24 and Zero Dark Thirty helped sell Americans on torture

A new Pew poll says Americans approve of CIA torture by 51%-29%, so bringing this out again:

Not just politicians, but also the media are responsible for selling Americans on torture. During the Bush years, there was the series 24, whose very premise – Jack Bauer only has 24 hours to stop the terrorists and save America – made the case that torture can be justified in an emergency. Last year, the film Zero Dark Thirty revived the argument by erroneously depicting torture as instrumental to finding (and killing) Osama Bin Laden. The order of events shown implies a connection between the torture of a detainee and what most Americans think is the most significant foreign policy achievement of the last decade. In other words, the plot exploits the jingoism of US audiences to convince them that while the CIA did some ugly things, it was all worth it in the end.

This kind of ideological manipulation is especially worrying in light of the filmmakers’ heavy collaboration with the CIA. The hacks behind Zero Dark Thirty got exclusive access to information about Bin Laden’s murder that was denied to the public. In return, the CIA got Oscar-nominated, chest-thumping propaganda. While some haveclaimed that the interrogation scenes are actually critical of torture, the camerawork and editing are careful to show us everything from the point of view of the CIA officers – not the detainee. For example, when he is stuffed into a box too small for his body, terrified and in pain, we don’t go in there with him. Our perspective stays outside. We’re invited to identify not with the tortured, but the torturers.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out on MSNBC, “Americans know that torture is brutal – That’s why they think it works. They have supported torture because they believe that the people that we’re doing it to are primitive, violent, horrible savages who need to be treated brutally, because that’s the only way we can get information, and that’s the way we stay safe.”

Every Senate Democrat just voted to fund Israel’s genocide in Gaza

I haven’t written since July 14 for two reasons: I can’t write about Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza when others (see: Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss) are doing it so well, but I can’t write about anything else while Palestinians are being slaughtered by a government that receives upwards of $3 billion a year in military aid from our own.

Yesterday President Obama made people mad with comments downplaying CIA torture and blaming Hamas for the astronomical civilian death toll in Gaza. I won’t link to them because I don’t really care what he said. I can’t believe we still have to convince people the Democrats are the worst of the worst.

More important than Obama’s speechifying are the actions of Congress, who (also yesterday) voted overwhelmingly to approve $225 million in additional funding to replenish Israel’s arsenal, depleted by a three-week-long offensive that has killed over 1600 Palestinians, at least 75% of whom are, according to the UN, civilians.

Let me repeat that: After the Obama administration single-handedly torpedoed a UN inquiry into Israeli war crimes, the Senate passed by unanimous consent (and the House voted 395-8) to rearm the Israeli military during an operation that its most tactlessly honest defenders admit is a genocide. This is a massacre that has prompted the governments of Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Peru, and El Salvador to recall their ambassadors to Israel and the government of Bolivia to declare Israel a “terrorist state”.

What do those countries have in common? They all, to varying extents, have progressive governments willing to stand up to the US – a state sponsor and financier of terror if ever there was one. In taking a stand (however belated) against Israeli aggression, they stand in stark contrast to so-called progressives in the US government.

I’ve written a lot about issues on which Republicans and Democrats agree, but no issue makes a mockery of the “partisan polarization” narrative more than Israel-Palestine.

I recently argued that, should they run, candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders (an “independent” whose independence from the Democrats is pretty tenuous) could pose a serious primary threat to Hillary Clinton, whose deeply conservative record is out of step with the Democratic Party’s “populist” base. On the issue of Israel-Palestine, a recent Gallup poll found that only 31% of self-identified Democrats think Israel’s actions in Gaza are “justified”.

Yet Sanders and Warren – along with every other member of Congress – voted not once but twice for symbolic resolutions endorsing Israel’s assault as “self-defense” and blaming the civilian death toll on Palestinians themselves. Both resolutions passed by unanimous consent: They were backed not just by mean old Republicans, not just by hawkish Democrats like neoliberal poster boy Cory Booker and Chuck “Bomb Iran” Schumer, but also by the party’s so-called left wing.

