The Irony of MLK Day 2013: A Renewed Invitation into White Supremacy

I wonder how many consider today to be a magnificent symbolic coincidence rather than a Manichean irony: today, we commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the greatest civil rights leaders of modern United States history—a man who went to jail to defend the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of minorities and to speak against injustice at home and abroad.  Today, we will also commemorate the re-election of the President of the Unites States and the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner—a man who supports a drug war that incarcerates hundreds of thousands of black and brown minorities; kills U.S. citizens and foreign nationals; eviscerates civil liberties for alleged terrorists and citizens alike; deports 1.5 million migrants and separate parents from their children; protects bankers while allowing poor homeowners to lose their homes; and persecutes whistleblowers without mercy.

There are those who insist that the wrongs of the last four years should be attributed to the malevolent impulses and political calculations of Congress. It is true that Congress can’t be exculpated from its decade-long foaming submission to the American drive to control what it refuses to try to understand, namely the War on Terror. Its shills and hacks have quickly leaped on the bandwagon to push (lean?) forward to sanction a military budget bill that continues the expansion of the drone program and the U.S.’s continued military presence in Afghanistan along with the expansion of bases in large swaths of Africa, the Pacific, and the Middle East. Congress enthusiastically pushed for the renewal of FISA in 2008 (along with the eager support of Senator Obama). In 2013, Congress again with the relentless leadership of Senator Dianne Feinstein, pushed for the passage of the renewal of FISA (without oversight) for five years, along with the passage of NDAA 2012 and 2013, despite the clear purpose of those bills to eviscerate the separation of powers. Congress eagerly endorsed Obama’s loud requests for unilateral presidential authority to arrest and detain any and all persons that it deems a danger to the United States—US citizens and foreigners alike.

With a couple of exceptions, our politicians in Congress are without initiative or honor.  But Congress is not the source of numerous other wrongdoings.  My optimism for this Presidency has all but evaporated in the face of Obama’s policies—unhampered by Congress–designed to tear apart families in the United States and around the world.  I cannot celebrate the second inauguration of the POTUS, under whose watch in the last 4 years, the minds and lives of thousands of innocents have been broken, if not downright destroyed. By drones, invasions, bombs, torture, solitary confinement, renditions, due process-less proceedings, secrecy, and lack of accountability or transparency.  Instead, I will be retracing the steps that have led to the amorality of the Democratic Party and the Presidential Administration that has been able to retain and expand some of the most heinous policies of the previous Republican Administration, and which has been able to initiate some horrifically destructive policies of their own (click on the link to see just a few of the actions I have in mind).

Today, some writers will invoke Dr. Martin Luther King’s courageous April 4, 1967 speech, and rightfully so. King calls for us to see the connections between the fight for civil rights at “home” and the injustice of the U.S.’s incursions, bombings, deaths, and destruction abroad.  He tells us of the response by those who are puzzled by his challenge to US continued attack in Vietnam:

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? Peace and civil rights don’t mix, they say. Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people, they ask?

In his long, detailed, passionate response—which is as apt today as it was in 1967, Dr. King pointed to one source of his awareness of the links between peace and civil rights:

It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

It is a prescient statement that resonates with the imperialist policies of the United States today. The men and women who enthusiastically endorse sending our young people to war will not suffer the same hurtful ramifications as those men and women who are sent to war–or those on the receiving end of drones, bombs, guns, and destruction. Dr. King’s speech itself is long, insightful, poignant and courageous. Please take some time to read it today if you haven’t already.

What, if anything, has changed between the circumstances of American imperialism in the 1960’s and today? I think it is this: that more and more men and women of color have been invited into the offices of White Supremacy to share in the destruction of other men and women of color who are vulnerable, disfranchised, and rapidly being eviscerated through the policies of a multi-racial white supremacy.

As philosopher and political activist Dr. Cornel West pointed out last week, if Dr. King were alive today, he would have been detained and arrested for his associations with then-terrorist Nelson Mandela, under the auspices of NDAA. Dr. King might have also been arrested for his political speech, namely, his ability to rouse millions with his stirring calls for political justice in the face of American-led atrocities.

By remaining steadfast in their allegiance to illegal overtures in domestic and foreign policy, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Deval Patrick, Susan Rice, Carmen Ortiz, Preet Bharara and other leaders of color have helped the structures of White Supremacy profit and flourish: The imperialist state has extended its hand to brown and black “liberals” in order to help them into the reigning structures of Imperialism.  It has been remarkable to watch leaders of color as they refuse to challenge the wrongful legacy of colonialism and Jim Crow.  Yes, the civil rights of whites have also been slowly scrubbed away, but—with the exception of poor whites—it is much less than the wide-scale evisceration of the peaceful ability to live for Muslims in the U.S., Pakistanis, Yemenis, Somalis, Malians, Afghans, Iraqis.

I think there is another question that we must come to terms with: What is the function of an African American president in a society that has clearly not come to terms with its legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, legalized slavery and racial apartheid in the form of mass incarceration and the widespread criminalization of Blacks?

As Prof. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva points out unflinchingly, given the history in this country, how is it even possible that we could have elected a Black man to the presidency in 2008?

This brutally frank and funny 29 minute interview is worth watching in its entirety. But FF to 4:35 to hear some of Bonilla-Silva’s answer: The successful election of Barack Obama was an invitation to do the dirty work of White Supremacy for it.  He points out that in Puerto Rico, where he grew up, it was hardly unusual to see black leaders engage in the same racial apologetics and detrimental politics that the former colonial Spanish and current American government engaged in vis-à-vis Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. It doesn’t surprise him that this can be so.

There are many other such examples that we can choose from that illustrate similar white supremacist dynamics. Take for example, the White Supremacist government of Rhodesia that selected Bishop Muzorewa to take over the daily administration of its racist state.

But we have even more recent and better-known examples: Bush Administration’s former Secretary, Condoleeza Rice, DOJ attorney John Yoo (author of the Torture Memos), and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who created the marvelous quick-sandlike legal structure of Guantanamo and others.  Their invitations into white supremacy were still novelties, but identifiable because they did so under the auspices of a Conservative Administration that could make few credible claims to anti-racist activity. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration and the Republicans were able to promote their claims to be non-racist by using the presence of these individuals as cultural symbols to distract many of us—especially and including liberal Democrats in the Senate and Congress—from its overt return to a racial mission in the Middle East under the auspices of a colonizing/civilizing project. The War on Terror could thereby be couched as an ostensible hunt for justice and legitimized aim for retribution.

In order to engage the issue of state-led racism initiated, deployed and conducted effectively by men and women in power, we must address a system of multiracial white supremacy. This is a terrifying and politicized term. But we need to wrap our minds around it.  A multiracial white supremacy is a system of power that has invited in—or exploited wherever it could– people of color in order to wage institutional, legal, political assaults on other black, brown, and poor people—at “home” and internationally.

Four years ago, Ethnic Studies Professor Dylan Rodriguez wrote a frank and prescient assessment of the election of the first Black President. It is still painful to read, because it is still relevant. In 2008, Rodriguez wrote:

Putting aside, for the moment, the liberal valorization of Obama as the less-bad or (misnamed) “progressive” alternative to the horrible specter of a Bush-McCain national inheritance, we must come to terms with the inevitability of the Obama administration as a refurbishing, not an interruption or abolition, of the normalized violence of the American national project. To the extent that the subjection of indigenous, Black, and Brown people to regimes of displacement and suffering remains the condition of possibility for the reproduction (or even the reinvigoration) of an otherwise eroding American global dominance, the figure of Obama represents a new inhabitation of white supremacy’s structuring logics of violence.

The only phrase I would change is “new inhabitation.” It is no longer so.

Rodriguez ends his essay with the following:

At best, when the U.S. nation-building project is not actually engaged in genocidal, semi-genocidal, and proto-genocidal institutional and military practices against the weakest, poorest, and darkest—at home and abroad—it massages and soothes the worst of its violence with banal gestures of genocide management. As these words are being written, Obama and his advisors are engaged in intensive high-level meetings with the Bush administration’s national security experts. The life chances of millions are literally being classified and encoded in portfolios and flash drives, traded across conference tables as the election night hangover subsides. For those whose political identifications demand an end to this historical conspiracy of violence, and whose social dreams are tied to the abolition of the U.S. nation building project’s changing and shifting (but durable and indelible) attachments to the logic of genocide, this historical moment calls for an amplified, urgent, and radical critical sensibility, not a multiplication of white supremacy’s “hope.”

Instead, we saw the precise inverse of Prof. Rodriguez’s calls for action: Not only invocations of “white supremacy’s hope,” but languor and denial. In the last 12 months, we heard a constant (white) feminist and (multiracial) liberal moral “shaming” of those—especially whites–who attempted to point to a reality-based truth.  In this sense, the last four years have enhanced the wishes of a dominant power structure that deflects charges of racism through the public responses of “post-racist” liberal feminists, Democrats, and pundits who support African Americans and other minorities in leadership positions while marginally attending to the systemic force-feeding of a US military with black and brown bodies; while remaining silent in the face of the mass penalties that brown and black people face in this country under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs; massive foreclosures on homes disproportionately affecting minorities; and in one of the latest international affronts to people of color—while insisting on Israel’s “Right of Self-Defense” in the face of what is clearly a bullying and brutish beat-down of a long oppressed Palestinian population.

What is egregious about the latter is not only the clear indifference and neglect of basic human rights for a group of people whose land has been increasingly diminished, but the willful blindness and insistence that those who have been imprisoned, brutalized, emaciated through sanctions, bombs, and sheer daily terror at the end of the legal machinery and weapons of a colonial police state—are on an equal playing field with a state with sophisticated arms funded and supported by the United States.

As we enter the second term of a Presidency that has proved that the wide-scale destruction of black, brown and Muslim peoples for political gain can be conducted spectacularly and quite profitably, I wonder what it will take for Americans to take stock of their racist and imperialist legacy to challenge the injustices waged at home and abroad? Is it even possible to remember the legacy of Dr. King without being ashamed at the intentional destruction of people of color at home and internationally? And if we can, doesn’t that say more about the dessication of the American moral conscience than anything else?

Election Day 2012: It’s the Day After That Matters

Update I below:

This past weekend I talked with a philosopher friend about her conundrum over how to vote in Tuesday’s election. She was a woman of color and recognized the egregiousness of the policies put in place over the last four years. Her account was informed and clear-eyed. Yet she worried incessantly about life under a Romney Administration.

What I began to say to her was this: Your vote doesn’t matter much. This isn’t because there isn’t much difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates. It’s not because of the electoral college. It’s not because your vote won’t be tabulated. All of these may in fact be true.

But the primary reason that your vote doesn’t matter precedes all of these: between the previous two terms of a reactionary Republican Administration and one term of an anti-Constitutional Democratic Administration, the conditions that will make it easier to manufacture state-led harm have already been institutionalized. They have been made into laws and policies that will continue to wreak havoc on US citizens, foreign nationals, and other countries.  Many of those laws and policies will also now legally protect POTUS and his functionaries (Republican and Democrat) as they continue and expand the vicious economic and political harms, widespread death and destruction, and racial and moral injustice that the United States and the world have had to suffer through over the last decade.  Whether we wake up to a second term of President Obama or the first of a President Romney, whoever is elected will take office in January 20, 2013 with the tools and equipment needed to continue on our current disastrous course.

