Disgust Yes, Disappointment No

13/04/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet, April 2, 2014

Some Truly Nauseating Remarks in Brussels

Many liberals and progressives were shaken into anger, disgust, dismay, and disappointment when Barack Obama said the following to U.S. NATO and European Union allies in Brussels one week ago today:

“Russia has pointed to America’s decision to go into Iraq as an example of Western hypocrisy. Now, it is true that the Iraq War was a subject of vigorous debate not just around the world, but in the United States as well. I participated in that debate and I opposed our military intervention there. But even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory. We did not grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state that could make decisions about its own future.”

 

Obama’s statement came in a speech that chastised Russia for “challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident” by seizing Crimea – that “that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.”

I understand the anger and the disgust. How did Obama pile so many blatant lies and falsification into a mere 109 words? Global opinion was overwhelmingly against George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. The supposedly “vigorous debate” within and beyond the U.S. was horribly stunted and partial, thanks to the systematic distortion and manufacture of facts by the White House and Pentagon, aided and abetted by the U.S. Congress and the corporate media.

Bush brazenly invaded without support from international law, of course. That law prohibits the launching of a war unless that war is undertaken for legitimate reasons of self-defense or if it is authorized by the United Nations Security Council. Neither condition was met, compelling Washington to act on its own, along with a handful of bought and bullied “partners.”

It is true that the U.S. did not annex Iraq. But, as Sheldon Richman noted in Counterpunch last weekend:

 

‘in many respects the Bush administration sure tried…de facto control was the Bush regime’s objective in Iraq from Day One…The presumptuous whiz-kid bureaucrats sent in after Saddam fell were armed with plans to remake Iraq right down to its traffic lights and flag. The oil resources were to be “privatized” and parceled out to crony American companies. (Remember the promises that oil revenues would pay for the costly war? Didn’t happen.)’

 

‘Billions of dollars ostensibly spent to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by American bombers (beginning in 1991) ended up lining the pockets of contractors, subcontractors, and sub-subcontractors (ad infinitum) — with little to show for it. Iraqis to this day suffer from inadequate public services like water, electricity, sewerage, and medical care….‘The Bush administration also expected to have some three dozen permanent military bases (with lots of American firms granted lucrative business concessions), and an embassy the size of the Vatican.’

‘Few of these plans came to fruition — but only because Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who asIran’s handpicked candidate for prime minister, wouldn’t permit it. To be sure, the U.S. government did not gain territory or grab resources — but not for lack of trying.’

 

Comparing the United States’ unprovoked and mass-murderous invasion of Iraq favorably with Russia’s nearly bloodless annexation of Crimea and saying that the U.S. invasion was consistent with international rules marks a new Orwellian low even for Kill List Obama – a man who does not shy away from moral quicksand in service to empire and inequality.

Well more than a million Iraqis died because of the monumentally criminal U.S. assault. It will take Iraq many decades to recover from the havoc wreaked on it by the U.S., if recovery is even possible. As the widely respected journalist Nir Rosen in the mainstream journal Current History in December of 2007, “Iraq has been killed, never to rise again. The American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century. Only fools talk of solutions now…The only hope is that perhaps the damage can be contained.”

Along the way, Washington continues to sponsor violence and authoritarian rule in Iraq. All of this and more makes Obama’s claim that the U.S. left Iraq in good, sovereign, and self-determining shape look damn near sociopathic. As Richman elaborates:

‘The war indeed ended in 2011. But let’s not forget that before (most of) the troops left, Obama begged al-Maliki to let U.S. forces stay beyond the deadline set in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Al-Maliki — who didn’t need the United States when he had Iran in his corner — demanded conditions so unacceptable to Obama that most forces were withdrawn as scheduled. (SOFA was signed by Bush, but that doesn’t stop Obama from claiming credit for “ending the war.”) The U.S. government continues to finance, arm, and train al-Maliki’s military, which represses the minority Sunni population.’

‘What was left to Iraq’s people was a catastrophe …The invasion unleashed a conflagration of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiites, unseen during Saddam’s tenure and consciously facilitated by the U.S. government. Most Sunnis were cleansed from Baghdad. Countless were killed and maimed; millions more became refugees. The fire burns out of control to this day, fueled by the oppression and corruption of al-Maliki, who’s earned the moniker “the Shia Saddam.”’

‘…Even the usually sunny Department of State advises American travelers to Iraq that US citizens “remain at risk for kidnapping … [as] numerous insurgent groups, including Al Qaida, remain active” and notes that “State Department guidance to US businesses in Iraq advises the use of Protective Security Details”’

‘….That is what has been left to the Iraqi people by the benevolent power of the United States of America. As for the U.S. government’s respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, the Obama administration is pressuring al-Maliki to stop allowing Iraq’s ally Iran to fly through Iraqi airspace to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his civil war.’ (Sheldon Richman, “Obama’s Iraq Fairy Tale,”  Counterpunch, March 28-30, 2014, http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/03/28/obamas-iraq-fairy-tale/)

While Vladimir Putin’s regime is ugly and imperial, Russia is hardly murdering masses and destroying social and technical infrastructure in Crimea, where the preponderant majority of citizens clearly want to be affiliated with Moscow, not Kiev. To compare Putin’s significantly defensive annexation of geographically proximate Crimea with mass support from Crimeans with Bush’s brazenly imperialist and mass-murderous invasion occupation of an oil-rich nation half way across the world from Washington is worse then merely deceptive. It’s revolting and it’s evil.

So disgust and anger make perfect sense. For what it’s worth, I never cease to be amazed by Obama’s capacity to sicken the soul in the smooth articulation of the same noxious Orwellian, imperial, and American-exceptionalist rhetoric that George W. Bush advanced in comparatively clumsy fashion.

 

 

“What I’m Opposed to is a Dumb War”

I do not share the dismay and disappointment with Obama’s Brussels remarks, however. We should keep in mind that Obama as president has shown repeated, consistent, and brazen disregard for international law in numerous ways: the calamitous regime-changing air war on Libya, the attempted bombing of Syria, the ordering of hundreds of deadly, civilian-slaughtering drone and Special Forces attacks across the Muslim world, the maintenance of a giant Orwellian global surveillance and spying network, and more.

But put all that aside and go back to Obama’s positions on Iraq back in the days of Cheney and Bush, when masses of “portside” Americans looked to Obama as a Great Half-White Hope for peace and justice. Obama was never the anti-Iraq War candidate that liberals, progressives, and even some leftists wanted to think he was.

In the fall of 2002, it is true, Obama joined with numerous other Chicago Democratic politicians to speak against Bush’s Iraq invasion plans in Chicago’s downtown Daley Plaza. But Obama’s Daley Plaza speech (copies of which were lodged in the screen doors of Iowa City liberals the night before the 2008 Iowa Caucus) was not an anti-war oration. Obama made sure to tell his audience that “I don’t oppose all wars….what I am opposed to is a dumb war.”  Calling Bush’s imminent war “dumb” but not criminal or immoral, the speech deleted the highly illegal and richly petro-imperialist ambitions behind the invasion being planned in Washington. It rejected the planned invasion in much the same terms as George Bush Senior’s former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and much of the rest of the American foreign policy establishment. It argued that invading Iraq would be a foreign policy mistake – something that would likely not work for United States power in the world. It deleted the fact that the unprovoked occupation being worked up by the White House and Pentagon would be a brazenly illegal and imperial transgression certain to kill untold masses of innocent Iraqis.

The basis for Obama’s dissent from Bush and Cheney’s war plans did not differ in any fundamental moral and ideological way from that of numerous militantly imperial members of the foreign policy establishment.

 

“He Had Bigger Plans”

In 2003, the year the criminal invasion was undertaken, Obama removed his Daley Plaza speech from his Web site. Even that speech’s tepid objections to the planned occupation were seen by him and his handlers as too strident and radical for public consumption as he prepared to make his run for the United States Senate seat left open by the departure of Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL). Obama was nowhere to be found amid the great antiwar marches that took place in downtown Chicago on the nights of March 19 and March 20, 2003.

According to Carl Davidson, a former anti-Vietnam War activist who helped organize the Daley Plaza rally and who later helped form the oxymoronically named group Progressives for Obama (PFO), Obama began stepping back from his “antiwar” position after the invasion: “he turned…now we had to set aside whether it was right or wrong to invade, now we had to find the ‘smart’ path to victory, not Bush’s ‘dumb’ path….He wasn’t listening to us much anymore, but to folks much higher up in the Democratic Leadership Council orbit. He had bigger plans.”

 

“The Difference is Who’s In a Position to Execute”

Obama’s heralded Democratic Party Convention Keynote Address of late July 2004 (the speech that put him on the national stage as a public phenomenon and potential future president) steered clear of any substantive criticism of the invasion and the fraudulent basis on which it was sold and authorized by Democratic as well as Republican legislators. “The Speech’s” main criticism of Bush’s criminal invasion was that the White House had gone to “war” without “enough troops to win.”

Obama’s instantly lauded address was consistent with the militaristic John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry presidential campaign, which ran on the notion that its standard-bearer would be a more competent and effective administrator of the Iraq occupation than Bush. Kerry was going to conduct the illegal invasion in a more efficient and effective way.

Obama’s most telling Iraq war statement during the 2004 Democratic Party convention did not occur in his famous address. One day before his speech, Obama told the New York Times that he actually did not know how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote. Here is the relevant Times passage: “In a recent interview, [Obama] declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time. ‘But, I’m not privy to Senate intelligence reports,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘What would I have done? I don’t know.’ What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made’” (NYT, July 26, 2004).

Obama said something just as revealing the next day. “There’s not that much difference between my position [on Iraq] and George Bush’s position at this stage,” he told The Chicago Tribune. “The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute” (emphasis added).

The Tribune added that Obama “now believes U.S. forces must remain to stabilize the war-ravaged nation – a position not dissimilar to the current approach of the Bush administration.”

As Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate Matt Gonzales asked four years later, “why wouldn’t he have taken the opportunity to urge withdrawal if he truly opposed the war? Was he trying to signal to conservative voters that he would subjugate his anti-war position if elected to the U.S. Senate and perhaps support a lengthy occupation?…as it turns out,” Gonzales added, “he’s done just that.”

 

“They’ve Seen Their Sons and Daughters Killed in the Streets of Fallujah”

Obama’s subsequent behavior as U.S. Senator was richly consistent with Gonzales’ observation. Besides voting repeatedly to spend billions on the Iraq occupation after his arrival to the U.S. Senate in early 2005, the new junior senator from Illinois inveighed against what he called the “Tom Hayden wing of the Democratic Party” to tell congressional Democrats they would be “playing chicken with the troops” if they dared to de-fund the Cheney-Bush invasion (Hayden would later lend his name to PFO). After the Democrats attained a majority in the Congress in November of 2006 largely on the basis of mass popular antiwar sentiment, Obama warned Democrats against being seen as working against the Bush administration on Iraq. Despite the existence of numerous reports showing that a significant number of U.S. troops had committed atrocities against innocent civilians in Iraq, Obama gave a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) that praised U.S. military personnel for their “unquestioning” “service” in Iraq and for “doing everything we could ever ask of them.” The oration bore the ominous title, “A Way Forward in Iraq.” Despite polls showing a majority of Americans desiring a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, Obama claimed, as Stephen Zunes noted at the time:

 

“that U.S. troops may need to stay in that occupied country for an ‘extended period of time,’ and that ‘the U.S. may have no choice but to slog it out in Iraq.’ Specifically, [Obama] called for U.S. forces to maintain a ‘reduced but active presence,’ to ‘protect logistical supply points’ and ‘American enclaves like the Green Zone’ as well as ‘act as rapid reaction forces to respond to emergencies and go after terrorists.’ Instead of calling for an end to the increasingly bloody U.S.-led military effort, he instead called for ‘a pragmatic solution to the real war we’re facing in Iraq,’ with repeated references to the need to defeat the insurgency.”

 

At one revealing point speaking to the CCGA, Obama had the cold imperial audacity to say the following in support of his disturbing claim that U.S. citizens support “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved [in support of the occupation of Iraq, P.S]. . They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah” (emphasis added).

This was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Fallujah was the site for colossal U.S. war atrocity by the U.S. military in April and November of 2004. The crimes included the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city. The town was designated for destruction as an example of the awesome state terror promised to those who dared to resist U.S. power. Not surprisingly, Fallujah became a powerful and instant symbol of American imperialism in the Arab and Muslim worlds. It was a deeply provocative and insulting place for Obama to have chosen to highlight American sacrifice and “resolve” in the imperialist occupation of Iraq.

 

“To Create a Jeffersonian Democracy”

I cannot recount here all the revolting details of U.S. Senator Obama’s support for the Iraq invasion. They are recorded in the fourth chapter (titled “How Antiwar? Obama, Iraq, and the Audacity of Empire”) of my 2008 bookBarack Obama and the Future of American Politics, a rigorously documented deconstruction of the “progressive Obama” myth that was predictably ignored by leading shapers of U.S. left-liberal opinion like The Nation.

One such detail that bears repetition here relates to candidate Obama’s take on why Bush invaded Iraq.Released in late 2006 in anticipation of his presidential candidacy announcement, Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope absurdly claimed that the U.S. occupation of Iraq had been launched with the “best of intentions,” including a desire to “export democracy.” In a similar vein, Obama’s “Way Forward” speech criticized the Bush administration for invading Iraq because it had unrealistic “dreams of democracy and hopes for a perfect government.” This was a recurrent Obama theme through the presidential primaries, reflected in the following comment he made to the editors of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel prior to the Wisconsin presidential primary in February of 2008: “I was always skeptical of the notion that we would walk in there and create a Jeffersonian democracy.”

 

“Time to Stop Spending Billions Trying to Put Iraq Back Together”

Consistent with this preposterous notion of the Bush administration’s invasion motives, candidate Obama advanced a curious reason for claiming to be against the Iraq War. “It’s time,” he told autoworkers in Janesville, Wisconsin, “to stop spending billions of dollars a week trying to put Iraq back together and start spending the money putting America back together.” For those who knew the depth and the degree of the destruction inflicted on Iraq by the U.S., this statement was obscene.

“Trying to put Iraq back together.” Yes, that’s what the U.S. was doing in Fallujah and across Mesotopamia during the invasion. Enough with all the expensive assistance Uncle Sam had been handing over to those dysfunctional Iraqis!

Orwell would have been awed.

 

Right From the Start

Obama’s nauseating comments in Brussels last week are all too richly consistent with this earlier history. His Orwellian position on Iraq was clear from the beginning to any serious investigator with the capacity to read between the lines and connect the dots beyond the blank sheet marketing project that was Obama (voted “Advertiser of the Year” by Advertising Age in 2008) in the pre-presidential phase of the Obama phenomenon.

Much the same can be said about Obama’s power-serving positions and policies regarding business power, labor rights, civil rights, racial justice, civil liberties, climate change, government surveillance, immigrant rights, and foreign policy in general, of course. Genuine progressives have no business being dismayed and disappointed as the “deeply conservative” (Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker, May 7, 2007) “Obama, Inc.” (Ken Silverstein,Harper’s, December 2006) throws peace, justice, and the common good under the bus of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire yet again and again. Obama the president is all too consistent with the “mybarackobama.com” on to which countless U.S. “portsiders” mistakenly projected any number of progressive values in 2008. We are far past the time for disappointment and dismay.

Paul Street’s latest publications include “Section 1: What’s Wrong With Capitalism?” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., IMAGINE Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, advance order athttp://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810). Street will speak on “American Plutocracy and Prospects for Real Democracy” at Democracy for the USA’s 2014 Democracy Forum, 1000 M. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, Saturday April 5, 2014, 1:30-2:30 pm. Street can be reached at paul.street99@gmail.com

Without Even a Side Glance

01/04/14 0 COMMENTS

Do some members of the American elite fantasize that they can – like the alien corporate colonizers of Earth portrayed in John Carpenter’s classic left sci-fi horror film They Live (1987) – shoot off to another planet once they have ruined Earth, having baked the planet’s climate along the way? [1]

Last week, the Editorial Board of the supposedly (according to delusional FOX News Teapublicans) leftWashington Post used the significantly U.S.-generated Ukraine-Russia crisis to support calls by Republican Congressmen and the U.S. petroleum industry for the lifting of “irrational” restrictions on the export of domestically extracted oil and natural gas.[2] The Web version of the Post editorial contained an approving and supporting link to a January 2014 commentary in the openly plutocratic Forbes magazine. The Forbes piece, penned by “free market” zealot Doug Bandow argued that “the export ban risks slowing or halting the increase in domestic energy production. U.S. oil production is at a quarter century high; America could surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia as the globe’s top oil producer by 2015.” Bandow wanted Forbes’ affluent readers to know that:

“an energy revolution is underway. Observe[s] Mark P. Mills, an Adjunct Fellow at the [right-wing corporate-neoliberal] Manhattan Institute, ‘The game-changing technologies that have emerged involve hydrocarbons: natural gas, oil, and coal.’ Major advances have been made in locating and extracting resources—such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking—and operating in more distant and hostile environments….Falling energy prices have benefited manufacturers as well as consumers. Moreover, exports of coal, liquid natural gas, natural gas liquids, and petroleum products have grown substantially, turning Americans into major traders.”

Bandow concluded with a bold reflection on what he saw as the plain and simple choice facing “Americans”:

“The energy boom is a great boon for Americans. However, absent a decision by Washington to open up more areas for development and allow more efficient use of what is produced, the boom could fade. Sa[ys Maria] van der Hoeven [Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, formed at the suggestion of Henry Kissinger in the wake of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo], ‘market realities suggest a far simpler decision ahead: either U.S. crude is shipped abroad or it stays in the ground.’…The choice should be easy. Innovative markets have erased decades of rhetoric about shortages and scarcity. America’s energy future will grow even brighter if only Uncle Sam stops getting in the way” (emphasis added).[3]

What’s it all got to do with Ukraine-Russia? Citing the reflections of The New Yorker’s financial writer James Surowiecki, Harvard researcher Luka Oreskovia, Council of Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Michael A. Levi, and Leslie Palti-Guzman, a Senior Analyst at the Eurasia Group (a “leading global political research and consulting firm” that provides corporations “insight on how political developments move markets,” and whose slogan is “Defining the Business of Politics”), the Post’s editors believe that bringing surplus U.S.-produced oil and gas more freely to the world market will reduce Russia’s ability to prevent a forceful Western response to Vladimir Putin’s “aggressive actions in Ukraine” by undermining the European Union’s dependence on large imports of Russian natural gas. The precise way in which this would happen is more complex than the simple replacement of Russian gas with U.S. gas. It has to do with how US “entry into the Asian [oil and as] market” would damage Russian opportunities there while “contributing to an already widening and more diverse supply of natural gas” in ways that would compel Putin to slash Russian gas prices. Sending “the signal that ‘the US is open for [gas and oil export] business’ [Palti-Guzman] …could deter Mr. Putin from playing the energy card,” the Post editorial board explains.

In the Post’s editors’ view, getting rid of restrictions on domestic oil and gas export would be a triple win – for the American economy, for those who believe in the “free trade,” and for “our” great European allies. The only loser is the “predatory regime” in Moscow: “The economic case for allowing natural gas exports is compelling on its own. Doing so would bring money into the country and uphold the vital principle that energy resources should flow freely around the globe, making the markets for the fuels the world economy needs as flexible and robust as possible. The more major suppliers there are following that principle, the less control predatory regimes such as Mr. Putin’s will have over the market.”[4]

Forget for a moment, if you can, that the United States is itself under the predatory and plutocratic control of financial and corporate capital [4A], and that U.S. Empire has played a critical and aggressive if largely behind-the-scenes role in creating the Ukraine-Russia crisis [4B].

