Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The “Lesser-Evil” Syndrome: Noam Chomsky’s Fall Into Self-Contradiction




Michael K. Smith


In a recent interview Noam Chomsky declared that there “was a big difference” between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential elections, a difference “you could count in several million corpses in Indochina.” But, Chomsky added, “a lot of the young people on the left said, “I’m not going to vote for Humphrey. He’s a corporate Democrat. I can’t sully my hands on that. So I won’t vote.” In effect, said Chomsky, this meant that they “help[ed] Nixon win,” and more specifically, they “help[ed] kill a couple million people in Indochina, plus a lot of other (bad) things.”[1]


 In other words, Humphrey was the lesser evil in 1968.


Twenty years ago, speaking with David Barsamian of Alternative Radio about the very same elections, Chomsky said the opposite:


“I could not bring myself to vote for Humphrey. I did not vote for Nixon. But my feeling at the time, and in retrospect I think it’s probably correct, was that a Nixon victory was probably marginally beneficial in winding down the Indochina wars, probably faster than the Democrats would have. It was horrendous, but maybe less horrible than it would have been.”[2]


In short, Nixon was the lesser evil in 1968.


Houston, we’ve got a problem.


In the 1960s Chomsky occasionally voted for Republican candidates if they opposed the Vietnam War, but as the GOP turned increasingly reactionary he voted more and more for Democrats, which habit he considers morally obligatory for anyone on the political left. This has proven to be a tough sell, however, since the Democrats are not so much the lesser evil as they are the more effective evil.[3] Precisely because of their (false) reputation for being more humane than Republicans, they can act more viciously than the GOP (Clinton ending welfare “as we know it,” for example) at times, and this is in fact their assigned role. Furthermore, as an opposition party the GOP is formidable, while the Democrats are pussycats, rolling over for everything a Republican president wants, often conceding even more than is asked for (Pentagon spending, for example). The focus of “opposition” since 2017 (laughably referred to as “the resistance”) has been Trump’s insulting tweets and boundless vulgarity, not his right-wing policies, which are allowed to advance unimpeded.


In short, no matter whether or how we cast our ballots, policy is insulated from voter preferences and keeps moving to the right. Nevertheless, Chomsky takes leftists who abstain or vote third party (in swing states) to task for failing to carry out what he considers to be a straightforward exercise in damage mitigation.


 “It’s very frustrating,” he says, that “this is constantly happening,”[4] i.e. that some on the left refuse to vote according to a simple lesser evil formula. Unfortunately, Chomsky doesn’t even recognize that he has been unable to keep his story straight as to which side actually is the lesser evil, in spite of the allegedly “big difference” between the two corporate parties. In fact, this year he goes even further and says – try not to laugh - the difference (between Biden and Trump) is not merely big, but colossal.


Though he’s mentally absent much of the time, even Biden has more sense of political reality than that, promising rich donors just last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” in a Biden administration. But Chomsky wants us to be impressed by a slate of disingenuous Sanders-Biden position papers crafted for vote-harvesting purposes, rather than Biden’s devastating dedication to “more effective evil” politics extending back over forty years. 


Chomsky well knows the emptiness of electoral politics under capitalism. Through the years he has advanced a scathing indictment of U.S. elections, saying that they are really more “public relations extravaganzas” than ideological contests, that they therefore mean very little, especially at the national level; that he himself votes “less and less” at that level; that the system is not generating issues that resonate with the public; that there really can’t be said to be any political parties, but only “candidate-producing organizations” driven by marketing concerns; that the quadrennial farce that plays out at the presidential level is worth no more than “five minutes time,” and that only to determine which candidate represents the greater threat, in order to vote against him; and that, in view of all this, we should reserve our main political energy for vastly more important work, such as popular education, union organizing, and cultural resistance/transformation.


Nevertheless, in recent years, the significance of voting has loomed large in Chomsky’s mind: he warned that failure to vote for Hillary Clinton was a “big mistake,” that allowing Trump to win could be “the death knell of the species,” and that the 2020 elections are the “most important in human history.” This represents an escalation of election year hype, which in previous cycles has modestly urged us to “vote or die” in “the most important elections in our lifetimes.” By 2024, we may have to resort to the “most important elections in the history of the universe.” In any case, what’s noteworthy is Chomsky’s juxtaposition: voting is both trivial and urgent, likely to determine the fate of the earth and not worth more than a few minutes of our attention. Are these assumptions really reconcilable?


