Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Measuring darkness

Last Thursday I showed the tenth segment of Eyes on the Prize to my class at Metropolitan State College. It traces the period from King’s speech at the Riverside Church “Breaking the Silence,” April 4, 1967, to his murder in Memphis a year to the day later, and the subsequent murder of Bobby Kennedy, who had evolved, led by Marian Wright, to meet starving children in the South. The two of them visit rural homes; he asks one little boy whether he has had lunch – he hadn’t – touches his cheek as he shyly turns away, and moves on to speak with others. Wright and Kennedy asked each family what was in the refrigerator (almost nothing). The commitment Kennedy felt, as, or perhaps despite being a Democratic politician, to poor blacks and chicanoes has not been equaled since. Two murders marked the death of a glimmering possible decency in American politics (to the extent, in imperial elite politics, it can be).

In this film, Andrew Young is often very amusing and insightful about his relationship with King and King’s style of leadership, coming out of far reaching debate. Others got to take way out positions (necessary ones for growth); he had to be the cautious one, so King could come down in the center. He says that he and others had to plunge from King’s funeral into organizing the poor people’s march – carrying out King’s promise - in shock. Some little part, he says, of their affection for Martin, their fallen leader, moved to Bobby who came to the funeral. It was with the assassination of Bobby – a second great breaking - that he felt able, and the others did, for the first time, to mourn Martin.*

The poor people’s encampment on the Washington Mall was named, appropriately enough, Resurrection City. It was the spirit of King, and the standing up of so many, denied humanity in Mississippi or New Mexico, coming as citizens to petition the government – a kind of resurrection. But after a time, the rains came, deluging the mall, and flooding the people out. The skies denied resurrection. Lyndon Johnson had squandered the war on poverty in his aggression in Vietnam. The film begins with King saying: the US spends $322,000 on every Vietnamese killed (he says enemy, but much of the slaughter of “enemies” was exaggerated body counts; alternately, most of the 3 million Vietnamese who died in the course of the genocide were styled American “enemies”). $523 was spent on every poor person in the United States. Commenting on the Declaration of Independence, King speaks of the life of the poor, one in which liberty is far away and the pursuit of happiness vanishes into mere existing (the dulled eyes of many poor Southerners black and white, of many children, is in these films).

The war and the military acted “like a demonic destructive suction pump,” extracting the funds needed to help the poor, rebuild America. See here and here. King (and my friend Vincent Harding who drafted the speech) also said: a country which spends more on war than on social needs is approaching spiritual death. Both insights are just as true of the bipartisan ruling elite (the war complex) in the era of Bush and even of Obama, as then. That Obama knows Keynsiansism is right and wants to provide jobs and education for the poor, to sustain ”a middle class” to jump start a green economy: all these are contradicted by the official $708 billion, and possibly a trillion spent on militarism without dissent or any mental activity whatever in Congress every year.

Marian Logan, an eloquent SCLC leader, spoke of the sadness of Bobby’s funeral train, how it came by Resurrection City on the mall. It was where Kennedy would have wanted to go. The sky had cleared. The poor people began singing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, he is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored…” The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe over the words of the great Civil War Song, sung by every Northern soldier marching into battle: “John Brown’s body lies amoulderin’ in the grave but his soul goes marching on.” Echoes of American greatness in standing up to racism and martyrdom. She looked up at the light on the Lincoln memorial and over it the moon…

The Democratic Party sent the police to throw out the last people, those who had nowhere to go, no jobs or income to go back to, and close down Resurrection City. And the next election produced Nixon, and then Reagan, and the deindustrialization of America. Edelman and Young and Jesse Jackson and many of the rest of us went on and did what we could. But 40 years had to pass and renewed aggressions, particularly under Bush and Cheney, and even a depression before the election, spurred by a mass movement, of Barack Obama.

Obama represented within the ruling class some of the same possibility of Bobby Kennedy. To deescalate wars and militarism to some extent , to rebuild a fallen economy based now on green energy, to make of America a less warlike, more European-like capitalist regime, but a more dynamic one. Nothing particularly radical in all this. Obama has cautiously reduced American fighting in Iraq (Americans have half the casualties this month of the previous months). He aims, after the surge, to reduce troops in Afghanistan starting next year and is locked, to some extent, in a battle with the war complex over this (the madness of drones in Pakistan, elite killer teams in Yemen are perhaps his own). But the cost of militarism and its manipulation of Obama is the absence of money – sucked away – to be spent employing people in America, providing for education and health care, greening the economy and shepherding the environment. The cost of Obama’s centrism has been demobilizing the anti-war movement which supported him and stayed home. See the Z-net inteview with Mike Schwartz which underlines this point here.

