See the New Mad Sociologist at http://madsociologistblog.wordpress.com

Latest

Police State Violence on Peaceful Protesters in Berkeley

“Who do you protect!”

Heard from the crowd being attacked by militarized police, “No one is attacking you all. You are not in danger in any way. We are in danger from you.”

Isn’t the police motto “to serve and protect?” I guess we should be more specific with whom is being served and protected.

Prejudice and Obama’s Politics of the Possible

Thank God for those who ask for too much!

This article in The Guardian highlights why it is so difficult for the left to support and sustain President Obama and the Democratic Party. It is the reason why liberals will often not show up for a party and a president who has clearly turned his back on his base—until election time when he applies soaring rhetoric to issues of social and economic justice just long enough to get our hopes up. Since 2009 the left has been left in the dark while President Obama exercises his “politics of the possible” strategy.

On one hand, this pragmatic strategy has fostered some significant gains, healthcare reform, finance regulation, a stimulus. On the other hand, experts agree that Obama’s accomplishments, as significant as they are, just don’t go far enough to level the playing field for the average person who is still experiencing falling wages and floundering prospects for the future while the one percent thrives.

More significantly, every compromise made by Obama and the Democrats to get something done—anything—has made it more difficult to take the next step and to build on small victories. Policy technocracy without vision has eroded the Democratic base, the faith of those who are desperately looking for a voice in what is supposed to be their government.

Sometimes, good enough is just not good enough.

So here were a group of people standing tall before the leviathan of state oppression, teargased, threatened, targeted, meeting with the most powerful man in the world and yet they had, “no faith in anything, church or state.” These are the people abandoned by the politics of the possible, standing on the wrong end of a badge and a gun with bloody examples of what can happen when someone, anyone, runs afoul of state power. Your body will be left in the street, you will be strangled to death, you will be gunned down in a retail store, a plastic toy next to your corps, you will somehow shoot yourself in the chest while handcuffed behind your back…and there’s not a damned thing you can do about.

Justice is nothing more than a slogan pressed into a blood-stained badge.

What does the most powerful man in the world have to say to people who are struggling against state tyranny and injustice for their very survival and for the prospects of their children? According to representatives of the many movements taking place around the country who met with the President, “He cautioned us against demanding too big and stressed gradualism. He counseled us that the wheels of progress turn sluggishly and reminded us of the progress that got us to this point: a room full of black folk in the Oval Office.”

The progress that got us to this point? Does he mean communities of color all over the nation who fear at the presence of the police? Is that what Obama is claiming as progress. That’s not progress. This issue was already put to the test and the good guys won. That’s what all the high school American History textbooks say! This isn’t progress. This is, at best, standing still; at worst it’s regression to the Jim Crow days and Black Codes that were supposed to magically disappear into the ether when good white people passed the Civil Rights Act.

What is this community asking for, what is all sympathetic people with any sense of humanity and justice throughout the world asking for that is “too much?” What are all oppressed people around the world demanding that has not already been determined as their right? It should not be considered too much to ask that my children not be gunned down in the street by representatives of the state.

That this gradual progress lauded by Obama can bring us to the point where a black man can get an Ivy League education and become president of the United States while at the same time leave communities of color living in fear while the death toll of black men to police issue ammunition continues to rise is proof positive that Good Enough simply isn’t good enough.

President Obama has proven to be a “good enough” president. I have personally defended him as such. Our times, however, require a great president, someone who is will to fight for what are universally recognized rights that used to be the foundations of the New Deal Democratic Party so long ago abandoned to the politics of the possible. Freedom to Speak. Freedom to Worship. Freedom from Want. Freedom from Fear. Nobody disputes the validity of these four freedoms, yet President Obama and our current political anomie, cynicism and poll counting, would have us believe that demanding basic human dignity is simply asking too much.

Thank God for those, like Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Howard Zinn, Cornell West, Noam Chomsky and these good people who met with the President on this most pressing human rights issue, who have the wisdom and the courage to ask for too much.

Framing and Unframing Prejudice

My Response to a so-called Heartwarming and Hopeful Photo

 

 

My initial reaction to the now famous image of the Sgt. Barnum hugging twelve year old Devonte Hart was probably much the same as everyone else’s. Finally, something good, something hopeful, emerged from the dust of this horrible tragedy. It’s a perfect photo at the perfect time, after all. It’s exactly what we wanted to see. Healing.

Unfortunately, it isn’t what we need to see.

What we need to see is infinitely more complex and insidious. What we need to see is something that cannot be fixed with a hug.

First, Ferguson and now the Garner case and the multiple instances in which African Americans have been victimized by those very supposedly charged with the task of protecting us from the victimizers have gained notoriety in the press. It’s not like this race and class based oppression is anything new. It has simply gotten a voice by an active and angry community and a press that understands that, at least for now, this story sells advertising space.

On the other hand, it is part of the media’s latent function to support the status quo, to allow the foundations of privileged society to be shaken only enough to perpetuate the legitimacy of the press, but not enough to threaten the legitimacy of its elite patrons.

