Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Death of Racism Has Been Greatly Exaggerated - Henry Louis Gates, Police Misconduct, and the "Culture of Poverty" Reflex

by Michael K. Smith

"You cannot escape the pathology of a country in which you're born."
----- James Baldwin, 1970

"The American idea of progress is how fast I become white."
-----James Baldwin, 1979

The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for "disorderly conduct" in his own home by a member of the Cambridge police department demonstrates that the United States has not relinquished its mission to be a "white" country.

Gates was returning from a three-week visit to China with his daughter when the unfortunate incident occurred. Arriving home, he discovered that his front door was jammed. He went around the house and entered by the kitchen door, then tried with the help of his chauffeur to unjam the front door. Meanwhile, a white neighbor witnessing two black men attempting to force the front door open phoned the police saying that an illegal break-in appeared to be in progress.

The responsibility for determining whether this was in fact the case fell to the Cambridge police. Officer James Crowley, who arrested Gates, does not claim to have been in doubt that Gates was the legal occupant of the house when he arrested him. He just didn't like the volley of fury Gates directed at him (Gates demanded his badge number so he could file a complaint), and his refusal to calm down when he discovered he was being suspected of criminal conduct. Crowley feels that his arrest of Gates was entirely appropriate (though the charge was quickly withdrawn) and that he has nothing to apologize for. Cambridge police commissioner Robert Haas says that Crowley is an exemplary officer and acted consistent with his law enforcement training. In fact, Crowley is so well regarded that he reportedly leads trainings of his fellow officers on the sensitive issue of racial profiling.

So when President Obama weighed in with the opinion that the Cambridge police department had "acted stupidly" in arresting a 58-year-old man with a cane in his own home, Crowley took it personally, criticizing Obama for intervening in a "local issue" and attributing the president's opinion to the fact that he was a personal friend of Gates. Policemen throughout the country reacted similarly and rallied to Crowley's side. David J. Holway, national president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers wrote Obama a letter demanding an apology, accusing the president of having exercised "poor judgment" and "indicted all members of the Cambridge police department and public safety officers across the country."

At the simplest level we can attribute the incident to a clash of deference expectations. Officer Crowley expected the deference that police feel they are entitled to for "putting their lives on the line" for the benefit of public order and safety, and was shocked at Gates's references to his "mama" and other vulgar expressions he found grossly unsuited to an elite college professor. Gates expected the deference owed to the rightful occupant of the home and was infuriated to discover he was suspected of being a criminal instead. Crowley had a gun, so force won out.

The extreme sensitivity displayed by the police is revealing. Cambridge police commissioner Robert Haas says his entire department was "deeply pained" at Obama's criticism, since Crowley had done nothing wrong, merely come upon "a crime in progress" and then had to work his way through it. But of course there was no crime in progress, which is precisely why Gates was angry, and why he had a right to be angry. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Crowley, Haas, or police in general understand this. And while the police may deny it, a white man in Gates's position would be far less likely to be a criminal suspect, though it is true that were he such a suspect he would also be far less likely to take it personally, as Gates did. But this is because white men are treated - not just by the police, but by everyone - as individuals, not as representatives of a race struggling to evolve from savagery to civilization. In other words, a white man could dismiss the incident as an amusing quirk of fate, because it would have no negative repercussions for whites in general, whereas no sane black person could possibly do this, because the racial stereotyping giving rise to it reinforces the perception of blacks as congenitally criminal.

In any event, one suspects that the Cambridge police are at least as pained that Gates was famous enough to make them look ridiculous as they are at Obama's opinion of their conduct. Had Gates been an ordinary black man, he would still be up on charges and the nation never would have heard of him. And this is far from a hypothetical point. Episodes like the Gates case happen all over the country on a regular basis, so officer Crowley is not correct when he characterizes the incident as a merely "local" issue. If racial stereotyping in Cambridge is similar to racial stereotyping around the country, as reason and history suggest it is, then we are dealing with a national, not a local, issue. How is it possible in 2009 that an exemplary officer in one of the most liberal areas in the country is unaware of this?

