Paul Street Speaking at San Diego State University Thursday April 28, 2016

26/04/16 0 COMMENTS

Street will speak on and against the 2016 presidential electoral extravaganza at San Diego State University: San Diego State University, Arts and Letters, 101 Thursday, April 28, 2016, 7:00-8:30 pm. “The 2016 presidential election has taken the form of a predictable and debasing spectacle. Although a rhetorical nod is made to soaring income inequality, neither the candidates nor the broader political establishment address the deep-rooted attachments of both parties to relentless US interventionism and the military-industrial-security complex, the corporate undermining of democracy, the ongoing attack on civil liberties, and the subjugation of the electoral process itself to dominant capitalist actors. Once again, the 2016 election remains an empty horse race with no hope of resolving the urgent crises facing the population.”

“The Political Science Department will host a panel discussion on the upcoming presidential elections. Our two speakers will discuss the profoundly undemocratic character of the two-party system, as well as offer an alternative vision of politics and democracy. Bill Van Auken is a leading member of the Socialist Equality Party who ran for president in 2004 and for a Senate seat in New York in 2006, challenging Hillary Clinton. Paul Street is a longtime critic of the two-party system and author of the book, They Rule: the 1 % Versus Democracy (Paradigm Publishers, 2014)”.

An Idiot’s Guide to Why They Hate Us

13/01/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, December 22, 2015

In its endless, candidate-obsessed coverage and discussion of the already seemingly interminable U.S. presidential horse race (the actual presidential election is still more than ten months away), U.S. corporate media fact-checkers, reporters, and commentators have had a field day finding inaccuracies, offensiveness, and absurdities in the statements of the current Republican pack-leader Donald Trump. It’s not hard to do. “The Donald’s” rambling orations and constant Tweets are loaded with transparently false assertions and ridiculous comments, including:

* The claim that Barack Obama lacks a United States Birth Certificate

* The promise to build “a great, great wall on our southern border and…make Mexico pay for it.”

* The claim that Mexico is sending “rapists” to the United States.

* “The concept of global warming was created by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

* The claim that former long-term prisoner of war John McCain isn’t really a “war hero” since he’d been captured by the U.S. enemy during the Vietnam War (Trump made sure to attend college with a student deferment from the Vietnam War draft).

* “There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am” (repeat the same parenthetical comment at the end of the previous bullet point).

* “Our great African American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!” (just a little racist)

* “Arianna Huffington is unattractive both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man- he made a good decision (one of many examples in which Trump has insulted the looks of a prominent women).

* The ludicrous claim that Trump saw “thousands of people” in New Jersey cheering the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The dominant (“mainstream’) media has had little difficulty showing and noting how and why these and numerous other Trump ejaculations are outrageous. It’s no surprise that a recent New York Times assessment of the presidential candidates’ truthfulness found Trump to be grossly deficient when it comes to veracity. The media’s top political fact checker, Angie Drobac Holan, notes that “Mr. Trump’s record on truth and accuracy is astonishingly poor.” His 76% Falsehood rating (three-fourths of the 70 Trump statements carefully examined by Holan’s Politifact Website came up untrue) is exceeded only by the wacky Republican brain surgeon Ben Carson, who is batting .840 at the inaccuracy plate (by contrast, Bernie Sanders rates 28%)

“The Hatred is Beyond Comprehension”

It’s revealing, however, that the same media has nothing really to offer on the clueless stupidity of something that Trump said in the wake of the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris and a mass shooting carried out by a “radicalized” Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California. I’m referring to Trump’s argument that Muslims should be barred from the United States “until the country’s representatives can figure out what’s going on.”

“Without looking at the various polling data” Trump later elaborated, “it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine,” Trump said in a statement. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, that have no sense of reason or respect for human life” (emphasis added).

The statement is either incredibly disingenuous or astonishingly foolish. Nobody who is reasonably knowledgeable and honest about the long and ongoing history of U.S.- and Western-imperial policy in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa has any business claiming to find the origins of anti-American and anti-Western terrorism in the Muslim world mysterious.

An “Aerial Traffic Jam” of “One-Sided Massacre” (1991)

“No sense of reason or respect for human life”? Seriously? Among the countless episodes of mass-murderous U.S. savagery in the Muslim world, one that I can never seem to forget occurred a quarter-century ago. I am referring to the epic carnage wreaked by the U.S. military on Iraq’s notorious “Highway of Death,” where 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, emphasis added).

Less than a year after his forces conducted this colossal slaughter, 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” (emphasis added).

As Noam 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.”

“A Prodigious Effort”

Uncle Sam was only getting warmed up building its Iraqi and Muslim Body Counts in early 1991. As Sheldon Richman recently noted on CounterPunch:

“It takes prodigious effort to maintain an air of innocence about San Bernardino and Paris, because no one who claims to be informed can plead ignorance of the long history of U.S. and Western imperialism in the Muslim world. This includes the CIA’s subversion of Iranian democracy in 1953, the U.S. government’s systematic support of compliant autocratic and corrupt Arab monarchies and dictatorships, it’s empowering of Iraqi Shi’ite Muslims, and its unconditional backing of Israel’s brutal anti-Palestinian policies. (The savage 2014 war on Gaza killed many noncombatants.)”

“In the 10 years before the 9/11 attacks the administrations of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton bombed Iraq while maintaining an embargo, most especially on equipment for the water and sanitation infrastructure the U.S. Air Force had destroyed during the Gulf War. Half a million children died. This was also when U.S. officials promised, then reneged on the promise, to remove U.S. forces from the Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia.”

“From the air Americans routinely kill noncombatants in Syria and Iraq, most recently this week, when ‘at least 36 civilians, including 20 children, in a village in eastern Syria’ were reportedly killed, according to McClatchyDC….Things like this happen all the time. The U.S. attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was especially egregious against this background of war crimes….The U.S. government has conducted war by remote-controlled drones since 2001 in a variety of places, including Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan.”

“A Price Worth Paying”

Five years after “the Highway of Death,” Bill Clinton’s U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright told CBS News’ Leslie Stahl that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S.-led economic sanctions imposed after the first “Persian Gulf War” (a curious term for a one-sided U.S. assault) 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.”

In the Streets of Fallujah

In a foreign policy speech he gave to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs 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.” It was a spine-chilling selection of locales. 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, New 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, January 17, 2008).

The Pentagon’s near leveling of the city was consistent with its early computer program name for ordinary Iraqis certain to be killed in the 2003 invasion: “bug-splat” As it turned out, Uncle Sam’s petro-imperial occupation led to the death of at least 1 million Iraqi “bugs” (human beings). 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).

The Most Extensive Terrorism Campaign of All Time

Chomsky has recently and rightly called Barack Obama’s targeted drone assassination program “the most extensive global terrorism campaign the world has yet seen.” The program “officially is aimed at killing people who the administration believes might someday intend to harm the U.S., and killing anyone else who happens to be nearby.” As Chomsky ads, “It is also a terrorism generating campaign – that is well understood by people in high places. When you murder somebody in a Yemen village, and maybe a couple of other people who are standing there, the chances are pretty high that others will want to take revenge.”

Given the remarkable geographic scope of the cowardly U.S. drone war, Obama’s terrorism campaign has spread jihadism across vaster terrain than any tool or tactic to date. George W. Bush may have Obama beat on total body count in the Muslim world. But Obama takes the prize when it comes to the geographic scope of jihad-fueling U.S. terrorism – and when it comes to instilling a ubiquitous sense of fear of instant mass death from the sky across much of that world.

“Pure Evil”: Nightmares That Remind

It isn’t just about body counts and science fiction-like technologies of mass murder. The natural desire for revenge among many in the Muslim world draws heavily on the hideous and perverse humiliation and torture that racist U.S. forces have carried out in that world. A remarkable teleSur English essay by Vincent Emanuele, a former U.S. Marine veteran of America’s arch-criminal Iraq invasion and occupation, is titled “I Helped Create ISIS.” By Emanuele’s account of his enlistment in an operation that gives him nightmares more than a decade later:

“I think about the hundreds of prisoners we took captive and tortured in makeshift detention facilities staffed by teenagers from Tennessee, New York and Oregon. I never had the misfortune of working in the detention facility, but I remember the stories. I vividly remember the marines telling me about punching, slapping, kicking, elbowing, kneeing and head-butting Iraqis. I remember the tales of sexual torture: forcing Iraqi men to perform sexual acts on each other while marines held knives against their testicles, sometimes sodomizing them with batons.”

“However, before those abominations could take place, those of us in infantry units had the pleasure of rounding up Iraqis during night raids, zip-tying their hands, black-bagging their heads and throwing them in the back of HUMVEEs and trucks while their wives and kids collapsed to their knees and wailed. Sometimes, we would pick them up during the day. Most of the time they wouldn’t resist. Some of them would hold hands while marines would butt-stroke the prisoners in the face. Once they arrived at the detention facility, they would be held for days, weeks, and even months at a time. Their families were never notified. And when they were released, we would drive them from the FOB (Forward Operating Base) to the middle of the desert and release them several miles from their homes.”

“After we cut their zip-ties and took the black bags off their heads, several of our more deranged marines would fire rounds from their AR-15s into their air or ground, scaring the recently released captives. Always for laughs. Most Iraqis would run, still crying from their long ordeal at the detention facility, hoping some level of freedom awaited them on the outside. Who knows how long they survived. After all, no one cared. We do know of one former U.S. prisoner who survived: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.”

“Amazingly, the ability to dehumanize the Iraqi people reached a crescendo after the bullets and explosions concluded, as many marines spent their spare time taking pictures of the dead, often mutilating their corpses for fun or poking their bloated bodies with sticks for some cheap laughs. Because iPhones weren’t available at the time, several marines came to Iraq with digital cameras. Those cameras contain an untold history of the war in Iraq, a history the West hopes the world forgets. That history and those cameras also contain footage of wanton massacres and numerous other war crimes, realities the Iraqis don’t have the pleasure of forgetting.”

“Unfortunately, I could recall countless horrific anecdotes from my time in Iraq. Innocent people were not only routinely rounded-up, tortured and imprisoned, they were also incinerated by the hundreds of thousands, some studies suggest by the millions….Only the Iraqis understand the pure evil that’s been waged on their nation…”

“….The warm and glassy eyes of young Iraqi children perpetually haunt me, as they should. …My nightmares and daily reflections remind me of where ISIS comes from and why, exactly, they hate us. That hate, understandable yet regrettable, will be directed at the West for years and decades to come. How could it be otherwise?” (emphasis added)

“You Haven’t Begun to see…the Things Done to Children”

The award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh told the ACLU last year about the existence of classified Pentagon evidence files containing films of U.S. soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys in front of their mothers behind the walls of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. “You haven’t begun to see [all the]…evil, horrible things done [by U.S. soldiers] to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run,” Hersh told an audience in Chicago in the summer of 2014.

