All posts by Michael K. Smith

Let’s Cut The Crap About “White Supremacy”

How many times do we need to request a meaningless “denunciation” of white supremacy? We, on what passes for a left, are supposed to be critics of corporate media, so why the dog-like obedience to its idiotic framing on this non-issue? President Trump has issued such pointless denunciations before, and did so again in the first presidential debate with Joe Biden, saying “sure” when asked if he would be willing to denounce white supremacists.

Then he introduced the apparently radical notion that there are two sides to every conflict, and took the side of those “defending property” and upholding the values of our non-existent but somehow sacred democracy. Why should we become unhinged about that?

If you’re presented with images of burning cars and buildings, thuggish types attacking someone, and people screaming obscenities at Trump, cops, America, or whatever stand-in for Satan we care to name, it has the same effect as images of police or other thugs choking, beating on, or shooting someone in the back, and this, in turn, produces self-righteous but entirely unilluminating rhetoric about Nazi scum, fanatic Marxist assassins, KKK skinheads, or Antifa rioters running amok and destroying the greatest civilization ever seen on God’s formerly green earth.

People obviously do believe, based on competing tsunamis of distortion pouring through anti-social media, that right-wing, Nazi white supremacists are attacking the foundations of decency and America while others are equally convinced that left-wing socialist supremacists are converting the U.S. into a Pol Pot style killing field. Both lines of “thought” are equally moronic. The question is, why are we on the left, supposedly making intelligent criticism of a society we hope to transform into something decent, dumb enough to choose between them?

Few have written at greater length (and no one more elegantly) than Jonathan Kozol about the devastating impact of race on our society, going back to the publication of his first book, Death At An Early Age in 1964. For the subsequent fifty-six years, Kozol has been relentless in describing the informal apartheid system that replaced Jim Crow and perpetuated the horrifying legacy of slavery. But nowhere in the thousands of pages of superb text he has produced does one find any mention of “right wing extremists” being the problem.  On the contrary, Kozol continually points out how wealthy liberals have withdrawn into private cocoons of luxury and ease, refusing to allow their children to go to school alongside poor blacks, Puerto Ricans, or other “people of color,” though the more sensitive among them can often be persuaded to write generous checks to charity causes working on the other side of the apartheid wall.

This is the central problem, not racist skinheads.

So please, let us have no more Southern Poverty Law Center-style “studies” of how right-wing fascists are poised to take over the country, which they’ve been robotically repeating since the 1970s. (According to them, statements like “It’s OK to be white” are “hate speech,” and a Trump fart constitutes mass gassing of people of color.) The country is securely in the hands of those who own the private economy and run the national security state, not Antifa, the Proud Boys, or the dreaded “alt-right.”

Let’s concentrate on our real enemies for a change.

The post Let's Cut The Crap About "White Supremacy" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The “Lesser-Evil” Syndrome: Noam Chomsky’s Fall Into Self-Contradiction

In a recent interview Noam Chomsky declared that there “was a big difference” between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential elections, a difference “you could count in several million corpses in Indochina.” But, Chomsky added, “a lot of the young people on the left said, “I’m not going to vote for Humphrey. He’s a corporate Democrat. I can’t sully my hands on that. So I won’t vote.” In effect, said Chomsky, this meant that they “help[ed] Nixon win,” and more specifically, they “help[ed] kill a couple million people in Indochina, plus a lot of other (bad) things.”1

In other words, Humphrey was the lesser evil in 1968.

Twenty years ago, speaking with David Barsamian of Alternative Radio about the very same elections, Chomsky said the opposite:

I could not bring myself to vote for Humphrey. I did not vote for Nixon. But my feeling at the time, and in retrospect I think it’s probably correct, was that a Nixon victory was probably marginally beneficial in winding down the Indochina wars, probably faster than the Democrats would have. It was horrendous, but maybe less horrible than it would have been.2

In short, Nixon was the lesser evil in 1968.

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

In the 1960s Chomsky occasionally voted for Republican candidates if they opposed the Vietnam War, but as the GOP turned increasingly reactionary he voted more and more for Democrats, which habit he considers morally obligatory for anyone on the political left. This has proven to be a tough sell, however, since the Democrats are not so much the lesser evil as they are the more effective evil.3 Precisely because of their (false) reputation for being more humane than Republicans, they can act more viciously than the GOP (Clinton ending welfare “as we know it,” for example) at times, and this is, in fact, their assigned role. Furthermore, as an opposition party the GOP is formidable, while the Democrats are pussycats, rolling over for everything a Republican president wants, often conceding even more than is asked for (Pentagon spending, for example). The focus of “opposition” since 2017 (laughably referred to as “the resistance”) has been Trump’s insulting tweets and boundless vulgarity, not his right-wing policies, which are allowed to advance unimpeded.

In short, no matter whether or how we cast our ballots, policy is insulated from voter preferences and keeps moving to the right. Nevertheless, Chomsky takes leftists who abstain or vote third party (in swing states) to task for failing to carry out what he considers to be a straightforward exercise in damage mitigation.

“It’s very frustrating,” he says, that “this is constantly happening,”4; i.e., that some on the left refuse to vote according to a simple lesser evil formula. Unfortunately, Chomsky doesn’t even recognize that he has been unable to keep his story straight as to which side actually is the lesser evil, in spite of the allegedly “big difference” between the two corporate parties. In fact, this year he goes even further and says – try not to laugh – the difference (between Biden and Trump) is not merely big, but colossal.

