Appalachia: Class Struggle In Coal Country

Brett sits down with revolutionary organizer and Appalachian local Nic Smith to talk about the Appalachian working class and its history of class struggle.
Topics include: Radical unionism, the history of the region, Trump, liberalism’s failures and socialism’s hopes, stereotypes about Appalachians, the need for a true working class party, and much more!



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Random Song of The Week From Friends:
Featured as the outro music From The Window On A Train – Jack Hotel

Organizations affiliated with the podcast:
Omaha GDC


The Failure Of Neoliberalism: Right Wing Reactions and Left Wing Solutions

A study by Oxfam just came out this week which shows that the richest 8 people on Planet Earth have more wealth than the bottom 50% of human beings combined.

Think about that…

The report goes on to say:

“While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become.”

This is what is often referred to as “neoliberalism”; basically globalized capitalism. This is the status quo, and all over the world people from all parts of the political spectrum are beginning to register their discontent with this system. Broadly speaking, there is a Right and a Left reaction to Neo-Liberalism.

The Reaction from the Right

The reaction to the globalized status quo from the right is, well, reactionary. In the face of the chaos and impotence of late stage capitalism, the right angrily recoils, not unlike a snake, into some mythologized past. In the United States, it has taken the form of the electoral victory of a rabid ethno-nationalist, equipped with the not-so-subtle slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’. For the right, the complexity and inequality produced by capitalism is hard to understand, and so they resort to what they have known (or think they have known) by trying to drag the world back to a “simpler time”; into some romanticized version of the past (which, incidentally, never actually existed). The right’s scapegoats, as they have always been, are the simple scapegoats of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Trump ran on a campaign of white nationalism with virulence aimed at every minority imaginable. Brexiters similarly focused their ire at Muslims and immigrants when they voted to leave the E.U. All over Europe, from Greece to France to Germany, right wing movements are on the rise. This violent bigotry often takes the form of nationalism, a tried and true vehicle for the right.

This, of course, is the predictable response from reactionaries; but as usual, their hyper-simplistic, tribalistic narratives of bigotry and nationalism are viscerally appealing to large swaths of the population in any given country. While the left tries to appeal to the intellects  and sense of history of the people, the right has the advantage of merely having to appeal to their emotions; anger, hatred, confusion, and fear. It’s not pretty, but in times of economic uncertainty, its always been effective.

The Reaction from the Left

The reaction to the globalized status quo from the left is to critique the overarching socio-economic system that is driving the global engine: capitalism itself. We know that the only way to move beyond the stagnation and absurdity of the neoliberal established order is to revolutionize the global economy such that it is controlled by, and works in the name of, common people all over the globe.

Unlike the right’s offer of angry nativism and bigotry, the left offers a more nuanced approach to our problems: one rooted in history, economics, and science (notably environmental science and sociology). The only answer to cartoonish levels of inequality and exploitation (which are inherent features of capitalism) is a socialist economic system. The goal is to take the enormous material gains that capitalism has made possible and employ them for the betterment of all, instead of for the massive enrichment of a relative few.

The equality, sustainability, community control, fairness, internationalism, and cooperation of a global socialist economic system is the only way forward. As the old saying goes: “Socialism or Barbarism”. Although at first glance that statement may seem like a false dichotomy, its becoming increasingly clear that we have very few options on the table. The status quo is dysfunctional, unsustainable, radically unequal, and promotes all types of social neurosis (terrorism, mass shootings, and widespread cases of addiction, anxiety and depression in the population). The right offers solutions to precisely none of these problems… How can they? They do not even understand the problems themselves. Only the left has anything reasonable to say about a possible world after this one, and although there will be differences based on the country, the culture, and the context in which leftist solutions get implemented, the overarching values and principles of the left are undoubtedly progressive and represent our best only chance at improvement from this point forward.

In short, the sophisticated response to neoliberalism, to be sure, is the international and intersectional solidarity, the emphasis on economic and political equality, and the social and cultural progress pushed by the revolutionary left.


