FLOYD FALLOUT by Jason Sibert

The killing of George Floyd has produced a huge fallout. Demonstrators of all races have filled the streets, and the media has become obsessed with the subject of policing. Police reform legislation is moving through Congress. The mass demonstrations that followed the Floyd killing may well have served as a sparkplug for the suggested reforms. The issues brought to the forefront by the demonstrations provide us all with much food for thought on policing and what it means to be a social democrat.

Social democrats, whether inspired by the New Deal or by 20th century Western European societies, believe in a fair-market economy, i.e., a free-market economy where the power of capital is significantly held in check by labor unions and government regulation in the interest of working people, consumers and the conservation of our environment. Social insurance to protect working people from the vulnerabilities of the market is also a key part of the social democratic vision. Social democracy differs from pure democratic socialism in that the latter arguably seeks to make the means of producing society’s goods public, but there are some portions of an economy that are already public in nature. Public safety, or policing, is arguably pure socialism because police departments are government entities providing safety on the public dollar with government employees.  Fire departments are similar. This is a reality in all major industrial democracies.

The motto of the Social Democrats USA is pro-democracy and pro-labor. Therefore, we have a duty to use our democratic liberties to question the way that public safety operates and make it better. Investigative reporter Radley Balko addressed the subject of police militarization in his 2013 book “The Rise of the Warrior Cop.” The book blames the War on Drugs for bringing about changes to our legal institutions and policing in our country. It makes the case that police should not act like military units or be equipped with military hardware. Progressive journalist Glenn Greenwald and libertarian Republican Ron Paul both praised the book. Militarized policing is just one problem with public safety. The selling of military equipment to police departments started in the 1990s with the War on Drugs and increased with the War on Terror.

The reforms in public safety in Camden, New Jersey which revolved around what is termed community policing have become a point of discussion after Floyd’s killing. In a recent work of opinion journalism, Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), the House of Representative’s only black Republican, advocated a plan to reform policing in America. Hurd wants a federal best-practices policy to be adopted. If local departments do not adopt the policy, then the departments will not be eligible for their share of the $2 billion dollars in federal funding allocated each year. Perhaps the public funding should be tied to a community policing model. Camden abolished its police department in 2013 and built a new one from scratch. When the new model was instituted, police knocked on doors and introduced themselves to residents to see what they want in public safety. The idea behind community policing means that police are a part of the community.

Building a new department was a big challenge, as the city’s crime rate was among the worst in the US. Within nine square miles encompassing nearly 75,000 residents, there were over 170 open-air drug markets reported in 2013. Violent crime abounded and police corruption was a problem. Lawsuits filed against the department uncovered officers routinely planting evidence on suspects, fabricated reports, and committed perjury. After the corruption was exposed, courts overturned the convictions of 88 people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Camden’s crime rate dropped under the community policing model. More officers were added to the payroll, but the way the officers interacted with the public was totally different. Foot patrol – which increased presence in a personal way – became more common. Police were taught to deescalate situations first and use force as a last resort. When demonstrations broke out in cities after the death of George Floyd, Camden had demonstrations which were very calm, and Camden Police Chief Joseph Wysocki marched with demonstrators who held signs like “Black Lives Matter” and “Standing in Solidarity.” Camden has recorded lower crime rates as of late. There were 75 homicides in 2012 and 25 last year, according to Bloomberg News. Complaints about the excessive use of force have also dropped.

Police in Camden – a high poverty city – are not militarized like the departments described in Balko’s book. There is a movement to stop sales of weapons from the Pentagon to local departments, and social democrats should support that movement. Camden’s experience proves that policing can truly be about public safety – something that should be provided to all regardless of income. Police have said they are called to deal with the homeless epidemic in cities and this is something they are not trained to do. Funding homeless shelters would take pressure off of police and free up funds used for policing.

