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America’s False Ideology of White Supremacy

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Oct 30, 2008 By Seth Sandronsky

Seth Sandronsky’s ZSpace Page / ZSpace

Recall the woman who told Sen. John McCain at a recent Minnesota rally that his opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, is an Arab and therefore not to be trusted? McCain “defended” Obama by contrasting Arabs and Americans as separate groups of people in a kind of hierarchy of trust.

That exchange speaks volumes on the ideology of white supremacy. It has been and continues to be a mirage of unity between Caucasian lower and upper classes. That has been so in varying degrees since America’s colonial days of black and Native people’s dehumanization and subjugation. The same ideology drove Chinese, Filipino and Mexican people’s exclusion from the U.S. mainstream. Also in this outcast mix, seen initially as non-whites, were Irish, Jewish, and southeastern European immigrants to the U.S.

Cut to today. For white supremacy to help sustain the widening income and wealth gap in the U.S., elected leaders can and do conjure an “Other,” a darker and dangerous sub-human to build up and put down for reasons of public safety and security. McCain’s Minnesota rally illustrates domestic and foreign threads of this ideology.

I turn here to Diana Ralph of Canada. She has an important chapter on “Islamophobia” in The Hidden History of 9-11-2001. Ralph shows how anti-Muslim bigotry, a demonization of the “Other,” works for the U.S. political class in mobilizing a grass-roots anger and fear after the East Coast attacks of Sept. 11. One result has been a sort of silent consent for the torture of prisoners of the war on terror, mainly non-white Muslims.

On that note of armed repression, Islamaphobia dovetails with the U.S.’s “peculiar institution” of white supremacy. That ideology is the wellspring for much of the Obama character assassination rhetoric of McCain and especially Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his vice-presidential pick. An unclear number of their backers ape this vision, sadly.

I suggest that the tactic of baiting Obama as a racial Other comes in part as a response to the crumbling illusion of market competition’s benefits trickling down to the American people. Further, this approach seeks to defuse the short-lived rebellion from the populace of all backgrounds against Washington’s bailout of big creditors. The threat of a racially inclusive uprising from below of small debtors beset by a rising rate of home foreclosures, plus under- and unemployment, is real to upper class power. What horror!

Accordingly, McCain and Palin offer some white wage earners and pensioners a re-play of what African American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois called the “color line,” the main contradiction of U.S. democracy. From this ideology of skin-color inferiority and supremacy emerges the straw man of Obama as a reputed Arab and all-around danger to America.

Transcending the class and race contradictions of U.S. democracy, Du Bois noted, could yield to the American people a truly popular politics. That is the future, a very difficult thing to discuss, indeed. Yet discuss and act on it we must, in the present moment. This process, I maintain, would create a logic of more class and skin color equality and unity where too little exists now.

Such a reformation of U.S. society has high hurdles to clear. One is the economics and politics of locking down the throwaway people who employers no longer need to produce wealth. Crucially, this trend of caging and politically weakening the nation’s low-income blacks and Latinos foreshadowed the Bush II administration’s creation of Muslim “enemy combatants.” Together, the uses of these incarcerated populations serve the agenda of economics and politics as usual at home and abroad.

Now is the time for more rational discussion of the reasons for and results of white supremacy in domestic and foreign affairs. Laboring women and men of America have much to gain here. This holds true no matter which candidate, McCain or Obama, becomes the next resident on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento ssandronsky@yahoo.com


Written by Arroyoribera

October 30, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Commentary, History, Racism

Did the Secret Service set up Barack Obama for assassination?

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Elections & Voting
Did the Secret Service set up Barack Obama for assassination?
By Larry Chin
Online Journal Associate Editor

Feb 25, 2008, 00:55

According to the Dallas Star-Telegram, the Secret Service gave an order to stop screening for weapons for a full hour before the February 20 Barack Obama rally in Dallas. Metal detectors were turned off, and bags were not checked, as hundreds were allowed to file into Reunion Arena. This bizarre activity “ordered by federal officials,” was immediately reported by an alarmed Dallas Police Department, which knew that it was a “lapse in security.”

The Secret Service (which has been assigned to Obama since August 2007) has denied the allegations, declaring post-facto that the event was secure. However, the Secret Service has provided no detailed explanation about this blatant security stand-down. It is not known who gave the orders. The Obama camp itself has issued no statement.

While this story has been vastly underreported by major corporate media, independent liberal media, particularly Democratic Party and Obama faithful, have expressed astonishment and outrage. President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas, Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 (which came on the eve of his California presidential primary victory) were also facilitated by Secret Service “lapses.”

While there is no doubt that Barack Obama, bankrolled and sponsored by political elites, appears to be closing in on the Democratic Party nomination, and is an enthusiastic imperial war facilitator, this does not eliminate the real danger he faces from political adversaries.