Though he’s mentally absent much of the time, even Biden has more sense of political reality than that, promising rich donors just last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” in a Biden administration. But Chomsky wants us to be impressed by a slate of disingenuous Sanders-Biden position papers crafted for vote-harvesting purposes, rather than Biden’s devastating dedication to “more effective evil” politics extending back over forty years.

Chomsky well knows the emptiness of electoral politics under capitalism. Through the years he has advanced a scathing indictment of U.S. elections, saying that they are really more “public relations extravaganzas” than ideological contests, that they therefore mean very little, especially at the national level; that he himself votes “less and less” at that level; that the system is not generating issues that resonate with the public; that there really can’t be said to be any political parties, but only “candidate-producing organizations” driven by marketing concerns; that the quadrennial farce that plays out at the presidential level is worth no more than “five minutes time,” and that only to determine which candidate represents the greater threat, in order to vote against him; and that, in view of all this, we should reserve our main political energy for vastly more important work, such as popular education, union organizing, and cultural resistance/transformation.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the significance of voting has loomed large in Chomsky’s mind: he warned that failure to vote for Hillary Clinton was a “big mistake,” that allowing Trump to win could be “the death knell of the species,” and that the 2020 elections are the “most important in human history.” This represents an escalation of election year hype, which in previous cycles has modestly urged us to “vote or die” in “the most important elections in our lifetimes.” By 2024, we may have to resort to the “most important elections in the history of the universe.” In any case, what’s noteworthy is Chomsky’s juxtaposition: voting is both trivial and urgent, likely to determine the fate of the earth and not worth more than a few minutes of our attention. Are these assumptions really reconcilable?

Probably not. If it is really true that we are at a “tipping point” vis-à-vis global warming, then it does not make sense to spend the vast majority of our political energy working for the long-term goal of transforming the U.S. into a country where a decent person could live without shame. Far better to throw ourselves unreservedly into the circus campaign to elect Biden now, in order to insure ourselves the time to deal with longer term matters later. But many Bernie Sanders voters will not do this, to say nothing of those farther left, and even Chomsky is not recommending it (though a Chomsky lesser-evil editorial IS being used as a campaign ad for Biden).5

Chomsky favors an independent political party in principle. “I think it is important the building of a political party which could enter the political arena and represent the population, and not just business interests.”6  However, he favors a “safe states” strategy in determining how to cast ballots whenever an independent left candidate faces off against the capitalist duopoly, which virtually guarantees failure. The reasons why are captured well by journalist Matt Taibbi, who offered an evaluation of the safe states approach back in 2004 when David Cobb of the Greens ran “against” George W. Bush and John Kerry:

For those of you who didn’t follow this story Cobb snatched the Green Party nomination away from (Ralph) Nader last week largely through his embrace of the so-called safe states strategy, known affectionately in political circles as the ‘crack suicide squad’ approach to campaigning. In this scenario Mr. Cobb agrees in advance to refrain from campaigning in any state where the Greens might have a chance to affect the outcome of the Bush-Kerry race. Bravely, however, he condescends to campaign balls-out in any state where a vote for the Greens doesn’t matter. 7

In other words, all the left’s energy was directed towards not influencing the outcome. Though he hardly needed to, Taibbi explained the absurdity:

…This is the kind of politics you get when you raise a generation of people who don’t understand the difference between brand identification and ideological conviction. Much the same way that Burger King and McDonald’s are scrambling to figure out a way that you can be on the Atkins diet and still spend your money at their vile, ass-inflating restaurants, Cobb and his party basically figured out a way that Nation subscribers can wear Green this fall and still keep their friends. They have turned politics into a shoe and a handbag, a conquered market demographic.8

The last part is key to all the rest. In a fake democracy voting means lining up with your assigned market demographic, not electing leaders, much less determining policies. As Taibbi jokes:

Vote Green – elect Kerry! Lose weight – drink Low-Carb Coca Cola! It’s the same thing, on many different levels. Because both decisions really boil down to the same compromise: trying to fit an instinct to reject corporate consumer culture into the ruling paradigm of corporate consumer culture.”9

Rejection by affirmation – touché. Taibbi rubbed the point in for effect:

Logic dictates: if you want to lose weight, the way to do that is not to drink the right kind of Coca Cola. The way to do it is to not drink Coca Cola. It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out, but it is apparently beyond the grasp of most Greens.9

And, as always, there was a lot more to reject:

Similarly, if you don’t believe in things like corporate personhood, if you are against the war in Iraq, if you are against the scourge of corporate money in politics, if you are in favor of a reduction in military spending, if you want to abolish the WTO and NAFTA, if you want to end the export of arms, if you want to break up media monopolies, if you want to get Channel 1 out of public schools, if you want to end the targeting of children by corporate advertisers – if you believe any of these things, or more to the point, if they are embedded in your party platform, then you can’t vote for either the Republicans or the Democrats, because they’re united against you all the way down the line.10

Updating to 2020, we can say that if you are against funneling trillions of dollars to banks and other mega-corporations, while tens of millions of Americans face homelessness and coronavirus with little or no income and no health insurance, then you can’t vote for either Republicans or Democrats, because they are united behind such policies all the way down the line. (For the record, the GOP was initially less stingy on direct cash payments than the Democrats, and the lone vote against the CARES Act, a multi-trillion dollar give-away to the rich, was Republican Thomas Massie’s. But the differences are slight).