And now, leading House “progressives” like Barbara Lee and John Conyers joined their Senate counterparts (Ron Wyden and Al Franken, to name a couple others) to reaffirm yet again that, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz once put it, there “will never be daylight between the two parties” when it comes to unconditional support for Israeli militarism and apartheid.

The 8 members of Congress – 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans – who voted against the additional funds are, on the Democratic side, Representatives Keith Ellison, Zoe Lofgren, Jim Moran, and Beto O’Rourke, and on the Republican side, Justin AmashWalter Jones, Thomas Massie, and Mark Sanford.

They took a serious political risk going against the pro-Israel lobby and their respective party leaderships. I’ve linked to the Twitter accounts of each above – if you’re on Twitter, tweet them a “thank you!”, and if you aren’t, their Twitter bios include links to their websites where you can do so.

Here’s the thing, though: That this many members of Congress voted “no” in such a rabidly pro-Israel political climate as Washington is a testament to how undeniably horrific the reports and images from Gaza have been. People on the ground say this attack is beyond anything they’ve seen in their lifetimes.

But Israel’s draconian blockade of Gaza, also a point of bipartisan consensus, had already made it an open-air prison that the UN projected would be “unlivable” by 2020. Israel counts calories to determine how much food can reach its prisoners, blocking everything but the bare minimum needed for survival: Items banned since the siege began in 2007 include shoes, paper, coffee, tea, wood, cement, and iron.

Despite the withdrawal of its Jewish settler population in 2005, Israel continues to control Gaza’s water, electricity, borders, airspace, coastline, and population registry. It has to approve (and often doesn’t) every person, every molecule of food or raw material, that goes in or out. Even during “ceasefires”, the so-called Israeli Defense Forces conduct deadly raids and airstrikes with no accountability.

Gaza is surely unlivable today, after Israel has bombed 4 hospitals, 2 UN shelters, and its only power plant. More than a tenth of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are now housed in the same UN shelters that have become targets for Israeli bombardment, and 1.2 million Gazans lack access to clean water. 

As Americans, we are deeply complicit, and more and more of us are waking up to that reality. The politics of Israel-Palestine in the US are changing, as evidenced by the Gallup poll showing only 25% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 support “Operation Protective Edge”, compared to 55% of those 65 and up.

You can be on the right side of this 21st century struggle against colonialism, or you can sit idly by, congratulating yourself on how reasonable you sound talking about “both sides” and how hatred or religious divisions are the greatest obstacle to “peace”.

The greatest obstacle to peace in Israel-Palestine is apartheid, a racist system of segregation, discrimination, and expulsion. The greatest obstacle to peace is Zionism’s archaic project of an ethnically-exclusive state. The greatest obstacle to peace is the unconditional support of our government, including and especially its “progressive” darlings, for Israeli occupation and human rights abuses.

Empire rots from the inside out, and Congress will be the last domino to fall in the US-Israeli “special relationship”. Sooner or later, material support for Israeli terrorism will become a political dealbreaker. Make it sooner rather than later. Let your Congresspeople know: Enablers of mass murder and ethnic cleansing will lose your vote.

Whether or not you’re PEP – Progressive Except on Palestine – isn’t about ideological purity. It’s about whether you’re willing to stand up to evil when it really matters. Don’t call it evil if you don’t want to. Call it fascism, genocide – just don’t be silent. You’ll regret it.

No one’s really Ready for Hillary – except Wall Street and the war machine

To hear some people tell it, you’d think the Democrats had already nominated Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. But it’s 2014. This show has 3 seasons, and we’ve barely made it through the first episode.

The name of Clinton’s Super PAC – “Ready for Hillary” – suggests one of the main rhetorical bludgeons Democrats will use to enforce lockstep marching behind the former Senator: If you don’t want her to be president of the United States, you must not be “ready” to see a woman in the Oval Office.

But there are plenty of legitimate reasons why no one who calls themselves progressive or lefty should throw their support behind Clinton, a deeply conservative Democrat with the record – first as a Senator, then as Secretary of State – to prove it.

