Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 22, 2014

Another murder of a Black man in St. Louis–how Abraham Lincoln responded

Filed under: african-american,Obama,racism — louisproyect @ 9:29 pm

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In St. Louis, Missouri on April 28th, 1836, a lynch mob burned Francis McIntosh alive. He was a mixed-race freeman who worked on a riverboat. His crime was refusing to assist two cops who were chasing after another sailor who had been in a fight. When under police custody, he learned that he would have to spend five years in prison. In an attempt to flee from an obviously unjust punishment, he stabbed one of the cops to death and wounded the other.

Wikipedia reports on what happened next:

After a brief chase, McIntosh was captured and placed in jail; however, a white mob soon broke into the jail and removed McIntosh. The mob then took him to the outskirts of town (near the present-day intersection of Seventh and Chestnut streets in Downtown St. Louis), chained him to a locust tree, and piled wood around and up to his knees. When the mob lit the wood with a hot brand, McIntosh asked the crowd to shoot him, then began to sing hymns. When one in the crowd said that he had died, McIntosh reportedly replied, “No, no — I feel as much as any of you. Shoot me! Shoot me!” After at most twenty minutes, McIntosh died. Estimates for the number present at the lynching range in the hundreds, and include an alderman who threatened to shoot anyone who attempted to stop the lynching.

During the night, an elderly African-American man was paid to keep the fire lit, and the mob dispersed. The next day, on April 29, a group of boys threw rocks at the corpse in an attempt to break the skull. When a grand jury was convened to investigate the lynching on May 16, most local newspapers and the presiding judge encouraged no indictment for the crime, and no one was ever charged or convicted. During the grand jury trial, Judge Luke E. Lawless remarked in court that McIntosh’s actions were an example of the “atrocities committed in this and other states by individuals of negro blood against their white brethren,” and that with the rise of abolitionism, “the free negro has been converted into a deadly enemy.”

On January 27, 1838 Abraham Lincoln gave the first important speech in his life to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. A Lyceum was a place where politicians or other celebrities could give talks to the up and coming professional, sort of like the 92nd Street YMHA. Titled “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”, it was a plea to resist mob rule and adhere to the rule of law. He referred to the lynching of Francis McIntosh as a threat the American republic:

Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, if anything of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.

Such are the effects of mob law; and such as the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark.

At first blush, this sounds like the Lincoln we know from Stephen Spielberg’s biopic—a man committed to emancipation. But not so fast. Lincoln goes on to say:

He had forfeited his life, by the perpetuation of an outrageous murder, upon one of the most worthy and respectable citizens of the city; and had not he died as he did, he must have died by the sentence of the law, in a very short time afterwards. As to him alone, it was as well the way it was, as it could otherwise have been.–But the example in either case, was fearful.–When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake.

As someone who is not that fond of Lincoln’s ornate circumlocutions, let me paraphrase it in Proyectesque terms. Lincoln said that McIntosh deserved to die but only after being found guilty in a court of law. One can only imagine what a jury made up of his “peers” would have decided in a state that passed a law in 1825 stating that Blacks were not competent to testify in cases that involved Whites.

Even more worrisome was Lincoln’s remarks on abolitionism. In the South, there were laws that banned the promotion of abolitionist ideas. Lincoln warned against “mob rule” that would attempt to circumvent the rule of law. Once again, you have to put up with the circumlocutions: “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.”

When I first got wind of Barack Obama in 2007, I noticed that he was a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”, a study of Lincoln’s presidency that found great merit in his appointment of men who were hostile to abolitionism. Obama, of course, was inspired to appoint a bunch of shithooks every chance he got, to show how determined he was to be like Lincoln.

Upon taking office, Obama told a reporter: “”I will tell you, though, that my goal is to have the best possible government, and that means me winning. And so, I am very practical minded. I’m a practical-minded guy. And, you know, one of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln.” He referred the reporter to “a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called ‘Team of Rivals,’ in which [she] talked about [how] Lincoln basically pulled in all the people who had been running against him into his Cabinet because whatever, you know, personal feelings there were, the issue was, ‘How can we get this country through this time of crisis?’”

Well, we know how that turned out. Badly.

We have had six years now of an administration that is to the right of Richard Nixon’s. It harasses reporters, favors the rich, sends drones to blow up wedding parties, creates health care “reform” more beneficial to the insurer than the insured, and caves in to the Republicans every chance it gets.

And, now returning to the crime against a Black man in St. Louis once again, we have Obama following in Lincoln’s footsteps. Which means trying to straddle the fence and be acceptable to Black voters and to the white racists who would as soon see them get the short end of the stick just like the Palestinians. No wonder the people of Ferguson carry signs in solidarity with Gaza.

 

December 28, 2013

The lesser evil?

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 4:54 pm

N.Y. Times December 27, 2013
Judge Upholds N.S.A.’s Bulk Collection of Data on Calls
By ADAM LIPTAK and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Friday ruled that a National Security Agency program that collects enormous troves of phone records is legal, making the latest contribution to an extraordinary debate among courts and a presidential review group about how to balance security and privacy in the era of big data.

In just 11 days, the two judges and the presidential panel reached the opposite of consensus on every significant question before them, including the intelligence value of the program, the privacy interests at stake and how the Constitution figures in the analysis.