Nonetheless, Taibbi concedes there is a logic to the “anybody but ________” idea (Bush, Trump, etc.):

I understand the logic . . . it is a rationally defensible position, one that makes sense on some primitive level. What does not make sense here is why the burden of ‘anybody but _________’ should fall on the Green Party. The burden really rests with the Democrats. If they want to end the Green Party problem, then those votes are there for the taking. All the Democrats have to do is renounce the WTO and NAFTA, create a universal health care system, and slash the defense budget, putting the proceeds into education and health care. Among other things.10

Sixteen years later, the Democrats have still done none of those things, and Taibbi’s main point is more valid than ever: the burden of anybody but Trump (i.e., any blue will do) should not fall on the Green Party or Bernie Sanders supporters, to say nothing of those farther left. (Or, more accurately, those farther down the wealth pyramid.) Over forty percent of the electorate – the poorest part of the wealth pyramid – never vote for president, because it’s a foregone conclusion that they will continue to be brutally exploited no matter which wing of the duopoly wins a given election. What possible sense does it make to tell them that they should care more about electing Biden than the Democratic Party itself does? The Democrats know perfectly well they are widely detested by the working class, but they get to share power even when they lose; the poor get nothing either way. That’s why they don’t turn out. The job of the rest of us is to define and deliver on a politics that alleviates their plight and makes it worth their while to vote, not tell them they have a moral duty to kiss the boot crushing their neck.

Why do the Democrats refuse to adopt policies that induce their base to vote? Taibbi stresses the obvious:

They’re too addicted to corporate money. They’re money junkies. And as anyone who’s had any experience with junkies will tell you, junkies cannot be trusted. They’ll say anything you want them to say about going straight, but at the critical moment, they’ll still steal your television and shoot it right into their arms.10

Obviously, offering to help a junkie desperate for a fix is sheer folly:

The only way to deal with a junkie is to change your phone number or, if you ever find him in your house, chain him to a radiator. . . . the one thing you can’t do is keep giving him that one last chance. That only guarantees that he will come back again very soon, covered with mysterious bruises and needing 200 bucks to pay for – tchya, right – a hepatitis shot.11

The political version of this story is even uglier, notes Taibbi:

Shit, just look at what’s happened since the last election. The junkies got kicked out of office, which ought to have been a wake-up call, and what did they do? They went out and almost unanimously voted for the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and two wars. . . .  And now here they come four years later, and they say: ‘We need all your votes right now or we’re fucked.’ Am I the only one laughing?12

Two economic collapses, five more wars, and a pandemic later, and everyone’s well beyond laughing, but there’s still a lot of puking over what the Obama/HRC junkies have been up to since they left office: establishing an entire propaganda industry blaming the village idiot for everything from bad breath to jock itch, relentlessly pushing slimy, red-baiting charges about (imaginary) Russian collusion with Trump, squandering impeachment on an equally worthless Ukrainegate diversion, and preventing desperately needed change by successfully rigging elections against their own democratic base, which is what produced president Trump in the first place.

In short: we can vote for Trump, or for what produced Trump, guaranteeing a president worse than Trump in short order.

Taibbi concedes there’s a method to this Democratic madness:

I also understand the Democrats’ point of view. I used to take a lot of drugs, too. And when you take a lot of drugs, absolutely nothing matters except getting off. In the quest for drugs, any kind of behavior is excusable. . . . .That’s junkie morality. That’s why from the Democrats’ point of view it makes perfect sense to nominate a gazillionaire, missile-humping aristocrat who’ll have more corporate logos pasted on him than a NASCAR driver when he gets into office (John Kerry). What’s the difference? We got off! Why is everybody complaining?12

Right, and in 2020 it makes perfect sense for the Democrats to nominate a senile, prison-humping pimp for billionaires, who tortures the poor with fees and penalties while exporting the job base and railroading a generation of desperate black and brown people into jail on petty or trumped-up charges, not to mention drowns the Middle East in an ocean of blood on ludicrous WMD pretexts. And that’s just for starters.

But the any-blue-will-do rationale makes no sense for the Green Party (or any independent workers party), says Taibbi, because “If you’re going to suck a cock in a train-station lavatory, you ought to at least get something for it.” True, but the logic of “safe states” doesn’t allow for this, so in 2004 “the Greens [were] going to roll over for John Kerry, and in the best-case-scenario all they [were] going to get for it [was] another insane trade agreement, more troops in Iraq, more corporate handouts, and another my-dog-ate-my-homework health care fiasco.”12

As it turned out, they actually got a worst-case scenario: the Greens rolled over for Kerry, Kerry bent over for Bush, and the American people were left bleeding badly from the anus, the usual outcome of “democratic” elections administered by capital. At the moment, everyone seems certain that Dementia Joe has the 2020 race locked up, but whether he does or not is far less important than our will to fight the crackpot logic that says we have “no choice” but to keep submitting to this abuse.

