Against the Current, No. 170, May/June 2014

Against the Current, No. 170, May/June 2014

Notes on the Current Crisis

— The Editors

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA on March 3 sat in the White House firmly denouncing the Russian regime’s seizure of Crimea as a blatant “violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” and “a violation of international law [and] of previous agreements that Russia has made with respect to how it treats and respects its neighbors.”

In one of those surreal and revealing moments, the U.S. president was sitting next to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, when he said it. If the absurdity of the occasion was lost on much of the U.S. public, it cannot have escaped the attention of most of the politically literate world....

The Minimum Wage Debate

— Malik Miah

THE DEBATE OVER the minimum wage exposes the sharp class (and racial) divisions in U.S. society. The majority of working people support an increase from $7.25 to $10-15 per hour. President Obama supports a phased-in raise to $10.10. Many states and cities have moved to do so. San Francisco has the highest at $10.74.

Yet rightwing politicians and pundits don’t agree. The goal of the conservative movement is to convince the working poor that a minimum or living wage undermines “freedom” and American individualism that is the bedrock of the country. The “middle class” lifestyle is possible through hard work. Those who rely on the government to regulate wages and benefits, they argue, undermine the capitalist market system....

Update on Detroit

— Dianne Feeley

DETROIT’S EMERGENCY MANAGER  Kevyn Orr promises to complete the city’s bankruptcy by the time he leaves this fall. His plan of adjustment includes selling off the city’s assets and reducing its liabilities. The New York Times described the draconian plan as “unimaginative.” Walter Turbeville, senior fellow at the public policy organization Demos, disputes the need for bankruptcy altogether, pointing out that Detroit was hard hit in the 2008 recession. Between 2000-2012 the number of employed city residents declined by 53% — half of that in 2008 alone.

Foreclosures and evictions continue to plague the city. This year the city is planning on evicting 49,000 homeowners because of back taxes, even though everyone agrees tax assessments on homes are inflated....

The University & the Security State

— Michael Gasser

FOR 20 YEARS of my academic life, I worked in cognitive science, the interdisciplinary field that brings together psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, artificial intelligence and linguistics in the study of the mind.

About 10 years ago, several other faculty at my university and I received an email from a colleague — one of the most distinguished cognitive psychologists in the world — asking us if we’d be interested in applying for funding from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish a center for research on the “cognitive science of terrorism.”

I was shocked at his proposal and replied that I was not interested. He was curious to know why. I told him that funding from DHS would necessarily come with strings attached;...

Lean & Mean Health Care

— Greg Chern

WRITERS IN ALTERNATIVE Left media — e.g. Socialist Worker, Labor Notes, Jacobin and Truth Dig — have reported on what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will mean for health care consumers (the individual family or individual shopfloor) when they sign up for health insurance.

Their reporting is thorough, but limited to how the law looks from the perspective of consumers. From this angle, the ACA appears as  yet one more way for monopolies to charge their customers more, with inflated costs and inferior quality.

I hope to offer a more synoptic view of three parts of the healthcare system — healthcare production, healthcare “commerce” and healthcare finance — to situate the Affordable Care Act within the context of recent and potential changes in the industry as a whole....


A Fossil Fuel Exit Program

— Anders Ekeland

THE CONCEPT OF an “exit strategy” was coined by John Bellamy Foster in a review of the famous climate scientist — and climate activist — James Hansen’s proposal of a “fee and dividend” system in a 2013 Monthly Review article.(1) Foster introduces the exit strategy concept in the following way:

“Given that it is cumulative carbon emissions that matter, the goal has to be to keep fossil fuels in the ground, not simply to slow their use as in most current strategies.

“A complete transition away from fossil fuels is necessary within a few decades. The question is how to construct an exit strategy that will accomplish this. It is Hansen who has provided the starting point for a realistic climate-change exit strategy....

Freedom Struggle

Freedom Summer, 1964: An Overview

— Marty Oppenheimer

JUST TWO WEEKS after the August 28, 1963 March on Washington, four girls aged 11-14 — Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair — died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

The year 1963 was marked by assassinations and at least 35 bombings. Among those murdered were William Moore, a white civil rights activist who was assassinated on April 20, and Medgar Evers, a NAACP leader in Mississippi, who was shot down on June 12. A local segregationist, Byron De La Beckwith, was charged with Evers’ murder but after two trials with all-white juries, no conviction was obtained.(1) That year, according to historian Clayborne Carson, some 20,000 civil rights demonstrators were arrested in the South.(2)...

