Friday, February 28, 2014

Concern-Trolling the Bro People

The social justice charm offensive from an increasingly irrelevant White House continues, full hot-air steam ahead.

The latest episode in the president's tanking telenovela series ("I've Got a Pen and a Phone!") debuted yesterday with the Biblical title "I Am My Brother's Keeper." Aimed at paying lip service to the plight of minority youth, it managed to totally ignore the role that the American Ruling Class continues to play in causing and perpetuating institutional racism. The star-studded cast chosen by Barack Obama to headline his event told the real story before he even uttered his first maudlin word.

Because nothing inspires black and brown boys invited to the White House to pose as the extras in a PR stunt like the living specter of ex-Mayor Michael "Stop & Frisk" Bloomberg of New York and The World. His devotion to racial profiling is topped only by an ongoing partnership with Goldman Sachs, that places cynical bets on minority youth's  prison recidivism rates. And then there was Chicago's Rahm "Mayor One Percent" Emanuel, fresh from his marathon crusade to close more than 50 public schools in poor, predominately black and brown neighborhoods. And don't forget General Colin "Lying Our Way Into War" Powell to provide that sweet, tasty layer of Shock and Awe frosting on top of the inspirational cupcake.

In framing his Brother's Keeper remarks around his own self-portrait and substituting inspirational autobiography for actual policy, Obama simply once again confirmed what Adolph Reed, Jr. had just recently observed in an interview with Bill Moyers:

BILL MOYERS: I can imagine that if President Obama were sitting here talking with you or you were at the White House talking with him, he'd say, Adolph, I understand your diagnosis. But what you have to understand is that pragmatism can be and often is an effective agent or tool or weapon in the long-range struggle for social justice.
And I know you're impatient, I know you believe in this restructuring of society, but we're not going to get there with the wave of a wand. And it takes just as it did in the civil rights movement, a long time for me to get here to the White House, it's going to take a long time for this country to get where you would take it.
ADOLPH REED: Right. Oh, I am absolutely certain that he would say something like that. I admit that this is kind of treading maybe, into troublesome water, but among the reasons that I know Obama's type so well is, you know, I've been teaching at elite institutions for more than 30 years.
And that means that I've taught his cohort that came through Yale actually at the time that he was at, you know, Columbia and Harvard. And I recall an incident in a seminar in, you know, black American political thought with a young woman who was a senior who said something in the class. And I just blurted out that it seem, that the burden of what she said seemed to be that the whole purpose of this Civil Rights Movement was to make it possible for people like her to go to Yale and then to go to work in investment banking.
And she said unabashedly, well, yes, yes, and that's what I believe. And again, I didn't catch myself in time, so I just said to her, well, I wish somebody had told poor Viola Liuzzo, you know, before she left herself family in Michigan and got herself killed that that's what the punch line was going to be, because she might've stayed home to watch her kids grow up. And I think--
BILL MOYERS: This was the woman who on her own initiative went down during the civil rights struggle to Selma, Alabama to join in the fight for voting rights and equality, and was murdered.
ADOLPH REED: Right, exactly. I'm not prepared to accept as my metric of the extent of racial justice or victories of the struggles for racial justice, the election of a single individual to high office or appointment of a black individual to be corporate CEO.
And proving Reed's point, here are some of the look-at-me, inspirational money quotes from Obama's "Bro" speech the other day:
And the point was I could see myself in these young men.  And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving, so when I made a mistake the consequences were not as severe.  I had people who encouraged me -- not just my mom and grandparents, but wonderful teachers and community leaders -- and they’d push me to work hard and study hard and make the most of myself.  And if I didn’t listen they said it again.  And if I didn’t listen they said it a third time. And they would give me second chances, and third chances.  They never gave up on me, and so I didn’t give up on myself.