It is not difficult to surmise. The dominant culture in the U.S. teaches that racism is the product of hateful individuals whose evil motives are anachronistic in the wake of a civil rights movement, the emergence of a black middle class, and the election of a black president. This simplistic formula encourages a false belief that victory is at hand, when in fact extensive racial subordination continues to exist with no end in sight because the vast resources necessary to transform the most racially oppressed sectors of American society have never been allocated for that purpose, but are instead earmarked for the national security state. This reflects the priority of those who rule the country: war in defense of an international class structure that thrives on class and racial exploitation. Neither form of oppression is profoundly affected by the existence of a black U.S. president and neither will disappear anytime soon. And neither will ever disappear in the absence of a mass multicultural coalition of considerable political sophistication determined to dismantle the permanent war economy and establish a genuinely egalitarian society.

And like it or not, police will have to take part in such a movement, jettisoning the shield of professionalism that currently demands their illusory political neutrality. For the plain fact is that much of the danger that police confront on the job is due to highly combustible racial and class divisions that keep tens of millions of people perpetually on edge and ready to explode at the slightest official confirmation of their subordinate status. In other words, police have an obvious interest in reducing class and racial tensions in order to achieve better work conditions for themselves, with fewer ugly altercations, lower stress, and a reduction in police fatalities. Seen in this light, police should be among the most militant champions of sweeping racial change in all of the U.S.. The fact that they are not owes much to a deeply flawed perspective of reality.

For contrary to much self-congratulatory rhetoric that America has moved - or shortly will move - beyond racism, a fear of "niggers" persists throughout the country. Middle class families strenuously resist living in neighborhoods with more than token numbers of blacks and do everything to avoid sending their children to schools where large numbers of blacks attend. And even President Obama has not freed himself from using the vilest of racial stereotypes. Before winning the presidency he criticized young black men for "siring" children out of wedlock, a term derived from animal husbandry. Recall that Jesse Jackson was so frustrated with Obama speaking down to black people that he was heard to mutter that he'd "like to cut his (Obama's) nuts off."

Furthermore, in his campaign biography, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama criticizes not the exploitation that produces mass poverty, but the personal behaviors of the black poor. For example, he laments "too much television" on the part of black viewers, but says nothing of corporate monopoly of the public airwaves. He decries "too much consumption of poisons" by blacks (cigarettes and fast food), but fails to mention waste incinerators that spew their toxins in areas where disproportionate numbers of blacks live. He condemns "a casualness toward sex and child rearing among black men," but praises Bill Clinton, whose sexual conduct insults Obama's ideals, and whose elimination of "welfare as we know it" plunged a million more American children into poverty in 1996, a disproportionate number of them black.

On the other hand, when the topic is black grievances, Obama can only weakly refer to the "bumps and bruises" and "petty slights" they must endure, not the widespread racism that brutally distorts their life chances while awarding a false sense of moral superiority to whites, who will shortly have to deal with the objections of billions of people of color around the world who see the fantasy of boundless white entitlement as akin to a death warrant for the human race.

Obama's stale admonition - discrimination shouldn't be an excuse for "failure" - can't begin to deal with the concerns of this world majority, however appealing it may be to guilty American liberals eager to pretend the ugly beast of racism has been vanquished. But until the president can shed their preoccupation with bootstrapism, stop itemizing allegedly aberrant black behaviors, and speak penetratingly about racist social policy, he shouldn't really be too surprised when black people continue to be treated with contempt.

Postscript: The facts are very much in dispute in this case. Professor Gates disputes officer Crowley's claim that he was verbally abusive. Lucia Whalen, the woman who called the police, did not identify Gates and his driver racially, and apparently did not even insist a crime was in progress. Officer Crowley wrote in his police report that she spoke to him when he arrived at the scene and identified Gates and his driver as "two black men with backpacks." Whalen says she saw suitcases, not backpacks, and only guessed that one of the two men at the house "might have been Hispanic." Moreover, she was not a neighbor, merely worked in the area (for the Harvard alumni magazine). The point remains, however, that officer Crowley should have vacated the scene as soon as he verified Gates was the legal occupant of the house.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bulletin! Bulletin!