So, yes, the press reports on this issue, but at the same time does everything it can to turn our attention from the real issues, the true, damning reality that ours is still an oppressive, racist, exploitative and barbarically tribal society and that the victims of this barbarism cannot be kept down forever. Nor can they be pacified with a hug. So the press simplifies the story, frames it as a conflict between a man who happens to be white and a man who happens to be black…who may have had it coming to him anyway. Yes, Michael Brown was unarmed and shot dead because, as Officer Wilson admitted, he was big and scary. Cut to the video of Michael Brown being really big and scary, stealing little cigars from a store. Look at him. A big, black man pushing around that little store owner.

Sure, protestors are in the streets, facing a militarized police force, demanding redress, demanding justice. But look, here are some of the protestors looting a store! Look at the burning police car. How are the police supposed to protect us if stuff like this is allowed to happen?

Oh, look over here. Here’s a white person that was victimized by a black person. Yes, the black person was arrested and convicted and, because he’s black, received the highest possible sentence and will, because he’s black, more likely serve his sentence in full, and will, because he’s black, be subject to more stringent discipline while incarcerated, but never mind that. The point is that white people are victimized too, but you don’t see us rioting in the streets.

And don’t forget black-on-black crime. Nobody’s talking about black-on-black crime.

Now, look at this picture of a cop hugging a little black boy. See. Not all cops are bad. How unfair it is to condemn all police for the actions of a few bad apples. A few bad apples who will never even come to trial for their bad apple actions, but I’m sure there’s something else to look at.

In fact, look here and there and everywhere. But whatever you do, don’t look at the larger, more entrenched, more complicated issues. Keep buying our papers, but don’t take what is revealed too seriously. Let us, the fourth estate, do the thinking for you. Here’s a nice, feel good, picture.

Ironically, the larger issues are revealed by a closer, narrower examination of this now iconic image. Take a closer look at Devonte Hart. Look into his eyes. That’s where the story is. I’m sure that Sgt. Barnum is a nice guy and a good cop. Kudos to him for the role he has played. But the truth of this image is in the eyes of a twelve year old kid—a twelve year old black kid, because, let’s face it, it is imponderable that we would see this image, this expression, in this context, on a twelve year old white kid. Outside of the racial context, this image is meaningless. It is the fear, the hopelessness the uncertain yearning for security and stability mingled in the tears of Devonte Hart that is the real story.

The protests, the anger, the riots, the social anomie that is the outgrowth, is not about Michael Brown, or Eric Garner or any of a number of individual victims who have suddenly become newsworthy. It’s not about good cops or bad cops.

The real story, the story we need to see is that represented in the eyes of Devonte Hart. This is where race and class intersect with exploitation and oppression. Where prejudice and racism is incorporated into our social institutions, integrated into our perceptions through generations of social learning, the result will always be the construction and legitimization of the victimizer’s actions toward his victims. The norms that guide our behaviors are the result of hundreds of years of history and social processes. Officer Wilson’s interactions with Michael Brown were almost foreordained. A white cop, ingrained with the knowledge that his authority is to be respected, that black skinned suspects must be put in their place. A black male, knowing that he cannot expect justice from the police, must negotiate a tenuous sense of self and manhood between the conflicting and ubiquitous fear and anger. A community, wanting for economic and political justice, understanding that the police, the elected officials, the so-called justice system, does not exist for their protection. The badges and the guns are there to protect communities that matter, white communities, wealthy communities, from them. If that means a de facto death sentence for shop-lifting, or for just being big and black for that matter, so be it. The result is another black man, laying in the street, police bullets invading his body.

No more! We will take this no more!

Respect law and order despite the incessant disrespect that the law shows for you?

No more!

Protest peacefully despite never living a day in peace?

No more!

So when we look into Devonte Hart’s eyes, we must recognize that he is looking into his own future. We must try to see what he sees, and understand that there is more to this story than a cop hugging a boy or a victim slain. This is the story of oppression, exploitation, the systematic targeting of a community and the theft of Devonte Hart’s future.

That is the real story revealed in this image.

 

The Power of the Badge

Badge

Ferguson and the Thomas Theorem

On Predefining the Ferguson Protests

 

In 1928, sociologist W. I. Thomas (left) wrote, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” This has come to be known as The Thomas Theorem. It is an invaluable maxim for understanding social forces and interactions.

I fear that the Thomas Theorem may prove prophetic with regard to the Ferguson response to the coming grand jury verdict.

In this case, the planned protests are presumed to become a replay of the LA riots after the Rodney King trial. Police are planning on planning on meeting this challenge with their usual strategy, threatening overwhelming force. The National Guard is on stand-by. What happens when people are surrounded by paramilitary forces equipped with shields and batons? Lessons from the last time this tactic was used in Ferguson suggests that the consequent stress and uncertainty actually increases the possibility of violence. If the Ferguson police define the situation as meriting a paramilitary response going in, then it is very likely that a paramilitary response will be necessary.

