Friday, October 24, 2008

Racist taunts buttressed by a powerful system of institutional racism

Writing at Counterpunch, Todd Chretien, former California Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate succinctly states an often overlooked or willfully unknown aspect of American history:

This point deserves emphasis. America's economic wealth was literally extracted from the backs and minds of more than 10 generations of Black slaves. This wealth wasn't incidental to the nation's fortunes. Without slavery, there would have been no riches for Northern merchants and bankers, and no boom in Northern industry. It took a ferocious Civil War to abolish slavery--a conflict that demonstrated the tenacity of the slave owner's defense of the system.

The freed slaves achieved a 10-year period of partial democracy and reform in the South during Reconstruction. Defended by heavily armed troops, they elected hundreds of African Americans to state legislatures and Congress.

This Southern revolution was drowned in blood, as the KKK lynched its way into power, leading to 80 years of apartheid-like legal segregation. The heroic and bloody struggles of the civil rights movement finally broke Jim Crow's back, paving the way to voting rights, affirmative action in education and jobs, the creation of a Black middle class, and the possibility of Barack Obama's campaign.

All this is often dismissed as ancient history. Yet it is worth remembering that when Barack Obama was born in 1961, millions of African Americans were still legally barred from voting in the South.

Even when the history is acknowledged, it is often asserted that the wrongs have been righted, and Black people should stop "complaining." As if the racist taunts shouted out at McCain rallies aren't buttressed by a powerful system of institutional racism which guarantees that African Americans disproportionately go to the poorest schools, suffer the highest unemployment rate and account for 50 percent of the nation's 2 million prisoners, although they constitute just 13 percent of the population.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

When greed and dim-wittery win control of a culture

I ready two blogs every day. One of them is the incomparable Daily Howler. Today's Howler wrestled with the thought of Chris Matthews running for the U.S. senate as a democrat. Such an idea must have inclined Bob Somersby and his staff to mutter mordant chuckles because:

Why is it astounding to think that Matthews could run as a Democrat? No one on cable devoted more effort to the wars against both Clintons and Gore—the wars which sent George Bush to the White House, the wars which produced the war in Iraq. (Your toilet-trained leaders won’t tell you this. But it’s plainly accurate.) In particular, his trashy assaults against Candidate Gore were nasty, baldly dishonest and endless.

Meanwhile, Matthews has been a very good boy in recent months, playing his Dem viewers for fools. Suddenly, he’s deeply concerned about Republican misconduct, as he showed in a high-minded oration on the October 8 Hardball. Suddenly, Matthews is very upset at the troubling way the GOP “de-Americanizes” Big Dems. Why, they’ve done it to everyone, he sadly lamented. They’ve done it to everyone but Gore, this big fake tragi-comically said:

MATTHEWS: Let’s go back to Michael [Smerconish]. He’s changing the subject. The de-Americanization of every Democratic candidate, with the exception of Al Gore, I guess, who was so home-grown from—I guess he was accused of being from St. Albans or somewhere. Michael, there is a pattern here of de-Americanizing every Democratic candidate, starting with Michael Dukakis.

Of course, Somersby had previously written about Matthews complaining of Al Gore's "un-american" looks before, and Somersby has a long memory:

Unsurprisingly, [the Don Imus] gang of panderers—Charles McCord and, of course, Bernie—laughed at every word Don said. Later, Chris Matthews guested on the program, saying of Al Gore, "He doesn’t look like one of us. He doesn’t seem very American, even." No, we’re not making this up.

Make no mistake—these people will lecture the nation on "character," but it’s they who are the "fifth column" among us. Chris Matthews is finally rich and famous, and he’ll put it ahead of the national interest every time. And which patriots put these two fools on the air? NBC, our home-grown fifth column. It’s tragic to see what can occur when greed and dim-wittery win control of a culture. As we’ve long told you—the Culture War’s over and Howard Stern won; Imus and Matthews are just his handmaidens. We’re all put in danger now by their celebrity. But rest easy. NBC now belongs to Welch and Gates, and Don and Chrissy’s roles in the overall spinning are well understood—and, we would guess, quite secure.

