Monday, August 31, 2020

Black and Blue In America

Culture wars which pit various factions of the poor and working classes against one other are almost always created by and waged for the ultimate benefit of the oppressive oligarchy.

That is why the Movement For a People's Party, whose 4+-hour streamed convention on Sunday was trending at #2 on Twitter, is receiving so little media coverage. It's the bloody and sometimes lethal street battles between social justice protesters and right-wing militias in a few US cities that are gobbling up all the headlines. 

It's as though a story about the burgeoning solidarity among regular people must not be allowed to take attention away from the professional marketing of fear. The increasing numbers of people who are refusing to succumb to fear and hatred of the "other," and who are also taking steps to politically organize themselves outside the confines of the two-party system strikes fear into the heart of the ruling class.

If all we hear about are Trump's tweets, and tut-tutting punditry about Black on Black violence, Black on White Violence, White on Black Violence, White on White Violence, Antifa and QAnon Violence, the propaganda about Russian Interference in Our Democracy, it just sucks us into their divide-and-conquer program and deflects our attention away from the real war, the violent class war of the Rich against the rest of us.

It tries to transform our fear of Covid-19 into fear of the Other. It tries to redirect our rational anger about the failure of the corrupt political duopoly, to both prevent disease outbreaks and to ameliorate the devastating social and economic effects of the pandemic, onto one or the other of the senile presidential candidates. The ruling "donor" class, through its political operatives, has made the conscious choice to abandon tens of millions of vulnerable people to needless suffering and death, while Wall Street posts record gains.

So, who are you going to vote for, Trump or Biden? Which side are you on - Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter? By presenting us with such limited choices and bemoaning the "divisiveness" without exploring the longstanding, underlying causes of it, maybe the Duopoly can lull us or scare us into thinking that we have no choice at all. And that it's all our fault.

For starters, one thing we should keep in mind is that protest-busting cops function as the hired weaponized buffer zone between citizens and the ruling class. The fact that America's municipal police forces have been become increasingly militarized in recent decades, with even small town departments now heavily fortified with tanks, drones and grenade launchers, is testament to the essential brutality of thst real war, the class war of the rich versus the rest of us. The oligarchic forces, be they Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, DEA, ICE, National Guard, Homeland Security, Border Patrol or cops on the beat, are mainly comprised of working class people from the same distressed communities where "civilian" jobs have been destroyed by the cruel ravages of neoliberal capitalism and its corporation-serving "free trade" deals. All you need to achieve the  American Dream of a secure job and a decent wage is a gun, a uniform, and a pension -which may or may not be there for you once Wall Street gets done fiddling with it.

Donald Trump does not, of course,  give one single damn about either police officers or about the marginalized assault rifle-toting vigilantes acting in his name and upon his inflammatory tweeted instructions. Nor do Joe Biden and Kamala Harris give one solitary damn about the Black victims of the police violence and privatized prison gulags which they have funded and championed and overseen their entire political lives. Cops, vigilantes and protesters: they are but interchangeable pawns and props and scapegoats in the cynical power game.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose $50 billion-plus personal fortune makes him one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, did in fact boast that "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world."

This man, an honored prime time speaker at the Democratic National Convention a few weeks ago, had launched his own ill-fated run for the presidency last year by apologizing for using this private army to racially profile ("stop and frisk") Black and Brown men in record, relentless numbers for the crime of merely existing. His neofascist policy, eventually declared unconstitutional, was what really "inflamed tensions" between communities and the private army acting at the behest of Bloomberg and the other lords of capital. These armed forces were not a few "bad apples," These were regimented troops under strict orders to fill a quota imposed by a racist billionaire mayor and even funded by some of the same corporations now trying to make a cynical buck off the Black Lives Matter movement.

It was unsurprising, therefore, when the New York City police union blasted Bloomberg for the fake apology he offered in the standard venue beloved of any pandering Democratic politician worth his salt - a Black church.
“Mayor Bloomberg could have saved himself this apology if he had just listened to the police officers on the street,” said the union’s president, Patrick Lynch. “We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities. His administration’s misguided policy inspired an anti-police movement that has made cops the target of hatred and violence, and stripped away many of the tools we had used to keep New Yorkers safe.”
That's all well and good. But I'm waiting for that magical day when the cops in riot gear being deployed all across America to quash the biggest protest movement in US history finally do the right thing. I hope they do what Tsar Nicholas II's own private army did during the March 1917 mass demonstrations against that particular authoritarian regime. I'm waiting for them to mutiny, to put down their arms and their tear gas canisters, and to take the side of the protesters.

