Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Media And Syria: A Shameful Story

From The Boston Globe, of all newspapers, this excellent piece by Stephen Kinzer, an academic specialising in international relations, exposes as woeful, the Western and especially US media coverage of the conflict in Syria.

Some fear that the multi-layered fighting in Syria could spark World War III, pitching the West against Russia in a confrontation that could soon escalate into a nuclear exchange that would likely herald the end of humanity. If that happens lazy, deferential journalism will bear a heavy share of responsibility.

The media are misleading the public on Syria

By Stephen Kinzer

New recruits trained to fight alongside opposition in Aleppo, Syria

New recruits trained to fight alongside opposition in Aleppo, Syria

Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press. Reporting about carnage in the ancient city of Aleppo is the latest reason why.

For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it.

This month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city. Last week they reclaimed the main power plant. Regular electricity may soon be restored. The militants’ hold on the city could be ending.

Militants, true to form, are wreaking havoc as they are pushed out of the city by Russian and Syrian Army forces. “Turkish-Saudi backed ‘moderate rebels’ showered the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo with unguided rockets and gas jars,” one Aleppo resident wrote on social media. The Beirut-based analyst Marwa Osma asked, “The Syrian Arab Army, which is led by President Bashar Assad, is the only force on the ground, along with their allies, who are fighting ISIS — so you want to weaken the only system that is fighting ISIS?”

This does not fit with Washington’s narrative. As a result, much of the American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening. Many news reports suggest that Aleppo has been a “liberated zone” for three years but is now being pulled back into misery.
Americans are being told that the virtuous course in Syria is to fight the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners. We are supposed to hope that a righteous coalition of Americans, Turks, Saudis, Kurds, and the “moderate opposition” will win.

This is convoluted nonsense, but Americans cannot be blamed for believing it. We have almost no real information about the combatants, their goals, or their tactics. Much blame for this lies with our media.

Under intense financial pressure, most American newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks have drastically reduced their corps of foreign correspondents. Much important news about the world now comes from reporters based in Washington. In that environment, access and credibility depend on acceptance of official paradigms. Reporters who cover Syria check with the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House, and think tank “experts.” After a spin on that soiled carousel, they feel they have covered all sides of the story. This form of stenography produces the pabulum that passes for news about Syria.

Astonishingly brave correspondents in the war zone, including Americans, seek to counteract Washington-based reporting. At great risk to their own safety, these reporters are pushing to find the truth about the Syrian war. Their reporting often illuminates the darkness of groupthink. Yet for many consumers of news, their voices are lost in the cacophony. Reporting from the ground is often overwhelmed by the Washington consensus.

Washington-based reporters tell us that one potent force in Syria, al-Nusra, is made up of “rebels” or “moderates,” not that it is the local al-Qaeda franchise. Saudi Arabia is portrayed as aiding freedom fighters when in fact it is a prime sponsor of ISIS. Turkey has for years been running a “rat line” for foreign fighters wanting to join terror groups in Syria, but because the United States wants to stay on Turkey’s good side, we hear little about it. Nor are we often reminded that although we want to support the secular and battle-hardened Kurds, Turkey wants to kill them. Everything Russia and Iran do in Syria is described as negative and destabilizing, simply because it is they who are doing it — and because that is the official line in Washington.

Inevitably, this kind of disinformation has bled into the American presidential campaign. At the recent debate in Milwaukee, Hillary Clinton claimed that United Nations peace efforts in Syria were based on “an agreement I negotiated in June of 2012 in Geneva.” The precise opposite is true. In 2012 Secretary of State Clinton joined Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a successful effort to kill Kofi Annan’s UN peace plan because it would have accommodated Iran and kept Assad in power, at least temporarily. No one on the Milwaukee stage knew enough to challenge her.

Politicians may be forgiven for distorting their past actions. Governments may also be excused for promoting whatever narrative they believe best suits them. Journalism, however, is supposed to remain apart from the power elite and its inbred mendacity. In this crisis it has failed miserably.