Meanwhile, can those "anti-Americans" be all wrong if Imus is on the air every morning? To see the fruit of a rotted-out culture, just put on Donnie every day, and watch Charles (the good "Christian") laugh and laugh.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A new class of eunuchs

In a C-SPAN interview, Chris Hedges decries and laments the dying tradition of reporting, the denigration of "news" to a judgment of its entertainment value, the courtiers to Versailles on the Potomac, Barak Obama's record of bowing to corporate interests, the corporate coup d'etat of the U.S. government, and a host of other concerns.

You can catch the entire video here.

[A]s somebody who comes out of the dying tradition of reporting, I think the notion that ... what television celebrities do is equate-able with journalism, has been very detrimental to the health of the news gathering industry within the United States.

... I often feel, especially as we watch newspapers just sort of implode from the inside, that the skills that go into making a good reporter – and you know I was abroad for almost 20 years, most of them with The New York Times. I certainly interviewed heads of state ... when I was in the Middle East ... but that’s a very small part of what it is to be a reporter or to be a journalist, that ... it’s a trade. It’s not a profession. And I think that when you look, especially in Washington at how celebrity journalism is practiced on commercial television, ... I think courtier is the right word. I think that they are courtiers.

They feed off of their access to the powerful and the famous. And you know I.F. Stone was right. All governments, it really doesn’t matter what their ideological stripe or what party they you know they come from, lie. And it’s the job of a reporter to ferret out those lies, to shine a light on areas that without that journalistic endeavor would remain dark. And good journalists, people like Sy Hersh, for instance, are very unpopular figures and people in power don’t like them.

And ... I really here fault commercial television which has stopped gathering news, largely, I think ... news is judged solely on its entertainment value... [T]here’s been a terrible, terrible corruption in commercial news ... and I’ve watched it.

...[W]hen I began covering the war in El Salvador in the early 1980s, all of the networks had bureaus. They would have reporters and producers. They went out with us. I was working as a print reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. They gathered stories. They produced them. They reported them. That’s that. It’s all gone.

[I]t’s become trivia and celebrity gossip and chatter ... [T]he noise pollution that emanates from television I find deeply disturbing. And I think that that equation of ... the world of power and access to power and with journalism itself has been as destructive to the health of our democracy as the equation of Christianity to the Demagogues who dominate the religious right, people like Pat Robertson, for instance, or Rod Parsley.

LAMB: Define courtier.

HEDGES: Well, a courtier is somebody who has a kind of parasitic attachment to centers of power. I think that’s the article where I described Washington as a Versailles. And that’s what Washington’s become.

And the courtiers extend beyond the press. I think most people in the democratic party could be defined as courtiers in the sense that ... since the democratic party has taken control of the Congress since 2006, they have done little to nothing to defy the desires and projects propagated by the Bush White House, although they were clearly elected to do so.

And that’s what courtiers do. Courtiers ... they’re a new class of eunuchs. And you can find them in the halls of Congress and you can find them strutting around the bureaus of the big Washington networks.

LAMB: You also write, ”Being a courtier - and Obama is ... one of the best – requires agility and eloquence. The most talented of them can be lauded as persuasive actors. They entertain us. They make us feel good. They convince us they are our friends. We would like to have dinner with them. They are the smiley faces of the corporate state that has hijacked the government and is raping the nation. When the corporations make their iron demands, these courtiers drop to their knees where – to placate the telecommunications companies that fund their campaigns and want to be protected from lawsuits or to permit oil and gas companies to rake in obscene profits and keep in place the vast subsidies of corporate welfare doled out by the state.”

What do you think of Mr. Obama? I mean, explain what your relevance to him is.

HEDGES: Well, that sort of summed it up. You can’t run for president of this country unless you play that game, unless you allow yourself to become a commercialized product. And Obama’s very good at it. He’s – you know one of the things that was fascinating to watch in the primaries was how he out-Clintoned the Clintons.

But substance. There’s no substance. You know watching – listening to an Obama speech is like watching a Pepsi commercial. There’s nothing there. It’s – you know it can be moving. It can be eloquent. But you know when you reach out to grasp anything hard, it slips through your hand.

And ... I think that ... one should not pay much attention to what politicians say in an election cycle in a campaign. One should look at their voting records.

And when Obama went and supported this FISA reform act, that was a clear indication that he was, and is, beholden to the corporate interests who are our shadow government. You know we live in a corporate state. And when you live in a corporate state, you undergo what we have been undergoing which is a coup d’etat in slow motion.