Probably not. If it is really true that we are at a “tipping point” vis-à-vis global warming, then it does not make sense to spend the vast majority of our political energy working for the long-term goal of transforming the U.S. into a country where a decent person could live without shame. Far better to throw ourselves unreservedly into the circus campaign to elect Biden now, in order to insure ourselves the time to deal with longer term matters later. But many Bernie Sanders voters will not do this, to say nothing of those farther left, and even Chomsky is not recommending it (though a Chomsky lesser-evil editorial IS being used as a campaign ad for Biden).[5]


Chomsky favors an independent political party in principle. “I think it is important the building of a political party which could enter the political arena and represent the population, and not just business interests.”[6] However, he favors a “safe states” strategy in determining how to cast ballots whenever an independent left candidate faces off against the capitalist duopoly, which virtually guarantees failure. The reasons why are captured well by journalist Matt Taibbi, who offered an evaluation of the safe states approach back in 2004 when David Cobb of the Greens ran “against” George W. Bush and John Kerry:


“For those of you who didn't follow this story Cobb snatched the Green Party nomination away from (Ralph) Nader last week largely through his embrace of the so-called safe states strategy, known affectionately in political circles as the 'crack suicide squad' approach to campaigning. In this scenario Mr. Cobb agrees in advance to refrain from campaigning in any state where the Greens might have a chance to affect the outcome of the Bush-Kerry race. Bravely, however, he condescends to campaign balls-out in any state where a vote for the Greens doesn't matter.”[7]


In other words, all the left’s energy was directed towards not influencing the outcome. Though he hardly needed to, Taibbi explained the absurdity:


“ . ..This is the kind of politics you get when you raise a generation of people who don't understand the difference between brand identification and ideological conviction. Much the same way that Burger King and McDonald's are scrambling to figure out a way that you can be on the Atkins diet and still spend your money at their vile, ass-inflating restaurants, Cobb and his party basically figured out a way that Nation subscribers can wear Green this fall and still keep their friends. They have turned politics into a shoe and a handbag, a conquered market demographic.”[8]


The last part is key to all the rest. In a fake democracy voting means lining up with your assigned market demographic, not electing leaders, much less determining policies. As Taibbi jokes:


“Vote Green - elect Kerry! Lose weight - drink Low-Carb Coca Cola! It's the same thing, on many different levels. Because both decisions really boil down to the same compromise: trying to fit an instinct to reject corporate consumer culture into the ruling paradigm of corporate consumer culture.”[9]


Rejection by affirmation - touché. Taibbi rubbed the point in for effect:


“Logic dictates: if you want to lose weight, the way to do that is not to drink the right kind of Coca Cola. The way to do it is to not drink Coca Cola. It doesn't take a genius to figure this out, but it is apparently beyond the grasp of most Greens.”[10]


And, as always, there was a lot more to reject:


“Similarly, if you don't believe in things like corporate personhood, if you are against the war in Iraq, if you are against the scourge of corporate money in politics, if you are in favor of a reduction in military spending, if you want to abolish the WTO and NAFTA, if you want to end the export of arms, if you want to break up media monopolies, if you want to get Channel 1 out of public schools, if you want to end the targeting of children by corporate advertisers - if you believe any of these things, or more to the point, if they are embedded in your party platform, then you can't vote for either the Republicans or the Democrats, because they're united against you all the way down the line.”[11]


 Updating to 2020, we can say that if you are against funneling trillions of dollars to banks and other mega-corporations, while tens of millions of Americans face homelessness and coronavirus with little or no income and no health insurance, then you can’t vote for either Republicans or Democrats, because they are united behind such policies all the way down the line. (For the record, the GOP was initially less stingy on direct cash payments than the Democrats, and the lone vote against the CARES Act, a multi-trillion dollar give-away to the rich, was Republican Thomas Massie’s. But the differences are slight).


Nonetheless, Taibbi concedes there is a logic to the “anybody but ________” idea (Bush, Trump, etc.): 


“I understand the logic . . . it is a rationally defensible position, one that makes sense on some primitive level. What does not make sense here is why the burden of 'anybody but _________’ should fall on the Green Party. The burden really rests with the Democrats. If they want to end the Green Party problem, then those votes are there for the taking. All the Democrats have to do is renounce the WTO and NAFTA, create a universal health care system, and slash the defense budget, putting the proceeds into education and health care. Among other things.”[12]


Sixteen years later, the Democrats have still done none of those things, and Taibbi’s main point is more valid than ever: the burden of anybody but Trump (i.e., any blue will do) should not fall on the Green Party or Bernie Sanders supporters, to say nothing of those farther left. (Or, more accurately, those farther down the wealth pyramid.) Over forty percent of the electorate – the poorest part of the wealth pyramid - never votes for president, because it’s a foregone conclusion that they will continue to be brutally exploited no matter which wing of the duopoly wins a given election. What possible sense does it make to tell them that they should care more about electing Biden than the Democratic Party itself does? The Democrats know perfectly well they are widely detested by the working class, but they get to share power even when they lose; the poor get nothing either way. That’s why they don’t turn out. The job of the rest of us is to define and deliver on a politics that alleviates their plight and makes it worth their while to vote, not tell them they have a moral duty to kiss the boot crushing their neck.