One statement that I read caught my attention (the source is not linked as I never had an opportunity to save it). It was a bartender who had heard many people talk about expectations of the coming protest. He said that everyone was predicting that there will be violence; however, nobody was claiming that they would participate in violence. However, many people who are anticipating violence without having an interest in participating may choose to avoid the scene. This will increase the ratio of protestors who are willing to participate in violence. Again, the probability for violence increases by pre-defining the situation as violent.

Of course, there is hope. The relevant groups can prepare their active participants to avoid violence. Police can be trained to de-escalate potentially volatile situations. Activists can pre-empt potential hazards, train their core in peaceful resistance, and police themselves. One helpful possibility is for the police and activists to liaison and keep then networks of communication open. Activists can alert the police to those who may try to escalate the protest strategy, while the police can let the activists know when a segment is crossing the line. Of course, the communication between activists and police has not been the best, to say the least. Also, civil disobedience is intended to be inconvenient to the power structure.

Let’s hope that the stakeholders have planned for the worst and can pre-empt any potential violence. Either way, by defining the protests as almost inherently violent, we are setting the stage for the very violence we are trying to avoid.

Ahh, The Good Ol’ Days Before the EPA and its Socialist Meddling in Business Freedom

Who Doesn’t Want to go Back to That?

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Presidents Go—My Defense of My Defense of President Obama

Or…Elections as Triage

Some people have contacted me or talked to me about my most recent posts defending President Obama and the Obama Record. The critiques are summarized as, “don’t you think you will lose your radical credentials by defending a representative of the status quo and elite power like Obama and the Democratic Party?”

Well, I’m not sure where I get my radical credentials, or who is responsible for taking them away, but the best I can say in response is, “I hope not.” My politics hasn’t changed or, in any way, moderated. I still feel obligated to speak for the powerless in the face of the powerful and to point out the mechanisms by which the elite exploit the common and despoil the commons. My humanistic and universalist vision hasn’t changed. My ideals remain the same.

However, there comes a time when practical reality must be given priority over idealism, and this election year was, in my opinion, one of those times. Don’t get me wrong. Had there been a candidate with a more progressive or radical vision, I would have focused my energies there, but there wasn’t. One can only work with the cards that are given.

Look, elections are rarely ever the venue for radical action. This is especially true of mid-term elections. If we on the left want to have an impact on elections, then we have some more work to do in networking and building the necessary grassroots power, combined with a message that we can shout over the constant conservative din that drowns out any rational discourse. We don’t have that yet. We are working on it. I’d like to think that I’m doing my small part. The truth is we are simply not there.

This last election was testament to the amount of work we must do in electoral politics. We simply have not come to terms with the fact that elections are not about policy and governing; they are about marketing and advertising. That’s a playing field on which we are, as yet, ill prepared. The Republican marketing machine has a clear and distinct advantage in that medium.

So this election was not and could not be a venue for advancing a left agenda. Yes, we did very well on some referenda and initiatives at the state level. That’s a testament to our ground work. However, advancing those who believe as we believe was not an option. This election was about triage more than it was about a left wing vision of justice.

Government continues to secure the interests of the power elite. Every president and party in American history has done the same. Obama and our current crop of Democrats are no exception to this rule. True, some presidents, like the Roosevelts and LBJ, understood that securing the interests of the power elite meant negotiating with very angry and organized mass movements. Such conditions do not exist today, as was clear by an electorate that wanted an increased minimum wage, immigration reform, legalized marijuana, but voted Republican.

Clearly, the left is hemorrhaging. As distasteful as it is, before you can stabilize your patient, you have to stop, or at least slow the bleeding.

I used to be one of those advocates who believed that we, as a nation, were no worse off with a Republican leadership than a Democratic government. The Bush debacle has disabused me of this mistaken assumption. There is no metric that I can see that can convince me that the country and the world is no better off with a President Obama than with a President McCain or a President Romney. Obamacare is not a single payer health system, but it has been a benefit to millions of people. Dodd-Frank is not Glass-Steagall, but a President McCain would not have gone even that far, and a President Romney would have gutted what few, milquetoast protections it offers. The Stimulus was not the next New Deal, but a Republican government would have abandoned the people to suffering a certain Second Great Depression with nothing to offer solace. The Obama/Democratic government has not been what we wanted, but it was better than the given alternative. We on the left are allowing dogma to blind us if we suggest any different.

The Obama/Democrats have overseen an expansion of executive powers and the growth of the Intelligence arm of the Military Industrial Complex. No doubt. The state surveillance apparatus is a growing beast devouring American rights to privacy and self-possession. The world still groans and bleeds under the blades of American militarism. The American backed transnational elite are consolidating their holdings and shaping the New World Order. The very fate of the world in the face of global climate change is shrugged off as a mere inconvenience to the Billionaire Class. Obama/Democrats are as responsible for this as are the Tea Party/Republicans. We on the left have offered some token resistance, at best, failing to build on the few openings that we have had with the Occupy Movement and the Snowden Revelations.