Voting to reelect the president will not change the course of the pernicious racial politics of the last four years (and the previous Republican Administration) that have devastated the wealth, livelihoods, and liberties of poor folks and folks of color. Voting may be a symbolic act for white folks and folks of color, a practice that represents their sense of solidarity with a Black president. Voting may serve as a symbolic act expressing one’s solidarity with a progressive or non-right-wing politics. I understand the need for expressions of racial- or trans-racial solidarity, even symbolic gestures.  However, it is difficult to interpret a vote for this president as an example of such a gesture. The incumbent administration has done almost nothing that expresses a progressive or protective attitude towards the vulnerable.

You should vote for whomever you want.  Still, it should be acknowledged that such a legacy of racial and political and economic injustice is NOT mitigated by this vote. If you are voting for the incumbent, then you are voting for a President who has quietly and openly waged a war on U.S. poor minorities, which includes increasing the number of African Americans in prison, securing thousands of Muslim men in detention centers without charges, and Latino migrants in deportation centers—for the simple act of migrating without papers. These are crimes only of being human and unwanted.  The current Administration has validated the worst elements of the Bush Administration in affirming that even as larcenous bankers will go unpunished, it is a great crime to be poor.  Even as war crimes go unpunished and its perpetrators retained or promoted to high office, it is a crime to expose their misdeeds. It is a crime to express moral protest. This message has been confirmed by the fates of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and John Kiriakou, among many other brave men and women, such as Occupy protestors who are fighting for the right to challenge injustice.

It is a crime to be Muslim, or Black, or Latino. This was true to for African Americans and some Latinos and Muslims before 2000. However, since 2001, and especially since 2008, that message has been amplified through the harms that have been wrought upon black and brown populations in the US and around the world. This message has been amplified through the expansion of the drug war; increasing incarceration rates for Black and Latino men and women. It has been confirmed through the endorsement and signing of NDAA, S.Comm, preventive detention, kill lists; by helping to expand drone wars on black and brown people around the world and greatly enhance domestic surveillance; by refusing to stop entrapment, FBI framing of foolish young men, by insisting on creating policies empowering the president to whimsically kill US citizens and foreign nationals without any due process or review. I have written about all of these all over this site.

The effects of decades of pernicious policies have taken their toll on a society that has fooled itself into believing that it is more racially liberal than ever before. And what a toll. The same US citizens who believe themselves to be racially and politically progressive with their votes must come to terms with the legacies of their willful blindness. One example: It remains an unforgivable crime to be a black woman in a time of crisis, as Glenda Moore learned last Monday night in Staten Island, as she tried to escape Hurricane Sandy with her two children, aged 2 & 4—and no neighbor would come to her aid as her young boys were washed out to sea. Glenda Moore lost her children and spent the night huddled in a door-step because not a single neighbor opened their doors to give her shelter.

That single story represents the horrors wrought by a society that must wrestle with its racial politics in the face of its first Black president. Voting for a Black president does not solve or alleviate any of these crimes – crimes associated with being human and black.  The same Democratic President has initiated and waged murderous drone wars on black and brown people around the world. Yes, people of color can accept the invitation into white supremacy and wage war on other people of color.  Yes, liberals can wage assaults on the poor and vulnerable in the name of national security.  This is a lesson we have (re)learned from our first Black Democratic President.

Still, if despite the fact-based columns and arguments—written by economists, black policy analysts, lawyerly pundits, former Congressional staffers, and former Inspector Generals of TARP, all reviewing the insidious effects of the series of policies knowingly and consciously pushed and endorsed by this Democratic Administration—don’t convince you that this administration has carefully entrenched the path of the previous Republican administration in abandoning those who are vulnerable and in need—then nothing will change your mind.  So if you are not interested in engaging in a protest vote and what you need to do to feel better is to pursue an unwinnable outcome in this election, then by all means vote to reelect this president.

Ah, but what of gender issues?  Surely there is a difference here worth protecting? It is a well-kept, but slowly leaking secret that President and his men (and women) have engaged in a vicious gender politics as well: the President has–by deciding to decimate the communities in which black and brown women are located—also decimated the safety, psychic/sexual/physical health of black and brown women –in the US and around the world. You may believe that your obligations only extend to other U.S. citizens (a convenient position that allows you to ignore a fairly murderous and heinous foreign policy). Even in this case, it is difficult to ignore the fact that there are already enough Supreme Court Justices to have a majority vote against abortion…if that is an overwhelming concern. We can guess this in part because Justice Sotomayor is already on record as having defending a Bush Administration decision in 2002 to prohibit funding of international organizations that provide abortions. We know this because POTUS pushed to enshrine the Hyde Amendment –which prohibits the funding of abortions— and other horrific effects for women in the Affordable Care Act as a “compromise” with Rep. Bart Stupak et al.  And what of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan?  Besides her support for the evisceration of Medicaid, her most prominent achievement with the Clinton Administration was to write the Welfare Reform Bill – enough said. Who does this affect more but poor women?  For more evidence of the Administration’s policies regarding the economically and politically and racially vulnerable, see my post of the other day. And Matt Stoller’s multiple posts. And Glenn Greenwald’s. And Margaret Kimberley’s. And Bruce Dixon’s. And Glen Ford’s. And Robert Kuttner’s. And Robert Prasch’s. And Bill Black’s. And Yves Smith’s. Just google and read.  None of this material is secret and it was done in the open and reported publicly.

For progressives the real work will begin the day after the elections: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. As Murtaza Hussain explains, the conditions to ensure the ongoing tyranny of the presidency have been put in place.  With no counter-veiling forces in sight, we can be assured that we will see even more claims to increased executive authority.  That means—regardless of whether Romney or Obama “wins,” the United States Constitution and the rest of us will lose.  An increasing number of people at home and across the globe can be expected to lose our freedoms, lives, limbs, and even our minds — from years spent without charges or even a hearing in solitary confinement—for expressing dissent. Many more of us will be vulnerable to losing those same freedoms, lives, and minds.

None of this will change under either a President Romney or Obama. And if we don’t begin to protest, to challenge collectively, to recognize that our fates are intimately linked, then we cannot even hope for change under future presidents. The conditions of a repressive state have been institutionalized over these last 10 years (and really were already beginning to build well before that—by President Clinton).  What we need to do, over the medium term, is to reclaim what has been taken and is continuing to be taken.

In 2008, I gave public talks about Barack Obama’s fairly worrying centrism, which still appeared slightly preferable to John McCain’s political positions. I pointed to Sen. Obama’s history of extremely illiberal positions on various issues, most visibly to his promise to be aggressive in sending drones to Pakistan, troops to Afghanistan, and his campaign stop at the Congress to vote to renew FISA in August—2 months before the election. But whether I was seduced by the line that this was a racially progressive vote or whether I just hoped against hope that he would be better than his record illustrated, or that he would be better than any Republican, the fact remains that I voted for Obama in 2008.

Perhaps one or two or three of these lines—in the face of undeniable facts that betray that position—still work for you. But if not, then don’t be goaded by the disingenuous position that a vote for Obama is a racially or politically or economically progressive vote. A vote for Romney isn’t any of these things either. And don’t be seduced into thinking that your vote –Republican, Democratic, or Third Party, will make things any less worse.

It’s not our votes that matter. It’s our concerted, organizable, collective challenge–to increasing power, tyranny and devastating economic and racist politics in the United States and internationally—that will matter. That work, much more complicated, tedious, painstaking, and constant, begins the day after tomorrow.

********************************

Update I: I had a great correspondence with @vastleft, whose message at vastleft.blogspot.com today to those who want to discuss “the real work beginning the day after” is to command them to work hard to engage themselves in a fairly awkward sexual act. According to @vastleft, the message is directed to those who are uninterested in pushing beyond the duopoly or to aim for third party votes. My message is different: I don’t endorse voting for either of the duopoly. Still, whether you vote for one of them, or don’t vote, or vote third party, do recognize that none of these decisions erases the problematic effects of a serious racially, politically, economically immoral Administration, which has pushed identical policies as those by the Bush Administration in some ways, and which in some ways has promoted even worse policies.

Why do “Third Parties Never Work”? Collusion and the Presidential Debates

Regardless of what you thought of the first round of 2012 presidential debates, the spin job began well before 8:30 pm last Wednesday. If you opened up the New York Times Op-Ed page Wednesday morning, you might have found yourself gently lulled into believing all was good with the presidential debate world. Newton Minow, the former head of the Federal Communications Commission, and on the current board of the “non-profit” Presidential Debate Commission, assured us seductively—in true NYT statesman fashion–that the debates were the only thing left of what was good in the current round of politics.  Sure, Minow conceded, there was a little kerfuffle back in the 1980 debates when the League of Women Voters objected to the collusion between James Baker III and Robert S. Strauss to control the format of the debates, and withdrew its sponsorship.

Critics have sometimes charged that the debates, and their format and substance, are controlled by the two major parties and campaigns. This was once true.”
 

But since then, the debates have been on track. After all, Minow assures us, he’s been on the “bipartisan non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates since 1987,” and he’s been zealously guarding the debates—mind you, they resisted a collusion between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004, which attempted to “force [them] to accept a 32 page ‘memorandum of understanding’ setting out debate details,” but luckily Minow and his esteemed statesmen colleagues refused and Kerry and Bush backed right back down.

Compare this story with the one told by George Farah, the founder of Open Debate and the author of No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. Farah’s version is a little different from Minow’s, which is why, I suspect, he interviewed with Amy Goodman rather than finding himself on the Op-Ed pages of the NYT.

Farah explains in more detail than does Minow the exact conflict of interest that lead to the break-up between the presidential candidates and the League of Women Voters: Farah’s version includes that fact that Walter Mondale AND Ronald Reagan “vetoed 80 of the moderators that the League of Women Voters had” suggested, leading to the ultimate breakup between the candidates and the civic organization.  Farah also points to the collusion between the Democratic and Republican candidates in 1988, 1996, 2000, and 2004 to exclude third party candidates. Only in 1992, when Ross Perot ran as an independent, was he allowed to join the presidential debates—and that was because George Bush Senior thought it would help him pull away votes from the Democrats. He was wrong. An interesting fact to ponder for naysayers who insist that third party politics can never work. Further confirmation? All candidates fought to exclude Perot from the 1996 debates.

Further, for anyone who wonders why third party politics, which seem so reasonable, are such an impossibility, Farah’s interview with Goodman provides some answers:  contrary to Minow’s narrative, the “Commission on Presidential Debates,” despite its name, is neither a governmental organization nor a non-profit. Rather, it is a private corporation sponsored by Anheuser-Bush and other companies. The move away from civic sponsors such as League of Women Voters, which organized it on a shoestring ($5k) budget, enables the CPD to engage in a series of nefarious collusions: private contracts that determine the exclusion of 3rd party candidates, to refuse to allow any serious questions to be asked, to include select audiences that would cheer for the candidates. Of course, CPD had bipartisan chairs: Frank Farendkopf and Paul Kird, the former heads of the Republicans and Democrats respectively. Bipartisanship—rather than evoking neutrality—suddenly takes on a new meaning: they worked together to exclude the possibility of third parties.