Why do the Democrats refuse to adopt policies that induce their base to vote? Taibbi stresses the obvious:  


“They're too addicted to corporate money. They're money junkies. And as anyone who's had any experience with junkies will tell you, junkies cannot be trusted. They'll say anything you want them to say about going straight, but at the critical moment, they'll still steal your television and shoot it right into their arms.”[13]


Obviously, offering to help a junkie desperate for a fix is sheer folly:


“The only way to deal with a junkie is to change your phone number or, if you ever find him in your house, chain him to a radiator. . . . the one thing you can't do is keep giving him that one last chance. That only guarantees that he will come back again very soon, covered with mysterious bruises and needing 200 bucks to pay for - tchya, right - a hepatitis shot.”[14]


The political version of this story is even uglier, notes Taibbi:


“Shit, just look at what's happened since the last election. The junkies got kicked out of office, which ought to have been a wake-up call, and what did they do? They went out and almost unanimously voted for the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and two wars. . . .  And now here they come four years later, and they say: ‘We need all your votes right now or we're fucked.’ Am I the only one laughing?”[15]


Two economic collapses, five more wars, and a pandemic later, and everyone’s well beyond laughing, but there’s still a lot of puking over what the Obama/HRC junkies have been up to since they left office: establishing an entire propaganda industry blaming the village idiot for everything from bad breath to jock itch, relentlessly pushing slimy, red-baiting charges about (imaginary) Russian collusion with Trump, squandering impeachment on an equally worthless Ukrainegate diversion, and preventing desperately needed change by successfully rigging elections against their own democratic base, which is what produced president Trump in the first place.


In short: we can vote for Trump, or for what produced Trump, guaranteeing a president worse than Trump in short order.


Taibbi concedes there’s a method to this Democratic madness:


“I also understand the Democrats' point of view. I used to take a lot of drugs, too. And when you take a lot of drugs, absolutely nothing matters except getting off. In the quest for drugs, any kind of behavior is excusable. . . . .That's junkie morality. That's why from the Democrats' point of view it makes perfect sense to nominate a gazillionaire, missile-humping aristocrat who'll have more corporate logos pasted on him than a NASCAR driver when he gets into office (John Kerry). What's the difference? We got off! Why is everybody complaining?”[16]


Right, and in 2020 it makes perfect sense for the Democrats to nominate a senile, prison-humping pimp for billionaires, who tortures the poor with fees and penalties while exporting the job base and railroading a generation of desperate black and brown people into jail on petty or trumped-up charges, not to mention drowns the Middle East in an ocean of blood on ludicrous WMD pretexts. And that’s just for starters.


But the any-blue-will-do rationale makes no sense for the Green Party (or any independent workers party), says Taibbi, because “If you're going to suck a cock in a train-station lavatory, you ought to at least get something for it.” True, but the logic of “safe states” doesn’t allow for this, so in 2004 “the Greens [were] going to roll over for John Kerry, and in the best-case-scenario all they [were] going to get for it [was] another insane trade agreement, more troops in Iraq, more corporate handouts, and another my-dog-ate-my-homework health care fiasco.”[17]


As it turned out, they actually got a worst-case scenario: the Greens rolled over for Kerry, Kerry bent over for Bush, and the American people were left bleeding badly from the anus, the usual outcome of “democratic” elections administered by capital. At the moment, everyone seems certain that Dementia Joe has the 2020 race locked up, but whether he does or not is far less important than our will to fight the crackpot logic that says we have “no choice” but to keep submitting to this abuse.


It simply doesn’t matter that lesser evil logic makes a crude kind of sense, because it just aggravates the damage it is intended to mitigate. Taibbi reminds us that it’s the system that requires bad candidates that should be our real concern:


“Yes, ________ is a moron and a monster (Bush, Trump, etc.) and it would be better if he were not around. But America's political problems are bigger than ________. The real problem in American politics is the rule of calculation and money over principle, and until this problem is fixed, the _________s of the world will always be with us. The Greens used to offer a solution. They've now become part of the problem."[18]


Exactly. In a fake democracy voting for corporate candidates just legitimizes our servitude. That’s the problem. Of course, Chomsky has always advocated committing our major political energy outside electoral politics, forming and expanding social movements that can bring pressure to bear on the elite political system to make democratic concessions. And on this basis he rates the two Bernie Sanders runs for the presidency a success, because the Sanders-Biden task forces have now, Chomsky says, crafted the most democratic policy positions since FDR (not coincidentally, the last president before the creation of the National Security State). In other words, Sanders is moving Biden to the left.


