Month: October 2020

The Stock Market Is Not The Economy

Whatever happens to the economy – jobs, wages, the hardships so many are facing – the stock market seems to be in a world of its own. Why?

The primary answer is simple. Stock values roughly reflect profits, especially anticipated profits. When profits are expected to rise, stock prices trend upward.

But that only raises a deeper question: How can profits be trending upward when jobs and wages are doing so badly?

Because of a disconnect in the American economy that began way before the pandemic – about 30 years ago.

Before the 1980s, the main driver of profits and the stock market was economic growth. When the economy grew, profits and the stock market rose in tandem. It was a virtuous cycle: Demand for goods and services generated more jobs and higher wages, which in turn stoked demand for more goods and services.

But since the late 1980s, the main way corporations get profits and stock prices up has been to keep payrolls down. Corporations have done whatever they can to increase profits by cutting jobs and wages. They’ve busted unions, moved to “right-to-work” states, outsourced abroad, reclassified workers as independent contractors, and turned to labor-saving automation.

Prior to 1989, economic growth accounted for most of the stock market’s gains. Since then, most of the gains have come from money that would otherwise have gone into the pockets of workers.

Meanwhile, corporations have used their profits and also gone deep into debt to buy back shares of their own stock, thereby pumping up share prices and creating an artificial sugar-high for the stock market.

All this has made the rich even richer. The richest 1 percent of American households own 50 percent of the value of stocks held by American households. The richest 10 percent own 92 percent.

But it’s had the opposite effect for everyone else. More and more of the total economy is going into profits and high stock prices benefiting those at the top, while less and less is going into worker wages and salaries.

America’s CEOs and billionaires are happy as ever, because more and more of their earnings come from capital gains – increases in the prices of their stock portfolios.

Meanwhile, the Fed has taken on the debts many corporations generated when they borrowed in order to buy back their shares of stock – in effect bailing them out, even as millions of Americans continue to struggle.

So the next time you hear someone say the stock market is a reflection of the economy, tell them that’s rubbish! The real economy is jobs and wages.

Cornel West – We Must Fight The Commodification Of Everybody And Everything

Cornel West is one of the most eloquent and provocative voices on the American left. A scholar in the Harvard Divinity School, he began his political life in the tumults of the Civil Rights Movement — becoming a Christian radical, then a socialist and ally of the Black Panther Party.

But his career stretches far beyond his academic career as a philosopher or political life on the Left, with cultural engagements from musical collaborations with Prince and Talib Kweli to an appearance in The Matrix series. He has also had a career in broadcasting, hosting numerous radio programs and now a podcast, The Tight Rope, with Tricia Rose.

In this recent conversation with Grace Blakeley for her podcast A World to Win, Cornel West discusses the US presidential election, the Black Lives Matter movement — and the importance of spirituality to radical politics.

You said in a recent interview, “with the neofascist gangster in the White House, we have to be part of an anti-fascist coalition.” Do you think that an anti-Trump coalition can be successful? And do you think a Biden presidency will deliver anything approaching the change that the United States needs right now?
We’ve got to be consistent in our critique of empire, of capitalism, of patriarchy, of homophobia, transphobia, and male supremacy, and white supremacy. And, how we do that is to hold onto our intellectual integrity, and our political courage: telling the truth about Donald Trump, the neofascist, the gangster, his collaborators and facilitators. He is pushing the country toward genuine fascism: wholesale disregard of the law, the rule of big military, the rule of big money, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley. He is crushing workers, marginalizing women, scapegoating Mexicans, and Muslims, and Jews, and Black, brown, and indigenous people.

Now, I think with Biden what you have is someone who can stop the quick move toward American fascism. That’s very important — but his neoliberal rule is still going to be tied to Wall Street, tied to capital, tied to militarism, tied to Africom, to deeply reactionary policies in the Middle East with Netanyahu and so forth. We don’t want to lie about Biden. We don’t want to follow any illusion, simply because we’re confronted with such an ugly fascist Frankenstein figure like Trump. So we’re really between a rock and a hard place, which is usually where the Left is in the last fifty years.