Even more astonishing was the response that Farah got when he asked Fahrenkopf how he felt about having “beer and tobacco companies [pay] for the most important election”: Fahrenkopf’s response? “Boy, you’re talking to the wrong guy. I represent the gambling industry.”

Farah, according to his own self-description, has spearheaded a campaign to divest the CPD from its affilations with various private corporations, including Philips Electronics and BBH, on the grounds that the encumbrance of corporations was “fundamentally anti-democratic.” But there remain seven other corporations, including Southwest Airlines, the International Bottled Water Association, several law firms and others who are still sponsoring the CPD.  Let’s be clear: None of these corporations are non-partisan.

The history of the CPD  in 1996 gets even more nefarious. Says Farah:

Bob Dole was desperate to keep Perot out of the presidential debates because he thought Perot would take more votes away from him. Bill Clinton did not want anyone to watch the debates. He wanted what George Stephanopoulos told me was a non event because he was comfortably leading in the polls. So they reached an outrageous agreement: Bill Clinton agreed to exclude Perot on the condition that one of the three debates was canceled, and the remaining two debates were scheduled opposite the World Series of baseball, and no follow-up questions were asked.They got not Perot, they got two debates at the same time as baseball and they had no follow up questions, and that’s exactly what President Bill Clinton wanted, by design, the lowest debate audience in the history of presidential debates. Who took the heat? Not the candidates. The candidates never paid a political price. The polls after the debate showed 50% of the public blamed the commission. Only 13% blamed President Clinton, and only 5% blamed the Bob Dole.

 

So the impression the public received was to blame the commission -not entirely inaccurately,  Notice also the rightward turn, which began at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s first term and kept going.  But the FCC, which apparently criticized the CPD in 1992 and 1996, dealt them some forces to be reckoned with: so the CPD changed some of the rules under pressure. They decided to invite third-party candidates who had 15% percent of the vote to come and debate with them. In other words, a complete impossibility, as Farah points out.  Even Congressional funding of candidates requires winning only 5% of the popular vote.

Clearly, collusion is the proper term to describe what the two presidential parties have done to manage the election framework: they have gotten together and figured out how limit the terms of entry, to limit the number of speakers, the content of the questions, and to tame/discipline anyone who manages to get out of line.

So, what does this anecdote tell us?  The reason “3rd parties never work” is not because God decrees it as such. In fact, third and fourth and fifth parties and their candidates, far from being impossible to sustain in the American voting system, are in fact so easy to sustain that the two major presidential organizations are fearful of them and will stop at very little to prevent them from joining the debates. The message to us should be that the ability to force the conversation to become more expansive, more diverse, more inclusive is much less difficult than we might have imagined.  The only thing that third parties make impossible is for the conversation to remain the same: they can force the conservatives and the neo-cons to listen to voters, to insist on the inclusion of awkward and difficult issues, and to require answers from the behemoths, even if it’s just in the short term.

But for these possibilities, we need to stop paying homage to “tradition,” and the trite line that “3rd parties have never worked”—and ask WHY that’s the case. We need to stop allowing elder statesmen like Minow to seduce us into the George and June Cleaver view that American politics is based on a nice, fair, innocuous playing field. The truth is far from it, as far in fact, as the NYT is…and is more likely to be found across town at sites like Democracy Now.

Turley and Cusack on the U.S. Constitution

I rarely do this, but this is a must-read column by progressive activist/actor John Cusack, followed by a very long, but urgent, conversation between Cusack and Constitutional Law Prof. Jonathan Turley. It will make liberals and progressives in the US extremely uncomfortable, but it’s time to feel uncomfortable: there are some serious questions that need to be addressed in the face of the November 2012 elections, and Turley and Cusack lay out clearly what’s at stake–morally, politically, internationally. Skip to the last six paragraphs if you’re short on time.

SHANNYN MOORE: JUST A GIRL FROM HOMER

Editor’s Note from Shannyn Moore:  Read This.


*****************************

By John Cusack

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom… in light of the blizzard of bullshit coming at us in the next few months I thought I would put it out now

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…

Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.

Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It…

View original post 10,196 more words

Race, Murder, and Mayhem in America: Considering the Links

Glenn Greenwald is right to be skeptical of any direct causal links between the horrific events such as the Sikh Temple Massacre or the Joplin Mosque and US foreign policy. As he pointed out yesterday,

there are usually a diverse array of complex motives (psychological, emotional, ideological, religious) that drive individuals to engage in violence of this sort, and an equally diverse list of complex causes (legislative, political, cultural) as to why our society fosters and enables it.

And to be fair, most white men who have grown up in the shadow of 9-11 do not shoot up theaters and temples or burn down mosques. But I want to try to be clearer about the links that I’m trying to argue for:

Dylan Rodrigues, a scholar in Ethnic Studies at UC Riverside and author of a great book on Black Radicals in prison, has argued that we need to pay attention to the parallels between the massive numbers of Black and Latino men who are in prison, and our tendencies to incarcerate Muslim men in Guantanamo, or Abu Ghraib. These parallels can alert us to a certain carceral mentality that is mirrored in a country’s international and domestic policies. A number of philosophers and sociologists have argued along similar lines, including Michel Foucault, Angela Davis, and Loiç Wacquant.

Similarly, in my last post and a number of others, that is what I’ve tried to argue that we need to consider: when Dharun Ravi sets up a camera to spy on his gay roommate’s trysts, or Wade Michael Page shoots up a Sikh temple, when US soldiers rape Iraqi women, urinate on dead bodies, and shoot civilians in cold blood in Iraq, we need to move beyond the level of shock and start thinking about the larger political and legal and cultural mentalities in which these events happen.

In particular, we live in a country in which the federal office that oversees the strict regulation of immigrants, visitors, and—yes—citizens, guards the homefront through border security, pre-emptive policing of people’s social, political and financial activity, their emails and phone calls, i.e., “counterterrorism.” That office, ceremoniously renamed the Department of Homeland Security six months after September 11, 2001, is an ostentatious chest-beating symbol of waging a war on “threats to national security.”

In the name of Homeland Security—a hallowed reference to Nazi Germany’s urge to purify their own “heimat”–we have seen the prevalence of United States’ domestic and foreign policies: state-led surveillance of its own people, of the decision to harass foreigners until they leave, i.e., “self-deportation,” of Muslim communities, to incarcerate Muslim men without habeas corpus or a serious legal defense, to outlaw political protest, to give the U.S. president full authority to assassinate and incarcerate “terrorists,” and to the fact of state-led mass destruction in the form of drones, rockets, bombs, chemical warfare and guns?

Why then, talk about white supremactists as if they are loners or part of private gangs? Shouldn’t we remember the US’ emphasis on the Homeland when we watch these shootings and mosque-burnings? When we see images of war and strife in the Middle East? Is it such a strange leap to think of US domestic and foreign policy as part of white supremacist, racial contract, as political philosopher Charles Mills argues (read his book for more on this; it’s clearly written, even for non-philosophers)?

As Greenwald says:

A country which venerates its military above all other institutions, which demands that its soldiers be spoken of only with religious-like worship, and which continuously indoctrinates its population to believe that endless violence against numerous countries is necessary and just — all by instilling intense fear of the minorities who are the target of that endless violence — will be a country filled with citizens convinced of the virtues and nobility of aggression. (the links are in his original piece).

He’s right. I think there’s something else going on as well. At the risk of stating the ridiculously obvious, we live in a country (and still at a time) that has a very difficult time with race politics: And it’s not merely about racial antagonisms having to do with Muslims or Sikhs or Hindus or Sri Lankans or Pakistanis or South Asians and Arabs generally. It has to do with racial hostilities that are legislated against Latinos and Blacks (and by this term, I include all folks who are the victim of anti-black racism, not just African Americans)—and Americans turning a blind eye to these hostilities that are waged against black and brown folks, while expecting white men to act out the scripts of entitlement: declaring and waging war, AND deploying black and brown and working-class whites to war. Americans cheer when whites, blacks, and browns act out their scripts within the confines of state-led policies and laws—and are shocked when whites, blacks, and browns act out their scripts outside of those institutions and laws.

Again, Charles Mills calls this the epistemology of ignorance, that is when whites and elites are completely baffled by—and claim NOT to understand– the very same world that they (through slavery, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, mass criminalization through anti-terror and drug laws)—produced. Mills coined this term, the epistemology of ignorance, hand in hand with the racial contract back in 1997. Can you imagine the furor he caused then?

I agree with Mills—mostly.

As importantly it has to do with the very difficult time we have in calling our political leaders to account whether they are white or non-white; but at the present moment, we are having an especially difficult time calling our current President, who is black, into account—especially for those of us who are politically progressive and constructively race-conscious. The tensions that lie in this political dilemma—during this election year—are enormous. But it doesn’t make us racially or politically progressive to turn a blind eye to the President’s racially destructive policies: like deporting 400,000 migrants a year; like tearing apart families through forced deportation; destroying childhoods through indefinite detention and deportation of their parents without judicial review.

So, taking a page out of Mills’ book, I would suggest that another term that better describes what’s happening today: the epistemology of indifference. White and elites understand perfectly well the world that they have produced. And those liberals AND progressives who vote for them—despite this knowledge—are guilty of the epistemology of indifference: they know and they don’t care. At least, they don’t care enough to reject the false choices handed to them by the Democratic Party.

It doesn’t make us racially or politically progressive to turn a blind eye to the President’s imperially expansive policies. It makes us callous, indifferent, and frankly, part of the problem. Calling him to account doesn’t necessarily make one a racist, unless you are calling him to account because he is black. Similarly, not calling him to account because he’s black is also problematic.

Race in America is an enormously tricky terrain to navigate carefully, justly, ethically. But it needs to be addressed alongside our policies of violence, of invasion, of mass murders in the name of a Secure Homeland, and in ways that don’t celebrate OR vilify single individuals. Rather, we need to clearly, firmly, effectively call those politicians and appointees to account: by voting with our feet to find leaders who share their moral principles, and reject officially sanctioned mass-murders and wars, instead of promoting them as solutions to the racial fears and xenophobia of Americans.

Guest Post: On Voting Strategically in 2012: The Ultimatum Game

Today, I’m putting up another guest post by Robert Prasch, analyzing the “ultimatum” politics of the Democratic Party, more specifically, of the Democratic National Committee. Important, timely, provocative. Read on…

 

On Voting Strategically in 2012: The Ultimatum Game

By Robert E. Prasch

Department of Economics

Middlebury College

Over the past year, many disappointed progressives and liberals have resigned themselves to voting for the president’s reelection, despite their full understanding that the Administration has nothing but contempt for all that they hold dear. They ask, “Well, what can we do”?  This is a reasonable question and it deserves a thoughtful answer.

What Can We Do In Light of the National Democratic Party’s Tilt to the Right?

Before formulating the answer, let us recall that this question has emerged on multiple occasions over the past thirty-five years.  Some might believe that this has been an unfortunate series of accidents, but it was not.  It can be ascribed to the strategy laid out in the early 1980s by Rep. Tony Coelho, who was then the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and to the powerful influence of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), founded in 1985.  Each of these groups worked long and diligently to end the Democratic Party’s long association with New Deal-type legislation so as to increase its appeal to economic elites.  Additionally, they worked hard to sever the Democratic Party’s association with anti-war causes and the extensive 1970s effort to expose and place limits on the executive branch’s capacity for war-making, covert action by the CIA, domestic spying, and associated “dirty tricks.”

