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Tidbits - May 22, 2014

Reader Comments - Boko Haram; Portside articles on the Ukraine; Brown v. Board-what still needs to be done; Redistributing Income; NRA, Second Amendment; John Oliver; Jon Favreau - a correction; Whiteness of Liberal Media; Was the American Revolution Really Just A Counter-Revolution; THE REAL WORLD - a graduation address never given; Announcements - DIE LINKE, SYRIZA, Future of the European Left - New York - May 28; New Book -- Torture is still an urgent moral issue

Tidbits, Reader Comments, Shorts, Announcements - May 22, 2014,Portside

Re: Behind the Rise of Boko Haram

Good article on northern Nigeria. Add to that the lack of political power in the north due to tribalism and the constant push/pull of Islamic traditions with western secularism no wonder there is a violent backlash.

Art Mayers
Peace Corps 69

I love this article.  It puts the horror of the kidnapping in perspective. I read another article which was profile of the BH soldiers which reinforced this perspective.  It also spoke about the Nigerian Military - which (shock of shocks) is US trained and largely financed -  which has been accused of rape and abuse of it's own people.  And, apparently, Nigerian oil  production is the largest in Africa, but less that 1% has gone back to the people.  What does stay in the country goes to a very corrupt , US backed govt.

I think it's great that movie stars and celebrities are getting involved, but they need to read stuff like this (those who can read) and start raising these issue.

Tx for the article

Margie Ghiz
Art Release


In modern times I believe that the hoarding of profits from Nigeria's growing oil production has fueled economic anger.

Aaron Libson

Re: Tidbits - May 15 - The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything

Regarding the article by Snyder, The Battle of Ukraine Means Everything, I'd like to include another perspective.  I think it's important for Portside to include serious articles from scholars whose views I might find detestable or at least representing a world view  with which I cannot agree.  First, these stimulate the excellent responses we see in today's Tidbits.  These broaden the range of inquiry and give a basis for analysis.  Second, freedom of speech may be most important when it is based on the freedom to hear the speech that may be strongly unacceptable to the reader.  As John Locke would emphasize, freedom is essentially the right to make "informed" choices.

I don't think Portside should feel the need to present balance on every position but occasionally the debate is very important for readers on the left.  I premise that readers on the left can think critically and evaluate arguments that disagree with their positions. My bias is that I do not see many thinkers on the right doing this currently to the loss of the society as a whole.

Bravo, the Tidbits concept.

Roz Ashby


It is seeming that the Tidbits responses should give Portside a "wake-up call" before you fall into a MSNBC trap.  The reporting on the Ukraine has been less than expected. And, yes, I do know that Gil Scott Heron wrote "The Revolution will not be Televised."  But Patti and the Bluebells made it a popular hit.  So, touché on both sides.

Claire Carsman

Re: The Ukraine - Two Counterpoints

I want to call special attention to the second article, which I found sober, free of cliches, and as close to objective as anything I've seen.

On the first article, it is important for us not to forget that the current government in Kiev has no legitimacy.  The US and NATO  rushed to recognize it, but, whatever one thinks of it, it remains a government "by coup", displacing an elected government (again, no matter what you thought of the elected government, it was in fact elected by a clear margin in a fair election).

Second, keep in mind the real, historic division in Ukraine between East and West, which is why Kiev has a hard time imposing its rule in the East of Ukraine. There is no question is my own mind that Russia has sent some special forces into the East, but there is also genuine, popular opposition to the military forces sent from Kiev (some of whom simply defected).

Third, there are oligarchs on all sides, in the West, in the East, in Russia, and, of course, here in the US. The people - the best elements in the original uprising in Kiev - have been defeated by the victory of the oligarchs, who had assumed power in Kiev.

Fourth, I recall almost no conflict in which so many accounts differ so sharply, where truth is so hard to come by. It is for this reason I urge special attention to the second article, free of cliches.

Fifth and last, let none of us forget that the crisis was provoked by the West in its effort to push its military forces, bases, and alliances, up to the very border of Russia. This guaranteed a conflict at some point.

David McReynolds

Re: Brown v. Board at 60Why Have We Been So Disappointed? What Have We Learned?

I scanned the article looking in vain for a reference to 'busing'. Was this so universally unpopular?  Is this not the only practical way to achieve racially and class balanced classrooms?