The United States tries to do its best everywhere.

“Humility and Restraint”

Why Do They Hate Us?! It’s an idiotic and childish question, as moronic as anything “The Donald” ever says. The media doesn’t call Trump him on this one, however, for a very simple reason. It is itself deeply complicit in selling the “American exceptionalist” myth of the United States as a noble and benevolent force in the world and therefore in regularly and systematically denying the savage and criminal behavior of the American Empire abroad.

“We lead the world,” presidential candidate Obama explained eight seven years ago, “in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good…. America is the last, best hope of Earth.” Obama elaborated in his first Inaugural Address. “Our security,” the president said, “emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint”—a fascinating commentary on Fallujah, Hiroshima, the U.S. crucifixion of Southeast Asia, the “Highway of Death” and more.

Within less than half a year of his Inauguration, Obama’s rapidly accumulating record of atrocities in the Muslim world would include the bombing of the Afghan village of Bola Boluk Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives in Bola Boluk were children. “In a phone call played on a loudspeaker on Wednesday to outraged members of the Afghan Parliament,” the New York Times reported, “the governor of Farah Province…said that as many as 130 civilians had been killed.” According to one Afghan legislator and eyewitness, “the villagers bought two tractor trailers full of pieces of human bodies to his office to prove the casualties that had occurred. Everyone at the governor’s cried, watching that shocking scene.” The administration refused to issue an apology or to acknowledge U.S. responsibility.

Reflecting on such atrocities the following December, an Afghan villager was moved to comment as follows: “Peace prize? He’s a killer…Obama,” the man added, “has only brought war to our country.” The man spoke from the village of Armal, where a crowd of 100 gathered around the bodies of 12 people, one family from a single home. The 12 were killed, witnesses reported, by U.S. Special Forces during a late night raid.

A “Mainstream” Orwellian Triumph

“We are good…We use our power with decency, humility, fairness, and restraint.” Every modern U.S. President (none perhaps with more audacity than Barack Obama) and Secretary of State (including Hillary Clinton) has said and still routinely says things along the same psychotic and nationally narcissistic lines. They do so without facing any more criticism from U.S. “mainstream” media than Soviet rulers faced from Pravda, Izvestia, and Soviet state television when they described their nation and its Eastern European satellites as “great socialist people’s democracies.” U.S. media elites, being members of the properly “educated classes….know enough to look away” from the reality of what Uncle Sam does in and to the world.

No wonder so many US-of-Americans are befuddled by the anger the U.S. evokes around the world (particularly in the Muslim world), darkly clueless when it comes answering the pathetic question “Why Do They Hate Us?” In the US, and indeed across much of the West, “mainstream” media and in the reigning intellectual culture the record of ongoing US criminality is airbrushed out from official history and the mass culture even as it occurs.  It is instantaneously tossed down George Orwell’s “memory hole.” As Harold Pinter noted in his acceptance of the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature, dominant Western cultural authorities behave as if US imperial violence does not exist and never has. “Even while it was happening,” Pinter said, it never happened.  It didn’t matter.  It was of no interest.” Pinter was speaking of the Cold War era. Nothing has changed in this regard since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It’s very much the same today.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair once noted in an oft-quoted statement, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” No doubt, some of the talking and writing media heads enlisted in the project of airbrushing Uncle Sam out of the global criminal record (no small act of distortion and deletion) know very well that “good” Washington’s role in the world is very different than what they report. They also know that telling even small truths about US imperial arrogance and criminality could cost them their jobs and future employment prospects. It is difficult to get a reporter to reveal his or her understanding of the real US role in the world when his or her salary depends on that reporter not revealing that understanding.

Millions of Americans are consequently left in a dangerously childish state of abject ignorance about the actions and evil of “their” nation’s military in the Muslim world and elsewhere and thus about the origins of anti-American Islamic jihad and terror abroad and at home. Whether “the Donald” himself is one of those millions is an open question, though there is reason to suspect that he knows better. The bigger issue is that he and the rest of the presidential candidates of both parties – “two wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904) – will never be corrected by a corporate US war media that no more deserves the title “mainstream” than did Soviet state media in its day.

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

A Sacrificial Rahm? Mayor 1%, Racist Policing, and Metropolitan Disorder

13/01/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, December 18, 2015

Shit That Hit the Metropolitan Fan

Chicago’s “Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel is in trouble with his city’s 1%. Here is an interesting report from Crain’s Chicago Business, a leading journal of the Chicago corporate and financial elite:

“At the kind of civic soirees where Mayor Rahm Emanuel normally would fit right in as a guest, lately he has become the topic du jour—and not always in a way he would like…During a by-invitation-only retirement party for Shedd Aquarium’s president, Ted Beattie, board chairman and Goldman Sachs veteran John Gilbertson Jr. told the crowd that a mayoral proclamation honoring Beattie will be issued in February. But given recent events, Gilbertson said, ‘the governor could issue the proclamation (instead) should Chicago’s mayor no longer be in office.’ …The reaction: an awkward rustle in the crowd of 100-plus [wealthy] guests, and a fair number of nervous glances. Gilbertson added that he had been invited to a fundraiser for Emanuel but didn’t know if that would occur now that ‘you-know-what hit the fan.’ …The police abuse scandal that has caused strife in the streets and elicited more than one mea culpa from the mayor is now being discussed openly—even at the podium—during gatherings of the city’s business and civic elite.”

The “you know what” that “hit the fan” was of course the recent release of a police dashcam video showing a white Chicago police officer’s savage and extrajudicial execution of Black teenager Laquan McDonald and the mass outrage and protests that occurred after the release. The tape is chilling. It shows Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping sixteen bullets into McDonald, with the most of the shots launched while McDonald lay on a South Side street on the night of October 20th, 2014.

It isn’t just the graphic video and the murder itself that has driven protest in the streets of Chicago. A number of developments and revelations have accumulated and converged to fuel Black anger and demands for – among other things – Emanuel’s exit from City Hall:

* The city kept the Laquan tape under wraps for more than a year because Emanuel feared it would deep-six his chance of winning Black votes he desperately needed for re-election after four years of alienating Black Chicagoans by closing many dozens of Black and Latino schools (to make his wealthy charter school buddies happy) and after years of stonewalling on endemic racist police abuse and misconduct (including the operation of a “black site” detention and torture center on the city’s West Side).

* The city released the tape only because it was forced to last month by a county judge ruling in a lawsuit filed by independent journalist Brandon Smith.

* Emanuel offered Laquan McDonald’s family $5 million settlement to keep it quiet prior to Emmanuel’s re-election last spring.

* Emanuel absurdly claimed that he’d never seen the Laquan murder video prior to its release last November 24th – a preposterous story given his approval of the $5 million settlement prior to the election.

* The city refused to release another police murder tape, the Ronald Johnson kill video (showing a young Black make suspect shot in the back while running away from police on October 12, 2014 over the same period of time. This video came out only because of public after the Laquan video came out.

* The city has also been forced to release a graphic video showing police in a city lockup contributing to the death of a black University of Chicago graduate named Phillip Coleman by repeatedly using a Taser on him and dragging him out of his cell in handcuffs.

* Laquan McDonald’s executioner, Officer Jason Van Dyke, was allowed to stay on the force, at full pay, for 13 months after conducting a blatant extrajudicial execution clearly visible on tape. (When a white cop was seen on video fatally shooting a fleeing Black suspect in Charleston, S.C earlier this year, he was charged in just five days.)

* Chicago police on the scene threatened the Laquan killing’s eyewitnesses with arrest and deleted more than an hour of videotape from a fast food restaurant near the murder site. Numerous Chicago police officers who witnessed the execution protected the cold-blooded killer Van Dyke (in accord with the “blue code”) by making abjectly counterfeit reports claiming that McDonald posed an imminent threat to his killer. The dashcam video totally contradicts these claims, making the officers accessories to murder.

* One year after the slaughter of Laquan and the cover-up that Emanuel certainly approved, Emanuel attended a private meeting with 100 of the nation’s top law enforcement and elected officials, including U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. He received loud applause when he told Lynch that, by the Washington Post’s account, “fear of being the next face on the 6 o’clock news had prompted officers in Chicago and across the country to become ‘fetal’ and not risk engagements with the public that could become viral video sensations. Emanuel… implored Lynch…to back the nation’s police officers publicly before the next, inevitable cellphone video surfaces to cast aspersions on someone wearing a badge.”

* Emanuel claims he didn’t want to release the Laquan tape because he feared it might taint a federal investigation but the U.S. Justice Department says it never asked the city to hold off on making the tape public.

* It was recently learned that the city’s so-called Independent Police Review Authority has received no less than 10,000 excessive force complaints since 2008, resulting in the dismissal of just four officers. (The IPRA’s previous chief, Lorenzo Davis, was fired by the city earlier this year because he refused to reverse his finding that a fatal police shooting was unjustified.)

* In a meeting with Chicago’s leading Black ministers and pastors right before he released the Laquan video, Emanuel arrogantly warned them that he would withhold money for jobs programs in the city’s Black ghettoes if civil unrest ensued. The pastors found this highly insulting.

“At the Illinois Venture Capital Association annual dinner earlier this week,” Crain’s Business Chicago reports, “there wasn’t a word said about the issue. Also missing was the usual praise for the city and the mayor.”

“Slick and Meaningless Talk”

Rahm has been getting sternly reprimanded in local corporate media outlets since the Laquan video was released. Emblematic of the metropolitan business elite’s growing distance from Emanuel – a militantly corporatist mayor with long demonstrated neoliberal attachments to elite financial rule – is the media’s refusal to be moved by Emanuel’s recent teary-eyed apology for racially biased police misconduct in Chicago and his promise to “own” and “fix” the problem in a spirit of transparency.

In a December 9th broadcast editorial titled “Rahm vs. the Volcano,” the Chicago FOX television affiliate’s General Manager Dennis Welch responded acidly to Emanuel’s mea culpa. Welch referred to the mayor as “an arrogant control freak who bullies his way through life…All this stuff about ‘being transparent’ and ‘owning it,’” Welch coldly proclaimed, “is just slick and meaningless talk.” Welch held in his hands a specially commissioned 2014 report prepared for the city and titled “Preventing and Disciplining Police Misconduct.” The report was quietly shelved by City Hall. “It took two years to put together and they just threw it away,” Welch noted, flinging the document on the floor for dramatic effect. “Now they’ve put together a task force to do the same exact thing,” Welch added.