It simply doesn’t matter that lesser evil logic makes a crude kind of sense, because it just aggravates the damage it is intended to mitigate. Taibbi reminds us that it’s the system that requires bad candidates that should be our real concern:

Yes, ________ is a moron and a monster (Bush, Trump, etc.) and it would be better if he were not around. But America’s political problems are bigger than ________. The real problem in American politics is the rule of calculation and money over principle, and until this problem is fixed, the _________s of the world will always be with us. The Greens used to offer a solution. They’ve now become part of the problem.13

Exactly. In a fake democracy voting for corporate candidates just legitimizes our servitude. That’s the problem. Of course, Chomsky has always advocated committing our major political energy outside electoral politics, forming and expanding social movements that can bring pressure to bear on the elite political system to make democratic concessions. And on this basis he rates the two Bernie Sanders runs for the presidency a success, because the Sanders-Biden task forces have now, Chomsky says, crafted the most democratic policy positions since FDR (not coincidentally, the last president before the creation of the National Security State). In other words, Sanders is moving Biden to the left.

This is nonsense, of course, as there is nothing binding in position papers, and the Sanders campaign has already surrendered whatever leverage it had by giving unqualified endorsement to Biden in advance.  Obviously, the DNC loathes the New Deal policy positions favored by Sanders, which is why they torpedoed his campaign – twice. And now we’re to believe they’re going to make concessions to the agenda they just defeated? Why would they do that? In the midst of a pandemic, they refuse even to concede on Medicare For All, much to the amazement of the rest of the developed world, which implemented one or another version of single payer national health insurance decades ago.

As Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC (former senior advisor to Senator Daniel Moynihan) points out, pressure from the left is irrelevant to Democrats:

If you want to pull the major party that is closest to the way you’re thinking to what you’re thinking, you must, you must show them that you’re capable of not voting for them. If you don’t show them you’re capable of not voting for them, they don’t have to listen to you. I promise you that. I worked within the Democratic Party. I didn’t listen, or have to listen, to anything on the left while I was working with the Democratic Party, because the left had nowhere to go.”14

That’s the voice of experience, not advocacy.

Unfortunately, the advocates of so-called damage mitigation voting show a marked tendency to insult those who recognize that reflexively voting Democrat just aggravates the “nowhere to go” problem. For example, Chomsky dismisses the efforts of Bernie Sanders supporters who refuse to vote for Biden as “go[ing] off and sulk[ing] somewhere,”15 when, in fact, they have formed the Movement For a People’s Party, and are currently engaged in a host of popular actions to extend the $600 a week federal subsidy to the unemployed and help tens of millions of working people avoid being thrown into the street in the middle of a pandemic. That would seem to qualify as an example of popular grassroots organizing for positive change, which Chomsky ordinarily favors, but apparently not in this case.

In any event, those who feel moved to support “Lunchbox Joe” and the Biden/J. P. Morgan/Bain Capital/Noam Chomsky National Liberation Front should certainly feel free to do so. Our corporate-administered electoral choices are truly awful, and voting is a deeply personal matter.

As for Joe Biden, what can one say? Following the highly rational strategy of keeping his mental disintegration out of public view, he emerges only rarely from his basement, usually to take his Corvette for a spin, or confirm that he hasn’t the faintest clue as to his own whereabouts or what day of the week it might be.

But on the burning issue of coronavirus, at least, which has sent Donald Trump’s poll numbers plummeting into the dirt, he has the best thought out plan his keen presidential mind is capable of:

“Get things into place where there are shortages of.”16

Truer words were never spoken: any blue will do.

  1. WowFEST: Lockdown Presents Noam Chomsky “A Letter From America,” You Tube, July 14, 2020.
  2. Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, “Propaganda and the Public Mind,” (South End, 2001) p. 136.
  3. This term is borrowed from Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report. See his debate with Michael Eric Dyson on Democracy Now, September 7, 2012.
  4. Chomksy, WowFEST, “A Letter From America.”
  5. A Message to the Swing States from Noam Chomsky: “VoteTrumpOut“.
  6. Noam Chomsky, “Understanding Power,” (New Press, 2002) p. 194. For fuller discussion, see pps. 333-7.
  7. Matt Taibbi, “Spanking The Elephant – Dispatches From The Dumb Season,” (Three Rivers Press, 2005) p. 202.
  8. Taibbi, Ibnid, p. 202.
  9. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 202.
  10. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 203.
  11. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 203-4.
  12. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 204.
  13. Taibbi, Ibid, p. 204-5.
  14. O’Donnell video clip, Jimmy Dore Show, August, 8, 2020.
  15. Chomsky, WowFEST interview July 14, 2020.
  16. Saagar Enjeti, “Rising,” April 10, 2020.

Harlem’s Pearl: James Baldwin

The American idea of progress is how fast I become white. And it’s a trick bag. Because they know perfectly well I can never become white. I have drunk my share of dry martinis; I have proven myself civilized in every way I can. But there is an irreducible difficulty: something doesn’t work. Well, I decided: I might as well act like a nigger.

— James Baldwin, UC Berkeley, 19791

A dangerous individual.

— F.B.I. field report2

Grandson of a slave, the eldest of nine children in a Harlem family rooted in bitter poverty, he grew up amidst junkies, winos, pimps, racketeers, pick-pockets, and con-artists.