Capitalism is eating its own tail. It has served its historical purpose and is now becoming superfluous; but it will not exist the stage gracefully, it must be ushered off.

With the rise of hyper-automation and artificial intelligence, the contradictions of capitalism will only continue to become more stark. The values of capitalism (inequality, competition, infinite growth, etc.) are proving to be unsustainable, exploitative, and existentially dangerous. The rise of the right in the face of capitalism’s failures represents an even more dangerous possibility than neoliberal capitalism itself. Both of these approaches are poisonous.

As a civilization, we are in the middle of a dark tunnel, the neoliberal establishment’s apologists want us all to take a seat, hunker down, and stay where we are for as long as possible (while they ransack the world in the name of “progress”). The right, on the other hand, wants to grab us by the hair and drag us back the way we came; preferring the dull comfort of what we have known to the frightening uncertainty of moving forward. The left, in direct opposition to both, has made out a tiny pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, and are urging us to move courageously towards it.

I do not know what direction we will ultimately go, but I know that now is not the time to throw your hands up and let the cards fall where they may; it is time to stand up and fight! We cannot hand this world over to the vampires and the fascists…



Trump Is Not Our President

Fact: Only 25.5% of Americans voted for Trump. 25.6% voted for Hillary, about 2% voted third party, and over 46% didn’t even vote at all.

When we say “Trump is not our president”, we are not just making a statement about our values, we are making a statement about statistical and mathematical reality. The majority of Americans did NOT vote for Trump. His opponent (although horrible in her own unique ways) got more votes than him, and nearly half of Americans were so disgusted or uninterested in the election that they didn’t even want to vote for either candidate.

25% of any society taking over all three branches of the government is not democracy nor is it a representative republic. It is not a “victory for the majority”. Its an electoral coup…

So no, Trump is not my president. No, I will not “unite behind him”. I do not respect or recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and nobody in that government represents me or my views. I am coerced into accepting this government only via the fact that the State has a monopoly on force and can put me in a cage if I try to act on my non-recognition of the legitimacy of them and their laws. Period.

The Importance of Protest in the Face of a Trump Adminstration

“What’s the point of protesting? The election is over, dude, this is pointless. Ugh.”

Answer: NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, Berkeley, L.A., Denver, and even lil ol’ Omaha erupted as tens of thousands of people in major cities all across the country took to the streets today…

What does it accomplish? It sets a tone. It shows political grievance. Protests are, and always have been, an important and legitimate way to do that. Women got the vote largely by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Black folks got civil rights by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Workers got the minimum wage and weekends and safe working conditions largely from taking to the streets and marching and protesting and not shutting up. Grassroots movements have been an essential part of every single shred of progress that this country, or any other, has ever achieved.

The intent is not to overturn the election; that’s impossible. It’s to show force and to let the new Administration know that millions of us are not okay with the right-wing take over of our government, and when/if they try to do anything that crosses a line, we will shut shit down. We will be a constant source of political agitation.

Try to build a wall and send out deportation squads to split up families?
We will march on Trump Tower.
Try to take away women’s reproductive rights?
We will march on the Capitol.
Try to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, or push through DAPL, and threaten our water sources?
We will march on the White House.

This is politics. This is democracy. This is one side showing the other side that we won’t take it lying down; that they can’t just do whatever they want with no backlash. We will be a thorn in the fucking side of the Trump administration every damn step of the way. And if you don’t like that, If that just fucking rubs you the wrong way, then just do what you’ve always done: make cynical comments on Facebook, vote every few years, and be overly-flattered with yourself. It’s no sweat off our backs. You are irrelevant, and we got work to do.

Super Tuesday 2016: Analysis and Predictions

This essay will lay out my analysis of the 2016 presidential elections thus far, candidate by candidate. I will also make some predictions for how the rest of the election will play out, and explore some implications of those predicted results. I will begin by analyzing the major candidates:

Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s support comes largely from white working class people who are angry about the class war that they have been losing for decades, but are radically *confused* about the causes of that deterioration for working people.