It goes without saying that Obama is viewed as a bitter enemy (at the very least a symbolic one) by the Bush-Cheney-McCain-neocon gang. Obama not only faces threats from fanatical right-wing and racist elements, but the desperately power-hungry rivals within the more conservative neoliberal wing of the Democratic faction, led by the Clintons. The incendiary Karl Rove-esque attacks launched against Obama by the Clinton apparatus have become increasingly bitter, personal, and below-the-belt in recent weeks.

Obama is also competing with Hillary Clinton for the support of John Edwards. Edwards, the calculating emissary of Bilderberg Group interests, who was, according to Daniel Estulin, author of The True Story of the Bilderberg Group, handpicked by Henry Kissinger to be John Kerry’s vice presidential partner in 2004, may be positioning himself for the same powerful seat this year. Kissinger (who is lurking in McCain’s camp for 2008) and other leading elites already have control of the entire process, from both sides.

Obama’s supporters, and congressional allies such as Senator Dick Durbin, have been concerned for Obama’s safety for months.

It must be noted that the Clintons’ longtime criminal connections, which both tie to, and parallel, those of the Bush family/faction are well-documented (but roundly ignored) fact. The Clintons and Bushes have been full partners across official and unofficial power agendas, co-rulers of the United States, for over two decades. The body count that can be attributed to these two cooperative factions is long and gruesome.

The Clintons’ love of presidential election-season intimidation and dirty tricks are well-known. During the 1992 race for the Democratic Party nomination, Jerry Brown repeatedly accused the Clintons of resorting to tricks worthy of Nixon. As noted by Michael C. Ruppert in Crossing the Rubicon, Ross Perot withdrew from the 1992 presidential contest, pressured into assuring a Clinton victory, after Perot and has family received death threats. (Ruppert, who worked for the Perot campaign, witnessed this firsthand.)

Any prominent political figure who dares vary an inch from the imperial geopolitical script faces threats; first to their reputations and careers, and then their lives. In the “godfather government” that is the United States, this is the rule. This same criminal stranglehold prevents “change” — even the slightest variance from establishment consensus. And even high-level representatives who operate well within the consensus must still defend themselves from “colleagues.”

No government can be trusted. Nor can government officials and elites trust each other.

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
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Written by Arroyoribera

March 1, 2008 at 10:39 pm

“Maxey forces shocked Jackson and the party establishment” — 1970 US Senate Race

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Source: Henry M. Jackson Foundation

Senator Henry Jackson overwhelmingly defeats peace candidate Carl Maxey in the Democratic primary on September 15, 1970.

On September 15, 1970, Senator Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson (1912-1983) easily wins the Democratic Senate primary by defeating peace candidate Carl Maxey (1924-1997), a Spokane attorney and civil rights leader. Maxey, the champion of the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party, has fiercely denounced Jackson’s outspoken support for military spending and the Vietnam War. Maxey finishes a distant second to Jackson in the primary, but still wins far more votes than Republican nominee Charles W. Elicker.

The 1970 campaign was waged against a background of great political turbulence, as the Democratic Party, the state, and the nation were rocked by deep and bitter divisions over the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War. The divisiveness frequently spilled over into street protests in Seattle and across the country, reaching a crescendo in May following President Richard M. Nixon’s (1913-1994) announcement that the U.S. military would enter Cambodia. The Cambodia incursion triggered massive demonstrations, and the killings of four anti-war protestors at Kent State in Ohio and two demonstrators at Jackson State in Mississippi led to even greater protests.

Anti-war Challenge

Jackson, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1940 as a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (1882-1945) New Deal, remained firmly liberal on domestic policy for his entire 43-year Congressional career, sponsoring ground-breaking environmental legislation and championing social welfare programs. These progressive credentials meant little in 1970, when the great divide within the country and within the Democratic Party was between pro-military “hawks” and anti-war “doves.” Jackson’s career-long advocacy of increased military spending and his die-hard support for the war made him a leading hawk and anathema to the increasingly dovish liberal wing of the party.

National Democrats active in the peace movement, including Senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy (b. 1916), Representative Allard Lowenstein (1929-1980), and economist John Kenneth Galbraith (b. 1908), encouraged state Democrats in the Washington Democratic Council (WDC), an anti-war group, to mount a primary challenge to Jackson. However, no established Democratic politician would take on Jackson, who was not only the most successful vote-getter in the state’s history, but had aided many of them in their political careers.