Dan Morgan

Re: Better than Redistributing Income

I am disappointed with Richard Wolff, given his outstanding record.  His dichotomous argument for pushing struggles for redistribution to the side in favor of democratizing governance of enterprises is not particularly helpful, as millions face homelessness and loss of income with continued attacks on social service budgets.   Redistributing income and wealth is at the heart of class struggle, interdependent with the strength of organized labor and their allies, hence the "undoing of redistribution" in the last 40 years.   Wolff has pointed to the obvious increasing gap of income and wealth in his recent book Democracy at Work.  The remedy is multifold, including state and national efforts to make taxes more progressive, shifting its burden from individuals to corporations (see Democracy at Work), and boosting social spending, curbing corporate subsidies and of course military spending on the federal level.  These efforts should go hand in hand with Wolff's (and Gar Alperovitz's) worthy goals outlined in this article. And there are ways to be creative, such as the California bill for a CEO tax on inequality (see this article)

What is most problematic in Wolff's piece is his argument that efforts to bring democracy into the workplace and corporate boardrooms can somehow avoid the push back from the right wing and by implication bypass the struggle for just federal and state budgets and progressive taxes.  He says "redistribution is socially divisive, often extremely. When taxes not only pay (quid pro quo) for government services rendered, but also serve to redistribute income, opposition usually grows. Some taxpayers suspect they pay more and get less in public services than others. Deteriorating economic conditions that lessen capacities to pay taxes intensify resistance. That often turns into opposition to income redistribution in principle. Lower-income people get demonized as lazy welfare-dependents. Racist and anti-immigrant oppositions get drawn into the mix, and so on."

Well class struggle should be divisive, polarizing, and our challenge is to make their pole smaller and ours bigger.  Does Wolff expect that this struggle can somehow avoid confronting these arguments, so user friendly to the ruling class ?  Likewise the ongoing attacks on government bureaucracy for waste and incompetence,  prime targets for rightwing driven efforts to weaken regulation, especially in the realm of occupational and environmental protection.  Surely, Wolff is not joining the chorus to eliminate the federal income tax, which remains progressive, unlike state tax structures?  To get concrete, what is Wolff's advice regarding the demolition of budgets and laws servicing low-income people,  fight back against austerity or just get involved in the coop movement?  How about doing both?

Finally, Wolff says "redistribution mechanisms rarely last". But rather than offer a reprise of the old reform versus revolution debate,  I submit that we are now facing the unprecedented converging crises of climate and the political economy of capitalism, with huge challenges coupled with an unique opportunity to end the rule of capital on our planet,  precisely because of this political economy, with the Military Industrial Complex at its core,  is the biggest obstacle to curbing carbon emissions soon enough to have a chance to avoid climate catastrophe. The remedy? Multidimensional class struggle.

David Schwartzman
Washington DC

Re: How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment

So now we have the worst of worlds: an immense professional army with only the most nominal oversight and control by elected representatives and, instead of well-regulated militias, a bunch of unregulated trigger-happy fanatics who feel they need to walk the streets armed at all times. Great.

David Worley

Re: John Oliver on His Hilarious, NSFW, and Totally Fact-Checked HBO Show

Just FYI, I like Portside a lot so you should be aware that the John Oliver article is very carelessly edited -- there are two sentences/phrases repeated in text towards the end.

Christopher Balchin

Re: Friday Night Videos -- May 16 - You Got It Wrong

              "Former White House speech writer Jon Favreau wrote the  script and heads a scintillating cast in Chef."

Jon Favreau the actor-writer-director and Jon Favreau the  former White House speech writer are two entirely different people. They  don't bear the slightest resemblance and their personal biographies are as  different as can be.

Mark Solomon

[Portside moderator responds:  Thanks, you're right. The corrected version is here

Re: The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Media

Probably haven't watched MSNBC lately. Diversity reigns there.

Ron Kroeger
Posted on Portside's Facebook page

Re: Was the American Revolution Really Just A Counter-Revolution to Avoid the British Mandate to Its Colonies to End Slavery

It would help if Portside had found someone who actually knows something about this history to review this book.  There was never any edict in Britain to order the colonies to end slavery--as anyone who looks at the history of Jamaica and the other British plantation colonies in the Caribbean will see immediately.  Indeed, slavery wasn't ended in the British Empire until a gradual emancipation act was passed by Parliament in 1833. The Somerset case which outlawed slavery was very clear that it only applied to England (and Wales), even Scotland wasn't covered and a similar case there was only resolved in 1778:

"The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law [statute], which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision,I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged."