Forget also the significant extent to which the Post editorial board’s position reflects sheer globalist indifference to the international competitiveness of American manufacturing. As the Marxist analyst Joel Geier noted one year ago in the International Socialist Review:

“A large fight is developing within the capitalist class between those trying to find ways to export natural gas and those who want it kept within the US to hold down its domestic price. The use of natural gas as cheap energy to run factories enhances US industrial competiveness. Those industries that use large amounts of energy, in which energy costs are decisive in running factories (such as the aluminum, copper, chemicals, and steel industries), are the first to begin a large shift of production from China, Asia, and Europe to the United States.”[5]

It’s pretty clear whose side the Post editorial board has unsurprisingly taken in that fight – the one that supports the continued shutdown of the United States’ once proud industrial sector.

Forget also that American consumers would benefit from the holding down of the price of domestic petroleum, which each us no small part of household budgets in a militantly unequal nation where hundreds of millions struggle to make ends meet. And forget that the only “Americans” who will really garner a “boon” from increased U.S. gas and oil experts are the owners and top managers of energy corporations.

Put all that aside and reflect on the real horror of the Post’s editorial in support of the export-enabled ramping up of domestic gas production. The worst part of that editorial is its abject indifference to the giant, many-sided ecological catastrophe that is fracking – the epic waste and pollution of ever-more scarce ground water[6] that fracking entails and the dreadful contribution it makes to anthropogenic global warming, a problem that clearly threatens the continued viability of the human species.

The threat would be intensified significantly by the policy changes the Post supports. According to a coalition of U.S. environmental organizations in a recent letter protesting the Obama administration’s already existing plan to build Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals across US coastlines:

“The life cycle of exported fracked gas, from drilling to piping to ‘liquefaction’ to shipping overseas and eventual burning, results in huge levels of carbon emissions and widespread leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2. Emerging and credible analyses now show that exported U.S. fracked gas is as harmful to the atmosphere as the combustion of coal overseas – if not worse….The implementation of a massive LNG export plan would lock in place infrastructure and economic dynamics that will make it almost impossible for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change”(emphasis added).[7]

As Rebecca Solnit recently reminded us, it is by now “widely recognized” that “preventing climate change from reaching its most catastrophic potential requires keeping four-fifths of known carbon reserves (coal, oil, and gas) in the ground” (emphasis added).[8] By pushing for the expanded extraction of domestic shale gas and oil with the poisonous methods and technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – eco-cidal tools and practices that Western petroleum corporations now expect to use in attacking the billions of cubic feet of shale gas beneath the soils of Eastern European nations including Poland and Ukraine[9] – Big Carbon is announcing in yet another way its bottom-line determination to push petroleum extraction, refining, and burning well past the limits points of livable ecology.

It’s not enough for capital to dismantle industrial production and manufacturing employment in the U.S. The bigger corporate and financial project is the dismantlement of a decently inhabitable Earth.

Reviewing all this and much more that is terrible to contemplate, I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s observation at the Left Forum last year that U.S. elites seem determined to “burn every last fossil fuel without even a side glance” at the environmental consequences.[10] That certainly applies to the Washington Post editorial board. It does not dedicate a single word to the grave environmental downsides of fracking in its effort to use the Ukraine crisis to advance the frankly exterminist production and global export agenda of the oil and gas corporations.

Without even a side glance at the fate of the Earth we all share.*

*PostscriptThere is one partial and deeply flawed exception to the no-side-glance rule in the material I reviewed for this essay. It comes near the end of Doug Bandow’s above-quoted Forbes commentary, where he actually wrote the following: “Exports [of U.S. shale oil and gas] also would be environmentally friendly. Instead of building more refineries to handle increased production, the U.S. would send more of its crude oil to other nations’ facilities. In this way [U.S.] localities and states could avoid always contentious political struggles over construction of new refineries.”[11]. When Bandow says large exports of fracked U.S. oil and gas would be “environmentally friendly” he is not only ignoring fracking’s horrible impact on U.S ground water safety and availability. He is ignoring the fact that climate change is global, reflecting the environmental interdependence of nations on this blue Earth we all share. He is also and just as perversely saying that it is environmentally safe if the ecological damage resulting from the highly toxic processes of crude oil and gas refining takes place in other countries, outside the U.S. Bandow’s “side glance” would have been better not taken.

Paul Street’s latest publications include “Section 1: What’s Wrong With Capitalism?” in Frances Goldin, Debby Smith, and Michael Steven Smith, eds., IMAGINE Living in a Socialist USA (New York: Harper Collins, 2014), and They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, advance order athttp://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810). Street will speak on “American Plutocracy and Prospects for Real Democracy” at Democracy for the USA’s 2014 Democracy Forum, 1000 M. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, Saturday April 5, 2014, 1:30-2:30 pm. Street can be reached at paul.street99@gmail.com

Selected Endnotes

1. For a synopsis of They Live, see the introduction to my new book They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy(Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)

 2. Washington Post Editorial Board, “Using U.S. Natural Gas as an Energy Wedge Against Russia,” Washington Post, March 22, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/using-us-natural-gas-as-an-energy-wedge-against-russia/2014/03/22/634ae586-b13b-11e3-95e8-39bef8e9a48b_story.html

3. Doug Bandow, “Free America’s Energy Future: Drop Washington’s Counterproductive Oil and Natural Gas Export Ban,” Forbes, January 27, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2014/01/27/free-americas-energy-future-drop-washingtons-counterproductive-oil-and-natural-gas-export-ban/

4. Post Editorial Board, “Using Natural Gas as an Energy Wedge.”

4A. Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company (February 21, 2014), http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/; Paul Street, “The Deep State and Beyond,” ZNet (March 1, 2014), http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-deep-state-and-beyond/

4B. Paul Craig Roberts, “The Folly of Imperial Meddling: The Crisis in the Ukraine,” Counterpunch (February 26, 2014), http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/02/26/the-crisis-in-ukraine/

5. Joel Geier, “Capitalism’s Long Crisis,” International Socialist Review, vol. 88 (March 2014),http://isreview.org/issue/88/capitalisms-long-crisis

6. Dangers of Frackinghttp://www.dangersoffracking.com/

7. 350.org; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Health, Environment and Justice;

Chesapeake Climate Action Network; CREDO; Earth Day Network; Earthjustice; Earthworks; Energy Action Coalition; Environmental Action; Environment America; Food and Water Watch; Friends of the Earth; Green America; Sierra Club; Waterkeeper Alliance, “A Letter to President Obama: Stop the Disastrous Rush to Export Fracked Gas at Cove Point and Nationwide,” March 18, 2014,http://org.salsalabs.com/o/423/images/LNG-Export-PresidentObama-Climate-Letter31814.pdf

8. Rebecca Solnit, “By the Way Your Home is on Fire,” TomDispatch (March 11, 2014),http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175817/

9. James Surowiecki, “Putin’s Power Play,” The New Yorker, March 24, 2014, reports with no apparent dread that “Europe may also finally make its peace with fracking—a hard sell till now, not just because of environmental concerns but also because European landowners typically don’t own the mineral rights to their property, and so have no incentive to allow drilling. But there are Eastern European countries, including Poland and Ukraine, sitting on billions of cubic feet of shale gas, and Ukraine signed exploration contracts with Chevron last year” (emphasis added).

10. Chomsky at Left Forum, Pace University, New York City, June 11, 2013,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yvHMtgac0Q

11. Bandow, “Free America’s Energy Future”

People Forget, the Earth Does Not

27/03/14 0 COMMENTS

Originally published on ZNet, March 22, 2014

“The Good News”

Last weekend I happened to glance at CNN long enough to hear a beautiful newscaster ask an airline industry expert if the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with 239 people aboard would hurt that airline’s profitability.

“I hope not,” the industry analyst answered. “The good news,” he observed, “is that people forget.” Since Malaysian Airlines has no real competition in Malaysia, he added, all the company needed to do was cut prices for a while and customers will return.

How’s that for bottom-line bluntness in the wake of horrific calamity?

Now, forget for a moment the crassness of going on television to say that you look forward to the forgetting of an accident or crime that killed 239 human beings – this even before the bodies have been found. The notion that mass forgetting is good news because it’s good for business is a longstanding capitalist sentiment. The business elite and its agents and allies always want capital’s transgressions thrown down Orwell’s “memory hole.”

Nothing Happening

And it isn’t just past business crimes – say, their profits from slavery or from dealings with the Nazis or from the theft of Native American lands (or…fill in the blank) – that they want us to overlook. We are also and above all supposed to forget present-day corporate and financial abuses and transgressions even as they (supposedly don’t) happen.

In his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, the British playwright Harold Pinter notes how Western cultural authorities were intensely conscious of the “systematic brutality” and “the widespread atrocities” of Stalinist Russia. When it came to the numerous governments subverted and the millions maimed, displaced, and murdered by the U.S. capitalist empire, however, Pinter observed that “you wouldn’t know it. It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening,” Pinter added, “it never happened. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”[1]

That’s how U.S. big business wants its constant transgressions against democracy, justice, and the common good to be received today – as not mattering, as being of no interest and even as not really happening at all.Thus, for example, we are expected to understand that the Boeing Corporation is a noble and caring world citizen even as its cost-plus products help United States and its clients and allies inflict murder, mayhem, and terror across the world; and that Exxon-Mobil is a great friend of the environment as it wreaks regular havoc on livable ecology at home and abroad.. The “business community” boasts of its commitment to (the falsely conflated virtues of) democracy and the so-called free market even as it works around the clock to rig the games of politics and policy in their favor with giant campaign contributions, a vast army of highly-paid lobbyists (many of them former public officials), lucrative job offers to public officials eager to “monetize” their years in “government service,” the placement of industry agents in key government posts, and a vast private public relations, marketing, and propaganda empire that includes the “reality”-shaping mass media on which the population relies for public information.

 

Erasing the Authoritarian Absurdity of “Too Big to Fail”

Remember how the nation’s giant “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions precipitated the collapse of the national and global economy in 2007 and 2008 – this after many years of bribing, bullying, propagandizing, and infiltrating the federal government to win the sweeping deregulation of their conduct? When their reckless investment gambles finally and inevitably collapsed, they were rewarded for their epic irresponsibility by getting bailed out with trillions of dollars in taxpayer dollars – this even as tens of millions of ordinary Americans faced destitution without a hint of government assistance. As the incisive liberal-left journalist and author William Greider observed in the spring of 2009:

“People everywhere learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They watched Washington run to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sides nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”[2]

 

“The idea” behind the bailout of Wall Street behemoths, the left economist Richard Wolff has observed, “seemed to be that letting them collapse or default would have such devastating consequences for the larger economy that the government had to help them ‘in the national interest.’” But this idea was fraught with two dangerous and radical “implications that had to be blocked from public discussion, let alone action” as far as Wall Street was concerned. As Wolff explains:

“The first implication was that such larger enterprises should be broken up into smaller enterprises so that the failure of any one would not effectively blackmail the government into costly support….The second implication…was this: if big banks and other financial enterprises are too big to fail, then perhaps the solution was to nationalize them. Making their assets and liabilities fully transparent and publicly available would minimize the chance of behaviors that placed society at risk.”[3]

Both implications were kept safely forgotten by corporate media and the investor-beholden political class. The fundamental, underlying contradiction between the scale and power of the nation’s leading financial firms on one hand and democracy and the common good on the other hand was erased from “public discussion” so that (to quote Pinter) “it didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”

Meanwhile the “moral hazard” of “too-big-to-fail” (the problem that a guaranteed government bailout of giant financial institutions encourages those institutions to persist in undertaking excessive risks in the blind pursuit of profit) has only increased: many of the leading U.S. banks are now significantly bigger than they were in 2007.

Business-as-usual must go on, unencumbered by dysfunctional popular memory of past capitalist transgressions and “mistakes” – until the next crisis permitted by the reigning amnesia.

“A Choice Between the Bottom Line and the Fate of the Earth”

Another and even more terrible problem we are supposed to forget about as it happens so that business can proceed and rule as usual is anthropogenic climate change (ACC), aptly described by the left philosopher John Sonbanmatsu as “the biggest issue of our or any time.” For many years now, the preponderant majority of earth and climate scientists have been telling us that the planet we all share is being made progressively uninhabitable for human and countless other sentient beings (and other living things) by global capitalism’s relentlessly wasteful, growth-addicted burning of fossil fuels. For just as many years, big U.S. coal, gas, and oil corporations and other parts of the carbon-industrial complex have waged a giant propaganda and “public relations” campaign dedicated to discrediting those warnings and the consensus science on which they are based. Big Carbon has taken a page out of Big Tobacco’s onetime war on the medical science that linked cigarette sales and smoking to lung cancer, emphysema, and other deadly ailments.

This time, however, it isn’t merely the health of just one segment of humanity (e.g. smokers and those who breathe in their vicinity) that is primarily at stake. ACC is slowly but surely and ever more rapidly undermining the fragile fabric of life on Earth. As we approach critical catastrophic tipping points in a dramatically warning planet being cooked to the limits of livability by ever-escalating greenhouse gas emissions, it is no exaggeration to say that a decent future depends on humanity moving quickly to get off fossil fuels. This is something that Big Carbon is determined to prevent, seeking to convince us that ACC either doesn’t exist or that if it does it doesn’t really matter all that much. As Rebecca Solnit notes in a widely circulated essay titled “By the Way, You’re Home is on Fire”:

 “As is now widely recognized, preventing climate change from reaching its most catastrophic potential requires keeping four-fifths of known carbon reserves (coal, oil, and gas) in the ground. The owners of those reserves — those giant energy corporations and states like Russia and Canada that might as well be — have no intention of letting that happen….Given a choice between the bottom line and the fate of the Earth, the corporations have chosen to deny the scientific facts (at least publicly), avoid the conversation, or insist that retrenching is so onerous as to be impossible. At the same time, they have been up-armoring political action committees, funding climate change disinformation campaigns, paying off politicians, and, in many cases, simply manipulating governments to serve the corporations and their shareholders rather than humanity or even voters. It’s been a largely one-sided war for a long time.”[4]

Thanks to that “one-sided war,” a recent Gallup report shows that the percentage of Americans who feel that the seriousness of the threat posed to humans by global warming is “exaggerated” has risen over the last sixteen years (from 31% in 1998 to 48% in 2010 and 42% this March) of record-setting extreme weather and planetary ice loss. A different Gallup reports shows that Americans placed “climate change” next to last (right after “quality of environment” and above “race relations”) when asked to rank fifteen issue areas that cause them to “worry a great deal.” Most Americans doubt that global warming will have any significant impact on their lives.

These are victories for the great capitalist Denial, and Distraction Industry. The victory is not complete. A majority of Americans (56%) still think that the threat posed by global warming is either “as serious as reported” (23%) or “underestimated” (33%). A similar majority (57%) thinks that increases in Earth’s temperature over the last century are “due to pollution from human activities.” The Pew Center finds that two-thirds of the U.S. population thinks there is solid scientific evidence that the earth’s temperature has been getting warmer over the past few decades. Even after the onset of the Great Recession, more Americans (50%) still think that protection of the environment should be given priority over economic growth than those who think the opposite (41%).[5] And 64% of Americans favor regulating greenhouse gas emissions.[6] Future extreme weather and related developments seem likely to fuel (no pun intended) popular ecological awareness.

The Earth Does Not Forget

We shall see. In the meantime, just as the human body never really forgets unresolved trauma, the Earth does not forget the pollutants that have been poured into it under the direction of concentrated power structures, including 81 corporations (50 investor-owned and 31 state-owned) that have combined with 9 “nation state producers” to generate nearly two-thirds of all carbon emissions since 1751. Horrifyingly enough, Solnit notes that 63% of those emissions have been sent into the atmosphere over the last 25 years, meaning that “nearly two-thirds have been emitted since the first warnings were sounded about what was then called ‘global warming’ and the need to stop or scale back. We on Earth now, we who have been adults for at least 25 years, are the ones who have done more than all earlier human beings combined to unbalance the atmosphere of the planet, and thus its weather systems, oceans, and so much more.” [7]

Forget that.

The bad news is that carbon collects in the air, water, ice, and soil to transform this beautiful planet’s delicately balanced ecosystems in ways that promise to make life ever more difficult and very possibly impossible in the not-so distant future.

The Nazis gassed millions to death in genocidal extermination camps, but even that monumental crime promises to pale before the toll taken by those working to destroy life on Earth through Greenhouse Gassing in the names of the “free market” and the holy capitalist grail of endless Growth. We the people have a generation at most to wake up and remember what these corporate exterminists are doing to our precious blue “spaceship Earth,” giving dark meaning to the “End of History” that Western ideologues trumpeted after the collapse of the Stalinist, state-capitalist (“socialist”) regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe[8]. That’s something worth keeping in mind as corporate-captive U.S. planners seek to exploit the current, significantly U.S.-instigated Ukraine-Russian crisis so that American producers of surplus, carbon-rich natural gas extracted from U.S. soil through the militantly eco-cidal practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) can increase their sales to Western Europe and remove government controls on the export of domestically produced gas.. As the left economist Jack Rasmus explains:

“The long term objective is to have Germany and Europe dependent on US natural gas, at the expense of Russian gas. The USA now has a surplus of natural gas as a result of ‘fracking’ and new exploration. That surplus is reducing the price of natural gas in the US, and therefore profits. It wants to export the gas, which will raise prices and profits in the US while increasing profits from sales abroad. However, current legislation prevents the export of that gas. A crisis in Europe and the latter’s need for natural gas provides the perfect excuse for lifting US gas export controls. Oil and energy companies, facing lower demand for oil, want to boosts profits by increased production of natural gas both domestically and to Europe.”[9]

Down the memory hole with that!

Such terrible details aside, there won’t be much worth remembering in future centuries unless we more deeply recover our capacity to process, feel, integrate, understand and act on our social and material reality past, present, and future. Nature bats last and Earth does not forget.

Paul Street is the author of many books. His latest is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy, (Paradigm Publishers, 2014), which can be ordered athttp://www.paradigmpublishers.com/books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810

References

1. Quoted in John Pilger, Freedom Next Time (New York: Nation Books, 2007), 4.

2. William Greider, “Obama Asked Us to Speak But is He Listening?” Washington Post, March 22, 2009.

3. Richard Wolff, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket, 2012), 76.

4. Rebecca Solnit, “By the Way Your Home is on Fire,” TomDispatch (March 11, 2014),http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175817/

5.Except for the Pew Center poll, all opinion data in the previous paragraph and this paragraph up to this sentence can be viewed at Gallup, “Climate Change” (March 12-March 20, 2014),http://www.gallup.com/tag/Climate%2bChange.aspx. The Pew survey: http://www.people-press.org/2012/10/15/more-say-there-is-solid-evidence-of-global-warming/

6. Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, “Poll: Americans Back Climate Change Regulation, Not Taxes.” February 7, 2013, http://news.sanford.duke.edu/news-type/news/2013/poll-americans-back-climate-change-regulation-not-taxes

7. Solnit, “By the Way.” Solnit takes her data from an important new study: Richard Heede, “Tracing Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide and Methane Emissions to Fossil Fuel and Cement Producers, 1854-2010,”http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-013-0986-y, full paper athttp://download.springer.com/static/pdf/371/art%253A10.1007%252Fs10584-013-0986-y.pdf?auth66=1395598806_2fc2756722b91e509cdf8dba957a147b&ext=.pdf

8. On the Soviet bloc as state-capitalist, see Wolff, Democracy at Work, 81-82.

9. Jack Rasmus,, “Ukraine Economic Crisis: Who Benefits, Who Pays?” ZNet (March 19, 2014),http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/ukraine-economic-crisis-who-benefits-who-pays/

 

Academic Unfreedom, Forced and Voluntary

21/03/14 0 COMMENTS

Published on ZNet, Marcch 17, 2014. Violations of free speech rights in U.S. “higher education” are a bit like police violence against minorities in at least one key way. There are many relatively unknown cases of the problem beyond the few that have gained notoriety.

Chances are you’ve heard of the prolific left authors, scholars, and speakers Ward Churchill and Norman Finkelstein. They are like the Rodney King and Trayvon Martin of 21st century academic repression in the United States.

