I think that it’s morally obscene and spiritually profane to spend $6 billion on an election, $2 billion on a presidential election, and not have any serious discussion—poverty, trade unions being pushed against the wall dealing with stagnating and declining wages when profits are still up and the 1 percent are doing very well, no talk about drones dropping bombs on innocent people. So we end up with such a narrow, truncated political discourse, as the major problems— ecological catastrophe, climate change, global warming. So it’s very sad. I mean, I’m glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies.
– Cornel West, November 2012
Thirty-six years of jazz, the north part of Portland, along the Willamette River, under the St. John’s Bridge, with supports that look like cathedral steeples.
Free, open grass amphitheater, low key, amazing musicians, a few tables promoting music and the neighborhood, St. John’s, once a hippie-infused area. And now, homes – small, 60 or 80 years old – going for a cool half million or more.
The ones enjoying macrame pot hangers with heirloom tomatoes in backyards full of Oaxacan pots and interesting cairns and papasan chairs and yoga mats made with organic bamboo, well, they lucked out, no, buying up homes thirty years ago, even 10, or inherited from working class parents.
So, that critical mass of youth needed inside these enclaves of people not worried about all the predation young in Portland face – the rent class, the exorbitant fees, taxes, levies, school debt, cost of living – well, that critical mass is not happening and these hoods have an oddly geriatric and Baby Boomer feel.
The jazz and blues and cumbia, man, and sky, man, and the energy, man, the diversity in this neighborhood for these three days, man. Sky and backdrop of evergreens and bridge almost 100 years old, the patina like some Renoir feature, man.
The conversations, of course, go with my territory – writer, journalist, teacher, social worker, internationalist, urban planner aficionado, father, brother, uncle, friend, roommate, photographer, activist, eco-socialist, communist . . . .Marxist . . . anti-Empire-ist, anti-war-ist . . . .
I went to the table where the neighborhood association dudes were. Sixty-plus something, and chatting it up, learning how bankrupt these old hippies can be and ignorant of what changes can be, blaming me for Trump for my support of Jill Stein . . . blaming youth for not voting in larger numbers after the Drone Captain Obama had a few years under his belt. Dyed-in-the-wool democrats, living off of some fantasy or fairy-tale, about what they THINK old time Democrats were: oh yeah, so pro-union, so pro-civil rights, so pro-internationalist!
These old fellows blame the young for the financial situation they are in, for the huge debts for student loans, for the eviscerating of public schools, for wars, for the rise of Scott Walkers, etc., etc. I’m fucking 59, educated beyond the sheepskins, and these guys are saying “Well, you weren’t old enough to have lived in the post-war years and 1950s when in this country if you worked hard, you could get a job, one with a pension, and have a decent middle class life! A house, car, put kids through college. Now what do we have!”
Obviously, this became a far-ranging discussion on what these old thinkers – one a Christian and the other a Jew – think the world would-should-have to look like with truly great Democrats like Obama, Clinton, Clinton redux, Carter, JFK, Truman, LBJ.
It’s like talking to an ice sculpture, these fellows set in mythologies while their noses and chins melt in the night air. “We had a really good life post-war up through the 1970s!”
You try and talk to these post-60 and 70-somethings who really do believe the Democratic Party is more than some lesser evil, and we get all tangled up in accusations of:
- so show me a socialist state that really works
- are you a communist with a small c or big C?
- okay, so what would you do with Afghanistan – oh, complete withdraw – and like Hitler they will take over the Middle East
- so, you would stop funding Israel, immediately, then what would happen?
- oh, yeah, the Zionists invaded Palestine . . . The British Gave It To Them . . . . what nakba?
- oh, you are a perfectionist . . . sure, you are right, $2 a day is a shame, but in those countries it’s easier to live on that amount, really . . . so China has all these workers, slaving away, and that’s your ideal of communism . . . .?
- we have a few issues with Hillary, but you are a perfectionist, idealist, and you do not know the reality of a Trump Presidency . . . they (right wingers) have been going after the Clintons for 30 years — the email scandal is much ado about nothing . . . .”
So, these two buggers had someone confront their lazy look on history, on the present, on the future. They even peppered in there that “Muslims over there are different than over here . . . violent, want blood, want the destruction of us.”
It’s both fun and challenging dealing with folks like this. Staffing a table for their association. The two railing against youth for not being part of the neighborhood association, not there to help with input on the homeless problem, on the lack of rentals.
The reality is Americans, post-hippie, pre-Obama, post-Mrs Clinton, are misinformed, selectively informed and wrapped up in some trickster DNA that runs through “progressive” or “tea party maven” with that unifying “we are exceptionalist, melting pot, the only world’s beacon of hope now that the world is so screwed up . . . .”