While regarded by many on the Left as a seriously flawed politician, the late vice-president Hubert Humphrey called his vision for America “social democracy.”  Humphrey understood the importance of private property, but he also favored planning in certain parts of the economy. The vice-president wanted both freedom and equality and private property and social security. Each of our individual lives are, quite literally, private property and we must promote a vison of public safety that guards as many lives as possible.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

Social Democrats USA endorse NINE FOR NEW YORK

On the heels of its recent endorsement of Adam Bojak for the New York State Assembly’s 149th District (Buffalo), the National Executive Committee of Social Democrats USA endorses these dynamic, progressive New Yorkers for public office:  

  • AOC – Alexandria Ocasio–Cortez – seeking re-election in the 14th Congressional District (Bronx, Queens). From her modest beginnings as a bartender, AOC has soared to become the premiere democratic socialist in the House of Representatives. She co-authored the Green New Deal and is a champion of Medicare For All.  She maneuvered Amazon, headed by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, into setting up shop in NYC’s Hudson Yards after foiling his plan to get NYS taxpayers to supply Amazon with billions of dollars in tax incentives. She is an advocate for sex work decriminalization and is currently doing in-person food and surgical mask drop-offs during this pandemic.
  • Jamaal Bowman: seeking election in the 16th Congressional District (Bronx, Westchester) against long-time incumbent Eliot Engel. Bowman, a middle-school teacher and principal, is a strong advocate for Medicare For All and abolishing corporate welfare. He offers his agenda as a distinct pro-peace alternative to the hawkish foreign policy of Engel, who opposed Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran and supported the US war in Iraq and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights.
  • Adem Bunkeddeko: seeking election in the 9th Congressional District (Brooklyn) against incumbent Yvette Clarke. Adem’s parents are refugees who fled Uganda’s civil war to come to the US. In addition to supporting Medicare For All and the Green New Deal, his signature issues are committing federal money to ensure affordable housing as a human right and reversing all of Trump’s setbacks to immigration: abolishing ICE and awarding all DACA recipients citizenship during this pandemic. Bunkeddeko came close to winning in 2018, losing by just a thousand votes to the increasingly neo-liberal incumbent Clarke.
  • Emily Gallagher: seeking election in the 50th Assembly District (North Brooklyn) against incumbent Joseph Lentol, who has of late been the recipient of real estate money and clashed with unions over his support for home-sharing giant Airbnb. By contrast, Gallagher is a vocal supporter of buttressing the historic Tenant Protection Act of 2019 and State Senator Julia Salazar’s legislation to mandate ‘good cause’ evictions in order to stop no-fault tenant evictions.
  • Mondaire Jones: seeking election in the 17th Congressional district (Westchester and Rockland Counties) for the open seat made possible by the retiring Rep. Nita Lowey. If elected, he would be the first-ever openly gay African-American member of Congress. He has made artful use of the Covid-19 pandemic to push for Medicare For All and other popular progressive legislation. One stand-out feature of his platform is his support for the German model of worker co-determination – letting workers elect a substantial percentage of representatives to their company’s board of directors.
  • Ron Kim: seeking re-election for his fifth term in the 40th Assembly District (Queens), This is one of the good incumbents: a stalwart for progressive principles who has been  willing to take risks for marginalized communities, be it Asian-American immigrants or sex workers. . He was instrumental in getting the brilliant sex worker advocate Kate Zen (one of our 2019 Left Forum panelists) appointed as Executive Director of the Asian Pacific-American Task Force of the NYS Assembly. Along with AOC, he played a leading role in defeating Amazon’s attempt to net billions of dollars in NYS tax breaks.
  • Yuh-Line Niou: seeking re-election for her third term in the 65th Assembly District (lower Manhattan).  She is the first Asian-American to represent Chinatown. Having restored her District’s reputation for honesty after it was ruined by her predecessor, the disgraced Shelly Silver, she secured a record $550 million in funding for the NYC Housing Authority for capital repairs to its crippling infrastructure. She voted for the successful repeal of Bill 50-A, which shielded police misconduct and police brutality from public scrutiny. As an initial Warren endorser, she has helped maintain the working alliance between Warren supporters and Berniecrats within the sex work decriminalization movement.
  • Jessica Ramos: seeking re-election in the 13th Senatorial District (Queens). She is the chair of the State Senate Labor Committee after having spent all of her adult years in the labor movement. After having defeated a Republican-leaning Democrat, Jose Peralta, in 2018, she is part of the progressive “blue wave” of New York State politics that compelled Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign long overdue progressive legislation, sometimes reluctantly. She is co-sponsor of Senate Bill S.6419, which, if passed, will decriminalize consenting adult sex work in New York. During the pandemic, she is handing out food to the needy from her district office.
  • Julia Salazar: seeking re-election in the 18th – the “Greateenth” – Senatorial District (North Brooklyn).  Currently the chair of the State Senate Women’s Issues Committee, she defeated landlord favorite Martin Dilan in a landslide in 2018, spearheading the takeover of the State Senate from the rule of Republicans and conservative Democrats. The very first bill she authored, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. She was a key member of the coalition that led to passage of sweeping tenants’ rights legislation in 2019 and the repeal of the aforementioned Bill 50-A. But above all, she is an outstanding risk-taker. She is the first-ever Marxist in the NYS Senate.  She was the first NYS elected official to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2020. She co-sponsored the first-ever US legislation to decriminalize sex work involving consenting adults. She is the first-ever Jewish elected official in the US to support BDS. She has ignored the worrywarts who told her to play it safe, and instead, has only gotten stronger.