How long can it humanly take before sheriff's deputies and city marshals get disgusted enough to side with their own neighbors and refuse to serve millions of landlords' warrants on all the renters facing eviction this year because Congress has refused to offer emergency relief to them?

Matthew Desmond writes in the New York Times that
Marshals that carry out evictions are full of suicide stories: the early morning rap on the door followed by a single gunshot from inside the apartment, the blunt sound of giving up. From 2005 to 2010, years when housing costs were soaring across the country, suicides attributed to eviction and foreclosure doubled.
A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control has revealed that the stress of the pandemic caused one out of every four young adults to seriously contemplate killing themselves within the past 30 days. Unpaid caregivers, essential workers, and Black and Brown people also reported harboring suicidal thoughts at rates far above average. Recommendations by study researchers include the government giving more financial support to individuals and localities in order to reduce mental stress and racial disparities in health care.

In Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism, published last fall just before the Covid-19 outbreak, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton write that paradoxically enough, it is the for-profit US healthcare system itself which is the leading cause of these deaths by suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse. The costs of our privatized, for-profit healthcare system are "like a tribute that Americans have to pay to a foreign power," similar to the unconscionable reparations Germans were made to pay after World War I. 

The obscene amount of money that impoverished Germans had to pay to the victors was proportionately far less than Americans have to pay for medical care today, the authors write.  Even if our system were delivering results, which it is not, the cost would still debilitate the economy. Although avuncular billionaire Warren Buffett compared our health care system to a tapeworm, Case and Deaton aptly describe  it "as more like a cancer that has metastisized throughout the economy."

Couple that with suicide-inducing evictions and egregious rent hikes, and you've got yourself a state that has gone far beyond failed.

Just as our health insurance premiums and deductibles and "surprise" medical bills sent out by private equity-owned hospitals are tributes imposed by the oligarchy on those whom they've effectively colonized, so too are rents.

Political economist Thomas Piketty in his book Capital and Ideology also compares the victims of contemporary predatory capitalism to the colonized subjects of an imperialistic foreign power: 
"In other words, the rest of the world labored to increase the consumption and standard of living of the colonial powers, even as it became increasingly indebted to those powers. The situation is like that of the worker who must devote a large portion of his salary to pay rent to his landlord, which the landlord then uses to buy the rest of the building while leading a life of luxury compared to the family of the workers, which has only hhis wages to live on. This comparison may shock some readers (which I think would be healthy) but one must realize that the purpose of property is to increase the owner's ability to consume and accumulate in the future."
Lacking even a wage with which to pay the tribute of rent, or a basic guaranteed income or health care in the middle of a pandemic, people are realizing that their choice is not limited to Trump and Biden, or choosing between protesters and cops.  The choice is between succumbing to despair and taking to the streets. Or starting a third political party. Or joining a revolution that's overdue by about 250 years.


Anonymous said...

I remember wondering in the 1960s and 70s if the revolution would come in my lifetime. Well, I'm still here and I'm still patiently working on it and I'm thinking I may see it yet. I don't see it as a storming the gates event, but rather a reaching critical mass to ending the hegemony of an oppressive class benefiting from an oppressive system. We are making great progress, which is why the increase in violence to suppress the rebellion has gained so dramatically. I just don't see us going back to the old ways again, but I believe we do need to mount an organized political force within a broad united front. My admiration and respect to those brave comrades in the streets.

Jay–Ottawa said...

In case you missed it Sunday, here's the link to a replay of the People's Party Convention, all 5 hours of it, a lapidary stream of speakers broadcasting before the bookish or bare walls of their homes in the exciting Zoom mode.