Freedom Schools: The Curriculum

— Marty Oppenheimer

MISSISSIPPI’S SCHOOLS WERE the last in the South to remain totally segregated after Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional. The Black public schools were notoriously underfunded and many were in decrepit condition. Students were learning little.

In 1961 in McComb, Mississippi, students walked out of their segregated high school to protest the suspension of a student for participating in a sit-in. SNCC quickly opened an alternative “Non-Violent High” where staffers taught Black history, literature, and art. All of the SNCC teachers were convicted of contributing to the delinquency of minors and sentenced to six months. This school became one of the models for the Freedom Schools of Freedom Summer....

Freedom Summer Remembered

— interview with Walter Kaufmann

WALTER KAUFMANN IS a retired attorney, psychotherapist and former community college teacher living in Berkeley, California. He was a participant in the 1964 Freedom Summer, working in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Against the Current editor David Finkel interviewed him for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer project.

Against the Current: Please tell us something about your background and how you came to be involved in the Civil Rights Movement.

Walter Kaufmann: To begin at the beginning, I was eight when I came with my parents as German Jewish refugees in 1940. Even as a child I was viscerally conscious of issues of racism and anti-semitism. I became involved with CORE (Congress of Racial Equality)....

Remembering Mississippi, 1964-65

— interview with Claudia Morcom

CLAUDIA MORCOM SERVED as a Wayne County Circuit Court Judge from 1983 through 1998. She has been active throughout her life in civil and human rights causes. She was interviewed in Against the Current 101 (November-December 2002) about her experience at the World Congress Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, immediately prior to the 9/11 attacks, and a lawyers’ delegation to Palestine in summer 2002 (

Dianne Feeley and David Finkel from the ATC editorial board spoke with Judge Morcom about her work in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964 and subsequently from September 1964 through October 1965, as Southern Regional Director for the National Lawyers Guild’s program of legal assistance for civil rights workers....

Steady Hands for Freedom

— Rose M. Brewer

Hands on the Freedom Plow:
Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
By Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young and Dorothy M. Zellner, editors
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010, paperback edition 2012, 616 pages, $26.95 paper.

IN THIS ERA of reaction, in this atmosphere of repression, the imperative to re-imagine change is vital. Given this reality and the fact that 2014 represents the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the edited volume Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts By Women in SNCC is supremely timely. It lifts up a still too invisible aspect of 1960s social change embedding radical women, heavily Black and white, at the center of social transformation in the United States....

Review Essay

Reintroducing Sarah Wright

— Konstantina Mary Karageorgos

This Child’s Gonna Live is an overwhelming metap­hor of the Black experience in these United States of North America. It is all the more powerful and truthful for having a protagonist who is a Black woman of unparalleled heroism in this white, racist, capitalistic, male-supremacist society. Which means of course that she is triply oppressed, as a working-class person, as a Black person, and as a woman. — John Oliver Killens

It was then, that I, then working strictly in verse, took the leap into the novel form and began working on This Child’s Gonna Live. — Sarah Wright, in response to the Cuban Revolution

ALTHOUGH LITLE KNOWN today, Sarah Elizabeth Wright’s first and only published novel, This Child’s Gonna Live....


Reinterpreting the Cotton Kingdom

— Connor Donegan

River of Dark Dreams:
Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom
By Walter Johnson
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013, 526 pages,
$35 hardcover.

WALTER JOHNSON’S RIVER of Dark Dreams has been justly praised as a landmark study of American slavery, sure to remain an important reference point for years to come.(1) Johnson is Winthrop Professor of History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University whose previous book Soul By Soul (2001) offered a history of the New Orleans slave market that pieced together the experiences of enslaved African Americans.

Dark Dreams is an ambitious history of the Cotton Kingdom....

The Education Deform Fraud

— Debby Pope

Reign of Error
The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and
the Danger to America’s Public Schools
By Diane Ravitch
Knopf, 2013, 396 pages, $27.95 hardback, $16.95 paper.