In 2007, both Churchill and Finkelstein were removed from academic positions and booted out of “higher education” because of their expressed political beliefs. Both were academically and occupationally lynched – Churchill (fired with tenure) by the University of Colorado’s president at the behest of Colorado’s Republican governor and FOX News henchman Bill O’Reilly, and Finkelstein (denied tenure voted for him by his department and backed by a college-wide faculty committee) by Chicago’s DePaul University at the behest of the Israel Lobby and Alan Dershowitz, a leading Zionist attack dog who Finkelstein had exposed as an abject plagiarist.

 

Lesser Known Firings

University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Barbara Mandeloni

It’s much less likely that you’ve heard of Barbara Mandeloni. She was for many years the highly respected and positively evaluated director of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s secondary teacher certification program. In early May of 2012, professor Mandeloni, then 55, spoke to New York Times reporter Michael Winerip about her opposition to the university’s requirement that student teachers participate in a new teacher evaluation program designed by the educational testing corporation Pearson, Inc. Whereas previously beginning teachers were assessed on the basis of six months of real-school class observation, the Pearson system evaluated those teachers by having them submit two 10-minute videos and take a 40-page standardized test. Three weeks after Winerip reported Mandeloni’s criticism and her successful efforts encouraging her students not to participate in the Pearson program, the university sent her a letter saying that her contract would not be renewed in August of 2013.

 

Bard College and Joel Kovel

You probably also don’t know the case of the noted eco-socialist Dr. Joel Kovel, an author of seven highly respected books who taught psychology and other subjects at Bard College in upstate New York for two decades. After years of harassment by top Bard College administrators upset over his public criticism of Zionism and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, Kovel was informed in February of 2009 that his contract would not be renewed the following July.

The political nature of Kovel’s discharge was transparent in the composition of an “evaluation committee” Bard created to judge Kovel’s work prior to removing him. The committee prominently included Bard professor Bruce Chilton, a prominent Protestant theologian who was highly active in Zionist circles. As Kovel noted after his discharge, “Chilton campaigns vigorously against Protestant efforts to promote divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel…He may be heard on a national radio program …arguing from the Doctrine of Just War and claiming that it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel for human rights violations.”

“The presence of such a voice on the committee whose conclusion was instrumental in the decision to remove me from the Bard faculty is highly dubious,” Kovel reasonably observed. “Most definitely…Chilton should have recused himself…His failure to do so, combined with the fact that the decision as a whole was made in context of adversity between myself and the Bard administration, renders the process of my termination invalid as an instance of what the college’s Faculty Handbook calls a procedure ‘designed to evaluate each faculty member fairly and in good faith.’”

Bard is very proud of its identity as a progressive, open-minded college.

Temple University and Tony Monteiro

More recently, there is the remarkable case of Dr. Anthony Monteiro, professor of African American Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia from 2004 through January of 2014. Besides being highly accomplished as a teacher and a scholar, Monteiro has long been a popular social justice leader within and beyond the university. He has achieved a strong favorable reputation in black Philadelphia and progressive circles by writing, speaking, and organizing against imperial war, mass incarceration, urban gentrification (behind which Temple is a leading force), and police corruption. Along the way, he has ably upheld the Black Marxist intellectual and activist tradition of W.E.B. DuBois and C.L.R. James (and others) within and beyond academy.

All this and more made Monteiro a target for harassment and surveillance by Temple administrators, including Dr. Teresa Soufas, the school’s notoriously authoritarian and not-so subtly racist Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. In the summer of 2012, Soufa placed Temple’s African American Studies department in receivership, putting it under the supervision of a white former literature professor who possessed no background in black studies. Over the next year, Monteiro earned Soufas’s special ire by helping lead a protest movement that forced Temple to replace that white chairperson with the black “Afrocentric” Temple professor Dr. Malefi Kete Asante.

Last January, Soufas paid Monteiro back by informing him that his annual contract would not be picked up for 2014. This clearly retaliatory firing occurred with the collaboration of Asante, who rejects the socialist tradition Monteiro champions. A protest movement calling for Monteiro’s reinstatement with tenure (and calling out Asante for his betrayal of Monteiro) has arisen in the last two months. Beyond Monteiro, it is concerned with the question of whose interests “higher education” should serve: the corporate establishment or the broader community.

 

Brooklyn College, Joseph Wilson and the GCWE

You probably also haven’t heard of professor Joseph Wilson and the shutting down of the 30-year left-leaning Graduate Center for Worker Education (GCWE) at the City University of New York’s (CUNY’s) Brooklyn College. In the fall of 2012, the GCWE was quietly closed, its adjunct faculty summarily dismissed and its recruitment of students stopped – this despite its long successful record of providing quality graduate education to working students with working class and union backgrounds. No official explanation was offered though an academic hit man activated to oversee the closure – a Dr. Corey Robin – responded to a petition to re-open the Center by charging its former director Joseph Wilson with “mismanagement” and claiming that the GWCE wasn’t really a worker education program because it didn’t focus on traditional “labor issues” (union organizing, collective bargaining and the like). Since the charges against Wilson are vigorously contested by his union (the Professional Staff Congress [PSC], American Federation of Teachers [AFT] Local 2334, representing 25,000 professors, adjuncts, lecturers, counselors and others at CUNY) and there is no reason that a worker education program must be a union and collective bargaining program, many in and around the closed Center reasonably suspect that it has been assaulted in retaliation for its political orientation. Curiously enough given Dr. Robin’s claim to acting in the name of the labor movement, the relevant union in this case (the PSC-AFT) is on the side of Wilson and the fired adjuncts.

 

Harassment and Rebuke

Northeastern Illinois University and Loretta Capeheart

More common than discriminatory and retaliatory firings no doubt are cases where tenured academics are subjected to harassment and rebuke for asserting their free speech rights – repression that sends a chilling message to the large number of academicians who lack tenure. One graphic example is Loretta Capheart, a tenured professor at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) on Chicago’s North Side. “She is also,” left journalist Dave Zirin noted two years ago, “a vocal union and anti-war activist of many years standing. Understandably, anti-war students sought her out as a group-adviser during President Bush’s war on Iraq.”

In 2007, Capeheart was elected by her colleagues to be chair of NEIU’s Department of Justice Studies The position was denied her by NEIU President Sharon Hahs as punishment for her activism and above all for defending members of a student Socialist club after they were arrested for monitoring CIA recruiters on campus.Hahs even “threatened students and other faculty, saying that everyone better be ready to ‘accept the consequences’ for their actions.” NEIU also denied Capeheart an award for faculty excellence and concocted a fantastic charge of “stalking” against her.

Capeheart went into debt to sue NEIU for violation of her free speech rights and retaliation. Defeated in its first federal hearing, her suit has recently been upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Seventh Circuit.

 

Moldavian College and Gary Olson

There’s also the recent case of Gary Olson, a popular and tenured professor of political science at Moravian College, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Last February 10th, Olson published an Opinion-Editorial reflecting in the local newspaper The Morning Call on his recent visit on Martin Luther King Day to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. He discussed the memorial and Noel John Foster, a former student of his who was killed in the jetliner attacks on the World Trade Center. Olson wrote about the commitment to peace and opposition to U.S. imperial foreign policy that Olson and Foster shared with Dr. King. Olson noted that his visit “prompted [him] to wonder whether it’s now possible for Americans to simultaneously grapple with two basic truths. The first, of course, is that the 9/11 attack was an unconscionable crime against humanity. The second, and more difficult, requires responding to the question posed by the legendary late historian Howard Zinn: ‘in what ways has American foreign policy inflamed and antagonized people all over the world to the point of creating terrorists?’…I suspect,” Olson wrote, “that King would not have been surprised by what occurred on Sept. 11. In his speech at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967…King lamented that his own government was the ‘greatest purveyor of violence in the world,’ adding that the ongoing Vietnam War was only part of a U.S. ‘pattern of suppression’ around the globe…King also solemnly and presciently warned of the virtually certain consequences, what’s now termed ‘blowback,’ including the physical and mental toll on U.S. troops tasked with brutally maintaining an American empire.”

Those were tough but highly supportable words – words that called for deep and careful reflection. One week later, Moravian College President wrote a letter to the Morning Call’s editor attacking Dr. Olson for “us[ing] the tragic death of a Moravian almumnus…to promote his own political platform.” He added that “Gary Olson…does not speak on behalf of Moravian College or the alumni, students, faculty or staff.”

Grigsby failed to engage any of Olson’s ideas, making his letter a transparent attempt to silence dissent by squelching discussion altogether.

As Olson’s supporters noted in an online petition protesting Grigsby’s letter, “Given Noel Foster’s own activist politics (Noel himself was an anti-apartheid activist as a student), it’s especially galling to insist that Olson keep a ‘political platform’ out of any discussion about his former student. No one has the right to police how people choose to remember their loved ones….Writing that Olson ‘does not speak on behalf of Moravian College’ is unnecessary, because that fact was never in question, so it simply serves to try and isolate Olson from the college and community he has called home for decades.”

There was no disrespect for Noel John Foster in Dr. Olson’s commentary.

Those who value intellectual freedom should be chilled by the spectacle of a college president publicly rebuking a veteran professor for expressing his opinion on the interrelated crimes of 9/11/2001 and an imperial U.S. foreign policy that deeply concerned no less a moral leader than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The proper role of a top academic administrator should be to encourage free and open debate, not to stifle and police it.

Moravian is another college that takes pride in its liberal and open-minded identity.

 

Columbia College and Iymen Chehade

The harassment and rebuke of tenured academicians sends a chilling message to those who lack tenure. If a Capeheart or an Olson can be rebuked and harassed by administrators for their political opinions, instructors without tenure certainly know that they can easily be fired – technically “not renewed” – for the same reason.

Of course, you don’t have to be tenured to be directly harassed by academic administrators in the corporate university. Last fall, for example, Columbia College instructor Iymen Chehade was called into the office of Steve Corey, chairman of of the college’s Department of Humanities, History and Social Science. Corey told Chehade to teach his popular course on the Israel-Palestine conflict in a “more balanced” fashion. After this warning, one section of Chehade’s course was withdrawn from Columbia’s catalogue for the following semester just hours after it had been made available to registering students.

What had Chehade done to warrant this admonition and punishment? He showed the Oscar-nominated film Five Broken Cameras, a hard-hitting documentary about Palestinian struggle and Israeli repression, leading a student to complain of “bias.”

I was once called in by a department chair in response to a student complaint. In the spring of 2006, while teaching a course on the History of Chicago at Northern Illinois University, I had dared to briefly make an analogy between the repression of American labor and leftists in the late 1880s (specifically after the famous Haymarket bomb incident of May 4, 1886) and the squelching of critical and independent thought in the U.S. after 9/11/2001. After an older student told the chairman she found this connection offensive. I was instructed to restrict my classroom focus to the distant past, the only legitimate focus of historians’ concern. I ignored the instruction, knowing I was at the end of a strictly one-year appointment with no chance of renewal and that “higher education” held little future for me in its current state.

 

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Palermo’s Pizza, and Four Students

And of course, you don’t have to be a professor to be subjected to academic harassment in the corporate university. In early May of 2013, student protestors occupied, surrounded, and shut down a Palermo’s Pizza stand operating in the Student Union building at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (UWM). They did so in solidarity with Palermo’s workers, 90 of whom had been illegally fired after three-fourths of the company’s wage-earners had expressed their desire for union recognition in May of the previous year. Known to subject its employees to miserable and unsafe working conditions, Palermo’s continued operating with replacement workers while its criminally discharged former employees kept up a strike for union recognition started in June of 2012.

During the 2012-13 academic year, UWM students affiliated with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants’ Association (MGAA, the union of graduate teaching and project assistants at UWM) did their best to work through official channels to get university administrators to break all ties with the Palermo’s corporation. They succeeded in persuading both the UWM Student Association and the UWM Faculty Senate to pass resolutions calling for precisely that.

It was all to no avail, leading the students to undertake direct action. UWM responded by having the leading activists arrested.

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee claims to embrace worker rights, “shared governance,” and peaceful dissent. Nonetheless, while it briefly closed Palermo’s UWM pizza stand in order to defuse protests over the summer of 2013, the university has continued to let the company sell pizza at the Student Union since the fall of that year. And one month ago, UWM administrators put four student activists involved in the May 2013 action – graduate student Jacob Glicklich, a UWM History Instructor and MGAA leader, and three undergraduate members of SDS (Lorelei Flores, Corey Massimo, and Tiffany Strong) – on “disciplinary probation.” As Glicklich, Flores, Massimo, and Strong noted in a collective statement of self-defense last February 14th:

 

“The charges brought against us…show the political nature of this probation, and also how destructive the administration’s current priorities are. Rather than engage in negotiation with the campus boycott, they sought to deflect it. Rather than respecting shared governance, they blatantly ignored, and continue to ignore, the resolutions of the student association and faculty senate. Rather than being concerned with the sweatshop conditions that produce Palermo’s pizza, they condemn the fictitious disruption and loss of sales from six pizzas.”

 

“The administrators have no care for the workers, who work ten hours a day, seven days a week, for an employer that called the police rather than negotiate with their union. They show no concern for the conditions imposed by the company, which have been condemned by the Workers Rights Consortium. They have no concern for the fact that since last May additional workers have lost fingers working at Palermo’s.”

 

It is relevant that Palermo’s CEO Giacomo Falluca, is a graduate of UWM’s Lubar School of Business. His voice has clearly been heard above those of students and faculty at UWM.

 

Self-Censorship

In his chilling 2008 book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, liberal political scientist Sheldon Wolin (who it must be said did not exactly distinguish himself in defense of his former student Norman Finkelstein) worried about “the effective integration of universities into the corporate state.” A poignant example of that integration, Wolin thought, was the absence of significant campus protest of George W. Bush’s occupation of Mesopotamia. “During the months leading up to and following the invasion of Iraq,” Wolin wrote, “university and college campuses, which had been such notorious centers opposition to the Vietnam War that politicians and publicists spoke seriously of the need to ‘pacify the campuses,’ hardly stirred. The Academy had become self-pacifying.”

One could give many other examples of academic self-pacification. Where is supposedly “leftist academia’s” faculty protest movement against the racist mass imprisonment state? Against catastrophic climate change and other dimensions of the ever-escalating capital-imposed environmental crisis? Against Obama’s expanded drone wars, Orwellian surveillance policies, and Special Forces occupation of the planet? Against the ever-expanding upward concentration of wealth and power in an openly plutocratic nation that has entered a New Gilded Age of astonishing socioeconomic disparity? Against the pricing-out of working class youth from higher education? Against the neo-McCarthyite discharges of Churchill, Finkelstein, Monteiro, Mandeloni, and Kovel?

Sadly, it seems unlikely that repression is the main factor behind the pronounced political timidity of most faculty in America’s ever-more corporatized universities. After I recently posted a link to the Brooklyn College incident, a young left political scientist wrote me with the following observation: “The suppression cases are bad. Much worse is the self-censorship, and the voluntary neutering that happens via socialization in graduate school. People learn to do irrelevant research because advocacy is frowned upon. The system ‘works’ because people get indoctrinated to take themselves out of the fight before the whistle even blows.”

Reflecting on this comment, I turned back to Wolin. Writing about universities, he argued in Democracy Incorporated that “although” what he called “inverted totalitarianism” (American post-democratic corporatism and imperialism/nationalism) is “at times capable of harassing and discrediting critics,” it “has instead cultivated a loyal intelligentsia” that doesn’t really need to be harassed all that much in the first place.

Wolin’s reflection resonates with my experience over many years in and around U.S. “higher education” in the neoliberal era. I have not run into very many professors willing to advocate meaningfully in their research, teaching, or public lives beyond the academy. Such professors exist but they are rare. They face no small measure of disdain from the significantly larger number of self-censoring academicians, who often develop a deep and abiding hatred for the minority who reject “voluntary neutering.”

 

The Academic Precariat

Of course it’s hard to know how bold U.S. academics might be – how willing professors might be to profess against concentrated wealth and power – if so many of them were not working without tenure. What does academic freedom really mean to “assistant” and “associate” professors toiling away on one-year contracts or hired by individual courses? As Noam Chomsky recently noted in an interview on academic labor, U.S. “higher education” has been assaulting tenure and faculty autonomy for decades. It has done so in the interest of creating a supine professorial proletariat or “precariat” on the model of subordinated workforces in more explicitly capitalist industry. Asked to comment on the hiring of the common practice of hiring faculty off the tenure track, Chomsky observed:

“That’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call ‘associates’ at Wal-Mart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line. The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities. The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the ‘plutonomy’ (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a ‘precariat,’ living a precarious existence….Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure ‘greater worker insecurity’? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more….And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed..using cheap labor—and vulnerable labor… In the universities, cheap, vulnerable labor means adjuncts and graduate students. Graduate students are even more vulnerable, for obvious reasons. The idea is to transfer instruction to precarious workers, which improves discipline and control but also enables the transfer of funds to other purposes apart from education. The costs, of course, are borne by the students and by the people who are being drawn into these vulnerable occupations” (emphasis added).

Meanwhile, American colleges and universities are devoting vast chunks of inflated, ever-escalating tuition payments to the creation of expanding layers of bureaucracy and supervision, increasingly staffed by highly paid administrators with no background in teaching or research. Those sorts of academic coordinators can be expected to advance “the effective integration of universities into the corporate state” in ways that do not bode well for the future of academic freedom.

Still, the examples of professors Mandeloni, Kovel, Monteiro, and Chehade, along with students like Glicklich, Flores, Massimo, and Strong (and many other academics and students who deserve mention) show that some intellectual workers and students in the academic-industrial complex are willing to act courageously in accord with their ideals even without tenure protection. There are bigger things to lose than an academic career, of course, including one’s self-respect and one’s ability to honor what Chomsky once usefully described as the moral responsibility of intellectuals: to tell the truth about things that matter to people who care and can do something about it.

Millions upon millions have lost their lives to the corporate and imperial power structures and policies that too few tenured academicians show the intelligence and conviction to forthrightly oppose within and beyond the withering walls around the ivory tower.

Paul Street’s next book is They Rule: The 1% v, Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Obama Ticket Prices and the Invisible Ruling Class

17/03/14 0 COMMENTS

Black Agenda Report, March 12, 2014.

Frederick C. Harris, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (New York: OxfordUniversity Press, 2014 [2012])

Academic specialization can be a harsh mistress.  Look at the recently re-issued and paperback version of ColumbiaUniversity political scientist Frederick C. Harris’ important and engaging book The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics. Harris’ academic turf is modern U.S. black politics.  He covers key parts of that turf with keen historical understanding in Price of the Ticket, usefully situating the Obama phenomenon and presidency in the context of the longstanding intra-black debate about “whether black voters should organize into a cohesive, independent bloc to promote both targeted and universal policies, or pursue a more race-neutral approach, working together with other racial minorities as well as like-minded whites.”  At the same time, Harris leaves out much from beyond his place in the academic division of labor – much that matters to understanding the nature and prices of the Obama “ticket.”

 

Racial Justice Off the Table

 

As Harris shows, Obama’s ascendancy represents the triumph of the “race-neutral” argument in the post-Civil Rights era. Obama has been careful to distance himself from the considerably more race-conscious black activists and politicians whose past struggles paved the way for his success. In doing so, he has embraced a “de-racialized” white-pleasing political and policy rhetoric that “surrenders to the false notion of a color-blind society where race no longer matters” and to the related “idea that policies that help everyone – what is described by policymakers as universalism – will trickle down to meet the systematic needs of black communities and that targeted policies toward minorities – which lack the political will of the majority – should be taken off the table” (Harris, Price of the Ticket, p. x).

Ironically yet fittingly enough given these surrenders, the nation’s first technically black president has “spoke[n] less on issues of race than any other Democratic president since 1961” (Harris, xii).  By Harris’s account, “Obama’s ascendancy to the White House actually signals a decline of a politics aimed at challenging racial equality head-on”(Harris, xviii) – this even as Obama has taken risks to support minority constituencies on issues like LGBT and immigrant rights.