Of course, in the case of Obama, the protections of class were at work. Race was not a factor in his expensive private school experience. And since the president is denying that there is even such a thing as the class war, his "doing what we can" is limited to free-market solutions. The rich shall not be taxed to pay for better education, enough food and improved shelter for black and brown youths and their struggling parents. The rich shall merely be asked, politely, to appear at photo-ops, to sit on task forces studying the plight of black and brown youths, to write reports to the president about the black and brown youths they are helping, to voluntarily agree to glance at the resumes of black and brown youths, to occasionally "mentor" and "empower" black and brown youths. All of this largesse is of course predicated upon black and brown youth being willing to take responsibility for their own miserable lives and pull themselves up by their own frayed bootstraps. Bro-keeping does have its limits.

Life may suck for black and brown youth, proclaims Obama, but as he humbly proclaims:
Now, to say this is not to deny the enormous strides we’ve made in closing the opportunity gaps that marred our history for so long.  My presence is a testimony to that progress.  Across this country, in government, in business, in our military, in communities in every state we see extraordinary examples of African American and Latino men who are standing tall and leading, and building businesses, and making our country stronger.  Some of those role models who have defied the odds are with us here today -- the Magic Johnsons or the Colin Powells who are doing extraordinary things -- the Anthony Foxxes.
And let him make himself perfectly clear, as clear as a reassuring dog-whistle to Wall Street can be: Being your Brother's Keeper is not gonna cost you one red cent, plutocrats and political donors! Because, as Uncle Ronnie said, government is not the solution, it's the problem. As Bubba Clinton so valiantly chimed in, "The era of Big Government Is Over!"
Now, just to be clear -- “My Brother’s Keeper” is not some big, new government program.  In my State of the Union address, I outlined the work that needs to be done for broad-based economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.  We have manufacturing hubs, infrastructure spending -- I've been traveling around the country for the last several weeks talking about what we need to do to grow the economy and expand opportunity for everybody.  And in the absence of some of those macroeconomic policies that create more good jobs and restore middle-class security, it’s going to be harder for everyone to make progress.  And for the last four years, we’ve been working through initiatives like Promise Zones to help break down the structural barriers -- from lack of transportation to substandard schools -- that afflict some of this country’s most impoverished counties, and we’ll continue to promote these efforts in urban and rural counties alike.
Moving at the hyper-capitalistic speed of light, traveling all over the blighted landscape, never stopping in one place long enough for people to pay attention or ask probing questions. It's a promise, it's a zone, it's a charter school, it's private profit at public expense.
We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it's not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life.  (Applause.)
Get married and lift yourselves out of the poverty created in large part by deregulated predatory financial markets. Otherwise, the de facto policy of incarcerating more black men in American prisons today than there were slaves on plantations will continue. America is the Brother's Jail Keeper. Personal responsibility trumps government malfeasance every single time. It's, like, totally Biblical. Puritan, Calvinistic, Cotton Mather Biblical. And that is why, out of the thousands and thousands of Bro People languishing in prison for minor drug offenses, President Mather righteously commuted the sentences of only a token eight of them. One of them, oh so coincidentally, just happened to be a cousin of the Democratic governor of Massachusetts. To whom was added the lucky, randomly-chosen seven.
So often, the issues facing boys and young men of color get caught up in long-running ideological arguments about race and class, and crime and poverty, the role of government, partisan politics. We've all heard those arguments before.  But the urgency of the situation requires us to move past some of those old arguments and focus on getting something done and focusing on what works.  It doesn’t mean the arguments are unimportant; it just means that they can't paralyze us.  And there’s enough goodwill and enough overlap and agreement that we should be able to go ahead and get some things done, without resolved everything about our history or our future.  
Gloss over all the official complicity and malfeasance and corruption. Protect the political criminal and financial class at all costs. Make them part of the pretend solution to the very social ills they had a starring role in creating. Look forward, not back, just like we did with the Bush-Cheney Chamber of Torture Horrors. In other words, keep maintaining the status quo of misery while we talk ourselves to (your) death.
So today after my remarks are done, I’m going to pen this presidential memorandum directing the federal government not to spend more money, but to do things smarter, to determine what we can do right now to improve the odds for boys and young men of color, and make sure our agencies are working more effectively with each other, with those businesses, with those philanthropies, and with local communities to implement proven solutions.
More neoliberal, meaningless words were never spoken in just one little paragraph. He is ordering the government to not spend any more money on social programs for brown and black youth. Like it really needed reminding.