Americans are said to be ignorant of the world. We are, but so are people in other countries. If people in Bhutan or Bolivia misunderstand Syria, however, that has no real effect. Our ignorance is more dangerous, because we act on it. The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story. In Syria, it is: “Fight Assad, Russia, and Iran! Join with our Turkish, Saudi, and Kurdish friends to support peace!” This is appallingly distant from reality. It is also likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

Sandy Boyer Memorial


Sunday April 17th, 4pm.
Theatre 80 St. Marks
80 St Marks Place, East Village, NYC

Anyone interested in contributing words, song, music, photos, video etc please contact organisers Joan McKiernan/John McDonagh via this site and I will forward

‘Fuck the Pope!’, Says Donald Trump

Rumours are flying that Donald Trump is planning to fly in a legion of ‘Kick the Pope’ bands from Belfast to parade through the streets of South Carolina following Pope Francis’ dramatic intervention in the Republican nomination contest.

trumpAfter the Pope, in a clear albeit indirect reference to the leading contender for this November’s GOP pick, described anyone who advocated building a wall to stop Mexican migration to the US as ‘not Christian’, reliable sources have told, that the phone lines between Trump’s S. Carolina campaign headquarters and the Shankill Road in Belfast have been running red hot.


One source said: “The Donald is so angry that he is talking about sending one of his personal planes to Belfast to fly over as many ‘Kick The Pope’ bands as are willing to come to his help’.

The sources say that what they termed Pope Francis’ ‘intemperate comments’ are likely to fuel support for Trump given the State’s long but rarely acknowledged history of rampant anti-Catholicism.

“Not many people know this but KKK really stands for Koons, Kikes and Katholiks”, said a Trump supporter.


It was, of course, South Carolina’s revered Bob Jones’ University, based in Greenville, which bestowed an honorary PhD on the Rev Ian Paisley back in the 1960’s, thus not only confirming the state’s impeccable anti-Catholic credentials but helping to propel Northern Ireland’s most obdurate politician to a career which lasted four decades and contributed to the deaths of over 3,000 people.

“The Pope has really put his foot in it”, commented another delighted Trump campaign worker who declined to be named but added that hopes were running high that the Pope’s intervention could seriously damage Ted Cruz, the son of a Cuban Catholic father, who converted to Protestantism, and fellow Cuban exile, Marco Rubio, who attends evangelical Protestant services on Saturdays but Catholic Mass on Sundays.

“They have been standing on two stools for too long”, gloated a Trump adviser. “But this will force them to take a stand. Either way The Donald wins. Thank you Pope Francis!”

If the Trump campaign plans work out, the streets of Greenville, Charleston and Myrtle Beach could soon be rocking to these stirring rhythms brought to them from the mean but tough streets of Belfast:

Irish Housing Madness Returns………

This feature in today’s Irish Times (see below) tells us something very important: the lunatic spiral in house prices which brought us first the Celtic Tiger and then the great banking collapse and recession cum austerity shows distinct signs of a comeback.

How else to explain the fact that in today’s Irish market you can buy for what you pay for a modest bungalow (ranch house in America) in Clonskeagh, an unexceptional suburb of south-west Dublin whose postal code, Dublin 14, tells you all you need to know, a chateau in France with six cottages and 180 acres of land, a period villa on Italy’s Adriatic coast, an eight bedroom villa on the Greek island of Corfu, complete with its own swimming pool and views of the Mediterranean or a four bedroom villa in Portugal, also with a swimming pool, a large one by the look of it.

Which one of these would you want to live in, or rather which one would you least like to live in. Silly question!

The point though is this: I seriously doubt that the Irish economy has recovered from ’08 so thoroughly that consumers there can afford to buy such an over-priced bungalow on what one might call ‘normal’ terms. e.g ten per cent down and evidence of an income healthy enough to support the interest on a loan of €800,000 ($900k).

My suspicion is that Ireland’s well-fed and pampered banks are back in the business of lending to anyone able to stay vertical long enough to shake hands on a deal while the government is content to turn a blind eye, not least because in rising housing prices the voters (who go to the polls on February 26th) may be hoodwinked into seeing a recovering economy.

If so, they won’t be the only ones hawking a mirage. The Irish Times publishes this little feature without comment and the casual reader is as likely left with the  impression that Ireland’s paper of record is a little bit chuffed with this piece of good news.

And why not? The Irish Times made an absolute fortune from housing ads during the Celtic Tiger years – it was the paper of choice especially for ads catering to the super-rich – and the suspicion lurks that the paper’s hyping of the Irish housing market in those days played no small role in creating and sustaining the bubble that very nearly brought the country to its knees.