Surrounded by despair, he took refuge in literature, reading with such focused intensity that his mother took to hiding his books.3 He knew the Bible so well he became a teen sensation in the pulpit, luxuriating in Old Testament rhetoric and poetry. By then he had devoured everything he could get his hands on close to home. “There were two libraries in Harlem,” he remembered, “and by the time I was thirteen I had read every book in both libraries and I had a card downtown for Forty-second street.”4

His brilliance stood out. One of his teachers, a Communist with a Theatre Project job thanks to the WPA, began giving him books and taking him to plays and movies and museums, nurturing his keen mind while teaching him an ironic lesson about the supposed master race: “She gave me my first key, my first clue that white people were human,” Baldwin said.5

Racism affected everything, often in unexpected ways. Baldwin, for example, had learned from his mother to always offer his seat to a woman when he rode the subway. But in church some preachers taught that he should never surrender his seat to a white woman, because that would be “an act of servility.” Baldwin solved the conundrum by never sitting down on the subway.6  But other racial dilemmas were not so easily side-stepped, such as when two police officers beat him “half to death” when he was but ten years old.7

Somehow emerging literate, self-assured, and honest in a world that defined him as but a half-step removed from jungle savagery, he found himself perpetually in danger of doing or saying something that would trigger disaster. At 18, he lost control of his suppressed rage and hurled a glass of water at a waitress who had refused him service in a segregated New Jersey restaurant, watching along with the astonished patrons as it shattered against the mirror behind the bar. The following year Harlem erupted in a race riot as he buried his father, whose rage had consumed him long before the tuberculosis that finished him off. Five years after that, young James had had more than enough of the brutalities of American life and fled the U.S. “about five minutes before being carried off to Bellevue.”8

Reaching Paris with $40 to his name and no French, he spent his nights there on park benches consoling the victims of France’s Algeria campaign, while his pent-up bitterness at all he had endured in the U.S. came spilling out.9 For an entire year he was busy “breaking up bars, knocking down people,” he later remembered, eventually ending up in jail. “You’ve been taught that you’re inferior,” he explained, “so you act as though you’re inferior. And on the level that is very difficult to get at, you really believe it.”10

When the chaos subsided, Baldwin discovered that his life had at last become personal, allowing him a detached look at the crippling racial obsession ravaging his native land. Like an Old Testament prophet he sounded the alarm in the pages of The Fire Next Time: “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” He saved his richest contempt for the willfully blind: “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”11

Brilliant, driven, deeply troubled, he warned that time was running out to atone for slavery. “If we do not now dare everything,” he wrote, “the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”12

Baldwin’s soaring rhetoric landed with a sickening thud against the deaf ears of the liberal establishment, which was busy dragging its feet in response to a civil rights movement that Baldwin more accurately called America’s latest “slave rebellion.”13 Embarrassed by the screaming headlines and distressed at the propaganda coup the USSR was reaping from racial upheaval in the U.S., the Kennedy administration moved only reluctantly and belatedly to support the black freedom movement.14  While blacks were set upon by mobs, clubbed with lead pipes, and shot, bombed, jailed, and killed, Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s FBI agents took notes and filed reports, but made no general move to enforce the law against rioting police and KKK vigilantes. Concerned about losing support in Congress, JFK opted to shore up his southern political base, appointing racist judges to the bench, including one in Georgia who sought to prevent “pinks, radicals and black voters” from overturning segregation, and another in Mississippi who saw no point in registering “a bunch of niggers on a voter drive.”15

In the midst of all this, Baldwin sent Attorney General Robert Kennedy a telegram taking the Kennedy administration to task for the siege of Birmingham, and Kennedy responded by inviting him to assemble a group of black luminaries for a meeting in his New York apartment. It didn’t go well. Baldwin’s brother David shook a fist in Kennedy’s face. Playwright Lorraine Hansberry blasted the “specimens of white manhood” portrayed in a recent Time magazine photo: Alabama police pinning a black woman to the ground with a knee to her throat, better known today as the George Floyd maneuver. Lena Horne suggested sarcastically that Kennedy try promoting his policy of Jim Crow collaboration to Harlem residents, but warned that “we ain’t going, because we don’t want to get shot.” Freedom Rider Jerome Smith, crippled for life from a Mississippi beating, said he was nauseated to have to meet with Kennedy at all (in order to have his rights respected). He told the shocked Attorney General that he could no longer conceive of fighting for his country in uniform, but was nearly ready to pick up a gun against it.

Baldwin and his guests pleaded with Kennedy to have the president send troops to quell racist violence in Birmingham, and demanded to know why he himself hadn’t escorted James Meredith when be became the first black student to register at Ole Miss.

Kennedy laughed.

Failing to see anything funny, Baldwin and his group demanded a demonstration of moral commitment by the White House. The President, they insisted, should escort a black child into a Deep South school, so that any racist who spat on that child would also be spitting on the nation.

Kennedy dismissed the idea as a meaningless moral gesture. Son of a bootlegger, helped into office by Mob connections, he recommended that blacks pull themselves up the way his family did. With luck, he concluded brightly, one of them might be president in forty years.

Forty more years and blacks might get relief from racist terror — on top of the 400 years they had already endured – and then only if they behaved themselves! Baldwin told Kennedy his comment was absurd. The point was, he said, that a Kennedy could already be president, while blacks, who had arrived in America long before the Irish Catholics, were “still required to supplicate and beg for justice.”

When Kennedy remained unmoved and unmovable, Baldwin emerged from the meeting profoundly depressed, pronouncing him “insensitive and unresponsive to the Negro’s torment.”16  The FBI marked him down as a “Communist,” and though he flew all the way from Paris, he was not allowed to speak to the March on Washington three months later,17 where Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. Eighteen days after that speech a bomb exploded in Birmingham, blasting four black girls attending Sunday school into eternity.