Obama’s race-neutral presidency has been consistent with his first and historic presidential campaign. As Jesse Jackson, Sr., observed at the height of the primary season, none of the Democratic Party contenders other than John Edwards raised issues of importance to minorities and the poor – a criticism that brought Jackson a public rebuke from his son, a post-Civil Rights Congressman in the race-neutral mode (Harris, 33). As Harris notes, “The housing foreclosure crisis that disproportionately hit communities of color, growing levels of black unemployment, the persistence of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the black population, and the War on Drugs that sends large numbers of blacks to prison for nonviolent offenses.  These issues would not be substantially engaged by Obama or any of the other Democratic candidates, except John Edwards, whose campaign focused on economic inequality and racial justice” (Harris, 140).

A “Price Not Yet Worth its Sacrifice”

Harris is critical of race-neutral “universalism’s” claim to benefit black communities. “Policies that help everyone – what can be described as a trickle-down approach to eradicating poverty and social inequality – are not,” Harris argues (correctly by my estimation), “enough to correct the deep-rooted persistence of racial inequality”(Harris, x, xviii, xx).

He is unimpressed also with the black political class, which has accepted the president’s silence on race as a price worth paying in return for the symbolic gratification granted by a black family’s presence in the White House. Harris disagrees. “One day,” his book concludes, “the question will be asked – years if not decades from now – whether the sacrifices of previous generations were worth the rise of a ‘race-neutral’ black president, whose ascendancy was made possible by their efforts.  As it stands now, the price has not yet proved worth its sacrifice, to the memory of those lost in battle, nor for those who still sit at the very bottom of society, still believing and hoping in the possibilities of change.” (Harris, 192)

Those who remain most woefully uncompensated are precisely those Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. refused to leave behind in his dedication to “a continuous struggle to pursue equality” (Harris, 192) that challenged “the ‘triple evils’ of racism, poverty, and militarism” (191).  Harris therefore finds that “the monument to Martin Luther King, Jr., on the National Mall – and the many comparisons of President Obama to the civil rights leader – disturbs memory [even as it]…makes great history” (190).

The Historical Road to BarAxelrod Obama

Harris tries to explain Obama’s race-neutral ascendency through an interpretive description of U.S. black politics over the last half-century. His first chapter demonstrates how the evolution of his two historically contending black political strategies– (A) multi-racial coalition politics and policy “universalism” vs. (B) independent politics for policies that directly target racial disparities –cleared a path for Obama’s ascendancy.

It is no mistake, Harris argues in his second chapter, that Obama’s road to the White House passed through Chicago, “the political capital of black America” since at least the late 1920s, when the city’s black South Side voters sent the first black Congressman since Reconstruction to Washington.

Harris’s third chapter tries to link Obama’s silence on racism to the rising popularity within black American Christianity of “the prosperity gospel” – a conservative, market-friendly religious world view that tells blacks to pursue and embrace economic success on the basis of personal effort, dropping supposedly “dysfunctional” concerns with racism and structural and societal problems.

Harris’s fourth chapter connects Obama’s color-blindness to the black middle and upper classes’ timeworn “politics of [racial] respectability,” which preach “tough love,” “proper behavior” and “good values” for the black poor, downplaying the problem of racial oppression.

Harris’s fifth chapter recounts the success enjoyed by black politicians who have pursued race-neutral strategies (e.g. former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder and current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick) to win favor from white voters – along with “wink and nod” backing from blacks – since the 1980s. A key figure in this story is Obama’s white media guru David Axelrod, white former advisor to Chicago’s first black mayor Harold Washington.  Before he helped Obama craft a candidate brand that soothed white fears even as it “signal[ed] to persuadable white voters that they had an opportunity to make history by electing the nation’s first black president” (Harris, 151), Axelrod did color-blinding/race-neutralizing media work for white-friendly black politicians like Michael White (Cleveland mayor), John Street (Philadelphia mayor), Dennis Archer (Detroit), and Deval Patrick.

Harris’s sixth and final chapter shows how Obama’s Axelrodian politics have furthered encouraged the “marginalization of blacks’ community interests” – something made all the more perturbing by “the Obama administration’s attention to other constituencies such as the gay and lesbian movement and the Tea Party” (Harris, xxii).  It is even more troubling in light of steady worsening of black America’s already dire economic straits over the last five years.

No Ruling Class

This is all very well and good, as far as it goes.  But there’s a great deal missing from Harris’s account of the Obama phenomenon and presidency. Especially conspicuous in their absence are the predominantly white corporate, financial, and imperial establishment elements that seized on Obama as a perfect vehicle for carrying out their selfish and authoritarian agenda under the guise of progressive change and democratic hope in the wake of the long national Cheney-Bush nightmare.  Ruling class members and operatives provided the money, connections, celebrity, and media attention and approval without which Obama’s rise was unimaginable. They did so only after subjecting Obama to a thorough vetting in which they found him highly amenable to the task of serving their narrow, undemocratic interests.[1]  Assured of his deeply conservative, privilege-friendly, and “market”- (really corporate-) friendly essence, they found Obama’s technical blackness, his brief stint as a “community organizer,” and his technically Muslim ethnic nomenclature nicely suited to the project of giving the American System a fake-democratic “brand makeover” at home and abroad.  The re-branding was urgently required following George Dubya Bush’s all too transparently plutocratic, racist, and imperialist performance, scarred by the club-footed invasion of Iraq and the Katrina atrocity among other clumsy blunders.[2]

Along the way, the U.S. power elite has certainly derived no small degree of “divide-and-rule” satisfaction from the ways in which the existence of a first technically black president has fed identity-based fissures in majority working class America and fueled racial and related partisan deadlock. The “deep state” financial and corporate elite continues to pillage society and the commons behind the scenes of the big business-financed and highly identity-politicized major party “marionette theater” that passes for democratic politics in Washington and across the nation’s fifty state capitols.[3]

Capitalist Ideology Missing

Another thing missing in The Price of the Ticket is the ascendancy in the dominant public discourse of a corporate neoliberal ideology in which the nation’s “pervasive racial hierarchies collapse,” in the words of Henry Giroux, “into power-evasive strategies such as blaming minorities of class and color for not working hard enough” and “refusing to exercise individual initiative.” Even as an insidious, increasingly invisible racism “functions” as “one of the deep and abiding currents in everyday [American] life,” Giroux notes, this discourse works “to erase the social from the language of public life as to reduce all racial problems to private issues [of]…individual character and cultural depravity.”

Neoliberal ideology “can imagine public issues only as private concerns.” It sees “human agency as simply a matter of individualized choices, the only obstacle to effective citizenship being the lack of principled self-help and moral responsibility” on the part of those most victimized by structural oppression and super-empowered actors atop the nation’s steep and interrelated hierarchies of class, race, gender, nationality, and empire.

Under the rule of this neoliberal pseudo-color-blind racism/classism, “human misery is largely defined as a function of personal choices” and “all problems are private rather than social in nature.”  Government efforts to meaningfully address societal disparities of race and class are deemed futile, counterproductive, and inappropriate.[4] Government’s functions are progressively concentrated, in Adolph Reed, Jr.’s words, on “making war,” “enhancing opportunities for the investor class,” “suppressing wages for everyone else,”[5] repressing dissent, and incarcerating people, particularly poor folks of color.  And the more they weaken the left, social hand of the state the more they call into being and strengthen the right, authoritarian hand of the state, which offers its false solutions (i.e., racially disparate mass incarceration) to problems like poverty that only deepen with the evisceration of social protections and regulation. All of this is richly bipartisan and continues whichever political party is in nominal power and regardless of the president’s technical racial or gender identity.

I find it hard to believe that professor Harris seriously believes that Obama’s pronounced tendency to “privilege the logic of market institutions and private enterprise over the ability of government to solve social problems” (p. 105) is rooted primarily in his “the politics of respectability”– or in the prosperity gospel.  After years of close observation of the Obama phenomenon, I can assure him that tendency is based mainly in the neoliberal world view Obama soaked up from his business class, academic, and foundation world  sponsors over years of immersion in elite, corporate-funded, corporation-serving, and predominantly white institutions like Columbia University, Harvard Law, the University of Chicago, the Hamilton Project, the Joyce Foundation, and a Democratic Party that has been moving far and ever further to the “market”- (and corporate- and Wall Street-) friendly right since the 1970s. Obama took to that ideology early on, well before his emergence on the national stage. This is how Reed described the 30-something Obama in early 1996, soon after the future president first won election to the Illinois state legislature:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program – the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substances.  I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics here, as in Haiti and wherever the International Monetary Fund has sway. ”[6]

Dollar Obomber, President of Plutocrats

Harris seems to think that Obama rose straight to the White House out of the inner dynamism of black politics and the perverse machinations of race-neutral candidate-marketing, aided by the president’s “bi-racial heritage and light skin-color” (Harris, 153).  There’s no reference in The Price of the Ticket to the plutocratic political cash and the many sided corporate-imperial establishment – to the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire – that pre-select “viable” presidential candidates for popular “choice” in the first place.

Anyone who thinks that Obama pursue policies that “help everyone” should research his the president’s behind-the-scenes advance of the Transpacific Partnership agreement – a militantly corporatist “free trade” accord that would further insulate multinational corporations from basic popular control and regulation.[7]

This great omission and the related absence of any serious discussion of the neoliberal ideology that Obama internalized at the outset of his political career is part of why Harris too easily links the president to a “universalism” that seeks to “help everyone” and makes Obama try to be “the president for ‘all people,’ not just black Americans” (p.xiii).   Like the great majority of U.S. presidents from the nation’s blood-soaked chattel-slave origins,  Obama has been first and foremost a representative of the American white ruling class. As beneficiaries of his record-setting “too-big-to-fail bank bailouts, of a “health reform” that only the big insurance and drug companies could really love, and of much more that has been documented by myself and other chroniclers of Barack “I love the free market” Obama’s “pragmatic” presidential corporatism, the elite “1%” (more like the .01 percent in reality) has found the nation’s first half-white president  (aptly described by the muckraking filmmaker Charles Ferguson as “just another oligarch’s president”[8]) very much to their bought-and-paid-for liking, however much some of them like to preposterously complain about his “socialism.” Along the way, Obama has kept the U.S. global military “machine set on kill” (as journalist Alan Nairn put it[9]), announcing early on that “there is no such thing as a peace dividend,”[10] much to the bottom-line glee of the nation’s opulent high-tech “defense” contractors– including the early Obama sponsor and General Dynamics mogul Lester Crown.[11]

Another Price of the Ticket

A final and big piece missing in Harris’s useful book is another and related cost of the Obama presidency for the cause of racial equality. I am referring to the significant extent to which Obama’s ascendancy has reinforced the false majority white sentiment holding that racism no longer poses any serious barriers to black advancement and equality in the U.S. today – and that the only remaining obstacles to black progress are internal to black communities, black culture, and black individuals. (It’s a sentiment the president has shown himself more than willing to reinforce with comments shaming poor blacks for their failure to take advantage of the great opportunities supposedly afforded them in “this magical place called America,” where Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s racial anger is supposedly now inappropriate and ungrateful.)

What greater symbol could our political culture grant to the white-pleasing myths of post-racialism and post-racism than the election (twice) of a “first black president?” Obama’s presidency has all too predictably been a last nail in the coffin of many white Americans’ already well-withered willingness to acknowledge their country’s continuing, cumulative crimes of savage racial oppression.

That ugly nail also deserves mention as a “price of the [Obama] ticket.”

Paul Street was research director of the Chicago Urban League between 2000 and 2005. He is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); and They Rule: the 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014,http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810)

References


[1] See Ken Silverstein, “Barack Obama, Inc.: The Birth of a Washington Machine,” Harper’s (November 2006);  David Mendell, Obama: The Promise of Power (New York: HarperCollin, 2007), 247-48;  Paul Street, Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008), xix-xxiv.

[2] Street, Barack Obama and the Future, xxiv-xxxi; Liza Mundy, “A Series of Fortunate Events: Barack Obama Needed More Than Talent and Ambition to Rocket From Obscure State Senator to Presidential Contender in Three Years,” Washington Post Magazine,, August 12, 2007.

[3] Mike Lofgren, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company, February 21, 2014, http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/; Paul Street, “The Deep State and Beyond,” ZNet, March 1, 2014, http://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-deep-state-and-beyond/

[4] Among Giroux’s many  publications: The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004).

[5] Adolph. Reed, Jr., “New Orleans – Undone by Neoliberalism,” The Nation, August 31, 2006.

[6] See Adolph Reed, Jr., “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice (January 16, 1996), reproduced in Reed, Class Notes: Posing as Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene (New York, 2000), 10-13.

[7] Mark Weisbrot, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty is the Complete Opposite of ‘Free Trade,” The Guardian, November 19, 2013,  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/19/trans-pacific-partnership-corporate-usurp-congress

[8] Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Crown Business, 2012), 300. See also in Ron Suskind, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (New York: Harper Collins, 2011); Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010); Rodger Hodge, The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (New York: Harper, 2010).

[9]  “‘Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill’ –Journalist and Activist Allan Nairn Reviews Obama’s First Year in Office,” Democracy Now! (January 6, 2010), read at  http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/6/obama_has_kept_the_machine_set.  For the machine’s killing operations under Obama, there’s no better place to start than Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013).

[10]: Morgan Stanley Research, Aerospace & Defense, Heidi Wood et al., “Early Thoughts on Obama and Defense” (November 5, 2008), read at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/business/governmentinc/documents/ObamaDefense.pdf , accessed December 22, 2009.

[11] On Obama, Lester Crown, and the Crown dynasty, see Chicago Inymedia, “General Dynamics, Crown Dynasty, and Obama,” February 25, 2007, http://chicago.indymedia.org/archive/newswire/display/76429/index.php

Venezuela, the United States, and Obama

07/03/14 0 COMMENTS

 First published on ZNet, March 6, 2014.

 Recently I was asked if I thought the Obama administration was involved to any significant degree in encouraging civil unrest in Venezuela. My answer begins with a question of its own: do bears shit in the woods?

The Obama White House aided and abetted the military overthrow of Honduras’ democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in the summer of 2009.[1] It did much the same when right-wing business interests in Paraguay conducted a “judicial coup” against that nation’s democratically elected president Ferdinand Lugo three years later.[2]

These Latin American coups were undertaken with U.S. aid and diplomatic cover for a simple reason. Zelaya and Lugo were moving to align their countries with the leftward and populist shift of Latin American politics and policy that has been evident since the charismatic socialist Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in late 1998. That shift involves related and significantly successful efforts to reduce savage socioeconomic inequalities within Latin American states and to re-orient those states’ political-economies and security arrangements around their shared regional interests. Washington’s bipartisan imperial elite abhors such developments for reasons that are neither mysterious nor novel.

If Obama assisted right wing coups to preserve oligarchic and military rule in the relatively small and economically insignificant nations of Honduras and Paraguay, it’s not much of a reach to imagine he would like to see regime change in socialist Venezuela.  The leader of Latin America’s challenge to Washington’s hemispheric power and to the related scourge of U.S.-imposed neoliberalism, Venezuela has undertaken significant experiments not only in attacking poverty by redistributing its considerable petroleum-based wealth downwards but also in participatory citizens’ and workers’ democracy.

It’s not for nothing that the United States has been “more committed to ‘regime change’ in Venezuela than anywhere else in South America,” spending hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars funding opposition groups there since Chavez was first elected. Nowhere has Latin America’s independent and leftward drift gone further and with greater consequence than in Venezuela, which happens – no small matter in Washington’s calculations –to sit atop the world’s largest oil reserves. [3]

The money has been provided on a bipartisan basis, consistent with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s repeated criticism of Chavez’s “dictatorial” policies when he ran for the U.S. presidency as a Democrat in 2004.

The militantly neoliberal and imperial Obama has never had any love for Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. In the foreign policy chapter of his 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope, he criticized “left-leaning populists” like Chavez for thinking that developing nations “should resist America’s efforts to expand its hegemony” and for daring – imagine! – to “follow their own path to development” [emphasis added].”  Such dysfunctional “reject[ion] [of] the ideals of free markets and liberal democracy” along with “American” ideas like “the rule of law” and “democratic elections” (interesting terms for the heavily state-sponsored U.S. effort to impose authoritarian financial and corporate-state policy on poor countries) would only worsen the situation of the global poor, Obama claimed.

Obama did not comment on the remarkable respect the U.S. showed for “democratic elections” and “the rule of law” when it supported an attempted military coup to overthrow the democratically elected Chavez government in April of 2002. Obama also ignored a preponderance of evidence showing that the “free market” neoliberal “Washington Consensus” had significantly deepened and expanded poverty across the world in recent decades.

President Obama’s Latin American policy has been richly consistent with the arrogant imperial sentiments expressed in The Audacity of Hope. Highlights include:

  • Extending the United States’ crushing half-century trade embargo on Cuba.
  • Continuing to provide hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the corrupt, right wing paramilitary regime of Columbia, a lethal enemy of democratic, left-leaning governments and movements across Latin America.
  • Obtaining seven new military bases in Columbia to enhance the Pentagon’s capacity to support the rollback of national independence, democracy, and social justice in Latin America.
  • Maintaining a strict silence when Peruvian armed forces massacred indigenous people protesting land grabs by multinational corporations operating under U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement in June of 2009.[4]
  • Aiding and abetting right-wing coups in Honduras (2009) and Paraguay (2012).

 Of course, we hardly have to guess about the Obama administration’s wish for regime change in Venezuela today. As Latin American expert Mike Weisbrot noted two weeks ago in The Guardian, “we all know who the US government supports in Venezuela. They don’t really try to hide it: there’s $5m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg – adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.”

The Obama administration, Weisbrot adds, is “telling the Venezuelan opposition that Washington is once again backing regime change.”[5] That message came loud and clear last April, when Kerry refused to recognize the election results after Chavez’s successor Nicholas Maduro clearly defeated opposition leader Henrique Caprilles in a national presidential election. The message is evident also in the White House’s commentary on the recent disturbances in Venezuela. The administration’s statements have consistently backed the right-wing business elite’s narrative, which portrays the Chavista Maduro government as dictatorial and engaged in draconian repression of “the democratic” opposition.”

Never mind that the Maduro government won municipal elections by a wide margin through an electoral process that former U.S. president Jimmy Carter has described as among the fairest and most open in the world. Never mind that the right-led Venezuelan opposition has undertaken a large number of violent and criminal actions that no functioning democratic government could ignore. Or that the “democratic opposition’s” leaders, including Caprilles and the extreme rightist Leopoldo Lopez (a U.S.-educated plutocrat from “one of the historically richest families in Venezuela”[6]) have a long history of profoundly anti-democratic activity, including participation in a short-lived and U.S.-support business and military coup against Chavez in April of 2002. Despite all this and more, “the Obama government continues to fund this opposition even more openly than did the Bush regime.”[7]

Would Obama be prevented from pursuing regime change in Venezuela by some sort of attachment to the principle of “national sovereignty,” which he invokes in warning Russia to keep out of Ukraine? Please. Let’s not be naïve. Beyond its aforementioned actions in Latin America, the Obama administration has expanded the number of “sovereign” states where U.S. Special Forces are deployed from 60 at the end of the George W. Bush years to 134 (nearly 70 percent of the world’s nations) today.[8] It carries out a regular and ongoing campaign of murderous drone attacks and other “targeted assassinations” (most victims are innocent civilians) inflicted across national borders throughout the Muslim world. It operates an astonishing Orwellian network global surveillance whose targets have even included the personal cell phone of Germany’s sovereign head of state.