An Orwellian “Toolkit for Teachers”

On December 8th, Crain’s Chicago Business published a column in which three University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) educational curriculum experts noted that the mayor-controlled Chicago Public Schools (CPS) had recently produced and distributed an Orwellian guide instructing teachers on how to spin the Laquan McDonald story once the video was released. This blatant propaganda document – titled “Teaching About Laquan McDonald: A Toolkit for Teachers” – was made available to teachers over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Crain’s column was highly critical of the mayor- and police-friendly “toolkit”:

“The account in the lesson plan mirrors the account given by city and police department officials: It suggests a timely investigation, and emphasizes that the officer was charged with first-degree murder, as if to imply an aggressive prosecution of the case. Not mentioned are the reports that officers at the scene dispersed witnesses, failing to take statements from those who might have provided a different account. There is no mention of the fact that the video contradicts CPD testimony, that the charges were not brought until a judge ordered the video’s release (against CPD’s wishes), or of widespread demands for the resignation of the state’s attorney, CPD chief and mayor.”

“These delays have been widely criticized by local and national press, and especially by local community members. The introduction fails to point out that the $5 million settlement with the family was not the result of a lawsuit but was initiated by the City in apparent acknowledgment of the egregiousness of the case.”

“We are troubled that CPS would repeat this much-questioned narrative from city officials in a lesson plan for teachers and students, as if it were the district’s own narrative of the events of the case. No news outlets have offered an account of events that so cleanly adheres to the official story. Mayoral control of the district should not mean that CPS curriculum is used to parrot city officials’ talking points. A lesson plan designed to meet the learning needs of young people should not be used as a vehicle for political manipulation.”

Black Friday, Indeed: the Rage of the Ghetto v. the Gold Coast Bottom Line

So, has Chicago’s business elite suddenly been converted to the causes of racial and social justice? Hardly. There may be a few tender ruling class Chicago souls moved to genuine concern for how young Black people are treated by police and other authorities. But the deeper and darker reality is that the city’s capitalist establishment has long been content to see the city’s lower and working class Black majority kept savagely separate, unequal, oppressed, and repressively over-policed in the names in accord with standard urban “growth machine” imperatives of gentrification and downtown-centered commercial and real estate profitability. Now, however, the bully-boy “brass balls” Mayor Emanuel – never endowed with a winning personality (his campaign ads last spring openly acknowledged his disagreeable nature) – is causing problems for the bottom line through his failure to keep the city’s large Black population under proper control. Behold the following Chicago Tribune report on what happened to Christmas season sales in Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast shopping district when Black activists furious over the belated release of the explosive Laquan murder video decided to disrupt mass-consumerist purchasing on the traditional “Black Friday” spending holiday one day after Thanksgiving:

“Activists who blocked the entrances to stores on North Michigan Avenue on Black Friday to protest the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white Chicago cop may have split opinions with their tactics. But their goal of forcing retailers to suffer economic pain on what’s historically the busiest shopping day of the year was a success, according to unhappy store staff and managers who said Monday that Black Friday sales on the Magnificent Mile were 25 percent to 50 percent below projections. Images of protesters marching down North Michigan urging a holiday shopping boycott dramatically reduced foot traffic while protesters who physically blocked shoppers from entering stores also hurt sales in a big way, according to the retailers, some of whom were critical of the low-key police response: ‘We were down a lot,’ said Sarah Midoun, a sales associate at Aldo shoe store. ‘We were budgeted to make $37,000 but we only did $19,000 — customers told us they were concerned. If anything the police were kind of encouraging (protesters who blocked the entrance to the store) by allowing it,’ she said. However, she added that if police had been too heavy-handed, ‘people might have rioted.’ Aldo’s near 50 percent shortfall of its target mirrored results at other stores….the effect of the protest on the city’s premier shopping street was dramatic.”

That was a real Black Eye to neoliberal “Global Chicago” and its color-blind pretensions – one that gave a new racial justice meaning to “Black Friday” while denting premier retailers’ profits in a leading tourist area.

Since the Black Friday actions, mostly young Black activists have conducted numerous other and ongoing disruptive actions around the city’s downtown commercial and financial district as well in and around City Hall. I am reminded of something that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said during a series of speeches delivered on the Canadian Broadcast System in the fall and winter of 1967. “The dispossessed of this nation [the U.S.],” King said in his fourth lecture, “must organize a revolution” that would require “more than a statement to the larger society,” more than “street marches…There must be a force that interrupts [capitalist America’s] functioning at some key point.” That force would use “mass civil disobedience,” King armed, to “transmute the deep rage of the ghetto into a constructive and creative force” by “dislocate[ing] the functioning of a society.

“When Chicago Cops ‘Go Fetal,’ it Saves Lives”

Why did the notoriously brutal and heavily armed Chicago police allow the Black Friday actions to occur? For the same reason that they released two protestors they had briefly arrested during a large downtown protest action last Wednesday: fear of inciting aroused citizens and activists to further disruption in corporate, holiday-/shopping-season Chicago. On my recent speaking trip to Chicago, a leading local activist told me that the CPD had responded to the Laquan uprising by ironically using Rahm’s language from last October to note that the cops had gone into “a fetal position.” It has been stepping back down from its standard operating procedure of regularly harassing and shaking down poor and homeless people and young Blacks as Latinos on City Hall command in the Laquan protest environment, when (to coin a phrase from Chicago’s infamous police riot during the 1968 Democratic Party convention) “the whole world is watching.” This is a good thing. As the activist, Andy Thayer, notes, “When Chicago cops ‘go fetal,’ it saves lives.”

Beyond “Symbolic Replacements”

Elite Chicago cannot be happy with the emergence of such disruptive power rising up from police-occupied Black ghettoes to the heart of the great neoliberal Midwestern Metropolis. To make matters worse for the local and regional investor and manager classes, the city’s new civil rights and social justice activists aren’t talking merely about getting rid of Rahm Emmanuel and other figureheads atop the city’s steep and combined pyramids of race and class. “We will now hold our leaders accountable for the transgressions they commit and that are committed under their watch,” one activist group wrote online: “Task forces, press releases, symbolic replacements of one crony for another are no longer enough to mollify the masses.” (The warning was prophetic: Emanuel has recently replaced one crony with another atop the Chicago Police Department. The city’s new police chief is John Escalante, former chief of city detectives. In his previous role. Escalante approved fabricated police reports on the McDonald shooting of Laquan McDonald, including killer Van Dyke’s report!)

The critical phrase is “symbolic replacements of one crony for another.” The movement in Chicago will not be satisfied merely by musical chairs – by shifting names and faces in top positions atop a rotten and corrupt system. It demands institutional and systemic change: dismantlement of the ubiquitous police-state occupation and criminal justice shakedown of their communities; community-controlled policing; an end to the racist-mass-incacerationist criminal-marking Drug War; massive economic and social investment in destitute and jobless ghetto neighborhoods, where thousands of children live at less than half the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level; reparations for past and present racial oppression and related economic exploitation; the taking down of the city, state, and nation’s massive, globally and historically unmatched prison and criminal-marking regime.

The ghost of Dr. King returns again. “Only by structural change can current evils be eliminated,” King argued in 1967, one year after he struggled without success to win great civil rights and anti-poverty victories in the original Mayor Richard Daley’s intractably racist Chicago. “The roots” of injustice, King said, “are in the system rather in men or faulty operations.”

“The black revolution,” King wrote near the end of his life, “is 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 society of society itself is the real issue to be faced” – the real question beyond relatively trivial issues like the technical skin color or gender or sexual orientation or personality of a U.S. mayoral or presidential candidate. (For my own takes on the structural and historical roots of the racist police state in and around Chicago, please see my 2002 project study The Vicious Circle: Race, Prison, Poverty and Jobs in Chicago, Illinois, and the Nation, my 2007 book Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History, and my December 12 2015 Open University of the Left talk on “Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan McDonald, and the Racist Mass Arrest and Incarceration State”).

Excessive Hubris

Curiously enough, however, an especially noxious and maladroit personality in a key position of power can come to embody, epitomize, and personify authoritarian rule in ways that help push rank and file citizens toward radical structural and institutional critique. The great national Pullman railroad strike of 1894 was sparked in part by working class outrage over the paternalistic arrogance of the Chicago area capitalist George Pullman. Pullman built a grandiose company town bearing his own name for the manufacture of his company’s famous sleeping and dining railroad cars just south of the city. When he drastically slashed wages without cutting rents in his quasi-feudal municipality – an act of unmitigated chutzpah – he became an epitome and symbol of ruling class conceit and an unwitting spark for working class consciousness and rebellion in the original Gilded Age. The great American Socialist Eugene Debs made his conversion to Marxism (with some help from a copy of Das Kapital delivered to him in jail by Victor Berger) during his time behind bars during the Pullman Strike. George Pullman became a problem for his ruling class brethren.

The equally prideful and overconfident Rahm Emanuel has in different ways become a problem for metropolitan capitalism in the neoliberal era. His self-important hubris and arrogance has – now joined to an ugly history of vicious institutional racism within and beyond Chicago – helped ignite a “volcano” of Black rebellion the city’s mostly white corporate and financial overlords finds most unwelcome. Untold thousands of young Black and other Chicago resident are now in militant motion like no time in recent memory. Good corporate mayors are supposed to keep ghetto residents pacified. Emanuel is failing at the task.

And the heat my go up on the mayor. With a recent remarkable strike authorization vote of 88 percent, the militant and progressive Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) – a sworn enemy of Emmanuel’s neoliberal schools privatization project – could hit the picket lines next spring for the second time in three years under “Rahmbo’s” haughty rule. Angry picket lines with strong community support would again be visible outside the city’s many highly segregated Black and Latino public schools. Large teacher rallies and marches would take place in the downtown commercial and political district. Concerned about Emanuel’s continuing efforts to solve the CPS’s budget problems by closing schools and cutting staff rather than by properly taking the city’s super-opulent corporate and financial elite, the CTU smells some blood in the water. “Rahm Emanuel really does not need a teacher’s strike,” CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey told reporters after the vote. “He really doesn’t,” Sharkey added, “and what we’re telling him if he doesn’t listen to us, that is what he’ll get…Do not cut our schools, do not lay off our staff and solve the budget problems on the backs of educators.”