Middle class, uh? Listen and read Alan Nasser, emeritus prof from Evergreen College in Olympia. But, here, I will cut and paste a significant section easily denouncing this bullshit myth of a middle class, and the concept of working hard will get you “the American dream (nightmare).”
The Postwar Period Resurrects the Debt-Drenched Twenties
It is often claimed that the sustained growth of the postwar Golden Age was possible only because labor unions were able to keep wages rising in step with productivity gains. But this historic achievement was a necessary, not a sufficient, condition of the increase in purchasing power necessary to produce the “middle class” standard of living (for white people) of the Golden Age. It is a measure of just how high wages must be in order fully to avert mass unemployment and growing inequality that increasing injections of household or consumer debt were required to provide the requisite purchasing power. This was as true during the Golden Age as it was in the 1920s.
Capital again worked its magic: another underconsumption crisis was averted even as wages were kept below what was needed to avert crisis. This was accomplished by initiating a bubble in consumption, encouraging households to augment their buying power by taking on increasing burdens of debt.
In 1946 the ratio of household debt to disposable income stood at about 24 percent. By 1950 it had risen to 38 percent, by 1955 to 53 percent, by 1960 to 62 percent, and by 1965 to 72 percent. The ratio fluctuated from 1966 to 1978, but the stagnation of real wages which began in 1973 pressured households further to increase their debt burden in order to maintain existing living standards, pushing the ratio of debt to disposable income to 77 percent by 1979. And keep in mind that accumulating debt was necessary not merely to purchase more toys, but to meet rising housing, health care, education and child care costs. With prohibitive health care costs the leading cause of personal bankruptcy, debt was necessary for all but the wealthy to stay out of poverty.
By the mid-1980s, with neoliberalism in full swing and wages stagnating, the ratio began a steady ascent, from 80 percent in 1985 to 88 percent in 1990 to 95 percent in 1995 to over 100 percent in 2000 to 138 percent in 2007. (See also Business Week, Oct. 12, The Debt Economy, 45, 94-6) As debt rose relative to workers’ income, households’ margin of security against insolvency began to erode. The ratio of personal saving to disposable income under neoliberalism began a steady decline, falling from 11 percent in 1983 to 2.3 percent in 1999. (Economic Report of the President, Table 30, 2000)
The debt bubble that became unmistakable in the 1990s was to be far greater than the bubble of the 1920s; the financial system by now was capable of far more fraud and treachery than was possible in the 1920s, thanks largely to deregulation and derivatives.
But what gets to the heart of capitalism is the overall similarity of the 1920s and the postwar periods: during each period wages failed to be high enough to purchase the requisites of a decent, much less a rising, standard of living without an unsustainable, and therefore crisis-generating, household debt bubble. In neither period was hard work and the corresponding wage sufficient to avert sub-middle-class status.
The Golden Age, like the 1920s, was an age of a debt-junkie nation of poor workers. The much touted “vanishing middle class” is rooted in time-released conditions fully in place during the Golden Age. Poor workers were allowed to mask their economic insecurity with debt-financed widgets permitted by their social and economic masters on the condition that they agree in exchange to turn over a significant portion of their future earnings to those masters, and at a time when they could least afford it. I’d call those workers poor from the get-go.
You see, these 60-and-70-year-old somethings who consider themselves “progressive Democrats” live in a land of Oz, unaware of the toil, the hard luck, the four jobs a person to keep at least one nostril above the stagnant waters of an ocean where the ship of fools has been sinking ever so steadily.
Another feature of these Progressives is they play with politics, presidential races as if they are semi-finals of the NFL or bids on the Final Four brackets. It’s really a chauvinistic approach to their own fellow citizens, large sections (like youth, blacks, poor whites in the south and rust belt), placing blame at their feet for the incompetence of the Democratic party, and the power of competence of the DEMON-crats in office foisted by drug, loan-shark, mercenary, child-soldier, slavery, extortion, hit man, war profiteering, land-air-water-forest-valley-mountain destruction MONEY.
I like Andre Vltchek here:
It was the first time in many years that I had missed my column, my essays, for several weeks.
Even when I was arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kenya, in Senegal, I still managed to write.
I managed to write after a deranged, evangelical and fascist preacher paid hotel staff to poison me in the Indonesian city of Surabaya.
I wrote in many war-zones and desperate slums, from Iraq to Mindanao, from Haiti to Marshall Islands.
But I couldn’t write in the United States of America. Not one single line, not one word. Not this time.
