Posts Tagged 'class'

Iraq vet: Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land, they are right here in front of us. Racism is their weapon

Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land,
they are right here in front of us.  Racism is their weapon

Iraq vet talks on class, race, and exploitation

Iraq vet talks on class, race, and exploitation

“Our real enemy is not the ones living in a distant land whose names or policies we don’t understand; The real enemy is a system that wages war when it’s profitable, the CEOs who lay us off our jobs when it’s profitable, the Insurance Companies who deny us Health care when it’s profitable, the Banks who take away our homes when it’s profitable. Our enemies are not several hundred thousands away. They are right here in front of us.”

How do the the rulers get away with it?  This soldier is clear:

“Racism is a vital weapon employed by this government. It is a more important weapon than a rifle, a tank, a bomber or a battleship.” “They  need a public who’s willing to send soldiers into harm’s way, they need soldiers willing to kill and be killed without question. They can spend millions on a single bomb, but that bomb only becomes a weapon when the ranks in the military are willing to follow orders to use it.”

“And the ruling class, the billionaires who profit from human suffering, who care only about expanding their wealth and controlling the world economy, understand that their power lies only in their ability to convince us that war, oppression, and exploitation are in our interest. They understand that their wealth is dependent on their ability to convince the working class to die to control the market of another country. And convincing us to kill and die is based on their ability to make us think that we are somehow superior.

“Poor and working people in this country are sent to kill poor and working people in another country, to make the rich richer. Without racism, soldiers would realize they have more in common with the Iraqi people than they do with the billionaires that send us to war. .. Our enemies are right here at home, and if we organize and fight with our sisters and brothers we can stop this war, we can stop this government, and we can create a better world. “

Mike Prysner is from IVAW, Iraq Veterans Against the War. This speech was from Winter Soldier in March 22, 2008. You can view his entire testimony here, which spells out the role of racism, and how, under a veneer of anti-racsm, the army and and civilian society are now pushing an onslaught of racism which is both homicidal and suicidal.

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Covering Katrina: Has a More Critical Press Corps Emerged?

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, FAIR,  September, 9, 2009

Covering Katrina: Has a More Critical Press Corps Emerged?

One of the most noted trends in the media coverage of Hurricane Katrina has been the aggressive and critical tone some journalists have adopted towards the White House and Bush administration officials.

A headline at the online magazine Slate read, “The Rebellion of the Talking Heads” (9/2/05). “Katrina Rekindles Adversarial Media” is how USA Today put it (9/6/05)–implying, of course, that an “adversarial” press really existed in the first place.

Of course, this new attitude was not universal. After George W. Bush told ABC’s Diane Sawyer, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees” (9/1/05), many outlets questioned Bush’s nonsensical claim, pointing out that such predictions were common. But on the front page of the next morning’s New York Times (9/2/05), readers saw the headline “Government Saw Flood Risks, But Not Levee Failure,” which essentially defended Bush’s position.

The Times also defended Bush against critics who thought his reaction to the crisis was insufficient. A photo of Bush accepting a guitar from a country singer at an event in Calfornia– the day after the levees broke in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast had been ravaged–seemed to illustrate that point. But Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller took issue with the fact that bloggers “circulated a picture of Mr. Bush playing a guitar at an event in California on Tuesday to imply that he was fiddling while New Orleans drowned.” Bumiller’s rebuttal: “In fact, the picture was taken when the country singer Mark Wills presented Mr. Bush with a guitar backstage at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, Calif., after Mr. Bush gave a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II.” Times readers were left wondering what exactly was wrong with the original presentation.

But Bush’s response was not the only one that was criticized. Some reporters seemed astonished when FEMA director Michael Brown said that his agency had only heard about the gathering crisis at the New Orleans convention center on September 1, leaving ABC anchor Ted Koppel to ask him (9/1/05), “Don’t you guys watch television? Don’t you guys listen to the radio?” But two days later, ABC’s Cokie Roberts seemed to stick up for Brown: “Well, I’m not sure who knew about it. Because, you know, nobody had heard about anything but the Superdome up until that point and I’m not sure who knew that people were at the convention center. It’s on the river so there was no, there was no directive to go there.” Roberts must have missed earlier media reports regarding the crisis at the convention center, like a CNN interview with a New Orleans police officer about moving people to that site on Aug. 31.