Dreams are one thing; change, quite another.

Though Baldwin regarded himself as “at bottom an optimist,”18 he gradually gave up hope that the United States would change, as a string of assassinations (Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark) made it increasingly obvious it had no intention of doing so. To the extent the country defined itself as white, he thought, to that same extent it was irrelevant. Change would come, but from elsewhere.

When Black Power emerged and Baldwin expressed sympathies for a new generation of black radicals, white liberals often expressed consternation at what they saw as his retreat from integration and reconciliation. Baldwin took a certain pleasure in setting them straight:19 white people had long ago (forcefully) integrated the country, he reminded them, the facts not being subject to dispute, as “my grandmother never raped nobody.”20 Furthermore, the “negro problem” was actually a “white problem,” as it was they who invented the “nigger” fantasy, and they who were continually tormented by it. The burden was on them to discover why.21 Until they did, all talk of racial reconciliation was premature, if not consciously diversionary.

Such relentless honesty proved hard to handle even for the most balanced and resourceful minds. In a three-part discussion with Baldwin in August, 1970, Margaret Mead’s detailed anthropological and historical knowledge checked Baldwin’s tendency toward poetic exaggeration through seven fascinating hours of wide-ranging conversation. But when Israel-Palestine came up, Baldwin’s passion for truth proved more reliable than Mead’s faltering reason. “I have been the Arab, in America, at the hands of the Jews,” he said, denouncing Israel’s 1948 displacement of the Palestinians by “an entirely irreligious people” based incongruously on “something that is written down by Jehovah on a tablet.” Mead lost her composure at this, and accused Baldwin of making a racist comment, “just because there have been a bunch of Jewish shopkeepers in Harlem.”22

But there was no trace of anti-Semitism in Baldwin then, or at any other time in his career. He was just telling the truth.

And he never stopped. In 1974, he won the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s centennial medal for the “artist as prophet,” and was invited to address a congregation for the first time since his teen years. Using the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath and the Philistines, the diminutive Baldwin let loose a blast of hyper-articulate fury at the U.S. “betrayal” of its black brethren, and thunderously dismissed President Nixon as a “motherfucker.”

The sub-dean of the cathedral, unhappy with the tone of the service, confided to the dean: “No one ever before has said ‘motherfucker’ from the pulpit of St. John the Divine.”

The Dean replied that times had changed: “It’s about time someone did.”23

Thirteen years later, Baldwin’s funeral took place in that very same church, and mourners celebrated his wildly improbable and incredibly abundant life. Maya Angelou called him a “great soul.”24  Toni Morrison remembered that “the season was always Christmas” when he was around, and thanked him for replacing evasion and hypocrisy with clarity and beauty in his 6895 pages of published work.25  Amiri Baraka praised his “insistent elegance” and ranked the importance of his work with Dr. King and Malcolm X.26

Of course, taking fair measure of a life lived on three continents, and dedicated to human liberation by embracing every vulnerability, probing all weaknesses, and excavating the most deeply buried truths is an impossible task. Perhaps all one can say is that — by the power of his spoken and written words — Baldwin transformed a horrifying legacy of pain and rage into grace and light.

It’s hard not to be grateful for that.

Had he lived, Baldwin would have turned 96 years old today. Happy Birthday, James, and well done!

  1. Reflections of James Baldwin, C-SPAN, March 3, 2007.
  2. William J. Maxwell, James Baldwin – The FBI File (Arcade Publishing, 2017) Chapter 21, p. 167.
  3. W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) p. 15.
  4. James Baldwin and Margaret Mead – A Rap on Race, (J. B. Lippincott, 1971) pps. 45-6.
  5. Ibid., p. 31.
  6. Ibid., p. 55.
  7. Ibid., p. 213.
  8. Ibid., p. 56.
  9. Ibid., p. 242.
  10. Ibid., p. 57.
  11. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, (Dell, 1962) pps. 15-16.
  12. The Fire Next Time, p. 141.
  13. Reflections of James Baldwin, speech at UC Berkeley, January 15, 1979 (broadcast on C-SPAN 3 March 3, 2007).
  14. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, (Harper, 1980) p. 445; Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, pps. 117-18
  15. Tom Hayden, Reunion – A Memoir, (Random House, 1988) p. 59.
  16. The account of the Bobby Kennedy meeting is from: James Campbell, Talking At The Gates – A Life of James Baldwin, (Viking, 1991) pps. 163-5; David Leeming, James Baldwin – A Biography, (Henry Holt, 1994) pps. 222-6; W. J. Weatherby, James Baldwin – Artist on Fire, (Donald I. Fine, 1989) pps. 221-4.
  17. Leeming, p. 296.
  18. A Rap on Race, p. 88.
  19. Leeming, p. 185.
  20. Baldwin 1965 Cambridge Union debate with William F. Buckley Jr.
  21. I Am Not Your Negro (film).
  22. A Rap on Race, pps. 215-16.
  23. Leeming, p. 322.
  24. Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall,” bookpatrol.net, May 29, 2014.
  25. Toni Morrison, “James Baldwin: His Voice Remembered – Life In His Language” New York Times, December 20, 1987.
  26. Amiri Baraka, “James Baldwin, “His Voice Remembered – We Carry Him With Us” New York Times, December 20, 1987.

Joe Biden Suffers Massive Stroke!

