On Trade and Treason: Obama’s Neoliberal Endgame

It is a testament to the optimism of the left that some of us were able to find a silver lining even in the most toxic of black clouds which was the Charleston massacre. One of these was Maurice Mitchell of the Movement for Black Lives who was quoted as taking comfort in “the organizing and the heart and resilience we are seeing on the ground.” Mitchell was “hopeful that it will continue—that we might be able to precipitate a meaningful, transformative political and cultural shift in this country.”

Unfortunately, Mitchell’s optimism was probably misplaced for reasons Naomi Klein provides in The Shock Doctrine: crises, even those which might seem to galvanize the left, are routinely used as a smokescreen under which the right pursues their most regressive policies.

Last Thursday was no exception.

Indeed, while the bodies were being counted, the U.S. Congress approved HR 1314, a major step to achieving Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA, which will result in far more devastation in African American communities than white supremacists’ bullets. The difference lies in the violence being effected by fountain pen wielding men in suits resulting in unseen destruction–of jobs, environmental protections and organizing rights all of which adding up to mass unemployment, misery, and hopelessness and, ultimately, thousands of premature deaths.

This outrage provoked almost no discussion in liberal and left circles which a week before had been crowing about having imposed a “crippling” obstacle to the passage of the TPA through the defeat of enabling legislation.

Thursday showed that little has changed since the heady days of NAFTA when a similar phalanx of a centrist Democratic executive, almost all of the Republican caucus and a few key defectors from the Democrat ranks enabled the first round of jobs-destroying trade agreements.

Among the crucial votes this Thursday were Congressional Black Caucus members Terri Sewell, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Gregory Meeks whose overwhelmingly working class constituencies are sure to be among the biggest losers in the intensified race to the bottom the TPA is designed to promote.

But in the wake of the Charleston outrage, Sewell, Johnson and Meeks could be confident they would be insulated from any criticism for their vote, particularly from unions spearheading the opposition whose own history of racism remains an open wound for many African Americans.

Of course, the acknowledged master of racialized triangulation is the misleader in chief, Barack Obama whose service to elites was crucially enabled by liberals besotted by the prospect of an African American presidency, enthusiastically projecting all manner of left identitarian fantasies onto him-despite all evidence that he was committed to the corporate center right governance which has been the hallmark of his administration.

Those who had warned of this materializing hoped that the TPA, provoking Obama’s shameless attacks on the Democratic labor base and sullenly dishonest smears of Elizabeth Warren, would finally open the eyes of liberals to who they were dealing with.

No such luck. It’s a safe bet that the President will have some of his waning moral authority restored by Charleston. Demands from the black lives matter movement to “respect black leadership” will be cynically exploited by a ruling elite which recognized from the very beginning the unique value of cultivating multiculturally diverse spokespersons fronting for their neoliberal product line.

The strategy was first deployed by New York City mayor David Dinkins who was able to sell his candidacy to the establishment on the grounds that his left-liberal base, rather than rebel against his treasonous embrace of neoliberalism, would “take it from me.”

Let’s hope Barack Obama’s presidency will be seen as marking the nadir of this strategy.

It is time for the left to own up to its own role in enabling it and resolve to never allow itself to be played for suckers again.

(Tim) Wise Watch

It will come as no surprise that professional anti-racist Tim Wise (who I wrote about here) has been provoked to an unusually high dudgeon by l’affaire Rachel Dolezal, he and his minions characterizing her as a “pathological liar” for her cynical appropriation of a African American identity. Why cynical to “occupy a space of oppression”, as Freddie DeBoer cogently argues in today’s LA Times? Because in the circles Dolezal moves in, namely, rarefied academic and left activist circles, there is little to be lost and much to be gained, in careerist terms, by making this move. This is something Wise himself well understands having been milking this particular cash cow, to the tune of a six figure income, for some years now. But he can’t say that least the finger point to himself, hence, the flailing and gesticulating to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

All this is rather amusing and rather sad as well.

More Left Forum Lunacy

Amber Frost having opened the can of worms which is the crackpot element infecting the left since the time of Orwell, here are the comments of one Makayla Gilliam-Price delivered at the Left Forum Panel From Ferguson to Baltimore.