Peaceful rioters burn down Tehran, promise further Gandhian actions next week

MJ Shocker: King of Pop molested hundreds of children at his funeral; parents demand millions from estate, lawyers protest "serious undercounting" of child victims

Prestigious medical journal reveals depression caused by perception of reality: war, poverty, and ecocide thrive, sale of "happy pills" soars

Obama apologizes to white officer who arrested black professor for being uppity in his own home, agrees to take remedial course in word parsing from Bill Clinton

New business study proves driving while smoking, drinking, eating, texting, chatting on the phone, listening to music, putting on make-up, and looking at shopping catalogues, improves performance behind the wheel

Congress approves universal health care; all Americans born before World War I to receive unlimited free medical treatment starting in 2020. Obama hails new "humanitarian era"

Economists puzzled by low consumer confidence, urge tent city residents to go on shopping spree for good of America

Hillary Clinton urges ousted Honduran president to compromise with coup plotters, accept lifetime position as chief mango-washer in Nicaragua

Prime Minister Netanyahu assails "Spirit of Humanity" activists bringing supplies to Gazan children, decries role of "dual use" crayons in spreading "terrorist graffiti"

Rueful Osama bin Laden retires, declares Israel's pariah status and collapsing U.S. economy leave him "nothing to do."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

BULLETIN...BULLETIN: Mocha Revolution & more

Mocha Revolution in New York !

New York prep school students at the prestigious K. Wiford Ditzworthy Academy rose up in what they called a Mocha Revolution after a planned luncheon was canceled by a delivery service which decided they weren’t paying enough.

“Our workers are facing lay offs while these rich kids have caviar and crepes delivered to their schools, and they demand we lower our prices?”

But student leader W. Rutledge Goldworthy claimed that there was intense disrespect shown for the students by “these uneducated lower class workers who often make their deliveries without curtsying to our female classmates. We’re all feminists here and won't stand for our girls being dissed by these low lives, most of whom speak a foreign language which isn’t even french.”

At a hastily called press conference, a pretty student spokesperson said
“We’re not going to stand for this? We’re very serious?We won't tolerate disrespect from workers, teachers or our parents? No, we do not speak in declarative sentences? We are rich and you are all assholes? This press conference is over?”

A reporter for Woman’s Wear Weakly expressed shock at the student’s performance.
“Her Arpeggio Dilettante shoes were lovely, and the mink lined chador was a nice bow to the Iranian rebels, though the ear rings were a knock off and not really Gustave del Buttonna originals, but except for some seeming coffee stains on her sleeve, I saw no mocha at all... did you? This can't be a “mocha” revolution!”

When asked to clarify this serious political point, student W. Bennington Crassworthy said “We originally wanted to call it a Cappuccino revolution, but that really isn’t , like , a color, so we took Mocha, which is , like, one of our favorite drinks and really is a nice sort of, like, off shade of brown or tan which some of our fashion team really liked.”

School principal B. Geoffrey Twitworthy said that this could all be related to the recession stress, the closing of several high fashion boutiques in the area, and cutbacks on student trips to the Bahamas, Tibet and other exotic locales. But he added, “ we do expect an economic upsurge for neighborhood psychologists, at least, from the increase in family therapy visits this crisis is likely to create”

Still, after some parents have grounded their children , threatened to cut off allowances , close trust funds and imposed a curfew, the “Mocha” revolution ( U.S. Trademark, pat. pending) goes on, with defiant students taking to their roofs and penthouses chanting “money is great” and “death to the caterers” .

Single Payer Finally Wins!

After months of wrangling, wheeling, dealing and then some more wrangling , congress and the president have bowed to citizen demand and created a single payer health care system for the USA. Under the new system, every single person in the USA will pay for his or her health care, choosing between private, public, religious or secret insurance agencies which will guarantee that in return for premiums , monthly , weekly and deductible fees, all Americans will be able to buy health care. Every single one of them.

“We saw the pollssss that showed a great majority of our people wanted to be able to pay sssssingly, and we bowed to those demandssssss” sssaid the presssident.

Peace Rules! Nearly 2 Billion cut from military budget!

Peace movement, antiwar and other completely forgotten sources of criticism for previous administration’s were rejoicing over a cut in one Pentagon program which took nearly two billion dollars out of a more than 600 billion dollar military budget.
“We knew that if we persevered, by not making any public criticism, not organizing any demonstrations against war, and accepting the humanitarian notion that there are smart and winnable wars as opposed to stupid and loseable ones, we would get this administration to come around to our way of thinking and cut the military budget by almost .003%” said a spokesperson for the Weakness Over Unity coalition.

The group, elated over its great victory, has promised to confront global poverty next, vowing to create a free lunch kitchen for the starving and hungry billions who are being affected by the current global recession. At this rate of progress,the coaltion of groups declared that all wars and all poverty should be gone by, maybe the year 2525.

Stay Tuned!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Alternative News?

Alternative News?