For one, she’s shown herself to be even more hawkish than Obama. While she was in Congress, Clinton vocally supported and voted for the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and even criticized the Bush administration for being too soft on Iran.

In her time in the State Department during Obama’s first term, she personally pushed for the administration’s most aggressive and disastrous foreign policies, from the so-called surge in Afghanistan (which, according to the military, failed on all counts) and extrajudicial killings (which have killed close to a thousand civilians in Pakistan alone) to the bombing campaign against Libya (which ended in regime change and plunged both that country and northern Africa into greater turmoil) and the covert training and arming of militias in Syria (which was supposed to oust Iran’s regional ally Bashar Al-Assad, but succeeded only in triggering a catastrophic civil war).

And of course, throughout, Clinton remained steadfast in her support for Israel, never uttering a word or lifting a finger in defense of the victims of Israeli militarism and apartheid – to which the US government is financially and diplomatically indispensable. As a Senator, she was silent during Israel’s month-long assault on Gaza that killed some 1400 Palestinians (more than 700 of them civilians) in 2008-2009, and four years later declared her “110%” support for a bombing campaign that left 102 Palestinian civilians dead.

In the economic realm, things look just as grim. Despite going back on her support for the wildly unpopular NAFTA – championed by her husband – Clinton supported other “free trade” agreements under Bush and Obama (like those with South Korea and Colombia). As I’ve written before on this blog, “free trade” deals undermine local economies and protections for both workers and consumers while deepening inequality – both in the US and abroad.

She has touted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most expansive and radically anti-democratic pact to date, which will severely limit the ability of nations to regulate and hold accountable the multinational corporations that operate in them.

In particular, Wall Street would be delighted to see the presidency of a Senator who, in 2001, voted to make it more difficult to erase personal debts through bankruptcy – a bill mainly backed by banks and credit card companies. And after helping Clinton and her husband make over $100 million since leaving the White House, the financial services industry know they’d have an ally (and probably a few of their own) in the next administration.

And herein lies the problem for the Clinton campaign: How can you pass yourself off to primary voters as a friend of the 99% when, in a single week, you made $400,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs?

Clinton may well stick to her line that she and Bill were “dead broke” after his second term. But the Clintons’ wealth and how they got it are no secret, and any rival, especially in the Democratic primary, is sure to pounce on her Romneyesque attempts at relatability. What is the “populist” Democratic base going to conclude about Clinton’s loyalties?

What, indeed?

It’s true, we live in a country where laughing maniacally about bombing Iran doesn’t put an end to your presidential aspirations. But we also live in a country where young people under 30 (who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats) have a more favorable view of the word “socialism” than “capitalism”.

We live in a country where you can’t deport a record 2 million undocumented immigrants – a policy Clinton says she would escalate even further – without fierce resistance from leaders and activists in your base and a sizable drop-off in support from Latin@ voters.

And we live in a country where Herman Cain once led the polls in the Republican primary.

The story that the Democratic nomination is a foregone conclusion has some holes – and the party knows it. Already, Democrats in the media and blogosphere are urging progressives to give Clinton a political blank check and pooh-poohing the chances of Senator Bernie Sanders (a self-identified socialist) in a Democratic primary with a defensiveness that betrays the true uncertainty of a Clinton cakewalk.

They’re less knee-jerk in their dismissal of an Elizabeth Warren candidacy – a former strategist for Al Gore’s failed presidential bid openly states that Warren could win a primary against Clinton – but I think that openness comes, in part, from a place of perceived security: At this point, it looks like Warren isn’t running.

But that could change. The smart money is clearly still on the Anointed One, but politics isn’t about predictions – it’s about possibilities that, all too often, aren’t obvious until after they’ve been realized.

And lest we forget, running to Clinton’s left has worked before.

The fact is, there are very few concrete policy differences between Warren and Sanders, and the willingness of party insiders to take a hypothetical challenge from Warren seriously suggests to me that the independent Senator from Vermont has a better shot than it may appear.