By 1996, this effort had come to full fruition.  That year liberals and progressives were asked to support the reelection of a president who had spent his first four years working tirelessly to promote corporate-dictated “Free Trade Agreements,” the irresponsible de-regulation of finance, the vigorous privatizing of any and all government functions, the Defense of Marriage Act, and ever-more punitive measures against the poor and undocumented.  That candidate was, of course, Bill Clinton.  In 2000, we were asked to again validate these rightist policies by electing Clinton’s vice-president, with the sole modification being a commitment to forgo sexual antics with the interns.

In 2004, Senator John Kerry firmly promised a return to Clinton’s Neoliberal agenda while repeatedly telling us that, despite everything that had occurred or been revealed in the interim, he remained steadfast behind the 2002 vote that he, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, and so many other Senate Democrats gave to support of George W. Bush’s Iraq adventure.  It goes without saying that Kerry was and remains an enthusiast for any and all corporate-directed “Free Trade” agreements, financial deregulation, imperial expansion, and – of course – the stripping away of Constitutional protections.  Believing that they had no choice, millions of anti-war voters nevertheless validated the script laid out by the now-DLC controlled Democratic National Committee (DNC).  It is, I would suggest, past time for liberals and progressives to question this learned response.  Despite the rhetoric coming from Washington, it is NOT true that liberals and progressives owe their vote to whatever pseudo-liberal figure happens to be favored by the major donors and associated grandees of the DNC.

On Voting Strategically

The good news is that we do have a choice.  The bad news is that it may not be the one that we would wish for, but it is a choice nevertheless.  Moreover, handled adroitly, it could pave the way to better choices in the future.  Stated simply, I believe that we should “vote strategically.”  However, strategic voting necessitates that we begin by analyzing the structure of the “game” that constitutes the elements of the increasingly-bitter contest between American liberals & progressives and the leadership of the DNC.  As it turns out, this rivalry mimics what is known as the “Ultimatum Game.”  Once the contours of this game are understood, we can revisit our strategies, and begin to think of a way out of our current dilemma.

The rules of the Ultimatum Game can be readily described.  Consider a game with two players and one round. The first player is given $10.00 in one-dollar bills to split with the second player according to any distribution selected solely at the former’s discretion (i.e. $10 & $0; $9 & $1; $8 & $2; … $0 & $10).  The second player’s sole decision is to “accept” or “reject.”  If the second player “accepts,” the distribution proposed by first player becomes the final distribution of the cash and the games ends.  If the second player “rejects” each player is awarded $0 & $0.  That is the game.  Now, what is the predicted solution?

If the game is known to be of only one round in duration, and the players are motivated solely by self-interest, then the “dominant strategy” of the first player is to offer a $9 & $1 distribution, and the “dominant strategy” of the second player is to “accept.”  Why do they accept?  Well, accepting renders the second player “better off” as $1 is unambiguously greater than $0.  Undoubtedly they will be irritated by the first player’s lack of generosity, but as their only way to express that irritation is to petulantly “reject” the offer, thereby causing a distribution of $0 & $0, they find themselves without a substantive alternative to “accepting.”  So far, so good.

Now, let us reexamine the Ultimatum Game in the event that play is extended beyond a single round.  Let us suppose that all players understand that the game will be played for an indefinite number of rounds.  Under this changed situation, the second player has an opportunity to “discipline” the first player for treating her unfairly.  If the first round offer is an ungenerous $9 & $1, the second player can say “reject.”  Yes, she will give up $1, but her refusal “costs” the first player $9.  Ouch.  The first player, recognizing the possibility of a punitive refusal, and knowing that they will be playing against the same rival for the foreseeable future, has a clear incentive to improve the initial offer they make to the second player.  Depending upon her aversion to risk, traded off against her desire to earn as much as possible before the game ends, she may initially offer $7 & $3, or even $6 & $4.  If she is anxious to achieve a rapid agreement, the first player might even appeal to our widely-shared ideal of “fairness” by offering an initial distribution of $5 & $5.  Please note, as this is important, that the improved offers made in a repeated game are not induced by a commitment to “fair play,” but by self-interest.

The Ultimatum Game in Practice: The DNC vs. Rank-and-File Democrats

With the above in mind, let us return to the “game” played between the grandees and donors who dominate the DNC and the overwhelming majority of registered party members whose preferences, interests, or dispositions are liberal, progressive, anti-war, anti-Too Big To Fail financial institutions, or simply pro-U. S. Constitution and supportive of the rights of habeas corpus.

The DNC, as we have repeatedly seen, is pre-disposed to neglect or despise the hopes and wishes of their core voters.  Nevertheless, the DNC must retain their votes if they are to win elections, which is a necessary condition for achieving plum executive branch postings and the lucrative post-political careers as lobbyists and deal-makers that follow seamlessly to those who have been blessed with such appointments.  For that reason, they must convince anyone who will listen that all elections are – in the language of game theory – contests featuring a single round.  For this reason, the Administration, its spokesmen, and their proxies on MSNBC are “playing the game” correctly as they try to convince wavering or disappointed liberals and progressives that this election is the most critical in living memory.  Once this premise is established, any and all discussions with malingerers and discontents can be devoted to highlighting the relatively modest differences between the major party candidates.  And, let me be the first to agree, there may be some differences.  Drawing again from the example above, $1 is unambiguously greater than $0.  But, let us be honest, how big are these differences?  On the Constitution?  On Overseas Wars?  On corporate-scripted trade agreements?  On ongoing criminality and malfeasance within our bloated and broke Too Big To Fail banks?  Seriously, does anyone who is not a senior executive at a failed and corrupt financial institution benefit from keeping Timothy Geithner or Eric Holder in office?  I think not.

This, then, brings us to the 2012 election.  What should we do?  In light of profoundly right-wing tilt of the DNC and the Administration on such a vast range of the nation’s most pressing issues, how can liberals and progressives avoid wasting their vote?  I submit that we should recognize that the DNC has long been playing the “Ultimatum Game” with its supporters.  Moreover, in an era of big money politics they will be playing this game for the foreseeable future.  In all honesty, it is past time for liberals and progressives to refuse to cooperate with the DNC’s powerful political insiders who have repeatedly demonstrated nothing but contempt for them, their ideas, and their ideals.  We did not set up this “game.”  The DNC did.  But that does not mean that we have to play along with them.

Consciously turning our back on the Neoliberal, pro-war, and anti-Constitution DNC does not mean that we should stay home this fall.  On the contrary, we should devote our energies to rebuilding the base of liberal and progressive politics in our towns, cities, and states by working ONLY for local candidates that we like, admire, and trust.  If the above analysis of the game is reasonably accurate, and I believe that it is, the DNC will forced to present us with better “distributions” in future years once they come to learn that substantial number of liberals and progressives are willing to “reject” bad offers (but, before that occurs, expect a torrent of abuse from them).  This year, as with so many times in the recent past, we will be expected to participate willingly and happily in our own political irrelevance.  Enough is enough.  This time, make your vote count.  Don’t play along.

Election Year Redux

When it rains…2 posts on Translation Exercises on the same day! This one, by me, follows on the heels of the sobering piece by Marcellus Andrews.

*****************

As I’ve said repeatedly, by the time the New York Times acknowledges my reality, it must be obvious to the most comatose of creatures. On Tuesday of this week, The New York Times’ Jo Becker and Scott Shane published a long piece that appeared to have very intimate knowledge of Obama’s strategy on counterterrorism.   It was a weird mix of criticism and glorification of the POTUS.  The title was a bit on the breathless side: “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will.”

On the critical side:

1. The article pointed Obama’s unadulterated interest in centralizing and accumulating as much executive authority as possible to determine who would be next on the “Secret Kill” list.

“Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”

 

2. It seemed to confirm what the crazies on the left (myself included) have been saying for over 3 years, namely that

“[w]ithout showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.”
 

3. It pointed to criticisms that Obama’s own conservative staff had leveled about the personal assassination program, ranging from lack of accountability, indiscriminatory assassination of civilian adults and children (Children? Killed by Military? Why does that sound so familiar this week?). Folks as Neanderthal on the spectrum as:

Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, who “has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.”

 

Dennis C. Blair, the former director of national intelligence “until he was fired in May 2010,” [w]ho is quoted by the NYT  as commenting, “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.”  A former head of national intelligence who served during Vietnam? Suggesting that Obama’s war is like Vietnam?

William Daley, chief of staff for Obama until 2011: “One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”  Given that Daley’s not the sharpest knife, how obvious must it be that Obama is hoarding power for himself much like squirrels accumulate acorns in the late fall?

4. It raises the question of whether the “single digit figures” of civilian deaths could be accurate:

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
 
 

Wow. It bothers this guy that random people killed by drone strikes are automatically assumed to be militants, just because the drones hit them where they lived. Hmm. The upstanding moral conscience of those surrounding the POTUS makes me shiver in awe. Given that fact that they’re dead, the more urgent question might be why so few pols are interested in effectively challenging Obama’s accumulation of power to decide who lives and who dies. A little arbitrary friend/enemy distinction is happening all around us. Which means it could happen to you, too. Carl Schmitt, anyone?

Now, on the warm, puppy-love, side:

  1. Becker and Shane point out how Obama’s acute constitutional lawyerly background would have no deterrent effect on diluting or minimizing the war on Muslims that was initiated under the Bush administration. If anything, Obama’s strength has been to figure out how to weave and finesse a path that bypasses Constitutional principles—even as he pretended that he was keeping campaign promises to shut down Guantanamo Bay and ban torture:

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

2.  The article suggests that the supposed near-miss on Christmas 2009 by Underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab seemed to push Obama toward a more aggressive anti-terrorism stance).

He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.

“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

More aggressive counterterrorism stance, and I might add, more illegal. But really, let’s think back: wasn’t Obama’s edgy anti-constitutionality approach already in play by February 2009? Remember, in August 2008, he returned to Washington, DC from campaigning to record his vote in favor of the renewal of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). He had done nothing to abate ICE’s policy to step up on deportations of migrants (and no, this is hardly just a policy affecting migrant workers. Secure Communities, implemented in October 2008, targets anyone that the police come across in the course of their duties that might have immigration violations. This too is a counterterrorism policy, per the description of S.Comm on ICE’s own website:

In a memo issued by ICE Director John Morton in June 2010, ICE outlined the way it prioritizes removals. Specifically, ICE prioritizes the removal of those who pose a danger to national security or public safety, repeat violators who game the immigration system, those who fail to appear at immigration hearings, and fugitives who have already been ordered removed by an immigration judge. 

3. It points to Obama’s “pragmatic” reasoning in helping “maintain his options” with regard to renditions, detention, assassinations, drones, and less precise massacrous events, i.e. those that were to be certain of avoiding civilian deaths. (Regarding the term “massacrous”: is there such an adjective? I think we need one, given the long-standing popularity of mass murders by the state).

The NYT also offered a bit of accuracy at the conclusion of the article:

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

Blair is certainly right: strikes, like rounding up and deporting innocent civilians in the name of fighting crime, like prosecuting kangaroo court cases against young Muslim men like Tarek Mehanna and Fahad Hashmi (and so many others) for “terrorism.” As Blair insists of drone strikes, these are all politically advantageous strategies—no US casualties, gives the appearance of toughness, plays well domestically, and unpopular only in other countries.