Carl Maxey

In the end Carl Maxey, the WDC chair, resigned his position to run against Jackson. The first African American to become an attorney in Eastern Washington, Maxey was born in Tacoma and spent much of his childhood in a Spokane orphanage. After serving as a medic during World War II, he won an NCAA boxing championship while in college and earned a law degree from Gonzaga University. As a lawyer, he defended minorities and fought for civil rights, supporting the NAACP and often taking on police, prosecutors, and other local government officials.

By the mid-1960s, Maxey was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, which he saw as unjust and unnecessary and as unfairly impacting African Americans who were drafted into the military at disproportionate rates. Maxey admired Jackson’s domestic views, especially his support for labor, and had worked for Jackson in his first three Senate campaigns. But he abhorred the senator’s support for the war and the draft and his opposition to military spending cuts.

Maxey’s criticism of Jackson was biting. He called him “a Napoleonic little senator,” denounced Jackson’s “platform of a continued draft that kills sons and brothers,” and stated, “Leaving peace in the hands of Henry Jackson is like leaving a lion to guard the Sunday roast” (Prochnau and Larsen, 314).

Attacks Sting, but Jackson Wins Easily

The Maxey forces shocked Jackson and the party establishment by winning the endorsement of the King County Democratic Convention, held in May during the uproar over the Cambodia incursion and Kent State, and by enacting an anti-war, anti-draft platform at the state party convention held in July in Spokane. Jackson was shaken and angered when a demonstration by Maxey delegates disrupted his speech at the Spokane convention.

The repudiation of his positions in the party platform and the harsh attacks, demonstrations, and heckling he endured on the campaign trail embittered Jackson toward his opponents within the party. Despite his liberal domestic record, he increasingly positioned himself as a moderate, declaring frequently “I’m proud of the fact that during my term in the Senate I opposed both McCarthys” (Prochnau and Larsen, 319) — a reference linking anti-war Eugene McCarthy to anti-communist Republican Joe McCarthy who led the witch hunts of the 1950s.

While the attacks by Maxey and the anti-war forces stung Jackson they did not reduce his support among primary voters and may even have increased it, given Washington’s blanket primary system that allowed Republicans to vote in the Democratic race. Jackson beat Maxey in all 39 counties, winning re-nomination with 497,309 votes to the challenger’s 79,201. However, Maxey far out-distanced the remaining seven primary candidates, which included two other Democrats and five Republicans. State Senator Charles Elicker gained the Republican nomination with only 33,262 votes, a showing that foreshadowed Jackson’s record-setting victory over Elicker in the November general election.


Abstract of Votes, Primary Election Held on September 15, 1970 (Olympia: Secretary of State, 1970); Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 218-21; William W. Prochnau and Richard W. Larsen, A Certain Democrat: Senator Henry M. Jackson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), 6-10, 310-21; Bill Morlin, “Spokane Loses a Champion: Carl Maxey – 1924-1997 He Defended Civil Rights and Controversial Clients,” The Spokesman-Review, July 18, 1997, p. A-1; Jim Camden, “Principles Governed His Politics: Maxey Embraced Long-shot Challenges for Chance to Influence Public Debate,” Ibid., July 18, 1997, p. A-8; “Jackson Says: Party Planks Repudiated,” Ibid., September 17, 1970, p. 7; “Favorites Win in Contests for Congress,” The Seattle Times, September 16, 1970, p. A-1; Marsha King, “Maxey Was An Inspiration: Black Attorney’s Example of Activism Cherished,” Ibid., July 18, 1997, website accessed August 13, 2003 (http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com); David Wilma, “Weeks of protests erupt in Seattle beginning on May 1, 1970 against U.S. entry into Cambodia and to protest the killing of four Kent State students,” HistoryLink.org Timeline Library (www.historylink.org). By Kit Oldham, October 29, 2003

Henry (Scoop) Jackson (1912-1983), 1970
Photo by Paul Thomas, Courtesy MOHAI (Image No. 1986.5.51941.1)
Carl Maxey (1924-1997), 1965
Photo from The Spokesman-Review via http://www.historylink.org

Written by Arroyoribera

February 20, 2008 at 12:19 am

Posted in History

Racial Slurs Result in Spokane Re-trial

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“…people are never forthright with their prejudices … rarely, if ever, will people disclose that”. — Spokane County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Austin

Jurors’ name-calling prompts new trial

By Karen Dorn Steele

The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane County Superior Court judge has ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice case where a Spokane attorney of Japanese descent was repeatedly referred to as “Mr. Kamikaze” and other racially charged names during jury deliberations.

Judge Robert D. Austin said he was surprised when he received attorney Mark D. Kamitomo’s motion for a new trial in mid-December, based in part on the racial comments.

“We’d hoped we’d moved beyond this, and we apparently have not.

It’s upsetting,” a visibly emotional Austin said during a court hearing Friday. Austin said he could not be confident the jury verdict that went against Kamitomo’s client and cleared a local doctor of negligence was not a result of juror misconduct.

