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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

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:

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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

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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