This is nonsense, of course, as there is nothing binding in position papers, and the Sanders campaign has already surrendered whatever leverage it had by giving unqualified endorsement to Biden in advance.  Obviously, the DNC loathes the New Deal policy positions favored by Sanders, which is why they torpedoed his campaign – twice. And now we’re to believe they’re going to make concessions to the agenda they just defeated? Why would they do that? In the midst of a pandemic, they refuse even to concede on Medicare For All, much to the amazement of the rest of the developed world, which implemented one or another version of single payer national health insurance decades ago.


As Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC (former senior advisor to Senator Daniel Moynihan) points out, pressure from the left is irrelevant to Democrats:


“If you want to pull the major party that is closest to the way you’re thinking to what you’re thinking, you must, you must show them that you’re capable of not voting for them. If you don’t show them you’re capable of not voting for them, they don’t have to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn’t listen, or have to listen, to anything on the left while I was working with the Democratic Party, because the left had nowhere to go.”[19]


That’s the voice of experience, not advocacy.


Unfortunately, the advocates of so-called damage mitigation voting show a marked tendency to insult those who recognize that reflexively voting Democrat just aggravates the “nowhere to go” problem. For example, Chomsky dismisses the efforts of Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to vote for Biden as “go[ing] off and sulk[ing] somewhere,”[20] when in fact they have formed the Movement For a People’s Party, and are currently engaged in a host of popular actions to extend the $600 a week federal subsidy to the unemployed and help tens of millions of working people avoid being thrown into the street in the middle of a pandemic. That would seem to qualify as an example of popular grassroots organizing for positive change, which Chomsky ordinarily favors, but apparently not in this case.


In any event, those who feel moved to support “Lunchbox Joe” and the Biden/J. P. Morgan/Bain Capital/Noam Chomsky National Liberation Front should certainly feel free to do so. Our corporate-administered electoral choices are truly awful, and voting is a deeply personal matter.


As for Joe Biden, what can one say? Following the highly rational strategy of keeping his mental disintegration out of public view, he emerges only rarely from his basement, usually to take his Corvette for a spin, or confirm that he hasn’t the faintest clue as to his own whereabouts or what day of the week it might be.


But on the burning issue of coronavirus, at least, which has sent Donald Trump’s poll numbers plummeting into the dirt, he has the best thought out plan his keen presidential mind is capable of: 


“Get things into place where there are shortages of.”[21]


Truer words were never spoken: any blue will do.







[1] WowFEST: Lockdown Presents Noam Chomsky “A Letter From America,” You Tube, July 14, 2020

[2] Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, “Propaganda and the Public Mind,” (South End, 2001) p. 136

[3] This term is borrowed from Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report. See his debate with Michael Eric Dyson on Democracy Now, September 7, 2012

[4] Chomksy, WowFEST, “A Letter From America.”


[6] Noam Chomsky, “Understanding Power,” (New Press, 2002) p. 194. For fuller discussion, see pps. 333-7

[7] Matt Taibbi, “Spanking The Elephant – Dispatches From The Dumb Season,” (Three Rivers Press, 2005) p. 202

[8] Taibbi, ibid, p. 202

[9] Taibbi, ibid, p. 202

[10] Taibbi, ibid, p. 202

[11] Taibbi, ibid, p. 203

[12] Taibbi, ibid, p. 203

[13] Taibbi, ibid, p. 203

[14] Taibbi, ibid, p. 203-4

[15] Taibbi, ibid, p. 204

[16] Taibbi, ibid, p. 204

[17] Taibbi, ibid, p. 204

[18] Taibbi, ibid, p. 204-5

[19] O’Donnell video clip, Jimmy Dore Show, August, 8, 2020

[20] Chomsky, WowFEST interview July 14, 2020

[21] Saagar Enjeti, “Rising,” April 10, 2020

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Plutonium Experiment

 1945: Nagasaki

    A piercing flash and supernatural thunderclap announce the world's first plutonium bomb in the skies over Nagasaki. At ground zero there are no screams or moans: for 1000 yards around the unsheltered perish before they can react.

    The swath of destruction roars through the northern part of the city at 9000 miles an hour, making it rain debris. Houses and buildings are smashed, crushed, and burned. Stone is pulverized and tiles shoot through the air like bullets. The sturdy beams of the Mitsubishi Steelworks twist and turn like silly putty while roofs of reinforced concrete buildings crumple and collapse. Trees are ripped from the ground, utility poles snap like broken matchsticks, and a hurricane of shattered glass embeds countless shards in human flesh.

    Stunned survivors cup detached eyeballs back inside their skulls.

1945: Washington

"Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts . . . it is the Survey's opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated."

------The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Majority Forces Need To Combat Market Dictatorship

   An economy on the brink of more serious failure than the usual cyclic form entered an even more critical state when the covid virus hit. We now find the mind-boggling debt before the capitalist pandemic growing to be very near breaking the capitalist bank. Along with the awakening public opposition to racism experienced by some who are encountering it for the first time, this is producing the greatest surge for substantial change since the near transformation that took place back in the 1930s, when capitalism defensively improved the lives of much of its working class to avoid social revolution. So, naturally, our intellectually and morally crippled rulers are making every effort to incorporate into the market any and all efforts at creating change, while blocking when not totally smothering public consciousness in the thickest fog of dis-and mis-information to make all previous treatment of mind management seem almost thoughtful by comparison.