The real barriers to U.S.-basked regime change in Caracas are external to Washington’s desires. They have to do with the balance of forces inside Venezuela, Latin America, and the hemisphere. As journalist Steve Elsner notes:

 “There are several key factors favoring the Venezuelan government that make regime change…less [than] likely. First, the Chavistas have the electoral support of fifty percent or more of the population with a mobilization capacity that has since 2003 exceeded that of the opposition. Second, less than two months ago the Chavistas defeated the opposition at the polls by a substantial margin. Third, [they have] solid support in the military, not just from an ‘institutionalist’ faction but from officers who identify with Chavismo. And fourth, Venezuela counts on a united Latin America, more so than at any other time throughout its two-century history, and solid backing during the current conflict from governments throughout the region.”[9]

 The popular Bolivarian revolution has gone too far and achieved too much in Venezuela to be quickly unseated like a Zelaya, a Lugo, or an Arbenz (overthrown in a CIA coup in 1954). As Weisbrot recently noted, the Venezuelan right’s leading figures (Caprilles, Lopez, and Maria Corina Machado) “are all far too rich, elitist, and right wing (think of Mitt Romney and his contempt for the 47%) for a country that has repeatedly voted for candidates running on a platform of socialism.” Further:

 “Back in 2003, because it did not control the oil industry, the government had not yet delivered much on its promises. A decade later, poverty and unemployment have been reduced by more than half, extreme poverty by more than 70%, and millions have pensions that they did not have before. Most Venezuelans are not about to throw all this away because they have had a year and a half of high inflation and increasing shortages. In 2012, according to the World Bank, poverty fell by 20% – the largest decline in the Americas. The recent problems have not gone on long enough for most people to give up on a government that has raised their living standards more than any other government in decades.” [10]

 The Obama administration is probably not stupid enough to push for a Venezuelan coup this spring or summer. The context is not propitious from a pragmatic imperial perspective. Washington has a few other things to take up its attention on the global stage at present. And administration planners no doubt remember how ridiculous the George W. Bush administration looked when it supported the 2002 Venezuelan coup, which was rapidly undone by a giant popular mobilization.

Long term, however, Washington and its right wing allies can be expected to continue a prolonged war of attrition and sabotage designed to increase the costs to ordinary Venezuelans for supporting a socialist and democratic government in their country – for trying to “follow their own path to development” beyond the supervision of their supposed North American superiors. That was the strategy that finally compelled endlessly besieged and harassed Nicaraguans to vote out the Sandinista Party in the early 1990s.

Those of who oppose the counterrevolutionary activities of the U.S. Empire in Latin America must not rest easy as the current crisis winds down and loses momentum in Venezuela.

Of course, the best thing United-States-of Americans could do for their fellow citizens and workers in Latin America would be to take a lesson from them by building powerful grassroots social and political movements for democratic regime change at home. In doing so, they would be helping themselves as well as those on the wrong end of the U.S. Empire abroad. Living in a rich nation where nearly a quarter of all children scandalously live below the poverty level while six Wal-Mart heirs possess between them as much wealth as the bottom 40 percent of the population, and where the “ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government” have “decline[ed] to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure” (former longtime Republican U.S. congressional staffer Mike Lofgren[11]), U.S. residents need look no further than their own “homeland” to see the authoritarian, socially and ecologically toxic prices imposed by U.S. neoliberal state capitalism and imperialism. Like the new Bolivarians of Latin America, they should organize to shift the direction of history towards genuine popular sovereignty and the common good and against the wealth and power of the opulent Few.

This was the message I recently got from a Chilean left anarchist who spoke in Iowa City a few weeks ago. When U.S. audience members occasionally tell him they are “sorry” for U.S. sponsorship of a fascist coup against Chile’s democratically elected left government in 1973, this Latin American activist related, “I always tell them I don’t accept apologies from ordinary U.S. citizens. You didn’t coordinate and assist the coup. Members of your ruling class did. The best thing you can do for us is the best thing you can do for yourselves: overthrow your own ruling class.”

Paul Street’s next book, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810) is scheduled for release in the late summer of this year.

 

Selected Endnotes*

1. For numerous sources and details, see Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010), 90-98, 238-239.

2. Natalia Viana, “USAID’s Dubious Allies in Paraguay,” The Nation, April 29, 2013, http://www.thenation.com/article/173762/usaids-dubious-allies-paraguay

3. Mike Weisbrot, “Venezuela is Not Ukraine,” The Guardian, March 4, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/04/venezuela-protests-not-ukraine-class-sturggle

4. Raul Zibechi, “Massacre in the Amazon: The U.S.-Peru Free Trade Government Sparks a Battle over Land and Resources,” America’s Program Special Report, June 16, 2009, at http://americas.irc.online.org/am/6191 ; Julio Cesar Tello, “Obama Ignores Peru,” Karikuy, January 30, 2009, at http://karikuy.blogspot.com/2009/01/obama-ignores-peru.html ; John Gibler, “Indigenous Protest and State Violence in the Amazon,” Huffington Post, June 19, 2009, at www.huffingtonpost.com/john-gibler/indigenous-protest-and-st_b_214901.html

5. Mark Weisbrot, “US Support for Regime Change in Venezuela is a Mistake,” The Guardian, February 18, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/18/venezuela-protests-us-support-regime-change-mistake

6. Steve Elsner, “U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela: Seeing the Larger Pattern” (February 23, 2014), http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10397

7. “Venezuelan Protests: Another Attempt by U.S.-Backed Right-Wing Groups to Oust Elected Government?” Democracy Now! (February 20, 2014), www.democracynow.org/2014/2/20/venezuelan_protests_another_attempt_by_us

8. Nick Turse, “The Special Ops Surge in 134 Countries,” Truthdig (January 16, 2014)

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_special_ops_surge_in_134_countries_20140116?ln

9. Elsner, “U.S. Policy.”

10. Weisbrot, “Venezuela is Not Ukraine.”

11. Mike Lofgren,” “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Moyers & Company (February 21, 2014), http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

* Readers and critics with questions about sources are free to write with specific queries to me at paul.street99@gmail.com. If fully annotated, most essays I write for ZNet could easily run to more than 100 notes – more than this writer has the capacity to create in a reasonable period of time.

 

Beyond the Deep State

06/03/14 0 COMMENTS

 First published on ZNet, March 1, 2014

According to a recent bracing and much-discussed online essay commissioned and published by the progressive talk show host and political commentator Bill Moyers, popular governance – we could even say popular sovereignty – is a myth in the United States.[1] There are, the essay’s author writes, two U.S. governments in and around Washington D.C. The first government is the more “visible” one, focused on the pronouncements and parliamentary maneuvers of elected officials and their staffs in the Capitol (Congress) and, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House. It constitutes “the traditional Washington partisan politics” that is “theoretically controllable [by the populace] via elections.” 

 Real Power Beneath the “Diversionary Marionette Theater” 

The second state, which has “taken over America,” is “another, more shadow, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists” in the nation’s capital. It “operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power.” It constitutes what the essay’s author calls The Deep State: “a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country…connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose.” The chief components of this “Deep State” include:

  • The Department of Defense.
  • The Department of State.
  • The Department of Homeland Security.
  • The Central Intelligence Agency.
  • The Department of the Treasury, included “because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its enforcement of international sanctions, and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street” (see below)
  • The White House, which “coordinates all [the above] agencies via the National Security Council”
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts.
  • A “handful of vital federal trial courts, such as the Eastern District of Virginia and the Southern District of Manhattan, where sensitive proceedings in national security cases are conducted.”
  • A “kind of rump Congress consisting of the congressional leadership and some (but not all) of the members of the defense and intelligence committees.”
  • A giant network of “private” defense and intelligence firms (e.g., Blackwater, Booze Allen Hamilton, Haliburton, etc.) who together employ “854,000 contract personnel with top-security clearances” (more than the number with such clearances employed directly by the federal government) and whose chiefs often take top government positions (fittingly enough since they are almost entirely dependent on government business).
  • Silicon Valley, whose high-tech companies “do the NSA’s bidding” despite their executives’ sham “libertarian” pose, in return for Washington’s indulgence of their obsession with intellectual property rights.
  • Wall Street, “which supplies the cash that [through election funding, lobbying and more] keeps the political machine quiescent and operating as a diversionary marionette theater” while its executives enjoy “de facto criminal immunity” and its strategically placed representatives in government advance the financial sector’s policy agenda (de-regulation, tax-cuts for their rich and their corporations).

 “The Ultimate Owner” 

Who is the biggest player of all? Capital. “It is not too much,” the author writes, “to say that Wall Street may be the ultimate owner of the Deep State and its strategies, if for no other reason than that it has the money to reward government operatives with a second career that is lucrative beyond the dreams of avarice — certainly beyond the dreams of a salaried government employee…..The corridor between Manhattan and Washington is a well trodden highway for the personalities we have all gotten to know in the period since the massive deregulation of Wall Street: Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and many others” (emphasis added) 

Examples are not limited to top government staff “connected with the purely financial operations of the government.” Take former leading and legendary U.S. General David Patraeus, whose perceived skills at peddling Deep State influence garnered him a highly rewarding position at a giant Wall Street private equity firm (KKR) after he left “public service” in disgrace. As the essay’s author notes, “the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable.”

 The Deep State Running Smoothly Beneath Surface Deadlock 

While elected officials and other politicians caught up in the Wall Street-funded “marionette theater” of Washington’s highly visible partisan politics are typically said to be engaged in “ideological warfare,” Deep State operatives like Patraeus, Summers, Rubin, and (former Bush 43 and Obama 44 Defense Secretary) Robert Gates “are careful are careful to pretend that they have no ideology. Their preferred pose is that of the politically neutral technocrat offering well considered advice based on profound expertise.” That is total bullshit since “They are deeply dyed in the hue of the official ideology of the governing class, an ideology that is neither specifically Democrat nor Republican.” That ideology combines “ ‘The Washington Consensus’: financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor, with “21st-century ‘American Exceptionalism’: the right and duty of the United States to meddle in every region of the world with coercive diplomacy and boots on the ground and to ignore painfully won international norms of civilized behavior.” In other words, to use terms the author does not employ in his essay, neoliberal state capitalism and aggressive military empire at home and abroad and the victory of the right hand of the state over the left hand of the state.[2] 

Pundits and politicians alike commonly decry the “broken,” “gridlocked,” “crippled,” and “dysfunctional” nature of the highly visible politics and policy that define the official government – the one whose horrid partisan paralysis is a regular item on the nightly news. They do so with no small reason for, “in the domain that the public can see,” Congress is in fact hopelessly divided and Congressional Tea Party Republicans who owe no small part of their position to partisan gerrymandering are deeply and powerfully dedicated for making it impossible for Barack Obama to implement even his centrist, business-friendly[3] “domestic policies and budgets.” The strategy amounts to “congressional nullification” of the executive branch on matters like health care and immigration policy.

But, the essay’s author darkly notes, beneath this partisan deadlock at the surface parliamentary level, the corporatist Deep State is running quite smoothly, thank you very much.  On one hand, the nation’s bridges, railroads, highways, and electronic grid are rotting away. Vast swaths of the populace have been rendered permanently jobless and poor, the social safety net torn to shreds along with public infrastructure. Cities have gone bankrupt, across the nation, especially in the Midwestern rustbelt, with no relief. The “ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government” have “decline[ed] to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure.” On the other hand, the Deep State under Bush Republican 43 and Obama Democrat 44 manages somehow to spend billions, nay trillions, of taxpayer dollars on right hand state policies that include a massive global and domestic empire of Orwellian electronic surveillance, repeated foreign interference, invasion, and occupation, drone warfare, secret prisons not to mention – the author does not (and I will observe further deletions below) – the colossal bailout of the “too-big-to-fail” Wall Street firms, whose top managers stand above the law even after plunging millions into poverty and even as the federal government regularly imposes life-without-parole sentences on alleged small time drug-dealers. As the essay’s author notes, Obama may be stymied on numerous measures of milquetoast domestic reform but he has easily “summoned the resources to overthrow Muammar Ghaddafi’s regime in Libya, and, when the instability created by that coup spilled over into Mali, provide overt and covert assistance to French intervention there.” Further:

 “At a time when there was heated debate about continuing meat inspections and civilian air traffic control because of the budget crisis, our government was somehow able to commit $115 millionto keeping a civil war going in Syria and to pay at least £100m to the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters to buy influence over and access to that country’s intelligence. Since 2007, two bridges carrying interstate highways have collapsed due to inadequate maintenance of infrastructure, one killing 13 people. During that same period of time, the government spent $1.7 billion constructing a building in Utah that is the size of 17 football fields. This mammoth structure is intended to allow the National Security Agency to store a yottabyte of information, the largest numerical designator computer scientists have coined. A yottabyte is equal to 500 quintillion pages of text. They need that much storage to archive every single trace of your electronic life…. [and] Since 9/11, 33 facilities for top-secret intelligence have been built or are under construction [in and around Washington D.C.]. Combined, they occupy the floor space of almost three Pentagons — about 17 million square feet.”

 But there’s no contradiction or paradox here. This is the Deep State winning, advancing corporate and financial and military empire and inequality at home and abroad, entrenching the neoliberal (a word the author avoids, mistakenly in my opinion) victory of the right hand over the left hand of the state.

None of this is about conspiracy, “The state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight,” the essay’s author notes, “and its operatives act mainly in the light of day.” This more subterranean under-the-radar state churns along without serious criticism beyond the occasional remarkable rebellions of remarkable people like Edward Snowden because, the author believes, it has become so deeply entrenched in the normal institutional and occupational life of Washington as to become something almost like background noise for educated and “properly adjusted” people in and around Washington. It is the air that the nation’s capital breathes and (no small matter!) the source of income for hundreds of thousands of operatives. And, as Upton Sinclair once said, in a passage the author quotes, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it.”

 A Mild-Mannered Washington Defector

So who is the author of this remarkable essay, whose many insights I have only partly and imperfectly captured here? A strident, doom-saying left author or journalist or academic with a radical “ideological axe to grind”? A dedicated anti-corporatist/anti-imperialist/anti-racist opponent of state capitalist eco-cide like, for example, myself, who has been known to inveigh against the dire threats to democracy and a decent future posed by “the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire” – and who commonly refers to major party politicians in elected U.S. office as only “nominally in power” (since the real power lay deeper)? An Occupy Wall Street veteran with a history of writing and/or organizing against “the 1%” ruling class and its longstanding structures and practices of empire and inequality at home and abroad?

Hardly! The essayist in question is the mild-mannered Mike Lofgren[4], who retired three years ago from a 28-year career as a top Republican Congressional staffer with significant high-level expertise in national security matters. He resigned three years ago, after the elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, in disgust at what he considered the takeover of both of the major U.S. parties by corporate cash and the military industrial complex. He did not leave quietly, however. In a widely read 2011 Truthout essay[5], other online publications and a clever 2012 book titled The Party’s Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, he argued that “money has corroded Washington so completely that banks, defense contractors, and multinationals routinely shoehorn their corporate wish lists into every bill and it is virtually impossible to get anything [for the common good] done.”

Lofgren’s rebellion was not about jumping partisan ship from the GOP to what Upton Sinclair in 1906 considered the other “wing of the same bird of prey.” While “Republicans have grown ideologically more rigid,” Lofgren wrote in The Party’s Over, “Democrats have almost entirely ceased to have any core beliefs at all – and their grab for corporate money is as egregious as that of the GOP.”

The solution, Lofgren argued, was serious campaign finance reform, along with the other and related electoral changes to permit popular multi-party democracy. The “way out,” he felt, was to “get all private money out of our public elections” by moving to a publicly funded campaign system. The Congress that could results from that and other electoral reformer would be beholden to the public at large rather than to big contributors” and would be able to tackle important issues like “changing the tax code, cleaning up Wall Street, and winding down the wars that are impoverishing us financially and morally.”

In his new essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” however, Lofgren appears interested in more radical change. He says that standard reform “nostroms” like public election financing – he also mentions “government ‘insourcing’ to reverse the tide of outsourcing of government functions and the conflicts of interest that it creates, a tax policy that values human labor over financial manipulation and a trade policy that favors exporting manufactured goods over exporting investment capital” – are “necessary, but not sufficient” to answer the nation’s “deep but as yet inchoate hunger for change. What America lacks,” Lofgren concludes, “is a figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas that have nothing more to offer us. Thus disenthralled, the people themselves will unravel the Deep State with surprising speed” – on the model of the Soviet bloc’s collapse in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Some Things Left Out/to Add 

There is plenty for any serious Left commentator or activist to find fault with in Lofgren’s essay. When he talks about recently rising signs of rebellion against the Deep State, he mentions the activism of Snowden and of the “Tea Party Wahabbists” who have chosen to interrupt the flow of taxpayer dollars the Deep State requires. He has nothing to say about the Left-led Occupy Movement that arose after the debt-ceiling crisis that disgusted Lofgren (and millions of other Americans) to expose and challenge the bipartisan plutocracy, only to be crushed by the national and security surveillance state and by militarized local police department directed by mainly Democratic mayors across the country. He makes no reference to the left and progressive activists who worked to help defeat Obama’s effort to launch a Deep State air war on Syria, or to the liberal and left environmentalists who have forced Obama to delay the eco-cidal Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Occupy, it should be noted, reflected an actual popular uprising, a grassroots social movement, however short lived – something rather different from the corporate-backed Astroturf Tea Party phenomenon. Unlike “the Tea Party,” it was unattached to either of the major political parties. It was uninterested for the most part in electoral politics, reflecting a basic underlying agreement with Lofgren’s sense that those politics are a diversionary theater managed by Wall Street funders and corporate consultants. 

The environmental crisis, “the number 1 issue of our or any time” (John Sonbanmatsu) is missing from Lofgren’s essay, despite its pressing urgency and its intimate relationship to the problem of corporate and military rule.[6] Other and related issues intimately linked to the power of the aforementioned interrelated dictatorships go unmentioned in Lofgren’s essay: racism, sexism, mass and racially disparate incarceration, the prison-industrial complex, the deep evisceration of the American labor movement, the broader top down business class war on American workers, the emergence of a New Gilded Age of shocking economic inequality, chronic over-work, the broader capitalist war on American workers’ living and work standards, the pervasively arch-authoritarian and soul-numbing tyranny of the American workplace (where most working-age Americans spend the lion’s share of their waking hours), corporate and military control of American education (K-PhD), the basic and longstanding contradiction between capitalism (dedicated to the concentration of wealth and [hence] power and to private profit) and democracy deeply (and truly) understood (dedicated to equal power and influence for all and to the common good), the pervasive dissemination of a neoliberal capitalist ideology and culture that attacks the very notion of democratic solidarity and resistance on the part of citizens and workers while reducing everyone’s status, wealth, and power to a matter of “personal responsibility.” 

Washington’s Deep State is real and terrifying, to be sure. Still, it should never be forgotten that the authority structures most regularly confronted and experienced by most ordinary Americans are found in everyday workplaces, schools, prisons, public and private bureaucracies, streets, councils, churches and other often militantly and multiply hierarchical locations across the nation. Listen, for example, to the following account of work under the relentless control of totalitarian bosses and technologies at Amazon’s giant U.S. warehouses, which bear the unapologetically Orwellian name of (no joke) “Fulfillment Centers”:

“….at all Amazon’s centers…the cult of the customer…provides the rationale for the extreme variant of scientific management whose purpose, as at Walmart, is to keep pushing up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at or near poverty levels…As at Walmart, Amazon achieves this with a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dexterous employees will begin to fail. As at Walmart, there is a pervasive “three strikes and you’re out” culture, and when these marginal employees acquire too many demerits (“points”), they are fired……Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met….All this information is available to management in real time, and if an employee is behind schedule she will receive a text message pointing this out and telling her to reach her targets or suffer the consequences. At Amazon’s depot in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kate Salasky worked shifts of up to eleven hours a day, mostly spent walking the length and breadth of the warehouse. In March 2011 she received a warning message from her manager, saying that she had been found unproductive during several minutes of her shift, and she was eventually fired. This employee tagging is now in operation at Amazon centers worldwide.”