The latest decision, from Judge William H. Pauley III in New York, could not have been more different from one issued on Dec. 16 by Judge Richard J. Leon in Washington, who ruled that the program was “almost Orwellian” and probably unconstitutional.

The decision on Friday “is the exact opposite of Judge Leon’s in every way, substantively and rhetorically,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “It’s matter and antimatter.”

The case in New York was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it would appeal.

(clip)

From Wikipedia:

Pauley is a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Pauley was nominated by President Bill Clinton on May 21, 1998, to a seat vacated by Peter K. Leisure.

Leon was nominated to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by George W. Bush on September 10, 2001, to the seat vacated by Norma Holloway Johnson.

* * * *

Richard Nixon
Statement on Signing the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
December 28, 1973

I HAVE today signed S. 1983, the Endangered Species Act of 1973. At a time when Americans are more concerned than ever with conserving our natural resources, this legislation provides the Federal Government with needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage–threatened wildlife.

This important measure grants the Government both the authority to make early identification of endangered species and the means to act quickly and thoroughly to save them from extinction. It also puts into effect the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora signed in Washington on March 3, 1973.

Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93d Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.

Center for Biological Diversity
August 30, 2013
PRESS RELEASE

Obama Administration Proposal Weakens Endangered Species Protections

Rule Would Relax Requirements on Federal Agencies to Carefully Account for and Track Impacts on Nation’s Most Imperiled Species

WASHINGTON – August 30 – The Obama administration has proposed a new rule that would scale back the requirement that federal agencies fully track the harms inflicted on endangered species when large-scale plans are developed and carried out on federal public lands. As a result, the cumulative impacts on rare species from actions like oil and gas drilling will be discounted in the decision-making process — putting hundreds of plants and animals at greater risk of extinction. The change is being proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which have repeatedly failed to track how the projects they approve are affecting rare and vanishing species.

“America’s endangered species are already dying deaths by a thousand cuts, because too often no one’s keeping an eye on the big picture,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal will make that problem even worse.”

 

July 30, 2013

Obama doublespeak on the economy

Filed under: economics,financial crisis,Obama,workers — louisproyect @ 7:05 pm

Last week Obama gave a speech at Knox College in Illinois on the economic situation that like his remarks on Trayvon Martin a few days earlier was filled with the number of bromides calculated to give his MSNBC posse just enough to rally around. To give you a sense of the shallowness of it all, he uses the term “folks” 26 times. One supposes that with people like Al Sharpton and Ed Schultz, the only thing that would cause a breach with the President is a Swiftian modest proposal that hungry folks eat their children.

Early on in the speech he says:

See, I had just spent a year traveling the state and listening to your stories — of proud Maytag workers losing their jobs when the plant moved down to Mexico. (Applause.) A lot of folks here remember that. Of teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries. (Applause.) Of young people who had the drive and the energy, but not the money to afford a college education. (Applause.)

The hypocrisy in this paragraph reaches achieves Olympian proportions. In 2008, when Obama was first making these demagogic appeals about the fate of Maytag workers, the Chicago Tribune reported that the main union at the plant urged a vote for Hillary Clinton. Leaving aside the logic of that advice, the union was correct to point out that Lester Crown, one of Maytag’s directors, raised tens of thousands of dollars for Obama’s campaigns since 2003. Crown’s son James was Obama’s 2008 campaign’s financial director for that matter. After Lester Crown revealed that Obama never brought up the plant closing with him, Obama’s alibi was that he was unaware that the Crowns had anything to do with Maytag. Oh, sure. To give you an idea of the incestuous relationship between big capital and the Democratic Party, as if you needed any reminder, here’s what warisacrime.org had to say:

Lester Crown first met Obama when he was a 27-year-old intern at the Sidley Austin law firm in Chicago in the summer of 1989. One of Obama’s law professors at Harvard, Martha Minow, had recommended Obama to her father, Newton Minow, who was a partner at the firm. Minow took Obama under his wing and introduced him to his friend Lester Crown. Crown recalls that Minow called him and “said we have in our office a young man who I think is really going places and I’d like you to meet him.” Crown says he has been a supporter ever since.

For people who applauded Obama’s plaint over the Maytag runaway plant, my advice is that outfits like SeaWorld get rid of their trained seals and replace them with these clapping fools.

Obama claims that he is also troubled by the fact that there were “teachers whose salaries weren’t keeping up with the rising cost of groceries.” Really? If Obama really cared about teachers, he would take a stand against the union-busting initiatives of his ex-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel or the charter school agenda of his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Using the excuse that teacher productivity must be raised, administrations across the country are firing teachers left and right. In 2010 the school board of Central Falls fired all 93 teachers, a move that Obama described: “If a school continues to fail year after year after year and doesn’t show sign of improvements then there has got to be a sense of accountability. That happened in Rhode Island last week.” This led Zeph Capo, a teachers union official in Houston, to state:

I ripped the Obama sticker off of my truck. We worked hard for this man, we talked to our neighbors and our fellow teachers about why we should support him, and we’re having to dig the knife out of our back.

One imagines that Capo fell into line when the 2012 election season started. After all, Obama was better than Romney. Romney would have not only fired the teachers but tied them to the roof of his car on a vacation trip to Canada. We can’t have that, can we?

Continuing along in the education vein, Obama added that the number of “young people who had the drive and the energy, but not the money to afford a college education” distressed him. This statement above all brought to mind the character that Jon Lovitz played on Saturday Night Live, the Pathological Liar.