A recent poll from CNN shows support for the Black Lives Matter movement has dropped since June. A majority still support the protest at 55 percent, but that’s down from 67 percent in June. Does that concern you? And is there any way you think we can reverse it, or is this all just part of Trump’s strategy?
I think it’s part of Trump’s strategy. There’s been a wholesale attack on the Black Lives Matter movement to characterize it as a terrorist movement, as a hate movement. That’s a sign of success. That means you actually constitute a substantive threat to the status quo, not just to the police using their power to murder folks but connecting it to a critique of Wall Street power, and Wall Street crimes. Connecting it to a critique of the Pentagon power, and Pentagon crimes. In that sense, the intensity of the attack is a sign of the degree to which you constitute a threat to the status quo. And I think that’s very much where we want to be. We just have to counter those lies with some truths, and create some kind of countervailing movement, institutions, journals, as well as individuals on the ground.

I want to get your view on the pandemic. There’s a poll that NPR did showing that the pandemic is widening the racial wealth gap. Sixty percent of Black households, 72 percent of Latino households, and 55 percent of Native American households have faced serious financial problems since the pandemic began; next to 36 percent of white households. We know the unemployment crisis, the evictions crisis, and the actual burden of the disease as well, are all being felt hardest by black and Latino Americans. So, how can people organize their way out of this deep and pervasive crisis?
That’s why we have to have a critique of the system, and alternative visions and ways of being that sustain our resilience in the face of the system. As long as we have isolated issues, as long as we remain in our silos, and remain in our respective spaces without solidarity, we don’t have a chance at all.

So, it’s so easy to fetishize race or gender as an identity and not connect that identity to a critique of a predatory capitalist system, which would allow us to recognize the degree to which we have to have a strong solidarity with working people, and poor people. We must not isolate those identities so that we lose sight of the integrity and the consistency of our critique of predatory capitalism.

You have had an incredible, wide-ranging life and career as a philosopher, activist, public intellectual, artist, and moral figure for US society. You obviously spent your writing career in the academy, studying and teaching philosophy and theology. What made you want to study those big ideas to begin with?
I come from a very loving West family. The highest honor I’ve ever had is being the second son of Irene and Clifton. I’ll never be the human being my father was, he died twenty-six years ago. My mother’s still alive, eighty-eight years young, with the elementary school named after her. She and dad really provided so much love and support; it freed me up, because I was very much a gangster growing up. I was beating people up all the time. I got kicked out of school for beating some kid up for refusing to salute the flag. My great uncle had been lynched, and they wrapped him in the flag, so I associated that flag with something very ugly and vicious.

But when I came into intellectual growth, it was both rooted in the church — I’ve always viewed myself as a revolutionary Christian, in the legacy of Martin Luther King and Fannie Lou Hamer — and I worked closely with the Black Panther Party. So I already had a critique of capitalism, and a critique of empire, and a critique of homophobia and patriarchy, because that’s what we talked about in the Black Panther headquarters.

I was teaching in the Breakfast Program. I was teaching in the prison, Norfolk Prison, where Malcolm X was. I could never join the party because I was a Christian and they were deeply secular. And that was fine. They had strong critiques of the church, I can understand that. But I had my own understanding of God and Jesus and struggle and revolution. So we remained very close, but I couldn’t join.

By the time I went to college, I was exposed to this magnificent wave of ideas and the life of the mind. I fell in love with so many of the towering intellectual figures. It would be Marx, it would be William Morris, it would be William Hazlitt, it would be Virginia Woolf, Raymond Williams, and then Edward Said. All of these folks meant so much to me.

I was within the academy, so I was studying with John Rawls and Hilary Putnam and Stanley Cavell and Martha Nussbaum and Martin Kilson and Preston Williams, and then off to Princeton with Richard Rorty and Sheldon Wolin. These were towering figures who just opened up intellectual life and shattered a lot of my parochialism. I always remained a kind of Jesus-loving free black man, concerned about poor and working people. But it allowed me to become part of a larger conversation.

C. L. R. James and Du Bois and Nkrumah and others, and Nandy and Ambedkar in India, Sister Roy from India. So I was having a great time. I have a good time in the life of the mind, but I always try to use it as a form of weaponry for empowerment and ennoblement of vulnerable people, no matter who they are.

I do believe that there’s a lot of heterogeneous elements in the Hebrew Bible of genocide and patriarchy that we have to hold at arm’s length. But there is this notion of “chesed.” The highest form of being human is to spread loving kindness and steadfast love to the orphan, the widow, the fatherless, the motherless, the oppressed. And so I’d always believed that if I was going to be part of what Moses was concerned about, which was deliverance and liberation, that I had to have a profound critique not just of Pharaoh, but the system that held Pharaoh in place.