But along with that accuracy came a bit of sentimental disingenuity:

But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.
 
 

Come on, NYT, really: Some of us called this one, and insisted that Obama would be no more interested in abiding by the constitution than Bush.  And here we are in June 2012, with four months til the next election. Kind of feeling like Charlie Brown. The Dem have snatched that football away time and time again. Long past time to walk away from the field and look for a new president. But change is coming. And it is not something I can believe in.

Guest Column by Marcellus Andrews: “About What is Coming Down the Road”

Today’s column is by one of Translation Exercises guest bloggers, Marcellus Andrews, who recently appeared on Up with Chris Hayes this past Saturday. Andrews raised some important questions of capital markets, plutocracy, dubious economic policies of the Oama Administration, and those of Mitt Romney.

In this column, Andrews continues to force us to address some serious questions about what the last few years portend.  Read on and do comment on his points. A friendly request: please keep your comments on the topics at hand, and refrain from directing us to your website or other personal essays.

About What is Coming Down the Road

Prof. Marcellus Andrews, Barnard College, Columbia

With today’s unemployment report (June 1, 2012) — not good, though not as bad as the next few, I think — Obama is finished, and we can look forward (if that is the word) to a Romney presidency with a neo-fascist (sorry, Republican) House and Senate.  In a way, Romney’s win will be Obama’s own fault — he tried to form a national unity government to deal with a national emergency when the other side just wanted to kick his niggah behind.  He pursued a “conservative” economic policy approach in the specific sense of policies that could and have staved off complete collapse but that were also too small to really revive the system, because he was unwilling (or given the right-wing of his own party, unable) to push through the kind of structural reforms linked to sensible expenditure plans that could not just end the depression but begin the reconstruction of this country.  So, here we are, facing a Romney regime that is likely to be extremely bad news for lots of people, especially the working class white people who vote for him.

I have some thoughts on what this means for so-called “minority” American now that everyone realizes that the majority of babies and now the under 5’s are black, brown, yellow and mixed-up chillun.  The Romney years will be decisive for the future of what I will call the real “Colored” American majority (I think that old, nasty word should be revived as an alternative to “multicultural” and even “multi-racial”).  The austerity program that is destroying the British economy — savage budget cuts that are gutting the social safety net and ending redistributive economic policy, abandoning poor and working people to the untender ways of radical predatory capitalism combined with equally savage tax cuts for the wealthy, all with the assistance of the so-called Liberal Democrats — is just the UK version of the Ryan budget.  The Ryan program will be implemented here under Romney and will destroy the futures of young Colored America.  Policies aimed at promoting human development, particularly the capabilities of Colored young people at or near the bottom of society — nutrition, education, basic health care, basic public health, basic housing, even public safety — will be gutted in favor of reverse Robin Hood approaches that increase the well-being of the rich, and the old and white.  In essence, the Romney program, when you really look at it — to the extent that it has been announced — deliberately under-invests in the children of Colored America in favor of incumbent old white America.

I think it is time for Colored America to recognize that American conservatism seeks nothing less that the crippling of the our future, and that Obama’s failure — again, in trying to build a coalition government when the conservative program was nothing less than the restoration of white power, the modern version of the Redeemer governments in the post-Reconstruction South — signals the end of any prospects for conciliation in this country.  I also think that it is time for Colored America — of all colors, including those whites who seek to live in a decent place — to think carefully about how we build a good society when our white nationalist enemies control the White House, Congress, Wall Street, the Federal courts and too many states.

I think the Romney government will be a savage thing that lays waste to the economic lives of so many of our of children, perhaps at the cost of many premature deaths.  We have to think practically about how to educate our kids, how to keep them happy, healthy and safe, and how to keep ourselves fit and build some sort of prosperity, when our Redeemer foes implement their program. We have to think about how to raise and allocate resources to support human development when the states and Federal government deliberately crush opportunity for our children; we have to find ways to build a durable and effective political and cultural resistance to the attacks that white conservatism makes on our lives and liberties via the Supreme Court and state courts, where the rule of law is transformed into yet more iron cages to trap and limit our freedom; we have to build institutions — everything from schools to newspapers and ways to disseminate vital information to museums to forums for art in all its forms, both brick and mortar institutions and the virtual gatherings in cyberspace — that can escape the reach of white restorationism while feeding our souls (example: I see Arizona attacking Chicano intellectual and cultural life with Klan style glee and know that these attacks will widen, deepen and gain force under a Romney presidency).

I guess I am saying that I think it is high time for us to see this election, and, frankly, the trials and failures of Obama, as the opening phase in a low-level civil war about race and the future of the United States.  This “War About Race” is not a racial war in the usual sense — with whites on one side and everybody else on the other; no Turner Diaries craziness.  Instead, this “War About Race” is a fight between a dying but still rich and powerful old white republic that will never accept the plain fact that the future of the United States is Colored and so will instead deliberately create an economic partition between itself and that Other, disgusting America defined by either not-being-white or by being the wrong kind of white — whites who have rejected racism in personal and family life. So how do we go about preventing conservatism from killing the future of Colored America and thereby preserving, protecting and defending the future of the United States from the racial animosity of the white Right?  This, I think, is the most important question of our time, because the white Right is coming back into power and, if we are honest, seeks to cripple us.

So here’s my question: Am I a bit premature in thinking that the white Right is just the modern version of the Redeemers?  Am I wrong to think that white conservatism will pursue a program of economic partition along racial lines as part of a white unity program in the same way that Southern elites managed to create white unity?

Guest Post: Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

The intense interest that folks have taken in this blog for the last few weeks has convinced me that people want to hear from a variety of progressive voices. To that end, today’s post is by economist Marcellus Andrews,* from whose writing I always learn and whose critical voice gives me hope.  Here are his thoughts on the economic future of US society during this year of the presidential election.

Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

Marcellus Andrews
Department of Economics, Barnard College

The Republican presidential primary has been an entertaining, if ultimately baffling carnival from the perspective of an economist.  What we are witnessing is the collapse of conservatism as the governing principle of public life in the United States. It is collapsing under the pressure of economic panic – the collapse of the housing market, high and sustained long-term unemployment, falling real wages for most American workers, and the greatest degree of economic inequality in a century, among others.  This panic — born of the self-destruction of the Reagan program that led directly to the Lesser Depression of 2007-2009 and its aftermath has inspired the return of the racist and xenophobic politics of the 1990’s associated with the Republican capture of Congress [Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has provided a superb, if depressing, analysis of how the Reagan program led directly to the crisis in a number of places, including his regular column, Unconventional Economic Wisdom].  Newt Gingrich’s heated rhetoric  about Obama as the “food stamp” president are the sullen insults of a failed political movement that has disgraced itself and ruined the nation.  Though Gingrich, with Bill Clinton’s help, ended “welfare as we know it” in the 1990’s, the political reflex of blaming the black and poor for the nation’s woes is always a sure way to win the votes of a portion of the Republican electorate, as demonstrated this past weekend in the South Carolina primary.

The collapse of the Reagan program means that the older white population of the US, which owns most of the nation’s wealth and forms the core of the Republican Party, has benefited from policies that threaten to cripple the American future.  But rather than think seriously about how to rebuild middle class capitalism in America – albeit along conservative lines – the Right has opted to double down on Reaganism and revisit all the old racist rants. Thomas Byrne Edsall’s reporting on the racial conflicts at the heart of conservative economic policy in his books Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics and most recently The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics demonstrate why this nasty but frequently unacknowledged fight over the racial distribution of income, wealth and opportunity across color lines could prevent the reform of American capitalism.  Edsall’s deep point – that all modern economic policy invariably involves the redistribution of economic resources and opportunity across color lines – is the key to understanding the otherwise irrational political economy of contemporary conservatism.

The next model of middle class American capitalism requires conservatives to abandon the quest to restore the Old White Republic as population trends transform the US into a genuine “rainbow” society without a racial majority. The people of this country know that the era of small government not only led to the financial crisis and crash, but that the government rescue of finance proves, beyond any doubt, the utility and necessity for a large role for very big and intrusive government on modern economic life.  Logic and evidence suggest that the important debate we face in this country is not whether the state should play a big role in economic life but what that role should be, for whose benefit, at what cost to whom.

The answer to that question is really very clear: government should pursue policies that maximize the economic wellbeing of the working majority by combining regulation, smart and progressive taxation and well thought through investments in the health, education and development of the citizens to promote genuine equal opportunity for all.  The substantive fight between left and right in this country should be over the nature of the mixed economy, not over whether we need a mixed economy.  What types of taxes do we need and how much should the total tax take rise to reduce our debt, pay for better schools, fixing our infrastructure and financing guaranteed health care for all?  How do we share the burden of higher taxes and changing priorities in ways that are both fair and efficient?  What is the balance between the needs of the young and the old in an economy that has save and invest more while consuming and borrowing less, all the while becoming smarter and fairer?

The American middle class has been and always will be the end point of government social engineering that insures that economic opportunity is available to all on the basis of effort and ambition, without regard to a family’s wealth, race, ethnicity, region or religion. Most middle class Americans are nowhere near rich enough to detach themselves from public goods or the many subtle middle class subsidies that form the basis of our odd welfare state.   Mass homeownership, the opportunity to attend college and guaranteed retirement benefits are all the result of government social engineering.  The entitlements so zealously and rightly defended by older whites against budget cuts – Social Security and Medicare – are financed by young workers who pay for the health care and retirement benefits of retirees.  Economic arithmetic tells us that the only way these benefits can exist is if workers produce so much that they can satisfy their own needs as consumers and parents while paying taxes for themselves and their children to attend good schools, buy homes, rely on decent roads and bridges, and pay the retirement benefits of their aging parents.

Basic arithmetic puts modern conservatism in a terrible bind given its racial commitments.  The Census Bureau estimates that the majority of children born in the United States from now on are more likely to be raised in black, Latino or Asian or interracial families than non-Latino white families.  In time, these children will be the talent pool from which the future labor force and military will emerge. The strategy of inequality  — low taxes, big budget deficits, a strangled and incompetent public sector — will insure that American workers are poorly educated, that the nation’s infrastructure remains broken and therefore that the nation’s intellectual and economic prowess as well as its productivity and competitiveness slips relative to the rest of the world. The pretense that our nation can restore its long-term economic health by savage cuts in education, public investment and the health of the young is economic folly. If the modern Right gets its way, the ever more diverse American labor force will be deprived of the skills and tools to join the ranks of the world’s most productive workers making the US an ever less prosperous and competent society.

Where is the rationalist business class that sees the need to repair the American economy and the social fabric in ways that extend markets and opportunity across all lines?  Where is the conservative reformer who sees the need to quietly engineer a divorce between racism and conservatism in favor of a robust, post-racial capitalism? Of course, those among us who hope for a just and decent society will work for a post-capitalist as well as post-racial society, but one would want practical business people to see that their alliance with racial conservatives is a losing proposition.



*Marcellus Andrews teaches economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, and is the author of The Political Economy of Hope and Fear. Andrews’ current book projects include Realism, Violence and Economic Order: Economic Analysis and the Problem of Justice and Economic Policy and the Decent Society.