Social Democrats USA Endorses Adam Bojak for New York State Assembly’s 149th District (Buffalo)

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of Social Democrats USA unanimously endorses Adam Bojak for the New York State Assembly’s 149th District (Buffalo).

Michael Mottern, a member of the NEC who lives near the 149th Assembly District, issued the following statement explaining why SDUSA is endorsing Adam Bojak and why this local primary election has national implications:

“In our current economic system with police brutality, social injustice, voter suppression and our New Deal democracy and Great Society being eroded daily, it almost seems apocalyptic. Like Germany in the Weimar Republic, you do not know who the next victim of violence is going to be. America is not only on a downward spiral, mostly because of the authoritarian and fascistic policies of Donald Trump, but also when a cop will kill you for no reason, the masses tend to get very enraged. And, what happens at the federal level of government directly effects the states as well. In turn, what happens at the local level allows for a mass movement of people to grow quickly, informed by solidarity and racial justice.

“After joining DSA in college, I eventually became an officer in Social Democrats USA to help foster that mass movement. For those young people and Buffalonians who think that voting is futile, look at AOC and Ayanna Pressley. Since the 2018 elections of a wave of Progressives, I would argue that America has taken a turn to the left. You can not vote for a ‘Democratic Socialist’ or a ‘Social Democrat’, they are not on the ballot in New York State like the Working Families Party, but you can vote for an insurgent Democrat in the Democratic Primary – a Justice Democrat – in the 149th Assembly District like Adam Bojak. A DSA member in Buffalo, NY and a member of a very good fair housing organization called PUSH BUFFALO, Adam is a fair housing advocate and an attorney who is running for Sean Ryan’s old seat in the heart of Buffalo’s famous upper west-side neighborhood.

“Bojak, 36, is a Buffalo resident who believes that gentrification and bad landlords are not good for the City of Buffalo, and that the City needs more pro-active leadership and better accountability not only from absentee landlords but from Albany as well… I think he would be a great asset in Albany when it comes to housing, rent control, full employment policies for NYS, and maybe single payer health care for all New Yorkers.

“Caring and compassionate about a variety of social issues in Buffalo, I spoke with him several times on the telephone and met him at a couple of good rallies in the Queen City, and he told me how the Buffalo area was short-changed on “wasted” time and energy by its leadership when it came to the urban destruction of the City’s Humboldt Parkway. He guaranteed that he favors burying the 198 Expressway that bisects the main Olmsted Park in Buffalo and will work with the City’s organizers in the East Side of Buffalo to convince the Governor, Mayor, and NYSDOT (New York State Department of Transportation) to remove those concrete and steel monstrosities from the park space, reversing a long-term decision by our past elected officials that devastated neighborhoods and replaced park space with ugly and unaesthetically pleasing expressways.

“Adam Bojak will be a fresh face in the New York State Assembly that can finally be the voice for change in Albany, and because of that, Social Democrats USA respects, endorses and will help with his bold campaign in West NY. We are proud to endorse attorney Adam Bojak’s candidacy for the New York State Assembly in the 149th District in Buffalo!!!