I do NOT recommend you start at the beginning (nothing happens, btw, until minute 15) and hang in there for the next 4 hours and 45 minutes. The show is, to put it kindly, uneven. After a cup of strong coffee, you'll be ready to sample the PP Convention. The speakers worth a moment are Graham Elwood at 0:39 minutes, Chris Hedges at 1:31, Jimmy Dore at 3:07, and Cornell West at 4:30. Behold the persuasive power and organizational capacity of the American Left in 2020.

chuck said...


Thanks for the time locations. I tried to watch a little of it on Sunday but had a bad feeling it would consist of a big haystack with just a few needles in it.

Besides, and you can admonish me for this, the Mets were playing a doubleheader, and the only thing I've found that provides any sense of normalcy in the fucked-up shit we're living through is their broadcast team. Yes, they lost both games in extra innings, but it was still entertaining.

Jay–Ottawa said...

@ Chuck

Your time with the Mets was well spent. The PP Convention, as you suspected, turned out to be a haystack with damn few needles.

I would have thought prominent lefties had many able contacts in professional broadcasting, TV, Hollywood, you know, like writers, directors and expert camera operators. And was there no talented MC available to serve as host? Left to amateurs, the PP Convention turned out to be the Left's gong show.

The organizers apparently spent what little production money they collected on IT nerds who focused on the electronics of sequential Zoom displays. Is it only on chef shows that one takes "presentation" seriously? What was needed was a severe winnowing of the speaker list and intensive coaching of those who made the cut. Even the needling notables I mentioned were not so notable in the format provided. On Sunday the People's Party sank itself before our eyes with its so-called convention.

Back to the alternatives. Earlier this year, Chomsky said something to the effect that Trump is the most dangerous man in history. A few posts ago I mentioned Ralph Nader's big switch; for 2020 he is urging us to vote TLOTE (Biden). Paul Street over at CounterPunch just echoed Nader about voting for the lesser evil this time around. Cornell West argues that we should vote for Biden, which does not mean we endorse him or his party. After Biden is sworn in, we get back to the streets as never before.

chuck said...


Your assessment was even more pessimistic than I had imagined. It also reminded me of the scenes in Monty Python's "The Life of Brian" which focus on the schism bewtten the Peoples' Front and the Judean Peoples' Front:

I saw that Lauren Ashcraft was listed as one of the speakers, which brings up something of a personal irony. Her vanity campaign may have contributed to the return of my ossifying congresscritter to her seat. I actually worked for, and got my union local to endorse, the challenger who had the best shot at unseating Rep. Ossify. It was all over the news.

As a fellow NYer, Karen might get a kick out of this: Unless the NY courts strike down a provision (snuck in as a rider to the state budget) that makes earning and keeping ballot status much more onerous, I expect I'll vote third party this fall, and the rationale ends up being much more about Andy Cuomo's feeling threatened by democracy than about the presidential race.

Mark Thomason said...

I made efforts to help a Democratic woman win our local Congressional District from the Republican man who held it. He made his money representing banks in foreclosures, and is otherwise a real donor piece of work.

The first thing she did upon winning, the VERY FIRST THING, was to lead the Biden against Bernie groups locally. She actively opposed EVERYTHING Bernie was proposing.

She serves the same wealthy elite donors as did the Republicans. She's worse than useless, because she now occupies the space that would be needed to run anyone who would support real reform.

I feel I was made a fool of by our local Democrats.

Now they want to do it again.

Erik Roth said...

Louis Armstrong - "Black And Blue"

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I am so angry that my only choice is a Biden/Harris or Trump/Pence ticket. Already, Trump is showing what will happen if he has another four years. I don't feel that I have a choice. I don't dare NOT vote for Biden because I think this election will be - unbelievable to the rational mind - close - AGAIN! Trump is too dangerous to the world and U.S. citizens. The way he is stirring up those who are frustrated and scared with his violent rhetoric makes me wonder if the country can survive another 4 years.

I completely blame the MSM. They are depicting the mostly peaceful protests - which have the ability to affect genuine change - as violent riots. I think if more people understood that the protests were peaceful, they would take the time to listen to the message which is more than about police violence against people of colour. We ALL can see the growing inequality and that our government pretty much works only for the financially well-off. We all see that being a hard-worker who follows the rules isn't paying off the way it should. The protests could be a game changer for our country, yet the MSM is twisting the story.