The performance of both corporate and independent media reporting the Iranian election should provoke apprehension among news consumers. When conservative Fox, liberal PBS, and radical Pacifica all refer to the Iranian president as “hard line”, and uncritically assume a stolen election , news is not being reported . A party line is being toed.

Whether owned by profits or non-profits , news media do not originate from pristine sources of truth and objectivity. And when they become a vast echo chamber in which allegedly competing voices all resonate with the same story, their lack of unbiased analysis promotes a dangerous intellectual paralysis.

What news media call objectivity is a point of view which they so label. Does it reflect prevailing wisdom? Or the idea that what prevails is wisdom? That’s called objectivity. But even that definition was degenerated with the Iran story, as most alternative viewpoints only differed in the picture’s details , without questioning the frame in which they were placed. Whatever their ownership, they bought fiction and sold it as fact .

Despite no evidence other than propagandists telling them it was so, minority voters in Iran believed that they were entitled to win an election. Here, bits of information were reported even when sources were unknown, and images open to interpretation were deemed incontestable reality. Throngs of demonstrators were labeled a revolutionary upheaval of society, rather than the passionate demand - however manipulated - for social reform which they were.

Polls had predicted Ahmadinejad would win decisively , and when he did it was reported as fraud. Then , all hell broke loose. At least among a roused population of Iranians, and a nation of misinformed Americans. Those led to believe they were entitled to victory demanded a recount. The results were supposedly reported too quickly, with no question raised as to Ahmadinejad's main opponent calling himself the victor just as quickly. And Iranians were only voting for one office, with four candidates. How long should it take to know the winner?

Within minutes of polls closing in America, media projections forecast victories in hundreds of races. Are these all examples of fraud ? A good case could be made that the Iranian vote was more democratic than ours, since Independent candidate Ralph Nader wasn’t allowed in the same room with ruling party members Obama and McCain, while Ahmadinejad debated all three opposition candidates on Iranian national TV.

None of those demonstrating in Iran, or twittering in America, were aware of any reality other than their respective sense that despite any evidence but their beliefs , a soundly defeated candidate had won the election. And this story was told in most of what passes for the alternative media , where with few exceptions, all spoke of the stolen election and the suppression of democracy in that fundamentalist citadel of oppression.

Most of all, the need to rid the world of “hard liner” Ahmadinejad was repeated with disrespectful reference to his supposed lack of intelligence, height, or proper western values . Why this bigoted , simple minded assault on an elected leader with vast support not only in Iran - where most people neither own computers nor speak english - but all over the world? Because alone among world leaders, he openly speaks against the injustice Israel has inflicted upon the Palestinians, and questions the holocaust while pointing out that whatever the full story, it was a european crime ; why are Palestinians paying for it ? Most of the world finds that common sense , but in the west it’s grounds for excommunication from the church of capital, and dismissal from the human race.

Had John McCain’s voters repeatedly been told they were entitled to victory, and then that their votes were stolen by Obama, what might have happened in America? When multitudes of Americans demonstrated against war in Afghanistan and Iraq , what happened? The war continues, presently expanding to Pakistan. When students were murdered while protesting the Viet Nam war, what happened? It went on for five more years. It takes infantile arrogance to swallow a soap opera of online gossip posing as foreign politics , while our nation’s responsibility for murderous international chaos is apparent to the rest of the world but continues to evade most of us . Given our mass marketing of false consciousness, what can a public know or believe?

As new governments demand radical change, imperial power calls them tyrants and terrorists committed to destroying civilization . They strike fear in the hearts of profiteers by creating democracy from the bottom up, and redistributing wealth from the top down. Whether motivated by Socialism , Islam or Christianity, these movements for social justice are causing panic at the imperial center. But it is inexcusable for allegedly alternative media to blindly, and often willingly, follow the party line that portrays foreign leaders critical of the west as despots, and movements deriving power from real majorities as criminal for not serving their entitled minorities, which are socialized to be satisfied on demand without concern for any material reality but their own .

When such thought pollution flows though channels of information supposedly presenting critical points of view , only the internet offers any relief from total mind management . And it is threatened with corporate marketing control, as well as the old GIGO problem: garbage in garbage out. Viewpoints are not diverse simply for being expressed in familiar language or with acceptable accents. All who wish for a free flow of information and opinions as a means of achieving democracy need to not only support alternative sources, but see to it that they truly present viewpoints critical of the established order, and that they work to transform that order into one that serves the majority, rather than reinforces minority control. We saw an almost complete failure to do that among many of our supposed alternatives, and that must change if we are too have a future offering real hope for humanity .