“We have uncontested affidavits that these remarks were made. It’s an expression of prejudice to Mr. Kamitomo’s ethnicity,” Austin said.

The trial verdict was read on Dec. 7 – the 66th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

According to Jack Marchant and Mark Costigan, two jurors who approached Kamitomo after the verdict, five other jurors – three women and two men – mocked Kamitomo during their closed-door proceedings. They called him names including “Mr. Kamikaze,” “Mr. Miyashi” and “Mr. Miyagi,” a character in the movie “The Karate Kid.”

One juror also said that because the verdict was going to be read on Pearl Harbor day, the remarks made about Kamitomo were “almost appropriate,” according to Costigan’s affidavit.

In a second affidavit filed Jan. 14, Marchant, a Washington State University professor in Spokane, says affidavits weren’t obtained from two jurors, Patricia Menke and Zorana Beerbohm, who used Asian nicknames to refer to Kamitomo.

“To the best of my recollection, these two individuals and Brenda Canfield, who has admitted to referring to Mr. Kamitomo in her Affidavit as ‘Mr. Miyashi,’ were the three female jurors,” Marchant said in his affidavit. Juror Steven Walther referred to Kamitomo as “Mr. Havacoma,” showing a “lack of objectivity,” Marchant said.

Dr. Nathan P. Stime was the Spokane doctor cleared of malpractice charges by the jury’s “no negligence” finding. His attorney, Brian Rekofke, obtained affidavits from seven jurors as part of his motion opposing a new trial.

Those jurors didn’t deny the names were used, but they said they were used not as racial insults but because they had trouble pronouncing the names of both Rekofke and Kamitomo.

That’s implausible, Austin said, noting that no juror affidavits reported any “bastardization” of Rekofke’s “Middle European” name.

“Frankly, I can’t conceive of people seriously undertaking their responsibility and using those kinds of nicknames when it’s one-sided,” Austin said.

Rekofke asked Austin to bring the jurors into court and question them about their comments.

“The jurors are very upset they are being called a racist jury. They’d like to be heard,” Rekofke said.

Austin rejected that request. “What if they say, ‘I’m not a racist’? What does that do for me?” Austin asked.

He noted that in the history of discrimination cases in the United States, “people are never forthright with their prejudices … rarely, if ever, will people disclose that.”

When the new trial of Darlene and Bill Turner v. Stime is scheduled, Austin said, he’ll need to determine a way to directly address the issue of Kamitomo’s ethnicity during voir dire, the process of selecting a jury.

“At a new trial, we’re going to have a difficult time talking to jurors about Mr. Kamitomo’s ethnicity. But it will be discussed,” he said.

After the hearing, Kamitomo said he was happy with Austin’s ruling. “The judge paid attention and did the right thing,” he said.

Kamitomo grew up in southern Alberta and graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 1989. He also practices in Honolulu.

His father, Doug Kamitomo, was 8 when his family was seized in Vancouver, B.C., and relocated to a Canadian internment camp after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Written by Arroyoribera

February 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Courts, History, Racism

The Legacy of Kwame Nkrumah — Noon, March 5, 2008 at EWU’s Monroe Hall

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Dr. Yakubu Saaka, former Foreign Minister of Ghana presents ‘The Legacy of Kwame Nkrumah and It’s Implications for the Future of Africa’

Date: Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Place: Monroe 205

Dr. Yakubu Saaka is currently a professor of African American studies at Oberlin College. Before joining Oberlin, Dr. Saaka was a Member of Parliament in his native Ghana and served for four years as a deputy foreign minister. Dr. Saaka is an accomplished scholar and has published in many areas such as politics, literature, and culture.

Presentations are free and open to Eastern students, faculty, staff, and the Cheney & Spokane community.

(Originally posted at Eastern Washington University Diversity website)

[Listen to Dr. Nkrumah’s 1960 UN Speech]

Written by Arroyoribera

February 8, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Through Spokane’s Eyes: Moments in Black History — S-R interviews in WSU collection

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[The following information comes from the website of the Washington State University Library’s Civil Rights Oral History Collection. The website contains links to two hours worth of audio-taped interviews on the racism and race relations in Spokane, Washington.]

The Collection:

In February of 2001, the Spokesman-Review produced a month long series of articles on black history titled “Through Spokane’s Eyes Moments in Black History,” focusing in particular on the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As part of that series, Rebecca Nappi conducted a series of interviews with individuals with ties to both the civil rights movement and to Spokane. The guide to this collection may now be found in the Manuscripts section of MASC under the number Cage 683.