As the nation sinks more deeply into financial, mental and spiritual blight, we find major outlets of thought control blaring idiocy about Russian threats to our invader forces in foreign countries by allegedly offering payment to the native population to kill them. Such thoughts would never occur to people who have suffered tens of thousands of deaths at their hands and whose governments have been destroyed by them, at least not to the brilliant American foreign policy makers who need to have their heads examined by a proctologist. These Russian monsters are also conducting assaults on our fictional democracy, thus endangering the multi-billion dollar electoral marketing orgy which started right after the last carnival chose a barker and will continue until the next circus selects a clown.


 Worse, according to the same purveyors of propaganda, the Chinese are stealing our medical research and computer brilliance and using both to improve the lives of all their people instead of simply enhancing the bottom lines of some of their investors. As an example of their vicious disdain for all that truly matters, during a time in which my own American county closed a hospital for lack of funding, and this in a place with a median income of just under 80,000 a year, the savage Chinese built two – 2! – brand new hospitals in barely a month when confronted by the covid 19 virus. Guess which nation leads the world in number of deaths due to the virus and tries to blame the atrocity of its health care system on an allegedly Chinese menace? This while we ring China with military bases and sail an armada into the South China Sea, which brain dead imperialists tell us is right off the coast of Florida. Or New York?


And while college educated fiction writers posing as news reporters screech about Chinese abuse of minorities Americans in greater numbers than ever are reacting to the generations of such real abuse in the USA. And that crippled health care business at a more crippled capitalist mall has increased suffering for millions more unemployed while a handful of billionaires get even disgracefully richer in a marketplace more contaminated by moral sewage than ever before, or, at least since last week.


While forced to consider the supposed horrid menace of Russia and China, more Americans are piercing the plastic curtain of corporate mis-information by experiencing material life rather than simply swallowing immaterial stories amounting to modern mythology to make folklore tales of magical wonder sound far more logical.


American material reality sees total personal debt at the 14 trillion dollar mark. In truth, like our government in the hallowed “free” market where nothing is free, much of America could not pay rent, mortgages or afford food or clothing without running up tremendous debt, nor could our pseudo-democracy run up trillions of dollars worth of death rays and invading armies without burdening us with a multi-trillion dollar national debt. This, while millions more lose their jobs and health care to the capitalist economy, thousands lose their lives to the capitalist pandemic, and the entire nation is in danger of losing its collective consciousness to the capitalist media.


 As public reaction grows in anger at the injustice of a murderous dis-organization of life through the marketing religion of private profit, the ruling powers transmit brain-numbing messages of division, consumption, more division, more consumption and then even more division and consumption.


The growing consciousness of racism in America threatens to be reduced to a brand name as banks, malls, fashion, art, films and every other aspect of life-as-commodity sign on to the BLM logo, inviting all to buy their products, rent their cars, eat their fast foods and indulge every form of life reduced to purchase at the market assured that they are buying from supporters of the brand BLM, a most recently discovered and lucrative market share.


 Desperately fighting against a rise in consciousness among the people that sees the reality of humanity as a majority with common interests and not the vicious reduction of humans into competing groups, we are reduced to seeing fictional minorities as people of color when all of us with the exception of albinos are such, and that small number of us without melanin are no less humans for having that birth defect.  Anything to prevent the public from clearly seeing, as our primitive communist ancestors did, that hungry people need food, no matter their skin tone, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference or favorite sport. Whether geographic realities and cultural teachings create desire for lasagna, matzos, tacos, chitlins, croissants or fried rice, food is absolutely necessary for survival, not for marketing. When the hunt was successful our ancestors all had meat. When it was not, they all had vegies. When neither meat nor vegies were available our nomadic ancestors moved to another locale, in the human tradition of migrating to a new place when life was no longer possible at the old one. This was long before capital and profits, in fact, long before slave and feudal societies. But the fact is that humans survived from the beginning by cooperation not just because or unless they liked each other but because it was absolutely essential for their survival. If those early practitioners had not followed that mentally advanced if physically primitive form we would not be here in the modern world participating in an either or choice that does not involve a lesser evil but ultimate humanity threatening evil itself.