Still, even in the face of its shortcomings, the Obama/Democratic government, with no left wing alternative at that level, has been the best option. To prove this, let’s do a quick mental exercise I like to call “Worst Case Scenario.”

The Worst Case Scenario is Republican control of the White House, 2/3rds of Congress and 2/3rds of the states. The Republican Party has a filibuster proof Senate and the ability to push Constitutional Amendments at whim. What are the policies that will come from that government?

    Affordable Care Act…gone

Medicaid…gone

    Temporary Assistance to Needy Families…gone

    Social Security…gone

    Medicare…gone

    Roe v. Wade…gone

    Food Stamps…gone

    SCHIP…gone

    Unemployment Insurance…gone

    Civil Rights Act…gone

    Voting Rights Act…gone

    Corporate taxes…gone

    Progressive Income Tax…gone

    Public Schools…gone

    Public Libraries…gone

    National Parks/Forests and protected habitats…gone

    EPA and Environmental Regulation…gone

    FDA and Food and Drug Regulations…gone

    Minimum Wage…gone

    OSHA…gone

    Earned Income Tax Credit…gone

    Child Labor Laws…gone

    National Labor Relations Board…gone…and with it, any legal legitimacy for unions

    Dodd-Frank…gone

    Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…gone

 

    Let’s face it; all of the reforms of the Progressive Era, the New Deal and the Great Society would be the targets of such an atrocity as a Republican controlled government. We know this. Voting Democrat might not be a blow against the machine, but it is an effective way to protect what we have so far. And that’s something…something significant that benefits many millions of people.

    Look, voting Democratic and defending Obama isn’t something to be proud of. It’s an act of self-preservation. If we want better from American elections then we on the left must offer a significant alternative that reaches millions of people who are yearning for it.

    Where the left wing agenda was on the ballot, people voted for it. We have the ideas. We have the people. We even have the networks. What we don’t have is a soundboard that’s going to reach the electorate. Until we have this soundboard, we are stuck with electoral triage.

    More on this as the ideas develop.

    

Reagan vs. Obama: Battle of the GDP

A Welterweight Fight! At Best.

 

The other day I entered into a Facebook argument (I spend an inordinate amount of time arguing on Facebook) about the comparison between President Obama and Ronald Reagan with regard to their economic achievements. The argument began from a posting of an article by Adam Hartung in Forbes Magazine, “Obama Outperforms Reagan on Jobs, Growth and Investing.” Okay, it was an iffy article, but I can’t resist an opportunity to provoke my right wing friends (of which I have many for some reason).

Right on cue, one of my right wing friends posted a response in the form of an article by Lance Roberts that appeared on the Advisor Perspective website called “Obama Outperformed Reagan? Hardly.” This article contained the typical homage to the miracle of the Reagan economy. Trite comparisons of the recession in the early eighties with the Great Recession faced by Obama. Lame rationales for why any progress under Obama doesn’t count. Graphs arranged in such a way as to emphasize dramatic shifts despite their irrelevance. Complete silence about the fact that Reagan ran monster deficits, grew the government and raised taxes during his time in office. Plus, the author offers the requisite claim that Reagan ushered in an era (20 years according to Roberts) of unprecedented prosperity, despite growing inequality, stagnating wages and an economic shift from manufacturing to a finance driven service sector. Pretty typical stuff, really.

On the other hand, let’s give my right wing friend credit where it is due. Hartung offers some interesting data to support his inference that Obama is “economically, the best modern President.” However, he really does not offer an analysis of GDP. Roberts does, but he hedges by comparing Reagan’s full term to only six years of Obama’s performance. So I figured I would rectify that. Below is the real GDP for Presidents Reagan and Obama in their first six and a half years. Now in this case, I’m looking at the slope of the line, not the raw numbers.

What I see appears to give Obama the edge when it comes to economic growth, but only slightly. So I figured I would bring these two lines together and focus them specifically on growth of GDP with both Presidents starting at zero. The results are as follows.

Again, advantage Obama. Now that does not mean that this advantage will last. There’s still a year a couple of years left.

But this leads me to the larger point. Being in a position to referee this welterweight fight (nothing against real welterweights…you guys are awesome!). When it comes to the economy neither Obama nor Reagan are anything to wave a big, foam finger in the air for. Since at least the Carter Administration, modern presidents, regardless of party, have turned their backs on the New Deal policies that really did usher in an era of prosperity. Economic policies since the seventies have concentrated on just subtle variations of the same theme: deregulation, privatization and free trade. The only real difference between the parties has been in protection of some vestige of the social safety net, with Republicans wishing to pull the rug out from under the poor and privatize the benefits of the old while Democrats continue to, more or less, support at least the existence of a basic, government funded safety net.

Reagan provided the legitimizing paradigm for this shift. “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” The Great Communicator so effectively denounced the very government that he grew that it is now inconceivable to argue that government even has a function that cannot be better served by the private sector. The existence of something called “the commons” and “the public interest” are no longer a part of the political vernacular. The message of the Progressive Era and the New Deal has been replaced by admonitions of “big government” and “tax and spend liberals.”

That is the true nature of the so called economic miracle that was the Reagan Era. Indeed, most people have not benefited from the economic growth that has happened since the eighties. Yes, we have some fancier toys, but as far as our standard of living, our wages, our security, most Americans are worse off in the new finance based economy that has supplanted the industrial revolution for which Reagan was the chief spokesman. Yes, it could be argued that this is, in and of itself, transformative. Indeed it is. But “great?” No. Not even close.

So has President Obama diverged from the economic trend of the last thirty years? Well, there’s still a couple of years left, but it’s unlikely. True, there were some early victories. Obama’s stimulus saved the nation from complete economic collapse. Thanks for that! The auto industry was saved despite right wing frothing about “Government Motors.” Dodd-Frank, and the Consumer Financial Protection Agency revealed some early signs that maybe the United States was due for a return to the progressive paradigm. We even got an ever so slight tax increase on the wealthy.

Since those slight detours, however, President Obama has largely returned to the Reagan path. Unlike Reagan, Obama has actually shrunk the size of government. Though Dodd-Frank offers some protection and oversight, the very financial system and arcane derivatives mechanisms that brought about the great recession remain in play. The Obama Administration continues to fight for free trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the negotiations of which are in secret. Yes, there’s been an uptick of manufacturing, but most of the returning jobs are being done by robots, not human beings. Obama has even overseen the renaissance of the U.S. oil industry despite some increased investments in green energy. If President Obama isn’t exactly on the Reagan Road, he is certainly running parallel to it.

Yes, the Republicans! The Republicans! The confounded Republicans! Keep blocking everything Obama tries to do. Okay. But let’s be honest. Obama hasn’t put an awful lot of effort in getting through the Republican roadblocks. Might things have been different if it weren’t for 2010? Maybe, but I see no indicator that a Democratic 112th Congress would have vouched for us the transformative policies that are necessary for reversing the damage done from thirty years of what we’ve come to know as Reaganomics. We would have gotten more stimulus, which would have been a significant improvement in the lives of millions of people. That’s nothing to scoff at. We’ll be paying for the mistakes of 2010 for at least another decade, if not more. But there is nothing to indicate that President Obama would have presided over an exciting new direction for the American economy. Sorry.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the Obama legacy since reading Paul Krugman’s article in Rolling Stone defending the President. I’ve found that I’ve spent much of the Obama presidency defending the President from idiotic attacks from the right when what I really wanted to do was challenge the President to make real changes, to institute meaningful reforms that would make for a more just and equitable society. Perhaps, in being so distracted, I’ve been part of the problem. I can’t answer to this quite yet.

At this point, barring some significant changes, good or bad, in the next couple of years, I’m secure in my belief that Barack Obama has been a good president as presidents go. At the very least, I prefer President Obama over the possibility of a President McCain or a President Romney. What he has not been is a great president. And we are in dire need of a great President.

Don’t Let the Right Wing Breathe New Life Into the Old Iraqi WMD Lie

It was bad enough the first time

 

Back in 2001, I was actively involved in the peace movement. This was, of course, a losing proposition. Our nation had been violently awakened from our delusions of insularity from an otherwise unsafe and uncertain world. Our people were killed, our buildings were burning, and the taste of blood was rising in our throats. We would have justice…and justice meant blood. Those of us who believed that ‘blood for blood’ was not the answer were in the minority and relegated to social and, more importantly, media obscurity.

In 2003, however, the focus of our cause became even more acute. The Bush Administration bloodlust was not satisfied with bombing peasant villages in Afghanistan. There was only one target that could sate this bloody appetite, Saddam Hussein. Bush, Cheney and their loyal, or in the case of Colin Powell, cowed, minions were beating the drums for war against Iraq. This was not a surprise. Among the first things Bush did upon taking office in 2001 was a bombing mission over Iraq. That the President held an especial grudge against Hussein for allegedly trying to “kill my dad,” was common knowledge among those of us who were paying attention. We just didn’t really know the lengths through which the administration would go to open a second front in the so-called war on terror and institute a second combat theater in Iraq. We didn’t realize until 2002 when the tempo increased and became an incessant reminder of possible nightmares the likes of which would make 9/11 look mild. All administration speeches at that time conjured the hellish image of the mushroom cloud.

It was during this time that I started to participate in protests and public education campaings against war. In this area, I often found myself working with a local branch of the Roman Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi.¹ We struggled against the persistent claims that Saddam Hussein had an active Weapons of Mass Destruction program with which he could directly threaten America, or pose an even greater threat by giving such lethal weapons to his ally, Osama bin Laden. Our argument was that Iraq’s WMD program was not reason, in and of itself to go to war with a nation that had not actually attacked us, nor threatened to attack us, despite having been victimized by the United States in the early 90’s (for the record, my first forays into the peace movement was in protesting the First Gulf War). This was especially true considering the fact that the United States helped Saddam build this WMD program back when he was using it to kill Iranians (gee, I wonder why they don’t like us!). After seven years of inspections and dedicated destruction of Iraq’s WMD arsenal, and eleven years of brutal economic sanctions, it was unlikely that Hussein posed an uncontainable threat to the United States. We also knew that the mostly secular Hussein and his Baathists were no friends of bin Laden and al Qaeda regardless of what the Administration was saying.