That’s why I’ve never been that deeply impressed by the Pyramids, because working and poor people could never be buried inside. They could build the Pyramids, but they could never be buried inside them. So I have a deep critique of Pharaohs, whatever color they come in, whatever gender they are. Even when they have magnificent technological edifices, when you really look at the system, you say, “No, I’m with the poor people, the working people who built the Pyramids.” And they are forever pushed out, forgotten, rendered invisible. That’s who I’m in solidarity with.

I did first learn that in a serious way from Hebrew scripture — to be in solidarity with the oppressed. Similarly so with Jesus coming into the city, running out the money changers. Who are the money changers in the American empire? Wall Street, Pentagon, the White House, Congress, Hollywood, all of them in the same place. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, all of them in the same place. Jesus runs them all out.

And that’s the reason why he’s put on a cross and crucified by the most powerful empire of the day.

So in that way, there is what I call a prophetic spark in that Hebrew scripture; from Jesus, from Muhammad in his own prophetic way, that leads toward a Malcolm X, for example. Even a lot of my secular brothers and sisters, who I love very dearly, they would have to acknowledge that even their deep solidarity with oppressed peoples, once they demythologize the stories, comes from this love, care, concern for the vulnerable that was carried within these religious institutions, even as those religious institutions tended to violate. And that’s what R. H. Tawney said, in the British tradition, he’s always been a hero of mine — The Acquisitive Society, Equality and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.

That really resonates with me. I would consider myself a Christian and a socialist. As would one of my great heroes, Tony Benn. It just seems obvious to me that you don’t get collective social transformation without some form of spiritual transformation — whatever religion, whatever spirituality it comes from.
You have to be honest about that because, you see, one of the ways in which capitalism reproduces itself is the commodification of everybody and everything — to create those hollow men that T. S. Eliot was talking about, to create these morally vacuous, spiritually empty creatures, whose sense of being in the world is to be titillated by the bombardment of commodities. So they don’t have assets to these nonmarket values, like deep love, deep justice, a deep solidarity, service to others, taking a risk in being of service to others, being with, not over and above, but alongside others.

And of course, Dr Martin Luther King, himself democratic socialist, there’s another great example. There’s so many. The early Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote Moral Man and Immoral Society, was a democratic socialist. We’ve got a whole wave of these folk who played such an important role in trying to keep alive some sense of deep love and justice. But also the love of beauty.

Because I come from a people whose dominant forms of spirituality — after 244 years of the most barbaric form of modern slavery; you can’t learn how to read or write, you can’t worship God without white supervision, the average slave dies at twenty-six years old — was love of the beautiful. You raise your voices, you steal away at night, in ring shouts, holding hands. And you’re singing these beautiful songs, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Wade in the Water, God Go Trouble the Water.

It was not just the illogical; it was artistic. It was a way of holding on to something beautiful in the face of terror and trauma. The kind of thing that Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us in his poems, how the beauty becomes itself a source of resilience in the face of terror and trauma being institutionalized decade after decade after decade, so that music becomes fundamental in your life. Arts in general become fundamental in your life. And so the connection between love of truth and love of beauty and love of justice, and for me, love of God, are all intertwined.

You talk about the idea that inherent within any concept or formation, there is the seed of its opposite. You see that, obviously, in a lot of religions. Definitely in early Christianity. But also in socialism and its analyses of capitalism, which posit that capitalism is full of contradictions that will ultimately lead to its own destruction.

Karl Marx became one of the great secular prophets of the nineteenth century, because he had not just a concern for the suffering but an analysis in his Critique of Political Economy of which structures at the workplace create asymmetric relations of power, of bosses and workers, of capital and labor; that struggle, that class struggle, that class tension, that class conflict.

Here Marx is very close to the best of the romantics, he wants individuality to flower and flourish. Remember that wonderful description in The German Ideology. He can’t stand the specialization, bureaucratization, domination of ordinary working people. He believes their lives have the same value as anybody else’s life. It’s a radical democratic sensibility that cuts against the grain.

Marx and Engels were on the run from the ruling classes, hunting them down. And we’re living in a moment of contradictions now — ecological catastrophe, the economic catastrophes. The contradictions can be regional, as you point out, in the EU. They can be tied to the nation state. They can be regions within a nation state. All of these forms of capital over labor. And they’re shot through with various forms of patriarchy and white supremacist practices.