After all, an all-time-high 42% of US voters identify as “independents”: Whether they’re progressives, libertarians, leftists, or anything else, Americans – and young Americans most of all – have seen unconditional support for leaders in both parties bear the fruit of 14 years of endless war and a neoliberalism whose bubble has burst for good.

Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” It may look like the cult of personality around Hillary Clinton would make her an even “more effective evil” than Obama. It may look like 2016 is too close for a reasonably progressive candidate to mount a serious challenge. But we live in interesting times. And below the surface, people and ideas are moving in conflicting directions all the time, movements that are only clear in hindsight.

Probably the most realistic goal is a few left-leaning cabinet appointments and a civil society more willing to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire. There’s no need and no justification for optimism. But if we take our pessimism seriously, and not as an excuse for inaction, maybe we can make things a little bit better.

Extrajudicial assassination: An Obama holiday tradition

This weekend, the Obama administration began an operation targeting “suspected Al-Qaeda militants” in Yemen, where three days of drone strikes have left at least 55 people dead. Days earlier, the Al-Qaeda network’s Arabian Peninsula affiliate (AQAP) had released a video of an unprecedented gathering of AQAP fighters, including its leader, Nasir Al-Wuhayshi, who vowed to fight back against Western “crusaders”.

George W. Bush, who launched one drone attack against Yemen (in 2002), once described the War on Terror as a “crusade”. But it’s Barack Obama – still the anti-Bush in the eyes of most Democrats, despite having bombed Yemen more than 80 times – who marked Easter Sunday by killing 30 people without charge or trial in south Yemen’s Abyan province.

Most of mainstream media reporting on the administration’s so-called targeted killing program simply parrots the claims of anonymous administration sources (or in this case, unnamed “high-level Yemeni government officials”). But can we really take their word for it? How do we know the dead were all “suspected Al-Qaeda militants”? And even if they were guilty of some punishable infraction, why couldn’t they be charged with a crime like any other criminal?

This seems like a good time to point out that:

  • The administration defines “militants” as “all military-age males in a strike zone”.
  • A Human Rights Watch report found roughly 70% of airstrike victims in Yemen were civilians.
  • Yemen is the primary theater for the Obama policy of signature strikes, which allow the administration to order an attack without knowing the identities of the targets, based on patterns of “suspicious behavior”.
  • According to a legal memo carefully prepared by the Justice Department and “leaked” in Feb. 2013, the administration doesn’t need a shred of evidence that someone is a threat to national security in order to assassinate them for being a threat to national security.

Government officials lie about the extrajudicial killing program all the time, and mainstream news outlets take their word for it – every time. When, on Dec. 12, 2013, a US drone strike hit a wedding convoy, killing at least 12 local tribespeople, US and Yemeni officials “leaked” the demonstrably untrue story that the strike had actually killed 12 militants, including Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a mid-level AQAP operative.

The fact is that nothing drives terrorist recruitment like the Obama administration’s campaign of terror in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya. As a “counterterrorism” policy, extrajudicial killing – whether by drones, conventional aircraft, or any other weapon – is as counterproductive as it is ethically repugnant. Nothing foments hatred of the United States more, nothing could make outbursts of violence against Americans more inevitable, than our government’s own unrestrained savagery.

Yet polls consistently show that a significant majority of self-identified liberal Democrats support the President’s drone program. Their racism is the subtle racism of indifference to the plight of others – the brown Muslim others whose lives take a backseat to partisan loyalty. 

Every election season, the liberal media and political class position the Democratic Party as a friend: a friend to women, to ethnic minorities, to labor, to queer folks, to the “middle class”. In 2012, the Democratic cheerleading-industrial complex defeated mean old Mitt Romney by demanding lockstep marching behind the President, as if three years of neoliberalism and war were less of a dealbreaker than some missing tax returns or an unfortunate incident with the family dog.

It was later revealed that, during that election, our friend joked to aides that he didn’t know he’d be “really good at killing people”. I don’t think there’s much to say about Obama personally without buying into his formidable cult of personality – only that comments like this betray a callousness we’re told to expect from evil Republicans, not from our friends.