Strange as it might seem it was a simpler time. We knew that the President and most of his staff were lying—we were still holding out misplaced hope for Colin Powell as the voice of reason in this far right cabinet, but this hope was misguided. The whole administration was lying to perpetuate this war. With history as a guide, this was no surprise. After all, we were well versed in the “Remember the Maine” lies that brought us into the Spanish American War, or the Gulf of Tonkin lies that escalated the slaughter that was Vietnam and the Indo-Chinese Wars. That Bush would distort the facts to drum up support for an unnecessary war that he really, really wanted, was not unprecedented.

Events revealed, however, that the Bush Administration lies were of a qualitatively different caliber from the original templates going back to the Rio Grande/Nueces River conflict. We always assumed that Hussein did, in fact, have some small WMD program hidden away, or at least some active remnants of the original program. The traditional media strategy was to take some potentially threatening fact and twist it out of proportion until war was justified. After all, the Maine really did explode and there really was an incident in the Gulf of Tonkin. The lie was legitimized in the distortions of some underlying reality. That was not the case with the Bush war claims. These turned out to be of a different variety.

I saw the veil fall when I was reading a report from Amnesty International about a virus that was spreading uncontrolled through Iraq. This virus was spread by sand fleas that had mostly been eradicated until the First Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions. Because of the sanctions Iraq was not allowed the pesticides and the associated chemicals used to keep the sand fleas in check. This was a poignant report to me because the cover photo was of a small boy racked with pain from the virus. The boy was of the same age as and looked very much like my own son. I remember thinking, ‘My God! These people are not even a threat to their own sand fleas. How can they be a threat to the United States?’

Shortly after that, all of the phony Bush claims fell apart to anyone who was paying attention, to anyone who wasn’t motivated by fear of some fabled mushroom cloud. Information came quickly. There was a rumor that an ambassador to Nigeria was calling the lie on Bush claims that Iraq had tried to purchase yellowcake uranium from West Africa. The aluminum tubes were certainly not for nuclear centrifuges. The mainstream press was gearing up for war, and the consequent ad space such an adventure sells, but even still, there was enough information there to cast doubt on the administration’s claims.

Most critically for me, however, were interviews conducted with actual weapons inspectors who had been in Iraq that I read, if memory serves, in The Nation. These inspectors were clear and unanimous. There was no WMD program in Iraq, and there were no active WMDs available to Saddam Hussein. Then Hans Blix returned with his report to the United Nations. “How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programmes? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed.” Blix did suggest that there were weapons that were not accounted for. Later, in the documentary, Uncovered, The Truth About the Iraq War, I learned that the missing chemical and biological agents not accounted for were irrelevant. The experts explained that the shelf life of such materials were short, no more than two years under the best conditions—conditions that did not exist in Iraq after the First Gulf War. After a few years, the inspectors saw little reason to hunt down material that was no longer weapons grade.

Then there was the debunking of Colin Powell’s shameful speech before the UN. This was the deepest cut. No one in this administration was uncorrupted or incorruptible.

The United States invaded Iraq…for no reason. Almost five thousand American soldiers were killed. Countless hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. Hundreds of thousands of bodies and minds were torn asunder to satisfy the Bush Administration’s bloodlust. Instead of roses thrown at our soldier’s feet and a nursery for democracy as promised by administration officials, US presence was hated, the resulting Iraqi government scorned, and sectarian violence spread. Now the region is a hot bed of instability requiring permanent American presence, weapons, money and blood to combat. This was the nation that we created. Not a crucible for democracy, but destructive, chaotic wildfire burning out of control.

Before the war, the military estimated that it would take around 400,000 US soldiers to stabilize Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration scoffed at this estimate. It appears, in hindsight, that this estimate was correct. Is the United States willing to keep almost half a million soldiers stationed in the Iraqi sand in perpetuity? If not, are we willing to deal with the consequences, psychotic scourges like ISIS and whoever succeeds them in the coming years, spreading hate and violence and stacking up the bodies of the innocent. We can thank the Bush Administration and their lies for this conundrum.

So, naturally, the answer that we get from the right is—more lies. If the verdict of history is against you, change the history rather than learn from the verdict.

Recently, there has been a pathetic attempt on the part of the right wing media to bring these warmongering lies back to life. The focus of this renewed attempt to rebuild the shattered remains of the Bush Administration’s legitimacy is an article by the New York Times, “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons.” The article documents the illnesses suffered by American soldiers after happening upon long discarded and long forgotten chemical weapons canisters and warheads. “American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.”