In addition, as James Galbraith rightly notes below, Obama surrounded himself with Wall Street advisors like Summers and Geithner, took over Bush’s bailout, and made himself dependent on the banks. Ironically, he was “outflanked” by banking money and the tea-bagger/racists. Those who seek to protect even tax cuts for the ultra-rich (those making over $250,000 per year) get to drape themselves against Obama as those who want to stop the banks. But they are the banks. Barack's “centrism,” always a weak idea in terms of policy, does not work in a depression.*** Being between two bad positions, i.e. between the military’s position of escalating 40,000 and (65 000 mercenaries) and escalating 20,000, is hardly admirable because it is "centrist."

Obama was very smart in the last campaign, but his Presidency has been surprisingly weak politically. He has relied on fools like Emmanuel, always tacking to the center, attacking anti-war candidates or “progressives” see Greenwald here and here – and willing to drop the health care bill (Pelosi provided the backbone to save it) or the wisdom of Wal Street deregulators like Summers and Geithner cost him everything politically even when what he did in policy terms worked – staved off complete collapse – or was decent (health care, despite its enormous weaknesses rightly criticized from the left, is still pretty good and looks better with every passing day of attack). Obama overestimated the effects of the stimulus, and put his energy into health care reform, not jobs; the corporate money flowed to fascists (“the tea party” intimidated black voters at the polls in South Carolina for example), exacerbated by the quasi-fascist Supreme Court (habeas corpus for prisoners abducted by the United States hangs by 1 vote; the Court’s allegiance to corporations is already 5-4) and the nihilist authoritarians – the so-called Republicans – have been swept back into power in the House of Representatives. A shellacking, as Obama said, a humbling.

Just a few points about the election. Colorado elected two banal Democrats, Hickenlooper and Bennet, who stave off the fascist Tancredo (one of the most destructive human beings on the planet**** and Ken Buck (who wants to repeal civil rights legislation, believes global warming a hoax, etc., etc.). But this was a crushing election, one that will block, as Krugman says rightly here, the government spending necessary to provide employment, to prevent a much deeper depression. Even if Obama survives in 2012, the unnecessary harm to the lives of millions of Americas produced by this elite – and the carry over of Reaganism and Cheyneism – is immense. Direct fascist assault on black and Chicano voters has become more extreme and frightening. The aim of the “Republicans” – who are authoritarians not conservatives - is to produce increasingly awful treatment of the middle class and poor, to help the top 1/10 of one per cent who need no help, blaming the misery through the corporate media, on the black man Obama, the one who “lacks a birth certificate,” “is a socialist, communist, national socialist, un-American other," so that they can elect Sarah Palin or some other ridiculous fascist (we have now seen the shadow that was John McCain) and induce “the rapture.” Senator Lindsay Graham, voice of McCain and Lieberman, called for war on Iran this weekend (is he going to make little wings and fly over; just how much more money in a depression can the demonic suction pump suck?). The great hopes of the Obama era seem dashed.

This situation is however, much less daunting than what people faced in 1968. Four notes of hope. Massachusetts ridiculously elected Scott Brown to replace Ted Kennedy. But this November, people were awake there and organized. 10 elections; no Republicans. There is no reason to think that with the threat of Republicans clear, with stalemate on jobs, more people will not come out, more determinedly, to support Obama the next time around. Also the vote was depressed in this election (roughly twice as many people voted for Obama and McCain in 2008 in Pennsylvania as in the governor’s race this time). Perhaps Obama is really a bad politician, though I note, Hilary and John McCain have yet to celebrate that conclusion. Also the Republicans seem to have reasserted their viciousness (and thanks to a nearly anti-Constitutional, police state Supreme Court – 4 votes for that, Anthony Kennedy wavering) – and Citizens United, they have even more money behind them. Obama may have to open these floodgates for the Democrats (a sad thing after the reliance to a greater extent on ordinary people in his last campaign). The Republicans acted with determination (and, afloat with money, the corporate media helped them).