In The Age of Empire, brother Eric Hobsbawm reminded us about imperialism. The American and Soviet empires emerged after 1945 with the decentring, and over time, the complete undercutting of the British Empire, the empire upon which the sun never set. Who would have thought that empire would end? They all thought it would go on and on. The Portuguese thought that for a while too, and the Spanish.
Well, now the American empire is undergoing its decay, its decline. You have to be able to keep track of the ways in which predatory capitalism is connected to these imperial units and these nation states and these regional regimes and organizations, and also how it seeps through every nook and cranny of our hearts and minds and souls.

It creates the commodified way of looking at the world, of manipulation, of domination, of stimulation, of concern about transaction rather than communion. It’s almost the Martin Buber, I-Thou versus I-It. That I-Thou that Marx was concerned about in the manuscripts of 1844. How do you actually have ways of transcending these forms of alienation in the workplace, species alienation, personal alienation? These are rich and indispensable notions for any serious talk about empowering everyday people at a moment in which greed is just running amok in its institutional and structural forms.

You mentioned the American empire. I want to know what you think are the implications of America’s imperial role in the capitalist system for the structure of American society.
Well, Reverend Martin Luther King used to say, “When you drop bombs on Vietnam, they also fall on ghettos in America.” They also fall on poor whites in Appalachia. They fall in the barrios of our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters. They fall on the reservations of our precious indigenous brothers and sisters. There’s a direct connection between militarism abroad and not having resources for jobs, housing, health care, education, and with the militarization of the domestic context.

That’s what we’re dealing with right now with these police. The police have always been major threats against vulnerable peoples, especially black people, but wholesale militarization took place under neoliberal rule, where the police departments began to look more and more like military units in Baghdad. You go for a misdemeanor and you get a militaristic response.

There’s Breonna Taylor — in the middle of the night, they come in banging her door down as if she’s a member of the Mafia and she’s committed some crime, like she’s actually killed somebody. They’re looking for a little bag of drugs and end up killing her with no accountability, no responsibility whatsoever. So there’s a direct connection between foreign policy, which is imperial activity, and domestic policy, which is corporate-centred and -driven.

And so the result, of course, is that you end up with a highly impoverished working class. You end up with spiritual bombardment coming at them and their children because they can hardly gain access to those nonmarket values like intimacy and vulnerability. You always have to be tough and willing to pose and posture like you’re ready to fight every second, because the terrain is the survival of the slickest.

It’s almost worse than Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest, with Herbert Spencer, because survival of the slickest really is the amplifying of Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic. Everything is “might makes right.” Everything is “greed is good.” Everything is “domination and manipulation.” That’s part of the grimness of our world. That’s part of the icy darkness that Weber saw in his writings. He looked out, he didn’t just see disenchantment. He said there’s an icy darkness expanding with the combination of commodification, bureaucratization, objectification and domination, all four of these creating this iron cage for the species.

I asked [Noam] Chomsky the other day — we had a wonderful dialogue at the Progressive International — I asked Chomsky “What makes us think that we as a species even have the capacity to avoid self destruction? What makes us think that ordinary people have the capacity to determine their own destiny, this radical democratic vision?” All these are speculative questions, but they’re the skeletons hanging in the closet. We say, “Well, we don’t really know.” Look at the historical record. It’s a record of crimes and follies and greed, but it’s also a record of resistance to those things. Precisely because we can raise those questions, we become more fortified, we become more dedicated, we become more devoted to ensuring that we have some evidence that we as a species can avoid self-destruction.

We as human beings can govern ourselves at the workplace. We don’t need the bosses. We can have workers’ councils. We can have democratic deliberation. We can have democratic cultures in which we learn from each other in terms of jazz, hip hop, on the one hand, flamenco on the other, rebetiko on the other; the folk songs that moved Wordsworth in his early radical years, Robert Burns in Scotland. We haven’t even got to the Irish yet. But to have that kind of deep human coming together that doesn’t homogenize our specificity, but it uses our differences as a way of deepening communion and community, rather than deepening domination and subordination.

We’re sold an idea of representative democracy that always comes alongside capitalism. You have democracy in the realm of politics, but you’ve got to have free markets in the realm of the economy — they are separate and never the twain shall meet.

And there you see the hypocrisy. Because the liberals come along and say, “We are so concerned about the concentration of power within the political sphere. We’ve had monarchs and kings and queens. We must have rights and liberties. We must have equality under the law.”