They do not understand the complexities of global capitalism, the complete take-over of our government by the ultra-rich, how certain trade policies like NAFTA and the TPP affect working people, how the wealth that our labor produces gets siphoned to the top and re-directed towards imperialism and corporatism instead of making our lives better, etc. And since they do not understand the real causes of their misery, they support the candidate who simplifies everything into “good guys vs. bad guys”, who creates convenient scapegoats, dumb-downed narratives, and who points tribalistically and accusingly to people with different skin color as the problem.

I do not blame working people for not understanding these complex causal factors, though. People are stretched thin, they must work harder for less money, they are under constant pressure and stress. Working people don’t have the time or energy to study the intricacies of policy, to read tomes on American History, to deconstruct capitalism, and to educate themselves on how the system works. I understand why Trump’s hyper-simple bullshit works on so many people, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should not fight our asses off to combat that narrative and those toxic politics.

But we have to understand that the problem that working people of all colors are facing today is NOT other working people. It’s not Mexicans, it’s not Muslims, it’s not China. The problems we face are inherent features of the economic system under which we all toil, and if we are ever going to approach a solution to these complex problems, we are going to have to realize the reality of our situation, and aim our anger at the correct targets. Trump’s candidacy is dangerous because it aims that anger at other working people, and at vulnerable communities, instead of at the systems of power and wealth that dominate us all.

However, despite Trump’s far-right populist rhetoric, many of his policies tend to be pretty moderate, even bordering on liberal. Healthcare, for example, is an area where Trump refuses to be goaded into being a cliché’ Republican. He has advocated for robust government assistance for poor people, defending it even when Ted Cruz hammered him on National Television in the 10th GOP Primary debate. On war and the military Trump is also curiously moderate. He advocates a form of isolationism and an end to rampant imperialism, even going so far as to argue that we should charge countries money for having a US military presence within their borders and refusing to defend Israeli exclusively; opting instead to be a “neutral moderator” in the Palestinian / Israeli conflict. On campaign finance, Trump actually plays a very important role in these elections just by being so unapologetic about his past financing of politicians all over the spectrum, and by funding his own campaign.  Of course he is allowed to do this only because he is so wealthy, but by pulling back the curtain on campaign finance, and mocking his competitors in the GOP by admitting he has funded them in the past, Trump is making a powerful point about the role that wealth plays in American politics. Whether he is fully cognizant that he is in fact playing this role is another question, but regardless it has been instrumental in drawing supporters to him and in exposing the plutocracy of Washington even to people who do not support him.

All of this makes Trump an enigma: He simultaneously espouses fascist policies and center-left policies; all under the same broad platform. I do not think Trump has any real ideology or deep political values, which goes a long way in explaining the oddity of his platform. He is, first and foremost, an opportunist and a businessman; he sees that there is a vein in American Politics that has yet to be tapped by any presidential candidate and takes advantage of that by tapping into it arrogantly and violently. If the political winds were blowing in a totally different direction, I assume Trump would tap into *that* vein without a moment’s hesitation. This makes Trump popular and dangerous. We have no idea how he would ACTUALLY govern, and since his policies are all over the place, we have reason to believe that his government could be anything from ruthlessly authoritarian to moderate and bipartisan. One thing we do know, though, is that Trump’s main competitor on the right, Ted Cruz, would be a truly horrifying president; and we should be relieved if Trump beats Cruz in the primary.

Ted Cruz

Cruz, unlike Trump, is a true partisan. He has a clearly defined worldview, ideology and value system. He is a far-right wing, Christian zealot, and if he were somehow able to slime his way into the presidency, we would be the furthest-to-the-right president in modern US history. He would make the Bush/Cheney administration look moderate in comparison.  Cruz is the culmination of the Tea Party movement; he is an obstructionist, a free-market fundamentalist, a despiser of government and of the public sphere in general, and he is a Christian extremist. He would use his power to push for a Christian Conservative socio-economic policy platform that would bring out the worst in Americans and do lasting damage to America.

