Why America is No Longer Beating the Clock
To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men [and women]
We are not enemies but friends. Though passions may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched by the better angels of or nature. [Abraham Lincoln – 1st Inaugural Address — 620,000 Americans, the most we have ever lost in one war and in all the 20th century wars combined, died in the fratricidal holocaust of the Civil War starting months after these honeyed words]
America is continually searching for its soul [Gunnar Myrdal]
To find the real American soul, we must expose the lies and false equivalencies our elected rulers spout to distract us, to take our minds off the inequality and injustice that is hollowing out American society, to blind us to the reality of US war crimes at home and abroad, to turn us against our poor brother and sisters, to instill fear of young black men, Muslims, immigrants, all the “others,” to keep us docile and helpless in the face of the tyranny of our neo-liberal masters. Real people, not the stick figures of stereotypes, are betrayed by the American dream “the reason they call it the American dream is you have to be asleep to believe it” (George Carlin). In an earlier age, when we were both captivated and unnerved by the innocence of the Occupy movement, we were the 99%. Now we’re just the underclass trotting obediently and wordlessly to the slaughter house. The evidence is all around us that the US character was honed through decades of oligarchic rule, broken promises, foreign (failed) adventures, slaughter of innocents and bloodshed – lots of it.
A Refresher Course on Lesser Evilism
A brief journey down memory lane will jolt the conscience of those who compounded their misery by voting for Obama in 2012 on the tenuous grounds that “the other guy would be much worse.” (familiarly known as the “least worst” or the lesser evil”)
How did that strategy work for the Democrats’ most faithful demographic— the working class? Who made out best when the rhetorical smoke cleared and President Obama’s campaign promises proved as insubstantial as his campaign slogans?
Here’s nominee Obama talking to an AFL-CIO convention April 2, 2008: “I will make it [EFCA- Employee Free Choice Act – outlawing secret ballot elections for unionizing a workplace in favor of simple majority agreement] the law of the land when I’m president of the United States.” Adding the cherry to the sundae was easy in 2008 when promises were cheap: “If the majority of workers want a union, they should get a union. It is that simple.” Apparently it wasn’t that simple. On February 10, 2009, Forbes Magazine made it official: Today President Obama, who has moved hard on many fronts, has maintained a wise and judicious silence on the EFCA.
But there was another cloud on the oligarchs’ horizon — the potential for labor activism to stand in the way of the goodies the administration was planning to hand over to corporate America (free trade agreements and unlimited pipelines being the tip of the iceberg not subject to climate change melting). The misfortunes in the auto industry were the right disaster at the right time. As part of the deal to resuscitate the money boys in Detroit, Obama made a two-tier wage system the new employment gold standard along with a no strike pledge. A deal that even Samuel Gompers no wild-eyed labor activist himself would have rejected. The response of what we laughingly call today’s union leadership? “Where do we sign boss?” Entry-level workers receive $14/hour working alongside and doing the same jobs as workers making $30+ an hour. Even non-unionized Walmart associates are clamoring for a minimum wage of $15.
Big Labor “Rises” Up
Obama wasn’t going to get away with that final indignity. Dredging up the ghosts of Big Bill Hayward and Mother Jones, labor vowed to fight back against his blatant treachery. Leave it to the rank and file in the time-honored tradition of labor activism to revolt when it became clear that broken promises littered Obama’s march to the White House —EFCA off the table, the car industry bailout of the corporations, broken promises of support when the Wisconsin governor mounted his ultimately successful attack on public unions, Obamacare with its mandate to destroy so-called union “cadillac” plans by foisting a 40% tax on them. If not the leaders, the rank and file would mobilize a counter attack, demand he make good on his promises, threaten his prospects for labor’s support in 2012. He did and they did. Obama broke most of his promises to labor and labor retaliated. Support among union members dipped — BY ONE PERCENT. In 2008, Obama received 59% of the union vote, by 2012 that support had “dwindled” to 58%.
