Apologize for Nagasaki?

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 13, 2016

A recent New York Daily News headline runs as follows: “Obama to Pay Historic Visit to Hiroshima but Will Not Apologize for U.S. Dropping Atomic Bomb on Japanese City.”

Well, how about Nagasaki? Could Obama apologize for Nagasaki when he visits Japan later this month?

Don’t get me wrong.  Hiroshima was a massive crime against humanity on its own, without the too commonly neglected follow-up crime in Nagasaki. On August 6, 1945, the United States atom-bombed Hiroshima, an action that led to 146,000 Japanese civilian deaths within two months. The bomb was dropped in the name of “saving lives” even though top U.S. military and intelligence leaders understood that Japan was defeated and seeking surrender at the end of World War II.

This monumental crime marked the U.S as the only nation to use nuclear weapons on civilian populations.  It was perpetrated to demonstrate unassailable U.S. power to the world and especially to the Soviet Union in the post-WWII era. The purpose was clear, as Gar Alperovitz and numerous other historians have shown, with abundant primary source research.

United States President Harry Truman and his advisors knew very well that a defeated Japan (including its Emperor) had lost its willingness to keep fighting before the first atom bomb fell. As Alperovitz and others have demonstrated, the United States could have secured a formal Japanese surrender earlier in the spring or summer of 1945 simply by modifying U.S surrender terms requiring the abolition of the position of the Japanese Emperor.

Even without such modification, the White House and U.S. military command could simply have waited for the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan – an event that would certainly have precipitated surrender. As it happened, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days after Hiroshima and after the Russians made their declaration.

Once wasn’t enough for Truman and others in the high U.S. military command. Truman was eating lunch when he was handed a message announcing the  successful atom-bombing of Hiroshima. “This,” he said, “is the greatest thing in history.” Later the same afternoon, he issued a warning to the Japanese government: “If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a reign of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Alperovitz and others show that U.S. decision-makers saw the atom bomb as a way to end the war before the Soviet Union could enter the war against Japan and as a way to bolster early U.S. Cold War “diplomacy.” Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “chosen as targets because of their concentration of activities and population,” according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey.  The nuclear assaults on civilians in those two cities were not about “saving lives.”  They were about demonstrating and enhancing U.S. power in the post-WWII New World Order, wherein the triumphant U.S. (itself undamaged by a global catastrophe that took the lives of 50 to 60 million people, including 25 million Soviets) was determined to dictate the rules of international behavior and to put all potential deterrents to American world dominance (primarily the Soviet Union) in subordinate place.

Of critical significance, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been deliberately kept off the U.S. Air Force’s target lists for conventional bombing prior to the dropping of the atom bombs.  This was so that the demonstration effect of new powers of mass devastation possessed by the victorious U.S. could be maximized in both cities. Uncle Sam wanted the killing power of its beloved new weapons of mass destruction to be exhibited in the most shocking and awe-inspiring way possible.

The Nagasaki bombing does not get mentioned or remembered anywhere nearly as often as the Hiroshima one. It killed 80,000 Japanese civilians within two months.

If Hiroshima was criminal and unnecessary, how criminal and unnecessary was Nagasaki?

You don’t have to be a left critic of the American Empire to question the United States’ horrific decision to atom-bomb mass civilian populations in the summer of 1945. No less of a venerated U.S. military leader than World War Two Allied European Commander and future Republican U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower was appalled by and opposed to the decision to drop the atom bomb on Japan at the time.  Eighteen years later he told Newsweek magazine that “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing” (it was two awful things, actually). His opposition and comment have gone down Orwell’s memory hole in the U.S., where generations of citizens and opinion makers have been taught to see Hiroshima and the less commonly noted crime in Nagasaki as necessary and even benevolent actions that “saved lives.”

How disgusting.

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

Reinvention and Whiplash

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

One year ago, at a conference held in Chicago on Independent Left Politics, the International Socialist Organization’s Lance Selfa observed that the United States’ corporate and imperial Democratic Party had recurrently demonstrated a remarkable capacity to seemingly “reinvent itself” by coopting once-insurgent social forces and identities. Selfa cited the party’s development of Black Democratic political machines across urban America in the wake of the Black Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. That development provided critical background for the dedicated imperialist and “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” (Adolph Reed, Jr. 1996) Barack Obama’s ascendency to the White House – something that helped boost the Democrats’ branding as the party of the nation’s racial minorities.

Selfa could also have noted the party’s success in cultivating female, feminist, gay, and Latino/a constituencies, organization, and networks. He might also have reflected on how Democrats sucked up the rhetoric of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street rebellion by branding themselves as “the party of the 99%” during the 2012 presidential election pitting Obama against “Mitt 1% Romney” (Never mind that Obama had dutifully served and protected the nation’s unelected dictatorship of finance capital throughout his first term or that his Department of Homeland Security worked with Democratic city halls across the country to dismantle Occupy with police state repression).

Not long after Selfa spoke, the conference was rocked by the announcement of a development bound to put a new twist on Democratic Party self-reinvention: the so-called independent and nominally socialist Bernie Sanders had decided to run for the U.S. presidency as a now fully acknowledged Democrat.