*Update, 3/1: Here is contributor Pearl Volkov's "TimesPick" response to Charles Blow's column on Fathers and Sons:

Mr. Blow: Even having a father in the house, doesn't solve the problems his children face if he can't find a job, or has to work at a menial position due to lack of education, or keep his children healthy with proper nutrition or pay for medical help when necessary. Often, such fathers suffer from guilt and depression as a result, when they wish nothing more than being able to function fully. This is especially true among minority groups and I fault President Obama for refusing to deal with the needs of so many citizens. To me he does not represent the role models of the black men and women who marched for civil liberties, who try and fight injustice and neglect despite the obstacles. I am haunted by the hopeful, tearful faces of all those black voters who watched his inauguration with such joy in their eyes., He speaks of the sadness of fatherless families but I question his sincerity. He could and should have done so much to turn things in a different direction. He had the choices of the kind of people to surround and advise him, to organize citizens in work jobs badly needed instead of casting blame on the Republicans when he could have instituted constructive possibilities for people in need.
I appreciate your column Mr.Blow and your admirable attempt as a father to guide your children. But let us face facts and recognize that President Obama does not represent the kind of leadership black fathers can rely on. His recent speech was an insult to them.


Will said...

I unfortunately overheard some of Obama's blame-the-victim shtick while trying in vain to ignore the TV & do a few chores. (Elderly relatives--couldn't turn it down or off.) All I kept thinking was I couldn't wait for Karen to rip him a new one. As usual, she did not disappoint!

I'm also waiting for someone like Glen Ford or Margaret Kimberley to chime in. How much longer can African-Americans take being spoken so condescendingly to by this guy? Unbelievable.

Jay–Ottawa said...

“I’d rather be happy than right.” That’s what one of my nephews keeps saying with a genuine smile, even when his wife forgets his birthday or boils the broccoli grey because that's the way her mother did it. And so he lives in a tranquil household.

Most reasonable people are wiling to give the White Lie a pass. Even to welcome it. That is certainly the case for the majority of citizens in the US of A. And this wise majority further understands that the higher you go up the ladder of an institution, like a business, university or the government, the bigger the White Lies allowed.

People like Glenn Greenwald don’t grasp that unwritten truth in ethics manuals or the Constitution. What is a bold-faced, cheating, weasel-natured lie in everyday life for you and me is just a Big White Lie for elite administrators like Obama, Clapper and Holder. Their goal, beyond criticism and quite laudable, is national tranquility –– tranquility in a time of terrorism, partisanship and purist bellyaching.

The litigious Glenn Greenwald goes bananas over every Big White Lie, as he did a day or so ago in his latest essay on The Intercept. And so do most of the commenters who follow in his train of punctilious pickiness. An example from commenter Brad B:

“Great article Glenn. I’m glad you guys are now up and running. I hope you will continue to slap Clapper, Rogers, Feinstein, Brennen, Hayden and the biggest criminal of them all, President Hope and Change, every day and twice on fucking Sundays. They are pigs who should be crated up and shipped with their Bushie Predecessors to the Hague.”

Over the top, right? Have such muckrakers no shame? Talk about trolls. The purists keep stirring up discontent. I say give the Big White Liars a pass. The enviable gift that comes with the Big White Lie is coast-to-coast tranquility. Wouldn’t you rather be tranquil than right?

Anne Arbor said...