But true to an old Irish tradition, we don’t talk about such things, least of all in our media.

‘Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve The Black Vote’

A week from this Saturday, Democrats in South Carolina will vote to choose between Hillary Clinton, the establishment party’s choice, and Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist challenger, as the party’s pick to fight the US Presidential election this November.

Hillary Clinton will be hoping that the primary will mark her comeback from two disappointing primary results: the narrowest of wins in the Iowa caucus and a thumping defeat in the New Hampshire primary. (The Nevada caucuses which come just before the South Carolina vote seem set to be tightly contested according to some estimates.)

Her hopes are based on the assumption that the large Black American Democratic electorate in South Carolina – the South’s most pro-slavery state during the Civil War – will turn out for her, largely because of the presumed popularity of the Clinton name with African-Americans, some of whom dubbed her husband, Bill, America’s first Black president (before Barack Obama’s election in 2008, of course).

In this devastating article in The Nation magazine, America’s equivalent of The New Statesman in the UK (before that magazine became a vehicle for Blairism), Black academic and writer Michelle Alexander, dismantles the Clinton/Black myth piece by agonising piece.

Alexander is the author The New Jim Crow, a prize-winning, breakthrough study of the mass incarceration of American Blacks in the last thirty years via the so-called War on Drugs, whose effect, if not purpose, is to return young Black and Brown men to the regime of mass discrimination and economic deprivation that characterised the Southern States of the USA between the late 1870’s and the civil rights era of the 1960’s.

In this article, ‘Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve The Black Vote’, Michelle Alexander accuses the Clintons – Bill as President and Hillary as his enthusiastic apologist – of primary responsibility for The New Jim Crow regime. And her conclusion is that the last people on earth that American Blacks should vote for is Hillary Clinton.

This article has so far been largely ignored by the US mainstream media but it has been picked up on social media where it appears to be circulating widely. Whether it will influence the vote in South Carolina and outweighs the support Hillary is getting from establishment Black Democrats, remains to be seen. But there can be little doubt that Hillary herself will not welcome it.

Nationalists and Republicans in Northern Ireland need to read this article for other reasons: the story of The New Jim Crow shows that while anti-Catholic discrimination in the North was atrocious, it was never as bad as that suffered, in the present as well as the past, by American Blacks.

And some of their leaders, in both Nationalist parties, should ask themselves just why they eagerly seek out Hillary Clinton’s political company and endorsement.


Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote

By Michelle Alexander

February 10th, 2016

Hillary Clinton loves black people. And black people love Hillary—or so it seems. Black politicians have lined up in droves to endorse her, eager to prove their loyalty to the Clintons in the hopes that their faithfulness will be remembered and rewarded. Black pastors are opening their church doors, and the Clintons are making themselves comfortably at home once again, engaging effortlessly in all the usual rituals associated with “courting the black vote,” a pursuit that typically begins and ends with Democratic politicians making black people feel liked and taken seriously. Doing something concrete to improve the conditions under which most black people live is generally not required.

Hillary is looking to gain momentum on the campaign trail as the primaries move out of Iowa and New Hampshire and into states like South Carolina, where large pockets of black voters can be found. According to some polls, she leads Bernie Sanders by as much as 60 percent among African Americans. It seems that we—black people—are her winning card, one that Hillary is eager to play.

And it seems we’re eager to get played. Again.

The love affair between black folks and the Clintons has been going on for a long time. It began back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for president. He threw on some shades and played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show. It seems silly in retrospect, but many of us fell for that. At a time when a popular slogan was “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Bill Clinton seemed to get us. When Toni Morrison dubbed him our first black president, we nodded our heads. We had our boy in the White House. Or at least we thought we did.

Gov. Bill Clinton, sitting with the band, turns out an impressive version of "Heatrbreak Hotel" as Arsenio Hall gestures approvingly in the musical opening of "The Arsenio Hall Show" taping at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, June 3, 1992. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Gov. Bill Clinton, sitting with the band, turns out an impressive version of “Heatrbreak Hotel” as Arsenio Hall gestures approvingly in the musical opening of “The Arsenio Hall Show” taping at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, June 3, 1992.