The Oral Histories:

Jerrelene Williamson relates her sense of the civil rights movement in Spokane to events in Alabama. Emelda and Manuel Brown talk about their experiences with racial prejudice while raising a family in Spokane, Washington in the 1960s. Clarence Freeman discusses his reaction to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the reaction of the community of Spokane. He also talks briefly about a childhood experience with prejudice in Spokane. Sam Minnix describes the scene during a civil rights demonstration at the Spokane County Courthouse on Friday March 26, 1965. Verda Lofton relates her impression of the same March 26, 1965 Spokane protest. Flip Schulke describes about his experiences photographing race related stories in the south. He mentions photographing the admission of the first black student, James Meredith, into the University of Mississippi. The influence the assassination on Martin Luther King had on the protests and marches is also described. He finishes by discussing the differences between the youth of the 60s and the youth of today, and the legacy of the protest movements. Alvin Pitmon talks about his experiences with prejudice in Arkansas during the forced integration of schools in the 1960s. He discusses his feelings towards Dr. Martin Luther King and the influence Dr. King had on him. Nancy Nelson sings two civil rights spirituals: My Lord, What a Morning and Let Us Break Bread Together.

Written by Arroyoribera

February 5, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Posted in History, Racism, Resources

Dr. Tom Jeannot on MLK, Permanent War, and the Illusion of Democracy

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Dr. Tom Jeannot — Gonzaga University’s brilliant radical philosopher — spoke on the morning of February 2, 2008 at the monthly Spokane Humanist breakfast in north Spokane. These were his passionate and timely words:


Permanent war and the illusion of democracy

I’d like to begin by thanking Bart Haggin for inviting me back again to the Humanist Breakfast. It’s been a while since I’ve spoken in public, and since I tend to sound like a broken record, I hope I’ll have something new to say this morning. Since Bart extended the invitation, I hope to address, if not quite directly, a topic about which he’s been thinking, speaking, and writing for some time now, namely, power, which he broadly divides into three great kinds: the military and police power of the state; the economic power of the captains of industry and finance; and, not as an afterthought but the key to it all, is popular power, the power of the organized people themselves. Bart is confident that through organizing, which he holds to be the hardest but the most important work we can do, people’s power can resist and even overcome the pernicious effects of an increasingly militarized national security state, both domestically and abroad; and of the political economy of the few-oligarchs or plutocrats-arrayed against the many, ordinary working people and their diminishing expectations, facing as they are the mounting threats against so much as a modicum of economic and financial security, their wages declining, their hours longer, their benefits precarious, their pensions vanished, their homes threatened with foreclosure, teetering on the edge of personal bankruptcy, living paycheck to paycheck, the costs of healthcare and education soaring in a seemingly endless inflationary spiral, and all of the impacts of petroleum, still traded in dollars, selling at $100 a barrel.

It’s not that I think Bart is wrong about organizing, but the people in their large numbers, the working-class majority, confront a hard-fought uphill battle, and it’s difficult to see, in the short term, how reality could be on their side, against the increasing colonization and domestication of our lives by the forces of state-administration, the political economy of globalized capital, and the adjutants of capital in the culture industry and corporate media who operate a propaganda machine that would have been the envy of Joseph Goebbels. (This is sometimes called “the news.”)

Our soul-wearying, life-sapping Age of Reagan grinds on, as well as the world-historical reality to which this Age arose in reaction of a global race to the bottom in the epoch of state-capitalism. Unless you’re independently wealthy, this is the treadmill you’re on, like it or not. Being on a treadmill might not be so bad by itself, we’re well enough accustomed and nicely habituated to the daily grind of our lives, except that it has a destination or an eschatological horizon that can only evoke our horror or terror the moment we pause in our plodding, heads bowed low, to turn our gaze towards the fate we may not be able to avert, of thermonuclear holocaust and ecological collapse, which are the final destinations of advanced industrial, state-capitalist, bourgeois society.