I spoke. I was invited to speak and I spoke at some huge conference in southern California, and I gave talks at peace and opposition gatherings in Monterrey, San Jose and Fresno.
I was asked to speak on my 1,000 page book “Exposing Lies of the Empire”, which became a bestseller, defined my stand against the Empire, showing horrors it has been committing all over the world.
I showed films, excerpts from my films on Africa: on Rwanda and Congo, on refugee camp for Somali refugees, and on the horrific slums of Nairobi.
I was asked to show all this and more, but at the end, a man stood up and asked:
“Why are you showing all this to us?”
“Because your country is murdering millions, right now”, I replied.
“What are you expecting us to do?” He asked again, in a cool voice.
As he uttered this, I was still recovering from a monstrous jetlag, after travelling for 48 hours from South Africa, arriving in California only one day before the presentation. In South Africa, I was among my comrades. Everything was different: there is a tremendous struggle for a better world, poor people confronting and pressing their government, the great UNISA (University of South Africa) getting deeply involved. There I spoke at The 14th International Symposium on the Contributions of Psychology to Peace. There I spoke and spoke, and fought and fought, and was involved in negotiations, and was helping to shape the concepts: of how no peace could and should exist without justice, without social justice and how no progress could be made anywhere on the Planet, without confronting Western imperialism and fascism.
In California it was up side down: all totally different. In California I stood alone, facing cold faces of self-righteous crowds; crowds convinced of their superiority, even when they were, “benevolently” and mildly critical of several murderous actions committed by their country in countless parts of the world.
“They are not telling us the truth”, I heard people repeating on several occasions.
The citizens of the Empire were eager to describe themselves as “victims”. Did the same spectacle appear in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s? Most likely yes! “Defeated Germany was hit by hyper-inflation, reparations, therefore it was a victim!” It felt it became a victim of the Bolsheviks and the Jews and the French, and the Roma… The United States was not defeated externally, only internally. The two settings are different. Yet there are many similarities, especially in how two empires have treated “un-people”.
“Do you believe in collective guilt, in collective responsibility?” Someone challenged me from the public.
“Definitely!” I shouted back. “The responsibility and the guilt of the West, of the white race, of Christianity, of the Empire! Collective responsibility and guilt for hundreds of millions of victims defined as un-people. Victims gassed, bomber, starved, mutilated… Collective guilt and responsibility for raping the free will of billions in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Collective guilt and responsibility for the ongoing global apartheid!”
The musicians were heart and soul of the evening – three evenings, really. The children dancing to cumbias and the Twenties through Forties trio, and the group melodically blasting away in their Earth, Wind, and Fire tribute.
I saw several nighthawks, and knew little brown, fringed myotis and Townsend Big-Eared bats I had seen the day before along the Columbia River near Vancouver were chewing away at insects swarming at the tops of pine trees.
I know progressives are turning collective blind eyes to that so-called Golden Era – how many countries’ democratic and socialist destinies did we derail in our Continuing Criminal Enterprise? Mark that 1946 on into the 1970s, a period these progressives call the best years ever, the best Democratic-controlled years!
Oh, the “American Golden Age, Post WWII,” from American Foreign Relations website:
One more innovation of the 1939–1945 period was the creation of national-level organizations to carry out these activities. On the American side, for example, it is of interest that the initial entity in this field was formed to manage propaganda activity. This unit, the Office of the Coordinator of Information, soon metamorphosed into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a national intelligence organization headed by the same individual (William J. Donovan). The propaganda function continued to be consolidated, but under a second entity, the Office of War Information. Over a very short time the OSS became a full-service intelligence organization. Its branches for intelligence reporting (Research and Analysis), counterespionage (called X-2), and spying (Special Intelligence) were under a deputy director for intelligence and are not of concern here. But the OSS had a separate directorate for operations and that included branches for special operations (which worked with resistance networks), morale operations (for psychological warfare of the “black” and “gray” varieties), a set of operations groups (middle-size commando units tasked with specific targets), a maritime unit (for naval covert operations where necessary, but mainly to transport OSS officers and supply shipments to points behind enemy lines), and a special projects office (a parallel activity for highly sensitive operations, especially ones related to then-exotic weapons, such as atomic bombs or biological weaponry).
At its late-1944 peak the OSS employed almost 13,000 men and women, about 7,500 of them overseas, with a fiscal year 1945 budget (in then-year dollars) of $43 million.
With the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman reorganized U.S. intelligence. Believing the existing OSS to have become superfluous, Truman dissolved it on 20 September 1945. The organization’s analytical arm was folded into the Department of State as the Office of Research and Intelligence. The OSS espionage elements were attached to the Department of War as the Strategic Services Unit (SSU). Field detachments were broken up, with some personnel continuing on with the SSU, some going to related groups like the army’s Counter-intelligence Corps, and others demobilized. Psychological warfare capability at a reduced level continued within the army, and its ranger battalions contained whatever commando and unconventional warfare capability remained. The capacity for conducting paramilitary operations was entirely eliminated.
Two factors combined to change the system introduced in the immediate postwar period. One was President Truman’s continuing dissatisfaction with the organizational structure of U.S. intelligence. In January 1946, Truman introduced an executive oversight body he called the National Intelligence Authority to supervise the work of a new director of central intelligence (DCI) who would run a central intelligence group. The new arrangement continued to be unsatisfactory and in 1947, when Truman designated omnibus legislation to deal with universal military training, create a national military establishment and secretary of defense, as well as the National Security Council, the president included provisions for the new Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
This is the crud in the eyes of those weepy patriots, those misinformed democrats and progressives who think now is bad and the good old days were good. Good for who? It’s shocking they can’t connect the dots, the infamy of a culture shot-through by the forces of land theft, genocide, siding with the war lords, the despots, the human rights violators, the scum of the earth, nighttime rapists and village arsonists, napalm spraying, biological warfare seeding, water poisoning culprits ; PayDay Loan Banksters. For these 60-and-70 somethings supporting the Democratic Party and All Their One Percenter Ideals, there is no history of a USA, European, Australian, UK warring domination globally as a ticket to the raw materials and back-break theft in more than a hundred countries.
These old hippies looking out at the crowd in Cathedral Park see a country that once was glorious, so potentially middle class and egalitarian, but one with no history of diseasing the rest of the world with money grubbing, land stealing, military hucksterism.
Pablo Neruda will do here to end my missive:
The United Fruit Co.
When the trumpet sounded, everything
on earth was prepared
and Jehovah distributed the world
to Coca Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors and other entities:
The Fruit Company Inc.
reserved the juiciest for itself,
the central coast of my land,
the sweet waist of America.
It re-baptized the lands
and on the sleeping dead,
on the restless heroes
who’d conquered greatness,
liberty and flags,
it founded a comic opera:
it alienated free wills,
gave crowns of Caesar as gifts,
unsheathed jealousy, attracted
the dictatorship of the flies,
Trujillo1 flies, Tachos2 flies
Carias3 flies, Martinez4 flies,
Ubico5 flies, flies soppy
with humble blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz
around common graves,
circus flies, learned flies
adept at tyranny.
The Company disembarks
among the blood-thirsty flies,
brim-filling their boats that slide
with the coffee and fruit treasure
of our submerged lands like trays.
Meanwhile, along the sugared up
abysms of the ports,
indians fall over, buried
in the morning mist:
a body rolls, a thing
without a name, a fallen number,
a bunch of dead fruit
spills into the pile of rot.
— Translated and © Jack Hirschman 2004, from City Lights’ The Essential Neruda
- Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo was born Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina to a middle-class family on October 24, 1891 in San Cristóbal, Dominican Republic. He and his 10 siblings were raised in a small rural town by parents of Spanish, Haitian and Dominican descent [↩]
- Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza García (1 February 1896 – 29 September 1956) was officially the President of Nicaragua from 1 January 1937 to 1 May 1947 and from 21 May 1950 to 29 September 1956, but ruled effectively as dictator from 1936 until his assassination. Anastasio Somoza started a dynasty that maintained absolute control over Nicaragua for 44 years [↩]
- Tiburcio Carías Andino (5 March 1876 – 23 December 1969) was a Honduran military man with a reputation as a strongman. He founded the National Party of Honduras in 1918, and was President of Honduras twice; briefly in 1924 and from 1933 to 1949 [↩]
- General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez (1882-1966) served as president of El Salvador from 1931 to 1944. His regime was a strict dictatorship which suppressed a Communist-led uprising during its initial days in office. He promoted economic growth based on the expansion of the large coffee estates, thereby benefiting the landowners and initiating links between the military and the oligarchy” [↩]
- Jorge Ubico Castañeda (10 November 1878 – 14 June 1946), nicknamed Number Five (based on the letters of the name Jorge) was the authoritarian ruler of Guatemala from 14 February 1931 to 4 July 1944. A general in the Guatemalan army, he was elected to the presidency in 1931, in an election where he was the only candidate. He continued his predecessors’ policies of giving massive concessions to the United Fruit Company and wealthy landowners, as well as supporting their harsh labor practices. He was removed by a pro-democracy uprising in 1944, which led to the ten-year Guatemalan Revolution [↩]