Copyright (c) 2009 by Frank Scott. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Robert McNamara

He knew nothing about poverty or Asia or people or American politics, but he knew all there was to know about bureaucracy and production technology.

He was obsessed with numbers, calculation, and logic. Senator Barry Goldwater called him "an IBM machine with legs." Through the manipulation of statistics he sought not just a means of measuring reality but a way to conquer and subdue it. Using the same system of materialist accountancy with which he saved the Ford Motor Company, he rationalized the Pentagon bureaucracy and soon the U.S. military was producing corpses as efficiently as the auto giant turned out cars. What profit was to the bottom line, body count was to "progress" in Vietnam.

On grounds of cost-efficiency McNamara championed the electronic battlefield - "people sniffers," infrared sensors, cluster bombs, land mines packed with shrapnel, fragmentation bombs, all washed down with millions of gallons of chemical defoliants designed to peel back the protective Vietnamese jungle impeding Washington's onward march to imperial paradise. Much indebted to the liquid fire that boosted U.S. death counts, McNamara publicly applauded Dow Chemical Company's "service to the free world" in manufacturing napalm.

In 1962, with tens of thousands of Vietnamese dead due to U.S. bombing and defoliation, McNamara arrived in Vietnam impatient to discover what was holding up the victory train. Inspecting Operation Sunrise, a village repopulated after a forced relocation to an urban concentration camp, McNamara immersed himself in systems analysis and input-output ratios, pored over self-congratulatory Pentagon data, and breezily assured a prompt U.S. victory. Failing to even notice the seething villagers in his midst, he fired off a battery of technical questions to his underlings: How much of this? How much of that? Are you happy here?

With the corrupt and murderous Diem regime (South Vietnam) at the point of collapse, McNamara returned to Washington proclaiming that he had "seen nothing but progress and hopeful indications of further progress in the future."

In 1963, McNamara declared that "we have turned the corner in Vietnam," one of many assurances he gave that U.S. victory was not only meaningful, but right around the corner. And as always, there were optimistic statistics to back him up, sometimes incredibly optimistic, such as a State Department report stating that the U.S. had inflicted 30,000 casualties on 15,000 Vietnamese guerrillas in 1962.

Also in 1963 McNamara announced that Latin American recipients of U.S. military assistance were changing their mission from "hemispheric defense" to "internal security," the green light for the region's security forces to make war on their own people in the name of anti-Communism. These forces studied the techniques of repression at the U.S. School of the Americas and a parade of coups and other bloody interventions followed in countries like Brazil, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama.

In 1964, with the C.I.A. conducting regular raids on Hanoi's coastal installations, McNamara accused North Vietnamese torpedo boats of attacking what he presumed to be peaceful American destroyers, which happened to be spying in North Vietnamese territory. "While on routine patrol in international waters" the Secretary of Defense announced, "the U.S. destroyer Maddox underwent an unprovoked attack." President Johnson went on nationwide T.V. to condemn North Vietnam's "open aggression on the high seas." He called for broader authority to wage war against Vietnam while promising not to use it.

The Tonkin Gulf Resolution swept through Congress, authorizing the President "to take all necessary measures in support of freedom and in defense of peace." In short, carte blanche to completely destroy Vietnam, which the U.S. subsequently did.

However, Washington could never achieve military victory. Unaccountably for John Kennedy's star Defense Secretary, the raggedly-dressed villagers of Vietnam refused to be reduced to statistical abstractions, confounding his prized system of "rational" predictions. McNamara was plunged into gloom and a profound sense of failure.

Years after he and the other members of John Kennedy's "Best and Brightest" administration had killed their millions in Indochina, McNamara was plagued by nightmares and found his eyes welling up with tears at the Vietnam Memorial. He unburdened his conscience in his memoirs, apologizing for having prolonged an unwinnable war.

McNamara's was a highly selective remorse. He was not sorry for napalmed babies, Agent Orange, and the countless My Lai-style massacres. He felt no guilt about two million dead civilians and soaring child cancer and birth defects in Vietnam. His only regret was that American soldiers had died with no chance of being victorious. He insisted his mistakes had been "not of values and intentions but of judgment and capabilities."

Chauffeured by limousine to book signings, he ignored the homeless Vietnam vets rotting on the streets of the nation they had served in battle. His book zoomed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.