“Only Sustained Struggle Can Make a Difference”

This can’t make Chicago’s disproportionately white overlords any happier. Emanuel is just not doing his job of keeping the city’s poor masses of color and their progressive multiracial allies properly quiescent while metropolitan wealth flows ever upward. His hubristic mayoralty is interfering with racist-classist business-rule-as-usual. He might want to start negotiating his exit package with the city’s real rulers. Chicago’s One Percent needs a city rebranding and it is not at all certain that post-Laquan Emanuel is up to the job. The mayor may have to become a Sacrificial Rahm.

The city’s newly energized grassroots must not be fooled by coming municipal makeovers. As Mumia Abu Jamal recently reminded us from his Pennsylvania prison: “There has been an arrest, yes; but don’t be surprised by an acquittal. Any city that can make a murder disappear for a year, can surely hustle up an acquittal. Only sustained struggle can make a difference.”

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


American Mass Shootings are Sadly Unsurprising

13/01/16 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, December 7, 2015

Are you surprised to learn that the recent San Bernardino massacre was (by the statistical reckoning of the Washington Post) the 355th mass shooting episode to occur in the U.S. in 2015, well on pace to transcend 2013, when 363 such episodes occurred? You shouldn’t be. This terrible data is the predictable result of seven basic underlying realities.

First, according to reliable research, roughly 4 percent of the U.S. population — 1 in 25 people —are fundamentally without conscience. Factor in a total U.S. adult population of 245 million and you’ve got nearly 10 million people who can do pretty much anything without the slightest hint of remorse. Relatively few of those 10 million ever become mass shooters, but that’s a really big pool from which to recruit a mass killer or two every day.

Second, corporate media has saturated U.S. “popular culture” with desensitizing and sexed-up images of regular and wanton mass violence. I went to a movie recently where I had to turn away repeatedly from the previews since they were so savagely violent. The Hollywood heroes blew large numbers of their fellow human beings away with breathless impunity. As I went to the concession stand to get a box of Snowcaps, I beheld a 20-something mom helping her toddler shoot a rifle at some evil enemy invader in a coin-operated video game. Crowds in movie theaters can regularly be heard laughing and cheering as large numbers of people are blown to bits and riddled with bullets on the big screen. A young co-worker of mine is a “gamer.” He spends untold hours engaged in the simulated mass shooting of anonymous Internet enemies. (It’s not for nothing that the U.S. military has long partnered with video game manufacturers: playing the most violent popular games helps participants become more willing to kill without hesitation or regret.)

Third, the United States is permeated with guns, more than one per every American. (One government estimate puts the total number of firearms in circulation in the U.S. at 357 million)  The U.S. population owns millions of assault weapons, repeat-fire tools of mass havoc like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with which a psychotic lunatic named Adam Lanza gunned down 26 elementary school students and teachers in Connecticut in December of 2012. Thanks largely to the dedicated lobbying and propaganda of the proto-fascistic National Rifle Association, it is incredibly easy for ordinary citizens (included any number of demented psychopaths) to purchase large numbers of such weapons and to stockpile enough ammunition to wipe out large numbers of their fellow human beings. The widespread availability of guns is a leading factor behind the depressing fact that more than 30,000 people die at the wrong end of a gun in the U.S. each year. As the researcher Christopher Ingraham recently noted:

“More guns = more gun deaths. This is true whether you’re comparing countries or states, research from Harvard has shown. If people have easy access to tools that allow them to easily hurt or kill other people, a certain percentage will use them. Simple as that….. Guns don’t kill people of their own volition, obviously. But they sure do make it easier. And the sheer number of guns in circulation means that somebody who wants to get a gun to hurt a lot of people typically won’t have a hard time doing so….The corollary to this: small-bore legislative fixes, like increased background checks or assault weapons bans, will do very little to address the total universe of 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S. To do that, you’d need to severely reduce the number of guns in circulation — like Australia did, for instance.”

Fourth, the U.S. military regularly carries out mass killings of civilians via Special Forces, jet planes, and drones in numerous countries around the world. From Yemen to Somalia to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan and other “sovereign” nations, Barack Obama’s personally coordinated and ordered “Targeted Assassination” hits have sent many thousands of innocents to  early graves. Listen to the following factually supported reflection from the antiwar activist and writer David Swanson:

“A young man who had successfully killed on a large scale went to his religious leader with doubts and was told that mass killing was part of God’s plan. The young man continued killing until he had participated in killing sprees that took 1,626 lives — men, women, and children…his death count was not the 16 or 9 or 22 lives that make top news stories, but 1,626 dead and mutilated bodies….This young man’s name was Brandon Bryant, and…he killed as a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force, and… he was presented with a certificate for his 1,626 kills and congratulated on a job well done by the United States of America? …His religious leader was a Christian chaplain.”

Swanson observes that most of the people killed by U.S. drones are noncombatant civilians. He also reports that U.S. drone operators “ ‘double-tap,’ meaning that they send a missile into a wedding party or a house and then wait for people to try to help the injured and send a second missile into them….As a result one hears the injured screaming for hours until they die, as no one comes to help…”

Such terrible practices can’t help but encourage (as well as reflect) mass-murderous socio-pathology back in the American “homeland,” where mostly white police officers (and sometimes security guards and vigilantes) carry out the extrajudicial killing of a Black person on average once every 28 hours.

Fifth, the U.S. lacks a public mental health care policy remotely adequate to meet the remarkable degree of mental and emotional disturbance present in the savagely unequal, corrupt, and insecure plutocracy that is New Gilded Age America – a nation so maddeningly disparate that the top 1 percent possesses more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of the population.

Sixth, the nation’s broadcast airwaves and Internet are rife with right-wing proto-fascistic political noise that is accurately described as hate-speech. This viciously reactionary and authoritarian media is dangerously violent. It reeks with contempt for Blacks, immigrants, the poor, gay people, feminism, social welfare, ecological concern and more. It commonly celebrates violence on the part of police, the military, and vigilantes. A significantly fascist and white-nationalist hate-monger named Donald Trump currently stands well in the lead of the race for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party, an organization based largely on racist, sexist, and nationalist hatred.

Seventh, everyday Americans’ basic senses of material, social, and emotional stability and belonging are constantly assaulted and all too commonly devastated by an amoral Casino capitalism that puts their jobs, homes, pensions, savings, and self-respect at horrific risk. Half the population is poor or near-poor and millions upon millions of Americans reasonably fear the elimination of their jobs (through technical displacement, globalization, and/or related business declines and failures) as the super-opulent and parasitic rich get ever more socio-pathologically wealthy. The hyper-opulent few include  the owners and top managers of “defense” corporations that profit from a permanent global war of/on terror that involves regular mass killings – and gun manufacturers who weep all the way to the bank as another mass-shooting victims gets buried in the ground.

Given all this, the sociopathic Islamic State (IS) can rest easy. It probably can’t kill more ordinary Americans than are already being defenselessly shot down by fellow Americans on the long-bloodied “homeland” soils of Gunfighter Nation.

The recent San Bernardino atrocity appears to be different from the usual American mass shooting in that the culprits may well have been so-called self-radicalized Muslims acting on the inspiration of IS and perhaps partly in response to perceived anti-Muslim ethnic insults in the workplace.  But what’s surprising about such an incident? Surely the U.S. imperial power elite understands very well that it puts ordinary Americans at grave risk of attack by Empire-radicalized “homeland” Muslims pushed over the edge by, among other things, Uncle Sam’s persistent mass-murderous policies in the Middle East, where the U.S. has killed as many as 2 million people (including 1 million children) just in Iraq alone since the first Persian Gulf War. The policymakers know about the risk but they really couldn’t care less. They are quite willing to endanger American lives in pursuit of their petro-imperial and geo-strategic objectives in the Middle East, Africa, and Southwest Asia. And they are ready to exploit “homeland” deaths to justify the continuation of their endless global war, which only feeds more blowback at home and abroad.

Paul Street will speak in Chicago twice next week. He will talk (with Bruce Dixon) on U.S. Imperialism and the 2016 Elections with the Illinois Coalition for Peace, Justice, and the Environment on Thursday December 10, 6:30 pm, Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. He will speak on Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan McDonald and the Racist Mass Incarceration State at the Open University of the Left, Saturday, December 12, 2:30 pm at the Logan Square branch of the Chicago Public Library, 3030 West Fullerton (North Side).

The Myth of Leftist Academia

08/01/16 0 COMMENTS

teleSur English, December 4, 2015

Among the many ludicrous things spouted on the U.S. right, few assertions are more ridiculous than the commonplace reactionary idea that United States universities and colleges are leftist hotbeds. Trust me, I know. I have a Ph.D. (in U.S history) along with a large number of academic publications, seven published books (with accolades on their back covers from leading academicians), a record of positively evaluated teaching, grant-funded research, and a long record of invited talks across the nation and down to Cuba. I have published more than 500 essays in print and online, many reproduced in numerous languages across the planet. My research and commentary has been featured in a large number of media venues, including The New York Times, and CNN, Al Jazeera, and the Chicago Tribune.

I mention this not to boast but to make a point. Bearing in mind that much of my writing and speaking has come from the openly radical anti-capitalist left, it stands to reason that I would be in some kind of minimally decent demand as a teacher and/or researcher by an academic system that was actually leftist. Without claiming to be the world’s leading left intellectual, I think it is fair to say that there would be at least some kind of minimally decent position for someone like myself in a radical left university system. The reality is quite the opposite: I would have little more than a snowball’s chance in Hell of being granted a remotely modest academic career in the U.S. today.

Part of the explanation of this curious fact has to do with an epic shift in the academic jobs racket that goes back more than three decades. U.S. “higher education” has stood for many years in the vanguard of the neoliberal reorganization of the labor market. It has converted a remarkable share of its onetime full-time and tenure-track teaching positions into hyper-exploited temporary piece-rate jobs doled out per course to a new academic sub-class of precariously situated permanent apprentices: adjuncts. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), more than 50 percent of all U.S. faculty today hold part-time appointments. Such appointees are “typically paid by the course, without benefits…. Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education.” (I was employed [while possessing a doctorate] as an adjunct in six different Chicago-area institutions of “higher education” over five years at the end of the last Millennium. The pay fell below the federal minimum wage).