I didn’t always lie. No, when I was a kid, I told the truth. But then one day, I got caught stealing money out of my mother’s purse. I lied. I told her it was homework – that my teacher told me to do it. And she got fired! Yeah, that’s what happened!

Just days after Obama’s speech, Congress passed a bill that tied student loan interest rates to financial markets. This proposal was not the typical Republican plan “forced” on Obama but was his own profit-making scheme inspired by a paper written by Jason Delisle at the New American Foundation, whose president Anne-Marie Slaughter (appropriately named) was Hillary Clinton’s Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. As a member of the Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, Delisle had just the right credentials to draft a policy paper that would stick it to the students. The Huffington Post reported that a record $51 billion profit could be expected from the student loan shark racket cooked up by Obama. That’s greater than the earnings of America’s most profitable companies and roughly equal to the combined net income of the four largest U.S. banks by assets.

Arguably the only Democratic Senator with a shred of integrity, Elizabeth Warren stated: “I can’t support a proposal that squeezes even more profits out of our kids. In fact, I think this whole system stinks.’’

After listing these items that fell in the doom-and-gloom category, Obama raised his hand over his eyebrows like the captain of a leaking vessel and saw the sun breaking through the dark clouds. Good-god-almighty, jobs were on the horizon: “So you add it all up, and over the past 40 months, our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs. This year, we’re off to our strongest private sector job growth since 1999.”

An honest appraisal of the job market, however, would be based on the payroll-to-population ratio, something that reflects the real health of the economy. If, for example the population of a country was one million and the number of employed doubled from 100 to 200, who would cheer about that?

On June 6th Zero Hedge reported that the payroll-to-population was worse than a year ago and that “the unemployment rate is also rising with under-employment – at 18.0% – near 15 month highs.”

There is one sector that appears booming, however. The number of minimum wage waiters and bartenders hit an all-time high of 10,339,800 workers, increasing by a 51,700 in just one month. But mixing drinks like Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” must be a lot more fun than working in some boring factory with a health plan, so it is not that troubling to learn from Zero Hedge that manufacturing jobs have dropped four months in a row, now numbering 11.964 million jobs. Pretty soon the number of bartenders, waiters, and busboys will exceed the number of factory workers. I wonder what Marxist value theorists will make of that?

Obama was also pumped up over the fact that Ford is now hiring workers for its Kansas City plant. Glory be, America is coming back! Well, one can certainly understand why Ford would want to increase the number of workers in Kansas City since it cut a deal with the UAW that entry-level workers will be paid $16 per hour, just about the same amount that fast food workers in New York are struggling to win. Not only that, it will take a lot longer to get a raise. That’s about $31,000 per year, good enough for a mobile home and a night out once a week at the local Burger King. No wonder the UAW bureaucrats got out the vote for Obama in 2012. They, Obama, and the Ford bosses see eye to eye.

Obama made sure to get everybody on board the fracking bus. “We produce more natural gas than any country on Earth. We’re about to produce more of our own oil than we buy from abroad for the first time in nearly 20 years.” That’s great. With shale oil produced by fracking, we’ll be able to take advantage of all those new bartenders to get a pint of beer rather than put up with water catching fire as it flows from your faucet at home.

To make sure that Rachel Maddow will continue to coo over him, Obama made sure to throw in some cheap demagogy:

Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009. The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999. And companies continue to hold back on hiring those who’ve been out of work for some time.

Oooh, agitating against the top 1 percent. The Kenyan Marxist is at it again.

One understands why Obama would have to throw in a few words like these. Not only do they come cheap, at least those still laboring under the illusion that the capitalist system is redeemable can con themselves into believing that the President really cares.

Those illusions might finally be breaking down. Who cannot be cheered by the sight of fast food workers calling a one-day strike in New York? As the one host on MSNBC with a smidgen of liberalism left, Chris Hayes had on three people involved with the action last night, as well as my own Congressperson Carolyn Maloney who was on the picket line. Theirs is the voice of a new labor movement. It is a sign of its strength that it can draw upon Maloney for support:

HAYES: We`re talking about the fast food strike under way across the country tonight. Still with me at the table, Tsedeye Gebreselassie from the National Employment Law Project, McDonalds worker, Kareem Starks who is striking and Gregory Reynoso from Fast Food Forward, and joining us is Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Democrat from New York. Great to have you here, Congresswoman.

REPRESENTATIVE CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Great to be here.

HAYES: Gentlemen, I want to get your reaction to the bite I played. If people are feeling they`re not being paid adequately, they have to go find a job someplace elsewhere paid higher wages. What`s your response to that? Just go get a higher wage job.

STARKS: You know, I work for McDonald`s for, like, five months. Before that, I worked for the Parks Department, climbing trees. I made $10.25 more than what I`m making now. So I`ve had a better job, and I was never in poverty like I am now. But whoever is, like, against it, obviously isn`t ever made $7.25 and never tried to budget paying for two kids and an apartment and bills and food all for $7.25.

HAYES: My sense, Gregory, if there were jobs available that paid higher wages, you would be happy to take them.

REYNOSO: Yes, I would be happy. The point is, it`s not these types of opportunities for everybody. There are not a lot of people what can really go out and find these types of jobs. That`s why people have to live on $7.25.

HAYES: Congresswoman, it`s fairly unusual to find members of Congress walking the picket line. There were a number. Why were you out there?