Black voters have been remarkably loyal to the Clintons for more than 25 years. It’s true that we eventually lined up behind Barack Obama in 2008, but it’s a measure of the Clinton allure that Hillary led Obama among black voters until he started winning caucuses and primaries. Now Hillary is running again. This time she’s facing a democratic socialist who promises a political revolution that will bring universal healthcare, a living wage, an end to rampant Wall Street greed, and the dismantling of the vast prison state—many of the same goals that Martin Luther King Jr. championed at the end of his life. Even so, black folks are sticking with the Clinton brand.

What have the Clintons done to earn such devotion? Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work?

No. Quite the opposite.

* * *

When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, urban black communities across America were suffering from economic collapse. Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs had vanished as factories moved overseas in search of cheaper labor, a new plantation. Globalization and deindustrialization affected workers of all colors but hit African Americans particularly hard. Unemployment rates among young black men had quadrupled as the rate of industrial employment plummeted. Crime rates spiked in inner-city communities that had been dependent on factory jobs, while hopelessness, despair, and crack addiction swept neighborhoods that had once been solidly working-class. Millions of black folks—many of whom had fled Jim Crow segregation in the South with the hope of obtaining decent work in Northern factories—were suddenly trapped in racially segregated, jobless ghettos.

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander

On the campaign trail, Bill Clinton made the economy his top priority and argued persuasively that conservatives were using race to divide the nation and divert attention from the failed economy. In practice, however, he capitulated entirely to the right-wing backlash against the civil-rights movement and embraced former president Ronald Reagan’s agenda on race, crime, welfare, and taxes—ultimately doing more harm to black communities than Reagan ever did.

We should have seen it coming. Back then, Clinton was the standard-bearer for the New Democrats, a group that firmly believed the only way to win back the millions of white voters in the South who had defected to the Republican Party was to adopt the right-wing narrative that black communities ought to be disciplined with harsh punishment rather than coddled with welfare. Reagan had won the presidency by dog-whistling to poor and working-class whites with coded racial appeals: railing against “welfare queens” and criminal “predators” and condemning “big government.” Clinton aimed to win them back, vowing that he would never permit any Republican to be perceived as tougher on crime than he.

Just weeks before the critical New Hampshire primary, Clinton proved his toughness by flying back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally impaired black man who had so little conception of what was about to happen to him that he asked for the dessert from his last meal to be saved for him for later. After the execution, Clinton remarked, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”

Clinton mastered the art of sending mixed cultural messages, appealing to African Americans by belting out “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in black churches, while at the same time signaling to poor and working-class whites that he was willing to be tougher on black communities than Republicans had been.

Clinton was praised for his no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to racial politics. He won the election and appointed a racially diverse cabinet that “looked like America.” He won re-election four years later, and the American economy rebounded. Democrats cheered. The Democratic Party had been saved. The Clintons won. Guess who lost?

* * *

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.”

Black convicts during the Jim Crow era

Black convicts during the Jim Crow era

When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.”

Some might argue that it’s unfair to judge Hillary Clinton for the policies her husband championed years ago. But Hillary wasn’t picking out china while she was first lady. She bravely broke the mold and redefined that job in ways no woman ever had before. She not only campaigned for Bill; she also wielded power and significant influence once he was elected, lobbying for legislation and other measures. That record, and her statements from that era, should be scrutinized. In her support for the 1994 crime bill, for example, she used racially coded rhetoric to cast black children as animals. “They are not just gangs of kids anymore,” she said. “They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Black convicts during the New Jim Crow era

Black convicts during the New Jim Crow era

Both Clintons now express regret over the crime bill, and Hillary says she supports criminal-justice reforms to undo some of the damage that was done by her husband’s administration. But on the campaign trail, she continues to invoke the economy and country that Bill Clinton left behind as a legacy she would continue. So what exactly did the Clinton economy look like for black Americans? Taking a hard look at this recent past is about more than just a choice between two candidates. It’s about whether the Democratic Party can finally reckon with what its policies have done to African-American communities, and whether it can redeem itself and rightly earn the loyalty of black voters.

* * *

An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn’t have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate.