That evil is the private profit first and at all cost system of capitalism which, after that profit procurement, creates investment that brings public good to one and all. Of course. Isn’t it evident in the fact that we spend more than 700 billion on wars while more than half a million of our people are homeless? That’s the beauty and poetry of a free market system of investment for profit first. If dog food, kitty litter and pet health care for our 180 million comfortably housed dogs and cats make more profits than housing for half a million humans and health care for more than thirty million humans, doesn’t it make sense to invest in our pets rather than those humans? If more than seven hundred billion a year brings profit to the Military Industrial Complex we were first warned of by a Republican president, doesn’t that kind of job creation to kill people in foreign countries – while calling it defense of our mostly undefended from pollution, poverty and crime population - isn’t that wonderful? And if all of us simultaneously learn that is the case, rather than the idiotic excuse for reality we are having forced into our heads, might we react in anger and join together in a social uprising to make all social uprisings of the past seem mere preludes? That’s why we are hearing about China, Russia and a failing state because of Russia and China, and why we are being sold a product called Black Lives Matter lest it become a social revolution that says under capitalism, only some lives matter and that group is getting smaller and smaller while the majority of humanity faces ruin as long as it is divided into false races and phony identity groups that allow the most menacing minority on the planet, billionaires and their rich professional flunkies, to lead us all to ruin.


All humans need food, clothing and shelter, which our primitive ancestors seemed to understand. They did not differentiate on any stupid grounds of alleged racial difference until something called civilization introduced minority rules, class structure and associated horror. And it got worse for most people when capitalism took over, bringing a better life to some by creating a worse life for many many more. We need to begin acting like what we truly are, a tribe of closely related humans being falsely driven apart by minority rulers who teach us to grow up isolated and suffering adults blaming ourselves or other powerless people for our problems. As more of us reach that point the program of our rulers will become even more desperate than at the present moment at which our major problems are hardly the Russians or Chinese or Iranians but rather the billionaire class and its employees and the Democratic and Republican parties which they own.


We need far more than votes to create social transformation. Votes have helped create the mess we’re programmed to fear as budding American fascism, which is what German voters did to create the German brand. Real democracy creates society, not a rubber stamp for its minority owners and is not for purchase at a mall; like food clothing and shelter, it must be created by an aroused public demanding a better life for all of us and not just some of us. Elections can help, but democracy must be created before the vote, not after.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Bulletin: Biden Chooses Marge Simpson as Running Mate

Biden Chooses Marge Simpson for Vice President


The Biden campaign has decided to support Marge Simpson for vice president to give the ticket more balance. “She’s more representative of American women than the professional class feminists who are most influential in our great democracy” said Biden’s marketing and sales advisor from the polling firm running the  campaign from a mobile satellite rotating far above the American people, in keeping with class divisions called for in our  constitution.



The campaign's mental health crisis center staff advised Biden to make the choice after white working class men had organized protests over dumb TV images of cartoon characters like Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, calling them hate crimes of disrespect. “These portrayals of white, fat, dumb, beer drinking oafs are hate crimes committed to all white working class people and we will no longer tolerate this hateful denial of our humanity” shouted spokes shouter Joe Six-Pack as his mob of several hundred over-weight pot-bellied white workers chanted “we demand respect.”


"Until and unless we hear different from the Over-Weight Black Working Class Women’s coalition, we think Marge Simpson will be accepted by all voters. If she doesn’t do well in the polls, we are thinking of Oprah Winfrey or Beyonce, who, we are told, are actual people and not cartoon characters" said major party advisor, strategist , technician, and person who goes for coffee, Guadalupe Tecumsah Liebowitz, who chairs the party's Disabled Transexual Latino Jewish Caucus.



Saturday, August 1, 2020

Harlem's Pearl - James Baldwin

The American idea of progress is how fast I become white. And it’s a trick bag. Because they know perfectly well I can never become white. I have drunk my share of dry martinis; I have proven myself civilized in every way I can. But there is an irreducible difficulty: something doesn’t work. Well, I decided: I might as well act like a nigger.”


         -----James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 1979[1]


A dangerous individual.”[2]

                              -----F.B.I. field report


Grandson of a slave, the eldest of nine children in a Harlem family rooted in bitter poverty, he grew up amidst junkies, winos, pimps, racketeers, pick-pockets, and con-artists.


Surrounded by despair, he took refuge in literature, reading with such focused intensity that his mother took to hiding his books.[3] He knew the Bible so well he became a teen sensation in the pulpit, luxuriating in Old Testament rhetoric and poetry. By then he had devoured everything he could get his hands on close to home. "There were two libraries in Harlem,” he remembered, “and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-second street."[4]  


His brilliance stood out. One of his teachers, a Communist with a Theatre Project job thanks to the WPA, began giving him books and taking him to plays and movies and museums, nurturing his keen mind while teaching him an ironic lesson about the supposed master race: "She gave me my first key, my first clue that white people were human," Baldwin said. [5]