Yes, I will reluctantly vote for Biden because, as a friend said, mis-rule is better than chaos. I will hope that we can live to fight another day. However, if the MSM continues to misinform the public about the protests, it will be harder to take to the streets and influence a Biden administration to consider the needs of the 99% should he be fortunate to actually get into power.

Annie said...

As horribly bad as Trump obviously is, I'll be surprised if Americans don't choose the more robust, aggressive, gutsy candidate to protect the empire, I mean the country. That's just how we roll.

I'm sorry but no matter how spry Joe Biden tries to look, his frailty of mind and body shows.

I'm not going to sweat who to vote for or whether I will even bother to vote because living in a Republican state means Trump wins our electoral votes. As Hillary once said, "What difference does it make?"

PatriciaM. said...

The DNC bears responsibility for our so-called “choice” of candidates: Both in 2016 and again in 2020. I agree with Mark Thomason – except I think that the entire Democratic Party is attempting to make fools of us all.

Can we even continue to separate it from the Republican Party, considering all the Republicans who are now on board – both sides feeding from the same trough?

I want to thank you, Karen, for the insightful “Black and Blue in America.” I don’t know of any other commentator who has addressed the composition of the “class war of the rich versus the rest of us.” This is the real issue; the Democrats do everything in their power to keep it hidden, especially and particularly through their emphasis on “identity politics” - pitting us against each other.

As for voting for Biden, it’s been my experience that change cannot be made from “within.” And he has made it clear he does not represent change. In fact, he expresses disdain for it.

Jay–Ottawa said...

We are somewhat uncertain what Biden and his handlers will attempt if placed in power, but we have a pretty good idea of the unremitting unconstitutional lengths Trump et al will go. The chaos of the past four years has been more damaging than orderly misrule of the previous eight under Obama.

Trump, if elected or allowed to steal the election, would feel more relaxed in the Oval Office, willing and able to attempt more outrageous policies since, after all, he got away with the previous four years in office. There is no transition period or learning curve for second termers. Furthermore, in a second term, presidents have less to lose no matter how far south their approval numbers sink.

The Dems, should they prevail on November 3, will take months to settle in and command the levers of power. Trump's gang is already in place and ready to act more aggressively as soon as January 20, 2020.

It's rumoured Trump might hang on to the White House whatever the vote's outcome. In such a scenario it would be better to settle that issue favorably at the end of a first term, not at the end of a second when Trump will be in a stronger position to extended his beautiful service to the nation until his death.

Presented with a Sophie's Choice this election season, responsible voters must accept a twofold obligation: (1) Vote Biden into office by a landslide to lessen the likelihood of a fight over the count, and (2) immediately swell the popular resistance tenfold against the Biden Administration.

To vote for Biden to get rid of Trump is not to endorse Biden (h/t Cornell West). The “big turnaround” in American governance must occur during the Democrats' watch, which revolt would simultaneously neutralize the Republicans. If, however, the "corrections" were to happen during a Republican administration, the Democrats would consider themselves part of the sidelines and under no obligation to change their ways. They are, after all, the inauthentic opposition (h/t Wolin).

There is a wrong way to do the right thing. Don't stay home out of disgust on November 3 or vote third party. Reformers must understand they are in an inescapable fight against two dangerous thugs. First, side with one thug (Democrats) so that together the other thug (Republicans) can be defeated. After Republicans are much diminished at the polls, turn on the Democrats as if life depended on it.

Valerie said...

Excellent essay, Karen.

Deecurt said...

This is my first time visiting your blog and I second what Valerie said, "Excellent essay." It's a hard slog to get democratic centrists to understand just how bad their status quo has become and how it's literally killing some of us near the bottom of the pile. Go to Daily Kos if you want a nasty dose of Daily Vomit from centrists.

I'm voting for Biden because four more years of Trump will most probably be the death of myself and my 95 year old grandmother. She's on SSI and I'm on SSDI. Trump is saying he basically wants to defund both programs plus Medicare to boot. I have no choice but to vote for Biden. I feel like I have a proverbial gun to my head but this will be the last vote the democrats extort from me. It's sad in a way. I've been a democrat all my political life.

(PS: In case you're interested Karen, I found your blog through a link from a comment on Ian Welsh's blog.)