On October 23/24 of this year, Social Democrats USA held its biennial convention in Pittsburgh— more specifically, Carnegie, Pennsylvania. The first day consisted of internal working meetings of our organization. But Friday was reserved for a Public Forum. The forum has two sessions, spliced together into a single video. The total duration of the video is 2 hours and 53 minutes. Our thanks to Jordan McMillen at Cut N Run Studios for the video work. And thanks to Hans Gruenert for the use of the Theater.
Session I focuses on political issues; it features:
Dr. Sheri Berman, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College
Dr. Berman is an expert on the development of Social Democracy in Europe; she is also a member of the SDUSA Advisory Council
Herb Engstrom, member of the Executive Committee of the California Democratic Party, and an SDUSA member
Joe Ryan, Adjunct Professor of Political Science at St. Francis College, and an SDUSA member
Session II (starting at 1:40:00) focuses on labor issues; it features:
A video that the SEIU made to publicize the plight of UPMC workers
Ben Brewer, SEUI Asst. Organizing Director of health care workers in Pennsylvania
Jim Staus, former UPMC worker who was fired for engaging in labor organizing
Jeff Ballinger, international labor rights activist, and former SDUSA Executive Director
We will be editing this 3 hour video into smaller pieces to make it a little easier for consumption. But for now, enjoy. CLICK HERE
Yesterday I saw a tweet from Ed Miliband, leader of the British Labour Party, urging Scots to vote “no” on the independence referendum. Most Britons (or should I say Englanders?), left and right, have been hoping that the Scots will stay. Is Miliband’s plea coming from a sincere belief that the “Better Together” campaign represents true social democracy? Or is it coming from a fear of the diminished status of a smaller UK? Or is he simply a mouthpiece for the bankers who are now running pretty much everything in the West? Specifically, here’s his retweet of the Labour Party post:
So, Miliband is saying that Scotland would lose the commercial banks that have wrecked the economy of the West through their irresponsible and criminal behavior, caused massive unemployment, and shifted incredible amounts of wealth from average citizens to the 1%. Is that something that Scots should be fearing— that the cancer would up and walk away from Scotland? I’m quite sure Mr. Miliband, that if there’s money to be made in Scotland, the banksters will be on the spot with a smile. The entire “No independence” campaign has been embarrassing. The primary tactic is to make Scots afraid of a future without London. The same scare tactic has been used in every country that broke from the crown, including the U.S. “Is it worth the risk”? is the question they’re asking. Let’s rephrase that. “Is having the right to control your future really that important? Isn’t it better to just let London tell you what to do?” Signs for the Better Together campaign politely read, “No, thanks”, as if to say, “thanks for asking me if I want freedom, but no thanks, I don’t want to think for myself”. Even the TV spot that they ran last week has everyone shaking their heads as the woman in the video says, “My Paul wants to know if I’ve made a decision on how I’ll vote. But I’m busy and there’s only so many hours in a day”. That’s right, she has to cook oatmeal for the children. She really doesn’t have time to think about the future of her country; that’s mens’ business. Take a look #PatronisingBTLady for a funny, but sad, look at the Better Together argument.
Another facet of the BT campaign has been to accuse the Yes voters of being right wing xenophobes like the National Front in France or Jobbik in Hungary. But of course, the driving motivation of those parties is a hatred of Muslims, Romas, and Jews. There is no comparison between the extreme Right and the Yes voters in Scotland. The Scots just want their autonomy. Because the BT campaign has no substantial arguments against Scottish independence, they’ve cooked up these bizarre accusations. What the BT campaign should be saying is, “If you want your independence, that’s fine. We respect that. If you vote “yes” on Thursday, we hope that you will join us in coalition for our mutual defense and any other projects that we can do better together.” Isn’t that what Better Together should mean?
