Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Propaganda of Identity Politics

Right after giving yet another wet sloppy kiss of understanding to the  Wall Street crooks who've destroyed the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans, Attorney General Eric Holder paid a quick visit Wednesday to one of the countless economic wastelands directly spawned by the malfeasance of the same financial predator class.

Holder aimed to comfort the oppressed while pretending he was not the oppressors' top enabler.

 Without admitting wrongdoing, Holder glibly acknowledged to the good folks of Ferguson, MO, that he, too, is black, and yes, that racial profiling has happened even to him. He hugged the black relatives of the latest black victim of the punishing state. He hugged the "good cop" black state police captain. He promised a full federal investigation, and formally decreed that the healing process may now begin. Justice shall prevail in Ferguson, most likely the same way it prevailed in Florida after the Trayvon Martin killing. Everybody calm the hell down.

And then, just as quickly as he'd breezed into town in a truly awesome ostentatious motorcade symbolizing the postmodern late capitalist meaning of Black Power, Holder breezed right back out again. Presumably, he will return to the ocean-breezy Martha's Vineyard vacation briefly interrupted earlier in the week for the serious staged optics of this White House photo-op:

Still Life With Fruit: Official White House Propaganda Body Language Photo

This picture was prominently featured on the homepage of the New York Times, which in its latest attempt at stenographic whitewashing, obligingly made the Ferguson police riots all about the blackness of two of the most powerful men in America. The article itself was implicitly racist, given that the original subhead (since removed) gushed that when it comes to the ideology of race relations, you really can't tell the difference between Obama and Holder. You just cannot tell them apart. The Times made the amazing discovery that elite black people can have different personalities but still agree on shit!

  Much less prominently featured by the Times yesterday was a scathing indictment of Holder by Wall Streeter-turned-columnist William D. Cohan, who blasted the many Holder sweetheart deals with the financial mob. The latest deal has Bank of America agreeing to pay a multibillion-dollar settlement to the government for the mortgage fraud which, ironically enough, has disproportionately victimized minority families, rendering them increasingly more destitute under the Obama administration. That includes the families in riot-torn Ferguson, where the "official" black poverty level is nearly 25%. 

In reviewing Holder's penultimate settlement, with Citigroup, Cohan couched the corruption of the Obama administration in Shakespearean terms, calling Holder's no-jail time settlements with fraudulent tycoons "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Once again last month, we were treated to the sorry spectacle of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. holding a news conference to proclaim that a “too big to fail” bank had been brought to justice for its reprehensible behavior in the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. All things considered, it was fine theater with the obvious caveat that nothing even remotely close to justice had been served.
This time, Mr. Holder was taking a victory lap for strong-arming Citigroup into paying $7 billion — including a $4 billion cash penalty, the largest such single payment ever — to settle all civil claims against it for its role in packaging troubled mortgages into securities and selling them as investments in the years before the crisis, even though a bunch of Citigroup bankers knew better and did it anyway.
That Mr. Holder prefers large settlements to prosecutions is no surprise to anyone familiar with the so-called Holder Doctrine, which stems from his now-famous June 1999 memorandum — when he was deputy attorney general — that included the thought that big financial settlements may be preferable to criminal convictions because a criminal conviction often carries severe unintended consequences, like loss of jobs and the inability to continue as a going concern. (See Andersen, Arthur, for instance.)
That Mr. Holder, as attorney general, is following through on an idea that he proposed as a subordinate 15 years ago does not make his behavior any less infuriating. The fact is that by settling with the big Wall Street banks for billions of dollars — money that comes out of their shareholders’ pockets — Mr. Holder is allowing them to avoid the sunshine that Louis Brandeis wrote 100 years ago was the best disinfectant. Instead of shining the bright light on wrongdoing that took place at the Wall Street banks, Mr. Holder’s settlements allow them to cover it up permanently.
Mind you that Cohan's devastating op-ed, which should have been featured prominently on Wednesday's front page, was relegated to the less popular DealBook section, which caters mainly to Wall Street wonks and gets less clicks from the general readership.