 “….others work on assembly lines packing goods for shipping….Machines measure… whether the packers [are] meeting their targets for output per hour and whether the finished packages met their targets for weight and so had been packed ‘the one best way.’ But alongside these digital controls there [is] a team of [Frederick Winslow] Taylor’s ‘functional foremen’… watching the employees every second to ensure that there was no ‘time theft,’ in the language of Walmart. On the packing lines there [are] six such foremen, one known in Amazonspeak as a ‘coworker’ and above him five ‘leads,’ whose collective task [is] to make sure that the line kept moving. Workers [are] reprimanded for speaking to one another or for pausing to catch their breath …after an especially tough packing job.”

 “The functional foreman…record[s] how often the packers [go] to the bathroom and, if they [do] not [go] to the bathroom nearest the line, why not. ….in the manner of Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth-century panopticon, the architecture of [an Amazon] depot [is] geared to make surveillance easier, with a bridge positioned at the end of the workstation where an overseer [can] stand and look down on his wards. However, the task of the depot managers and supervisors [is] not simply to fight time theft and keep the line moving but also to find ways of making it move still faster. Sometimes this [is] done using the classic methods of Scientific Management, but at other times higher targets for output [are] simply proclaimed by management, in the manner of the Soviet workplace during the Stalin era.”

 “…Beyond this poisonous mixture of Taylorism and Stakhnovism, laced with twenty-first-century IT, there is, in Amazon’s treatment of its employees, a pervasive culture of meanness and mistrust that sits ill with its moralizing about care and trust—for customers, but not for the employees. So, for example, the company forces its employees to go through scanning checkpoints when both entering and leaving the depots, to guard against theft, and sets up checkpoints within the depot, which employees must stand in line to clear before entering the cafeteria,…shrinking the employee’s lunch break from thirty to twenty minutes, when they barely have time to eat their meal.”[7]

Clearly, one does not have to go to the Washington metropolitan area to see proto-dystopian American corporate-neoliberal arch-authoritarianism in plain sight action. You can start with any number of local and regional workplaces, schools, courthouses, and prisons. 

One omission in “Anatomy of the Deep State” seems particularly glaring. How comprehend the Deep State’s success in cloaking its existence and advancing both the neoliberal “Washington Consensus” and the “American exceptionalist” Empire Project without factoring in the powerful role of the giant media conglomerates in “manufacturing consent” (Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman) and “taking the risk out of democracy” (Alex Carey) by filtering current events and shaping popular perceptions in accord with the needs of business and policy elites? Among the many ways corporate media plays this key propagandistic and ideological role is played is to focus citizens’ – perhaps at this point I should say “ex-citizens’ – sense of “politics,” the only politics that matters, on the recurrent time-staggered and candidate-centered major party big money elections that Lofgren so hauntingly and accurately describes as “diversionary marionette theater” – purchased by Wall Street. This project of demoting the citizenry to a corporate-“managed electorate” (as Sheldon Wolin put it in his hauntingly titled 2008 book Democracy Incorporated) misses the fact that, as Noam Chomsky noted ten years ago, “the personalized quadrennial [electoral] extravaganzas….[are] only a small part of politics.” A much bigger and more relevant part of the politics that ought to matter is to build and expand “forces for change that come up from the grass roots” to “shape policy in a progressive direction” on the model of the U.S. labor, civil rights, peace, and women’s movements of the past.[8] 

At the very least, it seems to me, the top owners and managers of the vast, simultaneously Orwellian and (Aldous) Hulxlean corporate and entertainment media complex deserve honorary mention among the permanent Deep State ruling class that runs the county in service to elite interests beneath and beyond the carefully stage-managed “marionette theater” of purportedly popular elections. It’s not for nothing that the New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich included top media operatives and owners among those he described as the deeply entrenched and corporate-captive establishment that runs and profits from Washington beneath and beyond the partisan political theatre in his bestselling book This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital (2013).

 Mike, Meet Mark 

Speaking of Leibovich’s volume, also focused on Washington and also featured (last year) by Bill Moyers (himself a former government insider) [9] its omission from Lofgren’s essay and sources seems a bit odd. By Leibovich’s account, richly consistent with Lofgren’s analysis, Washington has become a richly bipartisan “gold rush,” wherein political officeholders, lobbyists, consultants, public relations specialists, media personalities, and top staff of the two dominant parties are part of the same incestuous and “permanent” ruling “class of insiders.” The nation’s capital “becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made” (Leibovich, p. 142), Leibovich observed, adding that “Getting rich has become the great bipartisan ideal: ‘No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore,’ goes the maxim, ‘only millionaires.’ The ultimate Green party. You still hear the term ‘public service’ thrown around, but often with irony and full knowledge that self-service is now the real insider play” (p. 9). 

Much what is perceived as “Washington’s dysfunction” — gridlock, hyper-partisanship, the failure of Republicans and Democrats “to work together”—is highly purposeful in a business-friendly way, Leibovich reported. Washington DC in the New Gilded Age has become more concerned with economics than politics, Leibovich noted, and “much of the Washington’s economy – lobbying, political consulting, and cable news – is predicated on the perpetuation of conflict, not the resolution of problems” (p. 99). It is conflict that attracts viewers and readers, after all. It is conflict that keeps cash flowing into Super PACs, conflict that sells political advertisements, and conflict that creates political careers that an ever-growing army of former office-holders turn into lucrative careers in the private sector – “monetizing their government service” (p. 40) by taking lucrative positions as lobbyists, consultants and media talking heads. Leibovich reported, (citing The Atlantic) that an astonishing 50 percent of retiring U.S. senators and 42 percent of retiring congresspersons become lobbyists (p. 330). 

Politics as partisan and ideological theater, Leibovich found, is more materially rewarding than “doing the people’s work” and serving the common good in the nation’s visible capital. All the partisan, outwardly “ideological” shouting over the airwaves and across the cable news spectrum is “winking performance art” meant to hide the “’reality,” that “off-air, everyone in Washington is joined in a multilateral conga line of potential business partners” (p. 99). Behind the scenes, smart Washington operatives of both parties are figuring out how to profit from “the continued and sweaty orgy raging between corporate and political enterprise” (p. 308) and the ongoing “romance between Washington and Wall Street” (p. 331). The “partisan” and “ideological” bickering that dominant media point to as the source of “Washington’s [constantly bemoaned] dysfunction” (and as proof of “big government’s” inherent failures) is all part of the big capitalist hustle. “The city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected” (p.10) by the “sweaty,” cross-party contest for gain, fame, and pleasure…for more. Constantly said to be “not working,” Washington actually works quite well for its permanent class of insiders, including an army of lobbyists and consultants granted hefty payments for coordinating the orgy and the romance behind the scenes – and the journalists who profit from the ongoing spectacle of partisan and “ideological” dysfunction. So found Leibovich, richly consistent with Lofgren.

 Cadres Needed More 

Could Lofgren’s imagined “figure with the serene self-confidence to tell us that the twin idols of national security and corporate power are outworn dogmas” help spark and sustain such a renewed rank and file social movement – one that picked up and built on Occupy’s focus on corporate power and plutocracy – and indeed even on capitalism?  Perhaps. We could use a figure like that. Matt Damon, are you interested in the role? 

Still, we should never forget the egalitarian wisdom behind the great early 20th century American socialist Eugene Debs’ determination to “rise with, not from the masses,” informed by Debs’ belief that ”if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out.”[10]

Grassroots organizational cadre would seem the more urgent requirement, not inspirational leaders, who can of course be assassinated or perhaps executed with relative ease by Deep States with resources like those Lofgren describes One leader not unlike what Lofgren imagines emerged in the 1960s only to meet the assassin’s bullet he had expected for many years: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 Beyond Capitalism? 

One could certainly raise other and related questions about Lofgren’s essay. Isn’t “financialization” really just an aspect of the deeper disease called capitalism, the same system that has (quite logically from its own profit-seeking imperatives) shifted production from the U.S. rustbelt to China and other lower-wage pars of the world economy? What’s so great about manufacturing, which involves, after all, the systematic extraction of surplus labor from workers wherever it is practiced?[11] How does the deep U.S. state today differ from the deep U.S. state of, say, the years in which C Wrights Mills wrote The Power Elite (1956), a sweeping study of U.S. corporate, political, and military elites and the revolving door power structures that shaped American policy and society beneath the surface play of electoral politics in early Cold War America? Key differences can be found relating to the significantly increased globalization and transnational character of capital in the neoliberal era – a subject that receives little attention in Lofgren’s essay but lay at the heart of another former system insider’s book: David Rothkopf’s Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008). 

What does Lofgren wish to see emerge across the U.S. after his imagined defeat of the Washington-centered Deep State on the model of the Soviet’s bloc’s disappearance in the 1990s? Democracy and social justice – real popular sovereignty and policy in service to the common good – are not going to emerge on the basis of contemporary capitalism (The Russian and Eastern European experience is certainly not very encouraging in that regard!) Neither is livable ecology[12] (ditto on Russia and Eastern Europe). 

A return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution, whose current fecklessness Lofgren bemoans, seems less than fully desirable. That that document was designed precisely to ensure that (to paraphrase leading U.S. founder John Jay’s statement of the desirable state of affairs in the young American republic) the country would be run by the people who owned it.   

 Defectors and Insiders Are Needed and Useful 

Still, Lofgren has done a great service to those of us on the officially marginalized Left who believe (I would prefer to say “observe”) that that the United States has become an abjectly authoritarian and corporate-managed imperial plutocracy. It’s not for nothing that leftists during the last great American democracy upsurge (the 1960s) preferred quoting departing U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to citing the (prematurely deceased) radical sociologist C. Wright Mills when noting the existence of a powerful and sinister military-industrial-complex pulling strings behind the façade of American democracy. Or that left anti-imperialists and anti-corporatists love to quote the onetime decorated U.S. Marine General Smedley J. Butler on how he was in essence as “a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers” during numerous early twentieth-century deployments in Central America and the Caribbean. Or that we take special delight in citing John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (2004), a former U.S. corporate “economic consultant” who told how he was employed to help the U.S. and its financial sector impoverish “developing nations,” cheating them out of trillions of dollars while inducing them to structure their economies around the needs of rich nation investors. Not to mention Daniel Ellsburg or the ongoing Snowden surveillance revelations, which have rattled Deep State bones like nothing in recent memory. 

There’s nothing like evidence from those who have worked in or at least (as in Lofgren’s case) somewhat near the belly of the Deep State beast. Part of what makes Leibovich’s book useful for serious progressives is that it is penned by a self-confessed member of the Washington business, politics, and media “Club.” Such sources are much more difficult for elites and power-worshippers to dismiss than a Mills, a Howard Zinn, a Michael Parenti, or a Noam Chomsky, which is no small part of why they catch a special kind of Hell from the power centers they can no longer serve when they go public with uncomfortable truths. My criticisms (I hope some of them are helpful as Lofgren perhaps turns his essay into his next book) aside, Mike Lofgren deserves our thanks for not going quietly from the corporate-captive U.S. government – and for deepening his critique of the system as his time away and the perspective afforded by distance grows. 

Street’s next book, They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, September 2014) seeks among other things to fill in some of the gaps noted in this essay. Street can be reached at paul.street99@gmail.com

 Selected Endnotes 

 1. http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

 2. On the left versus the right hand of the state, see Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), 2; 22-44; Paul Street, Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004), xiii-xiv, 6-7, 45-46, 107, 150-151, 170. 

 3. A useful recent perspective on the vapid business-friendly neoliberalism (and imperialism and objective white supremacism) of the Obama and Clinton administrations can be found in Adolph Reed, Jr., “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” Harper’s Magazine (March, 2014). For a highly detailed treatment of Obama’s first year in office, Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2010) 

 4. See his interview by Moyers last February 24th at http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-deep-state-hiding-in-plain-sight/

 5. Mike Lofgren, “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” Truthout, September 3, 2011, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/3079:goodbye-to-all-that-reflections-of-a-gop-operative-who-left-the-cult

 6. For some of my own reflections on this, see “Why I am Eco-socialist,” Open University of the Left (Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 2013), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buHmNaTGanU

 7. Simon Head, “Worse Than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s Sick Brutality and Secret History of Ruthlessly Intimidating Workers,” Salon, February 23, 2014 www.salon.com/2014/02/23/worse_than_wal_mart_amazons_sick_brutality_and_secret_history_of_ruthlessly_intimidating_works/

 8. Noam Chomsky, Interventions (San Francisco, CA: City Lights, 2007), 97-100. 

 9. http://billmoyers.com/segment/mark-leibovich-on-glitz-and-greed-in-washington/ Moyers was White House Press Secretary for U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1965 to 1967. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Moyers

10. Eugene Debs, “Industrial Unionism” (1905), https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1905/industrial.htm

11. Paul Street, “Capitalism’s Ironic Defenders: the Profit system is the Real Disease,” Z Magazine (February 2014): 28-32. 

12. See, for example, Richard Smith, “Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism?” Truthout, (January 15, 2014), http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/21215-beyond-growth-or-beyond-capitalism

 
 

Uncle Sam: Top Threat to Peace on/and Earth

26/02/14 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine, March 2014. According to a global survey of 66,000 people conducted across 68 countries by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WINMR) and Gallup International at the end of 2013, Earth’s people see the United States as the most significant threat to peace on the planet. The U.S. was voted top threat by a wide margin, receiving 24 percent of the vote. Pakistan was a distant second with 8 percent, followed by China (6 percent). Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and North Korea tied for 4th place at 4 percent. Among U.S.-allied countries, Greece and Turkey (45 percent each), Pakistan (44 percent) and Mexico (about 37 percent) believed the U.S. is the greatest threat to peace.

This poll was met with deafening silence across the dominant U.S. corporate and so-called mainstream media. It did not receive a single mention in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, or the Los Angeles Times. It was not considered worthy of reportage on the nightly news at NBC, CBS, ABC, or PBS. It barely registered in the U.S. mass media, receiving at most short and dismissive treatment on the margins of serious news and commentary.

Typical of that dismissal was an International Business Times headline that questioned the validity and/or rationality of the finding. “In Gallup Poll,” the headline read, “Leading Threat to World Peace is…America?” The implication was clear in the IBR article that the world’s opinion was absurd (IBT, January 2, 2014)

Editors at the right-wing New York Post responded with literally world-weary disgust at those who just “don’t like the U.S.,” even after Barack Obama became president. Noting a 2006 Gallup poll in which world citizens said that “Washington [w]as a bigger threat to world peace than Teheran” (a self-evidently ridiculous belief as far as the Post was concerned), those editors commented that, “In 2008, President Obama would…campaign about how Bush’s policies had harmed America’s standing in the world, at one point suggesting that attitudes in the Muslim world would be transformed simply by his election.

“It hasn’t turned out that way, as these Gallup numbers suggest. Maybe we’d do better to accept the real message of all these global surveys: There are many people in this world who don’t like the U.S. and will regard us as a threat no matter who’s president” (New York Post, January 5, 2014).

Falluja-warFor any serious and honest observer of U.S. foreign policy and the international scene today and for many decades, the United States’ longstanding and persistent (“even” under Obama) status as the leading menace to peace in the world’s eyes should be anything but surprising. The U.S., after all, accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending. It maintains more than 1,000 military installations across more than 100 “sovereign” nations spread across every continent.

The Obama administration deploys Special Operations forces in 75 to 100 countries (up from 60 at the end of the George W. Bush administration) and conducts regular lethal drone attacks against officially designated terrorists (and a much larger number of innocent civilians) in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Africa. It maintains a massive global surveillance program dedicated to the elimination of privacy on Earth—a program that has spied even on the personal cell phones of European heads of state, including Germany’s Angela Merkel. As Der Speigel, Germany’s leading newspaper noted in 1997: “Never before in modern history has a country dominated the earth as totally as the United States does today…. America is now the Schwarzenegger of international politics: showing off muscles, obtrusive, intimidating…. The Americans, in the absence of limits put to them by anybody or anything, act as if they own a kind of blank check.”

An “Aerial Traffic Jam” Above a “One-Sided Slaughter” (Iraq, 1991)

Perhaps Der Spiegel’s editors were thinking of U.S. conduct in Iraq when they penned those lines. They may have reflected on the “Highway of Death,” when U.S. forces massacred tens of thousands of surrendered Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait on February 26 and 27, 1991. The Lebanese-American journalist Joyce Chediac testified that: “U.S. planes trapped the long convoys by disabling vehicles in the front, and at the rear, and then pounded the resulting traffic jams for hours. ‘It was like shooting fish in a barrel,’ said one U.S. pilot. On the sixty miles of coastal highway, Iraqi military units sit in gruesome repose, scorched skeletons of vehicles and men alike, black and awful under the sun…for 60 miles every vehicle was strafed or bombed, every windshield is shattered, every tank is burned, every truck is riddled with shell fragments. No survivors are known or likely…. ‘Even in Vietnam I didn’t see anything like this. It’s pathetic,’ said Major Bob Nugent, an Army intelligence officer…. U.S. pilots took whatever bombs happened to be close to the flight deck, from cluster bombs to 500 pound bombs…. U.S. forces continued to drop bombs on the convoys until all humans were killed. So many jets swarmed over the inland road that it created an aerial traffic jam, and combat air controllers feared midair collisions…. The victims were not offering resistance…it was simply a one-sided massacre of tens of thousands of people who had no ability to fight back or defend.” (Ramsey Clark et al., War Crimes: A Report on United States War Crimes Against Iraq to the Commission of Inquiry for the International War Crimes Tribunal, testimony of Joyce Chediac).

Less than a year after his forces inflicted this unthinkable carnage, U.S. President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that, “A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America. And they regard this with no dread. For the world trusts us with power, and the world is right. They trust us to be fair and restrained. They trust us to be on the side of decency. They trust us to do what’s right” (Blum, Rogue State).

 

No Cruelty Too Great

The mass-murderous “turkey-shoot” conducted by the forces of “decency” in 1991 was consistent with the United States’ long record of savage imperial violence. That history stretches from the bloody extermination of the nation’s original inhabitants (the long Native American holocaust of 1607-1890) through the racist butchering of tens of thousands of Filipinos between 1899 and 1902 (when U.S. soldiers engaged in the slaughter wrote home to friends and relatives about how they had vowed to fight “until the niggers are killed off like Indians”), the arch-criminal and unnecessary atom-bombing of Japan, and the U.S. “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky’s term for a U.S. policy that liquidated more than 4 million Indochinese—regularly labeled “gooks” and other racist names by U.S. troops—between 1962 and 1975).

Perhaps Der Spiegel’s editors were also reflecting on economic sanctions and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Five years after “the Highway of Death,” Albright told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S.-imposed economic sanctions was a “price…worth paying” for the advancement of inherently noble U.S. goals. “The United States,” Secretary Albright explained three years later, “is good. We try to do our best everywhere.”

This, too, was nothing new. As Chomsky noted in 1992, reflecting on U.S. efforts to maximize suffering in Vietnam by blocking economic and humanitarian assistance to the nation it had devastated after the Vietnam War ended: “No degree of cruelty is too great for Washington sadists. The educated classes know enough to look the other way” (Noam Chom- sky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, 1992).

Sons and Daughters

The imperial sadism has continued into the current millennium. The world’s “Schwarzenegger” since September 11, 2001 has gone off on a rampage, killing, maiming, and displacing millions across the Muslim World as part of its Global War on/of Terror (GWOT).

Obama-cryingIn a foreign policy speech he gave on the eve of announcing his candidacy for the U.S. presidency in the fall of 2006, then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama had the audacity to say the following in support of his claim that U.S. citizens supported “victory” in Iraq: “The American people have been extraordinarily resolved. They have seen their sons and daughters killed or wounded in the streets of Fallujah” (Barack Obama, “A Way Forward in Iraq,” Chicago Council on Global Affairs, November 20, 2006).

It was a spine-chilling selection of locales. Uncle Sam’s 21st century cruelty peaked, perhaps, in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. The ill-fated city was the site of colossal U.S. war atrocities, crimes including the indiscriminate murder of thousands of civilians, the targeting even of ambulances and hospitals, and the practical leveling of an entire city by the U.S. military in April and November.