But the Republicans have no program (more war, starve the poor, “if you get sick, die quickly” as Alan Grayson put it). We ordinary people, even though the Democrats are not good and need to be pushed from below to do decent things, ought to be able to do as least as well.

Second, Harry Reid won re-election by pointing out, over and over again, how anti-Chicano, anti-democratic and insane Sherrin Angle is. Like Palin and Bachmann (soon to be a House leader), she refuses to answer questions. That she is not challenged by that press is a measure of how close to totalitarianism (a silenced and kept press) America is.******* Reid’s is a winning approach (especially since Reid has little political talent, is widely disliked in Nevada, and cannot give a speech). But he told the truth and Angle – no angel - fell. Obama appears very conciliatory in the sense of trying to work with Republicans who have made clear that they have little intention to work with him. He may come off well in this, since Mitch McConnell has on record the idea that the only thing the authoritarian, imperial party of no wants to do is make Obama a one-term President. It may well be possible to combine the approaches in defeating them badly, money notwithstanding in 2012. Democrats (and those of us who are anti-fascists) might wake up this morning (and each subsequent morning after the election) with some awful feeling, and approach the next two years with the determination to make a difference in 2012.

Third, the Fed is just releasing S600 billion to banks and businesses. Though this is late – after the Republican victory in the House – and cynical, it might make possible, along with the money corporations already have, some hiring, some expansion. See Paul Krugman's skepticism here. They could sit on the money another two years (anything to get Obama), but perhaps not (Obama is of course, in with Wall Street, as Bush was). Krugman is right however that this is not the best way to stimulate the economy and produce jobs and that 1 in 5 workers unemployed is no time to be worrying about heading off inflation. The government, notably Obama, knows what to do about jobs, but can’t do it because of the miserable elite politics. It is hard to overstate the grimness of McConnell – bring down America to bring down Obama. America could go into even deeper decline, and if Obama is not elected in 2012, pretty much destroy the planet through wars and global warming (“rapture” is as near to us as Sarah Palin, the FOX candidate and Republican heir apparent, despite the wooziness and failure of many of those she supported this time around). In this context, some decrease of militarism, some greater employment by government, and spending on green jobs (combating global warming) and health care would clearly be a very good thing. But even to achieve some decency would take a spine, as Bob Herbert puts it, which is so far mainly absent in Democrats and even, as President, in Obama.

With no active movement from below against war and for more jobs, Obama has foundered. And the experience of American history is no different. FDR was decent because communists and others formed unemployed councils and unions; LBJ became interested in civil rights because of the nonviolent Southern civil rights movement and rebellions in American cities; the Vietnam war ended and a long period of inability to aggress – the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ – and privatization of the military occurred because of the huge movement from below; “shock and awe” killed some hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis, but because of the huge international movement from below against war before the war, has not made of Baghdad “a Nagasaki” as the report of Ullman and Wade, long on the Pentagon website, urged. Thus, the fourth point is that we need a renewed anti-war movement which has as part of its program the tie with jobs here. We need a poor people’s – and middle class people’s - movement of the same kind that King was trying to build. Aggression in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan (drones) or Iran or armed with American Apache helicopters, Israel’s daily aggression against Palestinians is also a war against minimal decency here at home; no money for the poor; the considerable government persecution of anti-war activists and Wikileaks and Pfc. Manning even under Obama. It is what I name in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? (Princeton, 1999) anti-democratic feedback.

Workers are now much more easily against war, even high into the labor leadership (the vanishing of the Soviet Union took with it the fierce hold of pro-war, anti-Soviet sentiment in the labor elite; workers opposed the war in Vietnam and are generally very much opposed to these wars – and now, so are many unions - which is why Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan was unpopular, and he had to spend a lot of “political capital” on it. Despite the media-Congressional (war complex) lionization of Petraeus, there is little support from below for imperial wars.

Let us work at least as hard, in the coming period, as the authoritarians and racists did in the recent past. It is time to take back America from militarism, to bend the direction of the war complex, to drain its swamp. The “Republicans” are least willing to do this, with ironically the possible exception of Rand Paul; the military’s hold on Obama is great (he escalated in Afghanistan pretty obviously against his better judgment) though not as considerable. Only a radical civil disobedience movement from below will make it possible to turn this ship around.