One of the primary–and visible–sources of frustration for many reporters on the scene was the slow pace of rescue and relief support. But not all reporters were downbeat about the White House’s efforts. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, for example, declared on August 31: “Tonight, under the direct command of President Bush, the full force of the federal government is mobilized. A superpower of resources, manpower and know-how heads on an historic rescue mission to the Gulf Coast.” Matthews later added that Bush “seems very much like the old Harvard Business School kind of guy that he is, the president of the United States, today, because he delegated very clearly.” The Washington Post editorialized the next day (9/1/05) that “the federal government’s immediate response to the destruction of one of the nation’s most historic cities does seem commensurate with the scale of the disaster. At an unprecedented news conference, many members of President Bush’s Cabinet pledged to dedicate huge resources to the Gulf Coast.”

In fact, some media figures even offered optimistic predictions for Bush–a clean slate of sorts. Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote (9/4/05), “We cannot yet calculate the political fallout from Hurricane Katrina and its devastating human and economic consequences, but one thing seems certain: It makes the previous signs of political weakness for Bush, measured in record-low job approval ratings, instantly irrelevant and opens new opportunities for him to regain his standing with the public.”

At the same time, media coverage has focused on how the White House has been scrambling to repair its reputation, with top Bush advisers Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove leading the concerted PR effort (“White House Enacts a Plan to Ease Political Damage,” New York Times—9/5/05). That strategy was explained to the Times by an anonymous Republican who “said that Mr. Rove had told administration officials not to respond to Democratic attacks on Mr. Bush’s handling of the hurricane… the administration should not appear to be seen now as being blatantly political.” That source was granted anonymity “because of keen White House sensitivity about how the administration and its strategy would be perceived.”

But the very next paragraph would suggest that the White House strategy would in fact be “blatantly political”–as the Times put it, “In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove’s tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.”

That might explain how the Washington Post (9/4/05) managed to report that, according to a “senior Bush official,” Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco “still had not declared a state of emergency” by September 3. In fact, that declaration had come on August 26, as the Post later explained in a correction.

Apart from that kind of PR spin, the overriding concerns of race and class should have played a key role in a story where such realities were impossible to dismiss or ignore. Though some outlets devoted significant attention to the roles of race and class–particularly in New Orleans–by some counts it was not nearly enough. A study by Think Progress (9/4/05), a project of the liberal Center for American Progress, found that stories focusing on race and class were in short supply on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel–just 1.6 percent of stories focused on race or class issues.

And certain comments were simply considered beyond the pale. During a September 2 telethon, rapper Kanye West declared that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and that America is set up “to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible.” NBC edited his remarks for the West Coast feed of the show and issued a press release distancing the network from his words. NPR reporter Juan Williams, appearing on Fox News Sunday (9/4/05), also dismissed West’s comments: “There are some people who are going so far as to say this week, ‘Oh, the president doesn’t care about black people,’ because there were so many poor black people on the screens around the country as the victims of this tragedy. Well, I can tell you, I think that’s ridiculous. I think that’s kind of spouting off on people who don’t know the president, don’t know this administration, don’t know the people who work there.” Apparently West would think differently if he knew more White House staffers personally.

Amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, many mainstream journalists seemed to display a skepticism towards official statements and government spinning that has been absent for much of the last five years. While a press corps that openly challenges the political elite would be a positive development, readers and viewers should question why reporters who are demonstrably angry and are covering this story aggressively have been so rarely moved by other events. What if there was widespread media outrage about White House fabrications about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? What if reporters were similarly outraged by the destruction of Iraqi cities like Fallujah, where civilians who survived the siege had to live without power and drinking water?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a more aggressive press corps seems to have caught the White House public relations team off-balance– a situation the White House has not had to face very often in the last five years. Many might wonder why it took reporters so long; as Eric Boehlert wrote in Salon.com (9/7/05):

“It’s hard to decide which is more troubling: that it took the national press corps five years to summon up enough courage to report, without apology, that what the Bush administration says and does are often two different things, or that it took the sight of bodies floating facedown in the streets of New Orleans to trigger a change in the press’s behavior.”