By one account: “The U.S. launched two bursts of ferocious assault on the city, in April and November of 2004… [using] devastating firepower from a distance which minimizes U.S. casualties. In April….military commanders claimed to have precisely targeted…insurgent forces, yet the local hospitals reported that many or most of the casualties were civilians, often women, children, and the elderly…[reflecting an] intention to kill civilians generally…. In November…[U.S.]aerial assault destroyed the only hospital in insurgent territory to ensure that this time no one would be able to document civilian casualties. U.S. forces then went through the city, virtually destroying it. Afterwards, Fallujah looked like the city of Grozny in Chechnya after Putin’s Russian troops had razed it to the ground” (Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire N ew York, 2005).

U.S. deployment of radioactive ordnance (depleted uranium) in Fallujah also helped create a subsequent epidemic of infant mortality, birth defects, leukemia, and cancer there. But, of course, Fallujah was just one especially graphic episode in a broader arch-criminal invasion that led to the premature deaths of at least one million Iraqi civilians and left Iraq “a disaster zone on a catastrophic scale hard to match in recent memory” (Tom Engelhardt, Tom Dispatch.com, January 17, 2008). According to the respected journalist Nir Rosen in December 2007, “Iraq has been killed…the American occupation has been more disastrous than that of the Mongols who sacked Baghdad in the thirteenth century” (Current History, December 2007).

“So You Stuff ’Em in Guantanamo”

Lawrence Wilkerson is a former combat officer and onetime chief of staff to George W. Bush’s Secretary of States Colin Powell. Speaking to investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, he described a typical Special Forces operation during the occupation of Iraq: “You go in and you get some intelligence…and you say ‘Oh, this is really good actionable intelligence. Here’s ‘Operation Blue Thunder. Go do it.’ And they kill 27, 30, 40 people, whatever, and they capture seven or eight. Then you find out that the intelligence was bad and you killed a bunch of innocent people and you have a bunch of innocent people on your hands, so you stuff ’em in Guantanamo. No one ever knows anything about that….you say, ‘chalk that one up to experience,’ and you go on to the next operation” (J. Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield).

Anyone who thinks U.S. imperial savagery came to some kind of a merciful halt with the ascendency of Barack Obama to the White House is living in a dream world. Obama may have been tasked with winding down Washington’s failed ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has drastically expanded the scale, intensity, and scope of the drone war and the presence of Special Forces troops around the world. Obama, as the courageous journalist Allan Nairn noted early on, has kept the giant U.S. imperial “machine set on kill” (Democracy Now!, January 6, 2010).

The tone was set from the start, with Obama signing off on two major drone strikes in Pakistan on his fourth day in office. The first strike “killed between seven and fifteen people, nearly all of them civilians.” The second one “struck the ‘wrong house’ and killed five to eight civilians,” including two children. Less than half a year later, another one of Obama’s “signature [drone] strikes” targeted a funeral and killed “scores of civilians—estimates ranged between 18 and 55.” By October 2009, Scahill reports, “Obama had already authorized as many drone strikes in ten months as Bush had in his entire eight years in office.”

tppA military source told Scahill about a standard Special Forces kill operation in the Age of Obama: “If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four [other] people in the building, then thirty-five people are going to die.”

An illustrative incident in the U.S. war on/of terror occurred in the first week of May 2009. That’s when U.S. air-strikes killed more 140 civilians in Bola Boluk, a village in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As theNew York Times reported: “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to…the Afghan Parliament, the governor of Farah Province, Rohul Amin, said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed, according to a legislator, Mohammad Naim Farahi…. The governor said that the villagers have brought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred…. Everyone was crying…watching that shocking scene.’ Mr. Farahi said he had talked to someone he knew personally who had counted 113 bodies being buried, including…many women and children” (NYT, May 6, 2009).

The initial response of the Obama Pentagon to this horrific incident—one among many mass U.S. aerial civilian killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan beginning in the fall of 2001—was to blame the deaths on “Taliban grenades.” Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “regret” about loss of innocent life, but the Administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge U.S. responsibility. By contrast, Obama had just offered a full apology and fired a White House official for scaring New Yorkers with an ill-advised Air Force One photo-shoot flyover of Manhattan that reminded people there of 9/11 (New York Daily News, April 28, 2009;  Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2009).

The disparity was remarkable: frightening New Yorkers led to a full presidential apology and the discharge of a White House staffer. Killing more than 100 Afghan civilians did not require any apology. Nobody had to be fired. And the Pentagon was permitted to advance preposterous claims about how the civilians perished—stories that were taken seriously by corporate media. The U.S. subsequently conducted a dubious “investigation” of the Bola Boluk slaughter that slashed the civilian body count and blamed the Taliban for putting civilians in the way of U.S. bombs.

“Peace prize? He’s a killer.” Thus spoke a young Pashtun man to an Al Jazeera English reporter on December 10, 2009—the day Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize. “The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a large crowd gathered around the bodies of twelve people, one family from a single home, all killed by U.S. Special Forces during a late-night raid. ”

Top Threat to Livable Ecology

The U.S. is not the top menace only to peace on Earth. It is also the leading threat to personal privacy (as has been made clearer than ever by the Snowden revelations), to democracy (the U.S. funds and equips repressive regimes around the world) and to Earth itself—to a livable global natural environment. Regarding climate change, which poses an ever more imminent threat of human extinction, Washington delights now in blaming China. China, the U.S, says, is now the major culprit behind climate change, since its carbon emissions having more than doubled since 2001 and it now spews more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation.

This is a smokescreen designed to cloak the United States’ primary culpability for the monumental wrong of petro-capitalist-ecocide—a transgression that will dwarf all previous crimes if allowed to run full its exterminist course. The U.S. remains far and away the world’s largest carbon-emitter on a per-capita basis. Individual U.S. citizens generate an average of 20 tons of carbon emission per year, nearly 4 times the rate of the average Chinese citizen. No nation has spewed more accumulated carbon into Earth’s atmosphere in the industrial era than the United States—an historical reality that neither China nor India will breach anytime soon

No nation has invested more heavily and powerfully in the political, ideological, and military promotion and defense of the at once carbon- and growth- addicted profits system than the United States. The U.S. is headquarters of the corporate carbon-industrial-complex’s giant lobbying and propaganda war on the increasingly dire findings of modern climate science—including those of NASA.

No national government has done more to deep-six increasingly desperate international efforts to reduce global carbon emissions than that of the United States—a record that has continued with depressing vengeance through the supposedly “green” Obama presidency.

And the U.S. investor class leads the world when it comes to global investment in the fossil fuel industry. While most of the world’s new coal plants are being built in China and India, much of the financing comes from Wall Street. Since 2006, for example, J.P. Morgan Chase has invested $17 billion in new coal plant construction abroad. Citbank added $14 billion during the same period (P. Gaspar, International Socialist Review, January 2013). As Sadie Robinson wrote in England’s Socialist Worker, “Simply looking at China’s emissions as a country obscures the role that the West plays in creating them. China’s rising emissions are largely due to the rapid expansion of coal-fired power stations. This is directly linked to the fact that many Western companies have effectively outsourced their emissions to China. They have rushed to open manufacturing plants in China to take advantage of lower operating costs…. And these plants are largely powered by coal…. The West has also played a role in boosting China’s emissions by using it as a cheap source of goods” (Socialist Worker UK, November 24, 2009). A recent Rolling Stone (RS) report is titled “How the U.S. Exports Global Warming” According to RS writer Tim Dickinson, “even  as our nation is pivoting toward a more sustainable energy future, America’s oil and coal corporations are racing to position the country as the planet’s dirty-energy dealer—supplying the developing world with cut-rate, high-polluting, climate-damaging fuels. Much like tobacco companies did in the 1990s—when new taxes, regulations and rising consumer awareness undercut domestic demand—Big Carbon is turning to lucrative new markets in booming Asian economies where regulations are looser. Worse, the White House has quietly championed this dirty-energy trade” (RS, February 3, 2014, http://www.rollingstone.com).

All of this is consistent with a finding in a 2007 Pew Global Attitude survey. In 34 of 37 countries where the public was asked “which country has done the most to hurt the world’s environment?,” majorities or pluralities named the United States. That sentiment is certainly no less widespread—and no less accurate—in the Age of Obama than in the Bush-Cheney years. The Obama administration has worked effectively to repeatedly undermine efforts at coordinated global reduction of greenhouse as emissions. “The Obama administration wants to be seen as a climate leader, but there is no source of fossil fuel that it is prepared to leave in the ground,” says Lorne Stockman, research director for Oil Change International. “Coal, gas, refinery products—crude oil is the last frontier on this. You want it? We’re going to export it.”

Eco-cide is no small misdeed in global eyes. “Pollution and environmental” problems were identified in the 2007 Pew poll as the “greatest world danger” (above nuclear proliferation, AIDS and other infectious diseases, religious and ethnic hatred and income inequality) by the public of a large number of nations including Canada, Sweden, Spain, Ukraine, China, and India, 2007 Pew Global Attitude Survey).

 

“The Self Righteous Who Think They Are Without Sin”

Street-title-samCould surveys like the 2013 WINMR-Gallup poll, the 2006 Gallup poll, and the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey help feed a new peace movement in the U.S.?  Most ordinary U.S. citizens do not wish the U.S. to be seen as a global bully and threat, indeed a mass murderous menace to global security, freedom, and survival. They are not supporters of war, empire, totalitarianism, and eco-cide.

But for the reality of global opinion indicating widespread, longstanding, legitimate, and continuing fear of, the U.S. to sink in and influence mass U.S. opinion, two obstacles have to be overcome. The first is the refusal of the managers and owners of dominant U.S. mass media to seriously report on the views of people beyond U.S. borders—a reflection of U.S. policymakers’ longstanding indifference to the opinions of those over whom they have exercised power beyond U.S. shores. (Not that those policymakers care much about public opinion inside the U.S., see Paul Street, “No Functioning Democracy,” ZMagazine, September 2013).

The second is the barrier that the nationally narcissistic doctrine of an intrinsically generous and noble America poses to many U.S. citizens’ readiness to accept the notion of the U.S. as any kind of threat to world peace at all, much less the leading threat. Consider the reflections of former New York Times foreign correspondent Stephen Kinzer on the United States’ annexation of Hawaii and the Philippines, its seizure of Puerto Rico, and its overthrow of elected governments in Nicaragua and Honduras during the late 19th and early 20th centuries: “Why did Americans support policies that brought suffering to people in foreign lands? There are two reasons, so intertwined that they became one. The essential reason is that American control of faraway places came to be seen as vital to the material prosperity of the United States. This explanation, however, is wrapped inside another one: the deep-seated belief of most Americans that their country is a force for good in the world. Thus, by extension, even the destructive missions the United States embarks on to impose its authority are tolerable.

“Generations of American political and business leaders have recognized the power of the noble idea of American exceptionalism. When they intervene abroad for selfish or ignoble reasons, they always insist that in the end, their actions will benefit not only the United States but also the citizens of the country in which they are intervening and, by extension, the causes of peace and justice in the world” (Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq, New York, 2006).

This problem of “American exceptionalism”—the almost religious belief that U.S. goals and behavior are inherently benevolent, well-intentioned, and good for the world—remains deeply entrenched more than a century later. It is a leading reason, along with the scale and conduct of U.S. empire, that the world’s people are correct to identify the United States as leading threat to peace on Earth. Nothing is more dangerous than a sole military Superpower that believes itself beyond moral reproach, as when presidents and presidential candidates say things like this: “We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good…. America is the last, best hope of Earth…. America’s larger purpose in the world is to promote the spread of freedom. The American moment has not passed…we will seize that moment, and begin the world anew” (U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama, April 23, 2007).

“Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint” (U.S. President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009).

Reading such statements (long standard on the part of U.S. politicians), I am reminded of psychotherapist M. Scott Peck’s observation that “The evil in this world is committed by the…self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination…[their] most basic sin is pride —because all sins are reparable except the sin of believing one is without sin…. They are the people of the lie” (M. Scott Peck, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, New York, 1983). How appropriate that the U.S. has retained its status as most dangerous nation in the world’s eyes after the passage from the more openly and clumsily imperialist Bush to the more stealthily imperial, supposedly more peace-oriented Obama.

The world, clearly, is no longer fooled by the great Obama re-branding of the “Schwarzenegger of international politics.” It properly understands the latest post- Bush president elected in the name of “hope” and “change” (watchwords of the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign) to be simply the empire’s latest new-old clothes.

The Domestic Costs and Benefits of Empire

Where might the seeds of resistance to the Empire and its malignant doctrine of American exceptionalism lie within the U.S. today? U.S. peace activists and thinkers should look particularly to the class nature of U.S. imperialism and to the question of who within the domestic power structure of the savagely unequal United States benefits most and pays the most for that imperialism. Stephen Kinzer forgot to add that “the material prosperity of the United States” is generally a nice-sounding euphemism for “the profits of the U.S. economic ruling class.”

As Chomsky noted in 1969, “There are, to be sure, costs of empire that benefit no one: 50,000 American corpses or the deterioration in the strength of the United States economy relative to its industrial rivals. The costs of empire to the imperial society as a whole may be considerable. These costs, however, are social costs, whereas, say, the profits from overseas investment guaranteed by military success are again highly concentrated in certain special segments of the society. The costs of empire are in general distributed over the society as a whole, while its profits revert to a few within” (Chomsky, For Reasons of State, Pantheon, 1972).

Chomsky’s point is no less true today when poverty is rife across the U.S. even as leading military investors enjoy unimaginable wealth amidst a “New Gilded Age” in which the 400 richest Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom half of the U.S. population—150 million U.S. citizens—and the top 1 percent possesses as much as the bottom 90 percent.

Ultimately, however, nobody, not even the rich, can fully escape the horrific consequences of the eco-cidal growth-, waste-, and petroleum-addicted social order that the U.S. empire is sworn to protect: international capitalism. To quote the placards of environmentalists outside recent global climate summits where Obama’s representatives have prevented binding reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions: “There’s No Economy on a Dead Planet” and “There is No Planet B.”

Z

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Paul Street is the author of many books, including The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (2010) and They Rule: The 1 percent v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).

The Obamanable Age of Color-Blind Racism*

24/02/14 0 COMMENTS

*A much shorter version of this talk (below) was delivered as a Keynote Address to a University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee Conference on Racial Formation and Racial Blindness sponsored by the UW-Milwaukee History Department Graduate Students on February 14, 2014.

First published on ZNet, February 23, 2014. Thank you for inviting me up here to discuss racial blindness and race formation in Milwaukee, still the single most racially segregated metropolitan area in the United States according to the latest census data. I want to open with a short passage from Michelle Alexander’s important and widely read 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. As I’m sure many of you know, Professor Alexander’s book shows how the supposedly color-blind problems of criminal marking and mass imprisonment are in fact deeply racialized and impose devastating stigma and exclusion on many millions of black Americans.

 

“Harsh Realities:” Election Night 2008

Remembering the night that Barack Obama defeated John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, Alexander wrote the following in her introduction to The New Jim Crow:

“As an African-American woman, with three young children who will never know a world in which a black man could not be president of the United States, I was beyond thrilled [that evening] Yet when I walked out of the election night party, …I was immediately reminded of …harsh realities…A black man was on his knees in the gutter, hands cuffed behind his back, as several police officers stood around him talking, joking, and ignoring his human existence. People poured out of the building; many stared for a moment at the black man cowering in the street, and then averted their gaze. What did the election of Barack Obama mean for him?”

That’s a pretty good question in a time when a black family sits in the White House but median black wealth is equivalent to 12 cents on the median white net-worth dollar[1], when fully 38 percent of black children compared to 12 percent of white children live in poverty[2], when 1 in 3 black male adults are branded for life with the crippling mark of a felony record and when black American make up more than 40 percent of the nation’s globally unmatched prison population[3]. I could go on and on with other depressing statistics of savage racial inequality that have worsened, ironically enough, during the years of Obama’s presidency.

Last Nail

Reading that passage by Michelle Alexander again the other day, thinking about Obama, felony marking, “color-blind racism,” and about coming to Milwaukee, I started remembering things. I recalled that the best testing study ever done on employer bias against black job applicants with felony records was conducted not that long ago here in Milwaukee by a sociologist named Devah Pager. If you’re interested check out her book: Marked: Race, Crime and Finding Work in an Age of Mass Incarceration.

I remembered the many discussions I had in Iowa City with white campus-town liberals who were very proud of themselves for voting for a black presidential candidate both in the Iowa Caucus and in the general election but who did not seem to care very much when you told them that Iowa had the single worst race disparity in the nation when it came to rates of incarceration[4] and who could not be moved to action when a young black named John Deng was quite unnecessarily shot to death by a white county sheriff at the urging of a local white drunk in downtown Iowa City in June of 2009.[5]

I remembered writing a 2002 Chicago Urban League study titled The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation [6] – a study that was very much about the invisible racism of felony marking and a study that inspired Michelle Alexander to write The New Jim Crow. She told me that and I believe her. It was a pretty good study.

And I remembered that the Keynote Address at the conference in which The Vicious Circle was rolled out on the South Side of Chicago in October of 2002 was given by then state Senator Barack Obama, fated to become a president who has said less about the difficulties faced by the criminally marked (“ex-offenders”) than George W. Bush and who has said less about racism than any Democratic president since Truman. Obama certainly seemed to understand the problem of racially disparate mass incarceration and felony branding pretty well in the fall of 2002.

Remembering that conference and address, I reflected on how the election of a technically black president has been the last nail in the coffin of many whites’ already weak reluctance to acknowledge that racism still sets important barriers to black advancement and racial equality in the U.S. As far as most of white America has been concerned for quite some time, the only real and special problems still faced by black Americans anymore are internal to their own communities and culture – products of their own supposed “dysfunction.”

“The Price of the Ticket”

That is an impression that the president himself has shown himself more than willing to reinforce on different occasions, not just with the example of his own success but with comments not-so subtly directed at poor blacks and their alleged failure to take advantage of the great opportunities purportedly afforded them in what Obama has called “this magical place called America,” where Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s racial anger is no longer really appropriate.

The black political class (for which I used to work) has not shown itself terribly willing to challenge Obama’s channeling of the prevalent white color-blind wisdom. As the black Columbia University political scientist Frederick Harris noted in the New York Times prior to the last election, the black elite has on the whole accepted the president’s silence on race as “the necessary price for the pride and satisfaction of having a black family in the White House.” It’s what Harris calls The Price of the Ticket, title of his important book on the how Obama’s victory has contributed to the decline of a black politics focused on the problem of racial inequality.[7]

Neoliberal Racism

The ubiquitous racially blind sense holding that we now live in a post-racial post-racist society is the product of numerous developments. Three key and related developments particularly deserve mention here in my opinion. The first development was repression, seen first of all in the police state surveillance and infiltration of, and crackdown on, left and black groups who were fighting against all of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called “the triple evils that are interrelated” – racism, capitalism, and militarism [8]– during the late 1960s and 1970s. These groups would not have jettisoned the notion that racism lay at the heart of American empire and inequality and that racial oppression needed to be attacked directly and as such at home and abroad.

A second development was the ascendancy in the dominant public discourse of a corporate neoliberal ideology in which the nation’s “pervasive racial hierarchies collapse,” in the words of the prolific social critic Henry Giroux, “into power-evasive strategies such as blaming minorities of class and color for not working hard enough” and “refusing to exercise individual initiative.” Even as an insidious, increasingly invisible racism “functions” as “one of the deep and abiding currents in everyday [American] life,” this discourse works “to erase the social from the language of public life as to reduce all racial problems to private issues [of]…individual character and cultural depravity.” This “neoliberal racism,” as Giroux calls it, “can imagine public issues only as private concerns. It sees “human agency as simply a matter of individualized choices, the only obstacle to effective citizenship being the lack of principled self-help and moral responsibility” on the part of those most victimized by structural oppression and the amoral agency of super-empowered actors atop the nation’s steep and interrelated hierarchies of class and race.