Self Preservation Not Part of the Voter’s Calculus
How to account for the peculiar blindness that impels us to vote against our interest for a party that has abandoned us? The Stockholm syndrome perhaps (victims identifying with their victimizers) or something more sinister? It may be the ultimate non-sequitur — either “the Republicans would be worse.” or the democrat of the hour be it Clinton, Obama or potentially Clinton redux is the lesser of two evils. Adolph Reed in Harper’s attributes the phenomenon to a kind of learned hopelessness: “Each election has become a moment of life-or-death urgency that precludes dissent or even reflection. For liberals there is only one option…to elect at whatever cost whichever Democrat is running. This method of operation…imposes a willed amnesia on political debate. True, the last Democrat was really unsatisfactory but this one is better. True the last Republican didn’t bring destruction on the universe, but this one will.
The naysayer cause was taken up by the Nation, where revolutionary ideas go to die and liberal elite journalists find a haven to broadcast their vacuous rationales in support or defense of the thoroughly discredited politics of the liberal herd. Consider the classic liberal cop out from one of their shrillest mouthpieces, Michelle Goldberg, characterizing Reed’s piece as “electoral nihilism,” and proposing her own delusionary solution: “Yes, there is only one option in an election year and that is to elect, at whatever cost, whichever Democrat is running.” (emphasis hers)
Electoral politics have become anathema to social and economic justice. Which is why the movement to assure every American the right to vote should start by making sure that every American has a real choice when exercising that right. Elections have become a matter of bringing home the bacon for liberal elites and carrying the water for their wealthy funders. The liberal establishment has deserted the big tent for the small carefully guarded opulence of the 1% tent. In the last election, the 100 biggest contributors gave $323 million to political parties and individuals – the same amount as 4.75 million Americans giving less than $200 each.
How do the liberal elites bamboozle us into thinking they are looking after our interests? In the issues they choose to talk about and pretend to support. Lip service does not solve the catastrophic wrongs that cut to the bone. Struggling to bring justice to Blacks and Latinos, jailing banksters whose predatory loan and credit practices continue to ensnare poor people in webs of debt and despair (e.g. pay day loans, sky-high credit card interest rates, 21st century debtors’ prisons, out of sight bail for minor offenses). At the top of our mountain of debt is student indebtedness now topping $1.3 trillion. America comes late to the party when it comes to tuition-free higher education, as one candidate points out. But what of former students struggling under a mountain-sized load of debt they may spend the rest of their lives paying back? That doesn’t seem to be part of any candidate’s talking points.
“Stuck in Folsom Prison”
When it comes to miscarriages of justice America is the true superpower. Laws passed by a subservient congress allow the military to imprison civilians in perpetuity without the safeguard of due process or judicial scrutiny in the name of “keeping us safe.” The harsh sentencing laws targeted at minorities that impose interminable sentences for victimless crimes, the war on whistleblowers, the utter disregard of immigrants’ human and civil rights are the hallmarks of a decaying society surrendering to its worst impulses.
The Distractions of Identity Politics
Where do we find liberal elites in this gloom and doom scenario? On the front lines of sloganeering for the “safe” causes: multiculturalism, gender equality, identity politics. Nothing to roil the waters, change the plight of the many or trample on the privileges of the few. Obama’s 2008 victory became “the end of history,” a time of “hope and change, and “yes we can.” His campaign’s reward for gulling the people? Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year award.
How We Can Make It Better for the Next Generation
Reform and a vastly changed political landscape will not come about through traditional power sources or electoral politics. Remember Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. There is another way. Ilyasha Shabazz, Malcolm’s daughter in an op ed commemorating the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination harkened back to Malcolm’s belief that self-defense requires “vigorous action.” He was not a believer in turning the other cheek or the gospel of non-violence. (He called the March on Washington, the Farce on Washington). Howard Zinn had another strategy, civil disobedience — “The really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.”
Think you’re going to get that with your vote for an R. or D? Reverse the assault on the Constitution and mend the tears in the social fabric. A provocative essay in the London Review of Books turns that belief on its head. “The chief alternative to the Republican free market and imperial grandiosity is the Democratic party’s mixture of technocratic slogans and gestures to identity-based interest groups (gay marriage abortion rights, immigration reform) topped off by the Democrat’s own version of imperial grandiosity.”