Well, what about the concentration of power in the economy? With the oligarchs, with the monopolies, the oligopolies? They are just as dictatorial. So yes, we’re with the liberals in terms of making sure we don’t have kings and queens and unaccountable power in the political field. But you end up with these monarch-like entities in the economy, globally and nationally and regionally.

So you can say to the liberals “Oh you’re not really serious about freedom, I see. You want liberty for a few. I thought you really believed in universality. You want selectivity tied to your class.” It would be true, as well, in terms of gender and race. Marx and the others who made this critique are indispensable voices.

Do you think that democracy can be a weapon against capitalism? Do you think that by deepening democracy, whether we’re talking about political parties, in our social institutions, in our economic institutions, in our workplaces, in our communities, that by deepening democracy we can start to actually erode the power of those monopolies, oligopolies, bankers, politicians, and the ruling class over our lives?
I come from a black people whose anthem is “lift every voice.” Lift every voice. And when you get the voices of those Sly Stone called Everyday People in all of the decision-making processes and institutions that guide and regulate their lives, they’re not going to choose poverty. They’re not going to choose decrepit schools. They’re not going to choose lack of health care. They’re not going to choose rat-infested housing.

Democracy from below takes seriously those voices as they’re wrestling with social misery and suffering, and allows them to shape their destinies in such a way that lo and behold, their children might be able to go to quality schools like the ruling class. That their mothers and fathers might have health care like the power elites. So democracy from below is a threat to any hierarchical power, be it in the political realm or the economic realm.

That’s where the rubber hits the road, where Eugene O Neill’s great indictment of American capitalist civilization comes in, the greatest play ever written in the United States, The Iceman Cometh. He was an anarchist like my dear brother Chomsky. But he argued that, like Dostoevsky, that most human beings would choose greed over liberty, that they would choose even the possibility of joining the greedy at the top, rather than risking solidarity with the impoverished, because it looked like it’s too hard. It’s easier to think that somehow you’re going to be the next Gates or Rockefeller.

So you dangle that carrot — this has been very much an American project in terms of our distinctive form of individualism. But he and Dostoevsky, of course, have a critique of the species. They believe, in fact, that we human beings would rather choose authority over liberty. We’d rather choose to follow the pied piper rather than organize ourselves and run our workplaces. And part of the radical democratic project is to show that they’re wrong. But it’s a serious battle. There’s no doubt about it.

What Happened To The Voting Rights Act?

This country has a long history of disenfranchising and suppressing the votes of people of color, particularly in the South. But in 2013 the voter suppression efforts of yesteryear came roaring back. That’s when the Supreme Court gutted key provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions had stopped states with histories of voter suppression from changing their election laws without an okay from the federal government.

Let’s take a look at how that shameful decision has played out over the years, shall we?

Today’s voter suppression often takes the form of purging eligible voters from the rolls, cutting back early and absentee voting, closing polling places, and using strict voter ID requirements – disenfranchising voters of color at every turn.

Voter roll purges have become increasingly common.

Officials purged nearly 4 million more names between 2014 and 2016 than between 2006 and 2008 — a 33 percent increase. Officials in states that used to be under federal oversight purged voters from the rolls at a rate 40 percent higher than those in states with no history of voter suppression.

As it turns out, Chief Justice John Roberts was dead wrong when he argued “things have changed dramatically” in the South.

Election officials in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia have all conducted illegal voter roll purges. In Virginia in 2013, nearly 39,000 voters were removed from the rolls when state officials relied on a faulty database – removing voters who had supposedly moved out of the state.

Even if you make it past a voter roll purge, you may get stuck in endlessly long lines to vote.

Since the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013, 1,688 polling places have been shuttered in states previously bound by the Act’s preclearance requirement. Texas officials closed 750 polling places. Arizona and Georgia were almost as bad. Not surprisingly, these closures were mostly in communities of color.

In Texas, officials in the 50 counties that gained the most Black and Latinx residents between 2012 and 2018 closed 542 polling sites, compared to just 34 closures in the 50 counties that gained the fewest Black and Latinx residents. In Georgia’s 2020 primary, 80 polling places were closed in Atlanta, home to Georgia’s largest Black population — forcing 16,000 residents to use a single polling place.

And even if you get to a polling place after standing for three hours to cast your ballot, you may end up being turned away because of a restrictive voter ID law.

Republican lawmakers in 15 states have passed such laws since the Supreme Court’s shameful decision.