The announcement didn’t go over very well at the Chicago conference, but it didn’t ruffle many feathers atop the Democratic Party. As the presidential primary and caucus season unfolded, the mainstream Wall Street Democrat Hillary Clinton and the corporatist Democratic National Committee (DNC) seemed happy to have a “democratic socialist” throw his hat in the ring. As far as the right wing Clinton machine was concerned, the main threat to the party’s nomination came from the popular and liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). With Warren lacking the courage or perhaps the blindly ambitious insanity to harness up for the marathon horse race, the Clintons face a different problem: the possibility that Hillary’s nomination would look too much like a pre-ordained, Wall Street-mandated coronation. It might all seem too much like the re-election of their good friend Paul Kagame in Rwanda (with 93% of the officially tabulated vote in 2010).

Hence the Clintonite utility of brass-lunged Bernie: he would provide some useful token opposition while helping drive voter interest and helping the Democrats provide a semblance of meaningful “debate over the issues.” Sanders would be unelectable, the Clintons and DNC figured, because nobody who calls herself a socialist would have any serious chance of garnering a U.S. major party presidential nomination. (Never mind that the top polling firm Gallup found in 2011 that American Millennials [18-29 year olds] responded more favorably to the word “socialism” than to “capitalism.”)

Looking back one year later, it clearly got a lot scarier and nastier than the Clintons expected. Bernie ended up doing much better – and getting his “good friend” Hillary and her husband a lot angrier – than Sanders himself probably anticipated. The Clintons and the DNC had to a play tougher and dirtier with Sanders than they had foreseen.

Still, Sanders never really went after Hillary. He didn’t go for the kill. He stayed away from the e-mail scandal and Benghazi, pretending that they were relevant issues only for the Republicans – something he would not have done if he’d been seriously looking to take down The Queen of Chaos. He failed to make a serious and militant pitch for the Black vote and to go after the Clintons’ vanguard historical role in the rightward neoliberal turn of the Democratic Party during the last quarter of the last century.

When it all plays out, he will have returned to his original “sheepdog” or “Judas goat” role, a part that progressive Democratic presidential “challengers” always play: drive voter turnout for “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party” (as Kevin Phillips once described the Democrats) and deliver his supporters dutifully to that party’s Big Business-backed and imperialist nominee in the standard name of Lesser Evilism. The promised surrender to the “right wing fanatic Hillary Clinton” (Arun Gupta) – an enemy of workers, a lover of global-corporatist “free trade” (investor rights) deals, and an aggressive war-monger – is already underway. As the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins noted yesterday on Counterpunch:

“Bernie Sanders is on his way to an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, the candidate of War, Wall Street, and Wal-Mart. Sanders ran as a New Deal Democrat, but he will soon be campaigning for a plain old corporate New Democrat…To keep his troops engaged through this transition, Sanders will stage a few rules and platform fights at the convention. But rule changes are irrelevant to the real party power structure of candidate organizations and their corporate investors. Any platform planks won will be irrelevant as well. No corporate Democrat will feel bound by them.”

Along the way, Bernie has tried to help the Democratic Party brand itself as an organization where “socialists” can be heard, taken seriously, and influence policy. It is no such thing – not by a longshot. As Bernie picks his time to make clear his final “democratic socialist” fealty to the Wicked Wall Street War Witch, the Clintons are garnering support from supposedly “strange bedfellows” like the Koch brothers, top foreign policy neoconservatives (including Robert Kagan, Eliot Cohen, and Max Boot), Henry Kissinger, and other Republican billionaires and arch-imperialists who can’t stomach the populist- and isolationist-sounding rhetoric of The [white nationalist and misogynist] Donald (Trump), whose media-enabled “political revolution” (Bernie’s failed promise) leaves just one truly functional ruling class political organization standing in the U.S.: the Democrats. There’s every reason to believe that Bill Clinton will be successful in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires.

I hope Bernie-supporting Lesser Evilists have their seats adjusted for whiplash. The party of Bernie Sanders is becoming the party of Charles and David Koch for this wild election cycle, at least.

Reinvent that, DNC. As the debasing spectacle of the 2016 U.S. presidential election shapes up as a highly personalized, extremely infantilized, and frankly psychotic, hate-filled “race between the two most hated people in America” (Diana Johnstone), you almost have to admire the savage Orwellian perversity of the U.S. business ruled major party duopoly, under whose reign Charles Koch, Henry Kissinger, Robert Kagan, Paul Krugman, Richard Trumka, Tom Hayden, and Bernie Sanders (and numerous unnamed leftists well to Sanders’ and Hayden’s portside) can ultimately dance – or at least shuffle – together around the deeply conservative Hillary Clinton Maypole.

Meanwhile, beneath and beyond the seemingly interminable electoral extravaganza, the profits system’s ever- accelerating real-time assault on livable ecology pushes life on Earth ever closer to an apocalyptic cliff.

Revolution – the real thing – anyone?

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

Break Free or Burn in Hell

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Counterpunch, May 9, 2017

Some time ago, the environmentalist “Break Free” movement planned a number of protest actions around the world during the first two weeks of May. The protests have a simple and basic message: burning fossil fuels is unsafe and those resources must be left in the ground.

“Break Free’s” timing, it turns out, was eerily perfect. In the early evening of Tuesday, May 3rd, an epic wildfire broke out southwest of the Northwest Canadian city Fort McMurray. The giant blaze resulted in the mandatory evacuation of 12 communities in the sub-Arctic city’s area, located in the province of Alberta.