Under the rule of this neoliberal color-blind racism, “human misery is largely defined as a function of personal choices” and “all problems are private rather than social in nature.” [9] Government efforts to meaningfully address societal disparities of race and class are deemed futile, counterproductive, and inappropriate. Government’s functions are progressively concentrated, in left black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr.’s words, on “making war,” “enhancing opportunities for the investor class,” “suppressing wages for everyone else”[10] repressing dissent, and incarcerating people, particularly poor folks of color. And of course the more you weaken the left, social hand of the state the more you call into being and strengthen the right, authoritarian hand of the state, which comes in to offer its own false solutions to problems like poverty that only deepen with the evisceration of social protections and regulation [11]. All this is militantly bipartisan and continues whichever political party is in nominal power and regardless of the president’s technical racial or gender identity.

Race-Neutral Realpolitik

A third development is the embrace by many black and liberal Democratic intellectuals and activists of a “de-racialized” political and policy rhetoric in the wake of the exhaustion of the Civil Rights Movement. This rhetoric is based on what professor Harris calls “the idea that policies that help everyone – what is described by policymakers as universalism – will trickle down to meet the systematic needs of black communities and that targeted policies toward minorities – which lack the political will of the majority – should be taken off the table.”[12] Its ascendancy on what passes for the left side of the U.S. political spectrum has been seen in Obama’s “race-neutral campaign strategy and approach to governing,” reflected in his statements that he has to be the president “for all the people,” not just or especially blacks or any other racial or ethnic group. Such statements are seen as politically wise given Obama’s success in two national elections in a majority white nation (and one statewide race in majority white Illinois) and the success of other white-friendly race-neutral black politicians who have achieved similar victories on the state level (e.g., former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, former U.S. Senator Carol Mosley Braun, and current Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick).

From the perspective of Democratic Party electoral realpolitik, it is of little concern that, as Harris notes, “Obama’s ascendancy to the White House actually signals a decline of a politics aimed at challenging racial equality head-on” or that, as Harris argues, “a singular focus on universalism surrenders to the false notion of a color-blind society where race no longer matters.” Major party strategists seeking to prevail in a winner-take-all electoral system can hardly be expected to care that “policies that help everyone – what can be described as a trickle-down approach to eradicating poverty and social inequality – are not enough to correct the deep-rooted persistence of racial inequality.”[13] When Democratic strategists say they are “in it to win it,” they are referring to elections, not to attaining social justice of any kind.

It matters little also that Democrats’ current corporate and imperial, neoliberal agenda actually has little to do with advancing “policies that help everyone” (like, for example, single-payer health insurance) and is really mainly about  serving the corporate and financial few, as with Obama’s so-called Affordable Care Act, a “health reform” that only the big insurance and drug companies and their Wall Street backers could love.

The Deeper Racism

Now, however we want to understand the current reigning color-blindness in relation to state capitalist ideology and changing black and Democratic Party political strategies in the post-Civil Rights era, there are some very basic and irreducible cognitive and empirical flaws behind the notion of a post-racial/post-racist America. The main such flaw is a failure to distinguish adequately between what I call level-one racism, by which I mean overt open public bigotry and prejudice, on one hand, and what I call level-two racism or the deeper racism, by which I mean underlying covert societal or institutional racism, on the other hand. Level-one racism has a long and sordid history, but it has largely been defeated, outlawed and discredited in the US, most dramatically in the South but across the nation as well. The deeper, covert level of racism, however, has not been defeated – not by a long shot. It involves the more impersonal and (to be fair) the more invisible operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that “just happen” but nonetheless serve to reproduce black disadvantage in the labor market and numerous other sectors of American life. These processes are so ingrained in the social, political, and institutional sinews of capitalist America that they are taken for granted – barely noticed by the mainstream media and other social commentators. This deeper racism includes:

* Widely documented racial bias in real estate and home lending that complement, reflect and empower the general reluctance of whites to live next door to blacks, all of which combine with disproportionate black poverty to keep blacks out of the metropolitan area’s highest-opportunity communities.

* The proliferation of expensive, taxpayer-financed suburban roads and related residential and office and retail developments constructed on behalf of mainly white suburbanites far from the predominantly black inner city, which subsidizes white flight and takes critical needed economic resources and opportunities yet further from those who are most in need of it.

* The funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth, which tends to favor whiter school districts over blacker districts, an especially big issue in Illinois, where per-student funding rangers from more than 20K per kid in the affluent northern Chicago suburb Lake Forest to less than 7K per kid in many predominantly black and poor south Chicago suburbs.

* Excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “drill” and grill curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly black public schools.

* The hyper-concentration segregation of black children into segregated ghetto schools where frazzled teachers have to deal with oversized classes where as many as 90 percent of their kids are dealing with the special barriers to learning that come with extreme poverty and its effects.

* Rampant and widely documented racial discrimination in hiring and union-managed apprentice-training admissions.

* The racially disparate “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of mass black imprisonment and felony-marking

This split decision – liberal victory on level-one racism and continuing progressive defeat on level-two racism – is tricky. It’s not about glass half-empty versus glass half-full. It’s more complicated than that. For ironically and perversely enough level two institutional racism may actually be deepened by civil rights victories and related black upward mobility into the middle and upper classes insofar as those victories and achievements have served to encourage the great toxic illusion that, as Derrick Bell once put it, “the indolence of blacks rather than the injustice of whites explains the socioeconomic gaps separating the races.”

It’s hard, of course, to blame millions of white people for believing that racism is dead in America when our public life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration ideal and our ostensible progress towards achieving it and when we regularly celebrate great American victories over level-one racism, particularly over the open racial segregation and terror of the South. As the black law professor Sheryl Cashin noted in 2004, five years before the existence of a first black U.S. president, there are [now] enough examples of successful middle- and upper-class class African-Americans “to make many whites believe that blacks have reached parity…The fact that some blacks now lead powerful mainstream institutions offers evidence to whites that racial barriers have been eliminated; [that] the issue now is individual effort . . . The odd black family on the block or the Oprah effect — examples of stratospheric black success,” Cashin wrote, “feed these misperceptions, even as relatively few whites live among and interact daily with blacks of their own standing.”[14]

For what it’s worth, this is something that Martin Luther King, Jr. anticipated to some degree. “Many whites hasten to congratulate themselves,” King noted in 1967, “on what little progress [black Americans] have made. I’m sure,” King opined, “that most whites felt that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all race problems were automatically solved. Most white people are so removed from the life of the average Negro,” King added, “here has been little to challenge that assumption.”

Note the importance of segregated experience in the observations of both professor Cashin and Dr. King. The media image of black triumph and equality trumps the reality of persistent racial inequality in white minds so easily thanks in part to the simple fact that whites have little regular contact with actual, ordinary black Americans. This is one of many ways in spatial and residential segregation matters a great deal.[15]

The Haunted Ghost of Gunnar Myrdal

This ironic denouement is, or ought to be, a loud and disturbing wake-up call for the ghost of the Swedish social democrat Gunnar Myrdal. According to the dominant school of thought among corporate and academic liberal elites after World War II and through the 1970s, the nation’s steep racial inequalities would be healed by changing the dominant images and representations of race to foster tolerance and diversity, thereby purging whites of their aberrant prejudices and encourage them to act in accord with the noble American Creed of liberty, justice, and opportunity for all. This was the diagnosis developed in Myrdal’s giant, two Carnegie-funded study An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and American Democracy (1944) – a highly influential call, among other things, for calm, sensible, and modest, elite-managed progress focused largely on the changing of individual attitudes. As the historian Thomas Sugrue notes:

“In Myrdal’s view, the struggle for black freedom would be waged by moderate, reasonable activists – ones informed by social science – who would remake America into the truly just society that it was meant to be…Myrdal downplayed the strength and vitality of black political activism in the North and eschewed the left’s critiques of labor and public policy. An American Dilemma advocated social change, not structural change; Myrdal and his popularizers did not want to remake American politics or economic institutions. They were not revolutionaries or even radicals. Their goal was individual change. One by one, racist but essentially well-meaning white Americans would …be…educated to accept a color-blind society.”[16]

The diagnosis was an exercise in bourgeois “mysticism,” as the great black Marxist sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox noted in a trenchant, widely ignored 1945 review of An American Dilemma. For Cox, as for many black and left U.S. intellectuals since at least the 1920s, whites’ racial prejudiced beliefs were a surface reflection of something deeper: a system of combined class and racial domination and exploitation. For Cox, it was “mythical” for Myrdal and his many followers to believe that changing individual attitudes would end the economic oppression that lay at the taproot of racial inequality and racism. Cox agreed with the brilliant black Trinidad-born America Marxist C.L.R. James that racism was more than simply an aberrant strain of Americanism and that it was a natural outgrowth of an economic system that depended on the special exploitation of black workers and the exploitation and division of workers of all colors. Unless that system of domination and exploitation, unless capitalism was changed, Cox argued, efforts to heal the prejudiced beliefs would not make all that much difference. “The reformer,” Cox insisted, “seeks to eliminate only the racial aspects of the exploitation system; he compromises with the system which produces the racial antagonism…..In the end, the social system is exculpated.”[17]

Views like those of C.L.R. James and Oliver Cox – and the related reflections of black labor leader and socialist A. Phillip Randolph and the black Marxist W.E.B. Du Bois – were drowned out in the civil rights movement of Cold War America. As the historian Thomas Sugrue observers, “the Cold War and the growing suspicion of mass politics would give increased credence to the Myrdalian framework. The welling anticommunism of mainstream black organizations, grassroots activists, and public opinion leaders would squeeze black radicalism to the margins…Myrdal’s emphasis on morality touched a nerve in America on the cusp between WWII and the Cold War.”[18]

Still, the highly visible Dr. King, the leading symbol of the struggle for black equality during the late 1950s and 1960s and himself a democratic socialist, agreed with Oliver Cox to no small extent. Speaking on the Canadian Broadcasting System in 1967, King coupled his call for an emergency national program providing either decent-paying jobs all or a guaranteed national income for all poor Americans of all colors with the observation that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated, because the roots are in the system rather in men or faulty operations.”

“The black revolution,” King wrote in a posthumously published 1969 essay titled A Testament of Hope “is about much more than a struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

Here we are today in the still highly segregated upper Midwest 46 years after King wrote those revolutionary words, 70 years after Myrdal published An American Dilemma. Real world socioeconomic race disparity and related race separatism remains as savagely and deeply rooted in American life as ever, reinforced by a “new Jim Crow” system of objectively racist mass incarceration and criminal marking that scars the land, unabated even as a black family now sits in the White House. This “neoliberal,” not-so color-blind racism “functions” as “one of the deep and abiding currents in everyday [American] life” in a time when black and brown faces in high and publicly visible places are fairly commonplace (enough to drive old-fashioned level-one white bigots to regular distraction) and when most whites would vociferously claim not to be racist. Could the mockery of Myrdal be any more complete? More than merely inadequate or insufficient, the Myrdalian approach is part of what cloaks the deeper racism, inseparably linked to the deeper capitalism. The system shifts and changes, to be sure, but today, as from the beginning, the roots of American racial inequality and racism (and much more, including the crisis of livable ecology that threatens to eclipse all other progressive concerns) are in the system. Only by structural change can current evils be eliminated.

Paul Street is an author and activist in Iowa City, Iowa.

Selected Endnotes

1. Matt Breunig, “The Racial Wealth Gap,” American Prospect, November 6, 2013.

2. National Poverty Center, “Poverty in the United States,” http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/

3. Paul Street, The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Jobs, and Community in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation (Chicago, IL: Chicago Urban League, 2002), http://www.prisonpolicy.org/scans/theviciouscircle.pdf

4. Associated Press, “Study: Iowa Has Nation’s Highest Prison Racial Disparity,” QCOnline, July 18, 2007,http://qconline.com/archives/qco/display.php?id=346704

5. Paul Street, “ ‘In Cold Blood’: White Deputy’s Killing of Homeless Black Man Sparks Mild Protest in Obama-Mad Iowa City,” Black Agenda Report (August 11, 2009),http://blackagendareport.com/content/“-cold-blood”-white-deputy’s-killing-homeless-black-man-sparks-dah-mild-protest-obama-mad-iowa-c- ; ;Paul Street, “True Crime: White Privilege and a Police Killing in an Obama-Mad College Town,” Black Agenda Report, October 19, 2009,http://blackagendareport.com/content/true-crime-white-privilege-and-police-killing-obama-mad-college-town

6. See note 3, above.

7. Frederick C. Harris, “The Price of a Black President,” New York Times, October 27, 2012; Frederick C. Harris, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

8. Vincent Harding, Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero (Orbis Books, 1996).

9. Giroux is quoted and cited at length in my book Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman&Littlefield, 2007), 37

10. Adolph Reed, Jr., “New Orleans – Undone by Neoliberealism,” The Nation, August 31, 2006,http://www.thenation.com/article/undone-neoliberalism

11. Paul Street, Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004).

12. Harris, Price of the Ticket, x.

13. Harris, Price of the Ticket, x, xviii, xx.

14. For sources and more, see Street, Racial Oppression, 229-230.

15. For sources and more, see Street, Racial Oppression, 183-187.

16. Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008), 62-63.

17. Oliver Cromwell Cox, Race: A Study in Social Dynamics (New York: Monthly review, 2000), 206-238; Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, 72-73, 82; Stephen Steinberg, Turning Back: The Retreat From Racial Justice in American Thought and Policy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), 33-49.

18. Surgue, Sweet Land, 83.

Happy People on Television

21/02/14 0 COMMENTS

First published on ZNet, February 20, 2014,  Sometimes you don’t grasp the essence of something until you’ve been removed from it for a while. Take television. I don’t watch a lot of it anymore. I haven’t in quite a few years.

It’s not about cultural Luddism. It has to do with the analog-digital switchover some years ago and related household budget calculations regarding the price of television these days. The main function of the television in my house these days is to provide a screen for DVDs. We also watch an occasional news broadcast, Moyers show, Frontline, or British detective on the “public” television stations – the only ones that still come in clearly since we bought a “digital converter box.”

It also has to with the fact that my partner Janet and I noticed that we didn’t miss the major networks as they disappeared from our screen, one by one, after the digital takeover. Life without the 10 O’clock News and the Tonight Show turned out to be quite alright. When there’s a hockey or basketball game I want to see, I can always go to a bar or a friends’ house.

Recently, however, I got marooned without my laptop computer for a couple of days during a snowstorm in a large American city, in a small apartment with cable access to all of the major television networks.  I watched an inordinate amount of television these two days, thanks in part to the Olympics and also to the fact that I was constantly looking for weather and traffic reports. For whatever reasons, I spent a lot of time gazing into the eyes of beautiful young broadcasters sitting behind desks and walking in front of spectacular high-tech weather maps in immaculate, brightly colored studios.

The thing that struck me most in this re-encounter with television was the almost non-stop outward happiness of the smiling and laughing People on Television. To be sure, their joviality was turned off and replaced with properly stern visages when the news turned to murder and a fire in the city’s unmentionably black ghetto, a train-car crash in the suburbs, misery in Syria, a bad snowboarder fall in Sochi, and the trauma experienced by hijacked air passengers over Europe. But the turn away from cheerfulness was short-lived. Sitting like a zombie with a remote in my hand, switching between the news, commercials, talk shows, sit-coms, and more commercials, I could not escape the impression that American television is dedicated to propagating the notion that everyone is or should be so incredibly and consistently glad to be alive that they can barely contain themselves.

Seated before the relentless bliss coming off the gorgeous People on Television, I started to feel vaguely uneasy, even a bit guilty over my “negative” tendency to focus on difficult societal problems like:

 

  • The United States’ savagely disparate patterns of racial and economic inequality, so extreme in the current New Gilded Age that the richest 400 Americans possess between themselves as much wealth as the bottom 50 percent of the population (along with a probably larger share of the nation’s elected officials) while median black wealth is equivalent to 12 cents on the median white net-worth dollar.
  • The daily imprisonment of more than 3 million Americans, most of them by far black and Latino, in the U.S., the world’s mass incarceration leader (a curious mark for the self-described national homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy).
  • The squandering of well more than a trillion dollars each years on a vast U.S. war and empire budget that accounts for half the world’s military spending and provides giant subsidies to “defense” corporations – this while 16.4 million U.S. children, nearly a quarter (22.6%) of all U.S. children (including 38 percent of black children) are living below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level.
  • The war to abolish privacy and other basic civil liberties and decencies being waged by the National Security State in alliance with your local police and giant transnational corporations like Facebook, Verizon and Google.
  • The ever-escalating destruction of livable ecology, moving now into full crisis, at the hands of rapacious growth- and carbon-addicted capitalism.

 

Certainly nobody who spends a lot of time in inherently “dysfunctional” worrying about such unpleasant things as these would ever be welcome among the properly adjusted super-happy people who brighten up the nation’s omnipresent telescreens in the name of Helping People Feel Good About Life and Themselves in the Greatest Nation on Earth – what the generally smiling former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) once described (in a speech given in support of giving George W. Bush free reign to invade Iraq if he wanted to) as “the beacon to the world of how life should be.” Among other things, including the transmission of state-capitalist neoliberal ideology and propaganda (in “entertainment” production no less than in news and commentary), American television is all about escape and “amusing ourselves to death” (Neil Postman). It’s about infantilized dissociation from the continual and accelerating crimes perpetrated by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, race, patriarchy, and eco-cide. It’s about “taking the risk out of democracy” (Alex Carey) by (among other things) de-legitimizing what ought to be understood as thoroughly legitimate popular anger over the corporate destruction of democracy, justice, and life on Earth. If you’re angry or sad or (worse) active and organizing in relation to that destruction (or some key aspect of it), then there must be something wrong with you. Look at how happy those People on Television are and turn that frown upside down! Your rage and/or sadness is definitely “what not to wear.”

Things got very different, thankfully, when I turned off the television, cleaned up the apartment, and trudged for my overdue trip home through the snowstorm’s melting remnants to the bus station on the edge of the city’s downtown. Nobody among the predominantly black and Latino crowd there seemed all that particularly happy. Up on two large telescreens blaring loudly above the Greyhound, Trailways, and Indian Trails passengers below, the nation’s first technically black president was holding court. Barack Obama was cracking wise, feeling good about himself and some new federal fuel efficiency standards on CNN. He was in a good mood, flashing his big million dollar smile.

Clearing slush from the bottom of my suitcase, I was the only person in the station who gave the Grinner in Chief so much as a glance. That’s no surprise. The deeply corporatist and ironically/objectively white-supremacist Obama has worn out his once enthusiastic welcome among many of the millions of poor folks of color who voted for him in record numbers. What, really, has Obama’s election meant for them? Very little beyond a brief symbolic rush (a black family in the White House) that has translated into no concrete real-life gains for America’s most truly disadvantaged and oppressed.

Whatever, the people at the bus station had other things to worry about, none especially pleasant, besides Obama’s cheerful speechifying. They were concerned about getting their luggage tagged before their boarding line closed; finding enough coins to make a pay-phone call to the uncle who said he’d pick them up; keeping their kids in once place and their luggage safe from the menacing-looking guys lurking in the corner, etc. They looked tense, irritated, sad, angry, worried, and in some cases shell-shocked. For smiles and cheer, you had to look at the two looming telescreens, showing the president, the CNN anchors, and other happy and attractive People on Television selling, well, antidepressants. Down below, people were being real in a dirty, messy, and slightly prison-like bus terminal soaked in the undeniable stigma of poverty. They knew exactly where they were, without illusion.

Good for them, I thought. Don’t get me wrong. I romanticize neither poverty nor despair. At the same time, I know that contemporary corporate capitalist evil draws no small strength from its relentless quest to exploit our universal desire to escape our present reality – to take us away from our actual experience before we can properly process that experience well enough to understand and resist the endless wickedness imposed from above. For that reason alone, after two days of commercial television overdose, I found the mostly black and brown people’s gloom beneath the beaming face of America’s first half-white president to be a great breath of fresh air.

Paul Street is an author in Iowa City, IA.

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