One has to wonder what has happened to Labour. Whatever virus they have contracted, it appears that the French Parti Socialiste has contracted it as well. Yesterday, French parliament gave a thumbs-up to the Socialist government to go forward with a plan to cut corporate taxes by €50B and pay for it by cutting social services by the same amount. The business-friendly socialist finance minister (now that’s an interesting creature) Manuel Valls believes it will spur jobs growth. Perhaps he should take a look at how repeated corporate tax reductions in America have created NO jobs, but have made Wall Street incredibly wealthy. The wealth disparity in the U.S. is now comparable to what it was in the 1800’s during the era of the robber barons. There are two things that creates jobs. One, increased government spending on things like highways, schools, health care. Two, put more money into the pockets of consumers by increasing wages. Discounts to billionaires is not one of those things. Social democratic parties do themselves no favors by courting the rich. As the voters realize what you’re doing, they will abandon you. French newspapers report that as many as 30 Socialist MPs abstained from yesterday’s confidence vote rather than support their own party in such scandalous behavior. What is the message that the PS is sending to the people? If you are concerned with your health, education, pension, and the future of your nation, you should switch to the Communist Party. This is the wrong message!
Social democracy has a great and true tradition of working for the welfare of all citizens, not just 1% of the citizens. Social democratic parties such as Labour, PS, and SPD, must look at their roots and basic guiding principles and come back to the left. The same is true for the U.S. Democratic Party. Let us not be afraid of the New Deal. Let us not be afraid of “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. Let us not be afraid, period.
Almost half a million Massachusetts low-wage workers won a significant victory on June 26th, when Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill to raise the minimum wage in stages to $11 per hour in 2017, the highest minimum wage in the country. His signature was the culmination of a two-year campaign by thousands of labor and progressive activists, including Massachusetts Social Democrats, who gathered thousands of signatures on petitions to put a minimum wage question on the ballot. While the state legislature moved to forestall action on the minimum wage by the voters, it did not respond to the companion campaign for a paid sick leave proposal, which will be on the ballot in November. The activist coalition is gearing up for that fight.
As important as the new law is, it has several shortcomings:
First, it contains no provision for indexing the minimum wage.
Second, even $11 per hour will not raise a family of four above the totally inadequate poverty level of $23,492.
Third, as Massachusetts Social Democrats pointed out at the legislative hearing on the bill, given the higher rate of unemployment among low-wage workers, they cannot rely on getting a nearly sufficient annual income at the new minimum wage. A full employment program is an essential complement to an adequate minimum wage, MSD observed.
Much work remains to be done, starting with winning paid sick leave in November.
On November 29, 1981, an ordinary day in the bustling Damascus neighborhood of Azbakiyah, droves of Syrian pedestrians on Baghdad Street moved in and out of their apartments and offices. Some were children visiting their friends. Many were high-ranking intelligence functionaries working to foil subversive plots against the state.
It was a tense time. The Muslim Brotherhood was at war with the Syrian government and had been detonating car bombs all over Damascus. In August, Brotherhood agents leveled an attack near the Prime Minister’s office and, in September, leveled another one near a government agency. Indoctrinated in Islamist dogma and trained at camps in the region, these terrorist bandits were slick, ruthless, and determined to wreak havoc. At the time, their jihad was against the non-believers of Hafez Al-Assad’s Ba’ath Party and its military cronies spread throughout the country.
Suddenly, all at once, the city shook, and a bomb left Baghdad Street in bloody shambles. With this attack, Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood murdered and injured hundreds of civilians, causing more casualties than ever before. If there was any reason left for the world to ignore this appalling threat to civilized society, it was now gone.
But the United States remained unconcerned. Hardly any of us knew where the Muslim Brothers were, let alone who they were serving and who was financing their jihad. American news outlets provided scant coverage of the attacks, and our national security apparatus said little about it in public.
American indifference to Islamist terror, even if not justifiable, would have been more understandable had it not been for the fact that, in very important ways, our government bolstered Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s. Although it is not clear whether the US government directly funded Syrian terrorists, it certainly handed off weapons and billions of dollars to Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia to pursue their agendas through various proxies, including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood. At the end of the Cold War, as one CIA analyst put it, we were “playing with fire,” and our blasé government knew it, even if our people did not.