Texas Republicans put a voter ID law into effect almost immediately following the decision — a law that they had been prevented from passing in 2011 when the Voting Rights Act was still intact. That law has been struck down five times since it went into effect, with multiple courts finding it intentionally discriminates against Black and Latinx voters. A federal appeals court finally allowed a watered-down version that’s still one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the country.

In Georgia, the state’s restrictive “exact match” ID law — requiring a voter’s ID to exactly match the name on their registration, down to any dots or dashes — allowed state officials to throw out 53,000 majority-Black voter registrations less than a month before the state’s tight 2018 gubernatorial race. Stacey Abrams, who would have been the country’s first Black woman governor, lost the election by just under 55,000 votes — after years of her rival Brian Kemp systematically suppressing the votes of people of color.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, a court found that the state’s voter ID law “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” and struck the law down in its entirety. Imagine all we could accomplish with all the time, money, and resources that go into prolonged legal battles against these discriminatory laws that should never have seen the light of day in the first place.

Voter suppression is wreaking havoc on our electoral process.

When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act seven years ago, it passed the buck to Congress to update it, but Senate Republicans haven’t lifted a finger.

In December 2019, John Lewis presided over the House of Representatives to pass H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, now named the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act in his honor, to restore the Voting Rights Act and stop this pervasive voter suppression. It’s been collecting dust on Mitch McConnell’s desk ever since. He and his GOP colleagues think they can sit idly by as Republican state officials suppress the vote with no accountability.

They’re wrong. The people are ready to fight back against their agenda and build a 21st century democracy that is representative of and responsive to our growing, diverse nation.

If your vote didn’t count, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to suppress it. Make sure you check your registration, stay up to date on your state’s rules for mail-in voting, find your polling place, and get involved with organizations on the frontlines of protecting the vote.

There’s no telling what we’ll be able to accomplish when we win the battle for voting rights.

Politicians Can Stop Police Killings

Millions of Americans have come out in big cities and small towns to protest the killings of unarmed civilians — often Black people — at the hands of law enforcement. If we want our demands for justice and accountability to lead to real policy change, we need to build on that activism by electing public officials with the commitment to reform law enforcement and the courage to act when police abuse the power of their badge.

In presidential election years, most of the energy and focus goes to the top of the ticket. And that’s essential this year. But we can’t ignore the fact that we have been through a spring and summer of traumatizing televised murders of Black people. We are still learning the truth about the deeply disappointing decisions not to indict police officers involved in shooting and killing Breonna Taylor in her own home in Louisville, Ky. We need to make change at the local level, where those decisions are made.

People for the American Way has endorsed more than 100 young progressive candidates who have demonstrated dedication to creating public safety solutions that reflect the values of fairness, justice and equal treatment under the law. The “Stop Police Killings” slate is designed to bring attention and support to candidates for local and state office who understand the impact of police killings on communities of color and who are passionate about pursuing justice.

Hundreds of applicants answered questions about personal experiences that motivated them to stop police violence and their positions on policies and practices that limit unnecessary police contact, psychological screenings for police officers, removing problematic officers, recruiting good officers, reallocating police budgets, cultural competency and de-escalation training and other issues.

We have identified great candidates in key metro areas across 25 states. They’re running to become mayors, district attorneys, city council members, county commissioners and state legislators.

We’re proud of the candidates who made it onto our slate. It includes people like Tamara Shewmake, a candidate for City Council in Portsmouth, Va., who worked with Portsmouth Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Morales’ team during the successful prosecution in 2015 of a police officer who killed an unarmed Black teenager.

“Public servants have a responsibility to protect their communities,” Ms. Morales said at a recent event announcing the slate. “The charge to imagine what public safety looks like in our country is long overdue, and I’m pleased to join this roster of incredible candidates to hold violent police officers who violate the law criminally accountable for terrorizing Black and brown communities.”

Christian Menefee, a candidate for Harris County attorney in Texas, calls this “a pivotal moment in our country,” adding that “we cannot and should not sit on our hands waiting for the federal government to act. It’s time for local leaders to step up and protect Black and Brown communities.”

Brandon Scott, who is running to become mayor of Baltimore, said, “We can end police killings of unarmed civilians and begin to rebuild trust so that law enforcement is focused on doing the things necessary to keep all communities safe.”

Nakita Hemingway is running for the Georgia legislature to represent an area near to the spot where Ahmaud Arbery was killed in February as he was jogging.

People for the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund will support candidates in competitive races through donations, earned media support, social media and engaging our members and activists.