Karen, you're right about everything you have said, as usual. Obama makes his own story into a nice fairy tale and the offers it as a nice myth that other young men of color should follow. They all, of course, have his brains and so it should be no problem, right? And they can all go to college without taking on any debt, just like Barack did, right? And the economy is booming just it was for so many of the years that Barack was coming up, right? He's a liar, plain and simple. He betrays his own people without a second thought. Still sleeps well at night. Just another elitist sociopath.

James F Traynor said...

Listening to the Moyers interview with Reed was really discouraging. He said the only thing we can do, under the circumstances, is vote for the lesser of two evils. That was why I voted for Obama in the last election. Out of a real fear of Romney (he really is a dangerous man)and in the hope of some change in the Democratic Party, but since there has been no serious challenge to Hilary in '16 I've decided enough is enough.

It's better if the Republicans get complete control of the government and accomplish their goals: the elimination of Social Security, Medicare, the establishment of a militarized right wing militia (already underway through the police) and the complete enslavement of the working class. Then perhaps there will be a real revolution, a violent one. They are terrible things but without one there will be no change and only further disintegration of our social structure.

annenigma said...


As the pro athletes dragged before Congress can attest, the Big White Lie used to be called perjury and it was a felony. Now that only applies if you are a regime outsider. Poor Bill Clinton couldn't even catch a break back in the day when lies were punished and truth was expected, at least in front of the cameras for political purposes. Now lies are overlooked and revealing the truth is punished with the heaviest of hands, such as the Espionage Act for giving aid and comfort to the enemy: the People.

You have to give Obama some credit though. For all his phoniness, lies, and broken promises, he is pretty darned transparent - just as he promised to be. Under his regime, inconvenient laws and the Constitution are simply nullified. Anyone who has a problem with that must not have wanted the Change he promised in 2008, and must be one of those Sanctimonious Purists, like that civil rights attorney Glenn Greenwald.

Oops! I don't think we're supposed to mention GG, or ES, or the N/S/A on this website anymore because we don't want the S_T_A_S_I to start lurking here at Sardonicky.

At least at The//Intercept, we can address our comments directly to the s*p*i*e*s since they are probably monitoring it closely. I have to say it can be a refreshing change to re-experience truth, while we still can, even if only among ourselves.

Btw, if anyone wants to actually enjoy some artificial tranquility, I'll suggest a laugh-filled and laid back vacation in Colorado. There are ways to be right AND tranquil without swallowing the swill of consensus reality created by the regime and their media partners.

But for real tranquility, my personal preference is still meditation.

James F Traynor said...

Remember the tobacco CEOs committing perjury in living color before Congress (they'd been sworn in, all of them.) But Clinton had the charges dropped through his attorney general at the time, Janet Reno, I think. It had been proven that they'd lied like rugs.

annenigma said...


Now that the Emperor has no clothes and everyone around the world sees that ugly, revolting sight, there are demands by world citizens and governments for changes in laws and upgrades to their infrastructure so as to be less penetrable by the peeping Five Eyes of the British-American global Empire. It's not just peeping either. It's cheating on other countries in various ways for corporate economic advantage, out in the open now and more to come.

Speaking of no clothes and peeping, did you read about the 'Optic Nerve' program, a joint partnership between NSA and GCHQ just revealed thanks to Snowden's documents? Who would have guessed there was so much everyday porn going on between friends and lovers on Yahoo which is now stored by governments. What a treasure trove for blackmail or just plain gross embarassment! I bet there are more than a few politicians who are shaking in their skivvies.

So don't give up the ship James. I know you thought that electing Obama would buy us some time to get organized and that didn't happen, but Snowden happened, and his revelations are just starting to make big waves - maybe even a tsunami. You never know who else might suddenly pop up with some more files. The encrypted Secure Drop system for whistleblowers, originally developed by computer genius Aaron Swartz (RIP), is now up and running.

In the meantime, there are some serious actions and laws being considered and passed by foreign countries in response to being outraged by the Snowden revelations and there is more ugly mess to be revealed, not to mention the lawsuits, foreign and domestic. Brazil and Germany are cooperating on building new undersea cables so data will bypass American ones. Those measures and others to come could be far more effective than anything we Americans can do at the ballot box or in the streets to start changing this corrupt regime, formerly known as democracy.