A Horrific Scene

By 7 p.m., Fort McMurray was placed under a mandatory evacuation order. Record breaking temperatures, reaching 91 °F combined with low relative humidity and strong winds to fuel the fire’s rapid growth. By last night (I am writing on Sunday, May 8th), the wildfire covered an area of more than 700 square miles (2,000 square kilometers), including areas still on fire and areas already burnt. The destruction is epic. BBC reported on a Hellish scene two days ago:

“The flames have already caused the evacuation of 80,000 people from the oil city of Fort McMurray, and thousands are still stuck to the north…The wildfire…[is] being propelled by high winds to the north-east towards Saskatchewan and was expected to reach the province by the end of Saturday Smoke from the fire has already spread there, and air quality statements have been issued for both Saskatchewan and North-West Territory. ‘Fire conditions remain extreme,’ said the Alberta Emergency Management Agency late on Saturday.

There is the possibility of rain on Sunday and Monday, but officials say the fire can only be put out by sustained heavy rains.

The blaze has ruined entire neighborhoods, with residents warned it could be some time before they can return. Officials say the power grid is damaged and the water not drinkable.

Some 1,600 homes and other buildings have been lost …Local DJ Chris Byrne was allowed back into Fort McMurray to check on the damage. He told BBC Newshour what he found. ‘Complete blocks [are] levelled and charred and it looks like a horrific scene.’”

The spectacle in northern Alberta is practically apocalyptic. The giant rolling firestorm has created its own thundercloud, replete with lightning that has helped spread the blaze.

The Fingerprints of Climate Change

What’s it got to do with fossil fuels? Quite a lot. Rachel Cleetus is the lead economist and climate policy manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She told CNN that climate change, which is driven by humanity’s excessive extraction and burning of carbon-rich fossil fuels, is “a significant factor” behind the momentous Canadian inferno. “We know the northern latitudes are warming faster than anywhere else….You definitely see the fingerprints of climate change,” Cleetus said.

According to CNN columnist John Sutter:

“A ridge in the jet stream, associated with rapid warming in the Arctic, also has helped lock in a high pressure zone over northwest Canada. That likely contributed to the fire conditions, experts said….Fires only are expected to get bigger and costlier as humans keep pumping heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, primarily by burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. A 2011 report from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, for example, says certain parts of the American West could see up to a 650% increase in the median area burned by wildfires each year if temperatures rise another 1 degree Celsius. Humans already have warmed the climate about 1 degree Celsius compared with temperatures before the industrial revolution.”

“To avoid 2 degrees of warming, which world leaders say is the danger zone for climate change, society basically needs to ditch fossil fuels between 2050 and 2100 — a monumental task but one researchers say is achievable. …Meanwhile, wildfire seasons already are getting longer. In Alberta, the province where Fort McMurray is located, the fire season now officially starts in April, Flannigan said. It used to start in May. ‘In recent years we’ve actually had forest fires in December, which doesn’t have any historical analog,’ he told me….In parts of the western United States, there no longer is a ‘fire season.’ The entire year is now fair game. ‘Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970,” the U.S. Forest Service said in an August 2015 report. ‘The U.S. burns twice as many acres as three decades ago and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century.’”

“We need to grasp where we come into the picture on fires like the one in Canada and plan accordingly. That means better fire management — including discouraging the growth of towns in fire-prone areas and creating emergency funds to help cash-strapped agencies fight these bigger, badder fires. It also, crucially, means working to eliminate fossil fuel use as quickly as possible” (emphasis added).

That’s a guy at CNN writing that – not Bill McKibben, James Hansen, or Naomi Klein being interviewed on Democracy Now!.

The Gateway to Canada’s Tar Sands Crime

I’ve saved the mostly darkly fitting fact of the Canadian wildfire story for last. If you’ve read this far you probably already know this but it must be noted here anyway: Fort McMurray is a remote boomtown with a rapidly rising population and business activity driven primarily by the extraction of Canadian tar sands oil. The city is smack in the heart of one of Canada’s leading centers of planet-baking oil production, right beneath the Athabasca Oil Sands, whose dirty and exceptionally carbon-rich oil is extracted on a giant scale by great eco-cidal and transnational Big Carbon firms including Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen. Fort McMurray, named after a factor (William McMurray) with the fur-trading, merchant-capitalist Hudson Bay Company in 1870, is “the gateway to Canada’s oil sands region, a hotbed of fossil fuel extraction” (Sutter).

It is also surrounded by vast swaths of primeval northern “tiaga” boreal forest, ready for burning in the hot and crispy climate brought to us by 71 years of extreme global petro-capitalism. The burning and forest destruction becomes a cause as well as a consequence of anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming.

Like Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012) and numerous other climate-related. not-so natural disasters, the Canadian Wildfire of 2016 is yet another attempt by Mother Nature (I write on Mother’s Day) to wake humanity up to the deadly costs of the fossil fuel addiction imposed on it by – and this is something you won’t hear on CNN or for that matter from McKibben or Hansen (you can hear it from Klein) – the ruling class masters of capital [1]. We cannot depend on the carbon-caked corporate and financial powers that be or their growth- and accumulation-addicted profits system to help us avert environmental catastrophe, which is unfolding before our very eyes and not just those of “our grandchildren.”


1, For elaboration on this very critical point, please see Paul Street, “Anthropocene or Capitalocene?” teleSur English, October 27, 2015 and, above all, the brilliant Marxist environmentalist geographer-historian-sociologist Jason Moore’s book Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital (Verso, 2015).