Patriotism as the Opiate of the People
That’s where Suspicious Angels comes in — to present a different “take” on the issues, light years away from the focus of the corporate media and their neoliberal free market allies. Consider: how the withholding of even one constitutional right diminishes the pursuit of happiness for the mass of people, how secret government programs stifle dissent, how the birth of the national security state brought on endless surveillance, shattering the cordon sanitaire that protected our private spaces, Our leaders’ excuse — to keep us safe. Safety at the expense of privacy is a Faustian bargain that will neither insulate us from harm nor allow us to reclaim the freedoms we surrender. Instilling fear has become the basis of US foreign and domestic policy. The Obama administration has expanded the parameters of fear into the economic arena. Right to work laws that kick to the curb the barely breathing union movement, stagnant wages leading to a 10% decline in median family income in the last 15 years, billions of dollars cut from the food stamp budget while 16.5 million US children go hungry, privatized schools that exclude the hardest to reach or teach and whose marching orders are to return billions to their corporate parents, income levels that are disproportionate to the tune of a 138% income gain by the top 1% since 1979 while the bottom 90% barely eked out a 15% gain. Xenophobia stalks us at the ball park where a patriotic tour de force in the guise of ‘honoring our heroes’ is the necessary prelude to a game or exhibition, complete with a fervent recitation of the pledge of allegiance, hands on hearts while the national anthem is sung and a standing ovation as the F-16s fly overhead. Even a grade school soccer game demands the requisite patriotic fervor of mommies and daddies (minus the F-16s).
The Hypocrisy of Politics and Political Leaders
Out of what kind of society do such grotesqueries spew forth? Not a democratic one, democracy is its first victim. Eisenhower is credited with being the first national figure to point out the perils of our increasingly militarized society. What is less well-known — he began his 1961 “out, out damned military” speech by singing the praises of a strong and powerful military: “A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction…” At the same time warning about the perils of an oversized military: This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. . . .Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications… In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Sorry Ike, post war America had already made its deal with the devil. In 1945, a study commissioned by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, (first US secretary of defense whose strident anti-communism led to his mental breakdown and death by defenestration at Bethesda Naval Hospital) became the blueprint for the American militarized empire starting with “a complete governmental realignment of our governmental organizations [for] our national security [and for] an alert, smoothly-working and efficient machine [for] waging peace as well as war.” — even as one catastrophic war was in its final throes, its lessons were lost on America’s leaders as “armed peace” became the prevailing ethos.
It gets worse. The precedent for the war machine America became after
World War II happened almost a half century earlier when the US demolished Spain and “inherited” her colonial empire. A pivotal moment for moving away from the imperial tradition of Europe warned William Jennings Bryant (yes, that William Jennings Bryant) a brilliant statesman before it all went south during the Scopes trial and the democratic presidential candidate in 1900:
“If we have an imperial policy we must have a great standing army…and with wars of conquest we can expect a certain growth of our military establishment.”
He lost the election to William McKinley, a captive of corporate chieftains and a firm believer in the “beneficial” effects of American imperialism.
If the key words from a half-century ago are imperialism and militarism, not much has changed. In every Obama administration budget since 2009, President Obama has allocated billions to finance wars in the Middle East (7 that we know about) and billions more for USCYBERCOM whose mission statement should strike chills of horror down every American spine:
“USCYBERCOM plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.”
All of which makes us the most watched, spied upon, and surveilled people on the planet. And from the vantage point of the world’s community the most hated.
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Accountability and responsibility are not new concepts, though sadly far from universal ones. Even for FDR (hardly a flaming liberal as he imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans for the crime of being Japanese and sent hundred of Jews to their deaths in Nazi Germany by refusing to let the ship they were on dock in the US) economic inequality was a wrong that needed to be righted — at least rhetorically. In his 1944 state of the union message delivered shortly after he won his fourth presidential election, he called for a ‘second bill of rights’ because “the political rights guaranteed by the constitution and the bill of rights had proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.” His remedy: ‘an economic bill of rights to guarantee eight rights.’ Included among them six basic rights that seventy-one years later are still a work in progress: employment with a living wage; adequate supplies of food and clothing; housing, medical care, social security, and education. He died long before he could put (our) money where his sentiments were.