 Here, courtesy of usual sycophantic suspect Peter Baker and assisted by Matt Apuzzo, is part of the "Tale of Two Elite Black Princes" that wound up on the front page instead:
Mr. Holder, 63, is the one leaning forward, both in the photograph released by the White House and on the issues underlying the crisis in Ferguson, Mo. A child of the civil rights era, he grew up shaped by the images of violence in Selma, Ala., and joined sit-ins at Columbia University where protesters renamed an office after Malcolm X. Now in high office, he pushes for policy changes and is to fly on Wednesday to Ferguson to personally promise justice in the case of a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.
 Mr. Obama, 53, is the one seemingly holding back in the White House photograph, contemplative, even brooding, as if seeking to understand how events could get so out of hand. He was too young and removed to experience the turmoil of the 1960s, growing up in a multiracial household in Hawaii and Indonesia. As he now seeks balance in an unbalanced time, he wrestles with the ghosts of history that his landmark election, however heady, failed to exorcise.
(First as Cohan tragedy, then as Baker farce.)
This is a community aflame with a passion to know the truth, and Obama is treating it dispassionately and with distance,” he (prominent elite black dude Michael Eric Dyson)  said. “There is no blood flowing through the veins with empathy.”
On the other hand, Mr. Dyson said: “Eric feels it in his gut. It rises to his brain. It’s expressed on his tongue.” Mr. Holder, he added, is “an up and down race man who understands the moral consequences of the law on the lives of black people.”
This statement makes Holder's coddling of Wall Street crooks all the more cynical and damning if he actually claims to understand the moral consequences of his personal collusion with them and the effect of that collusion on the lives of black people. They lost their homes. They lost their jobs. Their hours were cut, their wages stagnated. The Ferguson community is aflame with passion, all right, but knowing the truth about a shooting is only part of it. That people are really aflame with a passion for social and economic justice, is apparently not deemed worthy either of front page news or of Holder's concern-trolling.

The Times puff-piece, which obligingly helps the White House set up the drama of the two elite black dudes, then pivots to the White House pretending to vociferously deny that any such drama exists.  It's the tried and true propaganda tactic of creating a straw man (or two) and knocking it back down, thus diverting attention from the real culprit: neoliberal corruption and capitalism gone wild. To wit:
Such sentiments exasperate the White House, which denies any substantive distance between the two. Aides to Mr. Obama said he has been less visceral in his public remarks than his comments after the Trayvon Martin case because there is still an active investigation.
“People shouldn’t presume because the attorney general might be more outspoken on a subject that he’s not consulting with the president and that the president isn’t completely supportive of the steps he’s taking,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser and close friend to both.
Okay, so that was our clue that this whole propaganda puff piece is the brainchild of Obama sister-wife Valerie Jarrett, aka the "Night Stalker," who has also interrupted her own Martha's Vineyard vacation to work the phones as "outreach" to various media personalities and "community leaders" to get the Ferguson race narrative spin back under control.
 After Mr. Obama won the presidency in 2008, he made Mr. Holder attorney general in part because of what Ms. Jarrett called “this shared vision” of overhauling the justice system. They have grown so close that they schedule Martha’s Vineyard vacations to coincide. Even closer are their wives, Michelle Obama and Dr. Sharon Malone.
Okay, so that was our clue that the "overhauling" (willful ignorance) of the justice system goes all the way to the highest levels and is an integral part of the Obama-Holder shared vision of fealty to the .01%. This shared vision is also manifest in Holder's "legal" opinions purporting to justify the drone murders of  Anwar al-Awlaki and other human beings. The overhauling includes the Obama administration's support, in a Supreme Court case brought by a black New Jersey man, of the police state's practice of conducting demeaning body cavity and strip-searches of people arrested for minor traffic offenses. 

The list of the shared vision atrocities goes on and on and on.
But to soften the blow, Jarrett and the Times have even rendered the Obama and Holder wives into complicit players in the cozy incestuous drama.

Meanwhile, there is at least one powerful black dude out there refusing to be sucked into the Official Obama Spin Machine. Kareem Abdul Jabar, a former basketball player who is obviously not included in Obama's tight circle of black jock/CEO  golfing buddies, actually "went there" and acknowledged that Ferguson is as much (or even more) about class and poverty as it is about race:
By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)
This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.And that’s how the status quo wants it.
It's not just about white vs. black, citizens vs. cops, right vs. left.

It's mainly about the Class War. It's about the obscenely rich vs. the rest of us. Who but the obscenely rich could have facilitated the multibillion-dollar militarization of local police departments in the first place? Who but the obscenely rich profit from closing poor neighborhood schools to make room for charters? Who but the obscenely rich ensure that the private prisons in the incarceration capital of the world remain full to bursting with black and brown people?

It's only through the slick propaganda of identity politics that the Powers That Be can maintain their strength, elevating corporate shills like Obama and Holder into victim-hero status and making us forget and gloss over their own myriad misdeeds and betrayals. We can sanctimoniously defend them against the rabid right, and tell poor minorities to emulate them as we revel in the vicarious pleasure of their elevation. Obama and Holder overcame, and yet they haven't, quite  And thus the liberal class, needing the comfort of the lesser evil, bases its affection for this un-dynamic duo more upon the color of their skin rather than upon the content of their character.