To which the answer might be a platitude on the lips of a George W. Bush or a Newt Gingrich, the classic triple play. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who not coincidentally was a member of the Nazi Party, famously said in his interview with Der Spiegel, which he gave on the condition that it be published only posthumously (as it was in May of 1976, a decade after he gave it), “Only a god can save us now.” For a Bush or a Gingrich, such a divinity, essentially the opposite of what Heidegger had in mind, is nevertheless held to be sacred: technological innovation, what’s called “the entrepreneurial spirit” or “the American genius of free enterprise,” and the theology of what goes by a euphemism worthy of the Pentagon, virginally springing from the head of our latter-day Zeus — Zeus now disguised and donning the garb of the professional economist — only more like the Gorgon Medusa than the goddess of wisdom herself: namely, the so-called “free market,” which allegedly, like a force of nature, dispenses its blessings and disposes over all things. Technology, entrepreneurship, and the structural adjustment programs of neoliberalism might hold the keys to the kingdom — I think it says somewhere in the New Testament, “Thou art Milton Friedman, upon this rock I build my church” — but a betting person, back to the wall in this winter of 2008, might not be willing to bet the farm. If this answer proves correct, by the way, and I’m entirely wrong in my self-assigned role of Chicken Little, it won’t much matter whether the next Commander-in-Chief is Hillary Obama or Mitt McCain, or whether Silvio Berlusconi is restored to power in Italy or Nicolas Sarkozy succeeds or fails in imposing an “American model” on French national life, or whether Ehud Olmert resigns or holds his fragile coalition together in Israel, or whether Osama bin Laden is captured “dead or alive.” The wisdom of Margaret Thatcher might be the wisdom of this age, who said, “There is no alternative.” Or Francis Fukuyama may be right after all with his euphoric prediction at the end of the Cold War that we have at last arrived to the end of history and all people want in Indonesia is Playstation 3. But I suppose it would be redundant to say that this is not where I’m placing my bet.

In which case, something else truly grim appears, our dire national emergency, about which the American psyche seems so strangely complacent, whether we indulge our taste for the daily newspaper, or Katie Couric, or the slightly more highbrow Snooze Hour or NPR. The campus where I teach is eerily sanitized, like the Skywalk or the Northtown or the Valley Mall. Or I push my cart down the aisles of Fred Meyer or some other mega-store adrift in the daydream of my solipsistic bubble, having pulled into the mega-parking lot provided for my convenience as the sole occupant of my four-door sedan. Safely insulated from Jena, Louisiana, from Baghdad and New Orleans, from Kabul and Kinshasa, Nairobi and Mogadishu, the Gaza Strip and the refugee camps, inner-city Detroit and the suburbs of Paris, the outskirts of Mexico City and shantytown Soweto, the slave-labor cities of China and the sweatshops of Bangladesh and Honduras, the daily grinding poverty of Peshawar and East L.A., I swipe the magnetic strip of my plastic card and load my baubles into the trunk of my car. Like the man who jumped off the Empire State Building, I pass the fiftieth floor and tell myself so far, it’s going pretty well. After all, I have everything that James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, joked that any Black person would want, before he was forced to resign in disgrace, as if the pervasive racism of our society could be quarantined in the person of a single evangelical Christian who watches and waits with his Zionist cohort for the second coming of Christ, blazing in glory no doubt, like Slim Pickens astride a nuclear warhead, aimed not at the Temple Mount but Teheran, where the Evil Empire has since relocated its demonic headquarters.

Now this much is merely confessional and not the social science, the critical theory of society you’ve turned out to hear this morning. Thinking of my point of departure as I was driving home from the airport after a blistering weekend in Chicago, having only hours before cabbed my way across the devastated south side of that great American city, I was forcefully reminded that it was the national holiday in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. when a public affairs program on KYRS re-broadcast the famous speech now known as “Beyond Vietnam,” the breaking of his silence of perhaps the greatest American figure of the latter half of the twentieth century. Thinking of the U.S. war of aggression on the peoples of Southeast Asia, in the totality of its meaning and implications, Dr. King urged that the great need of that hour, which neither Lyndon Johnson nor Hillary Clinton seems to have heeded, was in his words a “radical revolution of values.” It was King the revolutionary now speaking and not the plaster-of-paris saint whose grandiloquence we have come to prefer in the diction, say, of a Barack Obama. It was this King who quoted a Buddhist monk as follows:

Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the hearts of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism…

It was this King, addressing his auditors there at the Riverside Church in New York, who quoted “the late John F. Kennedy,” the murdered President whose words, King said, have now “come back to haunt us….[:] ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.'” This revolutionary King whose path would lead him to Memphis as surely as Christ went down to Jerusalem had come to the meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned on April 4, 1967 in order to warn the peaceniks there that:

The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality…, we will find ourselves organizing ‘clergy and laymen concerned’ committees for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God.

At the Humanist Breakfast this morning, we will surely grant Dr. King his measure of poetic license in order to say that the “calling” of the “sons [and daughters] of the living God” denotes the humanity inscribed in the essential meaning of humanism, the churchgoers then knowing as surely as we know today that, in King’s words, the “recent statements of [the] executive committee [of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam] are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: ‘A time comes when silence is betrayal.’ That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam” (emphasis mine).

A time comes when silence is betrayal, even as we march and rally “without end” in the futility of public protest, corralled as we are in the Bush Adminstration’s “free speech zones,” which are really the cattle pens of our irrelevance. For it is the immeasurably sad truth of the American polity forty years after Riverside that no “significant and profound change” has occurred “in American life and policy,” King’s call for revolution having fallen on deaf ears and the hearts of stone of what our friend Brad Read once a week calls the Zombie Nation. (You can listen to Brad and his guests on the KYRS public affairs program, “Zombie Nation,” airing live at 11 on Saturday mornings and re-broadcast Tuesday afternoons at 3.)