Bill Clinton and two Irish friends

Bill Clinton and two Irish friends

Why is this not common knowledge? Because government statistics like poverty and unemployment rates do not include incarcerated people. As Harvard sociologist Bruce Western explains: “Much of the optimism about declines in racial inequality and the power of the US model of economic growth is misplaced once we account for the invisible poor, behind the walls of America’s prisons and jails.” When Clinton left office in 2001, the true jobless rate for young, non-college-educated black men (including those behind bars) was 42 percent. This figure was never reported. Instead, the media claimed that unemployment rates for African Americans had fallen to record lows, neglecting to mention that this miracle was possible only because incarceration rates were now at record highs. Young black men weren’t looking for work at high rates during the Clinton era because they were now behind bars—out of sight, out of mind, and no longer counted in poverty and unemployment statistics.

To make matters worse, the federal safety net for poor families was torn to shreds by the Clinton administration in its effort to “end welfare as we know it.” In his 1996 State of the Union address, given during his re-election campaign, Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” and immediately sought to prove it by dismantling the federal welfare system known as Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). The welfare-reform legislation that he signed—which Hillary Clinton ardently supported then and characterized as a success as recently as 2008—replaced the federal safety net with a block grant to the states, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on welfare assistance, added work requirements, barred undocumented immigrants from licensed professions, and slashed overall public welfare funding by $54 billion (some was later restored).

Experts and pundits disagree about the true impact of welfare reform, but one thing seems clear: Extreme poverty doubled to 1.5 million in the decade and a half after the law was passed. What is extreme poverty? US households are considered to be in extreme poverty if they are surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person per day in any given month. We tend to think of extreme poverty existing in Third World countries, but here in the United States, shocking numbers of people are struggling to survive on less money per month than many families spend in one evening dining out. Currently, the United States, the richest nation on the planet, has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the developed world.

Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn’t reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton’s tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant “effectively making the construction of prisons the nation’s main housing program for the urban poor.”

Hillary Clinton and a friend

Hillary Clinton and another Irish friend

Bill Clinton championed discriminatory laws against formerly incarcerated people that have kept millions of Americans locked in a cycle of poverty and desperation. The Clinton administration eliminated Pell grants for prisoners seeking higher education to prepare for their release, supported laws denying federal financial aid to students with drug convictions, and signed legislation imposing a lifetime ban on welfare and food stamps for anyone convicted of a felony drug offense—an exceptionally harsh provision given the racially biased drug war that was raging in inner cities.

Perhaps most alarming, Clinton also made it easier for public-housing agencies to deny shelter to anyone with any sort of criminal history (even an arrest without conviction) and championed the “one strike and you’re out” initiative, which meant that families could be evicted from public housing because one member (or a guest) had committed even a minor offense. People released from prison with no money, no job, and nowhere to go could no longer return home to their loved ones living in federally assisted housing without placing the entire family at risk of eviction. Purging “the criminal element” from public housing played well on the evening news, but no provisions were made for people and families as they were forced out on the street. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, more than half of working-age African-American men in many large urban areas were saddled with criminal records and subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, access to education, and basic public benefits—relegated to a permanent second-class status eerily reminiscent of Jim Crow.

It is difficult to overstate the damage that’s been done. Generations have been lost to the prison system; countless families have been torn apart or rendered homeless; and a school-to-prison pipeline has been born that shuttles young people from their decrepit, underfunded schools to brand-new high-tech prisons.

* * *

It didn’t have to be like this. As a nation, we had a choice. Rather than spending billions of dollars constructing a vast new penal system, those billions could have been spent putting young people to work in inner-city communities and investing in their schools so they might have some hope of making the transition from an industrial to a service-based economy. Constructive interventions would have been good not only for African Americans trapped in ghettos, but for blue-collar workers of all colors. At the very least, Democrats could have fought to prevent the further destruction of black communities rather than ratcheting up the wars declared on them.

Of course, it can be said that it’s unfair to criticize the Clintons for punishing black people so harshly, given that many black people were on board with the “get tough” movement too. It is absolutely true that black communities back then were in a state of crisis, and that many black activists and politicians were desperate to get violent offenders off the streets. What is often missed, however, is that most of those black activists and politicians weren’t asking only for toughness. They were also demanding investment in their schools, better housing, jobs programs for young people, economic-stimulus packages, drug treatment on demand, and better access to healthcare. In the end, they wound up with police and prisons. To say that this was what black people wanted is misleading at best.