MALONEY: Well, I was looking for you, Chris.

HAYES: I was prepping this segment.

MALONEY: We were out there to show solidarity, the fight we have before Congress. We have a bill before Congress, HR-1010. We have 142 co- sponsors, 30 in the Senate and it would raise the minimum wage to $10.10, over 3 years, 95 cents a year. The president even in 2009 was calling for minimum wage increase in his state of the union and, of course, last week in Illinois. It`s a priority of his. It`s a priority of ours. We`re working hard to pass it.

HAYES: In the past, raising the minimum wage, you`ve been able to get some Republicans to vote for it. There was a minimum wage raised under George W. Bush that happened. There were a number of Republican votes. Is the Republican Party, do you think you can find people on the other side of the aisle who would vote for this bill?

MALONEY: I believe it merits bipartisan support and we`ll certainly be working to secure it. You`re not going to secure it if you don`t try.

HAYES: That doesn`t occur to me very much.

MALONEY: We`re going to try. We`re going it try because it`s too important and talking to Greg and Kareem, you see the importance of it. I believe you`re working two jobs.

REYNOSO: Yes.

MALONEY: He doesn`t have time to sleep. He`s working two jobs and it`s hard.

STARKS: I actually work the overnight shift last night and I`m here now.

HAYES: Thank you for coming in.

STARKS: I just, like, want to thank everybody for the support.

HAYES: Tsedeye, when I was talking to Kareem and Gregory about this idea that if you want a better job then go get a job that pays a higher wage what is happening right now in this economy, I don`t think this is underappreciated. The jobs are being created at the bottom of the wage scale. That is a trajectory that many Americans are experiencing.

GEBRESELASSIE: Kareem`s story is the story of our economy and how our labor markets have shifted so we`ve like hemorrhaged these decent paying jobs. What`s taking its place jobs that pay low wages like fast food and retail. Not only are those the jobs that are being created. They`re also jobs where real wages are actually declining, you know, since –

MALONEY: Out of the 3.2 million low-income jobs, 2/3 of them are women. Women are disproportionately in these low-income jobs.

GEBRESELASSIE: They`re also adults. That`s the other thing.

MALONEY: They always say they`re teenagers. They`re not. Most of them are –

HAYES: Were your co-workers, your co-workers, the image is, like, these are teens on summer jobs. Your co-workers were supporting families.

REYNOSO: Yes.

STARKS: There`s a few co-workers I know that has kids and supporting families and paying bills and stuff like that. I mean, it`s probably — McDonald`s and fast food chains usually target younger kids or whatever, but at the end of the day, there are still older people that have these jobs. There`s, like, a 60-year-old lady in my store.

GEBRESELASSIE: The median age for a fast food worker in this country is 29 years old.

HAYES: Wow.

GEBRESELASSIE: That is an adult. The other thing the industry says these are stepping stone jobs.

HAYES: You could rise up in the ranks.

GEBRESELASSIE: That`s just not the case. There`s limited opportunities for advancement.

REYNOSO: People from 50 years old, they`ll be working in these companies. Imagine those people supporting families.

HAYES: Will you quickly show that mobility graphic? It`s 2.2 percent jobs in the fast food industry are managerial, professional and technical occupations.

GEBRESELASSIE: The vast majority, 90 percent are frontline occupations. The median wage is $8.94 an hour.

HAYES: Compared to all industries, 31 percent –

MALONEY: It hasn`t gone up in four years.

HAYES: And it hasn`t gone up in four years. Tsedeye Gebreselassi from the National Employment Law Project, McDonalds worker, Kareem Starks, Gregory Reynoso from Fast Food Forward, and Congresswoman Caroline Maloney from New York, thank you all.

July 28, 2013

Obama’s doublespeak on race

Filed under: Obama,racism — louisproyect @ 6:59 pm

On July 19th Barack Obama spoke to reporters about the Trayvon Martin killing. This time he said that he could have been Trayvon Martin 35 years ago, a follow-up to his March 23, 2012 observation that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. Although I generally have little use for Melissa Harris-Perry, there was little to disagree with in her remarks during an MSNBC round-table discussion of Obama’s remarks later that day: “But part of what the president did today in that sort of groping authentic conversation where you saw him saying, I don`t have all the answers here, I`m not quite sure — heck, have you noticed racism in America, big problem, you know, multiple generations, I don`t have all the answers.” Yes, big problem, I know.

But things are definitely getting better, according to the Chief Executive:

And let me just leave you with — with a final thought, that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn’t mean that we’re in a postracial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

Despite denying that we are in a postracial society, others perceive Obama as moving “past race”. In a perceptive August 10, 2008 NY Times article titled “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?”, Matt Bai—a DLC-minded inside-the-beltway pundit—clearly saw what was in store and liked it very much. An Obama aide was very much in the post-racial mode:

‘I’m the new black politics,” says Cornell Belcher, a 38-year-old pollster who is working for Obama. ”The people I work with are the new black politics. We don’t carry around that history. We see the world through post-civil-rights eyes. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but that’s just the way it is.

”I don’t want in any way to seem critical of the generation of leadership who fought so I could be sitting here,” Belcher told me when we met for breakfast at the Four Seasons in Georgetown one morning. He wears his hair in irreverent spikes and often favors tennis shoes with suit jackets. ”Barack Obama is the sum of their struggle. He’s the sum of their tears, their fights, their marching, their pain. This opportunity is the sum of that.