GEORGE FLOYD AND THE PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

by Jason Sibert

Americans have taken to the streets since the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.

Our cities are experiencing some of the biggest demonstrations related to policing in years. The actions of certain police officers during the demonstrations have been controversial. Police reform is being discussed in the media from different viewpoints and police reform legislation is being introduced in Congress right now.

The debate over policing, connected to the prison-industrial complex in ways rarely discussed in the mainstream media, is really about control. Ditto for the military-industrial complex. The social democrat seeks to give the individual control over his or her life by working for a mixed-economy, or a fair market economy that can churn out consumer goods and protect the rights of working men and women through social insurance, regulation of business, and securing collective bargaining rights. However, the social democrat should also work for public safety and a defense that empowers the individual, not the big money behind both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex.

The prison-industrial complex smothers the individuals that are caught up in it. In any given year, there are 100,000 to 150,000 people jailed for murder, another 100,000 to 150,000 jailed for armed robbery, and 100.000 to 150,000 people jailed for a sexual offense of some sort. Our population is 327 million. These numbers show that most of us in our country are not violent criminals! However, the United States has five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  

Writer Michael Lind’s story “Liberalism’s Unfinished Agenda” said that our criminal justice system not only produces prisoners but also lawyers, as the U.S. has 50 percent of the world’s lawyers. Lind condemned not only our number of prisoners and lawyers, but just about everything else about our criminal justice system. He said, “Grand juries are a rubber stamp for the prosecutors; assets are routinely frozen or seized in ex parte on the basis of false government affidavits, so targets don’t have the resources to pay avaricious American counsel and are thrust into the hands of public defenders, who are usually just Judas goats for the prosecutors. The plea bargain system, for which prosecutors would be disbarred in most other serious countries, enables prosecutors to threaten everyone around the target with indictment if they don’t miraculously recall, under careful government coaching, inculpatory evidence. Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of those without trial, and people who exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right to go to trial received more than three times the sentence they receive if they cop a plea, as a penalty for exercising their rights.”

The prison-industrial complex also includes companies that build private prisons, as these companies have a financial incentive to build more prisons and imprison more non-violent offenders.  It also includes politicians who want prisons in their districts to provide jobs. Non-violent offenders often have trouble finding employment, turning to a cycle of crime which creates a lot of business for the prison-industrial complex. It should be obvious to any social democrat that this segment of the economy does little to create value for our economy.

Lind attacked the military-industrial complex in his story, “The War Socialism of the American Right.” He addressed the issue of high-ranking military officers who spend their military careers receiving socialized medicine and then go to work for military contractors that do business primarily with the government. Military manufacturing is protected a lot more than civilian manufacturing, as Lind pointed out that between 2000 and 2009, military manufacturing increased 125 percent while civilian manufacturing contracted 25 percent.

Organs of soft power – foreign aid and diplomacy – are not funded as well as the organs of the military-industrial complex, as they don’t produce the economic cycle of the military-industrial complex even though they are less expensive. Social democrats should push back against the power of both the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex because we believe in an economy that empowers individuals and helps those in the middle and lower portions of the income spectrum.

Money can be moved from both areas to sheltering homeless people, as police sometimes receive calls on panhandling from the homeless. Many in law enforcement do not like dealing with this issue and it would cease to be an issue if the homeless had shelter. We can also stop treating drug addiction like a law enforcement problem and expand our public health system to deal with it, using money from the military-industrial complex and prison-industrial complex. It must be noted that some states are legalizing marijuana, and this is a positive development. In addition, non-violent offenders need to be doing community service and not unproductive prison time. We could also shovel funds from these two unproductive sectors of our economy into subsides for manufacturers that make products for pandemics like Covid-19.

The U.S. has adopted social democratic reforms in the past – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, Temporary Need for Needy Families, and unemployment insurance. However, we can become more social democratic if we take on both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex!

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project

OUT OF SICKNESS, SOLIDARITY By Jason Sibert

The Covid-19 pandemic proves that our country needs an economy defined by solidarity.