It's a perversion of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech.

It's a cynical ploy. And given that most people, very sanely, no longer believe in the American Dream and rightly predict that their children will be worse off than they are, the politics of identity are just about all the elites have got left in their bag of cruel tricks to keep the people divided and conquered.

It's a testament to the effectiveness of slick propaganda that, compared to other civilized nations suffering the effects of global austerity inflicted by the ruling class, most Americans still cling to the belief that not only is there still a large middle class, but that they are actually still members of it.

The majority of Americans self-identifying as poor and forming a trans-racial solidarity movement of the oppressed would be a very dangerous thing indeed.



Denis Neville said...

Waiting on all "the facts" is a popular refrain from those in law enforcement and others these days.

In other words, let’s give “the Negroes” enough time to cool off before all "the facts come in."

St. Louis County Prosecutor McCullough said his father's 1964 shooting [when he was 12] by a black man at a public housing complex was an "incredibly irrelevant facet" as he sought to "make sure everybody gets a full and fair hearing."

Good luck with that.

And AG Eric Holder? Obama? Our black misleadership class, Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report:

“Once or twice a year Eric Holder and/or the president discover police brutality, racial profiling, or the injustice of the drug war, or mass incarceration. The president and attorney general have waxed philosophical about racism. But Holder and Obama are not philosophers, pastors or teachers. They are the two most powerful black men in the US. Their actions reveal their expressions of concern and feeling our pain are no more than politically expedient drive-by gestures to keep black America in line.”

“Obama enjoys, at least among Democrats and the black political class, a kind of immunity - let's call it what it is - a ghetto pass, even as they act in explicit contradiction to everything their African American constituents believe in.”

“Black America's political class, its learned and wise preachers, pundits and politicians counsel us in this, the age of the First Black President to “get realistic” by dialing back our expectations for economic democracy, by dropping our demands for peace and justice. After all, in the world of mature grown folks, expecting this or any president to crack down on greedy corporations and banksters, to stem the tide of foreclosures and evictions, to rein in health care costs, to refrain from starting predatory foreign wars in Asia and Africa, or to preserve Medicare and Social Security is just plain foolish. Democratic expectations, they say, are the province of the socially immature, the politically unsophisticated.”

Democrats are simply better than Republicans. Always have been, always will be. After all, they're not ignorant white supremacists, are they?

“Where black politics was once about struggling to uplift everyone, to increasing opportunities for jobs, education, transit heath care and housing, all that's left of black political ideology is what the University of Pennsylvania professor Adolph Reed calls “representationalism.” It's the only remaining justification, he says, for the existence of our black political class. Somebody has to stand up and claim to represent us, and to claim whatever contracts and perks flow from that, even if it's only as “managers” of those racial divides and racial inequities which only the immature imagine should be seriously tackled, let alone solved. Representationalism has shriveled the horizon of black politics, of black nationalism, to preserving the careers of black politicians, nothing more.”

Public sacrifice of black poor people, as an underclass ideology, has been embraced the right and the left.

Cirze said...

Eric Holder as the next Dim candidate for President?

About the same as Obama.

Start rounding up the voters!

Denis Neville said...

Why don’t white people, even liberals like Elizabeth Warren, talk about racism anymore?

The United States has the largest per capita prison population in the world.

White people, hearing this, say stop putting so many people in jail.

However, telling white people the criminal justice system is racist makes them like it even more.

When told that although African Americans represent 12% of the U.S. population, they now comprise nearly 40% of the prison population, white people are less likely to think it’s unfair.

Informing the public about Blacks' disproportionate incarceration rate may actually bolster support for punitive policies that perpetuate inequality, according to the Stanford University study, “Racial Disparities in Incarceration Increase Acceptance of Punitive Policies,” published in Psychological Science, journal of the Association for Psychological Science:

“Many legal advocates and social activists seem to assume that bombarding the public with images, statistics, and other evidence of racial disparities will motivate people to join the cause and fight inequality. But we found that, ironically, exposure to extreme racial disparities may make the public less, and not more, responsive to attempts to lessen the severity of policies that help maintain those disparities."

This is why white politicians, like Elizabeth Warren, address education inequalities with class-based or income-based measures rather than race-based ones; why they talk about unemployment and joblessness and the need for criminal justice reform without referring to the enormous and glaring racial disparities. They have learned that when advocating for criminal justice reform, systemically racist unfairness cannot be mentioned.