Pollitt’s Perplexity about Pundits on Ron Paul

Revised:

It may be time to stop reading the Nation even earlier than March of this election year. Katha Pollitt engages in a serious distortion of Glenn Greenwald’s position (among others) that we need to pay attention to politicians such as Ron Paul, who are raising questions about President Obama’s continuation of the same policies as GW Bush. Somehow, despite Greenwald’s umpteen ad nauseam disavowals, this point is equated—no, identified –with “support for Ron Paul.” Pollitt also muses on the fact that she hasn’t seen a lot of “leftish white women and people of color” who have supported Paul, but if they do, they are staying pretty quiet about it.

Note, first of all, the old-school-lefty sweeping style of lumping all people of color with “leftish white women.” Women of color can’t have their own category–because they’re too complex and unruly with all their different identity-politic distinctions (y’know: Latina, African-American, Asian, Asian American, South Asian, African, Indigenous, Mestiza, etc.), and so at least “people of color” can address them all in one big sweep. Also, the unwieldiness of mentioning them distinctly will cut into the too-important and limited space of the Nation’s columns.

I can hear the talkback now: Q: What is it with those identity politics anyway? Can “they” just put them aside for the purposes of political solidarity? A: NO. No, “we” can’t. To be fair, that question was not articulated by Pollitt, but by plenty of other libs/progs NEVER in print but often in semi-private and casual conversations. That publicly unspoken question speaks to one of the problems with Pollitt’s post. She may not be speaking for “people of color,” but she’s certainly using “their” collective silence to make a point about the sycophancy of white male pundits in relation to other strange white men.

I wonder why Pollitt needed to point out “people of color” have not supported Ron Paul publicly. Does “their” absence on the Ron Paul platform somehow reaffirm her point about the (white?)“mancrush” for Ron Paul? It may appear to do so, but it’s a strawmancrush. People of color may not have spoken out because they have not reason to support Paul, true. Or they may not articulate support for his anti-war positions because they don’t want to be associated with Paul, given his questionable past positions on race. Or they may fear, as Glenn Greenwald points out repeatedly, that speaking in support of a stance will be CONFLATED with support for the politician. Still, a number of commentators, black and white, have pointed to the troubling policy decisions made or continued under the Obama Administration (and that are only being raised by one political candidate–a libertarian Republican–during this election season). Cornel West has been raising questions about Obama’s policies, as have Paul Krugman and Greenwald. Glenn Loury has recently raised some urgent questions about Ron Paul’s economic proposals to return to the gold standard and eliminating the Fed–EVEN as he points to the fact that Paul is our only anti-war candidate. As Corey Robin points out, a very sad fact for us on the left, because politicians on the left are not raising them.

But HERE FOLKS! I am a brown woman (in case my bio didn’t clue you into that), and I am downright livid at policies passed during the Obama administration (which a number of folks will attest that I anticipated before the 2008 election), which are even worse than expected. I am as livid with progressives who affect a casual? studied? indifference to the Administration’s repeated support for warrantless wiretapping (remember Obama’s vote during the 2008 election season when he took a break in campaigning to return to Washington to vote for the renewal of FISA; for his support of the Justice Department’s withholding of evidence (and even habeas corpus) from detainees on grounds of national security; his commitment to indefinite detention (NDAA was not the first time it’s arisen. We saw his support in the gesture to move Gitmo detainees to a federal prison in Illinois—with only a casual suggestion that they might receive civilian trials—only to watch it die quickly under even modest resistance. Guantanamo is still open with detainees languishing); the expansion of troops into Afghanistan in the first part of his term; the unceasing drone attacks in Pakistan, etc.

Does that mean that I am a fan of Ron Paul? No. Do I admire the fact that he’s articulating an anti-war platform? Yes, but very cautiously and very sadly, given his other questionable positions. As Corey Robin points out, folks who are anti-war have only Paul to look to. And in part, we have only Paul to look to, because of “white leftish women” like Katha Pollitt, who says,

“I, too, would love to see the end of the “war on drugs” and our other wars. I, too, am shocked by the curtailment of civil liberties in pursuit of the “war on terror,” most recently the provision in the NDAA permitting the indefinite detention, without charge, of US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism. But these are a handful of cherries on a blighted tree.”

Really? Half a million Iraqi civilians dead? Dozens of Pakistani children dead because of drones (or more. We are not allowed to know)? The reproductive systems of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women decimated by decades of US-led chemical warfare ? The curtailment of civil liberties of legal residents (and not merely citizens) in the US? The indefinite detention of tens of thousands of migrants, documented or otherwise? Those migrants include Latinos, South Asians, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Muslims from other parts of the world–detained not just for migrating without papers, but for merely being suspected of terrorism and held without charges, without lawyers, without family knowing, without judicial review–without a way out. These are what an anti-war position would resist. Seriously? Pollitt believes these are cherries on a blighted tree?

Apparently the last time Pollitt checked, women were half the population in the United States. Last time I checked, women were half the population in the parts of the world that the US is decimating. I’m going out on a limb, but I’m guessing that they care about their reproductive systems being trashed. They probably also care about their children dying. I’m wondering what Pollitt thinks about the ripping apart of migrant parents from their children–by deporting at least 46,000 of them* under the Obama Administration? My understanding is that these children all had parents. And apparently those parents cared about them.

This is what Pollitt thinks are trivialities to neglect in the 2012 elections? Pollitt is extremely worried about the world of Ron Paul, in which “there would be no environmental protection, no Social Security, no Medicaid or Medicare, no help for the poor, no public education, no civil rights laws, no anti-discrimination law, no Americans With Disabilities Act, no laws ensuring the safety of food or drugs or consumer products, no workers’ rights.”

How does Pollitt feel about Obama’s initial support of the Tar Sands Pipeline? About helping bailing out Wall Street bankers using the millions of dollars that could have been spent to keep poor folks from losing their houses through robo-signings of foreclosure papers, or helping save the pensions of long time auto workers? About Democrats voting to spend trillions of dollars to send US men and women to war in which they lose their minds, if not also their limbs, and then come home to inadquate medical care, if any, and to perpetual unemployment? Is she really trustful of an FDA that can barely regulate pharmaceutical drugs?

I expect much more of presidents who dismiss their constituencies’ outcries for a return of constitutional safeguards such as habeas corpus, due process, judicial review, congressional approval before engaging in invasions, who want an end to the drone attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc. I expect much more from folks who claim to be progressive and engaged in these outcries during the reign of George II, but have no interest in speaking publicly about the continuation of these same outrages under Obama’s rule (Let’s face it: that’s what it is: a move to increasing autocratic rule, and the most recent signing of NDAA can make no other point).

But like Ross Perot in 1991 (whose third-party candidacy created the space to challenge NAFTA) and Ralph Nader in 2000 (who raised questions about corporate politics and party complicity), the presence of Paul is raising serious questions about some elephants in the room. How do we expect solidarity among folks of color when the cost-benefit analysis is played out by pitting the issues that concern white folks and some US folks of color against issues affecting international populations or other US folks of color, as Pollit does in her column?

Here’s another question: why must I make this claim as a woman of color? As a South Asian woman? As a migrant? Why can’t I make this claim as a US citizen, pure and simple? Why can’t I make this claim simply as a progressive? Somehow that pisses me off. The collective indifference of thousands of progressives, even in OWS, to the minute attention paid to those foreign policies that don’t take an enormous leap of imagination to see the deaths, the bodily and psychic harm, the mutations that result from chemical warfare, that have affected hundreds of thousands of PEOPLE of COLOR. Yes. And I am a “People of color” making this point. For better or worse, Ron Paul is noticing it. I don’t care what his motivations are (again, I AM NOT SUPPORTING HIS CANDIDACY. Glenn: maybe you should have put your alerts in all-caps, like I did). He is raising the questions.

In general, I tend to agree with old-fashioned Southern liberals (Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Jim “armadillo guy” Hightower), etc. Southern libertarians or anything elses, less so. So, I’m not surprised by Paul’s primitive and bass-ackwards views on affirmative action, race, gay rights, women. But then again, I don’t expect much of libertarians, in the same way that I expect little of conservatives or neo-liberals. And I am pleased when they raise an issue to which I am sympathetic.

For other pundits who insist that holding Obama to such difficult standards is racist, since after all Bill Clinton was a neo-liberal white president who engaged in some pretty dubious domestic and foreign policy in the first term and still got re-elected by Democrats: I have news. I was pissed in 1996. And there was the same lesser-of-2-evils guilt tripping that revolved around gathering support for the “centrist” incumbent. The Clinton Administration was the harbinger of some pretty serious human rights violations, as I see it: The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 1996 Welfare Reform Act (PRWORA), and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsiblity Act (IIRIRA), the “3 Strikes” (1994 Crime Act). All of those are crucial pieces of the road to indefinite detention and the eradication of civil liberties for US people of color. But we had the same guilt-trip in 1996 that we had in 2000, 2004, 2008, and again today: We have to do a cost-benefit analysis to see how “we” (read White Leftish Women and Men, and some segment of “People of Color”) stand to lose more personal benefits if we vote for the “worse” of 2 evils than for the “lesser” of 2 evils. It is always interesting to see how “we” couch the vote for the lesser of 2 evils in terms of how it will help “Other people” (even as it mostly helps us assuage our consciences and ensures that our status quo will not get worse.

Essentially, Pollitt’s column comes down to this: We want solidarity among liberals and progressives—but only on terms determined by WHITE leftish women and a segment of white men and some people of color. So it’s fine to be critical of President Obama and other Democrats. But DON’T suggest that a Republican–a conservative Libertarian–might raise a substantial issue that puts the libs/progs in an awkward spot. Especially NOT during Election Year. We can forgive a Democrat who’s continued a war that has killed and maimed Arabs, Muslims, poor folks of color who are NOT citizens of this mighty White-serving country (and killed and maimed thousands of US soldiers, too), but don’t funk with Pollitt’s reproductive rights. Certainly Obama has not expanded access to reproductive options to women without healthcare. I’m completely in support of the rights of middle- & upper-class white women to have abortions, but I’m also in support of the ability of US poor women & women of color, along with international women of color (poor or otherwise) to have access to reproductive health as well. Drones in Pakistan and chemical warfare in Iraq (yes, I know—Obama has “withdrawn” US troops from there—but only b/c Iraq wouldn’t let the US stay), and remaining in Afghanistan doesn’t exactly enhance access to reproductive rights for women. Nor does it facilitate clean air, water, or an unpolluted environment.

Here’s my other question: Why does this have to turn into a “guilt by association” debate? Why can’t we discuss the questions that are being raised as serious and important questions, rather than referendums on voters’ or pundits’ moral character? I don’t have to like Ron Paul (and why do we need to LIKE our politicians?). I don’t have to have dinner with him. He doesn’t need to be a friend. He is raising the questions that every other liberal and progressive and feminist (yes, including you, Katha) should be raising and forcing the Democrats to address. As Greenwald has pointed out, these issues only become outrage-worthy when the Republicans are spearheading human rights violations, because it gives the libs and progs a lever by which to claim political superiority. The silence on the Democrats’ record of human rights violations is deafening. And they’re more than cherries on a blighted tree. They’re dead bodies on the blighted conscience of Americans.