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

Hey, Berniebros, Leave Them Kids Alone

15/05/16 0 COMMENTS

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

Pink Floyd

Recently on a trip to San Diego State University, a left political scientist raised with me an interesting question regarding the age demographics of Bernie Sanders’ most fervent supporters. The Sandernista enthusiasm of Bernie’s younger backers made more sense to the political scientist than did that of many of Sanders’ older fans, including a fair number of middle-aged and senior lefties. For many youthful voters, the 2016 presidential carnival is their first encounter with an election cycle including a leftish progressive Democrat campaigning (or claiming to campaign) for good social and democratic things like free college, big green jobs programs, decent wages, and progressive taxation. Those young citizens, workers, and voters have to go through the disillusionment that follows when this Democrat folds and lines up behind his party’s corporate and imperial candidate in the name of “realistic” Lesser Evilism. The electoral newcomers need to see the great progressive hope exposed as just another brick in the wall of the corporate party duopoly, his “sheepdog” role revealed: to herd reasonably alienated voters back into the corporate-managed social movement cemetery and radicalism-butchering slaughterhouse that is the Democratic Party.

Every Four Years

Older U.S. progressives have been through this quadrennial drill before. Listen, for example, to the left commentator John Stauber (63 years old) reflecting on CounterPunch last week about the beginning of Bernie Sanders’ surrender to Hillary Clinton. Stauber knows it’s an 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 watchdogs and 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 adds, “are preparing their masses for the inevitable, pulling them into the ceremony that, not unlike a religious grieving event, prepares them for death and as a saintly rationalizing army of Hillary Clinton supporters (emphasis added).” Same as it ever was.

I’m sure the veteran and leading U.S. Marxist thinker Michael Yate (70 years old) isn’t surprised by Bernie’s inevitable submission to the Clinton machine and the Democratic National Committee. In his latest book The Great Inequality, Yates writes that:

“Money calls the tune in U.S. politics. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every four years by presidential candidates…Getting access to this cash necessitates a close relationship between almost all persons seeking high political office and potential wealthy donors, as well as cash-rich corporations…It is now nearly impossible to either get a man or woman dedicated to popular democracy elected or to secure passage of progressive legislation. What chance would an office-seeker dedicated to a robust expansion of social security, universally publicly-funded healthcare, better labor laws, sustainable, publicly-subsidized small-scale organic farming, and an end to fracking and other environmentally calamitous practices [i.e., Bernie Sanders] have of winning an election? Candidates are thoroughly vetted before any money is forthcoming. ‘Troublemakers’ are eliminated from the start.”

Also unsurprised by Sanders’ inevitable surrender, surely, is the veteran Left historian and activist Laurence Shoup (72 years old). Shoup wrote the following in the spring of 2008:

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.”

This is the kind of the thing that veteran Leftists, Old and New, have long said, based on many years of often painful experience and observation.

“Only a Small Part of Politics”

Many of Sanders’ older fans are disappointed that Sanders will clearly end up as another episode in the bigger stories told by Stauber, Yates, Shoup and other veteran radical intellectuals (myself included). But I doubt that the nation’s leading left intellectual Noam Chomsky (87 years old) is losing much sleep about the Sanders fade. As 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, Zinn 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 …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.”

Chomsky has said some polite and supportive-sounding things about the Sanders campaign but always with two key qualifications: (i) Bernie had little chance of winning the Democratic Party presidential nomination because of big money’s influence and related institutional barriers in the party; (ii) progressive change isn’t achieved primarily through the nation’s mass marketed and candidate-centered once-every-4-years presidential election spectacles. Last Fall, in a teleSur English interview that Left Liberal progressive Democrats misleadingly touted as a ringing endorsement of Sanders’ campaign, Chomsky 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.”

Sixteen Reasons

What explains the willingness of so many more smart, serious, and mature U.S. lefties than usual to jump on board the latest doomed progressive-Democrat electoral train this time around – and then to feel angry and disappointed by the latest progressive “could a been a contender’s” predictable and predicted downfall …this even though the Sanders adventure sucked up (as usual) vast quantities of energy and resources that would have been better invested in building capacities for Chomsky and Zinn’s “more urgent” and serious political action beneath and beyond the “personalized quadrennial extravaganzas”? My sense is that it comes down to sixteen basic considerations, sentiments, and calculations in the minds of such older lefties:

1/ A considerable (I think excessive) degree of respect for the fact that Sanders has been willing to (deceptively) describe himself as a democratic socialist – this even though Sanders is at leftmost a social-democratically inclined New Deal liberal who refuses to fundamentally criticize the capitalist profits system and its evil twin imperialism.

2/ The “realistic” conclusion that real, radical socialist revolution is simply off the historical table in the “conservative” United States and that the most one can possibly expect to achieve in the U.S. is a moderate reform. (Too bad if it’s becoming increasingly clear that a radical eco-socialist reconstruction of U.S. and global society is required if humanity is to have any shot at a decent future).

3/ A sense that the depth and degree of misery, inequality, and environmental degradation imposed by U.S. and global capitalism on the American people might combine with the terrible and transparently right-wing record and flaws of Hillary Clinton and her campaign – and with Sanders’ laser-like focus on the unifying issue of inequality – to make it more realistic than ever before to dream about a leftish liberal progressive getting the Democratic presidential nomination and winning the White House.

4/ Sheer horror at the long hideous arch-corporatist and aggressive imperialist record of Hillary and Bill Clinton and at the Clinton team’s socio-pathological capacity for fake-progressive/-liberal posing.

5/ Surprise at the degree of Sanders’ early success with voters (I have been unsurprised: Bernie has done about as well I expected given the savage inequalities that so badly disfigure New Gilded Age America and the many uninspiring and indeed disturbing, even terrifying aspects of Hillary Clinton’s horrid personality, career, and campaign).