Obama: another mainstream Democrat

Left Business Observer, March 2008

Would you like change with that?

Super Tuesday II, as Fox dubbed it, took some steam out of the Obama bandwagon, but he’s still the likely Democratic nominee, and therefore the likely president-to-be. Which is remarkable, really-a nonparticipant can only stand slackjawed in awe of Obamamania. Previously rational people whom LBO admires, like Barbara Ehrenreich and Christopher Hayes, have fallen in love with the Senator’s brand of change we can believe in, a slogan that has to be one of the emptiest since Sandburg’s “The people, yes!,” that the New Party used in New York in the early 1990s. Obama has become the Tokio Hotel of politics.

On what is this mania based? Obama is inspiring the young, lifting the alienated off their couches, and catalyzing a new movement for…change, presumably one we can believe in. The content of this change is hard to specify. Some serious leftists we know and love point to Obama’s roots as a community organizer in Chicago, though many people in a position to know say he didn’t rock many boats in those days. He was embraced by foundation liberals, however, who greased his way into the Harvard Law School via a lakefront condo.

All of which doesn’t make Obama uniquely bad: he’s just another mainstream Democrat with a sleazy real estate guy in his past. Though he’s being touted as an early opponent of the Iraq war, he told the Chicago Tribune in 2004: “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position….” He voted to renew the PATRIOT Act, campaigned for happy warrior Joe Lieberman against Ned Lamont in 2006, and wants to increase the size of the U.S. military. He supports Israel’s continuing torture of the Palestinians penned into the Gaza Strip. A Congressional Quarterly study found his Senate voting record was virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s; the only major difference in their votes is a surprising one: a move to limit class actions suits against corporations, which Clinton voted against, and Obama for. Obama’s vote was against the preferences of a Dem financial base, trial lawyers, but pleasing to the Fortune 500 and Wall Street.

In this binary world, when you criticize Obama, people immediately include you’re a Hillary Clinton fan. Uh, no. Her politics are bellicose and neoliberal. Her “experience” consists largely of having watched her husband be president for eight years, though it’s likely they were sleeping in separate bedrooms for much of the time. A plague on all their houses.

Agendas

Some more thoughtful victims of Obama Disease point to detailed position papers on the candidate’s website. These must always be taken with a grain of salt, especially during primary season. Candidate Bill Clinton promised to “invest in people” and ended up being the president of “a bunch of fucking bond traders,” as Hillary’s husband memorably put it. LBJ campaigned as the peace candidate in 1964, and ended up killing a million Indochinese.

Obamians also point to his rejection of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC); they put him on their list of rising stars, and he asked to be removed. Encouraging-except for the fact that his chief economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, the fellow who told the Canadians not to take the anti-NAFTA rhetoric seriously, is the DLC’s chief economist. Goolsbee has written gushingly about Milton Friedman and denounced the idea of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures. That hire is more significant than asking to be struck from a list.

Big capital would have no problem with an Obama presidency. Top hedge fund honcho Paul Tudor Jones threw a fundraiser for him at his Greenwich house last spring, “The whole of Greenwich is backing Obama,” one source said of the posh headquarters of the hedge fund industry. They like him because they’re socially liberal, up to a point, and probably eager for a little less war, and think he’s the man to do their work. They’re also confident he wouldn’t undertake any renovations to the distribution of wealth. You could say the same about Clinton-but you know those hedge fund guys. They like a contrary bet. A share of Obama stock on the Iowa Electronic Market was 30 on May 19, 2007, the day of Jones’s Obama bash; it peaked at 86 on March 1, a gain of 187% (in a year where triple digits are rare). It’s since settled back into the low 70s, which is still quite a gain.