At Riverside, King said,

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered….

Yet our social life forty years later is even more cast in the pattern of what the Hassidic Jew, mystic and philosopher Martin Buber called the “I-It” relation, as distant from the “I-Thou” relation as the Colville Confederated Tribes Reservation and the Spokane Indian Reservation are from the Couer D’Alene Hotel Golf and Spa Resort, whose website informs us that they “have mastered the art of relaxation,” offering “luxurious accommodations, rejuvenating spa treatments, sumptuous cuisine, and breathtaking holiday displays,…the destination of choice for discerning travelers worldwide.” Presumably one can find there too an emperor who fiddles while a ring of fire encircles the globe. Don’t get me wrong, I like luxurious accommodations and sumptuous cuisine as much as the next guy and gal, and they are often on my mind as I push my cart through the solipsistic bubble of my private reveries, every bit as much a zombie as the strangers to my right and left may or may not be, as fascinated by “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” as President Bush told me I should be in his rousing speech to the nation right after the September 11 attacks, asking not what my country can do for me but what I can do for my country; to wit: “Go shopping.”

Thinking that I would make Dr. King’s speech at the Riverside Church my point of departure for this talk this morning, I had in mind the triple evil he called out by name on April 4, 1967. But when I listened to that speech on my way into town from the airport, I thought for sure he had named “racism, economic exploitation, and militarism” as the hydra-headed monstrosity disfiguring the image of America and situating it in the antipodes of “the right side of the world revolution,” its polar opposite, not merely counter-revolutionary but the very bastion and emblem of reaction. Instead, at Riverside, King called out “extreme materialism” as the middle term mediating its monstrous twins, racism and militarism. That it was not “economic exploitation” he said at Riverside troubled me for reasons I don’t have the time to explain this morning, except to say that “extreme materialism” and “economic exploitation” are not in fact synonyms, and one might just as well hear Focus on the Family or the malevolent Pat Robertson decry the evils of “materialism” from their televangelical and mega-church pulpit, a bully pulpit if ever there was one to overawe the originator’s, that other great imperialist and prophet of manifest destiny, the rough-rider Theodore Roosevelt, whose butchery in the Philippines set the archetypal pattern for the American Century to come. I was disturbed enough by the non-coincidence of terms to look into it more deeply, which is how I discovered what you probably already know, that King had given two speeches damning the carnage in Vietnam in that April of 1967, and that the speech that was broadcast on KYRS was not the Riverside speech at all of April 4, but the speech he gave from his hometown pulpit, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 30. On April 4, he did single out “extreme materialism,” the damning expression that might fall from the lips of any preacher or priest, even a fascist’s.

Whole paragraphs of the April 30 speech repeat April 4 verbatim, but it’s in the April 30 speech that he substitutes “economic exploitation.” I’m not a King scholar and so I can’t say why he shifted his terms in speeches otherwise so nearly identical that the KYRS host confused the one for the other, except that it constitutes a striking and important difference in meaning. An orator as brilliant as King does not line up his terms and relations randomly or accidentally. Their precise order matters, and it matters to get it right. In the syllogistic reasoning King would have mastered through the course of his doctoral studies at Harvard and Boston University, the middle term is crucial. At Riverside, King linked racism to militarism through the middle term of “extreme materialism,” but I’ll venture the guess that the ambiguity and vagueness of this expression bothered him and he searched for a language more precise, less equivocal, and closer to home of the message he sought to convey. As it happened, just the right term occurred to him by April 30, and it was “economic exploitation,” the precise expression to characterize a social universe of “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights,” a “thing-oriented” and not a “person-oriented” society, which not by accident was racist and militarist to its core. King’s purpose was to indict the very foundations of the society he loved, in much the same way as the poet he quoted, “that black bard of Harlem,” Langston Hughes, who had written: “O, yes, I say it plain/ America never was America to me/ and yet I swear this oath–/ America will be!” Such an America to be, known deep in the souls of black folk, whose own freedom struggle is the signal beacon of any shining city on a hill, is nothing less than the opposite and the negation of an America that “never was America to me”: or in King’s words, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death….”