One must be smiling, silent, cunning and wicked in this world. Discrimination against the poor is still socially acceptable. Racist elements of such discrimination remain unspoken and denied.

Kat said...

White people will talk about racism in the proper context. The proper context is when discussing the "obstacles" that Obama faces.
Paul Krugman passed the baton to some academics from Princeton that threw some numbers and words into a blender and came up with the NYT op ed "Obama cares. Just look at the numbers." The complacency and tone deafness of the op ed is matched only by that of the commenters. What I get from the whole mess is the important points are that 1)Obama has not effectively blown his horn or is too modest to do so(I replied that Obama is quite willing to blow his horn-- "I'm really good at killing people. But that hasn't been printed)
2)That the most important thing for the readers is that their choice or vote or whatever has been "vindicated".
Lives actually affected by poverty seems like an afterthought (or perhaps not even a thought) to many of the commenters.

Denis Neville said...

Adolph Reed saw the propaganda of identity politics coming as far back as the mid-90′s:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program -- the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics, as in Haiti and wherever else the International Monetary Fund has sway. So far the black activist response hasn’t been up to the challenge. We have to do better.”

- Adolph Reed’s 1996 assessment of Obama, shortly after Obama won his first Illinois state senate race, “The Curse of Community,” Village Voice, January 16, 1996

Isaiah Earhart said...

I wish everyone in the world would read this excellent piece By Karen.

I loved the Kareem article in Time. Kareem is a brilliant and kind man who, due to his shy personality, is generally misunderstood.

"The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long." ~ Abdul-Jabbar

Thank you Karen for sharing your brilliant writing.

Zee said...

Here's a link to the article mentioned by Kat:

Zee said...

I still think that the best way to empty America's prisons would be to legalize each and every recreational drug and make their production, sale and taxation the sole province of the federal government.

This would put an end to the well-documented disproportionate sentencing of minorities for drug offences ( vis-à-vis sentences meted out to white offenders)—as there would no longer be any “drug offences”—and largely destroy the criminal syndicates that are turning life in Mexico and Central America into hell for their citizens.

Taxes from drug sales would be used for drug rehabilitation for those who want it, and for treatment of mental illnesses that contribute to the desire to use drugs in the first place.

My guess is that our domestic property and violent crime rates would plummet, as well.

Sadly, America will never become smart enough to understand that the best way to “win” the war on drugs would be to admit defeat and surrender.

Denis Neville said...

The police, courts, and prisons are the institutional machinery through which neoliberal tenets are being socially imprinted on the lower class populations.

It is becoming increasingly common for people to serve jail time in America's new debtors' prisons. As if lifted from the pages of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, more and more states and municipalities are creating de facto Marshalsea debtors’ prisons in which individuals too poor to pay their fines or court-ordered obligations are incarcerated without being afforded the opportunity to be represented by counsel.

Not paying court fees can also result in the loss of driver’s license. Driving with a revoked license in order to work to earn money to pay the fees can result in arrest and further fines and imprisonment.

The legal aid firm ArchCity Defenders in its “Muncipal Courts White Paper” accuses Ferguson of stopping African American drivers disproportionately for traffic violations, fining them in court sessions that were closed to the public and jailing them when they were unable to pay.

“Ferguson is a city of 21,203 residents living in 8,192 households. The majority (67%) of residents are African-American; 22% of residents live below the poverty level, including 35.3% of children under 18. Ferguson’s unemployment rate is 14.3%, more than double that of both St. Louis County (6.1%) and Missouri (6.6%).

Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of $2,635,400. In 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court disposed of 24,532 warrants and 12,018 cases, or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household. The docket for an average court session may include as many as 1,500 cases. Assuming an 80% conviction rate, the average fine in a case resulting in a guilty verdict would be $275.

In addition to such heavy legal prosecution, Ferguson Municipal Court routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defendant arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

By incarcerating defendants for their poverty, Ferguson’s practices “destroy the public’s confidence in the justice system and its component parts.”

“I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.” - Mother Jones

Jay - Ottawa said...

Curb drugs? Or pass out money? Which solution is more likely to improve the landscape?

We’ve seen so many decades of street violence, institutional corruption, caging and the murder (by both sides) of thousands upon thousands in the drug war. Still the trade expands; the war expands.

I agree, legalization is an attractive option –– but only on chat clouds in the blue sky and as a diversion from the heart of the matter. Legalization is about as politically likely in the US and as remote in time as that blessed day when society converts to the vegan credo.

The root problem is not drugs. It’s money. Money readily obtainable through jobs. The poor need paychecks coming in on a regular basis and sufficient to support a life far from the scary edge of the poor and near poor.