These were weapons that were operational and weapons grade back when Saddam Hussein was our guy, before Poppy Bush’s war, long before the Axis of Evil. The New York Times has uncovered a government cover-up, but has not breathed new life into the WMD controversy. Everyone knows that Hussein had WMD in the eighties. He had none in the 90’s. Period. Yet this article is being used as the rational for re-establishing the lies that led us to war in Iraq. Chemical weapons made our soldiers sick. Obviously, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It’s in the New York Times. Case closed. Bush was right.

No. The article is very clear in stating, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.” These warheads and canisters pre-dated the First Gulf War and the sanctions program, a time in which it was understood that these weapons existed. About the chemicals weapons to which our soldiers were exposed, the New York Times states, “All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all.”

In fact, these warheads proved that Hussein did not have an active WMD program. To suggest otherwise is an willing lie. The article notes that attempts by the government to cover up the discovery of these weapons put soldiers at risk and resulted in their being denied medical care, medals and recognition. That is the current controversy. The journalist who broke the story, C. J. Chivers, states that “participants in the chemical weapons discovery” claim that the government covered up the story because the aged nature of these weapons were further proof of U.S. intelligence failures regarding the rational for war. Chivers also points out that five out of six incidents in which American soldiers were injured, “the munitions appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.” Yet another reason to keep this story on the down-low for ten years.

Right wing claims that Bush was right after all based on the revelation that U.S. soldiers were made ill by decrepit remnants of chemical weapons is nothing more than a desperate attempt to reclaim political legitimacy. The Iraq War is a dark spot on the history of conservatism and on those liberals, like Hillary Clinton, who were fool enough to buy their balderdash. It’s predictable that modern conservatism, an institution famous for perfecting the art of re-writing history would take this opportunity to do the same. However, we cannot let it happen—especially with the Iraq war.

Back in 2003, shortly before the fateful invasion, I often declared during debates and education sessions that I had enough information to know that there were no WMD in Iraq. At the very least, the intelligence was inadequate. If I, a high school teacher in South Florida, knew that the intelligence was insufficient to justify war, the President of the United States must know as well. They did know. They distorted the intelligence that they did have. They ignored intelligence that they did not like, and created intelligence where it didn’t exist. They lied.

The right wingers who are using the New York Times article to push their claims also know the truth. They know the story does not vindicate the Bush Administration. It’s clearly stated. Yet they continue to perpetuate the lie. The nature of this lies is exactly the same as the original false claims that led us to war. We cannot afford to allow history to be distorted like this. That period in which the American people were deliberately and cynically led into a meaningless war should not be subject to further right wing distortion. The Iraq war is a lesson in blind obedience, in allowing fear to trump reason and in trusting those in power in making decisions of national and global consequence, on life and death, without debate. The lies leading us into a quagmire in the Middle East from which we have yet to extract ourselves are a prime reason why President Obama, who has proven that he is no pacifist, hesitates to involve our nation in yet another war in the region. That’s a good thing. We in the peace movement were clearly and unambiguously right about the Iraq War and had, for the first time, organized a global protest before the war even began. We cannot afford to lose the lessons gained from this experience to militarists insistent upon dropping their biggest transgression down the memory hole.

As it stands, when those in power start beating the drums for war, we in the peace movement can point to Iraq and say, “remember!” The power elite hate that we can do that.

__________________________________

  1. I was not a member of Pax Christi, nor am I a Catholic. At that time, our interests converged. It was a pleasure working with such fine people.

Are You Better Off Than You Were in 2009?

As Obama Keeps Saying and the Right Keeps Ridiculing

 

For the most part, yes.

Those of us who remember the catastrophe that was the state of the union when Obama took office in 2009 understand that this is, for the most part, true. Let’s be clear. This is not an advocacy for any fantastic Obama miracle, but rather a realistic look at the Obama legacy this last six years. You are more likely to be in better shape now than you were in 2009, statistically, and in actually. That is not to say that there aren’t many Americans who have a legitimate gripe against Obama’s leadership style. Indeed there are. But to suggest that the nation as a whole is not better off than it was in 2009 is a desperate attempt at selective, FoxNoise inflected, false memory. Six years ago, the nation was undergoing an economic free fall by all metrics. We were involved in two wars. The leadership had been so thoroughly delegitimized that we had a harsh lesson in elite capitalism.

In 2009 I lost my job of eight years. I worked, very very hard, for a private school that shut its doors as a result of the recession. For the first time in my life I filed for unemployment, and boy was I living large…at least as far as the Republicans were concerned. The Republican response to this crisis was a multi-billion dollar bailout of Wall Street—nothing but self-righteous platitudes for Main Street. Conservative commentators were busy calling me a deadbeat for losing my job. They reveled in explaining how the economy would improve if only my children and I were cast into the streets left to grovel and starve. That would force me to take any job I possibly could, regardless of my background and experience, just for the opportunity to, maybe, feed my kids. Of course, there weren’t even any minimum wage jobs to be had at that time, but the pundits who were blowing their ill wind seemed to be well taken care of.