To be fair, the Clintons now feel bad about how their politics and policies have worked out for black people. Bill says that he “overshot the mark” with his crime policies; and Hillary has put forth a plan to ban racial profiling, eliminate the sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine, and abolish private prisons, among other measures.

But what about a larger agenda that would not just reverse some of the policies adopted during the Clinton era, but would rebuild the communities decimated by them? If you listen closely here, you’ll notice that Hillary Clinton is still singing the same old tune in a slightly different key. She is arguing that we ought not be seduced by Bernie’s rhetoric because we must be “pragmatic,” “face political realities,” and not get tempted to believe that we can fight for economic justice and win. When politicians start telling you that it is “unrealistic” to support candidates who want to build a movement for greater equality, fair wages, universal healthcare, and an end to corporate control of our political system, it’s probably best to leave the room.

This is not an endorsement for Bernie Sanders, who after all voted for the 1994 crime bill. I also tend to agree with Ta-Nehisi Coates that the way the Sanders campaign handled the question of reparations is one of many signs that Bernie doesn’t quite get what’s at stake in serious dialogues about racial justice. He was wrong to dismiss reparations as “divisive,” as though centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, ghettoization, and stigmatization aren’t worthy of any specific acknowledgement or remedy.

But recognizing that Bernie, like Hillary, has blurred vision when it comes to race is not the same thing as saying their views are equally problematic. Sanders opposed the 1996 welfare-reform law. He also opposed bank deregulation and the Iraq War, both of which Hillary supported, and both of which have proved disastrous. In short, there is such a thing as a lesser evil, and Hillary is not it.

The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he’s running as a Democrat—as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires. Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as “the establishment.” Even if Bernie’s racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself.

She may be surprised to discover that the younger generation no longer wants to play her game. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll all continue to play along and pretend that we don’t know how it will turn out in the end. Hopefully, one day, we’ll muster the courage to join together in a revolutionary movement with people of all colors who believe that basic human rights and economic, racial, and gender justice are not unreasonable, pie-in-the-sky goals. After decades of getting played, the sleeping giant just might wake up, stretch its limbs, and tell both parties: Game over. Move aside. It’s time to reshuffle this deck.

Sandy Boyer, R.I.P.

Joan McKiernan, a long time comrade and friend of Sandy Boyer offers this tribute and memory of him. Sandy died on Thursday evening at Mount Sinai Hospital, Manhattan after a short illness.



Sandy Boyer, socialist fighter, died this week. His death is a loss to all the working class struggles, the social justice movements in the US, Ireland, and indeed, the world that he was involved in.

Whether it was teamsters or teachers in the US, political prisoners in Ireland, Puerto Rican activists, Palestinian solidarity campaigners, or the Black Lives Matter movement, Sandy was tirelessly exercising his brilliant organizing skills on their behalf.

Descended from what we might call American royalty, his mother Sophia Ripley Ames, came from a family who participated in the American Revolution. She was born in The Old Manse in Concord, Mass., now a National Historic Landmark, in whose backyard in April 1775, the first shot in the American Revolutionary War was fired, a shot described famously by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who also lived for a time in ‘The Old Manse’, as ‘the shot heard around the world’.

The Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts

The Old Manse, Concord, Massachusetts

His parents went on to become revolutionaries of a different sort, supporting the working class and Black struggles in the US by joining the American Communist Party, which they remained members of until the Khrushchev revelations of Stalin’s crimes in 1956.

His parents were writers, his father, Richard Owen Boyer, was co-author of Labour’s Untold Story, author of The Legend of John Brown and a writer for The New Yorker and a host of other journals and newspapers. Both his parents traveled to Berlin in 1940 to chronicle life for ordinary Germans under Nazi rule.

His mother, Sophia Ripley Ames, who was for a while secretary to future US Supreme Court Justice, Felix Frankfurter, wrote a biography of Kwame Nkrumah and ‘Gifts for Greeks’, a history of ancient Greek civilization, for schoolchildren.

With parents in the Communist Party, Sandy was raised as what we call a ‘red diaper baby’.

His family lived in Croton, NY, where many CP families lived, so Sandy was not on his own. In this radio program, Sandy discussed his life as a ‘red diaper baby.’