If we leave it to the men or women in charge, the economic and financial clouds over the US horizon will never lift. That is why SA is committed to a “politics of revolt,” as the only roadmap to real change in America. Actually we’ve gotten to the party a little late. Others, powerful voices in the lefty community, have been providing the blueprint for radical political change for decades.
Malcolm X Tells It Like It Is
Let’s take a look at a few of the outstanding purveyors of the way forward for America’s lefties. Malcom X in his famous Ballot or the Bullet speech in 1964: “Black people get “chumped by the Democratic party [White people and unions also]…It was the fact that you threw 80% of your vote behind the Democrats that put the Democrats in the White House (i.e. Lyndon Johnson)…The party that you backed…can’t keep their promises to you because you’re a chump…You put them first and they put you last because you’re a political chump…Anytime you throw your weight behind a party that controls 2/3 of government (think LBJ in 1964, Clinton in 1992, Obama in 2008,) and that party can’t keep the promises it made to you during election time and you’re dumb enough to walk around continuing to identify yourself with that party, you’re not only a chump but you’re a traitor to your race…You must demand in advance from politicians and cut them loose if they do not fulfill their promises.
Building mass movements is essential for a revolution. Aimed at disrupting the system the liberal establishment has erected to protect its prerogatives, mass movements like strikes and transportation disruptions can force change and reform. (Chris Hedges in Truthdig, “Let’s Get this Class War Started”) We’ve already seen examples of establishment pull-back when public pressure and civil disobedience are widespread enough to force the mainstream media to get off their duffs and report on them. Remember the Chicago Teachers’ Strike in 2012, when thousands of Chicago teachers took to the street. Their activism carried the day, forcing Mayor 1% Emanuel to abandon his efforts to destroy collective bargaining. Why did President Obama make a sharp turn backward on his plan to bomb Syria? If you think, sanity finally prevailed, think again. The war lobby has been the most powerful motivator for every post war administration. What motivated (i.e.forced) Obama to abandon that doomed strategy was public opposition from both right and left. The people were having none of it and they made that abundantly clear. Protest movements as a tactic to effect change have begun to insinuate themselves in the most unexpected places. Do you think the elites who control the Oscar nomination scam expected the public revolt of some of Hollywood’s A-listers at the news that nary a black face appeared among the nominees in the acting and directing categories. Less than 48 hours after the condemnations appeared on social media, the Pooh Bahs in Oscar land went back to the drawing board and re-emerged with new policies guaranteeing at least a portion of Oscar goodies to African American and other minority actors and directors. It’s the rule of the playground. Confront a bully and his (or her) power evaporates
The Grass Roots are Buzzing
New movements are springing up every day. The student loan holocaust – $1.3 trillion dollars and 43 million students with failed dreams and dismal futures – is being addressed in two ways. A student debt “jubilee” where thousands of students are seeing their debt erased through a debt buying initiative started by a group of disaffected students and a strike by student debtors refusing to pay their debts to a for-profit college that received 90% of its funding from the feds and then went belly up, leaving most students with lots of debt and little education. Even adjunct professors are getting in on the act. A movement is building for mass protests including strikes among adjunct professors to raise their status from second-class academic citizens to professors who earn a living wage and benefits on the same basis as their tenured counterparts.
Who are Suspicious Angels? Think of sane and insane lefties gathered around a watering hole debating the good, the bad, and the ugly. Above all we remain true to the recipe for revolutionary change that offers the biggest bang for the effort. “Key to creating change is a critical mass of ready and angry people whose passions don’t ebb and flow with the news cycle.” (Ilyasah Shabazz)
Proposing solutions sometimes, cursing the darkness all the time, united in our disdain for the liberal establishment:
Love Me, I’m a Liberal (Phil Ochs)
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time.
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.
I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I attend all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs…
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far…
Sure, once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the Socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
Ah, but I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in.
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.
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