That condition of spiritual death has already descended on the Zombie Nation we have finally and actually become: not the people but their masters, and not their masters in the form of proper names, but the mastery of a finely honed killing machine whose death grip has us all by the throat and is choking us to death. There is a terrible logic at work whose origin we could trace all the way back to the primal genocidaire named Christopher Columbus. To come closer to our own time, however, Chalmers Johnson has recently revived the category of “military Keynesianism,” the final solution to the crisis of capital accumulation and the law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit that nearly destroyed the capitalist mode of production in the aftermath of the stock market collapse in October of 1929. But capitalism is nothing if not resilient: the shift from nineteenth-century laissez faire to state capitalism took three discrete forms in the 1930s: Stalinism, fascism, and the liberal welfare state of the other Roosevelt’s New Deal, all three of which essentially relied on massive rearmament and the total mobilization of society for permanent war.

If the fascist and Stalinist forms were consigned to the dustbin of history, the modern liberal welfare state appeared to have survived unscathed, regenerating accumulation and giving rise to the greatest economic expansion known to humanity, lasting roughly from 1945 to the deep recession of 1974-75, when the next accumulation crisis nearly shipwrecked the nation-state project a second time in the course of less than half a century, presaged by the oil crisis of 1973. As News & Letters made the crucial point in its August-September 2007 issue, “Since the mid-1970s, it has become clear that welfare state policies conflict with the expansionary requirements of capitalist value production. This has eliminated the economic basis of progressive liberalism. The Social Democratic or liberal Left has proven unable to effectively challenge the Right because the objective basis upon which its policies were predicated has seriously eroded.” In other words, the abiding significance of the Reagan-Thatcher years was the state decision, in Bill Clinton’s words, to bring an end to “welfare as we know it.”

Welfare-state liberalism, based on Keynesian economic theory and policy, is no longer viable today, necessitating the austerity measures that are wrecking the lives of working people everywhere, not only in the U.S. but around the globe. With the triumph of the Chicago School, Keynes is dead in every respect but the only one that truly mattered: military spending and the deepening militarization of the whole of society. This has little or nothing to do with who is the Commander-in-Chief or which political party momentarily has the upper hand. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, however, a thorny ideological problem came to the fore, the solution to which was a matter of no small consequence in order to forestall what the German philosopher and social theorist Jürgen Habermas aptly named a “legitimation crisis.” The voluntary compliance of the citizenry has proven to be necessary, which in turn can be secured only if Oceania is permanently at war with Eurasia and Eastasia. To this end, slogans are necessary, and after “Crusade” failed to pass muster with the early focus groups, fortunately, “freedom and democracy” were near at hand.

Living in what Michel Foucault, quoting Jeremy Bentham, called the “panopticon,” an ideal prison in which the prisoner is subject to a surveillance so total that no watchman or guard is necessary, the society we live in today has at last metamorphosed into what the American philosopher Jeffrey Paris calls “the carceral society,” a society for which a massive prison-industrial complex, the Bagram prison in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib near Baghdad, and the concentration camp at Guantanamo, an official state policy of torture and so-called “extraordinary renditions,” a doctrine of the “unitary executive,” and the suspension of habeas corpus are prerequisites. Likewise pandemic racism and militarism.

Only a few brief years ago, the nation-state project of the U.S. was “hegemony,” to use the term that Chomsky took from the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci: unrivalled economic, geopolitical, and military supremacy. As of the winter of 2008, however, as we twist in the gale-force winds of still another accumulation crisis, the U.S. has become the largest debtor nation in the world, and geopolitically, King’s prophecy taken from a Buddhist monk has come to pass as people around the world revile the US and see naked imperialism for what it is. This means that the only card the US has left to play is its unparalleled military might, the only arena in which Keynes still has a purchase, which is steadily bankrupting us at the same time the Commander-in-Chief invokes the specter of World War III. Apparently, the drive to permanent war requires the formation of a national-security state, hostile in every way to whatever vestige of “democracy” there still may be.

It’s hard today to believe that Langston Hughes’s oath would still be worthwhile taking, and yet it’s equally hard and nearly impossible to see any other way out. Martin Luther King was a revolutionary, and the time for revolution is now, just in case it’s not already too late. How far Clinton, Obama, McCain, or Romney are from any of this is also the measure of the illusion democracy has become. It seems to me that when King substituted “economic exploitation,” he knew what he was saying. I’m not suggesting that King was a Marxist, although this has been alleged by the John Birch Society and J. Edgar Hoover. But the exploitation of labor-power is the engine of surplus value, self-expanding value is the goal of the system, people are reduced to equipment of the vast economic machine, and I can’t help feeling that our mechanized, routinized lives grow darker by the day when official state policy is a program of mass murder and the time of Dr. King has passed us by.

Tom Jeannot

February 2, 2008


Read Jeannot’s thoughts on the July 4, 2007 “near police riot” in Riverfront Park as well as reflections by another author on the topic of “What does self-defense against a police riot look like?

Written by Arroyoribera

February 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm