The Bernie Fade Begins

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 2, 2016

“The 2016 presidential election,” Diana Johnstone recently wrote, “is shaping up as a contest between the two most hated people in America.” Bernie Sanders has called it quits. That’s what it means when your campaign says, as Bernie’s did two nights ago, that it looks forward to going to the Democratic National Convention to fight over the party’s platform, not over its presidential nomination. There’ll be no contested convention on the Democratic side. So what if Hillary Clinton is a “right wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta), a close friend of Wall Street, a backer of so-called free trade deals, and a spine-chilling war monger?

Nobody should be surprised. As the left commentator John Stauber noted on CounterPunch last week, it’s a very old story. “It’s the Democrat’s political equivalent of the Bill Murray movie classic Groundhog Day,” Stauber writes, “except the progressive candidate never wins the girlfriend, that is, the nomination, in the end.  Instead, the Bernie Sanders, the Howard Deans, the Pat Browns, and the Jesse Jacksons, the progressive champions of their election cycle, change themselves from guard dogs to lap dogs, ensuring that cynical and outraged progressives follow their champion-cum-Pied Piper to become advocates for defeating the Republicans in November…The Democratic apparatchiks who run Bernie’s campaign,” Stauber ads, “are preparing their masses for the inevitable…for death and resurrection as a saintly rationalizing army of Hillary Clinton supporters.”

Trump is a truly disruptive and rebellious force on the rightmost side of the party system. He’s tearing the Republican Party apart, most clearly at the presidential level. He’s off the elite capitalist neoliberal and imperial Council of Foreign Relations leash in ways that a lot of angry and alienated working class and lower middle class white voters like. That’s why a fair portion of the elite capitalist Republican establishment is trying to prevent him from getting the GOP nomination and won’t back him in the general election if he survives the Convention with the nomination. One of the Koch brothers has even recently suggested that he’ll go with Hillary Clinton over Trump, along with Henry Kissinger and leading foreign policy neocons like Robert Kagan. That is quite remarkable.

On one hand, Trump channels some nasty things that have long been part of the Republican playbook. He elicits ugly strands of frustrated white nationalism, nativism, and male chauvinism that the GOP has been cultivating for decades. On the other hand, however, he often sounds remarkably populist in ways that white working class Trumpenproletarians appreciate. He has been critical of things that elite Bush and Romney Republicans (and elite corporate Clinton and Obama Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, “free trade’ (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. He questions imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Russia. He has on occasion threatened to bolt the GOP and to launch his own campaign outside the Republican Party. He boasts that he is so wealthy that he doesn’t have to rely on establishment corporate and Wall Street funders. He has this nasty habit of attacking other top Republicans in bizarrely adolescent and personal ways. Add to all of that his high public disapproval numbers, especially among women, and it’s no wonder that the RNC has been trying to de-rail him.

Things are different on the not-so leftmost side of the party divide. Sanders is much, much less threatening to his party, the Democrats, than Trump is to the Republicans. Sanders may talk about leading what he calls a “political revolution.” He may on occasion be willing to let himself be called a democratic socialist. He’s raised some embarrassing points about Hillary Clinton when it comes to her Wall Street funding profile, her Goldman Sachs speeches, her longstanding support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, and her sickening vote for the Iraq War.   Still, Bernie’s challenge to the Clintons and the DNC has been tepid and cowardly on the whole. He’s not about to lead a real progressive rebellion in his party. Sanders said from day one that he would “of course” back the eventual corporate Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, with no questions asked and no conditions demanded. He’s an Empire Man who refuses to make substantive criticisms of the U.S. permanent global war of terror and the giant Pentagon System despite the fact that his liberal domestic social agenda would have required massive cuts in the nation’s globally and historically unmatched war machine.

Bernie’s been very careful not to go for the kill against Hillary. If he had been serious about preempting her coronation, he would have gone after her e-mail scandal and her terrible conduct in Libya, Benghazi included, and in Syria, and maybe even in Honduras. Seriously contesting Hillary’s anointment would have meant going after the global Clinton Foundation, which is an imperialist and neoliberal capitalist atrocity. It would have meant highlighting the early and leading role the Clintons played in turning the Democratic Party further to the pro-Big Business right back in the 1970s and 1980s. It would have involved going hard at the role of the 1990s Clinton administration in deregulating Wall Street and passing the arch-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement and in passing the viciously poor-bashing and racist so-called welfare reform of 1996. And it would have involved a much more intelligent, honest, and radical approach to Black America and the problem of racial oppression. That would have required Bernie to call out the cruel, underlying mass-incarceration-ist racism that has always been at the heart of the neoliberal Clinton project.

Recently on CBS and NBC, leading up to the New York Primary, Bernie contritely exonerated Hillary for her revolting 2002 Iraq War vote. He told Charlie Rose that “of course I do not hold her accountable” for “Iraq War deaths” (with Iraq War deaths defined of course to mean the nearly 5000 U.S. troops who died in the invasion, not the 1 million plus Iraqis who lost their lives). How’s this for a campaign slogan: “Hold Democrats Accountable for War Crimes? Never!”

From the outset, Sanders explicitly admitted that his real role in this election was to help expand turnout for Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democrats – to help the dismal Dollar Dems bring more young and understandably disaffected voters into the major party electoral process. It’s what Black Agenda Report’s Bruce Dixon called Bernie’s “sheepdog” role and what I have called his “Judas Goat” role: to herd reasonably alienated voters back into the corporate-managed social movement cemetery and radicalism-butchering slaughterhouse that is the Democratic Party. Again this summer and fall as every four years, progressives and leftists will get the usual liberal lectures on the need to back the corporate Democrat as the Lesser Evil in the presidential contest with the dastardly Greater Evil that is the Republican nominee.

In coming weeks and months, as Sanders ever more explicitly endorses the arch-corporatist war monger Hillary Clinton as promised, Bernie’s operatives will also make three further self-justifying claims to their more radical supporters. The first claim will be that Bernie “moved Hillary Clinton and the presidential campaign to the left.” The second claim will be that Bernie is engaged in a meaningful struggle to shape the Democratic Party’s policy platform. The third claim will be that they are planning to build a meaningful grassroots popular and grassroots movement to pressure Hillary and Washington beyond the election cycle. This last assertion will be accompanied by the misleading claim that “Sanders is as much a movement leader as he is a politician.”

Plans are in fact already underway. The People for Bernie PAC and its allies in the top-down activist community including Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America, 350 dot org, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement have called for a 2-day so-called People’s Summit to be held in Chicago sometime between the California primary in early June and the Democratic National Convention’s Hillary coronation in late July. It’s there they claim that the social movement will be hatched.

Each of these claims is a joke. You don’t actually move a dyed-in-the wool corporate neoliberal Goldman Sachs top-of-the Ivy League certified Council of Foreign Relations Eisenhower Democrat like Hillary or Bill NAFTA Clinton or Barack TransPacific Obama to the left. All you can move somewhat to the populist portside is their campaign rhetoric.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce knows this very well. It recently noted that Hillary will be on board with the TransPacific Partnership once the election is over. The Chamber understands that she has no choice right now but to pose as an opponent of the measure as part of her unavoidable election year job of impersonating someone who cares about the working class majority.

At the same time, it doesn’t take a Bernie Sanders or a Jesse Jackson or a Dennis Kucinich to move a contemporary corporate-Democratic presidential candidate’s campaign rhetoric to the left. It just takes longstanding majority progressive and populist public opinion to do that. And it’s nothing new. . Sixteen years ago in a useful book on the Clintons titled No One Left to Lie To, the still left Christopher Hitchens correctly described the “essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” From William Jennings Bryan through Woodrow Wilson and FDR and JFK and LBJ in the Progressive and New Deal eras through Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the neoliberal era, Democrats have been playing that manipulative role with aplomb.

The second claim – the party platform claim – is ridiculous. Nobody pays attention to major party platforms. Presidents certainly don’t. The third claim – the social movement claim — is also a farce, and it’s a dangerous one. The so-called People’s Summit will be no such thing. It will be an exercise in upper middle class-coordinated Astroturf: fake-grassroots movement-building captive to the partisan and electoral agenda of the Democratic Party, which means subordinated to the corporate and militaristic Clinton machine and the Democratic National Committee. It will be absurdly over-focused on the irrelevant Democratic Party platform, not actual social movement-building.

You don’t form meaningful social movements from the top down, in two days. And Sandernistas are the last people you want to see organizing a social movement beyond electoral politics.

Just how successful Bernie will be in convincing his supporters, and especially his young socialist-leaning backers to line up with the Clinton machine is an open and fascinating question. The enthusiasm his campaign has garnered among young people went far beyond anything that Bernie anticipated and far beyond what Hillary expected when she happily welcomed Sanders into the race. Those young people are frankly unimpressed both with the major party duopoly and with the game of Lesser Evils – a game that has delivered little if anything progressive under eight years of Barack TransPacific Obama. I don’t doubt that many of Bernie’s supporters would vote for an actually left and socialist third or fourth party if America was a multiparty nation. I don’t doubt that many of them would rather sit the election out or vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein or a more radical and Marxist candidate than mark a ballot for Hillary Clinton. And I suspect that a certain significant number of older independent voters for whom Bernie Sanders was their first choice will now vote for Donald Trump in the general election.

All of which is very interesting. But just how much do we on the Left really want to focus on the endless and debasing electoral burlesque? Real progressive people’s hope has little to do with U.S. politicians and their electoral dramas, the outcomes of which are largely beyond our sphere of influence. It rests in the majority working class citizenry and the possibility that it will form a great organized social and political movement against capitalism and its evil siblings imperialism, racism, sexism, and ecocide. The most urgent political task of all is to create and expand such a movement beneath and beyond the rigged, candidate-centered electoral spectacle, whatever its outcomes. That spectacle is simply no place to go looking for justice, much less for revolution. “The really critical thing,” Howard Zinn once said, “isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.”

The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change,” Noam Chomsky said when asked about the Sanders campaign last Fall, “is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.” Sandernistas claim that they are organizing a relevant and desirable popular movement along those lines, but they’re lying and even if they weren’t they’re not the people we want to do the job. They are simply not to be trusted in that regard. That role needs to fall to actual and serious Left radicals – to people who understand that democracy and a decent future are impossible under capitalism deeply and properly understood.

“If voting made any difference,” the great American left anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “they’d make it illegal.” Elections, candidates, and parties come and go, though now the electoral extravaganza seems to last forever. Their outcomes are largely beyond our control. What is not outside our sphere of influence is the ability to build radical and durable people’s and workers’ power organizations that are ready, willing, and able to undertake what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called near the end of his life “the real issue to be faced: the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

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


Dare to Interpret and Change History

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

ZNet, 2/7/2016 (this essay is placed out of chronological order with others). Indoctrination works in countless seemingly innocuous and small but cumulatively significant ways. Here’s an example from the long Obama-mad and now Bernie Sanders-backing college town of Iowa City, where downtown lampposts were recently draped with large banners of local University of Iowa academics. One banner shows a leading pediatric researcher beneath the phrase “Dare to Heal Children.” The face of a top novelist (a good friend of Obama’s) appears beneath the words “Dare to Illuminate Life.” Another medical researcher is hailed because he “Dare[s] to Diagnose faster.” A psychologist is honored for “dar[ing] to treat depression.”

One banner knocked me out. It portrays a 20th century U.S historian who is acclaimed because he took the “Dare to Record the Past.” Wow, I thought to myself, is that what historians do with and to the past – record it, chronicle it, put it in the official registry for safe keeping? What could be duller and less daring than that?

The young Marx is often misquoted as having written that “philosophers have tried to understand history; the point is to change it.” The real statement was this: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Marxology aside, there’s a false dichotomy in the formulation. People are in a better position to change history (or “the world”) in a desirable direction when they have studied and understood history (and “the world”).

The Iowa City/University of Iowa banner project isn’t concerned with any of that, however. The historian’s banner suggests that even trying to interpret and understand history (forget about changing it) is too much and that the real job of a historian is simply to log and chart the past.

I know next to nothing about the work of the academic historian who is now celebrated on an Iowa City lamppost. Here, however, is the University of Iowa’s short online bio of the apparently successful professor in question.  The write-up shows that he endeavors to be more than merely a stenographer of past events and indeed that he may be interested in interpreting and even acting on history in accord with some very liberal, maybe even socialistic, values:

“[the historian in question] writes on the history of American public policy and political economy.  He is the author of Growing Apart: A Political History of American Inequality (Institute for Policy Studies, 2013); Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health in Twentieth Century America (Princeton University Press, 2003), and New Deals: Business, Labor and Politics, 1920-1935 (Cambridge University Press, 1994).  He has written for the Nation, In these Times, Z Magazine, Atlantic Cities, and Dissent (where he is a regular contributor).  His digital projects include Mapping Decline, an interactive mapping project based on his St. Louis research…and The Telltale Chart, a data visualization project focusing on historical and recent economic data…He is a senior research consultant at the Iowa Policy Project, for which he has written reports on health coverage, economic development, and wages and working conditions (including the biennial State of Working Iowa series).”

It’s a little depressing (to me) to see Dissent (where I used to write nicely paid pieces until Noam Chomsky filled me in on its editors’ rabidly anti-pro-Israel and anti-Arab leanings) listed as a place where the historian regularly publishes. Clearly, though, the historian in question brings some progressive and left-of-center values to his interpretation of the past – and thus to his sense of what parts of history are more relevant than others. Clearly he is interested in applying historical knowledge to current events and policy.

There’s nothing wrong with that. “Value free” research and interpretation is a deeply conservative academic myth. No historian or so-called social scientist comes to the study of the past or present as a purely “objective,” impartial, “neutral” and “outside” observer – like some kind of thoroughly unbiased Martian or Mandarin. Being a socially and historically generated member of the human species, the historian brings her own personal, cultural, political, socioeconomic, and ideological background, world view, and living historical experience to the task of filtering through the boundless mass of facts, sources, and events that make up the ever growing record of the human past. And, as the late radical historian and activist Howard Zinn used to say, “you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”

The historian herself is not beyond or above history. She brings her own socially produced senses of what matters most and indeed of good and evil, right and wrong, to the task of weaving a patterned narrative with present-day meaning from the chaotic multitude of historical “facts.” (When graduate students in history get examined prior to being approved to write a doctoral thesis, they don’t get quizzed so much about the actual facts of different eras as they do about the various schools that have developed over generations to make interpretive sense of those multitudinous facts. If anything, the privileging of historiography – the different interpretive schools in their contrast and development over time – over history itself is probably excessive in academic history departments.)

The great Soviet historian E.H. Carr likened the historian to a fisherman confronted with a ridiculous over-abundance of fish (facts).  He has to decide which to keep and which to throw back into the sea. Inevitably, the historian’s own moral and ideological framework and social background plays a very big role in what qualifies as a “keeper” for him – and indeed of where he fishes in the first place. The historian’s socially produced values and world view shape what qualifies for her as a relevant “fact” to be taken from and included in the historical record. Thus, when the heralded U.S. business historian Alfred DuPont Chandler wrote The Visible Hand, (1977), a magisterial history of the rise of the modern American managerial-capitalist corporation, he did not pay the slightest attention to the experience, consciousness, and struggle of the vast new working class that emerged in and around those corporations’ new mass production facilities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  That was a lake of facts he never fished. The topic held little interest for Chandler, an heir to the DuPont business fortune.

Things were very different for the leading U.S. labor and political historian David Montgomery, a former skilled machinist and labor activist, and for a cadre of skilled historians from immigrant and working class backgrounds (primarily David Brody, Herbert Gutman, and Melvyn Dubofsky) who joined Montgomery in developing a new social, labor, and working class historiography during the 1960s and 1970s. This “new labor history’s” allegiance to the working class and its struggle with capitalist employers was evident to any serious reader beneath the requisite academic discourse. Its practitioners cast their nets in a remarkably un-fished sea of facts and sources that previous chroniclers and interpreters of the nation’s past had neglected.

Of all the new banners hailing academic heroes in downtown Iowa City, it’s the historian’s one that seems most particularly absurd. The phrase “Dare To Record the Past” was probably just the outwardly innocent default choice of a university publicist scratching her head about what historians actually do. Still, it is unfortunate. It conveys the reactionary sense of the historian about little more than the dutiful compilation of a listless and mind-numbing log of lifeless facts,  as in “and then the Magna Carta was passed…and then the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock…and then England passed the Stamp Act…and then Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin….and then Andrew Jackson was elected…and then Abe Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address…and then Henry Ford invented the Model T …and then the stock market crashed…and then Franklin Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act…and then Hitler invaded Poland…and then America bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and then….and then…and then.” Sadly, that’s how a lot of junior high and high school history is taught to this day: as an endless series of rote facts to be memorized for a dreaded multiple choice exam. The banger-hangers really ought to replace the embarrassing phrase “Dare to Record the Past” with the far more dignified, accurate, and meaningful phrase “Dare to Interpret the Past.”

Changing history is a bigger and related collective task, but we need to do that in the streets before we can brag about it on streetlight banners.  Which reminds me of something that Howard Zinn said in early 2001 – something that people in presidential election- and presidential candidate-mad Iowa would do well to keep in mind when it comes to how progressive change occurs. “There’s hardly anything more important that people can learn,” Zinn told Socialist Worker after George W. Bush took office,  “than the fact that the really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating–those are the things that determine what happens.” Seven years later, Zinn elaborated in an essay on what he called “The Election Madness” that had “engulf[ed] the entire society, including the left” with special intensity in the year of Barack Obama’s ascendancy:

“The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. …”

“Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes – the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth…But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice….”

“Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore….”

“Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

That’s some history – and historical interpretation – worthy of extra-rote memorization in the O-bam(a)boozled, Bernie-mad, election-frenzied and banner-strewn town of Iowa City.

Personally, I’d go quite a bit further than Zinn.  Our objective should be to build a great grassroots and revolutionary movement to overthrow the American ruling class and introduce a socialist transformation to implement social equality and justice, peace, democracy, and livable ecology. We must aim not merely to shake power from the bottom up but to take power both from the bottom up and the top down.

One thing American history shows beyond the shadow of a doubt to someone with my own socially produced background and filter is that it’s not enough just to pressure ruling classes and their political agents from below and that the capitalist and imperial U.S. government continues to remain responsible above all to the ruling class even when it appears to be responding to grassroots pressure. But that’s another essay for another time.

Paul Street is an author in Iowa City.  His latest book is They Rule: the 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014).

Kagame Goes to Harvard

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, April 22, 2016

Never underestimate the global myopia and indifference that lurks beneath the surface of the United States’ supposedly Leftist higher educational system. Between August of 2005 and May of 2006, I worked as a visiting professor of American History at a Midwestern public university. The U.S. was into the third year of one the most monumental, mass-murderous, and openly imperial crimes in history: the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Where, I asked students and faculty, was the on-campus antiwar movement? Where were the protests and teach-ins on and against Washington’s egregious and blood-soaked assault on Mesopotamia, sold on thoroughly false pretexts and already estimated to have the caused the premature death of many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?

The answer to my queries came mainly without words, in the form of blank stares and disinterest. Even at the opening moments of invasion, in March of 2003, when I had joined tens of thousands of others to march against the war on Iraq in the streets of Chicago, the university, like hundreds of other academic institutions across the country, had barely registered a protest. As the Princeton philosopher Sheldon Wolin noted in his chilling book Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2008):

“During the months leading up to and following the invasion of Iraq, university and college campuses, which had been such notorious centers of opposition to the Vietnam War that politicians and publicists spoke openly of the need to ‘pacify the campuses,’ hardly stirred. The Academy had become self-pacifying (p.68)…Public universities, such as those at Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Madison played a leading role in the organization of antiwar activities [during the 1960s]. That none of those institutions were ruffled by antiwar agitation at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 testifies to the effective integration of universities into the corporate state” (pp. 165-166).

Academic liberals – the older ones including veterans of the Sixties antiwar movement – didn’t   like Bush or his invasion, of course. Still, they certainly weren’t about to turn their classrooms into schoolhouses of antiwar resistance or anything else silly and radical like that. They weren’t about to open themselves up to the charge of polluting academia with “politics.” So what if everything that 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 imperial academicians don’t get lectures from leading higher-education scold Stanley Fish on how they need to Save the World on Your Own Time and not on the university’s dime.)

A recent event at the pinnacle of “liberal” academia offers a depressing epitome of the cold moral obliviousness and imperial complicity that marks U.S. higher education when it comes to foreign affairs and to the experience of desperate people on the wrong side of the U.S.-run planetary order. A February 26, 2016 event at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics and Kennedy School of Government was titled “President Kagame Speaks on Democracy.”

Paul Kagame is the iron-fisted de facto President for Life of Rwanda, a small nation west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and south of Uganda. His Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has ruled the country with an iron fist since the horrific Rwandan genocide of 1994 – a mass slaughter that the Bill Clinton administration refused to halt because of the Clintons’ desire to see the U.S. – trained military leader Kagame take power. What has emerged since in Rwanda is a totalitarian dictatorship and police state where the populace lives in a climate of fear and where even mild dissent can lead to torture, imprisonment, and assassination. During the last Rwandan presidential election in 2010, Kagame won a second seven-year term as president with an outlandish 93% of the vote and an equally preposterous 95% turnout. Rwandans who refused to vote or to vote for Kagame did so at peril to their personal security.

Rwandan masses are herded to gigantic rallies where the President is hailed for saving the nation from genocide and for bringing “progress,” “modernity,” and “growth.” When the independent journalist Anjan Sundaram attended one of those rallies in 2010, a policeman spotted him taking notes and instructed him to stop. “You can’t look and write,” the gendarme told him. “In Rwanda,” Sundaram notes, “the testimony of the individual – the evidence of one’s own experience – is crushed by the pensee unique: the single way of thinking and speaking, demanded by those in power…One could not look and write…one had to see the world as the dictatorship described it. To look and think for yourself was to dissent” – and to dissent is a crime.

On an authority-defying trip into the Rwandan countryside, Sundaram discovered droves of villagers living exposed to the elements – some of them sick and dying as a result – because Kagame had ordered the destruction of excessively “primitive” grass-roofed huts. The villagers tore down their own dwellings on the orders of the Leader, preferring exposure to rain and cold over identification as enemies of the state. By Sundaram’s account:

“We passed to another destroyed hut…and spotted a house made of cement. A family was inside and…received us. In a small room, we saw beds against the walls, and people in the dark stuffed in with two goats and a pig. The family had given shelter to two households that no longer had huts…They stared at us vacantly. We heard a child heave. Lying on a straw bed among the animals, the child was sweating, and over his face had broken out blisters, jagged little lumps…the boy had caught malaria from sleeping in the open. It was the rainy season. Other children had caught a cold, something like pneumonia.”

In the meantime, Kagame’s RPF has joined with the Ugandan military in killing ethnic Hutus in the millions in the DRC. The death count goes as high as 5 million, if not higher. The Western   Europe- and U.S.-backed Kagame regime and Uganda have used the pretext of clearing “guilty” Hutu refugees from eastern Congo to loot precious natural resources for European and U.S. corporations. The pillaged materials include gold, cobalt, timber, diamonds, uranium, and (essential to cell phone and computer manufacture) coltan.

Sundaram’s latest book is Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship (New York: Doubleday, 2014). It details, among other terrible things, the systematic government elimination of the last remnants of a free press in Kagame’s Rwanda. He depicts Rwanda as a living dystopia more than a little reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984. Along the way, Sundaram notes, the West holds up Rwanda as “a beacon for progress and modernity,” showering Kagame’s government with billions of dollars of aid (the lion’s share of the government’s revenue).

All of which is chilling background for Kagame’s speech at liberal Harvard and the warm response it received there. In a short and manifestly non-eloquent speech, the Rwandan butcher informed his top-of-the-Ivy League listeners that Rwanda defies the “chicken-and-egg argument about development versus democracy.” In his nation, he claimed,

“Prosperity is not achieved without empowering citizens and unleashing their creativity… public affairs are conducted with the expectation that the views of citizens will be heard and their complaints acted upon…Accordingly, leaders are better off serving with humility, through consultation and consensus. Things are done in the open, and indeed the best data on shortcomings in our country are regularly produced and published by our own public institutions.”

“Good results are impossible to explain without factoring in the trust that exists between citizens and leaders as a result of our governance choices. As democratic space becomes more inclusive, the preferences and viewpoints of elites and experts have to accommodate other perspectives. This challenge can be quite unsettling even in the most advanced democracies, as we continue to see, judging by current events.”

“Yet this is what we have chosen to do in our country. People must have, in the formulation of Amartya Sen, the ‘freedom to lead the kind of lives that they have reason to value.’”

“Rwandans expect important national matters to be handled with care and determination. They would certainly question the legitimacy of outcomes decided by others without their participation.”

“Our constitutional order is both distinctively Rwandan and squarely within the mainstream of democratic practice. It works for us, and there is ample evidence for that. But it will also endure, because the means of renewal and adaptation are provided for. The recent referendum is a useful example.”

The referendum to which Kagame referred was staged by the dictatorship in December of 2015. It overwhelmingly approved changing the nation’s Constitution to allow the nation’s blood-soaked Dear Leader to extend his terms in office until 2034.

The only thing more disturbing than Kagame’s Harvard speech were the obsequious questions and comments offered up to him by the Harvard audience. The first tribute came from Swanee Hunt, a senior white woman who serves as the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ms. Hunt is the daughter of the Texas oil tycoon H.L. Hunt and is a former U.S. Ambassador to Australia under the Clinton administration. She is a member of the nation’s top imperialist and ruling class organization The Council on Foreign Relations and chair of the wonderfully named and Washington-based Institute for Inclusive Security (IIS). The IIS works with U.S. policymakers within and beyond the U.S. State Department to make the U.S. Global War “on” (of) Terror seem more open to “women’s voices.” It links “women’s empowerment funding” to U.S. foreign (imperial) policy.

Professor Hunt is an elite academic agent in the merging of U.S. fake-humanitarian, pseudo-liberal imperialism with contemporary Western gender identity politics very much in the mode of Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Madeline Albright, and Hillary Clinton. She’s a top “feministwasher of imperialist wars” (Hadia Akhtar’s excellent phrase) and, of course, a friend of the Clintons.

Swanee Hunt arose to a microphone after Kagame’s speech to praise the newly certified President for Life for having “broken every barrier” to women’s inclusion in government offices. She said nothing about the millions of women and girls who join their male fellow Rwandans in experiencing rampant poverty and terror under the U.S.-sponsored Kagame regime.

A young woman who described herself as an “energy infrastructure developer” from Ghana addressed Kagame as “Your Excellency” and thanked him for letting her and her colleagues work without visas in Rwanda. She added that “as much as the story of Rwanda is about you being a leader, it is as much about you empowering and inspiring people under you to have success for Rwandans by Rwandans.” I was reminded of a scene in Sundaram’s book, from one of the big government-organized rallies he attended:

“Everything had been done to ensure the president was unchallenged [in the 2010 show election]…But still he organized these massive rallies – a dozen of them in every corner of the country. And more and more the people urged the others to show devotion.”

“The president was now benevolent. He had left the killing to his courtiers…Once the public displays of allegiance were over he told the people that all this was their achievement.”

“He came up to the standing microphone and said Rwanda was a democracy. This democracy had been instituted by the people, he said, not by him. It has been instituted not because foreigners had demanded it, but because the people of Rwanda wanted to construct their own future. So those who criticized the government were in fact insulting the Rwandan people and what they had built” (emphasis added).

Before the rally, Sundaram beheld the spectacle of the Intore – “groups of 20 to 30 men and women in t-shirts bearing the face of the president.” They “ran in circles and sang devotional songs to the president, urging everyone to sing with them.”

A white female Kennedy School student rose to praise Kagame for joining the authoritarian leader of Singapore in achieving growth and in valuing “legacy” above “personal enrichment.” She also repeated back Kagame’s own propaganda to the dictator. The RPF’s “Vision 2020” plan is to “make Rwanda a ‘middle income country’ in the next decade. The idea has been borrowed from China and Singapore,” Sundaram notes: “Money would render the repression acceptable; the people had given their allegiance in exchange for the dream of wealth.” This even as Kagame claimed to be advancing participatory democracy.

The Kennedy School student apparently did not do any homework on the numerous ways in which Kagame used his position to personally enrich himself at public expense. A dissident blog whose semi-anonymous author must write from the relative safety of Europe reports that:

“During a recent meeting in Kigali that brought together President Kagame and RPF members, Kagame surprised those around when he attacked public officials who amass wealth at public expense, [for] he leads at stealing public wealth…his business dealings … impoverish many Rwandans [and] plunder…public wealth to the extent of controlling the whole economy. President Kagame… own[s] a number of businesses like Inyange Industries (processing and packing of milk, water and Juice), Horizon constructions (dealing in roads works), Banque de Kigali, Contraco (dealing in Real estates), Intersec Security (dealing in in security), Imprimerie Nouvelle (printing business), Mutara Enterprise (dealers in furniture), Bourbon Coffee (coffee shop in Kigali). Sources confirm that President Kagame has shares in Sina Gerard Nyirangarama enterprises that processes pepper, juices and bakery… [He] Kagame is also among the owners of Hotel Akagera…, the only hotel in the Akagera National park located in Eastern Province.”

“He is also named among pyrethrum business…he frustrated residents in the Northern Province former Ruhengeri when he grabbed their land were pyrethrum is grown. President Kagame managed to successfully intimidate these locals and grabbed all their business at cheaper price[s] using his military officers led [by] Major Haguma. Now the pyrethrum business is controlled by cooperatives disguised as the army but working for Kagame’s profits. Kagame controls the pyrethrum business in the country together with other hotel business like Serena Hotel, and Kivu Sun.”

“President Kagame has grabbed state resources from both [foreign] donations and tax payers money to acquire two luxurious jets costing $ 160 million. He has since relocated those jets from South Africa to Greece and to Turkey…Kagame has hired his personal jets to the government as presidential jets at an overwhelming price. For only one trip from Rwanda to the USA President Kagame…charge[d] the government of Rwanda over $ 800,000. “

“…Kagame has forced successful businessmen to sell some shares in their enterprises to him. He owns majority shares in tea estates, where he has been the seller and buyer using people like his in-law Richard Murefu and business tycoon Gatera Egide. He is also listed among coffee traders as an exporter using Crystal Ventures, his own company registered under RPF….”

“This continued plundering of state resources by president Kagame leaves one wondering where the wealth he promised Rwandans could come…he has looted the country and hidden part of it in other countries.”

“Johnson, Europe.”

All quite extraordinary atop a nation where 96 percent of the population lives without electricity.

A gentleman from Zimbabwe arose in the Harvard auditorium where Kagame spoke last February to say that “I’m really proud of what Rwanda has achieved over the last fifteen years under your guidance. Nobody doubts that you are a good leader,” the Zimbabwean added before politely questioning the wisdom of the recent referendum and noting that such constitutional changes had not worked out well in other African nations. He said nothing about the Rwandan children guided into malaria by the order against grass huts, the journalists who have been guided into death and silence (as ably and chillingly documented in Sundaram’s book) by Kagame’s security forces, or the millions of Congolese slaughtered by Kagame’s forces and war lord allies in the DRC.

In his response to questions at Harvard last February, the dictator offered a long and half-mumbled defense of his recent anointment as President for Life. He seriously claimed to be “a victim” – a victim of his own supposed great success in bringing modernity and “democracy” to Rwanda. “The people say ‘we want more of you…We have all of this because of you…We don’t want to gamble…We want to continue with the one who has done this for us’”

“What do you want to me say?” Kagame asked his Harvard listeners. “What do you want me to do?” Kagame smiled while his audience chuckled. He invited those who questioned the referendum to “take the case to Rwandans…I want you to come to Rwanda and address Rwandans and even go to their homes in rural villages …come and help me convince the people they don’t need me….so I can go home and relax…Do I tell them, ‘you want me to stay but no thank you’ because of bad examples in other [African] countries?”

It was a blood-curdling statement. In reality, anyone who went to Rwanda to tell villagers that they don’t need Kagame would be hounded and arrested by RFP secret service agents. They would not last long in Rwanda.

The “simple difference” with other African presidents for life. Kagame told the Zimbabwean with a straight face, “is that I have not sought to stay in power…I have to agree with the people, with what they want me to do.”

The Harvard audience responded to the dictator’s disingenuous nonsense with respectful, good natured laughter. It seemed at once impressed and amused by the benevolent willingness of the kindly Kagame to honor the wishes of the people by agreeing to serve and “guide” them for eighteen more years. It wasn’t the hysterical kind of support that the Intore works to invoke at mass Kagame rallies in Rwanda. That wouldn’t suit Harvard. But it was all the dictator and his U.S. imperial sponsors, including the next U.S. President Hillary Clinton, could have hoped for and it all came with a distinct flavor of sober, bourgeois academic neutrality and pained, power-serving propriety. Sheldon Wolin would have been impressed.

Meanwhile, with the politically engaged U.S. populace kept focused on the interminable, corporate-managed U.S. presidential electoral extravaganza [1] – itself subject to (and part of) their “democratic” nation’s own “unelected dictatorship of money” – the killing in the DRC continues. So does the outward stream of wealth from that resource-rich/-cursed land continue, as does the flow of U.S. and Western dollars to the Orwellian Kagame regime.

I doubt many Boston area progressives within or beyond the academy were paying much attention to the ugly Kagame visit last late February. By that time all the left energy in the region and state would have been sucked up by the coming Democratic presidential primary, set for March 1st. Much goes under the radar screen when the quadrennial spectacle takes over.

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


Where Presidents and People Make History

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Counterpunch, April 20, 2016

Progressives at home and abroad are happy about how far “left” the campaign debates and rhetoric have gone in this year’s Democratic Party presidential primary race. But five harsh realities suggest that such enthusiasm should be qualified.

First, the debates and rhetoric have been nowhere nearly as radical as required in a time when the capitalist profits system (endorsed by the nominally socialist presidential contender Bernie Sanders) is generating an environmental catastrophe that has emerged as the biggest issue of our or any time. (The cultural theorist Frederic Jameson has written “that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.” The irony is that capitalism is quite tangibly, materially, and empirically – no imagination required – ending livable ecology).

Second, the times require not leftish-sounding presidential hopefuls but rather a grassroots revolutionary movement beyond candidate-centered major party electoral extravaganzas that function to sidetrack, divert, contain, and marginalize the populace.

Third, the likely Democratic nominee and general election winner Hillary Clinton is a dedicated, longstanding, and dyed-in-the-wool corporate neoliberal, however much public opinion and the Sanders insurgency might have nudged her rhetoric in a populist-sounding direction. The Clinton team knows that manipulative populist mimicry is smart neoliberal politics in the current New Gilded Age.

Fourth, the Sanders-led leftward tilt of Democratic Party presidential politicking is almost completely restricted to domestic policy. It shows little sign of extending to foreign policy or challenging the core global myopia and imperial autism of U.S. political culture. Bernie Sanders, the “champion of the left,” may advocate some genuinely progressive (if insufficiently radical) domestic policies (increased taxation of the rich, single-payer health insurance, and free college, etc.) but he does little in the same vein when it comes to Washington’s deadly role in the world. As the veteran Left foreign policy and political writer Diana Johnstone recently noted in a letter on CounterPunch:

“Bernie Sanders has said little about foreign policy. The radical shift in domestic    advocated by Bernie implies drastic cuts in military spending, but he has not been spelling this out. Despite his strong opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he has been susceptible to the ‘humanitarian’ war cries of the liberal interventionists, who would certainly strive to take charge of his foreign policy should he miraculously be elected…. What is still lacking in this campaign is clear denunciation of the very worst of Hillary Clinton’s many negative traits: her eagerness to go to war.  And it is not merely Hillary who needs to be defeated: it is the entire militaristic power structure she represents.”

Fifth, liberal U.S. presidents don’t make much of a mark in the domestic realm. The American executive branch’s main agency and power comes in foreign affairs. Reflecting on her recent Counterpunch letter, I turned back to some powerful reflections Ms. Johnstone made in her indispensable book Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton:

“When it comes to domestic legislation, no truly progressive or egalitarian policies are feasible. However much they quarrel, both [U.S. major] parties have accepted that domestic politics must conform to the interests of financial capital, ‘the markets.’…presidential power is very limited on the domestic scene…However, the President of the United States is able to exercise enormous power abroad (p.2).”

“On the domestic front, almost nothing is possible other than small tweaks. But on the world stage, U.S. military power offers enormous prospects for ‘doing something’: from rousing speeches against ‘dictators’ to bullying whole countries, punishing them with sanctions, overthrowing their governments…all the way to big wars. History can be made here (p.130).”

If Johnstone is correct (and the record bears her out), the Sanders difference with Hillary Clinton comes in a realm of politics and policy where presidents don’t make much difference or history: domestic policy.

But Queen of Chaos was written a year ago, before the unpredictable rise of Donald Trump and the more foreseeable successes of the Sanders insurgency. Does it matter that Trump criticizes the reckless imperial “nation-building” (more like nation-wrecking) to which Hillary is so attached or that Trump rejects her and other U.S. foreign policy elites’ dangerous jihad against nuclear Russia? Probably not very much. The Donald is unelectable and, as Johnstone notes in her CounterPunch letter,

“Trump is a lone wolf. Many of his supporters seem more excited by style than by content. Their multiple incoherent grudges against the system do not add up to an anti-war movement. Trump is unpredictable, and it is hard to see where he would find the foreign policy team and the support needed to overthrow the entrenched foreign policy elite.”

What about Bernie, who has an even slighter shot at the presidency than Trump? Here is where I diverge from Ms. Johnstone. “One hopeful sign,” Johnstone writes in her CounterPunch note, “is the resignation from the Democratic National Committee of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in order bring her strong voice against ‘regime change’ wars into the Sanders campaign. There is a chance that as it develops, anti-war sentiment may grow more explicit in the Sanders movement, influencing Bernie himself and providing the social force needed to confront the liberal interventionists within the Democratic Party.” (emphasis added)

I agree that antiwar and anti-imperial voices could (and should) become more vocal and influential among Sanders backers for reasons both practical and moral. Bernie’s ambitious social agenda requires huge cuts in the Pentagon budget. The American Empire and war machine is a mass-murderous spiritual atrocity. It is all-too quietly and privately opposed by many in “the Sanders movement.”

Still, Rep. Gabbard (D-Ha.) may have turned against the “liberal” arch-interventionism of Hillary, but she is a strange champion for the “Peace Party” that Ms. Johnstone would understandably like to see arise in the U.S. A proud Iraq War veteran who is still an active Military Police Officer with the Hawaii National Guard, Rep. Gabbard is a Hindu Islamophobe. She is strongly connected to India’s right wing, anti-Muslim Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Since her election to Congress,” AlterNet’s Zaid Jiliani noted last year, “Gabbard has tied herself closely to this party, which has a history of condoning hatred and violence against India’s Muslim minority. Many of her stateside donors and supporters are also big supporters of this movement, which disdains secularism and promotes religious sectarianism.”

Ms. Gabbard is an imperial warrior. She became a FOX News darling because of her criticism of Barack Obama for not being tough enough on Islamic jihadists. She has told CNN that Obama needs to develop a closer relationship with Israel’s right-wing, Arab-butchering Prime Minister Netanyahu. She has been a keynote speaker at a conference held by the right wing U.S. lobbying organizations Christians United for Israel.

At the same time, I’m not sure it makes much sense to call a major party candidate enthusiasm conjured up on quadrennial and Constitutional schedule (Bernie) the head or symbol of a “movement.”

The jury is out, I suppose, on whether Sanders will leave behind a grassroots social movement beyond the election spectacle, but thinking that that will naturally happen (as many Sandernistas seems to believe) is nearly akin to expecting a Bluegill to lay Salmon eggs.

I also don’t see all that much chance of the longstanding de facto Democrat turning against his party’s reigning imperial interventionism. I could be wrong about that and would be glad to be so, but Sanders is a military-Keynesian Empire Man. Bernie may have shied away from foreign policy in the 2016 campaign but he has said and done more than some might think in accord with the American Empire Project. He:

*Calls Edward Snowden a criminal and Hugo Chavez (a social democrat) a “dead communist dictator.

*Embraces Barack Obama’s horrific drone war, which has been accurately described by Noam Chomsky as at “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.”

*Supports the reckless Hillary Clinton-led U.S. provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe.

*Calls for the arch-reactionary and fundamentalist Islam-sponsoring state of Saudi Arabia to step up its already mass- murderous military role in the Middle East

*Helped rationalize Israel’ criminal mass killings of Palestinian children in Gaza (over the opposition of properly nauseated peace activists in his home town of Burlington, Vermont).

*Backed the Clinton administration’s criminal and unnecessary bombing of Serbia, shouting down disgusted antiwar activists in Burlington, Vermont as he offered his brass-lunged voice to the cause of NATO’s vicious and imperial assault on Yugoslavia.

*Called police to arrest activists occupying his Burlington Congressional office to protest “Bomber Bernie’s” Serbia policy.

*Called police (when Sanders was Burlington’s mayor and at the leftmost stage of his political career) to arrest peace activists occupying an industrial plant owned by the leading, blood-soaked military contractor General Electric.

*Pushed and voted for the mass-murderous and wasteful F-35 jet program (a classic Pentagon boondoggle) because it meant “jobs for Vermont.”

*Calls the racist British imperialist Winston Churchill (who embraced the racist gassing of Arabs) his favorite non-American leader in world history (he could at least have said Nelson Mandela).

* “Support[s] the Obama administration’s wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen” (Chris Hedges)

* “vote[s]s for military appropriations bills, including every bill and resolution that empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people” (Hedges).

“Confront the liberal interventionists in the Democratic Party”? In an interview broadcast on CBS News eleven days ago, the talk show host and Council of Foreign Relations member Charlie Rose incredulously asked Sanders if he seriously held Hillary Clinton responsible for “Iraqi war deaths” since she voted for George Bush’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2002. With deep contrition written across his face, Sanders said the following in response: “Of course she doesn’t bear responsibility. She voted for the war in Iraq. That was a very bad vote, in my view. Do I hold her accountable? No.” It was a remarkable and, for any serious left progressive, sickening comment, giving mind-numbing, jaw-dropping exoneration of the war hawk Hillary’s abject, mass-murderous, and imperialist evil. How’s this for a campaign slogan: “Hold Democrats Accountable for Criminal Wars? Of Course Not!”

But, of course, strange things happen. As Jill Stein said to me earlier this year, “who knows what goes on in Bernie’s mind?” Politicians have been known to change their positions under pressure from their supporters.

Thanks to the significant destructive power held by the White House on the global stage, I suppose we have no choice but to care what goes in on the minds of those vying to be the next U.S. president. Who among the current top four candidates has the scariest mind when it comes to prospects for expanded global war? It’s a tie between the rabid “liberal” war hawk Hillary Clinton and the maniacal evangelical Christian Crusader Ted Cruz. And Hillary is the still the smart money favorite to win the White House horse race.

However the election season plays out, the global myopia and imperial autism of U.S. political culture on display in the seemingly interminable presidential pageant is chilling to behold. Unless one wants to seriously and absurdly see the doomed and wacky white nationalist Trump as a peace candidate, the nation’s bipartisan War Party is receiving no challenge whatsoever. On the not-so leftmost wing of the narrow two-party spectrum, where one might most expect peace sentiment to be audible, the progressive electoral “movement” is focused almost exclusively on the domestic side of the imperial American System and linked to a progressive Democrat who shows little sign of possessing the inclination and/or the courage to question Empire. And the irony here is that, as Johnstone notes, the domestic side is precisely where “liberal” U.S. presidents are least empowered to make policy and history

Just how much do we on the Left really want to focus on the endless electoral burlesque? Real progressive people’s hope has little to do with major party politicians and their electoral dramas, the outcomes of which are largely beyond our sphere of influence. It rests in the citizenry and the possibility that it will form a great organized social and political movement against capitalism and its evil siblings imperialism, racism, sexism, and ecocide. The most urgent political task of all is to create and expand such a movement beneath and beyond the hopelessly corrupt electoral spectacle, whatever its outcomes. That spectacle is simply no place to go looking for justice, much less for revolution. “The really critical thing,” Howard Zinn once said, “isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating–those are the things that determine what happens.”

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

Ruling Class Games and Qualifications

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Counterpunch, April 12, 2016

He Said, She Said

The recent “not qualified” spat between the progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders and the neoliberal Democrat Hillary Clinton reminds me of something you often see in National Hockey League games. Time and again, a hockey player is sent to the penalty box for responding roughly to a nasty assault. The referee sees the retaliation and blows his whistle. When you watch the replay, however, you see that the official missed the initial penalty. Usually, the response is worse than the initial attack.

That’s what happened with Bernie and Hillary last week. It started when Mrs. Clinton said the following about Sanders on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show on Wednesday, April 6th, one day after Sanders won the Wisconsin primary: “I think he hadn’t done his homework and he’d been talking for more than a year about doing things that he obviously hadn’t really studied or understood, and that does raise a lot of questions.”

A Washington Post article reporting Hillary’s comments on MSNBC was titled “Hillary Questions Whether Sanders is Qualified to be President.” Actually, however, Mrs. Clinton never said “unqualified” or “not qualified” in connections with Sanders. Most of the Post report was dedicated to Hillary questioning whether Sanders was a “real Democrat,” not whether he was up for the White House.

Still, it was all pretty insulting. And it all followed in the wake of the New York Daily News’ publication on Monday, April 4th of a nasty interview it conducted with Sanders on Friday, April 1st. The interview portrayed him as less than a finely tuned policy wonk regarding some of his leading campaign promises, Sanders’ retaliation came later on Wednesday, April 6th. Speaking to a large crowd at Temple University in Philadelphia, Brooklyn-born and raised Bernie wasn’t about to let Hillary’s cross-check go unanswered. In a wildly applauded swing-back, Sanders pointed to Hillary’s support for unpopular “free trade” (investor rights) deals that work to upwardly concentrate wealth and income and to her terrible vote in support of authorizing George W. Bush to criminally invade Iraq: “She has been saying lately that she thinks I am quote, unquote ‘not qualified’ to be president. I don’t believe that she is qualified…through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds… I don’t think that you are ‘qualified’ if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC. I don’t think you are ‘qualified’ if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don’t think you are ‘qualified’ if you have supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement.”

It wasn’t just a momentary, one-day outburst. The day after he made these comments in front of thousands of supporters at Temple University, Sanders spoke at a press conference in Philadelphia alongside labor leaders in town for the national AFL-CIO’ convention. The brass-lunged Bernie increased the heat:

“If you want to question my qualifications, then let me suggest this: Maybe the American people might wonder about your qualifications, Madam Secretary, when you voted for the war in Iraq—the most disastrous foreign policy blunder in the history of modern America. They might want to wonder about your qualifications, when you supported virtually every trade agreement—trade agreements which are costing the American worker millions of decent paying jobs. The American people may want to wonder about your qualifications when you’re spending an enormous amount of time raising money for your super PAC from some of the wealthiest people in this country and from the most outrageous special interests.”

The following morning of Friday, April 9th, Sanders and his advisers woke up to read the New York Times’ “liberal” icon and Hillary Clinton hit man Paul Krugman writing that Sanders had “gone over the edge.” Krugman clucked that “Mr. Sanders is starting to sound like his worst followers. Bernie is becoming a Bernie Bro.,” marred by “a streak of petulant self-righteousness.” In Krugman’s slimy hands, the content of Sanders’ critique of Clinton’s “qualifications” was left out along with the initial attack by Hillary.

The first deletion makes sense since it is embarrassing and revealing that the “progressive” Krugman has chosen the nefarious corporate-neoliberal and arch-imperial Clinton machine over the neo-New Deal Sanders insurgency. The second deletion makes sense because hacks will be hacks and Krugman (beneath his extreme elite credentials) is a hack.

“Of Course She Doesn’t Bear Responsibility”

But by the time Krugman’s column hit the newsstands, Bernie was already reversing course. In an interview with the talk show host and Council of Foreign Relations member Charlie Rose broadcast on CBS News on Thursday evening, Sanders refused to call Mrs. Clinton unqualified and added that “We should not get into this tit for tat. We should be debating the issues facing the American people.”

And that wasn’t all, unfortunately. The CFR’s Rose noted Sanders’ criticism of Clinton for her October 2002 U.S. vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq and asked, “is that going too far to say she bears responsibility for Iraqi war deaths?’” Sanders actually said the following in response: “Of course she doesn’t bear responsibility. She voted for the war in Iraq. That was a very bad vote, in my view. Do I hold her accountable? No.”

It was a remarkable and, for any serious left progressive, sickening comment. Just like that, Saint Bernard, “hero of the Left” (in dominant media coverage and commentary) went from principled criticism of his Democratic rival to mind-numbing, jaw-dropping exoneration of her abject, mass-murderous, and imperialist evil. How’s this for a campaign slogan: “Hold Democrats Accountable for Criminal Wars? Of Course Not!”

An Ironic Win for Hillary

On Friday morning, Sanders went to on the Today Show to tell NBC’s cartoonish Matt Lauer that “of course” Clinton was qualified to be president and that he would of course honor his longstanding promise to support against a horrid Republican. This created space for Hillary to seize the high road. She smiled as she called Sanders’ heated Philly comments “kind of a silly thing to say” (leaving the usual charges of politically incorrect sexism to others backing her campaign) and claimed that that she would of course support Bernie against Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Only “petulant” Sanders fans seemed to remember or care that she and friends at the Daily News had slammed Bernie into the boards before he swung his stick at her.

And that’s how a week that should have belonged to Sanders because of Wisconsin ended with a sense of victory in the Clinton camp, which hopes that Sanders’ outbursts in Philadelphia will prove to have been his “Dean Scream” moment. Wyoming, Shmyoming.

A Startling Readiness to Dismiss and Alienate

I find three things particularly noteworthy about last week’s he-said, she-said episode, whatever its horserace implications. First of all, there’s the fact that a large number of Sanders’ disproportionately young and angry supporters think about Hillary in very much the same terms as those used by Bernie for two days in a row in Philadelphia. Bernie might have taken back his words by Friday morning, but it’s hard to put a genie like the one he let out for two days back in the bottle and many of his supporters would prefer that he be unrepentant. A poll conducted before Hillary started calling Sanders “unprepared” and “not really a Democrat” showed that at least 25% of Sanders supporters will never vote for Mrs. Clinton.

The Clintonistas bear some responsibility for this. I’ve been struck throughout this campaign by the willingness of many commonly older Clinton supporters to join Krugman and even on occasion Mrs. Clinton in being quite staggeringly disdainful and condescending towards Sanders and his disproportionately youthful supporters. They’ve been remarkably ready and willing to alienate Bernie’s backers. The dismissive barbs and put-downs from the wealthier and older Democrats have been relentless and nasty. It’s as they don’t know or care that they will want and even need millions of Sanders’ backers to follow his call for them to vote for the Lesser Evil – Hillary and not Trump or Cruz or some other terrible Republican – in November. Sometimes it seems like they’re almost daring Bernie’s fans to reject his promised counsel to them: vote for the eventual Democratic nominee (the delegate math still says Hillary) in November. That strikes me as a little stupid and way too optimistic about their ability to kiss and make up with Sanders’ base during and after the Democratic National Convention.

The Game of Lesser Evils

Here a Clinton fan who follows my writing (if such a person exists) might object that I too have been harshly critical and sometimes even downright mean-spirited in my writings on Sanders and his campaign. I am guilty as charged and fairly unrepentant about it (okay, I may have gone a little overboard at times). But there’s a big difference: my critiques have come from well to Sanders’s left, from a perspective that rejects the notion that progressive change can be achieved through the Democratic Party and indeed through the U.S. party system and electoral process as currently constituted. I don’t have any horses in the interminable major party U.S. candidate-centered election spectacle and I do not go for Lesser Evil politics. I have never been remotely impressed by Bernie’s promise from the outset to back Hillary in the general election, with no conditions attached. And I concur with something that the brilliant law professor Michelle Alexander wrote in The Nation (no left-radical magazine) last February:

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

“Of course, the idea of building a new political party terrifies most progressives, who understandably fear that it would open the door for a right-wing extremist to get elected. So we play the game of lesser evils. This game has gone on for decades. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent scholar and co-founder of the NAACP, shocked many when he refused to play along with this game in the 1956 election, defending his refusal to vote on the grounds that ‘there is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I do or say.’ While the true losers and winners of this game are highly predictable, the game of lesser evils makes for great entertainment and can now be viewed 24 hours a day on cable-news networks…”

Last week’s he said-she said Bernie Hillary spat was certainly part of the rolling cable entertainment package.

Contrary to a standard narrative among my fellow left radicals, the Republican and Democratic parties are not identical and indistinguishable. They are, however, “two wings of the same [corporate and imperial] bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904) and, as such, they both deserve to perish. The Republican Party is currently undergoing epic factional implosion. Good. Let the Bad Cop party die. And let its demise be followed by the collapse of the Still But Less Bad Cop party, itself caught in a perverse relationship of dialectical co-dependency with the rightmost political organization. It’s long past time for a viable Left party and for a new party and elections system that might U.S. electoral politics worthy of passionate citizen engagement.

True Blue Bernie

Second, I find it fascinating that Clinton would question Sanders’ identity as a “real Democrat.” As her top advisors certainly know, Bernie’s “independent” status over the years has only been slightly less nominal than his declared “socialism.” He has Caucused for more than 15 years with the Democrats in Congress. He holds de facto Democratic Party seniority status for Congressional committee assignments. He has conspired with Democrats against serious left third party efforts in his home state of Vermont. His platform is in accord with progressive Democratic Party liberalism in the long New Deal tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. He’s a true blue Democrat in the tradition of my liberal grandparents and parents. What’s really going on is that for the Clintons and their neoliberal ilk, a “real Democrat” now is a party member who embraces the rightward, Big Business-friendly turn that the party took ever further away from labor, civil rights, and environmentalism in the late 1970s and 1980s. The turn was partly trail-blazed by the Yale Law graduates Bill and Hillary in Arkansas. It amounted to a reconfiguration of the mainstream Democratic Party as essentially and at best moderate Republicanism in the mode of the smiling Dwight Eisenhower and the snarling Richard Nixon.

Hillary is Eminently Qualified in “The Hidden Primary of the Ruling Class”

Third – and this something that I would very much like to see Bernie’s young and in-motion supporters wrestle with – Sanders got something very important very wrong for two days in Philadelphia. Sure, it sounded cool and progressive when he said that Hillary’s backing by super-wealthy elites and her support for neoliberal trade agreements and her vote for terrible imperial things like the invasion of Iraq make her unqualified for the U.S. presidency. But the opposite is true. It is precisely those and other terrible, power-serving attributes that make Mrs. Clinton deeply qualified for the presidency. The incisive left historian Laurence Shoup explained things very well in Z Magazine eight years ago:

“Every four years many Americans put their hopes in an electoral process, hopes that a savior can be elected—someone who will make their daily lives more livable, someone who will raise wages, create well-paying jobs, enforce union rights, provide adequate health care, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and end war and militarism. In actuality, the leading ‘electable’ presidential candidates have all been well vetted by the hidden primary of the ruling class and are tied to corporate power in multiple ways. They will stay safely within the bounds set by those who rule America behind the scenes, making sure that members of the plutocracy continue to be the main beneficiaries of the system…It is clear that, at best, U.S. ‘democracy’ is a guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population objects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process.”

As Edward S. Herman and David Peterson noted seven years ago, “an unelected dictatorship of money vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime.”

A longstanding member of “Wall Street’s think tank” (Shoup)The Council of Foreign Relations (which pushed for and backed the arch-criminal invasion of Iraq), Hillary Clinton is perhaps the ultimate example of a candidate who has been vetted by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of empire.

“Populist Rhetoric is Good Politics”

Does she deceive, pretending as numerous Sanders supporters complain, to be a progressive and even a populist friend of everyday working people? Yes, of course she does. That’s the game. Welcome to the machine! Fifteen years ago, the then still left Christopher Hitchens published a short and pungent study of Bill and Hillary Clinton titled No One Left to Lie to: The Values of the Worst Family. The book’s first chapter, titled “Triangulation,” contained a memorable passage that summarized the duplicitous “essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism. That elite is most successful,” Hitchens noted, “which can claim the heartiest allegiance of the fickle crowd; can present itself as most ‘in touch’ with popular concerns; can anticipate the tides and pulses of public opinion; can, in short, be the least apparently ‘elitist.’ It is no great distance from Huey Long’s robust cry of ‘Every man a king’ to the insipid ‘inclusiveness’ of [Bill Clinton’s slogan] ‘Putting People First,’ but the smarter elite managers have learned in the interlude that solid, measurable pledges have to be distinguished by a reserve’ tag that earmarks them for the bankrollers and backers. They have also learned that it can be imprudent to promise voters too much.”

Nobody understands this harsh reality better, perhaps, than Hillary’s big supporters in reigning high finance. A report in the widely read insider online Washington political journal Politico last spring bore a perfectly Hitchensian title: “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…Indeed, many of the financial-sector donors supporting her just-declared presidential campaign say they’ve been expecting all along the moment when Clinton would start calling out hedge fund managers and decrying executive pay — right down to the complaints from critics that such arguments are rich coming from someone who recently made north of $200,000 per speech and who has been close to Wall Street since her days representing it as a senator from New York.”

One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm even told Politico that Hillary’s politically unavoidable 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. The fact is, if she didn’t say this stuff now she would be open to massive attacks from the left, and would have to say even more dramatic stuff later.”

These reflections from “liberal” elites atop the “unelected dictatorship” speak volumes about the nation’s descent into abject plutocracy and the limits of progressive change permitted under elections and through parties subject to “the hidden primary of the ruling class.” They are also a monument to the continuing relevance of Hitchens’ properly cynical take on the manipulative “essence of U.S. [electoral and major party] politics.”

“A Serious Error”

Solutions to this sorry state of affairs are not going to be found in electoral politics and certainly not through the Democratic Party. They are going to be won first of all through a politics that (to paraphrase Howard Zinn) is about who’s sitting in the streets (and the workplaces, town-halls, campuses, offices, etc.) not about who’s sitting in the White House or Congress or the Governors’ mansion.

Here’s the best thing Bernie Sanders has said on the campaign trail. Last summer he told Wisconsin progressives the following:

“This campaign is not about Bernie Sanders. It is not about Hillary Clinton. It is about you. It is about putting together a grassroots movement of millions and millions of people who stand together and make it clear that we need fundamental changes in the economics and politics of this country so that government works for all of us and not a handful. We need an unprecedented grassroots movement. A politically conscious grassroots movement. The big money interests, Wall Street, corporate America, all these guys have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse. And this is what this campaign is about. A political revolution in America, a revolution which takes on the greed of Wall Street and corporate America.”

Those are great sentiments. I’ll ignore for now the fact that we desperately need an at once social and environmental anti-capitalist revolution, not merely a social-democratic political revolution. For God knows we need to roll back – overthrow I would say – the power of Wall Street and corporate America in the current Hellish New Gilded Age of savage inequality and abject plutocracy. But what does the call for a great populist and organized grassroots movement have to do with electoral campaigning for a major party presidential candidate? Not much. As the leading U.S. left intellectual Noam Chomsky noted nearly 12 years ago, on the eve of the 2004 presidential election:

“Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centers of power can’t ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…sensible [electoral] choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome” (emphasis added).

Chomsky’s sentiments were echoed four years later by his good friend Howard Zinn, who reflected on the “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left.” It was nothing new, he observed:

“the election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls… And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. … But before and after those two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

How is Bernie doing when it comes to fostering this deeper politics of the streets, workplaces, and neighborhoods beneath and beyond the “quadrennial electoral extravaganza”? Last Fall, Chomsky was not impressed. In a teleSur English interview that progressive Democrats misleadingly touted as a ringing endorsement of Sanders’ campaign, he said the following:

“Take, say, the Bernie Sanders campaign, which I think is important, impressive. He’s doing good and courageous things. He’s organizing a lot of people. That campaign ought to be directed to sustaining a popular movement that will use the election as a kind of an incentive and then go on, and unfortunately it’s not. When the election’s over, the movement is going to die. And that’s a serious error. The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle. It’s an extravaganza every four years.” (emphasis added).

A Mediterranean radical has a different take from the heart of European antiquity. By his analysis in a recent email, “the Sanders campaign and more importantly the movement being organized around it, in my humble opinion IS one of the most important political events happening on the planet right now…. I sincerely believe that Bernie Sanders does genuinely want to build a social justice, progressive political movement that begins to contest elections as well as doing social movement or civil society work, so I don’t think this will fall apart like Jesse Jackson’s electoralist Rainbow Coalition after the primaries.”

He believes that on the basis of what? Faith. Well, there’s nothing wrong with faith, properly situated in reality. Who knows: maybe 2016 is different and can deliver a great popular sociopolitical movement dividend beyond “electoralism” for Chomsky’s “serious political action,” beneath and beyond “electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome.” It is up to us to learn how to think and seriously act beyond the American ballot box, once described by the radical historian Alan Dawley as “the coffin of class consciousness.”

Concession and Revolution Hopes

These are things it would be useful to hear Sanders talk about when he has to make his concession speech and tell his supporters the candidate he recently and incorrectly described as “not qualified” for the corporate-imperial U.S. presidency. I hope he can resist the party pressure to help Hillary play the Hitchensian game by selling her as some kind of fighting progressive champion. Hillary Clinton is a status quo neoliberal oligarch and a dangerous, arch-imperial war monger (who describes the mass-murderous Henry Kissinger as a friend of peace and democracy) to boot. If Bernie must, as pledged, endorse her – and he absolutely will, of course – then let him endorse her as the Lesser Evil (let him actually use that phrase) and let him mention the importance of people developing a great grassroots social movement not merely as an adjunct to major party electoral politics (or as a follow up to a presidential election) but as something to function and fight independently of the election cycle and to struggle (this is certainly asking too much of the not-very-radical Sanders) as an agent of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called near the end of his life the “real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters: “the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

At the same time, I hope that Bernie’s many young and turned on, in-motion supporters would not have to get the word from Sanders or any other politician to move in that radical direction. Bernie has been tapping and riding their egalitarian energy and anger this year, trying to harness it to the outwardly kinder and smarter wing of Upton Sinclair’s “bird of prey.” But Sanders did not create the terrible economic inequality, abject plutocracy, endemic precarity, endless war, and the related unfolding environmental catastrophe that underlies and fuels that energy and anger. The profits system (which Sanders has endorsed) did all that. It is the horrific and soulless performance and essence of capitalism – and not just of neoliberalism (which is really just capitalism returning to its savagely unequal, authoritarian, and repressive long duree norm) by the way – that has made millions of young (and other) Americans so newly open to the words “democratic socialism” and “revolution.” Capitalism and its evil twin imperialism are the enemies that can never be named and properly joined together by major party politicos, including Bernie Sanders. But we the people, the workers and citizens, are different. We are not politicians and we can name, fight, and overthrow those enemies. And we must before an uncontested profits system brings about the common ruin of all.

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

People Over For-Profit Prisons

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, April 8, 2016

It’s understandable that United States progressives have been caught up in the national quadrennial electoral extravaganza this year. This is no ordinary election season. On the right side of the two party system we have the bizarre, possibly dangerous Donald Trump phenomenon and a potential Republican meltdown at the GOP’s national convention this summer. On the left side we have a remarkable progressive insurgency in the name of the “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders. He has tapped the anger of young and white working class voters to challenge the depressing status quo neoliberal Hillary Clinton.

At the same time, however, the delegate math and the smart money still point to a dismal, imperial Hillary presidency and progressives would do well to remember that national, candidate-centered presidential politics isn’t the only politics that matters. Beneath and beyond the national, candidate-centered major party and big media election spectacle, whatever its outcome, there remains the arguably more important politics of grassroots popular organizing and movement-building around issues that matter within and beyond local communities.

The GEO Group: Turning Mass Incarceration Into Gold

One particularly inspiring and instructive example of such people’s activism can be found in the predominantly Black city of Gary, Indiana. A multiracial and multi-ethnic coalition there has been engaged in a remarkable struggle with a powerful private, for-profit prison corporation. The company, GEO Group (hereafter “GEO”) owes its name to George Zoley, its founder and CEO, once described by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) as “America’s Highest Paid ‘Corrections Officer.” Boasting an annual revenue of $1.7 billion, GEO stands in the odious vanguard of the global mass imprisonment state with a distinctively white-supremacist and English-speaking taste for locking down people of color. It manages 104 human warehousing and lock-up facilities, with 87,000 beds and 20,500 employees across four countries: the United States. the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa. Nearly two-thirds (64) of its prisons are located in the U.S., the disparate mass incarceration capital of the world and home to roughly a quarter of the planet’s prisoners – most of them Black and Latino.

Formerly known as “Wackenhut,” the Florida-based GEO is the nation’s second largest private prison firm after Corrections Corporations of America (CCA). It describes itself as “the first fully-integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, development, financing, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities worldwide.” Zoley “earns” $1.5 million a month on the backs of taxpayers, under-paid workers, and of course, inmates – the critical dehumanized raw material for “correctional” profits.

Since its founding 32 years ago, GEO Group has turned the racist nightmare of mass incarceration into gold, pushing “law and order” and nativist prison-state policies while crafting deals that charge government (taxpayers) for empty beds. As CMD reported two and a half years ago:

“the GEO Group has profited from federal and state policies that have led to a dramatic rise in incarceration and detention in the United States – an increase of more than 500 percent over the past three decades. In recent years, with crime rates dropping and sentencing reform spreading, GEO Group has found a new way to keep its profits high: many of its contracts contain bed guarantees or ‘lock up quotas’ that require that a state keep prisons full, and put taxpayers on the hook for empty beds….For many years GEO Group participated in the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that pushed bills that lengthened time in prison, such as so-called ‘truth-in-sentencing’ and ‘three strikes’ legislation, as models for states to adopt across the nation. Today, locking up non-violent illegal immigrants is a new profit center for the firm.”

Currently more than half of the United States’ immigrant detention beds fall under the for-profit management of GEO.

“A Long Rap Sheet of Abuse and Neglect”

That’s a distressing fact since the company that has what the leading criminal justice reform group Grassroots Leadership (GL) calls “a long rap sheet of abuse, neglect, and misconduct inside its facilities.” An in-depth CMD investigation found that “the company’s cost-cutting strategies lead to a vicious cycle where lower wages and benefits for workers, high employee turnover, insufficient training, and under-staffing results in poor oversight and mistreatment of detained persons, increased violence, and riots.” A fall 2014 GL report detailed GEO’s ghoulish track record, which includes repeated incidents of death-in-custody, overcrowding, denial of medical care, extreme isolation, beatings, and de facto slave labor. In 2012 a federal district judge described conditions in a GEO juvenile detention center in Walnut Grove, Mississippi as “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.” At Walnut Grove as in other GEO Hellholes, juvenile prisoners were endemically raped and pitted against one another in “gladiator-style fights.”

Conditions became so terrible that more than a thousand immigrant prisoners undertook repeated hunger strikes in a GEO detention center in Tacoma, Washington in 2014. As GL reported, “The first hunger strike began on March 7, 2014 at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. It was a massive resistance involving 1,200 people that lasted 56 days. The strike drew international media attention and prompted Rep. Adam Smith to introduce legislation that sought to improve conditions inside detention centers.”

One of the many disturbances that have erupted in GEO facilities took place in the Central Indiana town of New Castle Indiana nine years ago. Local police and fire departments were called in along with Indiana State Police to quell an uprising sparked when the New Castle police chief tried to discipline prisoners who had just been transported against their will from Arizona (in accord with a “memorandum of understanding” between the company and Arizona’s governor.) The prisoners had been selected for transport for being non-violent and compliant with GEO’s regulations. They were being absurdly punished for obeying the rules. Had they been less obedient in Arizona, they would not have been shipped across the country like chattel.

The Corporate Prison Playbook

Since last fall, GEO has been trying to secure municipal approval to build a sprawling, 800-bed immigrant detention center across the street from Gary’s badly underused airport. In Gary as elsewhere, the company has followed the usual corporate prison playbook: target an economically stressed community and promise “jobs and development.”

It must have figured that the savagely deindustrialized and 84 percent Black city of Gary was a perfect mark. Thirty-two miles south of Chicago, the former leading steelmaking town is plagued by an astronomical poverty rate of 39 percent and a mind-boggling child poverty measure of 61%. “To call Gary a struggling city,” journalist Casey Tolan wrote last December, “is to put it lightly. You can drive down blocks here where every single house is vacant, burned out, or gaping open behind smashed windows. Broadway, the main drag, is lined with big, handsome brick buildings that have every window boarded up.”

It’s a Dickensian, Rust Belt disaster zone on par with Detroit and Camden, New Jersey. The city has lost more than half its population over the last four decades. That’s a big part of why it has an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 abandoned homes, a quarter of its housing stock – a remarkable number in a city of 80,000.

Meanwhile, federal immigration officials in Chicago are already quietly flying detained immigrants back to Mexico on chartered jets leaving from the Gary airport. By GEO’s calculation, the building of a sizeable federal immigrant detention center was overdue in the broad Chicago area.

“We Decided That it was a Moral Issue”

For these and other reasons, GEO probably figured that expansion to Gary would be a slam dunk. If so, GEO was mistaken. When it came with its proposal to the job-starved, poverty-ridden city last fall, the city’s Black Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was initially supportive. She hailed the boost the projected facility would deliver to the city’s tax base and the 200 jobs it would bring. Those are the standard “public-private partnership” promises.

But then things quickly fell apart for GEO. The prison firm’s Gary profit dreams were dashed by people’s power. The proposal was shot down within a mere twelve days after it was announced. GEO’s plan needed approval from the Gary City Council’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). On November 10th, roughly 100 people crowded into BZA’s hearing room, “chanting slogans and waving signs. The day after the raucous protest,” Tolan reported, “the mayor announced that she had changed her mind and now opposed the proposal. And a few days later, GEO withdrew its request to rezone the property to allow a prison facility.”

GEO was defeated by a diverse protest movement organized by Black activists and clergy, including an exemplary, left-led Black Lives Matter chapter. Together, the multiracial and multi-ethnic Northwest Indiana Interfaith Federation (NIIF), BLM, and a local anti-prison group called 219MIGHT (short for “219 Mass Incarceration GEO Halt Team” [219 being the area code for Northwest Indiana]) raised moral and practical objections to the scheme.

The company’s “strategy was that they thought that Black people would not care,” said Reverend Cheryl Rivera, the NIIF’s Black director. “But the destiny of brown people and black people and disparaged communities are inextricably linked and intertwined,” Rivera added. “We decided that it was a moral issue…The most morally reprehensible thing for me was that it could be even considered in a place like Gary, where 90% of the population is black – that we would even think of being involved with anything that would target black and brown people.”

“We advocate for an end to the criminalization of people,” said local BLM leader Alicia Nunn last fall. Nunn connected the issue with which BLM is mostly strongly associated – racist police shootings – to the broader human rights problem of racist mass arrest and imprisonment: “Mass incarceration goes right along with police brutality…and you’re dealing with a company that has a nine-page rap sheet of human rights violations.”

Practical Political-Economy Considerations

In defeating the project, the Gary activists pointed to the many disturbances sparked by GEO’s exploitative practices. The anti-GEO coalition ran picket lines outside city meetings where the proposal was considered. It distributed news reports on previous complaints and protests at GEO facilities.

Activists also noted that Gary taxpayers would be on the hook to compensate GEO for empty cells and beds. They publicized GEO’s low-wage policies and the terrible conditions endured by both GEO staff and GEO inmates. They noted that few of the jobs promised to Gary would go to local residents (many if not most of whom will be disqualified for consideration by credit and criminal background checks along with other barriers) and that considerable public resources were likely to be spent on handling problems resulting from the proposed facility. The coalition told local citizens that the jobs created wouldn’t be all that good, wouldn’t be all that available to Gary residents, and wouldn’t be worth the costs.

The costs include the branding of Gary as “a prison city.” That’s a poor match for local real estate and commercial interests who are trying to refashion Gary as a Lake Michigan beach town suitable for middle-class summer excursions.

Even the local building trades unions were persuaded not to support the GEO proposal since the company would build its proposed facility with prefabricated materials brought in from out of state.

A Return Engagement

It was a remarkable and rapid local victory for people’s power, human rights, and moral economy over the soulless agenda of a leading private component of the national and global prison-industrial complex – a company that makes its profits from “the criminalization of people” (Nunn). But it’s not over. It never is. After a recent failed attempt to purchase land (under a different name) for a detention complex name in the nearby town of Hobart, GEO is back, knocking again at Gary’s public doors. The global corporation has found a new local ally: the city’s new specially selected (not elected) council member Herb Smith. A conservative black “law and order” advocate, Smith was granted his seat by the Lake County Democratic Party after a sitting council member resigned last February.

Smith is a longstanding Gary bail bondsman. He is also a full-fledged member of the private prison-industrial complex since he is the owner of ICU Monitoring, an “electronic monitoring and offender management” firm in nearby Merrillville, Indiana. He’s a certified public-private ankle-monitor capitalist and his company, ICU, is suspected of having a contractual relationship with GEO.

Three nights ago, the unelected ankle-shackler smirked while activists chanted “No GEO” during a packed city council meeting

Three days ago, 219MIGHT activist Sam Love reports, a GEO representative interviewed by a prison booster on local radio admitted that the company currently lacks any contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a facility in Northwest Indiana. If a GEO detention center goes up without an ICE contract, the city’s taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for every empty bed.

Love gives an accurate translation for the GEO’s standard neoliberal “public-private partnership” rhetoric that GEO and its local allies have used in pushing for an immigrant lock-up facility in Gary: “profit will be privatized and capitalized while the costs and misery will be socialized.”

At a ZBA meeting next Tuesday, GEO will ask again for a change from “industrial” to “commercial” zoning on land across from the city’s airport. The change is required if the company is going to be permitted to expand its noxious reach into Gary. The meeting will be held at Gary City Hall, 401 Broadway, at 3 pm on Tuesday, April 12.

The company and its local government allies seem confident of success. According to the Gary City Council GEO will be hosting an “informational meeting” at the Glen Theatre, 20 W, Ridge Road, on April 29th at 5:30 pm.

However one might be voting or not in the US. presidential sweepstakes this year, concerned citizens and activists in the region are strongly encouraged to attend both events. The great democratic and disruptive power of dedicated, day-to-day popular, grassroots organization and protest is required to block GEO in Gary. It’s also required to undo the broader national crime of mass incarceration and countless other terrible elite projects (e.g. the Bakken Pipeline in Iowa) in the current New Gilded Age of savagely unequal, racist, and heavy-handed, arch-repressive neoliberal capitalism.

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

Disrespecting Obama

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, April 6, 2016

A Rap Sheet Fades Behind the Extravaganza

I wonder if anyone is enjoying the current endless quadrennial presidential electoral extravaganza more than Barack Obama. With the United States’ corporate-managed media and politics culture fixated on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, the Republican National Committee, Ted Cruz, and even sometimes the nominal socialist Bernie Sanders, Obama’s ongoing criminal record on behalf of corporate rule and American Empire has gone under the radar like no time in recent memory.

Beneath the hoopla over who will sit in the Oval Office in 2017, it becomes all too easy to forget that the current occupant persists in serial killing Muslims with a far-flung Drone War that Noam Chomsky has aptly described as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.” Also nudged to the margins of public attention is Obama’s continuing quest to secure final passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a blatantly arch-corporatist, eco-cidal, regressive, and authoritarian measure that is disliked by the majority of the U.S. populace (all four of the top presidential candidates, including even its onetime leading champion Hilary Clinton, are technically opposed to the TPP because of popular dissatisfaction with such “free trade’ [investor rights] measures.)

It’s consistent with the neoliberal Obama’s long record of lending fake-progressive assistance to the rich and powerful. His championing of the TPP fits the profile of his long ruling class rap sheet. It matches his mega bailout and his ongoing political and fiscal protection of the leading, arch-parasitic financial institutions that crashed the economy and crafted a business-rule-as-usual “recovery” for profits over people. It corresponds with his so-called Affordable Care Act, a blatant negation of longstanding majority U.S. support for national single-payer health insurance. As with his recent arrogant lecture to the Cuban people in Havana, the nation’s “first Black president” seems determined to serve the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire until last days in office.

All of this is quite consistent with the real and “deeply conservative” Obama that serious investigators of the Obama phenomenon understood before his election to the presidency. That description of Obama belongs to the liberal journalist and New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar in the spring of 2007. “In his view of history, in his respect for tradition, in his skepticism that the world can be changed any way but very, very slowly,” MacFarquhar wrote after extensive interviews with candidate Obama in May of 2007, “Obama is deeply conservative. There are moments when he sounds almost Burkean…It’s not just that he thinks revolutions are unlikely: he values continuity and stability for their own sake, sometimes even more than he values change for the good.” MacFarquhar cited as an example of this reactionary sentiment Obama’s reluctance to embrace single-payer health insurance on the Canadian model, which he told her would “so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” Obama told MacFarquhar that “we’ve got all these legacy systems in place, and managing the transition, as well as adjusting the culture to a different system, would be difficult to pull off. So we may need a system that’s not so disruptive that people feel like suddenly what they’ve known for most of their lives is thrown by the wayside.” So what if large popular majorities in the U.S. had long favored the single-payer model? So what if single payer would let people keep the doctors of their choice, only throwing away the protection pay off to the private insurance mafia? So what if “the legacy systems” Obama defended included corporate insurance and pharmaceutical oligopolies that regularly threw millions of American lives by the wayside of market calculation, causing enormous disruptive harm and death for the populace?

Betraying Black Voters

Few Americans beneath the 1% have benefitted much from Obama’s seven years in office. The absence of tangible gains for non-affluent Americans is especially glaring in Black America, which turned out for Obama in record numbers in 2008 and 2012. Black median family income under Obama has fallen by one fifth. Black home ownership has declined and the Black-white wealth gap has risen. In 2009, white households were seven times richer than black households. Now, white households are eight times wealthier. Deep and deadly racial bias remains endemic across the nation’s giant, globally unmatched criminal (in)justice system of mass surveillance, arrest, imprisonment, and felony branding.

Adding insult to injury, white Americans habitually point to Obama’s presidency as final proof (for them) that anti-Black racism no longer poses serious barriers to Black advancement and equality. Countless Caucasians have told me “Hey, the President of the United States is Black, okay? Stop talking about race!” Never mind that racism, seriously understood, is about how the nation’s core day-to-day institutions (the labor market, the housing market, the education system, the criminal justice system, etc.) and social structures function, not simply a matter of counting racial faces in high places. Never mind that the “Black but not like Jesse” Obama’s ascendancy depended on pleasing the white majority by not offending its delicate racial sensibilities and on running with a deceptive “post-racial” narrative that provided cover for the persistence of societal and structural racism. Never mind that Obama has barely lifted a finger as president to confront the nation’s profoundly entrenched institutional racism. Or that the United States’ first half-white president has continued his nasty Black-bourgeois and white-pleasing habit of giving lower and working class Black Americans noxious neoliberal lectures on their own supposed personal and cultural responsibility for their disproportionate presence at the bottom of the nation’s savagely steep socioeconomic pyramids.

“Tired of Seeing Obama Disrespected”

For these and other reasons, “I’m [also] Ready,” to quote a recent essay by the Black philosophy professor and university diversity coordinator Lawrence Ware, “For President Obama to Leave the White House.” My reasons are somewhat different than Ware’s, however. Ware is understandably disgusted at the white racism that Obama, “the most disrespected president in American history,” has confronted. The affronts have been egregious, from the wacky white Birthers who questioned Obama’s national origins to the southern white Congressman (Joe Wilson) who shouted “You Lie” during a State of the Union Address, to the white Daily Caller reporter who heckled the president in the Rose Garden, and the former white New York City Mayor (the ridiculous Rudy Guliani) who complained that Obama “wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” Now we have the spectacle of a white Republican Senate Judiciary Committee that refuses to hold confirmation hearings or even to meet with the moderate Republican white male that Obama nominated to replace the recently deceased right-wing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

“It is clear that no matter how high you rise, no matter what office you hold, no matter how hard you work,” Ware writes, “if you are black, many will view and treat you like a second-class citizen…I’m tired of seeing President Obama blatantly disrespected, and my soul is weary from having to see him grin and bear it. I’m ready for President Obama to be free from the burden of having to perform for white supremacy – and I’m ready to be free from the burden of having to watch him do it.”

A Vacuous-to-Repressive Neoliberal President

Now, of course, the insults and denigration that Obama has received from malevolent white Republican reactionaries and idiots like Joe Wilson (R-SC), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Charles Grassley (R-IA) and the leading Birther Donald Trump have been repellent. They are racist and vile and deserve repudiation from all decent progressives. At the same time, however, Leftists of all colors have always had some very good reasons to hold Obama in flaming contempt and to look forward to his coming helicopter flight off the grounds of the White House (in nine months and fifteen days). These reasons have nothing to do with racism and everything to do with the fake-progressive poseur Obama’s power-serving conservativism, including his conservativism on race. They go back well before Obama’s presidency and indeed prior to his emergence on the national scene. Listen to the Black left political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr’s description of the future president in The Village Voice just after Obama won his initial election to the Illinois Senate:

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

How was that for a dead-on advance look at what would be the basic nature of Obama’s political career up through his presidency? Ten years later, the investigative journalist Ken Silverstein examined “the smooth Harvard lawyer” on the eve of Obama’s presidential campaign “It’s not always clear what Obama’s financial backers want,” Ken Silverstein noted in a Harpers’ Magazine report titled “Obama, Inc.,” “but it seems safe to conclude that his campaign contributors are not interested merely in clean government and political reform…On condition of anonymity,” Silverstein added, “one Washington lobbyist I spoke with was willing to point out the obvious: that big donors would not be helping out Obama if they didn’t see him as a ‘player.’ The lobbyist added: ‘What’s the dollar value of a starry-eyed idealist?’”

Disrespect Obama? You’re damn right, from the anti-racist portside. Read the pages of the Black-run and militantly anti-racist radical zine Black Agenda Report (BAR) from its origins in 2006 on. There you will find a large number of essays and commentaries detailing Obama’s allegiance and service to each of what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the triple evils that are interrelated”: white supremacy; economic injustice (capitalism); and U.S.-imperial militarism. Countless such reflections and reports can be found across progressive media, all written by non- and anti-racists. My own early books, talks, and essays (many of the last category appeared on BAR) on and against the Obama phenomenon and presidency followed my five-year stint as the director of a leading anti-racist research department in Chicago.

O.J.Bama? Some Curious Parallels

Lately, watching the B-minus FOX cable series on the O.J. Simpson trial, I’ve been struck by similarities between Obama and Simpson. Please, super-PC liberal identitarians, do not misunderstand me. I am aware that Simpson is a vicious thug (the National Football League’s brutal, brain-wrecking sport may have something to do with that) who savagely murdered his wife and her friend Ron Goldman, whereas Obama is a refined Harvard Law graduate who published a semi-eloquent coming-of-age memoir, worked as a community organizer, taught Constitutional Law, sat on liberal foundation boards, and entered electoral politics. Obama is by all indications an unusually decent president in his private and personal life, like Jimmy Carter. It is preposterous to imagine him stabbing anyone to death in a fit of jealous rage.

But the parallels are real. I’ll mention five. First, like the 1980s and 1990s O.J. brand prior to the famous double murder, the Brand Obama that arose in 2004 depended on a Black personality’s cross-racial popularity with whites, informed by a sense that the hero in question wasn’t really all that Black and was therefore unthreatening to the racially skittish and thin-skinned white majority.

Second, like O.J. after his emergence as a star athlete, Obama has never had all that much allegiance or strong connection to the Black community. Simpson lived in the tony white West Side Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood, where he killed his white ex-wife, and hung out mainly with white friends like Robert Kardashian. O.J. was initially taken aback by his race-conscious Black lawyer Johnnie Cochran’s determination to “play the race card” in the Simpson murder trial. “I’m not Black,” Simpson protested, “I’m O.J.!”

Obama for his part came from a relatively privileged white family in Hawaii and climbed up through the predominantly white and elite Ivy League institutions of Columbia University and Harvard Law. Even as a state senator representing a Black majority district on the South Side of Chicago (while living and working as a professor in the upper middle class and integrated neighborhood of Hyde Park-Kenwood [my own childhood neighborhood], he was remarkably unpopular in Black Chicago, where he was seen as “too white,” “too Ivy League,” too University of Chicago (where he taught as a highly paid adjunct), and too connected to predominantly white downtown corporate interests and pseudo-liberal do-gooder foundations. The U.S. Congressman and former Black Panther Bobby Rush exploited these sentiments to crush Obama when the future president challenged Rush for his supermajority Black South Side congressional district in 2000.

During his rise to the U.S. Senate and then the presidency, Obama relied heavily on the support of wealthy white funders including his good Zionist friend Lester Crown, a Forbes 400 capitalist and chairman of the Chicago Commercial Club and the imperial Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He did everything he could to disassociate himself from “excessive Blackness” and from the cause of racial justice, deeply understood, in his Senate and presidential campaigns. As president, Obama has done nothing, or next to it, to repay Black Americans for the flood of identity-politicized support they gave him after he emerged as a state-(Illinois-) wide and national political force in 2003 and 2004.

Third, as with O.J., Obama’s lack of any special concern for Black America (the actual existence of which Obama denied in the Democratic National Convention speech that made him an overnight celebrity in the summer of 2004[1]) has not stopped Team Obama from garnering benefits from the simple fact of the president’s skin color. O.J. got away with murder thanks to a brilliantly executed racial strategy in the legal and public courtrooms. For his part, Obama’s race helped motivate millions of voters (including droves of liberal white voters) to mark ballots of him with little or any regard for his deeply conservative, power-serving essence and record. It has also made liberals, progressives, and even some leftists unduly unwilling and unable to speak, write, and even think clearly about and against “our Black president’s” bottomless loyalty to concentrated wealth and power. Along the way, Team Obama has not been above deploying a certain amount of manufactured Blackness – a key part of the Simpson team’s trial strategy – to provide cover for his underlying fidelity to white-supremacist power structures.

Fourth, both O.J. and Obama represent in their own different ways the triumph of private over public power in the neoliberal era. The public prosecutors’ office that tried to send Simpson away for a ferocious double murder was outmatched by the well-heeled private defense team that the millionaire ex-athlete was able to assemble. More than two decades later an Obama administration that was staffed by Wall Street agents would give the nation what the liberal columnist William Greider would memorably call “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched,” Greider wrote, “Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want itAnd little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to ask “where’s my bailout?

“A Killer” – and “Good at” it

Fifth, Obama, like OJ and like all U.S. presidents before him, is a murderer – and this of course on a much larger scale than Simpson.

“Peace prize? He’s a killer.” So said a young Pashtun man to an Al Jazeera English reporter on December 10, 2009, the day that Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize by some very silly white people in Norway. “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. “Why are they giving Obama a peace medal?” another village resident asked. “He claims to want to bring security to us but he brings only death. Death to him.”

Al Jazeera also went to the Afghan village of Bola Boluk, where a U.S. bombing butchered dozens of civilians the previous spring. “He doesn’t deserve the award,” a young woman said. “He bombed us and left us with nothing, not even a home”

Obama had blasted her village in May of 2009. In the first week of that month, the president’s air-strikes killed well more than 100 noncombatants in Bola Boluk, located in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province. Ninety-three of the dead villagers torn apart by U.S. explosives were children. Just 22 were males 18 years or older. As the New York Times reported:

“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 response of Obama’s Pentagon to this horrific incident – one among many such mass U.S. aerial killings in Afghanistan before and since – was like something one might expect from the totalitarian, U.S.- and Western Europe-backed Paul Kagame dictatorship in Rwanda. It was to absurdly blame the civilian deaths on “Taliban grenades.” While Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed “regret” about the loss of innocent life, neither she nor Obama would issue an apology or acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the blasting apart of civilian bodies in Farah Province. The United States, Obama has said both as a U.S. Senator and as president, should not apologize for its “mistakes” (that is, its crimes). This, he explains, is because the United States is “an enormous force for good in the world,” one that prefers to “look forward,” not “backwards.”

The child-killing Obama administration struck again, execution-style, at the end of 2009 in Ghazi Khan, a village in eastern Afghanistan. As the Times of London reported on December 31st, 2009:

“American-led troops…yesterday…dragg[ed] innocent children from their beds and shooting them during a night raid that left ten people dead. Afghan government investigators said that eight schoolchildren were killed, all but one of them from the same family. Locals said that some victims were handcuffed before being killed…In a telephone interview last night, the headmaster [of the local school] said that the victims were asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived. ‘Seven students were in one room,’ said Rahman Jan Ehsas. ‘A student and one guest were in another room, a guest room, and a farmer was asleep with his wife in a third building. First the foreign troops entered the guest room and shot two of them. Then they entered another room and handcuffed the seven students. Then they killed them. Abdul Khaliq [the farmer] heard shooting and came outside. When they saw him they shot him as well. He was outside. That’s why his wife wasn’t killed.’ A local elder, Jan Mohammed, said that three boys were killed in one room and five were handcuffed before they were shot. ‘I saw their school books covered in blood,’ he said.”

But all this was just a small foretaste of further carnage to come courtesy of the new Nobel Peace laureate. Obama’s body count has risen considerably from those early days, thanks primarily to his drone campaign, which has killed many thousands across the Muslim world from Somalia and Yemen to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The president’s victims have included European doctors with Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) targeted by a US AC-130 Gunship that killed 30 physicians and patients in the Afghan town of Kunduz last October. Thanks to the large number of white European professionals killed in the horrific “incident” (war crime), one of Obama’s military officials had to break form and issue a formal apology in this case.

Obama’s chilling, far-flung, personally supervised, and cowardly targeted assassination program has done more than George W. Bush’s clumsy “boots on the ground” invasion of Iraq to expand the geographic scope and fervor of Islamist jihad.

It has been a source of some ironic entertainment for Obama. As the highly respected establishment journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s reported in their book Double Down: Game Change 2012, the President once joked to his aides that, thanks to the drone weapon, “it turns out I’m really good at killing people.” That’s different from Simpson, who kept insisting that he’d killed nobody (even if he did later write a book titled If I Did It) and who showed himself as less than stealthy and skillful at murder (even if his defense team and a poor prosecution helped him overcome his sloppiness at homicide).

No journalist followed up the report of Obama’s chilling “good at killing people” remark with a request for comment from Obama’s former South Side Chicago pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright – the anti-racist and anti-imperialist Black preacher who Obama threw under the bus in the name of color-blind American Exceptionalism in March of 2008. Too bad. A call to Reverend Wright have made an interesting story.

The Class One Serves: Content of Character and Color of Skin

In his famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King looked forward to the day when Americans “will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” What has Obama’s presidency revealed about his character behind his skin? Very, very little that is remotely worthy of respect and far, far more that is worthy of profound disrespect from an anti-racist Left perspective. His presidency has exposed him as being precisely what Reed, myself, John Pilger, and numerous other and multi-colored Left commentators including Bruce Dixon, Glen Ford and others at Black Agenda Report tried to tell progressives Obama was well before the candidate sent chills up liberal legs by becoming a serious Black presidential contender in the land of slavery. The Obama years have exposed him as a dedicated agent of each of the “the triple evils” wrapped in “progressive” branding and cloaked by the resistance-disabling tonic of “middle class identity politics” (Reed). That politics sustains the suspicion that the President’s critics (even his Left ones) don’t really object to his policies but are upset rather by the color of his skin. Surely when the democratic socialist King made his famous, ringing remark on character and color, he did not mean for it inhibit legitimate denunciation of a Black politician or policymaker for doing the poisonous bidding of a racist Empire and a vicious capitalist ruling class.

“What matters,” anti-colonial psychiatrist Frantz Fanon wrote 63 years ago in his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, “is not so much the color of your skin as the power you serve and the millions you betray.” Fanon was reflecting on the black African leaders who failed to serve the interests of the black masses whose national aspirations they rode to power in the post-World War II era. His formulation holds with haunting relevance to the performance of the in-power African National Congress in post-apartheid neoliberal South Africa and in its own way to the presidency of Barack Obama.

Also worth recalling are Pilger’s eloquent reflections on Obama in the summer of 2009. “The clever young man who recently made it to the White House,” Pilger told a gathering of international socialists in San Francisco, “is a very fine hypnotist, partly because it is indeed exciting to see an African American at the pinnacle of power in the land of slavery. However, this is the 21st century and race, together with gender and even class, can be very seductive tools of propaganda. For what is so often overlooked and what matters above all, is the class one serves.”

I, for one, am ready to be free of the burden of being expected to grant undue deference to a president who betrays the ideals of the great social justice and antiwar leader (King) whose bust sits behind Obama as he orders another mass-murderous and arch-terrorist drone hit somewhere in the Middle East, North Africa, or South Asia.

Hillary Playing Cards…and Maybe Losing

Now the first Black President is stealthily giving his seal of approval to his unpopular and far less charismatic successor Hillary Clinton over the considerably more well-liked and progressive Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders (who is “disappointed” by Obama’s Wall Street-pleasing domestic policies but embraces his drone war and other imperial policies). For all the “bad blood” said to exist between Obama and the Clintons, she and her husband are cut from the same exact deeply conservative “New Democrat” ideological cloth as the current U.S. president (they helped weave and dye the cloth in the 1970s and 1980s, in fact). Mrs. Clinton represents a continuation both of Wall Street-captive imperial neoliberalism and of identity politics combining with partisan politics to provide cover for that noxious policy stew. She plays the race card to keep an advantage with Black voters, subtly accusing Sanders of being racially incorrect by daring to have express some dissatisfaction with Obama’s nauseating conservatism. And of course the Clinton campaign has played the gender card against “angry white male Beniebros,” deleting the fact that Mrs. Clinton is losing among younger female Democratic voters. In four or perhaps eight more years, perhaps we will to read essays from disgruntled women and feminists on how they are ready for Hillary Clinton to leave the White House because they are tired of seeing the nation’s first female president disrespected by sexist men within and beyond Congress. The sexist and offense that these writers complain about will be real and noxious enough to merit progressive condemnation. And meanwhile, perhaps, Leftists will note that the Hillary Clinton presidency has been a disaster – an imperial and neoliberal nightmare – for millions upon millions of women (and children and men) at home and abroad. Left activists and writers will look forward to Hillary’s departure for at least not having to be suspected of sexism for daring to observe that her presidency served the nation’s unelected and combined dictatorships of class, empire, race, eco-cide, and patriarchy – what we might today call the five evils that are interrelated.

Or maybe not. The former Goldwater Girl who decided that right-wing Republicans like Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay were not true conservatives like her and her husband lacks Bill’s unmatched skill at conducting what a still left Christopher Hitchens called in 1999 “the essence of American politics”: “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” A terrible campaigner, she is much less effective than Obama and Bill at bamboozling progressives. As I write today on the morning of Tuesday, April 5th, it seems distinctly possible that Sanders’ recent string of primary victories will continue today in Wisconsin. Sanders’ seems increasingly less hopeless in New York and California, his gender and race notwithstanding. It looks like a Bernie Sanders presidency is at least as possible as a Chicago Cubs trip to the World Series this year.


1.“Now even as we speak,” Obama told delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston, “there are those who are preparing to divide us… I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

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

Second Thoughts on Bernie’s Viability

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 31, 2016

I am starting to think that I may be off base on one of my political calculations. In the course of arguing that Hillary Clinton would be more electable than Bernie Sanders in a general election contest with Donald Trump next November (whatever match-up polls may say now), I have reasoned that big corporate and Wall Street campaign money originally earmarked for Hillary Clinton would flood over to the noxious Republican candidate if Sanders won the Democratic nomination. My thesis was that big donors who normally back the Republican presidential candidate would be too put off by Trump’s campaign populism and global isolationism (more on that below) to back him and would logically bet their election investments on the Clinton machine, which has a long record of Republican-lite neoliberal fealty to Big Business along with aggressive imperial globalism beneath its standard progressive campaign posturing. But with a leftish progressive and nominal socialist who rails against economic inequality and “the billionaire class” at the head of the Democratic ticket, I figured, a determinant lion’s share of One Percent political money would pick Trump.

Trump v. Domestic Legitimacy and Authority

Now I’m starting to wonder about that. As I suspect many halfway intelligent One Percenters know, Trump may represent a bigger threat to their interests than Bernie. The outlandish and preposterous, Twitter-addicted Trump is a wacky, uber-narcissistic wildcard who threatens to make the United States domestically ungovernable while wrecking the United States’ image and brand abroad. With a white-nationalist, arch-misogynist buffoon, television personality, and potential fascist like The Donald in the White House, Americans’ already pronounced lack of confidence in their nation’s reigning institutions would plummet to new lows. Stephanie Kegielski, the top strategist for Trump’s short-lived Make America Great super-PAC recently wrote that Trump “is the presidential equivalent of Sanjaya on ‘American Idol.’ President Trump would be President Sanjaya in terms of legitimacy and authority.”

Sanjaya with an ugly hint of Mussolini and Hitler. You want to see chaos in America? Imagine a Trump presidency. It’s not for nothing that left anarchist friends of mine relish the possibility of a Donald White House. (I’d be lying if I denied that a street-fighting part of me doesn’t share the sentiment.) If you want to see people hit the streets and shut things down on a regular basis, provoking police state repression and escalation, bring on The Donald. The predominantly non-white people of the nation’s cities would not stand for a Trump administration. Look at what happened on the Near West Side of Chicago three weeks ago.

“Career-Threatening for The Military-Industrial Complex”

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam would get a big public relations black eye, maybe even worse than when George Cowboy Bush invaded Iraq, and Islamist terrorists will have a recruiting field day. With the loudmouthed star of “The Apprentice” in the Oval Office, with his short fingers on the nuclear button, the United States will become a planetary laughingstock. U.S. power would be dramatically and further delegitimized and the U.S. populace would be mocked as a hapless throng of racist and nativist, reality show-addicted morons. None of that would be good for Big Business rule as usual.

Also problematic for smart elites atop the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire are Trump’s foreign policy statements to date. A recent column in The Nation by the venerable left-liberal commentator William Greider is titled “Trump Could be the Military Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare.” As Greider wrote last week:

“This week, while people everywhere were fretting over his violent talk, the candidate [Trump] came to Washington and dropped a peace bomb on the neocon editorial writers at The Washington Post and the war lobby. Trump wants to get the United States out of fighting other people’s wars. He thinks maybe NATO has outlived its usefulness. He asks why Americans are still paying for South Korea’s national defense. Or Germany’s or Saudi Arabia’s… ‘I do think it’s a different world today and I don’t think we should be nation-building anymore,’ Trump said. ‘I think it’s proven not to work. And we have a different country than we did then. You know we have $19 trillion in debt. We’re sitting probably on a bubble, and, you know, it’s a bubble that if it breaks is going to be very nasty. And I just think we have to rebuild our country’… this sort of thinking is mega-heresy among the political establishment of both parties. The foreign-policy operators consider themselves in charge of the ‘indispensable nation’…This new Trump talk is definitely career-threatening for the military-industrial complex.”

But Trumpian “America first” isolationism is also a dilemma (“career-threatening” if you like) for the broader political economy of U.S. capitalism, which hinges fundamentally on a global class system imperialism, multi-state repression, and multinational corporate rule backed by the U.S. military empire. And that is why, as Rob Urie recently noted on CounterPunch, “American ‘progressives’ make a deal with the devil when they dissociate Mrs. Clinton’s support for Wall Street [which Sanders’ backers openly oppose, P.S.] from her hawkish foreign policy and her opportunistic (and structurally racist) carceral policies [things few Sanders backers press their hero to challenge, P.S.].” American Empire and class inequality are dialectically inseparable at home and abroad.

It’s not for nothing that establishment Republicans are scrambling to cancel Trump’s scary leap from reality television to real television politics by trying to jam him up at a brokered Republican National Convention this summer.

Reasons to Cut a Ruling Class Deal with Bernie

Compared to the specter of a Trumpenstein in the White House, the pretend socialist Bernie Sanders might actually be preferable to the deep state capitalist and imperial rulers who govern the nation behind the fake-democratic surface cover of electoral politics. No, the One Percent and its media don’t like Bernie’s talk about progressive taxation and Scandinavian-style social democracy. It dislikes Sanders’ populist rhetoric against the nation’s savage, New Gilded Age inequalities. It can’t stand how often Sanders mentions and denounces the ugly facts that the top U.S. hundredth owns more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent – and that six Wal-Mart heirs have as much net worth together as the bottom U.S. 42 percent. It has no taste for single-payer health insurance, big green jobs programs, significantly increased minimum wages, free college, and broken-up, tightly regulated financial institutions and the rest.

But the masters know they and their deep-capitalist state can block these policy dreams. They know they can cut a deal with the neo-New Dealer Bernie, who is nowhere near as left or radical as many of his supporters and enemies think and who has made sure to remind folks that his definition of “socialism” includes the continued poisonous (eco-cidal in fact) and private, for-profit ownership of the means of production, investment, and distribution – now so globalized as to render calls for a new New Deal largely mute.

Empire Man

Perceptive wealth and power elites know that Sanders has made sure to exempt the giant American global military empire – an intimate partner of, and leading profit source for the nation’s capitalist ruling class – from his jeremiads against concentrated power and privilege. Bernie is no internationalist or peacenik. After all, he: calls Edward Snowden a criminal and Hugo Chavez (a social democrat) a “dead communist dictator; embraces Barack Obama’s arch-terrorist drone war; supports the reckless U.S. provocation of Russia in Eastern Europe; calls for the arch-reactionary and fundamentalist Islam-sponsoring state of Saudi Arabia (a leading U.S. military client) to step up its already mass-murderous military role in the Middle East; backed the Clinton administration’s criminal and unnecessary bombing of Serbia (over the opposition of sickened antiwar activists); rationalizes leading U.S, military client Israel’s murder of Palestinian children in Gaza; called police to arrest activists occupying his Burlington, Vermont Congressional office to protest “Bomber Bernie’s” Serbia policy; called the police (when Sanders was the mayor of Burlington) to arrest peace protesters occupying an industrial plant owned by the leading, blood-soaked military contractor General Electric; pushed and voted for the mass-murderous and wasteful F-35 jet program (a classic Pentagon boondoggle) because it meant “jobs for Vermont;” fails to call for the giant rollback of gargantuan U.S “defense” (Empire) budget (which accounts for roughly half the world’s military spending and maintains more than 1000 U.S, military bases across more than 100 nations) that his genuinely liberal-progressive domestic social agenda would require; leaves the Pentagon system to stand almost completely without criticism when asked how he would pay for good things like national single-payer health insurance; says that we should learn from Denmark and other significantly social-democratic Scandinavian countries without bothering to note that those nations have tiny military budgets.

To call Sanders’ “soft on imperialism” (to quote Andrew Levine on Counterpunch last weekend[1]) is to make quite an understatement about the Vermont Senator’s commitment the U.S. global project. Make no mistake: Bernie is an Empire Man through and through.

Selling the Myth of U.S. Democracy and Keeping Folks Off the Streets

A Bernie Sanders presidency would do wonders for helping Star Spangled oligarchs and their many advance agents across the media and intellectual culture sell the great fairy tale that the United States is a shining beacon of democracy. (How could it be? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis rightly channeled the wisdom of great thinkers like Aristotle and John Dewey when he observed in 1941 that Americans must “make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both”). Letting an old Jewish guy from Brooklyn who calls himself a socialist become president might even be symbolically better than letting a Black family occupy the White House when it comes to re-rebranding the U.S. corporate plutocracy as a magnificent model of popular self-governance.

At the same time, a Sanders White House would do immeasurably more than a populace-inciting Trump presidency – and more also than a Hillary Clinton administration (see below) – to keep people off the streets and pacified by the deadly notion that progressive change is best achieved through major party electoral politics once every two and four years. It would help sell what the radical U.S. historian Howard Zinn called (in the year of the “progressive” Obama passion) the “Election Madness…the election frenzy [that]… seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls” and mark ballots for candidates from one of “two [major party] wings of the same bird of prey” (Upton Sinclair, 1904).

I am aware of course that Sanders has said repeatedly that a Sanders presidency would need to be backed by a great citizens’ movement to take on “the big money interests, Wall Street, corporate America, all these guys [who] have so much power that no president can defeat them unless there is an organized grassroots movement making them an offer they can’t refuse.” But here’s the thing: Sanders would organize no such thing once he got in the White House. Bernie and the people around him are partisan, major party electoral politicos. They wouldn’t know a revolutionary, grassroots social movement until it bit them in the ass and when it does they can be counted on to do their best to coopt and/or crush it like Obama and Occupy. Once they reached the symbolic apex of the political establishment they claim to oppose they would act keep popular movements weak and marginalized in the name of political “realism,” “pragmatism,” “getting things done” and, of course, blocking and defeating the Republicans. Bernie’s on the record saying that his campaign doesn’t believe in disrupting anything.

None of which is to deny that white nationalists can be expected to engage in no small disruption after Trump or whoever else the Republican Party puts is defeated by Sanders or – far more likely – by Hillary Clinton next November.

As Zinn noted in 2007, by which time Bernie was voting to “support the [U.S.] troops” in Iraq: “We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens…. Except for the rare few…our representatives are politicians, and will surrender their integrity, claiming to be ‘realistic.’ We are not politicians, but citizens. We have no office to hold on to, only our consciences, which insist on telling the truth.”

Discrediting Socialism

There’s an added benefit for smart ruling class strategists capable of long-game thinking to anticipate in a Sanders presidency: the discrediting of socialism. Behold the impressive big-picture reflections of Gary Leech on Counterpunch last January:

“There is little doubt that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders will redistribute some wealth to benefit poorer Americans…. the Keynesian policies that he is advocating are by far the most progressive that have been put forth by a serious presidential contender for many decades…Sanders’ policy proposals represent a welcome and long overdue challenge to the right-wing neoliberal rhetoric and policy agenda that has dominated US politics since the Reagan years. But not only aren’t Sanders’ policies socialist, they actually pose a threat to socialism. If elected, Sanders’ policies would likely moderate the capitalist model both domestically and globally, but they would leave intact the fundamental global injustices inherent in the capitalist system. And when those capitalist policies implemented by a self-proclaimed socialist ultimately fail to address these global injustices in any meaningful way, it will be socialism that will be discredited” (emphasis added).

That strikes me as a properly dark analysis flawed by the assumption that a President Sanders would have any success getting his social-democratish policies enacted. Many-sided global capitalist power within and beyond the political class would surely work to block such measures (progressive taxation, the break-up of big financial institutions, single-payer health insurance) from happening as well as to make sure that Bernie (who would be one year short of eighty years old in 2020) got just one term in office (if he survived his first four years). But that would hardly prevent the ruling class and its vast propaganda apparatus from blaming “Sanders’ failures” on – guess what? – “socialism.” Think “Bernie Sanders, America’s last socialist president” – and he he wasn’t even a socialist.

Electorate Reflections: Bernie v. Hillary in the General Election

Moving down from the ruling class to the electorate, let me add some additional reflections in support of Sanders’ viability in a general election contest with Trump. When you look closely at the exit polling data from the Democratic presidential primaries so far, three key differences stand out in order of magnitude. The first and most remarkable fracture is generational, with Sanders hugely out-performing Hillary with younger voters (the younger the voter, the better he does) and Hillary running away with voters 45 and up (and the older the voter, the better she does). The second most glaring difference is race, with the well-recognized Hillary doing far better than the gruff Brooklyn-born Sanders (who hails from 97% white rural Vermont and reminds many Black urban residents of a pissed-off landlord or social service functionary) with Black voters who do not know Sanders particularly well and tend to think of him as less likely to prevail over the racist KKK-accommodator Donald Trump. The third thing that leaps out is gender, with Hillary prevailing overall with the female vote and especially with older female voters.

How would these differences play out in comparing how Bernie and Hillary would do in the general election? Sanders’ race problem would pretty much go away in a general election. He would rock the Black vote, and the Latino vote too, in a contest with the racist, white nationalist and nativist, immigrant-bashing Trump. Black voters might have some cultural, viability, and familiarity with Sanders right now but those deficits would largely disappear in a general election pitting Sanders (who got arrested protesting racial segregation in Chicago during the early 1960s) against a Trump or a Cruz or just about any other Republican.

Sanders would also get the female vote, except for some die-hard Clinton women who couldn’t forgive him for defeating Hillary’s bid to become the first female president. That is thanks to his own politically correct feminist credentials in office and above all to the hideous sexism of Trump, who has been outed even in his own party as a vicious, spine-chilling misogynist.

Sanders might struggle to keep older Democrats on board at first but I’m pretty sure he’d do very well with them by general election time with calls for strengthening Social Security and keeping the awful Republicans at bay. It doesn’t hurt that Bernie is really old.

By contrast, Hillary’s generational problem in the primaries would not go away as easily as Sanders’ racial, age, and gender deficits in a general election match-up with Trump or another Republican. Many of the young Americans whose ongoing radicalization (dating back at least as far as the time of Occupy Wall Street) by neoliberal capitalism has been tapped by Bernie are going to be unwilling (like this middle-aged writer) to poke a ballot hole for a neoliberal and imperial monster like Hillary Clinton. A good percentage of these twenty- and thirty-something “Bernie or Busters” are going to be unmoved by the usual and standard “lesser evil” argument – the scaremongering over Republican arch-malevolence – on behalf of the de facto “moderate” Republican war hawk Hillary next November. As Levine notes, “If Hillary becomes the Democrats’ nominee, the Greens would have an enormous pool of [younger – P.S.] Sanders supporters from which to recruit.”

Bernie’s main problems with the Democratic electorate would go away in a general election. Hillary’s main difficulty with the changing Democratic base could be much stickier.

Reasons Not Get Too Depressed About a Hillary Clinton Presidency

Of course, the American ruling class would rather avoid both the noxious white nationalist and potential isolationist Trump and the domestically progressive if globally imperial Bernie. It always favors the path of least resistance. It prefers venerable neoliberal “third way” represented by the fake-progressive Hillary Clinton, a dedicated globalist and imperialist (far more aggressively imperial and military than both Trump and Bernie) who joined with Bill Clinton and other Democratic Leadership Council types to help trail-blaze the rightward, Big Business-friendly turn of the Democratic Party more than a generation ago. It could well deep-six the embarrassing and dangerous Trump phenomenon (causing no small white nationalist, Trumpenproletarian rage, as Donald has warned) this summer. And the smart money is still on Hillary (with the big arrow on her campaign logo properly pointing to the right) getting the Democratic nomination (despite her recent string of lop-sided embarrassments) and then the presidency, though nothing is for certain in this wacky New Gilded Age of savage inequality and mass alienation and anger.

Like all good leftists, I hate the Clintons, including the ones with two x chromosomes – and that includes young Chelsea, with her giant new $10 million condo complex in Manhattan (whose cheerful advertisement across the Internet must surely offend young adult voters who have “played by the rules” but find themselves stuck in the “precariat” by the endless economic and environmental nightmare that is contemporary neoliberal capitalism). I probably loathe them with greater passion than any Bernie Sanders fan. Still, I do not await the likelihood – to repeat, not the certainty – of a Hillary Clinton administration with undiluted trepidation. Pardon my middle-aged cynicism, but it is my observation that it’s always better for the Left and for the development of the dedicated day-to-day grassroots social movement(s) that we so desperately need to have a corporate Democrat than a corporate Republican in the White House.

This is for two key reasons different from those given in the self-fulfilling, viciously circular Lesser Evil argument many progressive intellectuals and activists (including some of the left’s best and brightest) make every four years. First, the presence of a Democrat in the nominal top U.S. job is always usefully instructive for young workers and citizens. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and Empire. The people need to see and experience how the intolerable misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil twin imperialism live on when Democrats hold the White House. Second, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the illusion among progressives and others that the main problem in the country is that the wrong party holds executive power and that all energy and activism must be directed at fixing that. (In other words, if McCain had won in 2008, we wouldn’t have gotten the briefly remarkable Occupy Movement but rather a big Get the Vote out for Barack or Hillary movement in 2011. It’s the same perhaps for Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.)

There is, yes, I know, the problem of Democrats in the White House functioning to stifle social movements and especially peace activism (the antiwar movement has still yet to recover from the Obama experience). But there’s more good news here about a Hillary presidency. Not all Democratic presidents are equally good at shutting progressive activism down. As the likely Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein (for whom I expect to vote) recently noted in an interview with me, Hillary Clinton will have considerably less capacity to deceive and bamboozle progressive and young workers and citizens than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2007-08. “Obama,” Stein notes was fairly new on the scene. Hillary,” by contrast, “has been a warmonger who never found a war she didn’t love forever!” Hillary’s corporatist track record – ably documented in Doug Henwood’s book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (her imperial track record receives equally impressive treatment in Diana Johnstone’s volume Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton) – is also long and transparently bad. And I’m not sure that a Hillary presidency wouldn’t be preferable to a Sanders presidency – which would, to be clear, be an imperial presidency – in this regard. Bernie has shown a remarkable capacity to bamboozle people into thinking that the Democratic Party is an appropriate vehicle for popular revolution (it isn’t) and that endless quadrennial, candidate-centered major party electoral crusades and spectacles are preferable to social movement-building and action when it comes to making history and revolution from the bottom up (they aren’t).

The Clintons and the DNC initially welcomed his entrance into the primary because they expected his campaign to dutifully play that “sheep dog” and/or “Judas Goat” role. Now he has helped channel [2] something that he himself would have to contain for the Empire were he to become president – something that he’d probably be better at containing than Hillary.


1 “The only people Sanders’ ‘democratic socialism’ seem[s] to bother,” Levine writes in his generally (and as usual) brilliant and entertaining article, “[are] doctrinaire leftists who keep harping on the obvious: that Bernie is a New Deal-Great Society liberal, not a real socialist, and that he is soft on imperialism. All true; and all worth pointing out – but not more than, say, a couple of dozen times.” But all of that is “obvious” only or at least primarily to well-educated and mostly older left intellectuals. “Soft on imperialism” is an egregious understatement. And I’m not sure the distinction between real and fake socialists/socialism can be made often enough (just 24 times seems lazy to me) in a time when the profits system now clearly threatens the not-so distant extinction of the species and has already put a decent future for humanity and other living things at very grave risk. See John Bellamy, Brett Clark, and Richard York, The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on Earth (New York: Monthly Review, 2010), a book which leads me to say thank God for “doctrinaire leftists.”

2 Left Bernie fans tend to give Sanders far too much radical street cred. “One good thing about Bernie,” a radical Sanders supporter (herself deeply and properly cynical about the Democratic Party) wrote me to say, “is that he’s making everyone class-conscious.” You heard it here first: neoliberal global capitalism (which is really just capitalism returning to its brutally unequal and repressive historical norm over the last four decades) hasn’t made people class conscious and open to words like socialism and to struggles against “the 1 percent.” No, Bernie Sanders did it. A Facebook meme someone enthusiastically sent me proclaims “Bernie: He’s Not Just a ‘Candidate,’ He’s a Revolution.” That is bombastic Sandernista delusion on a grand, Obamanistic scale.

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

Paul Krugman: a Prizefighter for Hillary Clinton

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

teleSur English, March 22, 2016 and (expanded)  Counterpunch, March 28, 2016

Never confuse prestigious intellectual awards and positions awarded by the United States and Western establishment with real intelligence. And never assume that an intellectual is a real progressive just because they say they so.

Take the leading “progressive” U.S. economist Paul Krugman, once described by the Marxist economist Harry Magdoff as a “prizefighter for capitalism.” Krugman’s resume includes a Nobel Prize in Economics, a distinguished professorship at Princeton, and a regular column at the New York Times. When John Edwards ran against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Democratic presidential primary contested in 2007 and 2008, Krugman lauded him for arguing that (in Krugman’s words) “a progressive agenda” could not be achieved without “a bitter confrontation” with concentrated wealth and power. In a December 17, 2007 Times column titled “Big Table Fantasies,” Krugman favorably quoted Edwards’s following swipe at then presidential candidate Barack Obama: “Some people argue that we’re going to sit at a table with [Big Business interests] and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it is a complete fantasy; it will never happen.”

Now Krugman defends the Big Business champion Hillary Clinton against the progressive Democrat Bernie Sanders, who has made the forgotten and scandalized Edwards’ argument with some significant success.

In a recent Times column on the rise of the noxious, white-nationalist Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump, Krugman points out that Trump runs in ugly grooves dug by the Republican Party since the 1960s. “Let’s dispel with [the] fiction,” Krugman writes, “that the Trump phenomenon represents some kind of unpredictable intrusion into the normal course of Republican politics. On the contrary, the G.O.P. has spent decades encouraging and exploiting the very rage that is now carrying Mr. Trump to the nomination… That rage was bound to spin out of the establishment’s control sooner or later…His party had it coming.”

The Republican Party, including Trump, Krugman argues, remains captive to “the dominating ideology” of free market, deregulated capitalism. “You can see.” Krugman writes, “the continuing power of the orthodoxy in the way all of the surviving contenders for the Republican nomination, Mr. Trump included, have dutifully proposed huge tax cuts for the wealthy, even though a large majority of voters, including many Republicans, want to see taxes on the rich increased.”

Krugman is right to observe that the mass anger captured by “The Donald” has escaped elite Republican management. And Krugman is correct to note that Trump is continuing the Republicans’ long practice of stirring the pot of white working- and lower middle-class hatred and hurling the terrible brew at feminists, Blacks, immigrants, gays, liberals, Muslims, intellectuals, liberals, civil libertarians and socialists both real and (like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Sanders) imagined. In doing this, the Republicans have worked to misdirect white working class anger away from capitalist plutocrats and Big Business on to less powerful and more vulnerable soft-targets like Black “welfare mothers” and “illegal immigrants.” It’s all very much in accord with the liberal author Thomas Frank’s account of Republican strategy in his widely read 2004 book What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

But Krugman’s argument is marred by two key flaws. His first mistake is to think that Trump is running in accord with standard Republican free market doctrine. The reality is more complex. As Matt Taibbi has noted, Trump’s speeches are “strikingly populist.” Trump bashes “free trade” and trumpets to protect “American jobs.”  He denounces corporations that shut down American factories to set up operations in other, cheaper-labor countries like Mexico. He has said that a national single-payer system (removing private insurance companies from health coverage) would have been the best way to go with health insurance reform. He rails against the anti-trust exemption enjoyed by the insurance companies. He condemns the stranglehold that he big drug corporations have over both U.S. political parties, so strong that the federal government bars itself from negotiating Medicare drug prices in bulk. He notes that the nation’s politicians are bought by the highest corporate bidders. “The system is broken,” Trump observes.

It is populist, working class-pleasing rhetoric like that has elite Republicans rushing to block Trump, not the candidate’s foul nativism, sexism, and authoritarianism.

Krugman’s second mistake is to miss the basic fact that Donald Trump is the Democratic Party’s Frankenstein no less than the Republicans’ creation. How has the right-wing Republican Party gotten away with tapping and misdirecting so much legitimate white middle- and working-class anger and resentment away from its most appropriate target, the nation’s unelected dictatorship of capital? It has been able to do so largely for the same reason that the authoritarian Trump has been able to claim the mantle of working class populism in the current U.S. presidential sweepstakes: because the neoliberal, post-New Deal Democratic Party abandoned the U.S. working class in pursuit of a deepened partnership with corporate America and high finance. As Frank noted in the part of his famous book that is ignored by Democratic partisans, the dismal dollar Democrats share no small part of the blame for empowering right-wing Republicans. Their desertion of the majority white working class and its “bread and butter” issues opened the door for a right-wing diversion and takeover of popular resentment.

The Bill NAFTA Clinton (1993-2000) and Barack Trans-Pacific Obama administrations are monuments to neoliberal and Wall Street triumph over majority progressive U.S. public opinion, advancing (under Clinton) the de-regulation of finance and then (under Obama) taking up and expanding the taxpayer bailout and political protection of the reckless financial “elites” who crashed the U.S. and global economy in 2008. It is thanks in no small part to these neoliberal Democratic presidencies that U.S. citizens currently inhabit a New Gilded Age in which the top U.S. 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom U.S. 90 percent. It’s all as might be expected from presidents atop “a [Democratic] political party that…is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires” (Michelle Alexander). Hillary Clinton, an elitist Wall Street Democrat and (most dangerously of all) a militant imperial war-hawk to boot, walks in these dark neoliberal grooves beneath the usual populist-posturing on the campaign trail.

During the current U.S. Democratic presidential primary, Sanders (always far too conservative,  imperial, and Democratic Party-affiliated for my taste) has run as an actually progressive, non- and even anti-neoliberal Democrat in the liberal Keynesian New Deal tradition. His large rallies against “the billionaire class,” the record-setting small campaign contributions he has received from middle and working class Americans, and the remarkable support he has gotten from young voters – all of this reflects widespread hunger for a more equal distribution of wealth and political power and for an epic fight with the rich and powerful in the U.S.

And how has the great “progressive” and liberal Keynesian Krugman responded to the Sanders’ insurgency, an attempt (highly flawed but genuine and promising in terms of its longer-term implication for U.S. politics and activism in my view) to reclaim genuine liberal, neo-New Deal populism and progressivism for and within the Democratic Party? With sneering condescension and dubious criticism including the claim that Sanders’ moderate calls for the breaking up of the big banks and for single-payer health insurance are “politically unrealistic” and excessively “radical.” With the absurd charge that Sanders’ health care proposal “looks a bit like a standard Republican tax cut plan” and the strange claim that “on policy, [Hillary Clinton] has been pretty good.” Krugman has taken off the gloves and launched ugly swipes, below the belt, viciously accusing Sanders of embracing “deep voodoo” economics and childish “unicorn” politics.

Krugman even now accuses “the Sanders movement” of mirroring the Donald Trump phenomenon “with its demands for purity and contempt for compromise and half-measures.” It’s an astonishingly ridiculous charge in light of: Sanders’ own overly respectful reluctance to point out the long, deeply conservative, Big Business-friendly, triangulating, and Republican-accommodating records of Hillary, the Clinton machine, and the Democratic National Committee; Sanders’ advance declaration that he will support Mrs. Clinton (his “good friend”) in the general election (Trump has suggested he might bolt the Republican Party if he is denied the GOP nomination); and Sanders’ willingness to call the terrible, arch-corporatist, so-called Affordable Care Act (hardly even a “half-measure”) a positive step towards single-payer national health insurance (it is no such thing).

Krugman has chosen to be a prizefighter for the Clintons, the trailblazing champions of the neoliberal turn that cost the Democrats their onetime close connection to the American working class and opened that class to misdirection and poaching by ugly racist and nativist Republicans, including now the fascist-lite Donald Trump.

History plays some funny tricks. As I pointed out at no small length two quadrennial election cycles ago, presidential candidate Barack Obama was a Wall Street fake-progressive, a dismal Dollar Dem who walked in the same neoliberal grooves as the Clintons and in late 2007 and early 2008. Krugman seemed to enjoy joining the white southerner John Edwards in calling the next U.S. president out as a fake-progressive corporate Democrat. Funny how he can’t seem to muster the brains and/or courage to join supporters of the actually progressive Democrat Sanders (though sadly not Sanders himself) in calling Mrs. Clinton out as the same kind of centrist, right-leaning Democrat as her husband and Obama.

No, I am not making a latter-day conversion to “the Sanders movement.” But I am less critical of the Sanders campaign (from a perspective well to the anti-imperial and anti-capitalist “radical left”) than some readers may know and I particularly appreciate the way the Sanders insurgency has brought to the surface some sharp and auspicious ideological and generational tensions within the Democratic Party. It’s been useful and entertaining indeed to see Krugman, Gloria Steinem, and other fake-progressive Democrats like the ridiculous Hillary socialist Paul Starr exposed as conservative, power-adoring Clintonites out of touch with younger, left-leaning voters and citizens. That will be helpful for the popular struggle in coming months and years.

A shorter version of this essay originally appeared on teleSur English



Cuba Reflections: On Life and Death

12/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, March 25, 2016

A Nice Surprise

It’s not very often that you hear or see a salaried U.S. corporate media employee defend Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s Cuban Revolution and its accomplishments. That’s why I did a double take when I read a recent opinion piece titled “Cuba’s Success Lost in Media Frenzy” in the Gannett-owned Iowa City Press-Citizen. The commentary was not written by some radical academic or graduate student at the local university (I’m not sure such a professor can be found at the University of Iowa anymore) or by an independent radical like me (I have a long record of publishing pieces in the Press-Citizen’s laudably open-minded Opinion page). No, it was penned in defense of President Barack Obama’s recent historic visit to Cuba by a clever young man named Ian Goodrum, who happens to be the paper’s “community content and engagement editor.”

Goodrum did a decent job. He rightly mocked “most media in the U.S. media” for using President Barack Obama’s recent historic visit to Cuba as “an opportunity to denounce the tiny island nation for daring to have an economic and political system different from our own.” He criticized that media for taking seriously the “increasingly absurd pronouncements from [Cuban] expatriates.” Goodrum justly criticized White House Press Secretary Earnest for absurdly claiming that the U.S. had been “ignoring” Cuba for “more than 50 years.” As Goodrum noted, Earnest’s comment is preposterous given dedicated U.S. efforts to punish and overthrow the Castro government, including a “crushing trade embargo and crippling sanctions” and the “the encirclement of isolation of Cuba by the United States” (Goodrum) for more than a half century.

Goodrum detailed some of Cuba’s remarkable “accomplishments since the [1959 Cuban] revolution,” all achieved despite the hostility of Uncle Sam. The triumphs Goodrum mentions are considerable:

“Keeping the aforementioned antagonisms in mind — and understanding that survival under the baleful eye of the world’s richest nation is a miracle in itself — [socialist Cuba’s] successes are nothing to sneeze at. Infant mortality has dropped while life expectancy and literacy rates have skyrocketed. Economic growth has stayed consistent with the exception of a few years during the “Special Period,” when the loss of 80 percent of Cuba’s trade led to a downturn. Yet the social safety net and housing, education and food guarantees from the government were able to continue even in this time of extreme privation. Media outlets like to talk about how the average monthly salary amounts to $20 or $30, but this is a dodge. Comparing Cuban economic indicators to those of the United States is a matter of apples — heh — and oranges. When weighed against countries like the Dominican Republic or Haiti, Cuba stands head and shoulders above its direct competitors.”

“What could be considered the crown jewel of Cuba’s economy, the health care sector, is perhaps the best example of what a system like Cuba’s can do. Transmission of HIV from mother to child was eliminated in Cuba and avaccine for lung cancer has been developed there. Exporting medical professionals around the world to deal with threats like the Ebola outbreak show the country’s commitment to help those in need, and a disproportionate capability to do so. But this is what can happen when you prioritize public welfare over profits” (emphasis added).

I’m not sure I should say more about Goodrum’s column: I don’t wish to contribute any further to the possibility of him losing his job. At the same time – and maybe Gannett authorities can put this towards Goodrum’s favor – I should say that a better title for his essay would have been “Media Continues to Ignore Cuba’s Success” (the blockading of the U.S. public from good news about Cuban socialism is an old story). And I’d like to mention four key matters that did not make it into the young columnist’s welcome essay (things that, to be fair, require a bigger word count than what is available to Op Ed writers).

Ecological Triumph: Teeming With Life

The first thing missing is Cuba’s remarkable environmental achievement. Cuba stands out among all nations (rich and poor) in a critical way. The makers of the United Nations’ Human Development Index (UNHDI) have found that Cuba is the only country on the planet to combine a quality of life consistent with “high human development” with a globally sustainable carbon footprint. A report by the World Wildlife Foundation includes a graph that shows two features for the nations of the world: the UNHDI (including measures of life expectancy, poverty, literacy, health care, and the like) and “ecological footprint” – the energy and resources consumed per person in each country. Only Cuba received a passing grade in both areas. As the University of British Columbia has noted,

“The majority of food grown in Cuba is produced without chemicals.  Good bugs fight bad bugs in the fields.  Their soils – like their communities – are teeming with life…Today, Cuba’s agricultural cooperatives provide 80 percent of the food produced in Cuba and her system of urban agriculture is a model for the world. Building on the success of her agricultural cooperatives, Cuba is now taking bold new steps to build a more cooperative, just and people-centered economy.”

This noteworthy attainment is of no small significance in an age of ever more imminent environmental collapse rooted in (among other things) capitalism’s addiction to fossil fuels. It is no mere accident. Beyond a fuel and currency shortage, it reflects inspiring and instructive eco-socialist innovation in the use and development of alternative fuel sources, technologies, and practices on the part of the Cuban state. As Garry Leech noted on CounterPunch last year, Cuba “redefined socialism” in the wake of the decline of its former protector the Soviet Union. Over the past two decades, Leech shows, Cuba has moved towards a more participatory system that also happens to be an outstanding model of environmentally sustainable and healthy, permaculturalist economics:

“In the 1980s, Cuba more closely reflected the state socialist model that ultimately failed in the Soviet Union…But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the socialist trading bloc, Cuba had to become more creative if it was to survive both literally and figuratively as an island of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. And it was the creative survival strategies that emerged during the 1990s that have helped to redefine socialism in Cuba today…The collapse of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with a corresponding tightening of the five-decades-long US blockade, meant that Cuba could no longer import sufficient food or oil. The country responded to the shortage of petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers by becoming the world’s leader in organic agriculture. It responded to the shortage of fuel by becoming a leader in urban agriculture to diminish the need to transport food great distances to markets. As a result, more than 80 percent of the country’s agricultural production is now organic… [and produced by] smaller worker-owned cooperatives. The new cooperatives not only increased production, they also constituted a shift away from state socialism by empowering workers who previously had little or no voice in the running of their workplaces….This emerging worker democracy through cooperatives not only existed in agricultural production, it also occurred in the selling of products…”

“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.”

Call it Earth Science-friendly socialism – or maybe even Earth-scientific socialism, some of its apparently and actually drawing strength from the U.S. blockade.

Socialism as the Basis of Sustainability

The second thing missing is the very basic fact that Cuba owes its success not merely to its prioritizing of public welfare over private profits but rather to its rejection and indeed overthrow of capitalism, the profits system, half a century ago. The Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Pérez tells Leech that Cuba laid the basis for an environmentally sustainable society “when the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and the minerals…You cannot think about sustainability,” Perez explains, “if your resources are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.”

This is a very critical point. As the New York City-based Marxist writerLouis Proyect noted last year, “capitalism and capitalist politics have to be superseded if humanity and nature are to survive. Once we can eliminate the profit motive, the door is open to rational use of natural resources for the first time in human history. How we make use of such resources will naturally be informed by our understanding that reason governs the outcome and not quarterly earnings. The alternative,” Proyect reminds us, “to this is a descent into savagery, if not extinction.”

Misplaced Imperial Arrogance

The third thing missing from Goodrum’s commentary was any sense of the utter arrogant, idiotic, and imperial absurdity of Barack Obama going to Cuba to lecture the people on democracy, freedom, and how to achieve a good society. What, like the United States? Really? The U.S… the mass incarceration capital of the world, home to a quarter of the world’s prisoners, an “armed madhouse” (Greg Palast) of a nation where: the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent; 6 Wal-Mart heirs together possess as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent; politics and policy are in grip of an unelected and interrelated dictatorship of money and empire; an openly plutocratic oligarchy rules in total indifference to public opinion; world-capitalist ecocide finds its leading carbon-addicted financial and propagandistic centers; white median household wealth is 13 times higher than Black median household wealth; more than 16 million children (22 percent of all U.S. children, including 38 percent of Black children) live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level; municipal water systems are rife with poisonous lead; infrastructure is crumbling; pollution is rampant; schools are under-funded and mind-numbing; civic discourse is hopelessly degraded; racial hyper-segregation and the harsh racialized concentration of poverty and joblessness (in Black ghettoes, Native American reservation, and Latino barrios) is predominant; one in three Black men is saddled with the crippling lifelong stigma of a felony record; politicians and not-so “public” policy are bought and sold like any other commodity; the current endless and populace-marginalizing presidential election is shaping as a contest between (in Diana Johnstone’s words) “the two most hated people in the country” (the mad-dog imperial war hawk Hillary Clinton and the quasi-fascist media buffoon and real estate mogul Donald Trump); much if not most of the populace is kept in a woeful and dangerous state of mass ignorance and stupidity about history, current events, and much more; violent death (fed by off-the-global-charts homicide and suicide rates) is rampant; purposefully mass-murderous assault weapons are widely available and ubiquitous; mental illness proliferates; natural resources are regularly stripped and destroyed; livable wage jobs have disappeared en masse; commercialized mass alienation and soulless anomie are endemic; substance abuse and obesity are epidemic; economic insecurity is pervasive; more than half the population is either poor or near-poor; food is systematically poisoned and adulterated in field, factory, corporate laboratory, box-car, tractor trailer, warehouse, restaurant, and grocery store; agriculture is criminally misdirected and absurdly extra-local; water supplies are gravely imperiled; more than half of federal discretionary spending pays for a giant war machine and global empire that accounts for half the world’s military spending; you can’t even watch the last three minutes of a college basketball tournament game without having to be bombarded with ten minutes of mindless mass-consumerist commercials.

This is a nation that thinks is has anything to tell Cubans, or anyone else, about how to experience and sustain democracy, freedom, and a decent society? Seriously?

Some Messenger of Freedom

And what about the messenger? Yes, Barack Obama, the slimy used car salesman who won Advertising Age’s 2008 “Marketer the Year” award as he rode into the White House on a tide of hope for progressive change and then proceeded to (as predicted by yours truly and a painfully small cadre of Left intellectuals and activists who were largely banned from so-called mainstream U.S. media and “higher education” for doctrinal reasons) give the nation what William Greider memorably called seven years ago “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. They have watched,” Greider wrote, “Washington run to rescue the very financial interests who caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend – when the right people want itAnd little to spend on the rest of us, the wrong people, soon to be known as “the 99%,” left to askwhere’s my bailout?

Yes, Barack Obama, who in his nauseating 2006 campaign book The Audacity of Hope criticized the “left-leaning populist” Hugo Chavez for thinking that developing nations “should resist America’s efforts to expand its hegemony” and for further daring – imagine – to “follow their own path of development,” unforgivably “rejecting the ideals of free markets and democracy.” Obama showed how profound his commitment to democracy in Latin America was in the spring and summer of 2009 when he and his right-wing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed a disastrous right-wing military and business coup that overthrew the democratically elected left-leaning populist Manuel Zelaya government in Honduras.

Obama’s seminar on ruling class power will conclude, the president hopes, with final Congressional approval of the arch-authoritarian, global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership – a monument to world capitalist unaccountability and a potentially fatal blow to humanity’s ability to avert environmental catastrophe.

(I don’t have time and energy to go into his Orwellian surveillance state policies and his expanded war on/or terror.)

That’s some champion of people’s democracy there that Raul Castro just watched baseball with: Barack Obama.

The Goal Remains the Same: If Obama Has His Way

The fourth thing missing from Ian Goodrum’s surprisingly progressive column is why the noxious neoliberal emperor Obama just went to Cuba. I can’t say it any better than the aforementioned Gary Leech didon CounterPunch yesterday so I’m just going to quote him:

“In his speech to the Cuban people in Havana, President Barack Obama declared, ‘I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. … I’ve urged the people of the Americas to leave behind the ideological battles of the past.’ But Obama made clear that his desire to end the decades-long US economic blockade of the island is not based on the fact that it constitutes the bullying of a small country by the world’s most powerful capitalist nation, nor is it a response to the sheer inhumanity of the blockade, it is simply an acknowledgement that the policy has failed to bring down Cuba’s socialist system and return the country to capitalism. Obama then proceeded to spend much of his speech telling Cubans that they should live under a US-style democracy and a capitalist economy. In other words, he has no intention of leaving behind ‘the ideological battles of the past.’ He is simply shifting strategy” (emphasis added).

Make no mistake: it’s only the means, not the ends of U.S. Cuba policy that Obama has been working to change. The goal remains the same: collapse Cuban socialism and bring back U.S.-dominated capitalism 90 miles off the coast of Florida. As I noted on Facebook the other day, “If Obama has his way, Cuba will be a festering pit of commercialized alienation and eco-cidal pollution in a couple of decades.” Obesity, diabetes, and depression will spread like gangbusters along with the chemical poisoning of Cuban water, land, air, and food and spreading inequality and – who knows, if all goes to plan? – mass incarceration, the corporate takeover of health care, and endless commodity-hawking commercials on radio and television. Big Pharma could really make a killing.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to pass. I went to Cuba to speak on and against U.S. corporate and commercial media almost exactly one year ago and got to spend three days in Havana. I’ll never forget it. Cuba struck me as the healthiest, happiest, sexiest, most dis-alienated and sociable society I’d ever had the good fortune to visit. It is “teeming with life” on numerous levels. Coming back to the United States was like taking a cold bath of hostility and estrangement, an immersion in extreme disparity where material abundance for some is juxtaposed against material privation for many along with unbridled spiritual and social ruination for all. It struck me as almost teeming with death. That’s too strong, perhaps, but one thing is very clear: we U.S.-of-Americans and our imperial Wall Street president have little if anything to tell Cubans about how to live and how to organize their society.

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

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