My wife and I pooled what resources we had and braced ourselves for hardship as we developed plans for all possible contingencies, most pressingly, what would happen if we could not make our mortgage payments and we had to walk away from the home we had worked so hard to get? What about our kids? What about their futures and their opportunities? With under $500 a month coming in from unemployment, our options were limited. It was one of the lowest moments of my life.

Fortunately, the Republicans were not in charge. President Obama and the Democrats were able to pass a stimulus bill. This stimulus included over $100 billion in funds for education. Some of those fund trickled down into my school district, which had a block on new hiring. The block was lifted and I had a job within three weeks. My home was saved and my family was secure…and remains that way. For that reason more than any other, I voted for Obama in 2012. Republicans did everything they could to block to stop the stimulus. If they had their way, I would have lost everything. For this reason more than any other, I will never vote for a conservative in either party.

Look, I understand that I was lucky. Skill, intelligence, hard work, had nothing to do with my good fortune. I happened to be in a career that was deemed worthy of rescue by the governing party. Had the other governing body been in charge at that time, I would have been out of luck. There are millions who were not so lucky, and many of them remain unlucky in the moribund recovery that we’ve experienced thus far. Some of this blame should fall on Obama…but not all of it. The Republican strategy for the last six years has been to make the nation as ungovernable as was humanly possible.

Regardless, to suggest that the nation is not better off than it was in 2009 is clearly false. More importantly, there’s no way the case could be made that the nation would have been better off with a Republican controlled Congress and a President McCain or a President Romney. Obama may not have been the best person for the job, but he was the best person available. So let’s take a look at some of the relevant data.¹

How about those soaring prices that are all Obama’s fault? Well, it turns out that the certain inflation that would result from all of this “money printing” has never really materialized. Inflation remains constant. Now, this is not necessarily a good thing. Our current economic woes are largely the result of tremendous private debt overhang. Historically, private debt dragging the economy can be relieved with a little higher inflation. However, fear mongering about Weimar levels of inflation were a bit of an exaggeration.

In fact, our economy has been growing fairly consistently since 2009 (the stimulus). It is not growing at the rate that we would like, but it is growing. Better is better.

Unemployment rates have been dropping.

…and this is true no matter how you measure it. Right wing commentators foaming about “Real Unemployment! Real Unemployment!” are simply trying to skew the data.

Unemployment claims have been declining.

And yes, government expenditures for income security have been increasing, but barely. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as there are those who really need these services who are being denied.

 

Meanwhile, the poverty rate is starting to fall. Let’s face it, this is depressing, but it does call the lie to claims that poverty is going through the roof.

What about larger economic issues, like the US trade deficit? Well, it looks like we are making progress on that road as well.

Skyrocketing debt that is out of control under Obama socialism? Well, not quite. Yeah, it’s going up, but not in any scary way. It’s hovering around 100% of GDP. To put that in perspective, that’s like holding a $200,000 mortgage while bringing in $200,000 a year. Not quite so scary as the right wing pundits would have it.

Are growing federal deficits dragging down the economy? Um…maybe that claim could have been made in 2007, but since 2009 it has simply not been true. Hard as it may be to believe, especially if you are caught in the FoxNoisisphere, the deficit has been falling since 2009. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing as the economists who have been right in their analysis of this Great Recession from the beginning say that what the economy needs to truly rebound is more spending, not less.

What about evil Obamacare? Surely those out of control premiums are making life a living socialist misery for everyone. Well, no. Though premiums are increasing, they are increasing more slowly than they have in fifteen years. Health care expenditures have been increasing at a fairly steady rate for ten years and actually appear to be slowing slightly. In return, there are now almost twelve million fewer uninsured, insurance companies can no longer turn down the sick for pre-existing conditions, federal subsidies Of course, Mitt Romney and the Republicans had their own health care plan…oh wait, that’s right, Obamacare was the Republican alternative…

…hey, we’ve had this argument. Let’s move on to single payer. Conservatives are probably wrong about that, too.

Gas prices out of control? Yeah, look. The point has been made.

Let’s have a real conversation on Obama’s record. The graphs above are not conclusive, and they are certainly not particularly impressive. There are real criticisms of the Obama Administration. Equally, there are very deep criticisms of the dying embers of our political process, a process by which one party dedicates itself to crippling the other and all else can suffer for it. These are conversations that might be productive. However, ridiculous claims that there has been no improvements in the last six years are just counterproductive.

And disingenuous. It’s a bald attempt to deflect from the fact that the thirty years of conservative Republican and New Democrat governance has created a market environment in which an elite few can cripple the global economy and be bailed out with bi-partisan support, but those representing common people must push their policies past a party system roadblock, and the only party willing to even try more often than not lacks the backbone to actually fight for the people who matter.

Could Obama and the Democrats have done a better job? Absolutely. Can we expect the Republicans will turn things around should they come to power? Well, things will turn around, but they will go back to the bad old days that created this mess.

_______________________________________

  1. For you Scott!