The pandemic puts a strain on the idea that our county can depend on China for manufacturing. It should also change our definition of security.  In a press conference on the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo  said: “We need masks, they’re made in China; we need gowns, they’re made in China; we need face shields, they’re made in China; we need ventilators, they’re made in China…And these are all like national security issues when you’re in this situation.”  In 2000, President Bill Clinton spoke highly of giving permanent normal trade relations with China: “Our administration has negotiated an agreement which will open China’s markets to American products made on American soil, everything from corn to chemicals to computers. Today the House has affirmed that agreement. We will be exporting, however, more than products. By this agreement, we will export more of our most cherished values, economic freedom.” Many of the items we could use to fight this pandemic are controlled by Chinese companies.

American companies have moved much of their production overseas to take advantage of low wages and lax environmental standards. The move takes its toll on the financial well-being of working people, their municipalities and efforts to conserve the environment we depend on. In addition, the American political caste thought that China would be happy acting as a platform for low-wage labor and the U.S. could then specialize in high-end knowledge work – the work done in places like Silicon Valley. However, the political caste was wrong, as China now aspires to enter fields such as information technology and biotechnology. This plan was flawed from another standpoint because information technology and biotechnology are not labor-intensive enough to make up for the jobs in manufacturing sector. Manufacturing has become more technology-intensive and does not require the labor it once did. It could become even less labor-intensive if companies invest more in robotics and innovative software. However, hiring cheap workers in other countries represents and easier path, leaving most of today’s workforce today employed in the service sector in areas such as restaurants and retail.

Manufacturing is important in the pandemic because we need to quickly move ventilators and masks to where they are needed. Of course, China quit shipping us those things when Covid-19 broke out. As writer Michael Lind points out on his recent story on manufacturing (“The China Question”, Tablet, May 19), the rich people who control our money-drenched political system do just fine as our manufacturing base goes overseas. They also suffer less in the pandemic.

Alexander Hamilton, America’s first Secretary of the Treasury, delivered his “Report on Manufacturers” to Congress in 1791. Hamilton did not want our country to be dependent on the factories of the United Kingdom, the world’s first industrial superpower, and thought it was best to develop our own manufacturing base. He felt that tariffs could be used to build what he called a “machine economy,” or industrial economy, but he really preferred subsides to the industrial sector. As stated by Lind, all modern economies are mixed economies that feature not only free-market economics but also government provided social insurance – unemployment insurance, age-old pensions, national health insurance, public assistance for the long-term unemployed, and disability insurance – to lift up working people in times of need. Trade policies should be mixed in nature, with nation-states and city-states protecting vital industries and engaging in free trade at the same time.

All countries should keep a manufacturing base for medicine, medical gear, aircraft, machine tools, and consumer electronics and other sectors, as Lind points out.  It would save lives around the world in a pandemic. Corporations like Boeing, who benefit from government military contracts, cannot and should not claim to be, on the one hand,  international companies who need to be freed from the constraints of national government in economic boomtimes and then, on the other hand, portray themselves as national champions that need a bailout in pandemics.

Lind compares a future industrial policy to arms-control deals in which each side engages in a give-and-take agreement where arms are reduced while each country maintains some control over its military spending. In a quality industrial policy, each country should be able to produce some essentials while engaging in some economic competition on essentials and even more economic competition on other items. The ideal of absolute free trade might be the cause of future wars if American companies nudge political leaders into a war with China, or any other adversary, because their factories are threatened by the politics of the nation-state where factories are located. It is hard to imagine any arms-control treaties being struck, with the size of national militaries already being reduced, in that environment!

A future industrial policy would place some controls on the manufacturing tendencies of corporate America, a key feature of a more social democratic America. The federal government could offer companies a subsidy, which Hamilton would approve of, to manufacture some essential items here. We should move money away from the bloated military-industrial complex, which manufactures unnecessary weapons, and toward items that would be useful in pandemics or in fighting or adapting to the greenhouse effect. The strategy would avoid demonizing China and other geopolitical competitors as an evil greater than Nazi Germany and would also reject racist attacks on Chinese-Americans or the Chinese people in general. This limited free trade model would allow each state in the international system a certain amount of security and for a more peaceful international order where arms-control can become a bigger part of our national-security strategy.

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.