Slavery was positive law in all the mainland colonies that rebelled and so this decision had no effect there.  Furthermore, while the southern colonies/states were committed to retaining slavery, a number of northern states in fact ended slavery in the midst of the Revolutionary War [Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1783), and Connecticut (1784)] -- so they certainly didn't rebel in order to maintain slavery.

I  hope that the misleading history presented here by this reviewer stems from a misreading of Gerald Horne's book and does not accurately represent what Horne wrote.

Stan Nadel


The article is correct.  Thank you for passing it on.  Below is what I just sent the author supporting his position:

Dear Dr. Calhoun,

I appreciate your article. I've been writing online for some time on-point, and added your article as a reference.

I locate and reprint abolitionist legal and religious writings, and the above site is a reprint (with annotations) of abolitionist attorney Alvan Stewart's presentation to the New Jersey Supreme Court to follow historical precedents and the rule of law for the purpose of declaring slavery unconstitutional in New Jersey.


Leroy Pletten


This was a startling idea to me;, so I had to look it up.  Slavery was abolished by the British in 1833, long after the Revolutionary War, so I don't see the connection.

Pammela Wright

Re: Sharing Isn't Always Caring
(Portside Labor post)

The Share-My-Bed press conference announcing its provocative rollout was extensively covered by the entire spectrum of news media. The "Sharing Economy" has obviously become mainstream. The college dropout CEOs of this multi-million dollar start-up were literally rolled out on an enormous bed custom-built for the occasion. As confirmation of future financial success, they said they had difficulty keeping their website up most of the night due to the enormous sign-up traffic.

The above is satire. But how far is farce from reality when your closet can be monetized? An author of a recent book on The Sharing Economy said that it was worth over $100 billion.  And a venture capitalist, who invests only in start-ups with a multi-billion dollar future, believes that monetizing space in homes is only the beginning. Next is "monetizing all the stuff in houses, front yards, backyards, and driveways." Solar companies monetize roofs when you lease their panels, so his prediction seems less like fantasy and more like a business plan.

Read more here.

Bernard Marszalek

Everything I Really Need to Know About the Koch Brothers I Learned from Dr. Seuss

Please re-publish this very humorous and very serious article on the role capitalists play in using racism to divide the working class:

Everything I Really Need to Know About the Koch Brothers I Learned from Dr. Seuss

In Solidarity,
Michael Kaufman

THE REAL WORLD - a graduation address I was never invited to give
by Richard Levins

May 19, 2014

The Real World is that fantasy land they threaten you with to help you panic when you graduate, the cold water thrown on your hopes and enthusiasms and indignation. "Just wait until you are in the real world"_ they sneer with relish.

But for the last four years you have been in the realest of worlds, the place where mountains are formed from liquid rock, where ensembles of soil, invertebrates, plants and fungi and other beings meet, eat or support each other  in vibrant ecosystems, where grain is a food that nourishes the body and spirit, where work makes things we need or enjoy with skill and dedication, where Others are people and they sing for joy, and the object of our quest is ourselves. That is the real world.

Welcome to the fantasy world, where mountains are mineral resources and mines-in-waiting; where forests and meadows are real estate investments and children are investments in the futures market, where grain is a commodity that  is offered or withheld according to that mythical being, The Market, who demands human sacrifice; where work produces commodities, where Others are Contacts and the object of our quest is money, power, and prestige.

In the fantasy world you have to learn a new language, to "take someone out"_ is not going to a dance, where "leverage"_ replaces discussion, where instead of talking you "send a message"_ and you enter relationships after cost/benefit  analysis.

But as you sit in your plexiglass coffins you stare out at the shadows that drift back and forth "your competitors, superiors, inferiors, clients, reminders of your student loans, and wonder about the real world you came from, where  ideas had the power to stir and "what do I want to change in the world"_ is not a silly question.

But,  welcome to the other, realer, world, where it is exciting to think, enriching to fight for justice, and it is possible to simply love.

[Richard Levins is an ex-tropical farmer turned ecologist, biomathematician and philosopher of science whose central intellectual concern has been the understanding and influencing of processes in complex systems, both abstractly and as applied to evolutionary ecology, economic development, agriculture and health. He has carried out this program at the theoretical level by framing the problems of adaptation to the structure of the environment in space and time, the metapopulation concept for interpreting populations in biogeography, human physiology as a socialized physiology, and the interpenetration of model building as juggling the partially opposing requirements of realism, generality and precision.