6/ Surprise at Sanders’ remarkable success in raising large amounts of campaign money on the basis of small middle and working class contributions (that is something that I, for one, did not anticipate, and that got many Sandernistas fantasizing about Bernie doing a campaign finance end run around the “hidden primary of the ruling class”)

7/ An absence of faith in the capacity of non-affluent Americans to form the bottom-up social movements and direct action capacities Chomsky, Zinn, and others (the present writer included) have tended to privilege over electoral efforts.

8/ A belief that the Sanders’ campaign might prove to be a vehicle for such grassroots movements, capacity, and disruption.

9/ A “try anything” sense of desperation regarding the states of the nation, democracy, the world, and livable ecology – something that can predispose one to look for progressive hope in major party presidential candidate and/or a Roman Catholic Pope who seems to want to roll back the worst excesses of capitalism.

10/ A lack of faith in the relevance and power of third and fourth party challenges to the reigning plutocratic U.S. party system and the economic oligarchy it serves and protects.

11/ A belief that the Sanders campaign might contribute to the unravelling and even implosion of the Democratic Party – this despite the fact that Sanders repeatedly and from the beginning stated his deep and abiding allegiance to that deeply conservative organization (which he didn’t really “come into” for the presidential campaign since he’d been a de facto Democrat since at least the early 1990s) and to its eventual nominee (Bernie’s “good friend” Hillary).

12/ A desire to stick it to the evil Clintons and Clintonites and expose them for the deeply conservative corporatists that they are.

13/  A desire not to look like cynical and bitter old nay-saying curmudgeons in relation to the Bernie enthusiasm of many younger, and newly turned-on voters.

14/ A sense that Sanders couldn’t be any more critical of U.S. foreign policy (imperialism, that is) than he has been (which is hardly at all) given the fact that “hey, he’s running for president of the American Empire.”

15/ A belief that Sanders would stand a better chance than the highly unpopular Hillary of defeating the lunatic Republican candidate (Trump or Cruz) in November.

16/ A belief that Sanders has helped advance positive discussion of socialism in the U.S.

Kernels of Understandability

While I have been sternly critical of the Sanders from the supposedly “perfectionist,” “ultra-radical,” and “sectarian” Left from the start, I think there has been what I might call a kernel of understandability in most of these considerations or rationales for Sandernista sentiment. It is a big deal that millions of voters and especially young ones have been willing to mark ballots for a “socialist.” Even if Bernie isn’t actually a socialist, that simple fact reflects mass hunger for substantive radical-democratic politics and change. It is a good and hopeful sign in the world’s most powerful capitalist state, where anti-socialism has long been something like a national religion. (The main credit here goes to the terrible performance of U.S. and global capitalism, not of course to Bernie. The ubiquitous misery and precarity – economic, political, and especially environmental – generated by the living bourgeois dictatorship has been creating new openness to socialism on the part of younger Americans for many years now.)

Hillary and the Clinton machine are in fact hideously corporatist, evil, neoliberal, imperialist, and militaristic. They have a long and bloody track record. They should elicit horror.

Hillary is a deeply flawed and unpopular candidate with a closet full of skeletons. She’s no match for her husband or even for Barack Obama when it comes to playing that great game of major party American politics: “the manipulation of populism by elitism” (Christopher Hitchens). And Sanders has in fact been out-performing her in match-up polls with Trump and Cruz.

The inequality of wealth and income that Sanders has been talking about more directly and insistently than any major party presidential record in memory is shockingly advanced. It carries numerous terrible and interrelated consequences for the nation’s (and indeed the world’s) social, economic, political, physical, mental, and environmental health.

It has been remarkable how much money Sanders has raised outside the elite corporate and financial donor networks that tend to dominate elections for higher office in the U.S.

Sanders did become something of a potential “troublemaker” for Wall Street Democrats. He came too close for big money comfort. He was certainly “eliminated [further] from the start” than those Democrats would have preferred.

As Ralph Nader has acknowledged, Sanders could not have achieved the success he did anywhere but through the Democratic Party’s caucus and primary system. Declaring for the White House as a third party candidate would have relegated him to the margins thanks to the American System’s steep constitutional and institutional biases (including media discrimination) against third and fourth parties.

Third party campaigns and candidates do have very little to show for themselves in recent or overall U.S. history.

Labor, civil rights, environmental, and other social movements outside and beneath electoral politics do not have a lot of institutional, cultural, and political presence in American life. They cannot point to very many substantive victories for ordinary people in the U.S. right now.

It is very much to be desired than the Sanders campaign or experience provide impetus to grassroots social movement formation beneath and beyond the latest quadrennial electoral extravaganza. Sanders has said some things that seem to suggest that he understands that.

Desperation certainly is understandable, especially on ecological grounds, as the global warming jet(stream) taxis on to the takeoff run[a]way. A carbon-fueled environmental catastrophe brought to us by the extreme global capitalism of the last seven decades is already underway and that made it difficult to completely dismiss a major party presidential candidate who opposed fracking and said that climate change was the nation’s “top security threat.”

It has at times been interesting, enjoyable, and instructive to see the Sanders campaign shed light on contradictions in the Democratic Party. It’s been useful, for example, to see Paul Krugman, Paul Starr, Tom Hayden, John Lewis, Gloria Steinem, and other purported progressive heroes exposed as power-serving shills for the right-wing fanatic Hillary Clinton. It’s been educationally helpful for radicals to note elite Democrats being forced to make vicious and idiotic arguments against candidate (Sanders) who has run in accord with majority progressive policy sentiments on numerous basic policy issues.