But it was a Democrat who ordered the deaths of four unidentified people in Pakistan on Christmas Day, 2013, and it was a Democrat who massacred 30 people in Yemen on Easter. I think Charles Davis said it best: “If I had a friend like that, I probably wouldn’t be friends with them anymore.”

Why we don’t learn about Malcolm X in school

I don’t remember learning about Malcolm X (a.k.a. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) in school – not really. Not like I learned about such Great Americans as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and George Washington Carver, the inventor of peanut butter.

Seems things haven’t changed much: As the New York Daily News recently reported, teachers at a Queens elementary school forbade their (mostly black) students to write about the revolutionary black nationalist leader and thinker. Why? Because he was “violent” and “bad”.

So when Malcolm X is brought up (usually during the month of February), it’s only in opposition to King. In this story, Malcolm plays the part of the hateful (Muslim) radical, the unreasonable foil to King’s conciliatory (Christian) liberal.

Of course, any honest account of King’s thought must acknowledge that he grew to share many of Malcolm’s positions: King’s famous speech against the Vietnam War, “Beyond Vietnam” – given in 1967, shortly before his murder – is almost entirely ignored by the liberals and conservatives who now sing his praises. But the speech’s marked anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism indicate how the influence of principled ideological rivals like Malcolm X (as well as the reality of the civil rights struggle) kept pushing King further to the left, until the untimely end of his days.

King can be celebrated as a national hero by Americans of all political stripes because he’s been Santa Clausified, his radicalism whitewashed, his legacy reduced to something about a dream.

We don’t learn about Malcolm X because there’s nothing in the history of his thought that can be sanitized and rendered unthreatening to the white capitalist power structure. Contrary to a convenient interpretation, Malcolm’s hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) didn’t move him closer to advocating “integration” or reconciliation with whites – it only inspired him to link the struggle of blacks in the US with the struggles of colonized peoples the world over.

By the end of his life, King had come to see things more like Malcolm, but Malcolm had only come to see things more like himself.

49 years ago today, Malcolm X was assassinated, apparently by members of the Nation of Islam. In the half-century since his death, his analysis of white supremacy as a political and economic system – a dynamic system of exploitation and repression that would survive the end of legal apartheid – has been vindicated again and again.

A half-century ago, Malcolm was warning of the “black bourgeoisie” and the danger it posed to any serious agenda of racial justice. Now, the figurehead of the bourgeoisie is himself a black man. While the Great Recession’s biggest losers by far have been black Americans, blacks – historically, the most left-leaning ethnic demographic in the US – have never been more loath to criticize the US government and its role as the handmaiden of capital.

There’s a lot to read and watch if you want to learn more about this great leader of the left in his own eloquent, uncompromising words – but for now, I’ll leave you with this short excerpt, the continued relevance of which I think readers of this blog will appreciate as much as I do:

The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro’s friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political “football game” that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives.

Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These “leaders” sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These “leaders” are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders.

A couple of media interviews with me

I was on Iran’s Press TV this past week discussing US public opinion about the War on Terror – you can watch that clip here.

I also returned to the Progressive Radio Network with a couple of my SJP comrades to talk BDS and Israeli apartheid for a full hour – stream or download here (interview starts at around minute 7:45).

The Red Fury endorses David Green in the Dem primary for IL’s 13th

The candidacy of David Green presents Illinois’s 13th district with a refreshing choice come March 18: We can a) elect a conservative Democrat to face Republican incumbent Rodney Davis in the fall, or b) elect a real alternative to the status quo, a candidate whose professional experience as a policy analyst is matched by his commitment to a pragmatic, unapologetic politics of social justice and human rights. Of the three candidates – Green, Ann Callis, and George Gollin – Green is the most progressive on every issue that matters to you.

Here’s where Green and his opponents stand on just a few of the political priorities I know local readers of this blog will share:

One issue that resonates strongly in our district is mass incarceration and the so-called War on Drugs. It’s long been obvious that the “drug war” is a farce: Behind that facade of concern for health and public safety, the US elite have built up the world’s largest, most racist police state, which imprisons as many people of color as the entire prison population of China, a country of almost 1.4 billion people.