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden suffered a massive brain hemorrhage today as he practiced reciting the days of the week for upcoming debates with President Trump. Campaign staff members say it will not affect his work, and insist he has no plans to withdraw from the presidential contest, unless “something serious happens.”

“We’ve been through this before,” explained senior advisor Symone Slanders. “Joe will have a stroke or two before breakfast, but by mid-morning he’s his old self again, sniffing our hair and fondling the volunteers. It’s nothing to get upset about, and we frankly resent attempts by Donald Trump to politicize it.”

Reached for comment at Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was having a brain installed, Biden said, “old people are just as sharp as senile people,” and expressed gratitude for get-well calls from Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman.

Although his campaign has come under fire in recent weeks for lacking energy, Biden now claims that he “has the momentum” against Donald Trump, because of a surge in the ranks of the “enthusiastic Biden voter.” To date, reporters have been unable to speak to such voters, because of strict visitation restrictions at state mental hospitals. Luckily, a Legalienate reporter working undercover has smuggled out recorded interviews with ardent Biden supporters, who give a whole new meaning to the term, “committed” voter.

“Sure, I’m enthused about him. Why not? I like the way he curses out voters who have issue questions and tells them to vote for Trump. It’s refreshing,” said one masochist.

“I like his random babbling,” said another. “I haven’t seen anything like that since Reagan, although GW had his moments, of course. But Bush was merely catatonic. With Biden, you’ve got the verbal diarrhea and the mangled syntax all in one package. He’s the best!”

“For me, it’s all about the issues,” said a thoughtful schizophrenic. “Biden’s not above hallucinating, like with the whole WMD business in Iraq. Lots of people in here see things, too, but Biden actually made a career of it. He’s living proof that no one is too deluded to make a difference. It’s so validating!”

Meanwhile, more pragmatic Biden voters are taking a page from Trump’s rhetorical playbook, chanting, “Lock him up!” every time their candidate delivers another gaffe. This has given rise to the “basement strategy”; i.e., keeping the doddering Biden entombed in a dimly lit basement, while a nation without national health insurance recoils in shocked horror watching the Trump administration implode under its innovative “let ‘em drink bleach” approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s a clash of the titans,” says media consultant Harry Scene, “the village idiot against the demented degenerate. May the best fraud win!”

Billionaire “Job Creators” and the Keyboard Revolutionaries Who Enable Their Candidates

Capitalism’s “invisible hand” gives us the middle finger with ever more contempt these days.

With the national unemployment rate soaring to Depression-era levels and beyond, the self-proclaimed “job creators” of our glorious free-market paradise are now drowning in gluttonous excess from sucking the tit of the “Nanny State” they allegedly abhor. While workers are prohibited from working by shelter-in-place orders, the private owners of what should be public assets get trillions of taxpayer dollars through the Federal Reserve, which they will use to buy up everything they don’t already own at depressed, pandemic era prices. Then when foreclosures begin to soar they’ll buy up the distressed properties for a song. In other words, we’re paying them with our own money to kick us out of our homes.

Meanwhile, the great dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky and friends (Mike Albert, Norman Solomon, Barbara Ehrenreich etc.) urge us not to vote for the Green Party this November, except in places where the vote won’t have any effect on the outcome (the states where either Trump or Biden are sure to win). These keyboard revolutionaries regard themselves as the vanguard of popular rebellion, but a key fact seems to have escaped their attention: Trump is a threat to elites; Biden isn’t. Which is why so many Rust Belt workers took a chance on Trump in 2016. In other words, American workers are much more fed up with the system than Chomsky and his political friends are. Change will come from them, not keyboard revolutionaries.

Though Chomsky regularly reminds his audiences that trying to predict the future is hopeless, that we can’t even predict tomorrow’s weather, let alone complex political trends, he nevertheless regards his judgment as infallible in determining how we should vote! But as John Dewey used to say, individuals know better than experts “where the shoe pinches, the troubles they suffer from,” a quote Chomsky is well aware of, as he cites it himself. Who the hell are we to tell people how they should vote? Or run their political campaigns?

Of course, Chomsky counters that the Greens have themselves stated that they want to see Trump defeated “as much as anyone,” and on that basis he counsels a “safe states” strategy; i.e., voting Green in the 40 states where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, but not in the 10 states that are “in play,” that is, where it can’t be safely predicted whether Trump or Biden will win. Here Chomsky is correct that the Greens are not as eager as he is to see Trump defeated, but there is no reason they should be. Again, Biden poses no threat to the establishment, and is so out of it mentally that he frequently lapses into outright gibberish. It took him six days to come out with a video in response to the corona virus crisis, one in which he appeared in a darkened basement with a confused look in his eyes mumbling incoherently to the effect that the government should do something about medical shortages. Duh.

On other occasions he has said that poor kids are just as capable as white kids of high achievement, and that parents should turn on the record player at night so that they can learn new words. His record is so appalling and his gaffes so prolific that his handlers carefully shield him from all but the most limited public contact, and even then can’t prevent him from snapping at voters or mangling his syntax to the point of random babbling. Even Barack Obama was reluctant to support him.