The downsizing of college and university teaching might seem ironic.  It has occurred during the same period in which U.S. college tuition has gone through the roof. But the money that is garnered from skyrocketing tuition – so high now millions upon millions of young U.S. adults are saddled for many years with unsustainable student debt – doesn’t go to sustain serious research and teaching. It goes largely into facilities, technology, and the construction of new layers of academic bureaucracy filled by highly paid administrators who lack understanding of, and concern for, the work that serious academicians do.

The last thing it is earmarked for is the employment of professors who would encourage students to look critically at the neoliberal higher education system and the broader corporate and imperial structures of power and inequality that the system serves. With an ever shrinking number of exceptions, the existing (remaining) tenured faculty understands this very well and does not wish to endanger its own relatively comfortable position by offering serious and sustained criticism of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. (The chilling absence of serious campus opposition to George W. Bush’s monumentally criminal invasion of Iraq was a symptom of this faint hearted mindset).

Properly cowed academic hiring committees know better than to invite trouble by bringing onto campus someone with more than merely armchair and seminar-room left politics. (The fact that I have such politics is readily available from one or two halfway intelligent Google searches of my name.) That would open them up to the charge of polluting academia with “politics.”

So what if everything that the preponderantly un-radical majority of academics do is richly political and ideological beneath carefully constructed yet preposterous claims of detached, Mandarin-like “objectivity” and “neutrality”? And so what if a large number of transparently political operatives from the United States’ military, imperial, and corporate establishment regularly hold down prestigious and highly paid positions in U.S. colleges and universities? Those professors’ teachings and publications pose no threat to the concentrated power centers that ultimately control “higher education.” Their politics are not a problem for the powers that be. It is only leftish junior professors, temporary instructors, and adjuncts already on the margins of academe who get lectures from establishment academic scolds like Stanley Fish on how they need to “Save the World on Your Own Time” and not on the university’s dime.

If college hiring committees have any doubt about the higher authorities’ willingness to punish professors for becoming “too political” in the wrong kinds of ways, it can read about a growing number of cases in which left academics (including even tenured ones like Ward Churchill) have been stripped of their positions and essentially banned from “higher education” (like the brilliant Norman Finkelstein) for transparently political and ideological reasons.

The ideological control of the university is intimately related to the economics of “higher education” in the neoliberal era.  Professors who profess too much in ways that might offend concentrated power are easily dispensed with when they are hired only by the course, semester, or academic year.  Department chairs and deans can avoid headaches merely by not renewing the troublemakers’ contracts. Adjuncts and temporary instructors (glorified “Assistant Professors” at many universities) who wish to keep a foothold in academia are well advised not to rock doctrinal boats. As the AAUP notes, “The insecure relationship between contingent faculty members and their institutions can chill the climate for academic freedom…Contingent faculty may be less likely to take risks in the classroom or in scholarly and service work….The free exchange of ideas may be hampered by the fear of dismissal for unpopular utterances.”

The ideological disciplining power of neoliberal university economics extends down to students. Students who must begin paying off exorbitant student debts the day after they graduate are not likely to spend their college years honing their critical thinking and activist skills in ways that would help them become effective agents of social and environmental justice and revolutionary change. They need to focus on coursework that will help them garner big salaries from corporations.

Meanwhile, escalating tuition makes college unaffordable for the lower and working class students who would be most likely to challenge reigning hierarchies in meaningful ways. For that reason among many others, I find it difficult to bemoan absence from the hollowed-out halls of higher education. Children of and/or on the way to privilege are not my cup of tea and increasingly it’s the offspring of the wellborn who are the only ones left glancing at tepid professors while checking their Facebook pages in the lecture hall.

Paul Street is teaching a course on the history of U.S. social movements this January with ZNet’s World Institute for Social Change

Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan McDonald and Black Rebellion in Chicago

08/01/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, December 4, 2015

Beneath a carefully constructed pretense of concern for racial justice, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has long been a dedicated corporatist “law and order” enemy of Black America. During his time as a top political operative in the arch-neoliberal Bill Clinton White House, the notorious bully Emmanuel (later to be nicknamed “Rahmbo”) was a driving force behind the 1994 federal “three strikes” Clinton crime bill.

That draconian measure helped make Bill Clinton “the incarceration president” and contributed to a significant increase in the monumental hyper-imprisonment and criminal marking of Black Americans. Among other terrible things, the law put 100,000 more officers on the streets, allocated $10 billion for new prison construction, and eliminated Pell Grant funding for inmates pursuing college degrees while in prison.

Prior to that outrage, Emmanuel joined up with Bill Daley to lead Clinton’s passage of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) – a critical investor rights measure that helped capital drain millions of jobs away from industrial regions where impoverished Black populations desperately needed paid employment.

NAFTA-encouraged deindustrialization notwithstanding, Emmanuel was a leading force behind Clinton’s vicious 1996 “welfare reform.” The “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act’s” elimination of poor families’ former entitlement to basic family cash assistance has wreaked havoc on Black families stuck in jobless ghettoes ever since.

As Barack Obama’s original White House chief of staff, Emmanuel consistently steered policy rightward, towards the interests of the nation’s predominantly white 1% and contrary to those of America’s disproportionately nonwhite lower and working class.

As Mayor of Chicago, Emmanuel moved quickly to shutter 54 public schools in low-income Black and Latino neighborhoods in the largest deliberate mass school closure in history. Emmanuel’s schools chief provided principals with a guide on “how to handle civil disobedience and to report the names of any teachers and students involved in protests.” The schools closure program has always been a big taxpayer money grab for wealthy Emmanuel allies seeking to build private charter schools in the wreckage left by public school closings.

Emmanuel has stonewalled on numerous abusive and criminal practices on the part of his city’s police force. He flatly denied the Chicago Police Department’s operation of an illegal “black site” detention facility (Homan Square) where thousands of mostly Black and Latino suspects have been “disappeared” and forced into false confessions. The Black Site hellhole was exposed by The Guardian earlier this year. Its existence was well known across Black and Latino Chicago.

Sadly enough, Emanuel has won solid majorities of the Black Chicago vote in both of his Chicago mayoral election victories to date (in April 2011 and April 2015). As the left Black commentator Bruce Dixon noted last spring, “Rahm Emanuel’s biggest asset was the overwhelming support of Chicago’s well-established black political class of preachers, business types, ‘community leaders’ and public officials….Nearly every prominent black elected official in town, Democrats all, came out for Rahm, for privatization, for gentrification, for austerity, for more of the same. This is the state of black politics in 2015, and the reason that Rahm Emanuel carried every single one of Chicago’s majority black wards.”

The facts of the Laquan McDonald case are well understood by now. Anyone who follows the national news closely knows that:

* White Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke executed a Black male teenager in cold blood on a busy street on the city’s South Side on October 20th, 2014. Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, riddling Laquan’s body with bullets while the victim lay in the pavement.

* The Chicago Police lied about and covered up the murder, going so far as to threaten eyewitnesses with arrest and delete more than an hour of videotape from a fast food restaurant near the murder site.

* The City of Chicago rushed to offer McDonald’s mother $5 million on the condition that she stay silent.

* The city buried a dash cam video that clearly displayed the savage killing for thirteen months because Emmanuel feared its release would spark civil unrest (this during the ongoing protests over racist police murders in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere around the nation) that might endanger his re-election chances the following April.

* The video might have never surfaced if lawyers and journalists had not been tipped off to its existence and but for the order of a county judge last week.

* Emanuel, running for re-election at the time of the shooting, fought to keep the video from going public. He claimed that releasing it might taint a federal investigation even though the U.S. Justice Department did not ask the city to hold off.

* Emmanuel demonstrated a complete lack of comprehension of the public’s outrage over the killing and its cover-up when he claimed this week that he decided to fire city police chief Garry McCarthy because he had become “a distraction” – not because McCarthy has for years overseen a police department notorious for racist abuse and corruption.

* Emanuel’s arrogant response to the McDonald scandal has been to “do as little as possible — until the furor caused by the release of the video forced his hand.” (New York Times editorial board).

The part of the emerging story that blows me away the most, however, is less well known. It concerns a meeting that Emmanuel held with Chicago’s leading Black ministers and pastors right before he finally released the Van Dyke murder video last week. As local reporter Mike Fourcher determined, the alleged purpose of this gathering and other meetings held with Black constituents was to assuage Black fears and anger about how City Hall had dealt with the case. When speaking to the ministers, however, Rahmbo had a different and more iron-fisted message for the city’s Black religious leaders. He warned them that they’d pay if protests went too far. Da mare wanted the pastors to know that he would withhold money for jobs programs in the city’s Black ghettoes if violence ensued. By Fourcher’s account:

“The Mayor…asked the group to stress peaceful protest through the Thanksgiving weekend and to avoid violence. ‘He encouraged us to encourage the community to exercise their first amendment rights, but to do so peacefully,’ said Rev. Barrett. ‘The point of the meeting was how to encourage that peaceful protest.’ According to attendees, the Mayor then told the group that if there was violence over the weekend, he would not be able to find resources to bring jobs into their community. ‘He said, if things go bad then don’t come looking to me for jobs,’ said Rev. Brooks. ‘There was something about how if you don’t encourage peace, don’t look to me for resources,’ said Young Leaders Alliance head Jedidiah Brown, who was also present.”

It doesn’t get much more offensive than that. It takes real sociopathic chutzpah to bully normally obedient Black pastors like that after you have just been caught with your racist police-state pants down in hideous fashion. Curiously enough, Emmanuel seems to have at least momentarily lost the outward loyalties of the city’s Black bourgeois elite. As Glen Ford notes on Black Agenda Report, reflecting on mass, Black youth-led protests that took place last Friday in Chicago’s tony Michigan Avenue shopping district:

“It seemed as if the protective shield of Black Misleadership Class collaboration that has for the last 30 years insulated white mayors from the wrath of Chicago’s outraged Black rank and file, had suddenly been stripped away. Black ministers joined militant youth in marching down the city’s ‘Magic Mile’ Michigan Avenue shopping district, demanding that heads roll for hiding video evidence in the death of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. For 400 days, Cook County States Attorney Anita Alvarez refused to indict the cop, or release the police dashboard video of the shooting, or to explain why another critical video had apparently been destroyed. Alvarez finally bowed to pressure – and a court order – indicting the cop for first degree murder and releasing the death video….But the community’s rage could not be contained. The Black Caucus of Chicago’s Board of Aldermen demanded that Police Superintendent McCarthy resign. So did Rev. Jesse Jackson and even Bobby Rush, the sell-out Black Congressman who has been a dependable servant of the Emanuel administration. The strength of the movement in Chicago can be measured by the fact that so many elements of the Black collaborationist political class have been forced to take a stance in opposition to Mayor Emanuel and the white corporate forces that he represents, and ultimately to compel the mayor to fire his favorite cop.”

Soon, however, the misleaders can be expected to resume their normal role of collaboration with the city’s predominantly white and corporate masters. As Ford notes:

“The young people that are soldiers of this struggle understand that movements are defined by their demands. In a joint statement by the Black Youth Project 100, We Charge Genocide, Assata’s Daughters, the #LetUsBreathe collective, and a Black Lives Matter chapter, they declared that ‘Indicting cops does not change the policies that promote the violence and trauma inherent in the Chicago Police Department.’ They want Rahm Emanuel’s resignation, too. The Black Youth Project also demands defunding of the Chicago police, and investment of those dollars in the Black community. They call for reparations for slavery, Jim Crow and mass Black incarceration; an end to all profit in the criminal justice system; a guaranteed income for all; a federal jobs program, and freedom from discrimination for all workers; and an end to displacement of Black people through gentrification…. These are demands for social transformation – demands that will put the young activists on a collision course with the Black Misleadership Class who are the first line of defense for the white ruling class, and who will soon close ranks in Chicago and elsewhere to try to stop this movement.”

The fight for racial justice in Chicago, as across the nation, requires rank and file class struggle within the Black community itself. The white, Latino, and Asian working class could learn from that.

Paul Street will speak in Chicago twice next week. He will talk (with Bruce Dixon) on U.S. Imperialism and the 2016 Elections with the Illinois Coalition for Peace, Justice, and the Environment on Thursday December 10, 6:30 pm, Grace Place, 637 S. Dearborn. He will speak on Rahm Emmanuel, Laquan Mcdonald and the Racist Mass Incarceration State at the Open University of the Left, Saturday, December 12, 2:30 pm at the Logan Square branch of the Chicago Public Library, 3030 West Fullerton (North Side).

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

Keystone Rejected, Big Carbon Undaunted

24/12/15 0 COMMENTS

teleSur English, December 1, 2015

Some time ago, I suggested in one of my many critiques of the corporate-neoliberal, imperial, and eco-cidal Obama administration that Obama’s ultimate signing off on the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL) – meant to carry highly toxic Tar Sands oil from Alberta, Canada the Gulf of Mexico in the southern U.S. – was a foregone conclusion. As of last November 6th, I stand corrected on the specific policy in question, but not on the underlying corporate-captive and environmentally lethal nature of the administration. Here as in so many other areas the Obama story remains the same: fake-progressive symbolism cloaks deadly state-capitalist substance.

Why did a president who has opened up vast swaths of US coast line and the environmentally hyper-sensitive Chukchi Sea to deep-water oil drilling, who signed off on the southern branch of Keystone, and who has openly celebrated the nation’s ecologically disastrous hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom say no to KXL? Given his broader, Big Oil-friendly environmental record, his claim to have turned the pipeline down out of concern for the ravages of climate change does not pass the smell test. It should not be taken seriously.

The deeper reality is colored by two very basic facts.  First, Obama had no choice.  The large and fairly mainstream anti-climate change protest movement that had arisen against KXL, the upcoming Paris climate summit, and global opinion calling for serious climate action put the slimy Obama administration between (kind of like the North American gas and oil whose fracking-based extraction the president has heralded) a rock and hard place.  How could he go to Paris and credibly advance the U.S. petro-imperial agenda against serous and binding global carbon emission and extraction limits with a Keystone yoke around his neck, placed there in part by high-profile climate change opponents like Bill McKibben and James Hansen? Obama’s  ability to claim moral and political authority in Paris required making McKibben – leader of the anti-climate change organization “” – happy on Keystone.

Secondly and just as important, the Big Carbon capitalist elite is not stupid and has been preparing for the eventuality the Obama would be unable to sign off on KXL. It has invested in alternatives. As the leading environmental activist Jay Thomas Taber notes, “Delaying KXL…merely means the Tar Sands toxic bitumen will make its way to the Gulf of Mexico by other routes, which incidentally are already operating, making KXL redundant for now–the real reason for the celebrated KXL ‘rejection’” The KXL’s non-approval “no longer matters to oil exporters” thanks to a glut of oil reaching the Gulf from millions of acres of land Obama opened up in 23 U.S. states for the great American fracking surge and thanks to “plans to develop pipeline and oil train terminal infrastructure on the West Coast of Canada and the Northwest US.”

The KXL’s difficulties have incidentally proved a boon for the world’s third richest person and (curiously enough) a leading financial contributor (through the Tides Foundation) to McKibben’s organization.  Buffett owns Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), which carries U.S. and Canadian oil and gas across North America. As “The Insider” (pseudonym for an activist employed in the U.S. foundation sector) noted three and a half years ago: “the tar sands oil will be transported with or without KXL…This is due to the fact that one of President Obama’s most loyal billionaire patrons, Warren Buffett …owns.. BNSF,[which] has the capacity and will to rail morebarrels of tar sands crude per day to the U.S. than does the Keystone XL.”

The leading environmental reporter and activist Steve Horn notes that “for years behind the scenes – as most media attention and activist energy has gone into fighting Keystone XL North – the Obama Administration has quietly been approving hundreds of miles-long pieces of pipeline owned by industry goliath Enbridge and other companies.…That pipeline system does the very same thing the rest of TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline System at-large also already does [without KXL]… it brings Alberta’s tar sands oil across the heartland of the U.S. and down to the U.S. Gulf coast.”

Along the way, Obama has quietly signed off on – and expedited through executive order – the building of every other pipeline not named Keystone XL. “While people have been debating Keystone,” the head of the American Oil Pipeline Association recently crowed, “we have actually built the equivalent of 10 Keystones. And no one’s complained or said anything.”

Keystone was not intended only to carry dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf.  It was also meant to carry oil extracted in the giant, glowing fracking fields of North Dakota. All that oil is easily shipped through existing and planned pipelines, rail, and trucking lines.

The big capitalist masters of oil extraction, shipping, and refining can easily handle the suspension of KXL. They know that Obama’s action doesn’t really interrupt their project of turning the world into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamber.

That’s the second main reason that the deeply conservative Obama made his fake-progressive legacy-burnishing move. He was on safe capitalist ground. It’s not unlike Obama’s recent symbolic posturing and policy half-gestures on racist mass incarceration, dependent on the fact that the nation’s bipartisan elite has already decided that America’s monumental imprisonment of poor and nonwhite Americans may have finally reached the outer limits of profitable functionality.

“To celebrate this individual event of Keystone XL,” Forrest Palmer and Corey Morningstar remind us at Wrong Kind of Green, “is shortsighted. It is time to stop celebrating individual battles when we are losing the war” to save livable ecology.

The former Reagan administration Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts recently opined that “revolution throughout the West” is one possible outcome for the current neoliberal capitalist assault on decent living standards, healthy food, and environmental health. “Once…the French people discover that they have lost all control over their diet to Monsanto and American agribusiness,” Roberts muses, “members of the French government that delivered France into dietary bondage to toxic foods are likely to be killed in the streets….Events of this sort are possible throughout the West as people discover that they have lost all control over every aspect of their lives and that their only choice is revolution or death.”

With the ever more horrid assault on livable ecology being advanced by the U.S. and global petro-capitalist ruling class through various means but especially via anthropogenic – really capitalogenic– global warming, perhaps the time is right for the French masses to hit the streets and build barricades again in the spirit of 1789-1795. On November 30th, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“COP21”) begins in Paris with the goal of making an international agreement to keep global warming below 2°C.

Here is a chilling (no pun intended) dispatch from left author Richard Greeman in Montpellier, reflecting on the French government’s response to the recent terrible Islamic State terror attacks in Paris: “The Hollande government…[is] already preparing to prevent mass demonstrations and other outdoor activities during the upcoming climate summit, allowing the ‘deciders’ to continue to cook the planet in peace.” How perfectly Orwellian: the Islamic State is largely a result of the monumentally criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq, an action that was driven largely by Washington’s desire to control the oil fields of Mesopotamia.

Paul Street is an author in Iowa City, IA.

Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship

24/12/15 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, November 20, 2015

In politics as in medicine, excessively mild remedies are typically based on overly placid diagnoses. Look, for example, at the highly esteemed Columbia University historian Eric Foner’s recent letter of congratulations and advice to Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in The Nation. As I have argued in a previous CounterPunch essay, Foner’s missive failed to correct Sanders on the candidate’s incredibly tepid and watered-down definition of democratic socialism as little more than a Scandinavian welfare state. It sent Eugene Debs spinning in his grave when it argued that “socialism today” is about “the need to rein in the excesses of capitalism.” Those were the exact same words used by Hillary Clinton in the first Democratic Party presidential debate, reflecting on what she feels is occasionally necessary to preserve the profits system and what she felt should never be confused with socialism.

There’s one part of Foner’s letter that I forgot to mention in my previous essay even though it is intimately related to his alignment with milquetoast radicalism and Hillary’s fake-progressive corporatism. It comes at the beginning of the letter’s sixth paragraph, when he says that contemporary socialism seeks “to empower ordinary people in a political system verging on plutocracy.”

I’m all for and indeed about empowering ordinary people, but I had to stop and read that statement a second time and ask myself: did the nation’s leading left-liberal historian really just describe contemporary U.S. politics as merely verging on plutocracy? You don’t have to be a radical Marxist to think that’s pussyfooting around the matter. Over the past three plus decades, liberal mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern) reported last year, the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which party holds the White House or Congress. “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page wrote, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo (TPM) last year, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”

Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S. – what Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked.’

“Populist Rhetoric is Good Politics”

In a telephone survey of more than 1100 randomly selected U.S. adults last Spring, the New York Times reported, the paper and CBS found that the U.S. citizenry stands to the progressive and populist left on numerous key political-economic issues. Pollsters working for the two corporate media giants learned that:

*Two-thirds (66%) of Americans think that the distribution of money and wealth should be more evenly distributed among more people in the U.S.

*61% of Americans believe that in today’s economy it’s mainly just a few people at the top who have a chance to get ahead.

*83% of Americans think the gap between the rich and the poor is a problem.

*67% of Americans think the gap between the rich and the poor needs to be addressed immediately, not as some point in the future.

*57% of Americans think the U.S. government should do more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S.

*“Almost three-quarters [74%] of respondents say that large corporations have too much influence in the county, about the double the amount that said the same of unions.”

*68% of Americans favor raising taxes on people “earning” – the pollsters’ term (a better one would be “taking”) – more than $1 million per year.

*50% of Americans support limits on money “earned” by top executives at large corporations.

*“Americans [are] skeptical of [so-called] free trade.  Nearly two-thirds [63%] favored some form of trade restrictions, and more than half opposed giving the president [fast-track] authority to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could only vote up or down without amendments.”

These were noteworthy findings. Consistent with numerous surveys revealing a preponderantly progressive populace in the U.S. over many years, they show majority support for greater economic equality and opportunity, increased worker rights, a roll-back of corporate power, and trade regulation.

The U.S. economic power elite has a response to such popular sentiments: So what? Who cares? To be sure, as the Times noted in reporting the above opinion data, “These findings help explain the populist appeals from politicians of both parties, but particularly Democrats, who are seeking to capitalize on the sense among Americans that the economic recovery is benefiting only a handful at the very top.” But that’s just the game of American politics, whose essence Christopher Hitchens once usefully described as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.”

Nobody understands this harsh reality better, perhaps, than Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street backers.  A report in the widely read insider online Washington political journal Politico last April was titled “Hillary’s Wall Street Backers: ‘We Get It.’” As Politico explained, “Populist rhetoric, many say, is good politics – but doesn’t portend an assault on the rich…It’s ‘just politics,’ said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street, explaining that some of Clinton’s Wall Street supporters doubt she would push hard for closing the carried-interest loophole as president…” One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm told Politico that Hillary’s populist rhetoric was “a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated [rich] people are…If someone is upset by this it’s because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is.”

From Dewey’s Shadow to Chomsky’s Cloud

Beneath the Hitchensian fake-populist campaign words and posturing, progressive public opinion is pitilessly mocked by harshly lopsided structural realities and policy deeds in the U.S. America is mired in a New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject financial corporatocracy so extreme that the top 1 percent garnered 95% of all U.S. income gains during Barack Obama’s first administration and owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth – this along with a majority of the nation’s “democratically elected” officials. That’s how the militantly corporatist and globalist Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement – a transparently authoritarian and secretive measure designed to protect corporate 1% assets from public oversight and accountability at home and abroad – has managed to march its way through both branches of the U.S. Congress. It is championed by a militantly neoliberal Democratic U.S. President who won the White House by posing as a progressive and has consistently given the nation what the left-liberal journalist William Greider has called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” As Greider noted early in the dismal, dollar-drenched Obama administration, Americans “have…learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want it” And little to spend on the rest of us, the 99%, left to ask “where’s our bailout?”

“Plutocracy” seems almost mild to describe the rotten, dollar-drenched deep state of affairs. I am reminded of Marx’s phrase “the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” of Edward Herman and David Peterson’s notion that America is ruled by “an unelected dictatorship of money,” and of the late Sheldon Wolin’s notion that the United States was a “corporate-managed democracy” advancing a populace-demobilizing “inverted totalitarianism” of concentrated capitalist and imperial power. Also relevant is former Republican Congressional staffer Mark Lofgren’s suggestion that Wall Street is “the ultimate owner” of the “Deep State” that rules America beneath the more “visible” surface state and “marionette theater” of parliamentary politics and campaigns. This is because “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 lower Manhattan and Washington,” Lofgren observes, “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.” 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 Lofgren notes, “the membrane between government and industry is highly permeable.” The pay grade is much, much higher in “industry,” or, more commonly, in finance.

Eighty-four years ago, the great American philosopher John Dewey observed that “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” Dewey significantly observed that U.S. politics would stay that way as long as power resided in “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by commend of the press, press agents, and other means of publicity and propaganda.”

Dewey’s bleak metaphor seems mild today. Four decades into the neoliberal era, however, the moneyed elite’s abject domination of the nation’s political and policy processes has reached a level that almost defies belief. Noam Chomsky put it well three years ago, in the wake of the grotesque elite-manufactured debt-ceiling crisis, when the leaders of both of the major parties agreed to slash government expenditures in standard defiance of majority citizen support for increased public investment to address mass unemployment. “Since the 1970s,” Chomsky observed, “[Dewey’s] shadow has become a dark cloud enveloping society and the political system. Corporate power, by now largely financial capital, has reached the point that both political organizations, which now barely resemble traditional parties, are far to the right of the population on the major issues under debate.”

Bernie Knows the Score

Sadly enough, even the Bernie Sanders’ campaign is a symptom of the plutocracy that Foner thinks we are approaching. Sanders is running on a reasonably progressive domestic policy agenda (including single payer health insurance, a significantly increased federal minimum wage, major federal jobs and infrastructure programs, progressive taxation, a financial transaction tax, etc.) that finds wide favor with the nation’s hidden progressive working class majority. Nobody stands closer among the current crop of U.S. presidential candidates to the nation’s majority social-democratic opinion than Sanders – nobody except the officially invisible Green Party candidate Jill Stein. And yet is fairly well understood within the U.S. power elite not only that a nominal socialist and domestic policy progressive like Sanders has a snowball’s chance in Hell of becoming the Democratic presidential nominee or of getting any significant part of his domestic policy program into the Democratic Party platform.

Sanders understands the harsh plutocratic deep-state of U.S. affairs himself. Bernie is willing to create some embarrassing moments for Hillary Clinton – on her revolting Iraq War vote and the outsized campaign contributions she has received from Wall Street executives (Mrs. Clinton’s claim in the second Democratic presidential debate that those contributions merely reflect Wall Street’s gratitude for her role in advancing federal money to restore lower Manhattan after 9/11 surely ranks as one of the most transparently disingenuous and sociopathic statements in recorded political history.) But the fact that he is not seriously trying to win the Democratic nomination or even to shape the Democratic Party policy agenda is clear from his refusal to substantively and directly attack the longstanding militant neoliberal corporatism of his “good friend” Mrs. Clinton; from his eager willingness to run interference for her on her ridiculous and criminal use of a private email server as Secretary State; and from his advance surrender of his political and policy leverage inside the Democratic Party. As Ralph Nader recently noted, “the Democratic establishment and their operatives are amused by Bernie Sanders, day after day. They’re not fearful, they’re amused, because he’s given up his bargaining power” by announcing from the start that he will back the eventual corporate-Democratic nominee. More than once on the campaign trail and in the debates, Sanders has said things that could easily be taken to mean that he understands his real role as to help boost Democratic Party voter turnout in the 2016 elections by playing his part in the Hitchensian con.

If Sanders is serious about attacking the existing plutocracy – we passed the “verging on” stage some time ago – to represent majority-progressive public opinion, he will at least demand something in return for his loyalty to the deadly corporate-imperial sociopathy Hillary Clinton in the general election. Don’t count on much in that regard. Sanders seems content to lift the vote for the Democrats by helping give the party an ill-deserved populist sheen this election cycle and then to return to his comfortable perch as Vermont Senator for Life. Bernie’s no dummy. Unlike his professor fan Eric Foner, the real world politician knows the plutocratic score.

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

Out of the Blue: Hillary’s Sociopathy Revealed in Des Moines

24/12/15 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, November 17, 2015

Hillary Clinton said something remarkable and out of the blue during the second Democratic Party presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, last Saturday – something that ought to lead to the suspension of her quest for the White House. The comment came in response to a CBS debate moderator and Bernie Sanders pointing out that her campaign had received millions of dollars in election contributions and speaking fees from leading Wall Street financial institutions while Sanders relies on small contributions from ordinary middle- and working-class Americans. Here’s what Hillary said:

“Oh, wait a minute, senator. You know, not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small, I am very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent. So I – I represented New York. And I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy. And it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country.”

How’s that for a wild comment out of the blue – out of the tragic blue skies over New York City fourteen years and two months ago? It’s good that most of Hillary’s individual donors are female and that she has a large number of donors. But leading major party presidential candidate typically get donations from hundreds of thousands of people. The fact remains that Mrs. Clinton is very heavily and disproportionately funded by predominantly male Wall Street elites, who back her because she is (quite reasonably) understood by them to be a good friend of the corporate and financial elite. She and her husband Bill Clinton have been leaders in the elite corporate and neoliberal takeover of the Democratic Party for nearly four decades.

The bigger problem with her statement, however, is her suggestion that the reason for her heavily Wall Street-tilted campaign finance profile is the fact that she was a Senator from New York, home to Wall Street, when lower Manhattan was attacked by al Qaeda on September 11, 2001. That’s right, America: forget that Hillary Clinton was already a heavily Wall Street-sponsored politician when she ran for the U.S. Senate in 1999 and 2000. Forget that that sponsorship continues to this day, reflecting the Clintons’ long record of serving elite financial interests by – among other things – working to keep serious financial regulation and break-up (much less overdue nationalization) at bay. Forget that the Wall Street headquarters of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Stanley, Citicorp and the rest were left intact by the 9/11 attacks. Never mind that any New York Senator or indeed any other U.S. Senator was going to support federal money to rebuild the lower Manhattan sections devastated by the jetliner attacks. Forget that 9/11 was fourteen years ago and the financial elite makes political investments based on policy calculations today. And that that elite much wants to make sure that she prevails over Sanders, who may actually mean it when he says that the nation’s leading parasitic financial institutions should be broken up and closely regulated (too bad Bernie can’t bring himself to call for nationalization).

The “mainstream” corporate media commentary on Hillary’s astonishing remark treats it as a momentary “gaffe.” But the comment wasn’t a mistake. Secretary Clinton has made similar Nine Eleveny intimations about her Wall Street funding on at least one prior occasion in the current campaign. She and her handlers clearly decided some time ago that they could exploit the tragedy of 9/11 – when 3,000 people, many of them ordinary working people, died – to defend her financial contributions for hyper-opulent elites. They lack a basic ethical sense of this as a sociopathic tactic.

Prior to her comment, the nominal and milquetoast socialist Sanders (of whom I am no great fan) said something consistent with elementary common sense. “I have never heard a candidate, never,” Bernie observed, “who’s received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military industrial complex, not one candidate, go, ‘OH, these – these campaign contributions will not influence me. I’m gonna be independent.’ Now, why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that.”

Hillary Clinton was offended, saying that this statement was meant to “impugn my integrity.” Sanders denied that, arguing that the real issue is “a corrupt campaign finance system,” but the fact remains that he was calling Mrs. Clinton’s moral integrity into question, if all too gently. Hillary’s subsequent, eyebrow-raising comment suggests that he was right to do so – and should do so far more forcefully and comprehensively in coming days and weeks if he is at all serious about providing a progressive alternative to the Clinton machine (something about which I have grave doubts). Where is the integrity in trying to harness the deaths of thousands of New Yorkers in 2001 to the cause of defending your cozy relationship with, and sponsorship by, the wealthy Few?