Today, as we again consider sending weapons to “vetted” Syrian rebels in the current civil war, our costly recent involvements in the Mideast should remind us that it is risky to cast our lot with foreign factions intent on using our aid for murder and warfare. Because our patron states in the region have themselves thrown around funds willy-nilly for a long time, it will be necessary not only to withhold aid from violent insurgencies but also to take a more critical look at the aid that we so readily wire into other states’ bank accounts.
Although the tale of Islamism is over a hundred years old, this chapter began when Muslim Brotherhood agents fled to Syria in the 1950s after Egypt’s Nasser amped up his attacks on the Brotherhood. As the largely secular Syrian Ba’ath assumed power the following decade, the Brothers were forced to fight for the heart of their new home, declaring outright war against the Syrian government during the Arabs’ 1967 war with Israel.
Meanwhile, in Jordan, the Muslim Brothers were fending off similar threats from anti-Islamist nationalists and Palestinians. Though it seemed that Syria would intervene on the Palestinians’ behalf during their 1970 uprising against the Jordanian monarchy, Assad backed down when Israel “threatened action if the Syrian army moved to help the PLO.” Still, Jordan and Israel were concerned about Syrian-endorsed nationalism and socialism and thus supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s reinvigorated jihad against Assad in the mid-1970s.
To complicate matters even further, the Lebanese Civil War erupted in 1975 and eventually provoked the involvement of both Israel and Syria. Still pitted against the PLO, Israel funded the predominantly Christian Free Lebanon Forces and Lebanese Front, both of which supported the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, one of Israel’s main allies in the Free Lebanon Forces, Sa’d Haddad, operated multiple Muslim Brotherhood training camps, including some in northern Jordan with the go-ahead of King Hussein.
Pause for a moment. Suppose that, after a long day’s work in the 1970s or 1980s, you returned home to find King Hussein pulled up in a limousine to ask you to support his latest onslaught against the Syrian government and the PLO. Before you were able to respond, Israel’s Menachem Begin popped in asking for a big donation as well. The two leaders’ countries were technically enemies, yes, but they both needed your help in training a group of useful Islamist rebels. Right as you tried to answer again, King Khalid of Saudi Arabia came by and asked to buy weapons from you for the same purpose. They all admitted that they would kill innocent people with your aid but that it was ultimately “for a good cause.” What would you have said?
Sadly, it doesn’t even matter. In real life, you effectively said yes to all of them. Islamist “terrorist acts” at the time were widespread, “centered around urban centers such as Damascus, Hamah, Homs, and the coastal cities of Latakia and Tartus.” The US was implicated in this violence by its financial support for Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and, by extension, the Free Lebanon Forces and the Lebanese Front.
Recently, we have again been asked to fund a bunch of fighters amidst Syrian mayhem—this time, by taking money directly from our pockets and putting it into theirs. As crucial as it is for the international community to support humanitarian aid to Syria’s civilians being slaughtered by the brutal Assad on one side and Islamists on the other, it is risky for us to throw any more weaponry and military support into the volatile madness unfolding in the country.
The lesson from next door in Iraq– where ISIS is on a murderous rampage with stolen weapons that the US originally gave to Iraq’s Shi’ite government– is that our arms transfers can come back to haunt us and may be redirected by almost anybody to pursue a nefarious agenda. Boasting a recent history of such counterproductive results, the “more weapons” strategy deserves much greater scrutiny and, in the case of Syria, should probably be discarded entirely.
Save the date! This week the National Committee of Social Democrats USA approved the dates and location for the biennial convention. It will be held in Pittsburgh on Thursday Oct 23 and Friday Oct 24. Our last convention was held in Buffalo in August of 2012. We are pleased to bring the convention to Pittsburgh this year, another city with significant labor history.
We are also very pleased to announce that Dr. Sheri Berman, Chair of Political Science at Barnard College, will be a featured speaker. Sheri is an expert on social democracy and the history of the Left. She has written a number of books and papers on the birth and growth of European social democracy. Sheri also sits on the Editorial Board of Dissent magazine. She has written a number of articles for Foreign Affairs. She will bring a great new perspective to our discussions and we are delighted she is coming to Pittsburgh. Additional speakers will be announced in coming weeks.
Any SDUSA members who want to attend should call the office at 412-894-1799.