I want to encourage everyone who wants to help bring an end to unjust police killings to take a look at our slate and find ways to support these candidates and others in their local communities who are committed to re-imagining public safety.

Let’s change the laws and policies that are standing in the way of justice by taking the fight to the halls of power. That’s what elections are for.

White House’s New COVID-19 Strategy Is Madness

As if Donald Trump’s irresponsibility was not already a national tragedy, the White House seems now to favor a controversial approach to Covid-19 that threatens to bring nothing less than mass suffering.

More than 216,000 Americans have already died. Yet on Tuesday, senior Trump administration officials said that they were receptive to pursuing “herd immunity,” an approach touted by a group of scientists who have put out what they call the “Great Barrington Declaration.” The idea is that the federal government should let the pandemic run its course until most of the population is infected and has ostensibly developed antibodies to ward off future infections. Typical estimates hold that 70% or more of the population would thereby become infected.

According to this idea, vulnerable groups would be targeted for “focused protection,” for example, introducing extra precautions such as frequent Covid-19 testing to avoid infections of the elderly living in nursing homes. The rest of the population “should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” according to the declaration.

This approach runs strongly against the overwhelming consensus of public health specialists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The new Covid-19 approach would undoubtedly add massively to the suffering in the US in a very short period of time.

The idea that we should not try to control infections other than of vulnerable groups is based on a complete misunderstanding of the real choices facing the US — or facing any country for that matter. The core mistake is the belief that the only alternative to an economic shutdown is to let the virus spread widely in the population. Instead, a set of basic public health measures is enough, as many other countries have shown, to control the spread of the virus. The proper measures include widespread testing, contact tracing, isolating of infected individuals, wearing face masks, physical distancing, and barring super-spreader events (like Trump rallies). South Korea has exemplified this policy approach, as have many of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadly, this very basic information seems not to have reached the White House or been understood by it, even though experts already knew in April that the Asia-Pacific region was suppressing the pandemic through these public health measures, and without the need for comprehensive lockdowns (or with only brief lockdowns to give time to scale up the public health measures). By suppressing the virus, these countries have limited the economic fallout.

What’s At Stake

The Republicans’ rush to fill the vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat before the Nov. 3 election is a terrible threat to Black people’s civil rights and the health of our communities.

In her 27 years on the nation’s highest court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a champion of civil rights. During those same years, though, Republican presidents and senators moved the court further and further away from its duty to protect racial equity and the rights of working people.

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, we counted on the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutional principle of equality under law. We have counted on federal courts to enforce the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights act, federal laws that fi- nally put the force of law behind the idea that Black people are part of the U.S. Constitution’s “We, the people.”

But the Supreme Court we have today is a long way from the court that did away with legal segregation, a long way from the court that upheld civil rights laws that were won with the blood of Black people and our allies in the struggle for equality.

Justice Ginsburg was often a key vote in 5-4 decisions that protected civil rights. And as the right wing took power, she was often a powerful prophetic voice dissenting from abominations like the gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

As part of a political deal to help him win the White House, President Trump turned over selection of judges to a hard right legal movement that wants to reverse many of the social justice gains of the past century.

Any Trump nominee would be a threat to the causes for which Justice Ginsburg devoted her life.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett believes the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is unconstitutional — and there’s a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court just a week after the election that will give her and other right wing justices a chance to destroy access to health care and legal protections for people, right in the middle of a pandemic.

In a case that raises alarms about her commitment to racial equity, Judge Barrett voted to deny a hearing to a Black man who worked for a company that assigned staff to different stores based on their race.

If she is confirmed, our ability to count on federal courts to protect our rights will be diminished even further. Yet, this is the Republicans’ top priority, just a month before Election Day, with many Americans already voting to turn out a president who is trying to create a Supreme Court that will protect his agenda long after he is gone.

Here’s what Senate Republicans aren’t doing while they confirm every new judge, no matter how extreme or unqualified, President Trump sends their way:

They aren’t dealing with the COVID-19 crisis that is killing Black and brown people at a far higher rate than white people. And they aren’t providing relief for all the working people driven into economic crisis by the pandemic.

They aren’t taking up the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would bring back federal protections for voting rights that were once embraced by politicians from both parties.

They aren’t acting on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would bring greater accountability to law enforcement and help protect people of color from racist and discriminatory policing.