To be fair, she’s only a high school student, but not sure if that makes this more or less depressing. That and the applause (of which there was more than indicated).

Then you come to this amazingly inspiring forum called the Left Forum and immediately the same experiences and memories of never truly knowing your history are triggered. Even the name of the conference sparks something in me that is potentially problematic. One of my mentors (always mentions to me) a quote from John Hendrik Clarke: The left and the right has us wrong.

The fact is that this whole notion of what is left and what is right is derived from European intellectual traditions (applause) where much like I saw here was just a lot of white scholars fresh from the Ivory Tower arguing over white solutions to black problems. (applause) Therefore what is usually referred to as “the left” in the words of Harold Cruse in the book I am currently reading is really a white social world colored and infused with the implicit assumptions of that ethnic group. We are ignoring black history, black children, black queer lives, we are ignoring black women, we are ignoring black disabled communities, we are ignoring black poverty, to put it simply we are ignoring the hashtag black lives mattered which is plastered all over your twitter. And then you find out that because you have been ignoring all these populations that you are solving issues that do not exist or solving them in ways that are inevitably destructive.

And then if that is not problematic enough I see myself and my brothers and my sisters becoming victims of a sort of negrophilia a fetishization of our black bodies and our black struggle. We are being made into pets for those white allies who need someone to sooth their white guilt (applause). We see black people being tokenized and wrapped up into the NPOs and into the grass roots of all these white allies who are only allowed to engage in politics in the ways that those whites allow. And if you haven’t seen this, this is already becoming a cycle, and for what purpose? For whites to obscure their guilt with rootless class discussions for whites to, on a very fundamental level, to control the narrative of black progress and politics.

So all this is to say simply, if we truly want to see change from this movement we need to listen from those from the communities who are struggling, to listen to the black queer women. It is not just enough to just listen but to act. Not for, not on the behalf, but with us. Stop making careers out of my struggle. We need to stop engaging in the problematic spaces of the left as if the ends of the spectrum do not make racism and white supremacy more insidious and hard to pin down and combat. We need to let the black lives, the black babies, the black history, the black sexuality, the black rage, the black future, that we continue to say matter, speak.


Adolph Reed on Respecting Black Leadership

Adoph Reed on Doug Henwood’s Behind the News (6/11/2015)

(edited transcription)

On Respecting Black Leadership


Reed: Those who insist that the task of building a left in the United States hinges most crucially on accepting and respecting black leadership had me scratching my head, since, well, what black leadership and according to whom, and . . .  can you be claiming that just because you got the microphone now you should be paid attention to?
That struck me because it brought to mind . . . a similar line among (1970s) black radicals . . .  that because the white working class was so inherently racist that black workers had to take the lead in building the revolutionary movement and one would ask well if white workers are irredeemably racist than how is it that black leaders are going to take the lead in the first place.

Henwood: Who would be the follower of these leaders.

Reed: Exactly. And the response would trail off into quotes from Cabral, Nkrumah and Fanon. . .  At what point does naivete become self-righteous foolishness or careerist aspiration?  Who knows, but whatever it is, it doesn’t seem healthy politically . . . . (that) so much of the left world tends to think through the boss’s eyes.


On Black Lives Matter


Henwood: One of the officially nominated leaders (by the New York Times) is a Teach for America guy who is the head of human capital for the Minneapolis public school system.

Reed: Interesting.  I saw an interview with Deray McKesson, the guy you’re talking about, where he said that he quit his job to be a full time activist.

Not to be a jerk about this, or a cointelpro veteran but how are you reproducing the terms of your daily existence if you quit your job to do this since I haven’t seen anyone if Ferguson much less in Baltimore who has the money to carry a fully time bullhorn carrier.
That was one of things that struck me at the line up of the two panels at the Left Forum that I watched.  The foundation connections, the non-profit connections were kind of striking.  And this has been their story from the very beginning when what was called racial adjustment,  managing what looked like class problems through race. . .  It’s a tad conspiratorial but it makes me wonder what ideological work public attention to this issue is actually performing or is likely to perform.  I don’t mean to suggest that there is a deep conspiratorial department in the bourgeoisie which thinks stuff like this up. They just aren’t that smart but it is the case that there are deep thinking  elements of the bipartisan, elite, neoliberal governing class who are prepared to work overtime, as it were, to produce socially acceptable definitions of the nature of these problems to produce responses that are system maintaining instead of system challenging.