On their campaign websites, neither Callis nor Gollin make any mention of the law enforcement and criminal justice policies responsible for the creation of what some scholars recognize as a new form of apartheid. Green writes,

I support movements toward decarceration and de-criminalization, especially in relation to non-violent behaviors. I support seriously addressing poverty at a social level and addiction at an individual level as means of moving beyond the racially-biased War on Drugs, and towards prevention, treatment, and restorative justice when appropriate.

So Green opposes the current policies of locking up millions of mostly poor, mostly black and brown people for non-violent offenses, and supports treating drug addiction as a health issue, not an issue for the courts. One can only assume that Callis and Gollin either support those policies and don’t want to admit it, or else they think Democratic voters just don’t care about the “New Jim Crow”.

Gollin and Callis are as silent on white supremacy abroad as they are on white supremacy at home. They don’t waste a single word on such trivial issues as permanent global war, the ongoing carnage that is the US legacy in Iraq, US government support for repressive client states, or the Obama administration’s continued use of torture. But as Green writes in an op-ed for Champaign-Urbana’s News-Gazette,

Since 9/11/ 2001, I have publicly and actively opposed the war-making policies of both the Bush and Obama administrations in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in the larger Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. I have opposed the expansion and privatization of the military-industrial complex, drone warfare, our empire of military bases, and military funding for Israel, Egypt and Colombia, based on the those countries’ violations of international law and human rights.

I know this to be true: David Green has been a courageous, often lonely voice of reason throughout my time as an anti-war activist in C-U. His vocal support for Palestinians’ human rights and his sober, unflinching criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians have earned him the ire of many in our community who call themselves liberals. More importantly, they’ve earned him the deep respect of me and others who refuse to place a lower value on the suffering of people in Asia, Africa, and Latin America than we place on the suffering of people in our own community.

Green’s approach flies in the face of the usual Democratic extortion tactics that tell us Democrats need to support right-wing foreign policies in order to achieve a more progressive domestic agenda. Aside from its thinly-veiled racism and totally naked chauvinism, this line is also, for the most part, not supported by reality. Democrats and Republicans are thought to have meaningful differences when it comes to economics, but the fact is that Democrats have been so deeply invested in neoliberal economic policies that Republicans can only outflank them by demanding more and more cuts in taxes and spending.

Whatever promises the eloquent orator in the White House may have made, his administration’s record shows that the rich have paid less in taxes and reaped a much, much higher percentage of income gains than they did under Bush. Everyone but the most craven reactionaries claim to be concerned about widening wealth/income inequality, yet when called upon to articulate an actual solution, all party-line Democrats have to offer is the familiar medley of tax cuts, “innovation”, and investment in education and infrastructure.

Gollin’s website reads, “We must direct our economic policies toward investment in education and research, innovation as a primary driver of job growth and infrastructure repair and improvements.” On the question of job creation, it says,

We must expand credit to help small businesses start and grow, and provide tax incentives and credits to those businesses which really are “job creators.” We must prioritize policies which encourage manufacturing, construction, and production of American goods by American workers in the United States.

So Callis: “[W]e need to do more to support our colleges and universities that can be job incubators and link labor with local business leaders to identify critical skill-set [sic] needed to help re-train workers for the local jobs of the future.” She promises to

work with the district’s numerous manufacturers to see how tax credits and other incentives can help keep this critical part of our state’s economy growing. Rebuilding our local infrastructure and re-training those who are actively looking for work are vital steps toward keeping the middle class secure.

So Gollin and Callis agree that the proper role of government in “job creation” involves tax cuts that incentivize businesses to hire new workers and remolding education to fit the needs of employers. This may sound nice when you’re arguing with Republicans, but it’s not a prescription for what ails the US economy. It’s a prescription for more of the same. As Green points out,

Tax incentives for small businesses are ineffectual if not counter-productive in stimulating the number of jobs and the level of growth that is needed at this time. There is no particular magic about small businesses, and providing tax incentives to them is an ineffective way of creating jobs. Small businesses create more jobs, but also lose more jobs, and the average length of employment in small business is half that of larger businesses.