It would, of course, be a big deal – a significant progressive victory with many-sided positive implications – to win single-payer national health insurance (Improved Medicare for All) in the U.S.

It has been nice and hopeful to hear some of leftish things that Bernie’s new friend Pope Francis says about and against capitalism, war, and climate change.

Grab Some Bench

Okay, so it all seemed to make a certain amount of progressive sense for many seasoned lefties. I get that. What now – now that Bernie is laying off staffers, saying that he’s going to the Democratic Convention to fight over the party’s irrelevant platform (NOT the party nomination), and going on CBS’s “Face the Nation” (last Sunday) to say (as promised from day one of the Sanders “insurgency”) that “of course the [unmentionably arch-capitalist and imperialist] Democratic Party needs to be unified” (under Neocon Hillary)? It’s time for seasoned Left Liberal Sandernistas to eat some humble pie. They should say “hey, we had our shot” and then step aside for more militant and radical activists who are more immune to election madness and to what I call Mad Candidate Disease come to the fore.

I’ll never forget the moment on March 12, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin, when one of that state’s “progressive” Democrat senators got up in front of at least 30,000 angry marchers and told them to take down their protest posters and pick up their (doomed) Scott Walker Recall Election clipboards. A leading Marxist activist in my vicinity could be heard saying, “he means ‘thanks a lot, you can all go home now. We’ll take it from here.’”

We all know how well that worked out for the great people’s revolution. Now it’s time progressive electoralists to sit back and let others pick up the ball. They don’t necessarily have to quit or leave the team, but it’s time – if I might use a sports analogy – for them to “grab some bench” and to reflect on how to shift their approach for the new radical times. It’s time to them to be taken off the starting team and become comfortable with a different, supportive, and second-string role: back up those who have shown their ability to resist the deadly siren song of U.S. electoral politics.

The people’s and workers’ struggle needs a more serious and radical starting lineup and game plan. The 2015-16 squad went about as far as people can go playing by the reigning major league and party system rules. It was fairly impressive. They took some good swings up at the plate. But, well, guess what? It wasn’t even in the revolutionary ballpark. The ruling class sent them back to the bench with their bat in their hands, as usual.

Enough with the bourgeois electoral-ism for now, please. “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 quadrennial extravaganza seems to last forever (it kind of does, actually, especially on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News). Their outcomes are largely beyond our control. What is not outside our sphere of influence is the ability to build genuinely radical and lasting through-thick-and thin peoples’ and workers’ power organizations to build a serious movement for 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.”

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Beyond “Left” Astroturf

It’s long past time for Democratic Party-linked and electoral politics-addicted activists and NGOs to be discredited as social movement leaders. The People for Bernie PAC and its allies in the top-down activist community – Progressive Democrats of America, Democratic Socialists of America, 350.org, and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (the Bill Moyers-heralded citizen action group that invited Bernie to come as a Democrat to the first-in-the-nation presidential Caucus when it should have been pouring all its energies into blocking a hideous eco-cidal project [the recently approved Bakken Pipeline] in their state) – want to run grassroots activism between elections. They have called for a two-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 not enough for the Left Liberal electoral progressives to suck up most of the progressive energy in the national room across the seemingly interminable (disclosure: I live in Iowa) primary season. No, they want to own and run “the popular movement” so as to keep it locked down for the Democrats and the permanent major party and election-obsessed mind game into the general election and beyond – before, during, and after the next debasing candidate extravaganza, and the next one and…forever and anon

This is very much to be shunned. A perceptive report by the Left journalist and commentator Arun Gupta is titled “Democracy Sleepwalking.” It tells the depressing story of how the establishment U.S. Democratic Party-affiliated progressive Liberal Left – the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, NOW, NAACP, SEIU, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Codepink, Jobs with Justice, People for the American Way (“many of which will throw their weight behind [Hillary Clinton and rest of] the Democratic Party in this year’s election”) – recently staged a restrained series of so-called Democracy Awakening protests in Washington. The purpose of the event was to buttress Sanders’ calls for campaign finance reform, enhanced voter rights, increased voter registration, and a constitutional amendment to end the dominance of private money in public elections.

“The gathering was a throwback to soporific pre-Occupy Wall Street protests,” Gupta writes. “There was the laundry list of speakers and causes. Lefty celebrities present, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, and past, commentator Jim Hightower, and the house protest band, Sweet Honey in the Rock. Pete Seeger was spared no rest, namechecked by a tin-eared warbler at the closing event.” Attending the protests and interviewing (and trying to interview) participants, Gupta found:

— Modest turnout on the part of “subdued” retirees, staff, and interns who stuck to tightly scripted talking points on behalf of moderate and “pragmatic” demands centered on reforming the U.S. political process.

— A strange disconnect between the event organizers’ power-friendly “pragmatism” and their call “the impossible: that [campaign finance reform] bills be passed by a Republican majority that has tied up Washington until November’s vote determines who wins control of all three federal branches at stake.”

— Movement “field generals” and communications officers policing interviews to make sure that younger marchers stick to the official moderate-liberal talking points.

— A curious disconnect between “high-stakes rhetoric” bemoaning the death of democracy and livable ecology on one hand and consistent calls for remarkably restrained reform gained by working within the system on the other hand.