On Clintonites playing the IP card and “debasement of our politics”


I was surprised by how much support for Clinton came from the boomer feminist demographic on explicitly identitarian grounds.  People would say I’m backing her because she’s a woman and that’s my identity.  And granted that’s what blacks and others were doing with Obama too, but it just says something about the overall debasement of our politics.

The thing to be done is to start from an understanding of inequality and injustice as rooted in political economy.  And it’s becoming clearer that the deep fault line within the nominal left is between those who assume that the root of injustice and inequality has to do with the normal functioning of the dynamics of American capitalism and those who oppose that view.

“They’ll Take it From Me”: (Dis)respecting Black Leadership

Appearing on the 2015 Left Forum panel From Ferguson to Baltimore and Beyond Thenjiwe McHarris informs us that

the left has to grapple with racism within the left. (Applause) The left has to acknowledge the ways in which white supremacy operates within the left. And the second is respecting black leadership. (Applause) It’s not just what you think or you say but something you actively do. And the truth is if you have not asked yourself how am I respecting black leadership then guess what? You probably don’t respect black leadership. (Applause) And so the truth is I believe we need a united front in this country and around the world. But that does not happen unless white supremacy is not just addressed, acknowledged and confronted but eradicated in the left. And it also does not happen unless black leadership is not respected, acknowledged and allowed to be which is where we have always been which is leading in the front.

My response? Guilty as charged. During the presidency of Barack Obama, I have never once asked myself whether I’m “respecting black leadership”. Indeed, I have been profoundly disrespectful as our first African American president signed off on trillion dollar bailouts to the criminal banking industry, prosecuted whistle blowers, targeted U.S. citizens for assassination, and failed to act as climate catastrophe stared us in the face.

Of course, I was equally disrespectful a decade before when a black face was entrusted with presenting fake evidence to the U.N. General Assembly for a suicidal war, one which would subsequently be presided over by an African American Secretary of State and National Security Advisor.

And I was just as disrespectful to the first African American mayor of New York, David Dinkins who, when asked whether he would be able to implement huge cuts in social services and education then being demanded in the first wave of fiscal austerity, responded that he was not only prepared but more able to do so than his predecessor. Why? Rather than protest, his core left-liberal constituency “would take it from me.”

And what of those who “respected black leadership” during this period? Some of them were among those warmly applauding at the premier gathering of the radical left. All this shows that we are still taking it-that we are still lining up zombie-like behind whatever multicultural figurehead neoliberal elites have chosen to sell their rancid goods, completely oblivious to the cynical game they have played at our expense for two generations. We either stop “respecting black (or female, queer, disabled or trans) leadership” when they do so, or we will remain accomplices in precisely the politics which we claim to oppose and deplore.

Vonnegut on “the best minds of our generation”

Kurt Vonnegut expressing a rather unpopular viewpoint in 1973-even more so now:

“I like ‘Howl’ a lot. Who wouldn’t? It just doesn’t have much to do with me or what happened to my friends. For one thing, I believe that the best minds of my generation were probably musicians and physicists and mathematicians and biologists and archaeologists and chess masters and so on, and Ginsberg’s closest friends, if I’m not mistaken, were undergraduates in the English department of Columbia University. No offense intended, but it would never occur to me to look for the best minds in any generation in an undergraduate English department anywhere. I would certainly try the physics department or the music department first — and after that biochemistry. Everybody knows that the dumbest people in any American university are in the education department, and English after that.”

Unfortunately, what he doesn’t mention is that if you wanted to find the most genocidal minds of his-and our-generation (e.g. Paul Wolfowitz, Edward Teller, Herman Kahn, Harold Brown, Robert Birgeneau, Ash Carter etc.) you’d do well going to exactly the same place where you’ll find “the best minds”, according to him.

A problem, I would say.