I recall Jimmy Breslin saying years ago that you could tell at fifty yards which guy coming down the street has a job. The working man, in overhauls, avoids the jiving dudes on the corners. The working man isn’t looking for fun. On Friday afternoons he keeps a pay envelope deep in his pocket and he’s on the way home. The unemployed, on the other hand, wear uniforms not meant for work. They’re heading nowhere in particular and gravitate to mischief. What else is there if you don’t have a job? (Jimmy said it a lot better than that, but I can’t find his words.)

There’s so much work to be done in this land. More training is not needed. Willing workers will cue up tomorrow in lines without end. Just work up a plan and start hiring. Get the flow of paychecks moving again to the bottom.

Poverty is the problem; the solution is money. In the hands of the right people.

Another thing Breslin used to say was that Rage was the only thing that kept him going in his line of work. Bootstrappers Obama and Holder lack that fire in their souls, and as the nation's top administrators their priorities are ass backwards.

Kat said...

Here, here Jay. well stated.

Pearl said...

Pentagon Hands Lucrative Guantanamo Bay Deal to Notorious Private Security
Company -

Another notch in their belts.

Denis Neville said...

Legalize each and every recreational drug?

David Simon writes:

“For many white families, marijuana remains the singular and most obvious point of vulnerability to America’s obsession with drug prohibition. Marijuana is the most basic and fundamental place where white, middle-class and affluent America intersects with the drug war. It is the place where many, many white families of economic means and political relevance encounter even the most moderate risk to their status and future. For the majority of that cohort, it is the only place where the drug war’s rubber actually hits any stretch of suburban blacktop.

Marijuana is not the core reason for our crowded prisons, and the reform of marijuana laws is, at best, triage for a failed and dystopic system that will be given another lease on life once the politically relevant portion of white America is given a pass. Eliminate the drug war’s most fundamental perceived threat to the white middle class and the air is going to rush out of the growing national opposition with the drug war so fast that our heads will spin.

Having removed much of the white, middle-class interaction with drug enforcement from the equation, those who are championing marijuana reform and ignoring the overall disaster of the drug war will be perpetuating the fundamental and continuing injustice, consigning increasingly-isolated poor people of color to the brutalities of the drug war for the foreseeable future. The game will still be the game for them, and a cruel and rigged game it will remain.”

“When traffickers realize that sentencing guidelines demand twenty- and thirty-year prison terms, what results? Deterrence? Never. Given the penalties, greater violence against witnesses and underlings is rationalized, and juveniles – less vulnerable to draconian sentences – are recruited at younger and younger ages to man the corners. For our every war-like action in this dystopic prohibition, the corresponding escalation is certain and immutable.

No longer content to merely blood and jail our own urban poor at record rates, we are now devouring the poor and desperate of a neighboring country, Mexico. Because it’s no surprise that Americans would brutalize and isolate our own poor, jail even the least violent of them in record numbers, deny them parole, destroy families and fill prisons and wreck state and federal budgets if we thought it even marginally possible that somewhere a middle-class or upper-class kid might not ever be handed a joint. And given that much, it’s even less remarkable that we are willing to support and fund such butchery among the poor and desperate of another nation altogether. After all, if we are willing to fight our drug war to the last inner-city American – if we are willing to turn our own ghettoes into no man’s lands and devour the men and women, children and families who live there in the process – why would we hestitate before fighting that same war to the last Mexican?”

annenigma said...

Speaking of identity, if not politics, is anyone else wondering about what Obama said about Jim Foley's tragic beheading, particularly this:

"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day."

Is he saying there is no just God??? Or that as Emperor of Earth he will not stand for what they did and enact some Old Testament revenge, therefore he is more just than God?

ISIS has just successfully pushed Obama's Messianic button by laying the blame on him when they stated that he was personally responsible - bargain or beheading. Nothing is more dangerous than ego, and everyone knows that Warlord Obama's is giant sized which makes him a prime target for psychological warfare - the specialty of terrorists. Unlike missiles, drones, and bombs, that type of warfare is free of cost and limitless.

It's interesting that the Obama regime has rebranded Al Qaeda as ISIS so they wouldn't have to admit (defeat) that they made them bigger and badder than ever, another lame attempt at ego defense. This is getting to be a very precarious situation.

Zee said...


I believe that I expressed at some length my support for an extensive, government-sponsored job program for the impoverished here:

Zee said...


I agree with David Simon's analysis that legalization of marijuana use and possession would be an inadequate solution.

I'm talking about legalization of ALL recrecrational drugs: heroin, cocaine, opium, meth, ecstasy, EVERYTHING.