After speaking to Corey Booker, Newark’s mayor who is cut from the same cloth as Obama, Bai learned that such politicians are not renouncing Black identity only the responsibility to defend Black people:

Even so, Booker told me that his goal wasn’t really to ”transcend race.” Rather, he says that for his generation of black politicians it’s all right to show the part of themselves that is culturally black — to play basketball with friends and belong to a black church, the way Obama has. There is a universality now to the middle-class black experience, he told me, that should be instantly recognizable to Jews or Italians or any other white ethnic bloc that has struggled to assimilate. And that means, at least theoretically, that a black politician shouldn’t have to obscure his racial identity.

This pretty much sums up what the Bill Cosby Show meant to most white Americans, a look at a family you would not mind living next door to even if they preferred shooting hoops to playing tennis, or listening to Mary J. Blige rather than Barbra Streisand.

Speaking of belonging to a Black church, Obama took advantage of the controversy surrounding Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s militant comments about racism in America to evoke postracial themes:

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

Of course, this begs the question of how you are going to get that Confederate Flag off the South Carolina state capitol unless you have some of Reverend Wright’s spine and big mouth.

In contrast to the Clintons, who built ties with the old guard civil rights leaders particularly those who became elected officials, Obama sought out fresh faces unburdened by the past. Bai reported:

For some black operatives in the Clinton orbit — people who have functioned, going back to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in the 1980s, as Democratic Washington’s liaisons to black America — the fallout from an Obama victory would likely be profound. ”Some of them will have to walk the plank,” an Obama adviser told me bluntly. In their place, an Obama administration would empower a cadre of younger black advisers who would instantly become people to see in Washington’s transactional culture. Chief among them is Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago real estate developer who is one of Barack and Michelle Obama’s closest friends. ”She’s poised to be one of the most influential people in politics, and particularly among African-Americans in politics,” Belcher told me. ”She may be the next Vernon Jordan.” In fact, the last time I saw Clyburn, he told me he had just spent two and a half hours at breakfast with Jarrett.

As Obama’s Senior Adviser, Valerie Jarrett amounts to his Karl Rove. She was key to Obama’s early fundraising success, putting him in touch with powerful and wealthy figures on Wall Street and Chicago’s big bourgeoisie.

Robert Fitch, a NYC adjunct professor and long time Marxist author who died much too young at the age of 72 in 2011, gave a speech titled “The Change they Believe In” in November 2008 that was characteristically laser-sharp.

For almost a hundred years in Chicago blacks have lived on the South Side close to Chicago’s factories and slaughter houses. And Cellular Field, home of the White Sox. The area where they lived was called the Black Belt or Bronzeville—and it’s the largest concentration of African American people in the U.S.—nearly 600,000 people—about twice the size of Harlem.

In the 1950s, big swaths of urban renewal were ripped through the black belt, demolishing private housing on the south east side. The argument then was that the old low rise private housing was old and unsuitable. Black people needed to be housed in new, high-rise public housing which the city built just east of the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Administration of the Chicago Housing Authority was widely acclaimed as the most corrupt, racist and incompetent in America. Gradually only the poorest of the poor lived there. And in the 1980s, the argument began to be made that the public housing needed to be demolished and the people moved back into private housing.

But what does this all have to do with Obama? Just this: the area demolished included the communities that Obama represented as a state senator; and the top black administrators, developers and planners were people like Valerie Jarrett—who served as a member of the Chicago Planning Commission. And Martin Nesbitt who became head of the CHA. Nesbitt serves as Obama campaign finance treasurer; Jarrett as co-chair of the Transition Team. The other co-chair is William Daley, the Mayor’s brother and the Midwest chair of JP Morgan Chase—an institution deeply involved in the transformation of inner-city neighborhoods through its support for—what financial institutions call “neighborhood revitalization” and neighborhood activists call gentrification.

This is the real meaning of Blacks and whites coming together around an Obama presidency. On one side you have Obama, Jarrett, and Nesbitt—all African-American—and on the other side William Daley. The only color that matters to them is green, not the ecology green but the dollar bill green.

Given the deepening of racial injustice in the USA during Obama’s administration, he has to walk a tightrope. On one hand, he calls on people to serve under him who are inimical to Black interests such as Lawrence Summers, who is in line to become the head of the Federal Reserve. This is the same character that dressed down Cornel West for making a hip-hop record and argued for exporting toxic waste to African nations using the following logic: “The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City.”

Even more troubling is the possibility that Obama will follow through and install Raymond Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security. In an interview with Univision, a Spanish-language TV station (), Obama praised Kelly to the skies:

Well, Ray Kelly has obviously done an extraordinary job in New York and the federal government partners a lot with New York.  Because obviously our concerns about terrorism oftentimes are focused on big city targets.  And I think Ray Kelly is one of the best there is.  So he’s been an outstanding leader in New York.

Kelly is one of the best there is? Kelly was the architect and dead-end defender of stop-and-frisk. In a study conducted by the NY Civil Liberties Union, it was revealed that in the cops stopped people on the street 532,911 times. 55 percent were Black, 32 percent were Latino, and only 10 percent were white. The NY Daily News, which has evolved recently into a critic of stop-and-frisk and which carried bold attacks on George Zimmerman ostensibly in order to assuage its largely Black working-class readers, nailed the top cop:

At bottom, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk regime represents a civil rights violation — one that disproportionally targets young black and Latino men. Though they make up only 4.7% of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41.6% of stops in 2011. The number of stops of young black men exceeded the city’s entire population of young black men.