— Grandiose and historically inappropriate references to the modest gathering as being in the vein and tradition of great past Civil Rights confrontations like Selma and like the Occupy Movement of late 2011.

— A widespread misplaced faith in the progressive relevance of voting combined with standard claims of readiness to mark ballots for “whoever was the nominee in the fall, meaning Hillary Clinton.”

“It seemed churlish,” Gupta writes, “to point out that Clinton is the most consistent Republican in the race, protector of Wall Street, enthusiastic war-monger, enemy of workers, and supporter of free-trade deals, austerity, and the war on terror.”

This is the same kind of dismal fake-progressivism and Democratic Party-captive Astroturfery we can expect at “the People’s Summit” next June. As currently planned, the gathering will be an exercise in upper-middle class- and NGO-coordinated Astroturf: fake-grassroots movement-building captive to the partisan and electoral agenda of the Democratic Party, which means subordinated to the arch-neoliberal and militaristic Clinton machine and the corporatist, populism-manipulating DNC. It will be absurdly over-focused on the irrelevant Democratic Party platform, not actual rank-and-file movement-building.

For a Radical Education Project

My favorite part of Gupta’s must-read essay comes near its end, where he reflects on his interaction with some young and radical and direct-actionist class-struggle activists who attended the Democracy Awakening events:

“Some of the most perceptive protesters at the Democracy Awakening were three teenagers decked out with a red-and-black flag, Wobbly t-shirts, and anarchist class-war politics. But they were not there to rain on the parade. Rob said, ‘I love to see people out here and standing up for democracy, but I wish there were more.’ Richie said, ‘We have to treat the root cause,’ adding that the liberal groups involved were ‘fighting the symptoms.’ For Stefan, who supported the effort as it was ‘pushing politics to the left,’ the missing ingredient was “worker power.”

They don’t have the answers, but they understand how power works better than the paid strategists, communications specialists, social media experts, lawyers, and organizers behind Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening. If liberals wanted to build a movement, one that could create the type of social disruption and defiance that would lead to significant political reforms, they would fund radical, visionary organizers and give them free reign to experiment. But that movement would quickly spiral out of the control of liberal groups and unions that have been deeply invested in and reliant upon existing political and economic structures.” (emphasis added)

Indeed. We need more radical Robs, Richies, and Stefans (and Rhondas, Julie, and Susans) and fewer establishment left pragmatic electoralists like Jim Hightower, Rev, Barber, Katrina Vanden-Heuvel, John Nichols, and Bernie Sanders in the vanguard of popular struggle in the U.S. As Yates recently argued in Truthout: titled “Let’s Get Serious About Inequality and Socialism”:

“If we are serious about socialism, we must say, as often as possible, what it is. We must initiate and engage in a radical education project, in our organizations, in our conversations and in writing. And we must take steps now to begin to move toward socialism, divorcing ourselves from the tyranny of the marketplace. Commit ourselves to radical communal self-help measures, in the spirit of Freedom Summer during the civil rights movement; the community social service programs of the Black Panther Party; the housing projects of some labor unions; the collective cleaning, food provisioning and educating of Occupy Wall Street; the community gardens being constructed in Detroit; urban farming in Cuba and thousands of other contemporary and historical examples. Work to reduce our own unnecessary consumption. Offer solidarity to all oppressed people. Refuse to join the military. Demand control of our unions and all levels of government. And of great importance, begin to build independent and unabashedly radical political organizations, including a working-class political party.”

Beyond Nationalist War Socialism

It isn’t only that radical anti-capitalists (of all ages) are more likely to actually win things for working class people (the U.S. majority) and to carry struggles down to the “root cause” (capitalist class rule). It’s also that real, non-Astroturf radicals (young and old) understand the need to forthrightly oppose U.S. capitalism’s evil twin, U.S. imperialism. Anti-imperialism (shockingly absent from the Sanders’ “insurgency”) is imperative for any meaningful Left revival in the U.S. for reasons moral and practical. The moral imperative is obvious: the U.S. Pentagon and its vast “empire of bases” (Chalmers Johnson) is the world’s biggest murdering and maiming machine (it is also the world’s leading carbon-emitter, by the way) and it remains switched on Kill. It is spiritually indefensible for the United States to spend many hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars each year on Washington’s giant planetary network of slaughter, occupation, regime-change, and mayhem. The U.S. “defense” (empire) budget accounts for half the world’s military spending. It is disgraceful for the U.S. to spend public money on war and war preparations when nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, try to survive on less than $2 a day; when 16 million U.S. children – 22% of all U.S. children (including 38% of Black U.S. children) – live in families with income below the federal government’s notoriously Dickensian poverty level.

The practical imperative for any social-democratic progressive worth his or her salt to oppose their nation’s giant military-industrial complex and global Empire arises from some very basic facts. The progressive domestic programs that candidate Sanders claimed to passionately want are fiscally pre-empted by the giant Pentagon budget, which eats up 54% of federal discretionary spending. The Pentagon System is a vast, wealth-concentrating state-capitalist racket for high-tech “defense” firms (Lockheed Martin and Raytheon et al.). It provides the protection, chaos, and punishment muscle behind the U.S.-run neoliberal global-capitalist order – the world profits system that is destroying lives, communities, and livable ecology at home and abroad. It’s a global system, something that makes the “narrow nationalism” (Yates) of Sanders’ campaign ill-suited to serious socialist struggle.