In a decent political culture, Hillary’s comment would lead to the suspension of her fake-progressive campaign. In the current reigning U.S. media-politics culture, her “gaffe” will likely fade from blue to black down Orwell’s memory home as she marches on to her inevitable, dollar-drenched dismal-Democratic nomination.

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

A President’s Gutless Paean to Courage

23/12/15 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, November 17, 2015

Some news stories just sicken the soul. Here, below, is one that did that for me recently[1]. “News story” may the wrong term for the item that I found so disturbing. It was more like a White House propaganda film inserted into the middle of the evening news. Halfway through the nightly “Newshour” on the “Public” Broadcasting System (the “P” in “PBS” might as well refer to “Presidential” and “Pentagon,” though a case could also be made for “Petroleum”) last Thursday, there appeared without commentary tape from a White House ceremony in which Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Captain Florent (“Flo”) Groberg. Groberg was honored for risking his life by rushing a suicide bomber who tried to kill U.S. and Afghan military commanders three years ago.

After some jocular banter about “Flo’s” musical tastes, sports allegiance,  parents, girlfriend, and high school athletic feats, Obama got down to business on why he was bestowing the nation’s highest military award on Captain Groberg. My apologies for the length of the passage I am about to quote:

“Training. Guts. Teamwork. What made Flo a great runner also made him a great soldier…on an August day three years ago Flo found himself leading a group of American and Afghan soldiers as they escorted their commanders to a meeting with local Afghans….they passed pedestrians, a few cars and bicycles, even some children.  But then they began to approach [a] bridge, and a pair of motorcycles sped toward them from the other side. The Afghan troops shouted at the bikers to stop — and they did, ditching their bikes in the middle of the bridge and running away.”

“And that’s when Flo noticed something to his left — a man, dressed in dark clothing, walking backwards, just some 10 feet away. The man spun around and turned toward them, and that’s when Flo sprinted toward him. He pushed him away from the formation, and as he did, he noticed an object under the man’s clothing — a bomb. The motorcycles had been a diversion.

“And at that moment, Flo did something extraordinary — he grabbed the bomber by his vest and kept pushing him away. And all those years of training on the track, in the classroom, out in the field — all of it came together.  In those few seconds, he had the instincts and the courage to do what was needed. One of Flo’s comrades, Sergeant Andrew Mahoney, had joined in, too, and together they shoved the bomber again and again. And they pushed him so hard he fell to the ground onto his chest. And then the bomb detonated.”

“Ball bearings, debris, dust exploded everywhere.  Flo was thrown some 15 or 20 feet and was knocked unconscious. And moments later, he woke up in the middle of the road in shock.  His eardrum was blown out. His leg was broken and bleeding badly. Still, he realized that if the enemy launched a secondary attack, he’d be a sitting duck. When a comrade found him in the smoke, Flo had his pistol out, dragging his wounded body from the road.”

“…Flo says that day was the worst day of his life. And that is the stark reality behind these Medal of Honor ceremonies — that for all the valor we celebrate, and all the courage that inspires us, these actions were demanded amid some of the most dreadful moments of war…That’s the nature of courage — not being unafraid, but confronting fear and danger and performing in a selfless fashion. He showed his guts, he showed his training; how he would put it all on the line for his teammates. That’s an American we can all be grateful for.  It’s why we honor Captain Florent Groberg today….May God bless all who serve and all who have given their lives to our country.  We are free because of them.  May God bless their families and may God continue to bless the United States of America with heroes such as these.”

What nauseates me most about Obama’s Medal of Honor oration? His false sense of familiarity as a distant imperial commander-in-chief with a soldier on the ground of an illegal and criminal war that was and remains every bit as unjustified and illegal as the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq? His dangerous conflation of God and nationalism and indeed with empire (for the ubiquitous and deadly presence of the U.S. national military in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and indeed around the world more broadly is distinctly imperial)? His nonsensical notions that (a) Americans are “free” (their domestic sociopolitical order is plagued by omnipresent and many-sided plutocracy and the world’s largest mass incarceration system among other and related forms of authoritarian un-freedom) and (b) owe their supposed freedom to military “service” members (the opposite is closer to the truth, for the imperial military and militarism represent deep and longstanding threats to popular self-governance and egalitarian values)? His unquestioning assumption that U.S. troops have legitimate business “serving” in – that is, occupying – Afghanistan or any other purportedly sovereign nation in the world?  His doctrinal lack of respect for the courage of Afghans who risk and give their lives to resist the criminal occupation of their country by the most powerful imperial killing machine history?

Well, all of that and more in Obama’s oration was revolting enough to hear and to see, accompanied as it was by the president’s disingenuous demeanor and arrogantly clipped tone.  But none of that is what got most under my skin in Obama’s talk. The worst part was Obama’s paean to “guts,” “valor,” and “courage” – this when Obama sits in the mass-homicidal drivers’ seat of the most cowardly form of imperial murder in history: the U.S. drone war program of targeted assassinations.

Barack Obama didn’t wait long as U.S. president to make his lethal mark with drones.   As Muhammad Idrees Ahmad noted last July at In These Times:

“On January 23, 2009, his third day in office, President Barack Obama ordered a drone strike on the small village of Gangi Khel in South Waziristan, a semi-autonomous region along Pakistan’s northwestern frontier….Three hours earlier, another drone had struck a village in North Waziristan. The attacks killed up to 25 people, but the administration made no public comment…Obama soon learned…that neither strike had killed its intended target. The ‘compound’ struck by the first drone was the home of 18-year-old student Faheem Qureshi—it killed his cousins and guests, fractured his skull and put out his eye. The second belonged to Malik Gukistan Khan, a pro-government leader of a local peace committee, who perished alongside his nephew and three sons, the youngest aged 3.”

“The president had drawn first blood—and he wasn’t happy. He quickly convened a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the implications of these blunders. After consulting his advisors, Obama did what most world leaders do when their expectations are confounded: he doubled down.”

“The year ended the way it began: on December 17, 2009, a cruise missile packed with cluster munitions (whose use is proscribed in much of the world) slammed into the small Yemeni village of al-Majalah, killing 59, including 21 children and nine women, five of them pregnant.”

The last attack came seven days after Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize (of all things) from some silly Scandinavians. It was far from the last mass civilian drone murder to be committed by Obama, who insists (unlike his predecessor George W. Bush) on personally overseeing and activating Washington’s Targeted Assassination program and later quipped (to White House staffers) that he’d turned out to be “good at killing people.”  Remote drone warfare quickly became “the Obama administration’s signature approach to military engagement,” Ahmad notes, adding that “Obama would not only sanction assassinations, he would take them to another level….In a clear breach of international humanitarian law, the U.S. would expand the use of ‘signature strikes,’ killing people based on remotely observed ‘patterns of life’ rather than actual intelligence. Worse, they would target funerals and first responders, leading UN special rapporteurs to open war crimes investigations against the U.S.”

Consistent with his self-description, Obama has proven to be a skilled murderer in a wide range of places. While his “cowboy” predecessor George W. Bush has him beat on total body count (thanks to the U.S invasion of Iraq), Obama takes the prize when it comes to geographical kill scope.  According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last January, “At least 2,464 people have now been killed by US drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones [Iraq and Afghanistan] since President Barack Obama’s inauguration six years ago.” The preponderant majority of those slaughtered this way have been civilian noncombatants. The Nobel champion’s drones, bombs, missiles, and Special Forces have wreaked havoc in many more Muslim nations than were invaded by Bush’s troops, something that has helped Washington spread and intensify Salafist jihad across a much broader territory (including Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria) in the Age of Obama.

Don’t get me wrong. The “Masters of War” are always cowards.  As Bob Dylan noted, they “hide in their mansions while young people’s blood flows out of their bodies and gets buried in the mud.” They “fasten the triggers for the others to fire and sit back watch while the death count gets higher.” Ozzie Osborne put it well in his classic heavy metal Black Sabbath dirge “War Pigs”:

“Generals gathered in their masses

Just like witches at black masses

Evil minds that plot destruction

Sorcerers of death’s construction.”

“In the fields the bodies burning

As the war machine keeps turning

Death and hatred to mankind

Poisoning their brainwashed minds.”

“Politicians hide themselves away

They only started the war

Why should they go out to fight?

They leave that role to the poor.”

With drone war, however, U.S. war pigs extend their cowardice to the broader U.S. military.  The masters seek through drones to punish foreign enemies of their own making without having to face “homeland” anger over the loss of young American lives to criminal and imperial wars that only serve the rich and powerful. In reality, the vicious and far-flung imperial-mafia hit from the sky program has only fanned and spread the flames of jihad, providing no small part of the background for the rise of the Islamic State.

The price of all the violence falls mainly on innocent civilians in the Muslim world.  Still, some of the people destined to suffer violent deaths and terrible maiming are ordinary people victimized by predictable (and predicted) “blowback” violence in Western nations whose “leaders” participate in the U.S.-led project of bombing and otherwise torturing the oil-rich Middle East (this includes France). The imperial war planners and “intelligence” personnel know this very well.  They are not particularly surprised when Islamist terror attacks occur against defenseless “soft targets” in Paris, London, or New York City. And meanwhile the rich get ever richer in the United States, where the top 1 percent possesses more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. The ever more opulent minority includes the top owners and executives of the giant, super-profitable “defense” (empire) corporations (Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, etc.) that equip the cowardly war on/of terror that makes Western civilians vulnerable to terrorist butchery in their own cities while reducing risk for the military “heroes” upon whose courage and valor Obama cannot heap enough praise while he okays yet another gutless death-from-above drone strike.  He’s just doing his job: keeping the war machine turning and the bodies burning – and the cost-plus “defense” and “security” contracts rolling in.

Paul Street is an author and speaker in the upper Midwest U.S.

[1] And, no, by the way, this essay is not about the Islamic State (IS) terror attacks in Paris two days ago, hideous crimes that I deplore.  I started this essay one day before the Paris atrocities and think it still deserves to be finished.  At the same time, I am (like many observers) struck and disturbed by the at once racialized and politically geo-politicized disconnect between the massive attention and outpouring of concern that the mainstream U.S. media is heaping upon Paris and the comparatively small amount of attention that media gives to the recent terrorist mass murder of Arabs and Russians by Islamist henchman in Lebanon and Egypt – and to numerous other atrocities inflicted on non-Western people, including ones mentioned in the present essay.

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