Racism affected everything, often in unexpected ways. Baldwin, for example, had learned from his mother to always offer his seat to a woman when he rode the subway. But in church some preachers taught that he should never surrender his seat to a white woman, because that would be “an act of servility.” Baldwin solved the conundrum by never sitting down on the subway.[6] But other racial dilemmas were not so easily side-stepped, such as when two police officers beat him “half to death” when he was but ten years old.[7]


Somehow emerging literate, self-assured, and honest in a world that defined him as but a half-step removed from jungle savagery, he found himself perpetually in danger of doing or saying something that would trigger disaster. At 18, he lost control of his suppressed rage and hurled a glass of water at a waitress who had refused him service in a segregated New Jersey restaurant, watching along with the astonished patrons as it shattered against the mirror behind the bar. The following year Harlem erupted in a race riot as he buried his father, whose rage had consumed him long before the tuberculosis that finished him off.  Five years after that, young James had had more than enough of the brutalities of American life, and fled the U.S. “about five minutes before being carried off to Bellevue.”[8]


Reaching Paris with $40 to his name and no French, he spent his nights there on park benches consoling the victims of France's Algeria campaign, while his pent-up bitterness at all he had endured in the U.S. came spilling out.[9] For an entire year he was busy “breaking up bars, knocking down people,” he later remembered, eventually ending up in jail. “You’ve been taught that you’re inferior,” he explained, “so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it.”[10]


When the chaos subsided, Baldwin discovered that his life had at last become personal, allowing him a detached look at the crippling racial obsession ravaging his native land. Like an Old Testament prophet he sounded the alarm in the pages of The Fire Next Time: "This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it." He saved his richest contempt for the willfully blind: "It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime."[11]


Brilliant, driven, deeply troubled, he warned that time was running out to atone for slavery. "If we do not now dare everything," he wrote, "the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!"[12]


Baldwin’s soaring rhetoric landed with a sickening thud against the deaf ears of the liberal establishment, which was busy dragging its feet in response to a civil rights movement that Baldwin more accurately called America’s latest “slave rebellion.”[13] Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the USSR was reaping from racial upheaval in the U.S., the Kennedy administration moved only reluctantly and belatedly to support the black freedom movement.[14] While blacks were set upon by mobs, clubbed with lead pipes, and shot, bombed, jailed, and killed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but made no general move to enforce the law against rioting police and KKK vigilantes. Concerned about losing support in Congress, JFK opted to shore up his southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.”[15]


In the midst of all this, Baldwin sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a telegram taking the Kennedy administration to task for the siege of Birmingham, and Kennedy responded by inviting him to assemble a group of black luminaries for a meeting in his New York apartment. It didn't go well. Baldwin's brother David shook a fist in Kennedy's face. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry blasted the "specimens of white manhood" portrayed in a recent Time magazine photo: Alabama police pinning a black woman to the ground with a knee to her throat, better known today as the George Floyd maneuver. Lena Horne suggested sarcastically that Kennedy try promoting his policy of Jim Crow collaboration to Harlem residents, but warned that "we ain't going, because we don't want to get shot." Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, crippled for life from a Mississippi beating, said he was nauseated to have to meet with Kennedy at all (in order to have his rights respected). He told the shocked Attorney General that he could no longer conceive of fighting for his country in uniform, but was nearly ready to pick up a gun against it.


Baldwin and his guests pleaded with Kennedy to have the president send troops to quell racist violence in Birmingham, and demanded to know why he himself hadn't escorted James Meredith when be became the first black student to register at Ole Miss.


Kennedy laughed.


Failing to see anything funny, Baldwin and his group demanded a demonstration of moral commitment by the White House. The President, they insisted, should escort a black child into a Deep South school, so that any racist who spat on that child would also be spitting on the nation.


Kennedy dismissed the idea as a meaningless moral gesture. Son of a bootlegger, helped into office by Mob connections, he recommended that blacks pull themselves up the way his family did. With luck, he concluded brightly, one of them might be president in forty years.


Forty more years and blacks might get relief from racist terror - on top of the 400 years they had already endured – and then only if they behaved themselves! Baldwin told Kennedy his comment was absurd. The point was, he said, that a Kennedy could already be president, while blacks, who had arrived in America long before the Irish Catholics, were “still required to supplicate and beg for justice.”


When Kennedy remained unmoved and unmovable, Baldwin emerged from the meeting profoundly depressed, pronouncing him "insensitive and unresponsive to the Negro's torment."[16] The FBI marked him down as a “Communist,” and though he flew all the way from Paris, he was not allowed to speak to the March on Washington three months later,[17] where Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Eighteen days after that speech a bomb exploded in Birmingham, blasting four black girls attending Sunday school into eternity.


Dreams are one thing; change, quite another.


Though Baldwin regarded himself as “at bottom an optimist,”[18] he gradually gave up hope that the United States would change, as a string of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark) made it increasingly obvious it had no intention of doing so. To the extent the country defined itself as white, he thought, to that same extent it was irrelevant. Change would come, but from elsewhere.