David Harris, Our War, (Random House, 1996)

Arthur Schlesinger, A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, (Houghton-Mifflin, 1965)

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, (Harper, 1995)

Howard Zinn, Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, (Beacon, 1967)

David Halberstam, The Best and The Brightest, (Penguin, 1969)

Lawrence S. Wittner, Cold War America: From Hiroshima to Watergate, (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1978)

William Blanchard, Aggression American Style, (Goodyear, 1978)

Noam Chomsky, The Culture of Terrorism,(South End, 1988)

Noam Chomsky, Chronicles of Dissent, (Common Courage, 1992)

Noam Chomsky, "Memories," Z Magazine, July/August 1995

Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions - The United States in Central America, (Norton, 1984)

Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen, Wizards of Media Oz, (Common Courage, 1997)

Friday, July 3, 2009

False Saviors - Jimmy Carter

A pious Sunday school teacher confessing to lust in his heart but swearing never to lie, he came to Washington to reestablish public faith in government just when popular disgust at monstrous U.S. crimes in Indochina had reached unprecedented heights. The big business agenda during his term in office (1977-1981) was to roll back the welfare state, break the power of unions, fan the flames of the Cold War to increase military spending, engineer tax breaks for wealthy corporate interests, and repeal government regulation of business. While portraying himself as a peanut-farming populist, Carter delivered the goods for Wall Street.

Having run as a Washington "outsider," he immediately filled his administration with Trilateral Commission members, hoping that a coterie of Rockefeller internationalists could resurrect the confidence of American leaders and enrich business relations between Japan and the United States.

His Secretary of State was Cyrus Vance, a Wall Street lawyer and former planner of the Vietnam slaughter. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown was Lyndon Johnson's Air Force Secretary and a leading proponent of saturation bombing in Vietnam. Secretary of the Treasury Michael Blumenthal was the standard rich corporation president. Attorney General Griffen Bell was a segregationist judge who disclosed that he would request "inactive" status as a member of Atlanta clubs closed to blacks and Jews [Carter himself stated that housing should be segregated]. Energy coordinator James Schlesinger was a proponent of winnable nuclear war. Transportation Secretary Brock Adams was a staunch proponent of Lockheed's supersonic transport. National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was an anti-Soviet fanatic who said in an interview with the New Yorker that it was "egocentric" to worry that a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. would entail "the end of the human race." (Since it was unlikely that every last human being would perish in such event, Brzezinski recommended that critics of U.S. nuclear policy abstain from narcissistic concern for the mere hundreds of millions of people who would.)

In what William Greider, author of Secrets of the Temple (a study of the Federal Reserve Bank), called his most important appointment, Carter named Paul Volcker to chair the Federal Reserve Bank. Stuart Eizenstat, Carter's assistant for domestic affairs said that, "Volcker was selected because he was the candidate of Wall Street." The Wall Street agenda became clear when Volcker contracted the money supply and declared, "the standard of living of the average American has to decline."

Wealth was funneled upward and wages and production declined. Unemployment and bankruptcy rose, unions shriveled and disappeared, Pentagon spending soared. For the first time ever American white collar families couldn't save money. With urban housing costs zooming, workers fled to remote suburbs, but the increased commute expenses tended to cancel out cheaper mortgages. Moonlighting and overtime work increased, but added income disappeared in eating out, second commutes, and hired child care. As the cost of necessities outpaced wage gains, only credit cards could fill the widening gap. Hamburger stands and nursing homes proliferated while well-paid manufacturing jobs fled to the Third World. The workforce of the future was said to be a generation of superefficient robots.

Carter's populist assurances simply whetted the public appetite for this kind of dismal anticlimax. While making a few listless gestures towards blacks and the poor, he spent the bulk of his energy promoting corporate profits and building up a huge military machine that drained away public wealth in defense of a far-flung network of repressive "friends" of American business.

The heaviest applause line in his Inaugural Address was his promise "to move this year a step towards our ultimate goal - the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this Earth." But after his beguiling rhetoric faded away, he embarked on a program of building two to three nuclear bombs every day. Although he had promised to cut military spending by $5 to $7 billion, he decided to increase it after just six months in office, and his 5% proposed spending increases in each of his last two years in office were identical to those first proposed by Ronald Reagan. Furthermore, having pledged to reduce foreign arms sales, he ended up raising them to new highs, and after speaking of helping the needy, he proposed cutbacks in summer youth jobs, child nutrition programs, and other popular projects serving important social needs. Similarly, though he had campaigned as a friend of labor, he refused a request to increase the minimum wage and opposed most of organized labor's legislative agenda while handing out huge subsidies to big business. He made much ado about "human rights," but returned Haiti's fleeing boat people to the tender care of "Baby Doc" Duvalier, and when a member of the American delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission spoke of his "profoundest regrets" for the C.I.A.'s role in General Pinochet's bloodbath in Chile, Carter scolded him, insisting that the C.I.A.'s actions were "not illegal or improper."