*An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported 46,000 deportations of migrants. In fact, 46k represents the number of parental deportations of migrants who had US born children, from the six month period of Jan-June 2011, according to journalist Seth Wessler, who reported the original story in Colorlines.

Guest Post: “Where is My Half Glass?”

The brilliant Robert E. Prasch, an economist at Middlebury College, reflects on the Obama Presidency.

President Obama, Where Is My “Half Glass”?

By Robert E. Prasch

Since deftly managing the Congressional “debate” over health care to eliminate the public option, the White House has found itself criticized increasingly by voices from within the Democratic Party. President Obama and his spokespersons were irritated to discover the following: those Democrats who wrote the checks, pounded the pavement, and got out the vote for “Change You Can Believe In,” really wanted change.  Who knew?  Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod and the President himself have all made it clear that they view such critics as childish “purists” unsatisfied with a “glass half full.”  I have only one question.  “Where is my half glass”?

Let us briefly review the administration’s performance on four areas of great concern to those who supported Barak Obama in 2008.  These include the financial crisis & economy, the endless Bush wars, the shocking erosion of civil liberties, and increasing unaffordable health care.

Less than one month after the historic November 2008 election, we were informed that “Hope and Change” would include neither the financial sector nor the economy. This occurred on November 28th with the announcement of two critical appointments.  The first was that of former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, a chief architect of the policies that set the groundwork for the 2007-2009 financial crisis, to head President Obama’s National Economic Council.  The second was that of Timothy Geithner, former Clinton Undersecretary of the Treasury and then President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank (NYFRB), as the new US. Treasury Secretary.  Geithner informed the US. House of Representatives –very truthfully– that he “had never been a regulator.”  The sad part is that the Federal Reserve and specifically the NYFRB has a substantial role in bank regulation and regulatory policy, a role in which he clearly and most publically failed. Several months after taking office, President Obama declared that he would reappoint Ben Bernanke to chair the Federal Reserve System.  With these three leading the way, can we be surprised that the Obama Administration never devised serious policies or took substantial action on financial reform, Too Big To Fail banks, rampant mortgage and bank fraud, high and persistent unemployment, or mortgage relief?.  Can we be surprised to learn that his idea of a jobs program was to push through President Bush’s “Free Trade” agreements?  Is anyone surprised to learn that he is now considering cuts to Social Security?

By contrast to the economy, candidate Obama frequently stated his commitment to Bush’s Middle East wars.  His attachment to the status quo was signaled the day after the Summers/Geithner announcement when it was revealed that he would reappoint Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates (This, of course, was the same Robert Gates who narrowly avoided indictment for lying to Congress over his role in the Reagan Administration’s Iran-Contra Affair).  Officially, the US war on Iraq ended this past summer, but that event occurred according to a timetable set up by Bush–and only because Obama could not negotiate blanket immunity for US soldiers in the wake of the Wikileaks revelations.   Before shifting to another topic, I would also advise readers to take a moment to review the size of the “training” and “security staff” that have been left behind in Iraq, along with the size of the forces stationed in Kuwait and the other Gulf States.  Do not think for a millisecond that anyone in the Middle East is unaware of the size and lethality of the army and naval armada the US has stationed in their midst.  (For those who may imagine that this is about “promoting democracy” in the region, I have a one-word refutation – Bahrain.  YouTube has numerous videos featuring Bahraini police, and their ally, the Saudi Arabian army, shooting peaceful protestors.  And let us refrain from discussing the almost daily atrocities occurring in Egypt, or the out-of-control predator drone program).

What of civil liberties?  Here the record is genuinely appalling.  The prisoners of Guantanamo Bay continue to languish without proper judicial hearings, and the extended pre-trial treatment of Bradley Manning is criminal by any standard of measure.  Obama’s vigorous attack on whistleblowers who shed light on the idiocy and mendacity of the bloated bureaucracies associated with the national security apparatus is an ongoing scandal.  In fairness, candidate Obama did “tip his hand” on these issues when he suspended his campaign so that he could fly to Washington to vote in favor of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that violated the law, and profited mightily from, working with Bush and Cheney on illegal wiretapping programs.  Moreover, he has never deviated from Nancy Pelosi’s early insistence on blanket immunity for all Bush administration officials who lied to Congress, promoted or engaged in torture, war crimes, etc. The record, apparently, is not sordid enough.  On December 23rd 2011 Obama signed a bill co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain granting the President, on his own whim, the ability to imprison anyone, anywhere — American citizen or not — for an indefinite period without an attorney, charge, jury trial, or any other kind or variety of review.  Goodbye 4th Amendment, you will be missed.

Finally, a word about “health care reform.”  This bill neither “gives” nor “provides” anyone with health care or health insurance.  On the contrary, it mandates that everyone purchase his or her own policy.  There is a some commitment to providing subsidies to those who cannot afford a policy – but anyone who has ever followed politics knows what will happen to it when budget cutting season returns (they also know that when the subsidies go, the mandate will surely stay).  The bill also embodies a vague commitment to reducing health care costs that is not worth the paper upon which it was written.  Elementary economics tells us that if health insurance policies are subsidized they will rise in price.  This tendency will be even more pronounced if people are forbidden from deploying their single greatest negotiating tool – the threat to leave the market altogether.  Obama’s “accomplishment,” if we can call it that, is to provide even more money and market power to the single largest obstacle to affordable health care – the private insurance companies.

Alarmed by trends in the then-new administration, columnist Bob Herbert called attention to them while identifying a core flaw in the thought processes of its apologists, “Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barak Obama is in the White House” (New York Times, June 22nd, 2009).  Two years have passed since Herbert wrote these words.  So I ask again, if Obama’s 2008 supporters have received a “half glass” on the four issues summarized above, then where is it?  At this point, I can’t even see the glass.

Robert E. Prasch is Professor of Economics at Middlebury College where he teaches courses on Monetary Theory and Policy, Macroeconomics, the History of Economic Thought, and American Economic History.  His latest book is How Markets Work: Supply, Demand and the ‘Real World’ (Edward Elgar, 2008)

Voting Model #3: The “Lesser of Two Evils”

This one gets trotted out around March of every election year. And around March of election year, I stop reading, or even casually glancing, at the Nation and every other pseudo-liberal magazine whose writers stuff their critical perspectives deep into the back of their closets—you know—the perspectives that they used to criticize the incumbent for the prior three years—in order to jump on the “lesser of two evils” bandwagon. And the chorus goes something like this: “Who would you rather have? The Democratic candidate who’s pro-choice (see VM #2) or the Republican candidate who’s anti-abortion?” This refrain is usually followed up by, “He (the Democrat) is the lesser of two evils,” after all.

Here’s the translation on the chorus: “Who would you rather have? The good looking, charming, suave, well-dressed, ivy-leaguer with New England reserve and Northern accent? Or the ignorant fratboy with the menacing smile, crude manners, and vacuous personality who so reminds me of the bad guy in any James Bond movie that I’d rather jump off a bridge to my death than be forced to shake hands with him (again, see VM #2)?” And just in case y’all think I’m picking on Obama, go back and reread the Nation in 1992 (Bill Clinton v. George Bush I), 1996 (Bill Clinton v. Bob Dole), 2000 (Al Gore v. George Bush II), and 2004 (John Kerry v. George Bush II).

And here’s the translation on the “lesser of two evils” refrain: Sure, there isn’t much distinguishing them: they’re both neo-liberals on economic policy[1]; they both want to cut Social Security and Medicare; they’re both pro-war, pro-imperialist expansion, pro-warrantless surveillance, pro-rendition, pro-indefinite detention.

But still, we have to vote for the Democrat, because there are some IMPORTANT differences, after all: The Dem is pro-choice (see VM #2), he’s pro-environment (see VM #2)[1]; and the Democrat wants healthcare reform.

At bottom, the refrain really means: “Hey, Bill/Al/John/ is one of us (see VM #1). He talks like us; he went to school where we went/wanted to go (even though the Georges did also); he seems like someone I’d be friends with, and after all, I’d vote for my friend if he was running, so….” Huh? This is what counts as “the lesser of two evils”?

Evil is evil. Period. It can’t be quantified, unless you’re a Benthamite utilitarian and you’re ok with selling out black and brown folks overseas for some more time to rest nice and comfy in your own house. Black and brown folks—especially poor black and brown folks– at home have not been sold out; they’ve just never been allowed to buy in. The reproductive rights of black women have been taken away time and time again—through forced sterilization, through the absence of access to reproductive service and medication, and through the absence of access to affordable healthcare—and no, Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts’ mandatory purchase-healthcare (which was the model for national healthcare) does NOT solve that problem. What about the civil rights of black men, you ask? Wait, I’m don’t understand. What are those? Are those the ones that the Democrats signed away in the 1996 “3-strikes You’re out” bill, which managed to find a way to put away an even larger swath of black men and other men of color. As of 2002, over 2 million were imprisoned–remember, this is before the War on Terror was well underway. What about the civil liberties of brown and Muslim men? Umm, have you not been paying attention?

So to folks who buy into this model: please don’t pretend that you are voting for someone who will enable better possibilities for someone other than you–certainly not for migrants and U.S. indigent, poor, or working-class folks of color. You may be voting for someone who will maintain the status quo for yourself and others in your socio-economic class. That’s fine. But imperious self-righteousness is hardly a good argument. And don’t worry, you’re being sold out, too.

A vote for a “lesser” evil is still a vote for evil. And the 12th hour urge/guilt-trip/admonishment to vote for the Democrat is a bit like hurling a bucket of water at a house that’s going down in flames because you surrounded the fireplace with parched Christmas trees and then started a blazing fire. Yes, it’s an emergency, and supposedly some water may be better than none, and yes, I understand that we’re supposed to band together to put out the fire. But we let the damn fire happen in the first place. That election fire can’t be put out by a few buckets of water (aka, a last-minute capitulation to the “lesser of two evils” guilt-trip).

Look, the Democrats have been kicking liberal/progressive types in the teeth for at least the last twenty years. “Vote for us,” they say, “else this country will be sold out.” Vote for us, or else you’ll have a deregulated banking industry. Vote for us or else you’ll have spies everywhere, warrantless surveillance, bankers gone wild, payoffs to the rich, and your reproductive rights will be peeled back. Vote for us, or else you’ll lose your civil liberties. So, we’re supposed to vote for Democrats in order to be protected from the havoc that the Republicans could cause. Hm. But as I recall, Bill Clinton signed a series of bills into law— Immigration Reform, Anti-Terrorism, Welfare Reform, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Glass-Steagall Act–among others, that heralded much of the bleak world in which we now live. Al Gore, John Kerry, and even Hilary Clinton were on the same bandwagon (remember the “are you tough enough to push the button ads?)

Hand in hand with this argument, is the loyalty supposedly articulated by George Clooney, which has been righteously circulating around Facebook: “I’m a firm believer in sticking by and sticking up for the people whom you’ve elected.” (Is it too coy to point out that this quote comes from a man who just dumped his umpteenth lover?) Unconditional loyalty is for sports teams, your family/friends, and your pets.

Ah…if only the Democrats could heed the loyalty argument for their constituencies. Stick by us and we’ll stick by you. Anything else is nothing short of an abusive relationship: you kick your voters in the teeth and then insist you love us and that we can’t throw you out.