The commissioner contends that this happens only because officers go where the crime is. But last year, large percentages of blacks and Latinos were also stopped in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods like Greenwich Village, where 77% of people stopped were black or Latino.

So why does Obama speak out of both sides of his mouth? Or perhaps more accurately, why does he say that he is opposed to racial profiling while he is at the same time ready to put a racist like Raymond Kelly in his cabinet?

Clearly the answer is that the Democratic Party needs Black votes to win elections. Unlike any issue in recent memory, the vigilante killing of Trayvon Martin has activated the Black community. Just this week, Willie Louis, the Black youth who testified against the killers of Emmett Till in 1955, died at the age of 76. Despite the obvious differences between the state of lawlessness that existed in the Deep South in 1955 and today, there is still a problem with racists declaring an open season on Black youth–both of whom coincidentally had just returned from an innocent visit to a convenience store. Obama was under some pressure to take a clear stand on this matter, even if his words were in contradiction to his actions past and future.

In 2009 I wrote an article for Swans on “Are We Living in a Postracial America?” that reviewed David Roediger’s recently published “How Race Survived U.S. History: from settlement and slavery to the Obama phenomenon”. I recommend a look at my article but more importantly Roediger’s book that was published by Verso. Let me conclude with a few paragraphs from my review. In deference to the editors of Swans, I will keep my excerpt brief—understandably as they are opposed to the sort of crossposting that is endemic to the Internet.

As part of the euphoria surrounding the election of Barack Obama, members of the punditocracy speculated that the U.S. had entered a “post-racial” epoch. Typical was The Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland who editorialized on Election Day last year:

Barack Obama has succeeded brilliantly in casting his candidacy — indeed, his whole life — as post-racial. Even before the votes have been cast, he has written a glorious coda for the civil rights struggle that provided this nation with many of the finest, and also most horrible, moments of its past 150 years. If the results confirm that race was not a decisive factor in the balloting, generations of campaigners for racial justice and equality will have seen their work vindicated.

After deploying data in his introduction to How Race Survived U.S. History to the effect that racism continues unabated (one in three children of color lives in poverty as opposed to one in ten of white families, etc.), David Roediger poses the question: “How did white supremacy in the U.S. not yield to changes that we generally regard as constant, dramatic, and, in the main, progressive?” The remainder of his brilliantly argued and researched book gives the definitive answer to this question. As such, it belongs on the bookshelf next to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and other such works that offer a “revisionist” history of this country in accordance with truth and — more importantly — justice.

The theme that Roediger keeps coming back appears initially in Chapter One on colonial Virginia in the 17th century (“Suddenly White Supremacy”); namely, that a white identity was created in order to unite men and women of conflicting classes against the most exploited groups of the day: the slave and the Indian. And when necessary, blacks were also recruited to the master’s cause against the Indians. As has always been the case, the British — including the freedom-loving colonists who would form a new republic in 1776 — have been adept at dividing and conquering. Roediger writes:

The most spectacular example of revolt, Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, took Virginia to the brink of civil war. Broadly arising from the desire for good land among European and African servants and ex-servants, the rebellion therefore also had anti-Indian dimensions, demanding and implementing aggressive policies to speed settlement onto indigenous lands. Bondservants joined those who had recently served out “their time” under the leadership of the young English lawyer and venture capitalist Nathaniel Bacon, laying siege to the capital in Jamestown, burning it, driving Governor William Berkeley into exile, and sustaining insurrection for months. Authorities offered freedom “from their slavery” to “Negroes and servants” who would come over into opposition to the rebellion. Rebels, meanwhile, feared that they would all be made into “slaves, man, woman & child.” Both the promise of liberation and the language registering fear of retribution suggest how imperfectly class predicaments aligned with any firm sense of racial division.

(I will be following up on this post with something about Obama’s doublespeak on the economy.)

June 6, 2013

Caption Contest

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 1:02 pm

The winner will receive a free meal from me at a pretty good restaurant in NYC. Some suggestions: “Did you hear? I just privatized Social Security! Aren’t I terrific?” “So, when you grow up do you want to be a tool of Wall Street like me or earn an honest living?”

May 5, 2013

Take an indefinite vacation

Filed under: Obama,prison,repression — louisproyect @ 9:46 pm

Brian McFadden in today’s NY Times.

April 14, 2013

Obama’s 2006 Neoliberal Manifesto

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 3:00 pm

January 28, 2013

Obushma

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 3:22 pm

December 25, 2012

Was the 2012 election really a referendum? A response to Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson

Filed under: Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 5:07 pm

Bill Fletcher Jr.

Carl Davidson

I am sure that most of you are aware that General Petraeus, Obama’s CIA Director, got caught with his pants down when it was revealed in November that he was having an affair with Paula Broadwell, his fawning biographer.

But for my money the real scandal was his incestuous relationship with Fred and Kimberly Kagan, a couple of neoconservative warhawks, who served as his unpaid advisers when he was running the counterinsurgency program in Afghanistan before assuming the CIA post.

The Washington Post’s ace reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran delivered the goods in a December 19 article:

Frederick and Kimberly Kagan, a husband-and-wife team of hawkish military analysts, put their jobs at influential Washington think tanks on hold for almost a year to work for Gen. David H. Petraeus when he was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Provided desks, e-mail accounts and top-level security clearances in Kabul, they pored through classified intelligence reports, participated in senior-level strategy sessions and probed the assessments of field officers in order to advise Petraeus about how to fight the war differently.

The Defense Department permits independent analysts to observe combat operations, but the practice became far more common when Petraeus became the top commander in Iraq. He has said that conversations with outside specialists helped to shape his strategic thinking.

The take-home benefit was equally significant: When the opinion makers returned home, they inevitably wrote op-eds, gave speeches and testified before Congress, generally imparting a favorable message about progress under Petraeus, all of which helped him sell the war effort and expand his popularity.

Other commanders soon caught on. By the time the Kagans arrived in Kabul in June 2010, it was commonplace for think-tankers and big-name columnists to make seven-to-10-day visits once or twice a year. Two analysts from the Council on Foreign Relations, Max Boot and Stephen Biddle, were in Afghanistan at the same time at the invitation of Petraeus.

If you are at all familiar with the foreign policy bogeymen feared most by Democratic Party liberals, the name Max Boot should leap off the page. With a name like Boot, how could it be otherwise? He was one of the loudest boosters of Bush’s occupation of Iraq and openly defends America’s right to rule the old through old-fashioned imperialist gunboat policies.

In 2010 General Petraeus received the Irving Kristol Prize from the American Enterprise Institute, the neocon think-tank that provided a roost for the Kagans. In his acceptance speech, he tipped his hat to them:

One recent AEI effort, of course, stands out in particular. In the fall of 2006, AEI scholars helped develop the concept for what came to be known as “the surge.” Fred and Kim Kagan and their team, which included retired General Jack Keane, prepared a report that made the case for additional troops in Iraq. As all here know, it became one of those rare think tank products that had a truly strategic impact.

Petraeus also made sure to pay homage to the ultrarightist in whose name the award is given:

But while Irving Kristol may be gone, his influence will be felt for generations to come. He was, of course, one of our Nation’s foremost thinkers on a host of topics, from economics and religion to social welfare and foreign policy. He was a man of staggering intellect who possessed a view of human nature and American politics that has, in many respects, stood the test of time.

Kristol, of course, was one of the prime architects of the Reagan revolution that all our good liberals keep urging us to root out, primarily through the mechanism of pulling the lever for Barack Obama, the same guy who has uttered these memorable words:

I don’t want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what’s different are the times…I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like with all the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think people, he just tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.

Yeah, who wants those “excesses” of the 1960s? All that stuff about peace, love and understanding. Least of all someone like Barack Obama who hires a guy like David Petraeus for the same reason that George W. Bush did, namely to keep the restless natives at bay.

If Petraeus has a soft spot in his heart for Fred and Kimberly Kagan, it is only natural that the president would connect with Robert Kagan, Fred’s brother. As I reported last February, Obama was carrying around Robert Kagan’s new book “The World America Made” like a security blanket. Unlike the frothing at the mouth Tea Party types, Fred Kagan, Robert Kagan, and like-minded rightists are more than willing to work with a Democratic Party president who madman Dinesh D’Souza accused of plotting to transform America into a socialist republic by 2016. Robert Kagan reminded Foreign Policy readers back in March 2010 that shrewder neocons saw a consistency with the Bush administration:

Unnoticed amid the sniping in Washington over health care and the wailing about “broken government,” a broad and durable bipartisan consensus has begun falling into place in one unlikely area: foreign policy. Consider the fact that on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran — the most difficult, expensive, and potentially dangerous foreign challenges facing the United States — precious little now separates Barack Obama from most Republican leaders in and out of Congress.

That “broad and durable bipartisan consensus” amounts to bombing the shit out of anybody who is unlucky enough to get included in the President’s latest hit list.

Obama’s clear ambition is to cement a relationship with “reasonable” people like the Kagans. It must be deeply frustrating to him that despite the amicable bipartisan relationship between Alan Simpson, a Republican, and the Democrat Erskine Bowles there has been so little progress on the domestic front. Can’t the Republicans understand that it is worth some rich bastard getting by on $35 million per year rather than $40 million in exchange for the people at the bottom getting an equivalent cut in Social Security and Medicare?

Last January Obama said the following in his State of the Union Address:

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.

The latest news, of course, is that SS payments will be slashed if Obama can get enough Republicans to vote for a package that uses a “chained” Consumer Price Index to calculate benefits. One of the first to sniff out the con game that would be put forward by the White House was Dean Baker who explained to Counterpunch readers what was at stake last July:

The justification for the change in the benefit formula is that the CCPI takes account of the substitutions that consumers make in response to changing prices. The classic story is that if the price of beef rises and the price of chicken doesn’t, people will buy more chicken and less beef. The CCPI takes this switching from beef to chicken into account in calculating inflation. The current CPI does not.

While there is an argument for taking account of this sort of substitution in the index, there are two important issues that arise when evaluating the cost of living of seniors. First, their consumption patterns differ substantially from the rest of the population. They consume more health care and fewer computers.

Some economists project expenditures to be reduced by $250 billion over a ten-year period if a chained CPI is adopted. In his latest budget Obama proposed spending about $5.8 trillion for the military over the next decade. That would account for roughly 11% of total federal spending in 2022. That’s just the ticket for a realigned Democratic Party that combines DLC types like Obama and the “reasonable” Republicans who would vote for guns rather than butter as long as they understood that the larger interests of the one percent were being served.

If you want to see where the country is going, all you need to do is look at Europe. France’s Socialist president is considering an all out attack on the social safety net according to a plan worked out by a member of the big bourgeoisie:

New York Times December 19, 2012
Challenging France to Do Business Differently
By LIZ ALDERMAN

PARIS — Louis Gallois, one of France’s most influential industrialists, knew he was about to make waves for the country’s Socialist president.

It was late October, and President François Hollande, faced with an alarming deterioration in the economy, had turned to Mr. Gallois for advice on how to put corporate France on a more competitive footing with the rest of Europe.

Mr. Gallois didn’t sugar-coat the message. His report called for a “competitiveness shock” that would require politicians to curb the “cult of regulation” he said was choking business in France.

The report said that unless France relaxed its notoriously rigid labor market, the country would continue on an industrial decline that had destroyed more than 750,000 jobs in a decade and helped shrink France’s share of exports to the European Union to 9.3 percent, from 12.7 percent, during that period. The report also called for cuts to a broad range of business taxes used to pay for big government and France’s expensive social safety net.

When people like Bill O’Reilly and Dinesh D’Souza warn about Obama taking the U.S. down the road to European style socialism, they obviously are on to something.

So how is it that people keep expressing a preference for not touching “entitlements” and we end up with a chained CPI despite Obama’s promises that benefits will not be cut? I guess I wised up after my one and only vote for a Democrat back in 1964 when I was assured that if Goldwater were elected we’d end up in a ground war in Vietnam. From that point on, I was open to the idea that Debs was right when he said that it was better to vote for what you want and not get it then to vote for what you don’t want and get it.

Apparently for two well-known “Marxist” supporters of Obama, the question of what you want is not that important. On August 9th, they argued that the elections were going to be a referendum:

To assume that the November elections are a moment to display our antipathy toward empire, moreover, misses entirely what is unfolding.  This is not a referendum on the “America of Empire”:  it is a referendum pitting the “America of Popular Democracy”—the progressive majority representing the changing demographics of the US and the increasing demands for broad equality and economic relief, especially the unemployed and the elderly—against the forces of unfettered neoliberalism and far right irrationalism.

In a sense this is right. The 1964 election was a referendum of sorts on the war in Vietnam. People voted for LBJ and got escalation. In the 2012 election people voted against “unfettered neoliberalism and far right irrationalism” and got a CIA Director who is honored with the Irving Kristol Prize from the American Enterprise Institute, and a chained CPI.

The problem with the “referendum” strategy is that it fails to recognize its non-binding character. Does anybody seriously think that because Obama said he was opposed to cuts in Social Security that he would be bound to keep his promise? Those speeches are not worth the paper they are written on.

On August 30, 1999, the people of East Timor had a referendum on whether to become a Special Autonomous Region within Indonesia, or for independence. Around 79% of voters opted for independence. In that very same year President Chavez of Venezuela put forward a referendum allowing for a new constitution as well as providing for recall referendums of elected officials as long as a minimum percentage of voters signed a petition. In the Venezuelan recall referendum of 2004 voters determined whether or not Chávez should be recalled from office. The result of the referendum was to not recall Chávez.

Those are real referendums. What Fletcher and Davidson are talking about has more to do with opinion polls. Like going to a polling station, going behind a curtain, and pulling a lever for whether you believe in capitalism or not. Let’s put it this way. Capitalism will not be eliminated through such atomized and nonbinding behavior. In fact, one of the main purposes of such exercises is to help stabilize the system by giving people the illusion that their vote makes a difference.

All in all, pulling the lever on election day in the U.S. for Obama in the hopes that he will not adopt “neoliberal excesses” is as vain as pushing the close button in many elevators. The elevator doors are actually timed to close according to a preset interval, such as 15 seconds. We are invited to press the close button anyhow since this gives the anxious passenger the feeling that things are moving forward.

November 8, 2012

Did People Outside the U.S. Care About Our Election?

Filed under: Obama — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm
http://www.theawl.com
Wednesday, November 7th, 2012
USA! USA!

Did People Outside the U.S. Care About Our Election?

| November 7th, 2012

While everything stopped here in America to watch the alleged nail-biter, or what the TV told us would be a nail-biter, how did the rest of the world react?

• “Today’s table topics: Egypt’s constitution-to-be, a proposed restaurant and shop curfew, the need for interior ministry reform. The U.S. presidential election? Not on the menu. ‘We’ve got more than enough to worry about with Morsi,’ the 42-year-old Somaya says, roughly chopping a bundle of molokheya, bitter greens common in the Egyptian kitchen. ‘I didn’t even know about the U.S. election, and I don’t care. Whoever wins won’t make a difference to us.'”

• “I confess to forgetting repeatedly about the US elections today. I was reporting on a mass hunger strike by some 700 prisoners demanding Kurdish education and court rights and an end to the isolation of PKK rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, serving a life sentence on an island jail. It is Day 55. They are surviving on sugar water and liquid vitamins.”

• “Islamabad woke to news of an Obama victory with an unimpressed yawn…. ‘The main thing people care about is the drone strikes,’ said a TV cameraman, setting up his gear outside the residence of the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires. ‘We all know that will not change whoever is in power.'”

Plus dispatches from South Africa, Hong Kong, Dubai, Jakarta and more.

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