WHO IS DIANE Ravitch? Those not absorbed in the world of K-12 education may well not remember her as a mainstream professor tapped to serve as Assistant Secretary of Education in the administration of George H.W. Bush. (Born in 1938, she is an educational specialist teaching at New York University who got her political start at the Social Democratic New Leader.)

During the ’90s and early 2000s Ravitch was an academic exponent of the burgeoning corporate education reform....

A Witness to Destroying Schools

— Joel Jordan

Schoolhouse Shams:
Myths and Misinformation in School Reform
By Peter Downs
R & L Education, Lanham, Md., 2013, 230 pages,, $28.95 paper.

AT LEAST SINCE the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for School Reform by Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education, and accelerated by the bipartisan passing of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, U.S. ruling elites have been preoccupied with manufacturing a crisis of public education to promote their favorite nostrums — vouchers, charter schools, privatization, high stakes testing, and the evisceration of teacher unions and elected school boards....

Did They Get What They Wanted?

— Atef Said

The People Want
A Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising
By Gilbert Achcar
University of California Press, 2013. Hardcover $63.30; paperback $22.33.

JANUARY 25, 2014 was the third anniversary of what the world knows as the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. On that day hundreds of protestors, many of whom were leading activists in the revolution, were not allowed to go to Tahrir Square, the iconic space where the 2011 revolution largely took place. Instead, activists were beaten and tortured in the streets. Some female activists were kidnapped by police, only to be beaten and then driven out to the desert and left there.

Before the anniversary, many prominent activists....

"Greater Israel" in Real Life

— Nabeel Abraham

Life and Loathing in Greater Israel
By Max Blumenthal
New York : Nation Books, 2012, 496 pages, $27.99 hardcover.

AFTER ALL THAT has been said and done over the past several decades, Israel continues to enjoy a reservoir of support in the United States. From time to time the country pops up on American TV screens hurling missiles at and driving tanks over neighboring populations in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank. Like the love affair Americans have with the stock market, however, Israel’s stock keeps bouncing back.

The reasons for America’s seemingly unsinkable attachment to this desert garrison state are not very difficult....

In the Wake of Carnage

— Joanne Rappaport

Intimate Enemies:
Violence and Reconciliation in Peru
By KimberlyTheidon
University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2013, 461 pages, $75 hardback.

A LITTLE MORE than 20 years ago, anthropologists studying the Peruvian Andes were taken to task for “missing the revolution.” At the time — the early 1990s — Peru was awash in internecine violence spawned by continued clashes of the Shining Path guerrilla group with the Peruvian army. Peru’s Quechua-speaking peasants were unpityingly trapped between two armies, frequently forced to take sides in self-defense and subjected to monstrous human rights abuses.

Students of Andean culture were accused....

Revolutionaries in the a Time of Retreat

— Ted M. McTaggart

Toward the United Front:
Proceedings of the Fourth Congress
of the Communist International, 1922
Edited and translated by John Riddell
Haymarket Books, 2012, 1310 pages, $55 paperback.

WHEN THE COMMUNIST International was founded in March 1919, the world was in a time of revolutionary ferment. Three and a half years after the capitulation to imperialist jingoism by the leaders of the Second International, the Russian Revolution had given a new impetus to the left wing of the international socialist movement, as the Bolsheviks demonstrated a revolutionary means to end imperialist war.

Following the Russian example, revolutionary workers of several other European countries formed soviets,...

In Memoriam

Remembering "Hurricane" Carter, 1937-2004

— Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted

THE ASSOCIATION IN Defence of the Wrongly Convicted issued this tribute to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, its longtime activist and director from 1999-2005. Carter served 19 years, and John Artis 15 years, in prison for a murder they did not commit, and became symbols of the struggle against racial bias and prosecutorial abuse in the criminal justice system.

Rubin made it his life’s mission to help others who had been wrongly convicted after his own exoneration for crimes he did not commit, but for which he spent 19 years in prison. Rubin’s celebrity status as a championship boxer and his wrongful conviction generated significant media attention worldwide which helped draw attention to his work in Canada with AIDWYC.

Rubin spent many years supporting the work of AIDWYC....