Carter came to Washington proclaiming his desire for a comprehensive Middle East peace, including a solution to the Palestinian question "in all its aspects." Yet at Camp David he failed to grasp the root of the problem, let alone propose a mature way of dealing with it. He assumed that Palestinians were anonymous refugees whose nationalist aspirations could be safely ignored. He supposed a peace treaty could be signed in the absence of the PLO, world recognized as the Palestinians' "sole legitimate representative." He offered no apologies for negotiating an agreement that failed even to mention Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. He did not protest Prime Minister Menachem Begin's presentation of the Accords before the Israeli Knesset as a "deal," one much more favorable to Israel than to "the Arabs." He pretended not to notice that corralling Palestinians into Bantustans was not simply a tactic of war, but constituted Israel's boasted final product of "peace"! Finally, his much praised Camp David accords were the death warrant for Lebanon, as Israel, its southern border secure with the removal of Egypt from the Arab military alliance, was freed to concentrate undivided attention on a long-planned invasion across its northern border. It was this invasion (June 1982) that convinced Osama bin Laden that only mass murder of Americans could ever change U.S. foreign policy.

Carter was effusive in his praise and blind support of the Shah of Iran, who was deeply unpopular in his country due to policies of supermilitarization, forced modernization, and systematic torture. By the time Carter arrived in the White House the Shah's throne sat atop a veritable powder keg. Iranian cities were hideously unlivable with fifteen percent of the entire country crowded around Teheran in shanty dwellings lacking sewage or other water facilities. The nation's incalculable oil wealth reached few hands and a restless student generation had no prospects. The country's bloated bureaucracy was totally corrupt. While Shiite leaders rallied popular support, the Shah's secret police threw tens of thousands of Iranians into jail, the economy gagged on billions of dollars of Western arms imports (mostly from Washington), and Amnesty International speculated that Iran had achieved the worst human rights record on the planet. Meanwhile, Carter declared that "human rights is the soul of our foreign policy," though he added the following day that he thought the Shah might not survive in power, a strange expectation if indeed the U.S. stood for human rights around the world.

After the Shah was overthrown, Carter could not conceive of U.S. responsibility for the actions of enraged Iranian students who seized 66 Americans and held them hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, demanding the return of "the criminal Shah." (He had admitted the Shah to the U.S. for emergency medical treatment for cancer, thus precipitating the "hostage crisis.") To Carter, Americans were by definition innocent, outside history, and he dismissed Iranian grievances against the U.S. as ancient history, refusing to discuss them. In his distorted mind, Iranians were terrorists by nature, and Iran had always been a potentially terrorist nation, regardless of what they had suffered at U.S. hands. In short, without the Shah, Carter regarded Iran as a land of swarthy and crazed medievalists, what Washington today calls a "rogue state."

Having "lost" Iran, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, along with military outposts and electronic eavesdropping stations used against the Soviet Union, the Carter administration began supporting Afghan Islamic fundamentalists, not making an issue of their having kidnapped the American ambassador in Kabul that year (1979), which resulted in his death in a rescue attempt. While U.S. officials condemned Islamic militants in Iran as terrorists, they praised them as freedom fighters in Afghanistan, though both groups drew inspiration from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was, in the eyes of official Washington, the Devil incarnate. In a 1998 interview Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted that the U.S. had begun giving military assistance to the Islamic fundamentalist moujahedeen in Afghanistan six months before the U.S.S.R. invaded the country, even though he was convinced - as he told Carter - that "this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention." Among the consequences of that policy were a decade-and-a-half of war that claimed the lives of a million Afghans, moujahedeen torture that U.S. government officials called "indescribable horror," half the Afghan population either dead, crippled, or homeless, and the creation of thousands of Islamic fundamentalist warriors dedicated to unleashing spectacularly violent attacks in countries throughout the world.