We are being stripped as citizens daily of power. The FISA bill would be a perfect example of that. You know, however inept or clumsy or dysfunctional government may be, it is the only institution citizens have to protect their interests, to safeguard their interests, whether that’s through regulatory agencies, whether that’s through public education, whether that’s setting mine and safety standards, clean water acts, et cetera.

And when that’s taken away from you, when government works at the behest of corporations, then you as a citizen are completely disempowered. And I think that when you look at the voting record of Congress, you see how – you know it doesn’t matter what we want. ... 70-something percent of Americans want to end the War in Iraq.

But there are many people, many corporations, Haliburton and ... Lockheed Martin, the list goes on and on and on, who for all in this war is a good business. And they don’t want it stopped. And the voices of the citizens are irrelevant because the entire election cycle, the entire campaign process, is hostage to corporate dollars, 35,000 lobbyists descending ... like hyenas on Capitol Hill.

And when you look at ... Barack Obama’s voting record on many, many, many issues going back and looking at his two years in the Senate, is one that pleases corporate backers. And I think that taking a hard look at his stances and where he stands – he’s talking now, of course, about expanding the war in Afghanistan as if you know Afghanis want to be occupied any more than Iraqis.

I am ... in a bit of despair over where we’re going. And until we break the stranglehold of the corporate state, you know there are already a lot of people suffering in this country and you know much of my own family comes from the working class. NAFTA and you know let’s be fair, the democrats have been as bad as the republicans on this. Clinton’s administration was a disaster for the working class in this country.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Take the hatchet to the national war on drugs

At Salon, Joe Conanson offers some significant budget cutting advice for whichever of the candidates wins the election: Eliminate the war on drugs, cut $50 billion.

If Barack Obama or John McCain wants to find a federal program that wastes hundreds of billions of dollars, he can take the scalpel (or better yet the hatchet) to the national war on drugs. Economists, physicians, police chiefs and prison wardens have repeatedly concluded that the drug war has been a very costly failure over the past four decades, but then neither Obama nor McCain needs to hear the truth from any expert -- because each of them can draw on his own painful personal experience.

The war on drugs HAS, however, been quite successful at incarcerating hundreds of thousands of mostly African-American citizens, although the incidence of drug use in the African-American community is similar to the incidence of drug use in the Euro-American community. This war has led to a very "profitable" prison-building industry (profits going to the builders of the prisons). There were almost 830,000 marijuana arrests in 2007, 89% for possession.

From opposite ends of the social and economic scale, both candidates have observed the casualties and injustices of American drug policy. Both should be able to understand why the system of punishment must be replaced by a paradigm of medical treatment. And both seem reluctant to discuss the subject for obvious reasons.

The only reason to talk about past drug abuse by Barack Obama or Cindy McCain is to point out the waste and injustice of the ongoing drug war. Both of them broke the law, repeatedly, by their own admission, but neither deserved to go to prison and no useful purpose would have been served by punishing them.

Today we spend well over $50 billion annually at the federal, state and local levels on a domestic war that has never achieved any of its objectives and never will. If either of the presidential candidates still believes that this is a worthwhile investment of our money, despite his own experience, it would be fascinating to hear him explain why.

The so-called "war on drugs" (it was never a war on DRUGS - drugs don't have money, houses, families, armies, navies, or air forces: wars are always ALWAYS waged against human beings) was really a marketing tool for "law and order" candidates to run on, for the "silent-majority" to feel good about, and for the "Reagan democrats" to point to -- a rejections of the DFH's of the 60's, but, FAR more important, symbolically -- a way to incarcerate dark-skinned people and make light-skinned people feel somehow "safer."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Better hurry before China makes a margin call

At Counterpunch, Vladimir Frolov imagines a hypothetical e-mail from Russian President Medvedev to U.S. President Obama:

We pulled our SIGINT station from Cuba and the naval base from Vietnam. And we did not get even a “thank you” note from Bush. Instead, we got missile defense bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. We were stunned to hear your Secretary of State, that charming lady from Stanford, make the only Russia policy speech in eight years, and talk about containment. Tell her she is no Churchill and we do not need a new Fulton.

Barack, your country is in a huge mess. You have lost some venerable financial institutions, and companies like General Motors and Ford are on the verge of bankruptcy. As Putin, my prime minister, says “You and your Wall Street will never get the same respect.” You need a lot of nation-building in the United States and a lot of repair work in your economy. When you take office, you will need all the help you can get.