The least understandable and defensible aspect of older “Berniebros’” Sanders enthusiasm has been their depressing unwillingness to challenge their candidate’s chilling embrace of the criminal American Empire Project. Surely the spiritual and budgetary bankruptcy of “war socialism” is one of the key lessons of the New Left experience during the 1960s, when the “war on poverty” was strangled in its cradle by the costs of Washington’s “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Chomsky’s term at the time) and when a cadre of U.S. “democratic socialists” (including Michael Harrington, Bayard Rustin, and the truly despicable Max Shachtman) achieved well-deserved radical disgrace by failing to forthrightly oppose the mass-murderous U.S. War on Indochina and failing to make a call for the reduction of “defense” spending part of their “peoples’ agenda” to “end poverty in America.” Their reiteration of this past war-socialist (“social chauvinist” in Lenin’s terminology) error (crime, really) is one of the three top reasons I have to say, paraphrasing Pink Floyd, “Hey, Berniebro, leave them kids alone.”

Beyond Letter Grades

The second reason is their dismal, dogged, and dangerous, de-radicalizing dilution of the meaning of the terms “socialism” and “democratic socialism.” As Yates reminds us:

“How does Sanders define socialism? Rather peculiarly. Eugene Debs, one of Sanders’ heroes, understood socialism to mean social ownership of society’s productive wealth and democratic planning of economic activity. It meant the abolition – through class struggle – of the wage system and a radical divorce from the entire complex web of markets that are capitalism’s face and façade, beneath which lie brutally exploitative relations of production and the debasement of the natural world. Debs’ socialism intended an end to the debilitating division of labor that guarantees most workers a lifetime of alienation and stultifying work. It demanded production for use and not for profit. It supposed, in other words, the abolition of capitalism…. Sanders, to the contrary, sees socialism as social democracy, with capitalism intact, although with a stronger, more aggressive and progressive role for the government.”

“Socialism” with “capitalism intact” – with capitalist wealth still in power – is a deadly Orwellian absurdity.

The third reason is older Sandernistas’ belief that a real socialist revolution – one that would NOT leave “capitalism intact” – is off the historical table. That is a conclusion we simply cannot afford. Capitalism properly understood – as the private, for-profit, and accumulation- and growth-addicted ownership and control of productive wealth and the political economy – is pushing humanity over the edge of an environmental catastrophe from which it will be unable to recover. The profits system is by all indications hard-wired to destroy decent life on Earth in the not so distant future. Can an urgently required transition to a sustainable civilization occur and the climate and related environmental crisis be solved and a livable Earth saved under the competitive, chaotic, hierarchical, regressive, imperial, authoritarian, and growth-and accumulation-addicted capitalist system? Not a chance. Pink populist and social-democratish tides won’t save us. Only great red-green revolutionary waves of radical reconstruction can do the job. Capital is driving humanity and other living things off the cliff.

We are far beyond the incremental letter grades of social democrats and Left Liberals. We are at an existential chasm: we either take the revolutionary leap or its game over. The need for an eco-socialist revolution is humanity’s pass-fail moment. (This isn’t about hysterical and neurotic “catastrophism.” It’s the realistic diagnosis and treatment plan for a gravely endangered species.)

Bernie is Not Our Convener

In a recent interview with Chris Hedges (an early and consistent Left critic of Sanders), Seattle’s Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant “call[s] on Bernie to convene a conference of activists, organizers, his campaign supporters, to discuss building a new left party for the 99 percent, free of corporate money and independent of the Democrats and the Republicans. We may have to do this. We cannot fold up and go home if Bernie does not do it.”

Would it really be suitable for the Left Liberal and narrow nationalist Empire Man, capitalist, and longstanding de facto Democrat Bernie Sanders to summon such a gathering? Ms. Sawant surely knows that Sanders will convene no such summit – that there’s really no “if he does it” about it. Her call is likely a tactical move meant to move young Sanders supporters over to a third party as Bernie fulfills his promise to back Hillary this late spring and summer. I get that and why it’s a clever move. But why the over-strong emphasis on a “new party,” as if electoral politics and voting are the main things American leftists need to be focused on right now? Does Sawant wish to call for a new Constitutional Convention to alter the nation’s party and elections system so that third and fourth parties might actually have a fighting chance and U.S. electoral politics might actually become worthy of passionate citizen-worker engagement? (It’s interesting to me how rarely U.S. left intellectuals and activists look seriously at the arch-authoritarian obsolescence of the U.S. Constitution. Under the rules of the U.S. political game, constitutional and otherwise, electoralism is a dead end for serious leftists when it comes to higher officers. It isn’t just or only about campaign finance.)

In the meantime, whatever positive contribution Sanders has made to the radical education project is coming to a close in accord with his original sheepdog promise. Let’s thank him and ask him now to go home. He played his role and it was interesting to see that the dosage necessary to sustain U.S. progressive’s dysfunctional addiction to the major party quadrennial extravaganza (“that’s politics”) his primary season had to be increased like no time in historical memory: a candidate who let himself be called a democratic socialist! There’s radical meaning and potential contained in and advanced by that stimulating development. Now let us get actually serious about capitalism, imperialism, inequality, eco-cide, and socialism and begin before it’s too late to act on the urgent, posthumously published wisdom of the martyred Dr. King’s admonition on “the real issue to be faced.” Surely the debasing spectacle of the 2016 presidential selection – shaping up as “a contest between the two most hated people in America – should be an apt teachable moment for serious radicals who advocate a revolutionary politics more concerned with who’s sitting in the streets than who’s sitting in the White House.

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

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

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

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

13/05/16 0 COMMENTS

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)

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