His family paid dearly for their political activity, as did many others. His father was blacklisted, losing most of his employment. Although he had been hired by The New Yorker to write political profiles, he found great difficulty finding work after he was called and refused to testify at the McCarthy hearing in 1956. He ended up finding some work writing for a scientific journal (see obit below).

His mother was targeted by the Dies House Committee, the equivalent in the House of Representatives of Joe McCarthy’s Senate-based Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the principal vehicle for the blacklist. She headed The League of Women Shoppers, which was accused of being a Communist front (see obit below).

Sandy understood the hardship of the period as he knew the Rosenberg children, whose parents were executed by the US Government in 1953.

Sandy began his own political activity while he was still in high school, in the 1950s, when he organized protests in nearby towns supporting the civil rights struggle in the US. At that time, pickets against Woolworths and other stores were growing in the north, protesting against segregated lunch counters in the south.

By 1962 when he was about 18, Sandy had joined the YPSL, Young People’s Socialist League, in New York City. He was in the forefront of the building of a new socialist movement, rejecting the legacy of his parent’s generation.

The organizations he supported rejected both capitalist societies, the USA and the USSR, as providing any basis for building a future worker’s state and argued for the need for democracy from below. He worked with organizations that focused on the self emancipation of the working class.

They argued that workers and other oppressed groups had to organize to take control and reorganize society to meet their needs, not the needs of the rich and privileged. They argued that simply electing a new president or supporting an army to make the changes would not be sufficient.

Sandy recently continued that argument in this article on the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. Sandy went on to join the International Socialist Clubs and then the International Socialists, for which he worked as NY organizer for several years.

With these groups, he became immersed in working class struggles and the fights of minorities – African Americans, women and LGTB for justice and equal rights. He brought his excellent organizing skills and political acumen to help build rank and file union movements, working with teamsters, postal workers, teachers, communication workers – all those fighting back.

Sandy, pictured at the Irish Arts Center, during the H Blocks protest

Sandy, pictured at the Irish Arts Center, during the H Blocks protest

In the early 1970s, Sandy joined us, Irish Americans building American support for the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. As the Troubles intensified in the North, Sandy was there through it all – anti-internment, the hunger strikes, support for political prisoners.

He became immersed in the Irish American community and struggle; he was honored for this work, which continued until his death.

His contribution to that struggle was invaluable. He organized speaking tours for Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey and other Irish leaders to inform and educate the American public of the political situation in NI.

Bernadette Devlin-McAloskey with Sandy Boyer in the RFE radio studio

Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey with Sandy Boyer in the RFE radio studio

He built many successful campaigns in Irish America – supporting those, such as Malachy McAllister, who found themselves fighting the American government attempts to deport them back to Ireland where they were threatened by loyalist paramilitaries.

He led a successful campaign in 1996 to end the unjust incarceration of Roisin McAliskey, Bernadette’s daughter, who was three months pregnant when arrested.

Since 1996, he joined John McDonagh and the late Brian Mor Ó Baoighill in presenting the popular weekly radio program, Radio Free Eireann (RFE), which airs on WBAI. They have provided a provocative analysis of the continuing struggle of people in the north of Ireland for justice.

They provided a venue for younger generations to learn about what had happened and what was really going on currently in Ireland – from a radical point of view. This was particularly important as the peace process grew and was established with a new power sharing government, with the participation of Sinn Fein.

Sandy (center) and John McDonagh (left)

Sandy (center) and John McDonagh (left)

As the peace process solidified, press coverage in both Ireland and the US became more narrow and less open to diverse opinion. John and Sandy provided a platform for those who did not conform with the new orthodoxy and did not get a hearing elsewhere.

Sandy conducted interviews with Irish Americans, such as Pete Hamill, and with Irish journalists and activists to explore issues and events that would not be covered elsewhere in Ireland or in the US.

Pete Hamill being interviewed on RFE

Pete Hamill being interviewed on RFE

He publicized the continuing struggles of Northern Irish people who are still seeking justice and supported the campaigns of the many political prisoners there, such as Marion Price and the Craigavon Two.

Marion Price, during one of many court appearances

Marion Price, during one of many court appearances

As well as presenting the best of Irish music, supporting Irish musicians here in New York, they also provided coverage of the controversial political issues of the day here in the city.