The area in which he would do the most harm is in the Supreme Court nomination process. It is likely that the next president could be responsible for appointing up to 3 Supreme Court Justices. And since they have lifetime appointments, a Cruz presidency could continue destroying America for decades. We have every reason to expect him to appoint what would amount to three more Antonin Scalias; a truly terrifying prospect. Additionally, Cruz would likely have a majority Republican Senate, allowing him to get nominees approved and get bills through congress with considerably more ease than he otherwise would be able to.

Luckily, however, at this point in the primary process, it seems increasing unlikely that Ted Cruz will win his party’s nomination. He is behind Trump in the polls, and the only state he is slated to win is his home state of Texas. Texas is a large, and therefore important state when it comes to delegate distribution, to be sure, but even if Cruz wins Texas, he is fighting a steep uphill battle against both Trump and the GOP establishment who has rallied behind Marco Rubio in every other state. He is even losing the coveted Evangelical vote to Trump, a truly weird development, seeing as how Trump is about as Christian as a money-obsessed ego-maniac can be; which is to say not at all (See: Jesus’s teachings). But we have come to expect hypocrisy from the Christian Right in America, so perhaps it makes more sense than it initially appears to.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio is the GOP’s last chance at securing a nomination that won’t humiliate and destroy the party. The Republican establishment does not want Trump or Cruz to represent the party in the general election; they want a more inclusive conservatism that broadens the tent a tad while still maintaining the GOP status quo: lower taxes, aggressive neo-conservative foreign policy, and “family values” (i.e. Christian Conservative values). Marco Rubio is also important for the establishment because he is their best chance at appealing to Latino voters, a segment of the population that the GOP has traditionally done poorly with, but one which is increasing important with every election cycle. While Trump plays up xenophobia and nativism, Rubio and the GOP understand that if they are to stay relevant into the future, they need to change tact, and start appealing to this huge demographic, which means playing down their white identity politics and opening their arms to diversity within the party. Too bad their base disagrees…

Rubio is representing the establishment in an election year when the establishment is precisely the target of so much anger and hatred, on the Left as well as the Right. His only hope is for Trump to fail to get to the 1,237 delegates needed for a clear primary victory, and for the GOP to go into a brokered convention (a situation in which no single candidate has secured a pre-existing majority of delegates) where the Party will be free to choose their candidate, regardless of the popular vote. What frictions and tensions that will cause between the establishment and Republican voters remains to be seen, but I predict it will cause pretty nasty in-fighting as the Party tries desperately to stay relevant in the eyes of GOP voters while also putting forth a candidate of their choice, and canning the candidate that Republican voters clearly want: Donald Trump.


Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

On the Democratic side of the elections, the same anti-Establishment vs. Establishment dynamic is playing out, but on a more mature and sophisticated level. As the GOP devolves into childish tantrums, name-calling, embarrassing debates, and even dick jokes (See Rubio’s comment about the size of Trump’s hands), the Democrats have managed to stay congenial, high minded, and serious. The debates between Clinton and Sanders are substantive and informative. But do not mistake the agreeableness of the debates for a lack of contentiousness; the Sanders and Clinton competition is no less important for the Democratic Party as the Trump v. Rubio v. Cruz competition is for the GOP.

Sanders is the clear progressive, employing a sophisticated populism aimed at millennials and working class folks.  His analysis is class based and consistent. But Sanders has been an independent for 30 some years, and only joined the Democrats in order to make a legitimate run at the presidency.  But within the DNC, the picture is clear: Hillary is the desired nominee of the party, and even though Sanders is ostensibly running as a member of the party, everyone knows that he is not a true Party member. The DNC wants Hillary, and with their super-delegate system, they will get Hillary. Period.