The phantasmic

LBO would be the last to argue that politics is all about rationality. Fantasy matters. But fantasy can have some relationship to policy. Take the example of Ronald Reagan, a man for whom Obama professed some admiration for having rolled back the “excesses of the 1960s and 1970s” and bringing back “a sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” Reagan promised to make America “stand tall again” and “to get government off the backs of the people.” Certainly these phrases didn’t appeal to the rational faculties of the electorate, but they did correspond with a military buildup, a greater willingness to go to war, and an economic agenda of deregulation and reverence for private wealth. And Reagan had real political forces behind him-first, his cabal of right-wing Southern California businessmen, later supplemented by the corporate and financial establishment, and operating with a playbook written by movement conservatives and the Heritage Foundation.

What does Obama have? A lot of slogans that connect with nothing in the real world; in fact, their very emptiness may be the source of their appeal, because it allows people to project whatever they want to onto him, without getting bogged down in specifics, as Reagan liked to say. (Under attack from Clinton and McCain, he did get specific in his long Wisconsin victory speech. This brought attacks from Karl Rove and others, placing him on the “far left”; it’s not likely we’ll see much more of this irresponsible stuff from Obama as November approaches.) And despite the grand claims of enthusiasts, he doesn’t really have a movement behind him-he’s got a fan club. How does a fan club hold a candidate accountable? It’s not like he’ll take the phone calls of all those 27-year-olds who gave him $100 on the web as quickly as he’d answer a summons from Paul Tudor Jones.

Obama’s appeal is a strange thing. Though he’s added to it as his political momentum builds, his original base consisted of blacks and upper-status whites. The black support is out of racial pride, but the initial white support was driven by his post-partisan, post-racial appeal. Well-off whites love to hear a black man say that racism has largely receded as a toxic force, though it’s really hard to figure out what the hell he’s talking about in a world where black households earn about 60% as much as whites, and where black men are incarcerated at more than six times the rate of white men. And what of this post-partisan business? Politics is about conflicts over resources and priorities, and over the state’s power to coerce; how ever could comity prevail in a world where interests and preferences diverge so widely?

As Adolph Reed told LBO, an Obama presidency could give us the worst of all possible of worlds: one in which race is completely repackaged as a discourse of celebration and, to the extent that that had already become the only metaphor through which American politics could accommodate critical discussion of inequality, the language of ‘disparity,’ it will no longer be possible for critiques of inequality to be heard as an appropriate topic for political discussion. Obama already when he talks “black” (e.g., with his “Cousin Pookie” riffs, which are the exact equivalent of Shelby Steele’s rantings about underclass, shiftless “Sam”) opts for the Bookerite/Cosbyite metaphor of victim-blaming in the phony first-person plural, and he has always played the Immigrant Success Story Up From Slavery Ain’t America Great and Don’t I Show It angle.

And, moreover, what many of his white supporters like about him is that he doesn’t have the ‘chip on the shoulder’ that so many indigenous blacks do. Add all this to his commitment to appealing to the right and to the investor class, and the upshot is that inequality could lose whatever vestigial connotations it has as a species of injustice and be fully consolidated as the marker, on the bottom end that is, of those losers who failed to do what the market requires of them or a sign of their essential inferiority.

Turn to cheer

Enough critique; the dialectic demands something constructive to induce some forward motion. There’s no doubt that Obamalust does embody some phantasmic longing for a better world-more peaceful, egalitarian, and humane. He’ll deliver little of that-but there’s evidence of some admirable popular desires behind the crush. And they will inevitably be disappointed.

As this newsletter has argued for years, there’s great political potential in popular disillusionment with Democrats. The phenomenon was first diagnosed by Garry Wills in Nixon Agonistes. As Wills explained it, throughout the 1950s, left-liberals intellectuals thought that the national malaise was the fault of Eisenhower, and a Democrat would cure it. Well, they got JFK and everything still pretty much sucked, which is what gave rise to the rebellions of the 1960s (and all that excess that Obama wants to junk any remnant of). You could argue that the movements of the 1990s that culminated in Seattle were a minor rerun of this. The sense of malaise and alienation is probably stronger now than it was 50 years ago, and includes a lot more of the working class, whom Stanley Greenberg’s focus groups find to be really pissed off about the cost of living and the way the rich are lording it over the rest of us.

Never did the possibility of disappointment offer so much hope. That’s not what the candidate means by that word, but history can be a great ironist.


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