Friday, November 5, 2010 by CommonDreams.org
It Was the Banks
by James K. Galbraith

Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy's failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure - to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy.

As Krugman rightly stipulates, Monday-morning quarterbacks should say exactly what different play they would have called. Paul's answer is that the stimulus package should have been bigger. No disagreement: I was one voice calling for a much larger program back when. Yet this answer is not sufficient.

The original sin of Obama's presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail - with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.
But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced "stress tests," plainly designed so as to obscure the banks' true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was "to get credit flowing again."
The banks threw a party. Reported profits soared, as did bonuses. With free funds, the banks could make money with no risk, by lending back to the Treasury. They could boom the stock market. They could make a mint on proprietary trading. Their losses on mortgages were concealed - until the fact came out that they'd so neglected basic mortgage paperwork, as to be unable to foreclose in many cases, without the help of forged documents and perjured affidavits.

But new loans? The big banks had given up on that. They no longer did real underwriting. And anyway, who could qualify? Businesses mostly had no investment plans. And homeowners were, to an increasing degree, upside- down on their mortgages and therefore unqualified to refinance.
These facts were obvious to everybody, fueling rage at "bailouts." They also underlie the economy's failure to create jobs. What usually happens (and did, for example, in 1994 - 2000) is that credit growth takes over from Keynesian fiscal expansion. Armed with credit, businesses expand, and with higher incomes, public deficits decline. This cannot happen if the financial sector isn't working.

Geithner, Summers and Bernanke should have known this. One can be fairly sure that they did know it. But Geithner and Bernanke had cast their lots, with continuity and coverup. And Summers,
with his own record of deregulation, could hardly complain.

To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn't rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

President Obama didn't see this. Or perhaps, he didn't want to see it. His presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know about who he really is.

James K. Galbraith teaches at UT-Austin and is the author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too.

*!00 American cities, notably Washington DC, went up in flames in response to this murder. At the time, I was sympathetic to the young woman who says harshly of American capitalism and racism: “let’s finish it up.” To this day, the King family does not believe James Earl Ray assassinated King – and there is no investigation. America lives off Martin, has a holiday named for him, and the rulers conceal the truth. A larger Pat Tillman case…

**See Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power, ch. 1.

***Interestingly, in a story last Saturday about how the private sector created more jobs than expected last month (largely offset by the cessation of government employment for census takers, teachers et al), included David Leonhardt’s “other measure of unemployment” ot those who have given up looking for work and those who have parttime jobs but would accept fulltime ones. That figure is now 17.1% unemployed, nearly a fifth of the workforce. That. much more than the official figure, just under 10%, illustrates just how serious the crisis is.

****Tancredo began his career by attacking programs in the high schools by the Center for Teaching International Relations at my school (then the Graduate School of International Studies). CTIR invited students to consider other points of view, not just American. It was all over the map politically, as one of its exercises, the “Lifeboat” problem (the World War II film with Walter Slezak) illustrates: imagine a nuclear war, one shelter, 7 spaces, 10 of you, the beautiful young woman, the cripple, etc.: whom would you throw out? One option not considered – those of us like me who would refuse to go in.

Tancredo said it violated the “Judeo-Christian ethic” – that Christ preached for the poor escaped him - and organized a quasi-fascist movement to deny CTIR contracts to work with public school teachers. His virulence against immigrants is of greater harm, but nothing that has not been visible about him from the first.

*****Afghanistan was initially more popular, but for reasons Wikileaks reveals, not now, 9 years later.

******He is dreadful in many ways, including about Brown v. Board of Education, but less enthusiastic than Delay, Rove, the Koch brothers, and others for war or the military.

*******Consider the almost complete silence about Wikileaks and American war criminality, when the corporate media does not do character assassination of Julian Assange...

1 comment:

Kelly McNicholas said...

HI Professor Gilbert!

I am a student at Korbel and one of your advisees. I've been trying to contact you to discuss my graduation program statement, and also to obtain your signature for my scholarship application to the Graduate Women's Council. The deadline for your signature is TOMORROW november 10th. Please let me know if I can catch you on campus. My email is kmcnicholas@du.edu. Also, (--3) 917-0473

Thanks so much!
Kelly McNicholas

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