We in Russia can offer you just that -- help. We sit on a pile of cash and can come to the rescue of your financial institutions in exchange for equity and control. We can run your finances much better than you do, and can issue better mortgages than Fanny and Freddie. Seriously.

You can let our companies like Severstal, Evraz, Metalloinvest or Norilsk Nickel purchase your entire steel industry. And we can have Russian Technologies save General Motors from an inevitable demise in exchange for shifting production from Michigan to Kaluga (they do not have such stratospheric healthcare costs in Kaluga).

This is a good deal for America, and you better hurry before China, which holds over a trillion dollars worth of Treasuries, makes a margin call on the entire U.S. economy.

I know what I am talking about, because we have just bailed out Iceland, a NATO member, by lending it €4.5 billion in emergency loans. Tell me, what is NATO for when it cannot even save its fellow member from going under? They are still building defenses against Russian tanks, but they cannot defend against Russian loans. When Poland goes bankrupt, we will take this missile defense base of yours as collateral.

Barack, the financial crisis has destroyed American leadership. When you become president next January, you will be surprised to learn that when you say something, few countries will listen. Of course, with a smart guy like you in the White House, America will be a more attractive country than under Bush. But your power will never be the same. You have lost your unipolar moment, and are now facing a “polarless” world.

In this world America has a lot of enemies, but Russia is not one of them. Make no mistake about it - we do not want to see your country go under. We want to purchase or lease it lock, stock and barrel, while it is still cheap.

Barack, in this new post-crisis world, we will need an entirely different global financial and security architecture to deal with the new challenges.

Perpetuation of a fundamentally false national mythology

Arthur Silber has been one of the fiercest critics of U.S. foreign (and domestic) policy. In his compelling view, with which I agree, an unquestioned belief in "Amercan exceptionalism" is held by the U.S. political elites of both parties. This conviction has manifested itself time and time again and is rooted in racism.

Below are excerpts from a Silber post on the U.S. war in the Phillipines, an invasion, occupation, slaughter, and subjugation about which few Americans have any knowledge.

Large-scale public ignorance is necessary to the perpetuation of a fundamentally false national mythology. Today, more than one hundred years later, all of this is repeated again, in precisely the same form. An honest observer knows that we learn only of some of the worst atrocities committed by U.S. troops in Iraq, those that cannot be denied or covered up. There are countless acts of barbarism about which we will never learn anything. And even when we cannot deny the occurrence of monstrous acts, we minimize and "explain" them using identical, contemptibly dishonest mechanisms.

Our mythology is crucially tied to our conception of our self-worth. For most of us, it is life itself. Dispense with the lies and death ensues, at least that is how many Americans experience it psychologically. I think only a monumental shock to these illusions -- in the form of a major economic collapse, a conflict of horrifying devastation, or by some other means -- will ever pry most Americans from these dangerous and destructive fables to which they cling with increasing desperation. In the meantime, the death and destruction will go on, exactly as they have before -- and most of us will do precious little to try to stop them.

A remarkable marketing discovery

NYT columnist Paul Krugman gives us a history lesson to help explain some aspects of the McCain presidential campaign:

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon made a remarkable marketing discovery. By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.

It was a winning formula. And the great thing was that the new packaging didn’t require any change in the product’s actual contents — in fact, the G.O.P. was able to keep winning elections even as its actual policies became more pro-plutocrat, and less favorable to working Americans, than ever.

John McCain’s strategy, in this final stretch, is based on the belief that the old formula still has life in it.

Thus we have Sarah Palin expressing her joy at visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country — yep, we’re all traitors here in central New Jersey. Meanwhile we’ve got Mr. McCain making Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber — who had confronted Barack Obama on the campaign trail, alleging that the Democratic candidate would raise his taxes — the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama’s economic proposals.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Victims of some ill-defined but clearly treacherous group plotting against them

At the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jay Bookman writes about the GOP psyche:

There’s something in the psyche of the GOP base that needs to believe they are victims of some ill-defined but clearly treacherous group plotting against them and the country. How else can they explain the fact that they’re losing? It can’t be because they have proved themselves incompetent at governance, or that they have lost touch with the reality of life in 21st century America. There has to be some other reason, and if there isn’t they’ll invent one.