When Black Power emerged and Baldwin expressed sympathies for a new generation of black radicals, white liberals often expressed consternation at what they saw as his retreat from integration and reconciliation. Baldwin took a certain pleasure in setting them straight:[19] white people had long ago (forcefully) integrated the country, he reminded them, the facts not being subject to dispute, as “my grandmother never raped nobody.”[20] Furthermore, the “negro problem” was actually a “white problem,” as it was they who invented the “nigger” fantasy, and they who were continually tormented by it. The burden was on them to discover why.[21] Until they did, all talk of racial reconciliation was premature, if not consciously diversionary.


Such relentless honesty proved hard to handle even for the most balanced and resourceful minds. In a three-part discussion with Baldwin in August, 1970, Margaret Mead’s detailed anthropological and historical knowledge checked Baldwin’s tendency toward poetic exaggeration through seven fascinating hours of wide-ranging conversation. But when Israel-Palestine came up, Baldwin’s passion for truth proved more reliable than Mead’s faltering reason. “I have been the Arab, in America, at the hands of the Jews,” he said, denouncing Israel’s 1948 displacement of the Palestinians by “an entirely irreligious people” based incongruously on “something that is written down by Jehovah on a tablet.” Mead lost her composure at this, and accused Baldwin of making a racist comment, “just because there have been a bunch of Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem.”[22]


But there was no trace of anti-Semitism in Baldwin then, or at any other time in his career. He was just telling the truth.


And he never stopped. In 1974, he won the Cathedral of St. John the Divine's centennial medal for the "artist as prophet," and was invited to address a congregation for the first time since his teen years. Using the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath and the Philistines, the diminutive Baldwin let loose a blast of hyper-articulate fury at the U.S. "betrayal" of its black brethren, and thunderously dismissed President Nixon as a "motherfucker."


The subdean of the cathedral, unhappy with the tone of the service, confided to the dean: No one ever before has said 'motherfucker' from the pulpit of St. John the Divine."


The Dean replied that times had changed: "It's about time someone did."[23]


Thirteen years later, Baldwin’s funeral took place in that very same church, and mourners celebrated his wildly improbable and incredibly abundant life. Maya Angelou called him a “great soul.”[24] Toni Morrison remembered that “the season was always Christmas” when he was around, and thanked him for replacing evasion and hypocrisy with clarity and beauty in his 6895 pages of published work.[25] Amiri Baraka praised his “insistent elegance” and ranked the importance of his work with Dr. King and Malcolm X.[26]


Of course, taking fair measure of a life lived on three continents, and dedicated to human liberation by embracing every vulnerability, probing all weaknesses, and excavating the most deeply buried truths is an impossible task. Perhaps all one can say is that - by the power of his spoken and written words - Baldwin transformed a horrifying legacy of pain and rage into grace and light.  


It’s hard not to be grateful for that.


Had he lived, Baldwin would have turned 96 years old tomorrow. Happy Birthday, James, and well done!



[1] Reflections of James Baldwin, C-SPAN, March 3, 2007

[2] William J. Maxwell, James Baldwin – The FBI File (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Chapter 21, p. 167

[3] W. J.  Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) p. 15

[4] James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race, (J. B. Lippincott, 1971) pps. 45-6

[5] A Rap on Race, p. 31

[6] A Rap on Race, p. 55

[7] A Rap on Race, p. 213

[8] Notes of a Native Son (Beacon, 1955) p. 97; A Rap on Race, p. 56

[9] A Rap on Race, p. 242

[10] A Rap on Race, p. 57

[11] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, (Dell, 1962) pps. 15-16

[12] The Fire Next Time, p. 141

[13] Reflections of James Baldwin, speech at UC Berkeley, January 15, 1979 (broadcast on C-SPAN 3 March 3, 2007)

[14] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (Harper, 1980) p. 445; Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pps. 117-18

[15] Tom Hayden, Reunion – A Memoir, (Random House, 1988) p. 59

[16] The account of the Bobby Kennedy meeting is from: James Campbell, Talking At The Gates – A Life of James Baldwin, (Viking, 1991) pps. 163-5; David Leeming, James Baldwin – A Biography, (Henry Holt, 1994) pps. 222-6; W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) pps. 221-4

[17] Leeming, p. 296

[18] A Rap on Race, p. 88

[19] Leeming, p. 185

[20] Baldwin 1965 Cambridge Union debate with William F. Buckley Jr.

[21] I Am Not Your Negro (film)

[22] A Rap on Race, pps. 215-16

[23] Leeming, p. 322

[24] Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,”, May 29, 2014

[25] Toni Morrison, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered – Life In His Language” New York Times, December 20, 1987

[26] Amiri Baraka, “James Baldwin, “His Voice Remembered – We Carry Him With Us” New York Times, December 20, 1987