His mathematical research has had the goal of making the obscure obvious by finding the appropriate ways to visualize complex phenomena. He developed the use of signed digraphs, time averaging and pre-image sets for qualitative analysis of complex systems. A major goal is the integration of evolutionary ecology and critical social theory into a broad epidemiology that can prepare for surprises. Current research examines the variability of health outcomes as an indicator of vulnerability to multiple non-specific stressors in human communities, interactions among herbivores and their natural enemies in multispecies systems on citrus trees, and short term (transient) dynamics of model epidemiological and pathological systems.]

When Right Is Wrong

I am a liberal born of the left wing, from the east coast town of New Haven, Ct. When I retired I moved to the deep south, and immediately had both my religious, and political rights judged by countless Republican holy rollers. Twelve years I have been judged, and told things which I do not believe. It started with democratic signs on my lawn which some right winger thought that even though this mam was a born again, it was ok to slash my tires. No more lawn signs. From the day I moved in I was told by about fifty people that I was to attend there church, and I replied, "Is This A Social Invitation?" Of course it was not, and I maintained my dignity while I told them that, " I was not a Baptist, nor a Pentecostal, Nor Assemblies of God, or whatever was tossed to me on that particular day." I let people know that my religious rights, as well as my political rights are personal, and they are protected by the constitution.

I have a new neighbor, She quotes Jesus directly from the Bible, I happen to know the bible - I have read it cover to cover. I will say to her, "Remember only two books quote Jesus directly, and The New Testament was written after Jesus Died, and The Old Testament was written before he was born, when you quote him , may I ask what chapter you are in? She gets befuddled, and she rants about her truth telling Faux Pas News, and her Tea Party Views.  I can answer many biblical questions as well. Recently another hearty Born Again Couple bravely rang my bell, and I that has not owned a TV, answered the bell saying I can't talk now, because I am watching TV Church, and I shut, and locked my front door. Sometimes people don't even know that this country was founded by those who escaped religious persecution. Meanwhile I am terribly saddened by the lack of respect paid to our President, and his office.

Hatred is alive in the south, it's very sad, While my roots are deep in protesting against the Viet Nam war, and standing arm in arm with t he Berrigans, and Noam Chomsky, my new roots are twelve years deep, I choose to live in the positive, and to meditate daily as I have don for 46 years, I can live in peace among the peril knowing that my Episcopal roots are strong, and my political roots in the left wing are strong. In essence where I live makes no difference because I am at peace at 67.


DIE LINKE, SYRIZA and the Future of the European Left - New York - May 28

Jacobin and the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung are excited to host a conversation between DIE LINKE Co-Chair Bernd Riexinger and SYRIZA Scientific Advisor Elena Papadopoulou on the future of the European Left. Jacobin's Chris Maisano will moderate.

Europe's ongoing economic crisis has created openings for the return of the European socialist movement.

DIE LINKE, the German Left Party, is a democratic socialist party born from a merger of two leftist formations, which now stands as the third largest party in the German Bundestag. Greece's SYRIZA, or the Coalition of the Radical Left, is similarly the result of a merger and is now the main opposition party in parliament, with many suggesting it could lead the next national government.

How are DIE LINKE and SYRIZA building on what came before them? In what ways are they breaking with old traditions, and in which direction are they heading?

Wednesday, May 28 -- 7:00pm

Book Court
163 Court Street
New York 11201


New Book -- Torture is still an urgent moral issue.
Oxford University Press has just released Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the post-9/11 United States, by War Times collective member Rebecca Gordon. In addition to working with War Times, Rebecca teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She's been working on the issue of U.S. institutionalized state torture for many years.
What's the book about?
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reopened what many people in the United States had long assumed was a settled ethical question: Is torture ever morally permissible? Within days, people in government and the press began to suggest that, in these new circumstances, the new answer was "yes." In Mainstreaming Torture, Rebecca argues that September 11 did not, as some have said, "change everything."
But didn't all that end with the Bush administration?
In fact, institutionalized state torture remains as wrong and as relevant today as it was on the day before those terrible attacks. Furthermore, U.S. practices during the "war on terror" are rooted in a history that began long before September 11, a history that includes both support for torture regimes abroad and the use of torture in jails and prisons at home. This is a book for anyone who cares about how institutionalized torture affects its victims, its practitioners, and the nation that gives it a home.

That's just depressing. What can we do about it?

Actually, there's a lot that people can do to end U.S. torture:


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