So, what to do? I’ll respond more in a future post, but in the meantime, let me just say this: the national elections don’t matter at this point. We need to work on local races, local elections, alternative institutions. And why do we need to accept the “two-party option” that grounds the “lesser of two evils” vote? In the short term, we have no options. But we need to retain a historical memory, and build with a view to the long-term future. Abusive relationships need to be abandoned.


[1] see NAFTA (1993), Glass-Steagall Act (1999), Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking Act (1994), Colombia, South Korea, Panama Free Trade Agreements (introduced by George II during his time in office, but remained unpassed. These free-trade agreements were passed recently in October 2011), the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000), among others.

Voting Model #2: The “pro-choice/environmentally friendly” vote

In this post, I continue down my list of problematic presidential election voting models. Today’s model, #2 on that list, seems to have become a very popular one over the last two decades.  Most people who consider themselves progressive think it’s a good idea to look for candidates who are pro-choice or environmentally friendly. I find it to be a fairly problematic one for several reasons.

1. It’s not clear that this category is an accurate or satisfactory litmus test of the political credentials of the candidate. I want to be clear: I am furiously, firmly, steadfastly, immovably in favor of reproductive rights and active protection of the environment. But a presidential candidate who claims to be pro-choice does not necessarily have a commitment to support legislation that protects reproductive rights.  In fact, the very language of “choice” is a regressive language, as Marlene Fried reminds us: it recalls a language of individualism. One can be pro-choice and against abortion (yes).  It allows a broad and ambiguous base of support for “reproductive rights.”

2. Being pro-choice or green can be a social stance without any structural teeth. One can be pro-choice and still not be an active advocate for the distribution of public monies to support reproductive rights for women who may not have funds or transportation easy access to the services.  It would be important/enlightening to scrutinize the candidate’s pro-choice platform with regard to her/his position on the following: social services; the allocation of government monies for social services; public aid; health insurance (and remember health insurance doesn’t guarantee access to reproductive services), the endorsement of better access to social services (like public transportation, location of clinic  in rural areas, the availability of advocates and medical personnel who can be comforting supports to women seeking reproductive services, etc.).

3. A pro-choice candidate is not automatically a progressive candidate; it’s possible to be pro-choice and environmentally friendly and be a libertarian or liberal (without ever naming him/herself as such). A libertarian pro-choice candidate might say that the state needs neither to interfere  nor prohibit nor support a woman’s reproductive decisions (as reflected by the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits monies for abortion services to be extended through Medicaid). By extension, the liberartarian also need not endorse legislation that distributes monies or services that enable access to reproductive decisions.  A liberal pro-choice candidate might articulate a “strong” commitment to reproductive rights, again, without endorsing legislation to enables women to make use of those rights.  A liberal pro-choice candidate can still subscribe to conservative family ideologies that limit access to reproductive rights.  Similarly, a self-described “pro-environment/green” candidate need not be progressive; they can be libertarian or liberal –or downright conservative, endorsing anti-immigration policies on the dubious grounds that immigrants that destroy our environment (and if they do so, it’s in order to provide services to wealthy Americans). One also wonders how immigrants become the villains, while DuPont, Dow, and BP are seen as real environmental heroes.

4. Pro-choice/green candidates typically don’t describe themselves as liberal or libertarian. This is a no-brainer: they/their handlers are trying to cast as wide a net for voters as possible, and it’s easier to insinuate one’s pro-choice/green politics in order to attract a wide constituency. I mean, really: can any one ever seriously “be against” the environment? In many ways, a “green” (and often, a pro-choice) stance is more of rhetorically appealing than it is informative.

Rather than be taken in by a candidate’s “pro-choice” stance, it’s probably more effective to explore whether a pro-choice candidate iis also pro-social services, pro-civil liberties or whether they are pro-corporation, pro-banks, against progressive taxation for the upper 1%, might give us a better sense of how substantial or facile their pro-choice/green stance really is.

By the way, there are women in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan (countries formerly or currently under assault by the United States). I’m betting those women also care about reproductive rights.  When considering a pro-choice candidate, it might be important to ask what their position on invading those countries is. It might also be informative to ask what 10 years of cluster bombs and depleted uranium deposits have done to the reproductive systems of women in Iraq? It might be equally as informative to find out how 10 years of bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, oil fires in Kuwait and Iraq, and other chemical assaults have affected women.

This issue brings up the additional question of “which constituencies” one aligns oneself with when one votes.  It may not be a conscious alignment, but it forms the contours of our voting preferences.  Voting for a candidate on a single (seemingly uncomplicated) issue such as reproductive rights or the environment, when his/her stance on issues such as war, invasions, and empire is credibly supportive tells us that the voter (that’s you) has chosen certain constituencies to favor (e.g., “women” qua women in the United States) to protect over others such as international civilian population (who include women of color, non-wealthy women, children) who will be innocently subjected to drone attacks, bombs, covert wars. These international civilian populations will surely also include black and brown men, and if the last decade is any indication, often Muslim men and women.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a cost-benefit vote. One calculates the cost of voting for a president who has promised to be pro-“choice”/”pro”-environment while also promising to invade other countries with the anticipation of large casualties. If this is your model, then okay. But keep in mind that you are trading hostages in the process, and the casualties will still be casualties as the result of your political choices.

Can these casualties be mitigated? Hard to say. It’s not clear whether a presidential candidate who puts forth pro-choice/environmentally friendly in lieu of/without committing to progressive stances on structural and foreign policy issues will actually support pro-choice or environmental issues. Over the last few decades, we have become all too familiar with this trade-off.

A more effective approach would be to explore whether a presidential candidate who claims to be in favor of protecting reproductive rights is also in favor of protecting social services, access to health care, and civil liberties or whether s/he is aligned with protecting corporations, banks, health insurance companies, and pharmaceutical companies.  This might give us a better sense of whether a pro-choice/green stance is really substantial or merely facile.

Voting Model #1 cont’d: “They’re so interesting…I would love to have dinner with them” vote

A friend told me the other night that her mother voted for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential elections because she thought Roslyn Carter looked uptight, whereas Nancy Reagan seemed much more appealing. I think that many folks find this voting model appealing, even if not consciously, and I wonder why. A similar logic has become the basis of a popular college-application question: Who would you most like to have dinner with, and why? Eager college applicants (myself included) choose unusual famous figures who will somehow reflect how impressive the essay-writer really is. Applicant gets accepted to her favorite college and somehow internalizes the logic: namely that the famous figure with whom she wants to have dinner reflects something admirable about herself.

I ended my previous post by pointing out that people will believe whatever you tell them you are, even if that self-representation is, let’s say, less than completely precise. That’s not such a bad thing in most areas of our lives. We all have certain versions of ourselves that we’d prefer that people see. When folks do see our preferred versions of ourselves, we make them our friends and lovers. When they see us differently from our preferred self-representations, we fight, reconcile, forgive or break up with those friends. And we also have tendencies to change or want to change our self-representations. This is why it was so popular to “go west, young man.” If you wanted to “remake” yourself, you moved to a new place with a new version of yourself and made new friends (it’s also why totalized surveillance in the form of FBI databases and CIA fusion centers are problematic—but that’s for another post).

I take away several things from this:

1. We tend to be friends with folks because we like their self-representations. But we’re not necessarily harmed when they change their self-representations, in large part because their actions probably don’t have an immediate impact on us. So, if I have a friend who was pro-union in college but becomes a union-busting lobbyist afterward, I may not respect her for it, but I can probably live with it–as long as we never discuss her work. Depending upon the nature of our friendship, I might take up the option of calling her out on it, discussing, reconciling, disagreeing, or ultimately ending the friendship because I am so troubled by her vocation (Yes, I know that Aristotle wrote about different types of friendship). But the consequences can be managed, at least at a personal level.

2. We think well of our friends, and can even imagine supporting them for office because we like and support who (we think) they are. But in most cases, we’re not called upon to do so, because for most of us, our friends don’t run for office. And we may like/deal with friends whose principles are odds for us, but we don’t have support them financially, work on their campaigns, or vote for them. We can even withdraw our support for family members whose politics we disagree with. See for example, Candace Gingrich-Jones on her brother, Newt.

3. The opposite conclusion is more problematic: voting for someone because we like their self-representations, or because we can imagine them being our friends. The image that they project may not (usually is not) accurate (more on this below). The effects of voting for someone whose self-representation is inaccurate/misleading/deceptive could lead to widespread and disastrous results for many more folks than just myself. Of course, it could have a happy opposite effect, but I can’t think of any examples.

On the accuracy of public self-representations: Walter Benjamin has a brilliant essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” There are many insights to be gleaned from this piece, written in 1936. Benjamin points out how the invention of the camera enables a forum that influences, even prescribes, how a true emotion is reflected publicly. The “authenticity” of the emotion, which we might otherwise ascribe through our myriad interactions with a person, can now be extracted through the trust of the camera. At the end of Casablanca, we get a 3 second screen shot of Ingrid Bergman’s eyes filled with tears as Humphrey Bogart assures her that they’ll always have Paris. We know that this means their love was true, their love was lost, and Bergman’s heart is broken. As Benjamin notes so wisely, “This permits the audience to take the position of a critic, without experiencing any personal contact with the actor. The audience’s identification with the actor is really an identification with the camera.” (Benjamin 1936, VIII). Can Ingrid really be sad if her eyes aren’t filled with tears? Can Bogey really be heartbroken if he’s not drowning his sorrows in whiskey?

Judgments about the moral stature of a person (in the public eye) are suspect to begin with, especially if they’re based on physical features, fashion sense, or weight (think about the snarky comments about New Jersey governor Chris Christie when he was reported to consider running for president). But he’s also one of the few politicos who nominated (AND defended) the appointment of a South Asian Muslim lawyer to the New Jersey Superior Court.

(I know that Benjamin has a much deeper critique about the convergence of capitalism and technology, aesthetics, and the evacuation of authenticity through the vehicle of mass reproduction, about which much more can be said. Really, I do. I already mentioned that his essay was brilliant.)

On political judgments based on public persona: What does a charming smile, gentle temperament, or well-modulated voice tell us about a person’s political convictions? President Lyndon B. Johnson managed to push through some pretty decent civil rights and affirmative action legislation, rough redneck though he was. On the other hand, his foreign policy decisions left much to be desired. But his personality didn’t necessarily reveal that much except he was an interesting character to quote in newspaper articles.

On the political character of a candidate based on their spouse: Yes, I too was enamored of Michelle Obama. I love (what I think) I see of her character, her accomplishments, her ideas (those that were publicly aired), her beauty. But her public persona tells us very little about her spouse’s political judgments and capacities. It doesn’t even tell us that much about the caliber of the White House dinners that (in a classic patriarchal holdover) as First Lady, she is supposed to be overseeing.

On the romantic, heroic, character of a political candidate, based on his and his public-relations firm’s stories about his upbringing, see Saturday’s post.

Conclusion:

A public figure with charm, good-storytelling skills, and heroic background (i.e. someone I’d like to have as a dinner guest) ≠ good political commitments, political sense, conviction, or administrative skills. Our judgments about a candidate based on video clips, numerous though they be, are fairly undependable.

NB: Perhaps this post is ridiculously obvious. But before November 2008, how many times did you think that Obama’s polished, charming, cosmopolitan self would guarantee us much more progressive politics than Bush’s crude, fratboyish presence?