March 31, 2016

A stake through the heart of the corporate controlled Democratic Party

GUEST: Adam Weissman, organizer with Global Justice for Animals and the Environment (GJAE), talks about the threat posed by free trade agreements to animals the environment, to safe, ethical, and sustainable food, and to the human rights of environmental defender.

Adam gave us a little history of how both Democratic presidents have said one thing on trade, and then done what they were paid to do by Wall Street. Clinton worked very hard in passing NAFTA, allowing major corporations to make more profit by shipping jobs overseas. Obama is in the same position of betraying labor and environmental interests to close the deal on the TPP. In both cases the presidents made secret, back room deals with the Republicans to push through these disastrous agreements.

The fight is not over, of course. But to stop these trade deals, the working people of America have to put a stake through the heart of the corporate controlled Democratic Party. And that means stopping the neoliberal queen of them all, Hillary, who plans to take over where Obama leaves off.

March 25, 2016

War with sticks

GUEST: Lawrence S. Wittner, award-winning American historian, writer, and activist for peace and social justice, talks about Peace Action, the current presidential primaries, and America's endless wars.

One sure sign of a broken democracy is the US decision to spend a trillion dollars in the coming decades on "upgrading" nuclear weapons. Upgrading for what, a nuclear war? Is there a chance now that the world would survive a nuclear exchange between superpowers? Like life in Orvell's novel, 1984, there are no answers one can be sure of. 

Well, except for one truth. Nobody you or I know ever made a decision about spending a trillion dollars on universal death machine. It was done very quietly, with cozy agreements between our nation's corrupt politicians and our nation's insatiable war industry. None of the presidential debates asked one question about this most extravagant of all ways to end life on earth. No newspapers did a report on the expenditures or commented on their doomsday potential. 

As it turns out, this trillion dollar upgrade in nuclear arms has been in works for several presidencies, although rarely spoken about openly. The people's role in our American oligopoly is to suffer without causing too many problems. Thought you needed education, healthcare, housing, a good job? Why fret? Our leaders will have spent all our money ensuring the end of humankind. Where do they think they will end up? Such is the insanity of greed and privilege in our nation's leaders.

March 22, 2016

Reality TV Eats U.S. Politics

Reality TV Eats U.S. Politics

Gary Kenton
I’ve been absent from the Class Wars site for a few months.  Actually, I moved (from the Hudson River Valley to Greensboro, North Carolina).  But, as we all know, whether you are talking about garbage, the Internet, or politics, there is no such thing as “away.”  As the ancient Chinese proverb has it, wherever you go, there you are.  And no matter where you live in these United States, there is no escaping the embarrassing spectacle of the presidential campaign.

As we head into the home stretch of the political primary season, it is all too easy to see how the process, which is supposed to help citizens focus on the issues that matter, actually serves to distract us, not only from the issues that might matter to us, but from anything resembling reality. 

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to the Trump phenomenon.  The most obvious (and undeniable) analysis sees the roots of the embrace of Trump’s quasi-Fascist appeal in the dog whistle politics of fear and divisiveness pioneered by Richard Nixon, soft-pedaled by Ronald Reagan, and broadcast as gospel by Fox News.  But nothing has prepared the country for Trump nearly as much as his sideways shift from real estate mogul to reality TV star.  Previously, his “power” was largely illusory, confined to his own businesses, legal bullying tactics, and the notoriety that our culture bestows on people willing to trade their identity for a brand.  But when Trump got to The Apprentice, millions of Americans watched him hire and fire, exerting power over people’s lives.  Even if the situations were manufactured and played for dramatic effect, viewers readily identified with people whose jobs were precarious and whose fate was in the hands of an arbitrary and idiotic boss. 

What we have been witnessing over the past six months is, more than anything else, a TV show.  Even if you don’t get most of your information directly from the tube, all the candidates, their campaigns, and the sound bites they utter, are as packaged for television (and YouTube and Twitter) as a used car commercial.  The viewing public was given a choice between two very different sets of debates: the Republican debates, which resembled a Farrelly Brothers movie without the laughs, and the Democratic debates, which were mostly civil and focused, at least superficially, on actual issues.  The TV audience preferred the Republican circus, by a wide margin. 

Spurred by the ratings, the moderators and networks responded not as journalists but as their own brands, with more concern for network competition and stock prices than the public they are supposed to serve.  Doing their best to make each question as personal and mean-spirited as possible, the debates were like episodes of The Apprentice or Survivor, with the viewing public acting as a surrogate for Trump.  We are voters!   We determine winners and losers!  We decide who will survive and who will be sent back to menial tasks as governors, lobbyists, and consultants.

A kind of transference has taken place.  Millions of Americans tell themselves that they are attracted to Trump because he is an “outsider,” because he “tells it like it is,” or because he is rich and not beholden to deep-pocketed donors, but the plain fact is that he is a Mussolini-type authority figure, full of bombast and fury and venom.  An astonishingly high percentage of his supporters are ignorant, dominated by poor people who have never been willing or able to meet the requirements necessary to attain a high school diploma.  Trump isn’t the candidate of the downtrodden, but rather the dumbed-down.

Just as with the vast majority of TV advertising, Trump’s appeal is dependent on the avoidance of cognition.  He doesn’t discuss policy or ideology any more than an Apple commercial discusses the drawbacks of technology or a Geico commercial provides information about the risks of driving.  The goal of advertising is to associate products with certain values and emotions.  This can be accomplished in a 30-second TV ad because there is no reasoning involved.  It was Ronald Reagan who, when frustrated at being presented with evidence that undermined his “government is the problem” ideology, said that “facts are stupid things.”  Four decades later, Trump thrives in a post-factual political environment, eschewing the real for the reactionary.  And the audience at home is eating it up.