I maintain that they doth protest too much, either spreading hypocritical lies, or projecting their own dirty tricks onto the Democratic party.

A government whose stunning incompetence and arrant stupidity was exceeded only by

The Common Dreams web site contains this Eric Margolis column from the Toronto Sun which provides some history, critiques American domestic, economic and foreign policies, and shows how all this will lead to loss of American power and influence in world affairs.

At the end of Second World War the British Empire still ruled nearly a quarter of the globe. But the war bankrupted Britain. Its once mighty empire quickly collapsed and the United States inherited much of the British Imperium.

Six decades later the United States is close to bankruptcy thanks to a national orgy of borrowing, the replacement of manufacturing by financial manipulation, ruinous foreign wars and a government whose stunning incompetence and arrant stupidity was exceeded only by its reckless imperial arrogance.

The financial panic now gripping the planet, and the ignominious collapse of Wall Street, showed the American colossus had feet of clay. Washington's furious printing of untold billions of new dollars to prop up its sinking economy, finance this year's $1 trillion deficit and pay debts may unleash a storm of dangerous inflation.

The world balance of power is already shifting. For example, Pakistan's new president, Asif Zardari, went cap in hand this week to China, seeking up to $6 billion US in emergency loans. Pakistan is on the verge of bankruptcy and may shortly default on its debt.

But Pakistan's patron, the United States, which has been renting that nation's politicians and army for $1.2 billion per annum to support the occupation of Afghanistan, can't spare any cash for Pakistan. So Pakistan is turning to China, which has $19 billion in foreign exchange reserves -- the world's largest. The U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan is likely to be adversely affected by Washington's new pauper status.

Bankrupt people, companies and nations have to sell assets to meet their debt obligations. China and Japan alone hold over $1.5 trillion of U.S. government securities (IOUs).

Their nervous central bankers now want real assets rather than more paper.

So there is talk of America's Asian creditors converting their IOUs into shares in U.S. corporations and property.

Pakistan's move into China's financial embrace is a harbinger of things to come. Unless the U.S. quickly repairs its economy, its world power could slip away as quickly as post-war Britain's, leaving China, Japan, Russia, the EU and India as the world's new super powers.

I do not believe a quick fix of the U.S. economy is possible. We've outsourced our manufacturing sectors and continue to be ruled by political elites whose fealty is to the financial elites. Our most significant exports are pot, porn, and weapons. What quick fix is possible?

You Westerners have your watches, but ...

Common Dreams has up a Nir Rosen article from Rolling Stone Magazine about Afghanistan. Rosen recounts a harrowing journey to meet with and interview Taliban leaders. He concludes:

Simply put, it is too late for Bush's "quiet surge" - or even for Barack Obama's plan for a more robust reinforcement - to work in Afghanistan. More soldiers on the ground will only lead to more contact with the enemy, and more air support for troops will only lead to more civilian casualties that will alienate even more Afghans. Sooner or later, the American government will be forced to the negotiating table, just as the Soviets were before them.

"The rise of the Taliban insurgency is not likely to be reversed," says Abdulkader Sinno, a Middle East scholar and the author of Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond. "It will only get stronger. Many local leaders who are sitting on the fence right now - or are even nominally allied with the government - are likely to shift their support to the Taliban in the coming years. What's more, the direct U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is now likely to spill over into Pakistan. It may be tempting to attack the safe havens of the Taliban and Al Qaeda across the border, but that will only produce a worst-case scenario for the United States. Attacks by the U.S. would attract the support of hundreds of millions of Muslims in South Asia. It would also break up Pakistan, leading to a civil war, the collapse of its military and the possible unleashing of its nuclear arsenal."

In the same speech in which he promised a surge, Bush vowed that he would never allow the Taliban to return to power in Afghanistan. But they have already returned, and only negotiation with them can bring any hope of stability. Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan "are all theaters in the same overall struggle," the president declared, linking his administration's three greatest foreign-policy disasters in one broad vision. In the end, Bush said, we must have "faith in the power of freedom."

But the Taliban have their own faith, and so far, they are winning. On my last day in Kabul, a Western aid official reminds me of the words of a high-ranking Taliban leader, who recently explained why the United States will never prevail in Afghanistan.

"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."