Green supports a living wage, a higher minimum wage, and the right of every worker to unionize. He’ll push for full employment as a federal government policy, which would entail living wage ($15-20/hour) jobs for every unemployed worker, and cash transfers to redistribute wealth to the bottom. This would be funded, he proposes, by a new regime of progressive taxation (including cracking down on offshore tax havens and eliminating the payroll tax).

Basically, he’s calling for an end to neoliberal deference to the private sector and a return to the sort of social-democratic policies that vastly improved the lot of the poor and working class in the industrialized capitalist economies. If the private sector won’t hire, then the government will step in to make sure that everyone who needs a stable job can find one; that everyone who is sick can get health care without falling prey to our predatory private monopoly; that millions of US children who go to bed hungry can grow up to live healthy lives doing safe, dignified work.

This line of thinking has limitations, as any Marxist worth her salt will tell you. But as Venezuela and Latin America’s “Pink Tide” have shown, in the age of global capitalism’s “race to the bottom”, it’s not only possible but necessary to find creative ways of refocusing politics on far-reaching, progressive reforms.

Gollin and Callis direct all of their appeals towards the shrinking “middle class”, without once acknowledging why it’s such a problem that the middle class is shrinking: Because poverty is built into the system of capitalism, and in capitalism, it really, really sucks to be poor.

Green’s campaign has made it clear that he isn’t afraid of the word “poverty”. While poverty is endemic to capitalism, Green believes – as we all must – that we aren’t powerless to mitigate the system’s most destructive tendencies.

Gollin talks about supporting “policies which encourage manufacturing, construction, and production of American goods by American workers in the United States”, but only Green makes the connection between “offshoring” and neoliberal “free trade” policies that allow corporations to relocate overseas in order to escape from countries where modest welfare state protections are still in place.

These agreements – the most sweeping of which is being hammered out in secret by the Obama administration and 600 corporate lobbyists – force countries to compete to offer multinational corporations the lowest wages, the flimsiest safety regulations, and so on.

Green promises to continue to oppose neoliberal policies (deregulation, austerity, privatization), not just in East Central Illinois, but in Indonesia and Bangladesh as well. Why? Because he recognizes, unlike his opponents, that in today’s global capitalism, the struggle of workers anywhere is inextricably tied to the struggle of workers everywhere.

In the early years of the Obama administration, I thought that no leftist or progressive should ever vote for a Democrat again – the injunction to vote for the “lesser evil” only to emboldens the party to serve empire and the capitalist class all the more slavishly. This remains true today.

At the time, I concluded that any vote for anyone running as a Democrat had legitimized the party and the system, and that this symbolic defeat outweighed whatever might be gained in practical terms. This is no longer my view. Progressives and the left are, today, laying the groundwork for a mass movement, and one of the ways we organize and mobilize the enormous left-wing consciousness in this country is to present concrete, practical alternatives to neoliberalism at all levels of government.

In doing so, we move this country’s political discourse to the left – and we create opportunities for working-class people to engage with and help shape a program of genuinely revolutionary reform. This will necessarily include third parties, but it also means we have to be ready to launch progressive primary challenges in places where only Democrats’ voices are heard. On the issues I’ve touched on and many, many more, David Green presents just such a challenge.

Supporters of Gollin will charge that those who vote for Green only benefit the allegedly more conservative Callis; supporters of Callis will charge that those who vote for Green only benefit the Republican incumbent.

The truth is that those of us who participate in the struggle for justice win no hearts and minds by abandoning our convictions, and Representative David Green is only as unlikely as we make it.

What is possible? A lot of things that, today, are not yet actual. The current wave of mass demonstrations, uprisings, and revolutions; the Occupy Wall Street protests; the recent electoral success of socialists running at the local level; the polls that show young Americans on average favor “socialism” over “capitalism” – these are fragments from our future, glimmers of the impossible that lies just ahead.