The importance of Sander’s campaign is not so much in the chance that he can win, but in a handful of facts about his strategy and message. Here are the most important aspects of his campaign (in no particular order):

1)            He refuses all corporate and special interest campaign money. He funds his campaign solely through small donations from average citizens and has still managed to out-raise all but two (Hillary and Cruz) of the other candidates. For the first time, the possibility of a truly competitive grass-roots campaign, funded solely by citizens, is being realized.

2)            Sanders identifies as a Democratic Socialist. Previously, a candidate self-identifying as a socialist would mean that candidate automatically loses all chances at running an even slightly competitive campaign. But Sanders has unapologetically accepted the label, and by so doing, has enabled millions of Americans, especially younger Americans, to revisit the term and contemplate seriously the ideology behind it.  Sander’s campaign has freed the term “socialist” from its Cold War connotations and brought it back into the American Political mainstream; this bodes well for the possibility of a Socialist Party and Socialist candidates in the future. (I am leaving aside the debate over what makes someone a “real socialist” for now, the nuances of that conversation escape the scope of this essay, but I hope to blog about it soon.)

3)            Bernie Sanders has advocated for “political revolution”.  By this he means that the people have to realize the limitations of electoral politics and organize outside the system in order to put appropriate pressure on the system. This means that voting every 2-4 years is not enough; only by organizing outside the two party system, and by taking to the streets, can working and poor people truly advance their political interests in system built by and for the wealthy elite.

These aspects of the Sander’s campaign will have a continued influence on American politics well into the future, and even if his campaign ultimately fails to get the nomination, it will not be in vain.  I fully expect to see the blossoming of an unapologetically socialist politic over the next decade or so, and perhaps in the future we can look back on the Sander’s campaign and point to it as a turning point for Leftist American politics; a turn away from the Democratic party and towards a far more progressive, working class political party.  At least that is my earnest hope.


— Predictions —

Finally, I want to make some predictions. Today is March 1st, 2016 (Super Tuesday), where 12 states will vote in their respective primaries and caucuses. After tonight we will have an even better view of what the likely outcomes will be, and who will be facing who in the general election. It’s a perfect time for some predictions, so here they are:

My prediction is that when the dust settles, Hillary Clinton will be facing Donald Trump in the general election. The GOP will do everything within their power to prevent a Trump candidacy, but will ultimately fail. Their only hope is to keep Trump below the 1,237 delegates line, so that they can enter a brokered convention and have far more control over who their candidate will be. But even if they manage to pull that off, they will do so at cost of their base’s loyalty and respect. The base will see this move as a cynical attempt for the party to disregard the people’s wishes, and will lead to even more fervent anti-establishmentarian politics on the Right in the future. The party will continue to fracture and disintegrate as the base and the establishment battle one another for control over the party’s future. This can only be a good thing for anyone on the Left, but specifically for the Democratic Party who will likely take advantage of the discord in the GOP. They will win the election, and get to install the first Woman president after they had 8 years of the first Black president. Making history in back-to-back presidential elections, further alienating the GOP as the party of the past, and solidifying the strength of the Democratic Party into the future.

And make no mistake: Hillary will wipe the fucking floor with Donald Trump in a general election.  She is far more experienced in politics, she is a much better debater, Trump has a large closet full of skeletons for Clinton to expose and exploit, and the GOP will split: many Republicans going for a third party candidate over trump, refusing to vote, or even going so far as to vote for Hillary; accepting the loss but preserving the Republican party as a whole into the future, hopefully allowing for some mid-term gains as the GOP base reacts to a Clinton presidency in the same way they reacted to the Obama presidency.  Its counter-intuitive but true: Hillary defeating Trump will be good for the Republican Party.  A Trump presidency would be devastating for the Party, for reasons I outlined above.

In conclusion, tonight’s results will give us a strong indication as to how the rest of the primary season will go, and if I am correct in my analysis, Trump and Clinton will win big tonight, and become all but inevitable candidates for the general election; at which point we will almost certainly have a Hillary Clinton presidency starting in early 2017.