On a related matter, Will mentioned Glen Ford and it reminded me that there is another great piece by him titled 'Obama's War Against Civilization' at the Black Agenda Report. "This is not law, but its opposite: “anti-law,” promulgated by a decaying, outlaw empire." They don't mince words over there.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Off topic Alert.

Twenty-fourteen is an ugly anniversary year. Will Ukraine/Crimea serve as the Serbia/Sarajevo our day dragging world powers into another big mess in 2014?

The elements busy at work in bringing things to a head seem to be many, murky and confused. As in 1914, alliances are tangled; no telling how they will sort themselves out. Putin has moved into the Crimea, internationally recognized as established Ukranian territory but containing a majority of Russians who might become second-class citizens. After all, it’s his (Putin’s) own backyard. Obama has issued warnings because the entire globe is his backyard.

The European Union and NATO, already stressed by centrifugal forces within their existing organizations, have nevertheless been reaching out to pull more problems onto their respective plates. Forty percent of the gas that keeps Europeans warm comes from Russia, mostly through pipelines laid across the Ukraine.

Knowledgeable commentators on our own blogroll are divided. We’re told the deposed leader of the Ukraine was a Russian stooge and corrupt. At the same time we hear that the toughs who kicked him out are neo-nazis. Even Greenwald is being challenged by to explain what Big Daddy Omidyar was up when he contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to one side of the conflict.

I find it hard to plumb the true motives and real forces behind the Ukrainian revolt and to pick sides. Is it possible that all the principals are self-interested bad guys hiding behind the usual heaps of internationalist propaganda? The best course seems to be “keep out.”

Zee said...

Off-Topic Reply Alert!


Absolutely, the best course would be to “keep out” of it!

This is yet another situation, far from American shores, that we have no good cause to meddle in. If the Europeans imagine that they have some understanding as to who the “good guys” are, well, let them sort it out on their own—no matter how longingly they gaze at Uncle Sugar for leadership in the absence of any of their own.

The last thing that this country needs is another in our unending series of debilitating wars that will, once again, have no good outcome. Indeed, as you suggest, this could even turn into something resembling “1914”—or worse—all over again.

However, I am terrified that Obama, having been left looking foolish after his “red line” non-threat in Syria, will have to strut his “national security credentials” in advance of the 2014 election, by doing something unimaginably stupid in Ukraine. Egged on, of course, by every military-might-flexing, Republican jingoist in sight.

I wish I could gloat by saying, “Hey, I didn't vote for Obama!” but by now McCain would have done even worse: we'd actually be “on the ground” in Syria—fighting for God-knows-what—and about to start WW III in the Ukraine.

Such is our “leadership” today.

P.S. And if Progressive bloggers/journalists are actually fretting over who the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are, and maybe even donating money to one side or the other, well, perhaps they aren't as bright as they give themselves credit for, either.

annenigma said...

Anytime we incite and support forces attempting the violent overthrow of a democratically elected government instead of advocating for elections to replace them suggests we are worse than hypocrites. Of course elections aren't conducive to putting our puppet in place, as evidenced in Egypt, thus our denial that it was a 'military coup' in order to continue arming their military to the tune of $1 billion a year as we have for the past 40 years.

It's clear to me that the US Government is rarely, if ever, the Good Guy played so artfully for the world audience. It makes me think that if We the People ever managed to elect someone the PTB didn't like, we'll be allowed a violent overthrow here also so that they could install a proper puppet. Maybe that's why they haven't taken away the Second Amendment yet - they might just need gun owners to be 'useful idiots'. (Ouch!)

4Runner said...

@ Jay-Ottawa

Let us also not forget the genocidal conflict among Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia-Macedonia after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. And remember the touching song "Miss Sarajevo" by U2--there are several videos on YouTube. Look for the live concert versions featuring Pavarotti.