The push by President Trump and Senate Republicans to pack the U.S. Supreme Court while ignoring the urgent needs of our community and our demands for justice is the ultimate evidence of how important this election is to America, especially to Black America.

Do not sit this one out. Get registered. Make a plan to vote. And vote like our lives depend on it.

This Election Is About One Thing

The single most important issue in this year’s election will be how voters feel about Donald Trump. A recent Pew poll showed that 51 per cent  of Trump voters said the major factors determining their vote were Trump’s personality, values, and leadership style, while 56 per cent of Biden voters said that what was motivating them was “voting against Trump”. This election will be about Donald Trump.

With all we’ve seen from him and all we’ve learned about him during the past four years, one might reasonably ask, “Why does he still command the fervent support of so many voters?”

Two quotes in this week’s New York Times help explain this phenomenon. One was from President Donald Trump; the other was from one of his supporters. When taken together, they help to explain the most important dynamic that is driving this election.

The first quote was an excerpt from Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” in which he writes,“I play to people’s fantasies. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.”

The second came from a Trump supporter at a rally. After noting he couldn’t always understand what the president was saying because the sound system wasn’t working properly?, he said,“We could see what he [Trump] saw. We could feel what he felt. We could see the laughter and the joy and the excitement. So the couple of times I couldn’t hear him, that was okay; I knew I was supposed to clap. I don’t know what I was clapping about, but I clapped.”

It bears repeating, especially in this age of mass media, that elections are often decided not so much on policy prescriptions and platform proposals as they are on voter’s perceptions. Although healthcare, the economy, climate change, and abortion are all important concerns, they will not be the decisive factors for many voters in November.

While Democrats have published a detailed platform laying out how a Biden Administration will address most issue?s facing the nation, this year, for the first time in memory, Republicans decided not to produce any platform. Instead, they noted, “the president will run on his record and the promises he kept”. What exactly does that mean?

As president, Trump hasn’t kept any of his most prominent 2016 campaign pledges. Back then, he promised to build a “a great big beautiful wall” and that Mexico would pay for it. In the last four years, only a few hundred kilometres have been built with funds the president siphoned from the Pentagon’s budget. He repeatedly promised to end Obamacare and replace it with the “greatest healthcare system in the world”. Not only that ?has not happened, but as a result of his administration’s weakening of Obamacare provisions, almost 10 million more Americans are now without health insurance. He promised to “drain the swamp” of lobbyists in government, instead ?he filled his Cabinet and key administrative posts with more special interest lobbyists than any administration in history. And he promised to bring mining and manufacturing jobs back to America. Since he took office, we’ve lost almost one-quarter million manufacturing jobs and seven thousand in mining.

In fact, with the exception of pushing through massive tax breaks that benefited the wealthy, appointing conservative judges, and deregulating a range of industry and environmental protections, Trump has done very little of what he promised. These actions certainly can’t explain why he has retained such strong support, especially among white working-class voters.

So why does he still have their support? It is because, as the two quotes cited at the beginning of this piece establish, Donald Trump, the effective salesman, intuits what people want to believe. He perfected his pitchman art selling apartments, a range of lifestyle products, exclusive memberships in clubs and himself.

At the 2016 Republican Convention Trump told voters that the problems facing America were so great that only he could fix them. Caught in the whirlwind of social change and financial insecurity, and feeling abandoned by a political system they felt had paid attention to others while ignoring them, many alienated voters needed to believe that Trump would be their champion and make them great again. Four years later, despite the fact that they are no better off than they were before, they are loath to acknowledge that they might have been mistaken. And so they continue to believe, because the alternative is more painful.

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. But you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Our president, it appears, mastered the first part of that saying. Like the bystanders in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, some voters may even know they’ve been fooled, but admitting it is hard. And so they defiantly cling to the illusion.

This week, the New York Times released an extensive report on over two decades of Donald Trump’s corporate tax filings. What we learn from them is that his companies have been bleeding money for years — losing more than they made. As a result of these massive losses, he paid no taxes in 10 years and in the most recent filings paid a mere $750. His immediate response was to denounce the report “as fake news” — assuming, as he has before, that his supporters would choose to believe him over any media outlet. After all, as he said during the 2016 presidential debates, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

What will be decided, then, in November is whether a majority of alienated white voters will still need to believe in Donald Trump, or if Joe Biden will be able to win their support. To do this, Biden will need to do more than just criticise ?the current administration, he must provide voters with the confidence that ?he understands their aspirations and will be responsive to them.