Actually, the reality TV that the presidential debates most closely resembles is professional wrestling, with its pseudo heroism and good guy / bad guy theatrics.  The surprising part, as my friend Richard Meltzer noted, is that the audience doesn’t seem to recognize that Trump is one of the bad guys.  Rubio did his best to wear a white hat, offering a (relatively) sane and positive alternative.  (Cruz can’t even pretend to be anything but a nasty son-of-a-bitch.)  But pro wrestling fans have always loved their bad guys, and given the choice between Rubio’s sanctimonious bible-thumping and Trump’s nose-thumbing, make-it-up-as-you-go gamesmanship, they opt for the guy with the swagger and the outrageous comb-over.  Trump is an entertainer, an honest liar.   

Not that the Democrats are asking me, but here’s my advice to Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton for the general election.  Engage with Trump as little as possible.  Let surrogates point out his errors, his hatefulness, his ignorance of history, and his lack of basic understanding of geopolitical realities.  He is a TV personality and not worthy of your attention; you are running for President of the United States, not a role in a made-for-TV movie.

March 11, 2016

The tangled web we weave by denying human rights

GUESTS: two students from Vassar College's Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign drop in to talk about their recent successful vote for BDS, and the threats made against them by the Vassar President and Board of Trustees.

What we didn't talk about is the "anti-Semitic" cartoon supposedly posted two years ago by a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. I've included the cartoon on the left. 

The cartoon being posted on-line resulted in the expelling of an African American undergraduate and the delegitimizing of SJP as a campus organization. It should be said that the African American student was a member of SJP, but posted the cartoon without knowledge or approval of other members of the group.

The cartoon was drawn by a Norwegian member of a fascist party, and reprinted in a Dutch pro-Nazi magazine in 1944. The original title was "Culture - Terror," and it depicts at least fifteen different negatives stereotypes of American society. There is the decadence of beauty pageants, the pervasive culture of sexuality, the gun violence and gangsterism of everyday life, the racism and racial violence directed towards Blacks, the genocidal treatment of Native Americans, the gross materialism of American values, the racial mixture of culture and its influence on the rest of the world, the indiscriminate bombing of Europe by the US war machine, and the oversized influence of the Jews and Freemasons on the war policy. 

It is a hateful cartoon that includes about every negative stereotype of the United States a Norwegian fascist could think of in the midst of World War II. As an activist opposed to all forms of racism, I would never condone such a cartoon. But that is not the same thing as posting it on-line and looking at the origins of its racist depictions. 

We live in an America that is awash in such racial incitements. All our white presidents since Jimmy Carter have used covert racism to win elections, starting with Ronald Reagan's campaign kickoff a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, the town linked to the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. The Israel Lobby is much less nuanced, claiming the right to call all Palestinians terrorists, while crying "wolf" at any legitimate criticism of its apartheid state. 

This cartoon, of course, is not legitimate criticism of Israel. But I can see how it would appeal to a young Black student whose people have suffered centuries of slavery and Jim Crow in American. The US war machine is depicted by a KKK head, a jail cell holding Blacks as a body, and a black arm with a noose wrapped around it. The irony, of course, is the use of this cartoon to expel a Black student from Vassar, an administration action presumably demanded by some Zionist alum threatening to withdraw money from the college. What a tangled web we weave when we advocate human rights for some and deny it for others. 

March 5, 2016

A witness to suffering

GUEST: Lillian Rosengarten, author of "Survival and Conscience: From the Shadows of Nazi Germany to the Jewish Boat to Gaza," talks about her book and the public reaction to her activism. "She's a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, and was voiceless for many many years, till she went to Israel and saw the occupation for herself ...” 
- Philip Weiss

Lillian Rosengarten has an amazing story to tell, so almost any interview with her is full of surprises and poignant memories. 

To many, the Holocaust and the creation of Israel are part of the same story, one of untold suffering leading to eventual strength and freedom.  Lillian's optimistic narrative falls apart when she witnesses the suffering of the Palestinian people. A truth seeker, she tells the story of her own awakening and subsequent rethinking of her life's story.

How is it that the suffering of the Jews in Nazi Germany has been recreated in the suffering of the Palestinians? How did the Jews in Israel learn to practice the same type of racist violence that had been directed toward them?

In the beginning, she tells the gripping story of her father attacked on a German street, because he was a Jew. As she walks the streets of Gaza at the end of the book, Lillian is again confronted with the unexplainable evil that humankind is capable of. We grieve with her, and know that we must somehow end the brutal subjugation of millions of Palestinians. 

March 4, 2016

Emmanuel Goldstein's message

GUEST: Jack Smith, radical journalist, editor of the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter and former editor of the National Guardian, talks about his latest article in CounterPunch, "Obama Intensifies Wars and Threats of War."

This picture is from an interview of Jack on the Rag Blog. His story of activism over the last half century is an impressive one and well worth reading. Radicalized early on, he has maintained an all encompassing leftist viewpoint that I have found to be much closer to reality than the one giving to me by various history classes or our major media.

Jack points out the greed and barbarism of the American Empire since World War II, with its endless invasions, occupations, and overthrowing of democratically elected leaders. Like Emmanuel Goldstein's radical  analysis in 1984, Jack's viewpoint at times has that feeling of truth, freed from the restrictions of falsehoods and obfuscation.

Why is Obama pursuing these endless wars in the Middle East? It's our system of hegemony; we never really stopped fighting after defeating Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. The US has been working for global dominance during all our lives, just covering up it's war crimes with various calls for democracy and human rights. It is like Emmanuel Goldstein's message to 1984's protagonist Winston Smith. One has the feeling of coming to a startling and terrible truth.