In recent years, Sandy worked with the Brooklyn Green Party, where he was instrumental in organizing a meeting on the Black Lives Matter Movement, building support for the Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones NY state election campaign and for James Lane’s congressional run against the district attorney who made sure that Earl Garner’s killer was not indicted.

Sandy’s life of activism was also based on gathering knowledge, seeking to understand our past in order to build the struggles of today and the future. His knowledge of history – labor history and the history of oppressed groups – American, Irish, and world-wide, was immense.

He shared his extensive knowledge and experience by leading classes in Irish history and politics, American labor history, and through his written contributions.

The breadth of his interest is indicated in just a few of his recent works. His review of recent works on slavery, “Slavery, Capitalism and Imperialism” was recently published by International Socialist Review (see below).

He took up the issue of Puerto Rican freedom in this article. He particularly enjoyed exposing our supposedly “progressive” mayor, Bill de Blasio, as he did in this Socialist Worker article, when he asked shouldn’t New York City’s liberal mayor be focused on honoring his promises around affordable housing.

One of my favorite memories of Sandy is of him on a picket line – any line, any cause of the many he was involved in. He wasn’t like the rest of us who marched around, shouting our slogans, and perhaps speaking amongst ourselves. Sandy turned out – to the passers-by.

He spoke directly to each person that came by. He explained why we were there, and why they should be supporting our cause. It was his calm and clear explanations and reasoning that often convinced people on a range of issues.

As the tributes come flowing in, we can see the admiration that Sandy earned for his work in the anti-war movement, South Africa solidarity work, and Palestinian solidarity, to name a few. He was respected and loved on both sides of the Atlantic for his deep commitment to the Irish political struggle.

Sandy looked forward to building the successful American revolution, which he insisted had to be built on an integrated party encompassing the working class organizations and the black liberation movements confronting the current issues of criminal and social justice. Sandy is no longer able to contribute to those movements.

We can all appreciate the contribution that he made. But more important is to continue to build and support the movement, extend his commitment and put into practice the lessons that we have learned from him.



The British And The North’s Past: When Actions Belie Words

Theresa Villiers, NI Secretary of State, in her speech yesterday promising to deal with the North’s troubled past, had this to say:

… the representative of the sovereign Government here I am acutely aware that we have a responsibility to do all that we can to tackle the legacy of the past in this part of the United Kingdom.

And this:

……I will never seek to defend the security forces by defending the indefensible. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing it will be pursued. Everyone is subject to the rule of law.

That same day two years ago, the Derry Daily published the story below. Make your own mind up about which reflects the real mind of the British system:


Police files on the investigation into the death of  Sammy Devenney, the Derry man who died after being badly beaten in his home by members of the now-disbanded RUC,  have been “reclassified” by the Metropolitan Police and are to remain secret for another eight years, it has emerged..

Mr Devenney (42), a father of nine, died on 16 July, 1969 from injuries sustained in the 19 April attack in his William Street home in which a number of his children, eight of whom were in the house at the time, were also beaten.

Sammy Devenney - his family say that RUC men beat him to death but a British report on the incident has been kept secret

Sammy Devenney – his family say that RUC men beat him to death but a British report on the incident has been kept secret

In a report issued in October 2001, the Office Police Ombudsman upheld the family’s complaint the RUC never communicated to them directly about the events of that night.

Police Ombudsman Nuala O’Loan revealed her Office had located a complete copy of the report of an investigation into the incident carried out by Metropolitan Police officers, under the direction of Detective Chief Superintendent Kenneth Drury, which was never before made public and which acknowledged and detailed attacks by RUC officers on the family.

Ms O’Loan said the Drury investigation could neither prove nor disprove the allegation that Mr. Devenney’s death had resulted from the RUC attack on him and concluded  it would not be possible “after all this time” to pursue disciplinary action against the officers involved.

The Pat Finucane Centre, the Derry-based human rights group representing the Devenney family, has revealed a Freedom of Information request for the investigation files to be made public was turned down by the Metropolitan Police who said by doing so would “not be in the public’s interest.”

Sarah Duddy, from the Pat Finucane Centre, said the family were anxious to find out what information on the attack was contained in the files and the “cover up” that followed.