win more concretely than “sparking consciousness,” and that metaphorical language and goals distract organizers from the work of material gains.
Here’s an on-the-ground account of DSA collaborative political/electoral action in a smallish Mass. suburb that could wind up with a majority-socialist Council. Our comrade Lauren tipped us to this Current Affairs article, which has the additional advantage of referencing a Washington Socialist article from the July issue.
CONVENTION BY THE NUMBERS — Two MDC DSA local members, delegates to our virtual national convention, report in detail in this Substack/DSA Observer account that outlines/enumerates the multiple, overlapping power centers in big-tent DSA.
For a movement to continue thriving, it needs a diverse and growing membership of people of different ages. Check out David Duhalde’s article on “Socialists Across Generations: We Need to Talk” in the spring issue of Democratic Left.
The Democratic Left caught up with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and touched on several topics including the Green New Deal, the rise of socialists in Congress, COVID’s impacts and even the quiet wins that not many hear about.
GOOD LISTEN: Jacobin podcast The Dig centers a discussion on ultra-leftism post-Bernie 2020, as informed by Washington Socialist article “The Liberal to Ultra-Left Pipeline: Breaking the Cycle” by our own chapter comrade Brian W. The debate also pulls from “Liberalism, ultra-leftism or mass action,” a speech delivered by Socialist Workers Party leader Peter Camejo in 1970.
How DSA became a political power and socialism a less-feared term, according to The Conversation.
A follow-up on the unsettling outcome in the Buffalo mayoral race. Big money bought the establishment back into power, but India Walton’s campaign has transformed the political culture in that divided city by Lake Erie.