The list of disastrous policies can go on. For example, Carter continued the Ford Administration's policy of backing Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, which killed tens of thousands of Timorese during Carter's years in office, and roughly a third of the Timorese population overall between 1975 and 1979. In 1977-1978 while Indonesia engaged in wholesale destruction in the form of massive bombardment, wiping out of villages and crops, and relocation of populations to concentration camps, the Carter Administration extended the military and diplomatic support necessary to make it all possible. In late 1977 Washington replenished Indonesia's depleted supplies with a sharp increase in the flow of military equipment (Jakarta used U.S.-supplied OV-10 Broncos, planes designed for counterinsurgency operations) encouraging the ferocious attacks that reduced East Timor to the level of Pol Pot's Cambodia. In a 1979 interview with the New York Times Father Leoneto Vieira do Rego, a Portuguese priest who spent three years in the mountains of East Timor between 1976 and 1979, said that "the genocide and starvation was the result of the full-scale incendiary bombing . . . I personally witnessed - while running to protected areas, going from tribe to tribe - the great massacre from bombardment and people dying from starvation." In May 1980 Brian Eads reported for the London Observer that "malnutrition and disease are still more widespread than in ravaged Cambodia." Relating the comments of an official recently back from a visit to Cambodia, Eads added that "by the criteria of distended bellies, intestinal disease and brachial parameter - the measurement of the upper arm - the East Timorese are in a worse state than the Khmers." Another stellar achievement of the "Human Rights" administration.

Furthermore, during Carter's brief reign he ordered production of the neutron bomb (which his administration praised for "only" destroying people while leaving property intact), endorsed "flexible response" and "limited" nuclear war, lobbied for the radar-evading cruise missile, developed a rapid deployment force for instant intervention anywhere, enacted selective service registration in peacetime, and advocated the construction of first-strike MX missiles for use in a nuclear shell game along an elaborate system of underground railroad tracks proposed for the Utah desert. While lecturing the Soviets on human rights, he escalated state terror in El Salvador, crushed democracy in South Korea, gave full support to Indonesia's near genocide in East Timor, and maintained or increased funding for the Shah, Somoza, Marcos, Brazil's neo-Nazi Generals, and the dictatorships of Guatemala, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Bolivia, and Zaire. He refused to heed Archbishop Romero's desperate plea to cut off U.S. aid to the blood drenched Salvadoran junta, and Romero was promptly assassinated. Furthermore, he said nothing at all when the London Sunday Times revealed that the torture of Arabs implicated "all of Israel's security forces" and was so "systematic that it cannot be dismissed as a handful of 'rogue cops' exceeding orders." And though he presented himself as sympathetic to those who had opposed the Vietnam war, he refused to pay reconstruction aid on the grounds that during the devastating U.S. attack on the tiny country, "the destruction was mutual." (Try arguing that the Nazi invasion of Poland wasn't a crime because "destruction was mutual.")

Carter turned domestic policy over to Wall Street, refusing to increase the minimum wage and telling his Cabinet that increasing social spending "is something we just can't do." According to Peter Bourne, special assistant to the president in the Carter White House, he "did not see health care as every citizen's right," though every other industrial state in the world except apartheid South Africa disagreed with him. He understood that liberals desired it, but, Bourne notes, "he never really accepted it." Instead, "he preferred to talk movingly of his deep and genuine empathy for those who suffered for lack of health care, as though the depth of his compassion could be a substitute for a major new and expensive government solution for the problem." In point of fact, money can be saved under a government funded plan, but Carter was uninterested. He insisted on controlling business costs rather than providing universal coverage, neglecting to note that under Medicare - universal insurance for the elderly - administrative costs were a fraction of those charged under private HMOs.

Carter simply could not comprehend the vast unmet social needs that existed (and exist) in the United States. He thought there was a way to maintain a global military presence, balance the budget, and keep business costs low while adequately meeting social welfare needs via reorganizing programs. When his Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joe Califano informed him that without increased funding many welfare recipients would be worse off after any reorganization than before, Carter erupted: "Are you telling me that there is no way to improve the present welfare system except by spending billions of dollars? In that case, to hell with it!" In response to a comment that his denial of federal funding for poor people's abortions was unfair, Carter summed up the political philosophy that rendered him hopelessly unprogressive: "Well, as you know, there are many things in life that are not fair, that wealthy people can afford and poor people cannot."

Like political candidates who do their bidding.


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Peter G. Bourne, Jimmy Carter - A Comprehensive Biography from Plains to Postpresidency, (Scribner, 1997)

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