In short, it is not at all obvious that Trump is the greater evil. On the issues, Trump is slightly worse than Biden, but also more prone to sparking massive popular resistance, while Biden is clearly suffering cognitive disintegration whereas Trump is not.  Furthermore, the Democrats in opposition are a fake resistance, while the Republicans (during a Democratic presidency) are an actual resistance. So the choice between Biden and Trump is all too much like “Sophie’s Choice” in the movie starring Meryl Streep, in which Nazi guards force a terrified Polish mother to choose which of her two children shall live and which shall die. She makes the choice – perhaps “rationally” – and ends up committing suicide. We as a nation will, too, if we continue to take such choices seriously.

In 2016, the Republican base recognized Trump was a threat to the establishment and voted him into office, in spite of a tsunami of articulate opinion saying it couldn’t be done. In 2020, elite fear-mongering divided the Democratic base, insuring that it failed to nominate Bernie Sanders, a different and better kind of threat to the establishment. Polls show that Sanders’ signature issue – Medicare For All  – captures a substantial majority even among Biden voters, and in fact his New Deal politics are very popular across the American population. A successful elite campaign to falsely convince everyone that “other people don’t think like me” is the only reason he won’t be the party nominee.

To an electorate already drowning in manipulative fear, Chomsky and friends recommend we adopt a “rational” fear – terror actually – of Trump, on the pretext that he is destroying the world with his indifference to climate change. Though this is a possible outcome, it is far from a certain one, and it cannot plausibly be blamed on a single person in any case.  Simply put, the claim that a vote for Trump invites “global catastrophe” is alarmism, not analysis.

We are in the midst of a global catastrophe right now with COVID 19, but Chomsky himself properly credits four decades of bi-partisan profiteering, not just Donald Trump. And if the profit system is the problem, it is difficult to see how voting Democrat helps, as not one of them voted against the recent multi-trillion dollar give-away to Wall Street – not AOC, not Bernie Sanders, not Rashida Tlaib, not Ilhan Omar, not Tulsi Gabbard. And those are the best Democrats, far superior to Joe Biden. The lone opponent of the greatest financial heist in history was Republican Thomas Massie, who called for a quorom and a formal vote on the package that passed by voice vote.

Clearly there are no “safe states”: all the states are always “in play,” and are currently bleeding badly from the anus.

Chomsky’s fear-mongering contrasts sharply with what he advised vis-a-vis nuclear weapons in the 1980s, another issue that portends massive and possibly terminal self-destruction. Back then he correctly pointed out that the Nuclear Freeze’s obsession with giving detailed descriptions of the massively destructive consequences of dropping nuclear bombs on human cities was intellectually insulting and politically paralyzing, preventing the change it hoped to foster. The correctness of this view has been confirmed by events, as the Nuclear Freeze was ultimately absorbed into official arms control efforts, and forty years later the world is closer to nuclear war than ever.

So why should we repeat the mistake today, spreading apocalyptic visions of total destruction via climate change? No reason that a sensible person should embrace. After all, the only prediction we can safely make about climate change is that electing either Biden or Trump will make our current bad situation considerably worse. The only electoral result that could make it better would be one that put the Green Party platform in power, an outcome that will never be achieved if Green voters feel compelled to vote for candidates bought by the fossil fuel industry.

We need to stop the incantations of “existential threat” and “special danger” about Trump. He isn’t Hitler. He doesn’t believe in the genetic superiority of white people. And he at least hasn’t started any new wars during his 38 months in office, which is unlikely to have been the case with Hillary Clinton. What’s different about him is his eagerness to insult rather than utter focus-group tested banalities, but this carries no policy implications. So where is the argument that Trump has dramatically deviated from the plutocratic policies embraced by both establishment parties?

“Real solutions require Trump out of office,” chorus Chomsky and friends, just as they did about Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, John McCain and Ronald Reagan. No. Real solutions require a society committed to real solutions. As long as profiteers run the government, this is impossible.

Apparently, Chomsky and friends are for radical change every day except election day.

Change Is In The Air

Quite literally.

In a single week air pollution cleared up, housing was found for the homeless, evictions were banned, the stock market ceased being the gauge of social well being, water shut-offs ended, jails were emptied, debt peonage was suspended, universal basic income was proposed by “free market” die-hards, people started caring about the elderly and front-line workers, personal competition gave way to mutual aid networks, kids abandoned digital serfdom to go outside to play, and Donald Trump outflanked Bernie Sanders to the left, calling for public equity in bailed-out corporations, in other words, public profit.

The only restrained observation one can make is: Holy Shit!

The battle has barely begun, but all can plainly see that the U.S. operates a planned economy, which places socialism squarely on the table, even as Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign fades rapidly away, like Joe Biden’s mind.

The neo-liberals may grasp power again, though that is far from guaranteed, but legitimacy will elude them, as an aroused populace in revolt will not heed their irrelevant commands once it becomes clear that the crumbs they are willing to toss the public’s way will not in any way arrest exploding indebtedness, much less bring economic security. A second consecutive generation of young people – Generation Z – has no future, while politicians continue indulging economic masturbation fantasies about a mythical free market bringing prosperity to all. “Gigs” are nothing to hang one’s hat on.

We have been fed a steady diet of illusions about the gig economy constituting a “labor revolution,” which is like calling panhandling an earning revolution.  Deliberately misclassified as independent contractors, gig workers remain unprotected by minimum wage laws, earning as little as $3 or $4 an hour or even less, as by definition there is no economic floor in our glorious “free market.” Crowd workers, forty percent of whom rely on the work as their main source of income, earn somewhere between $1 and $5.50 an hour. 1

Worse, these digital coolies have no way of knowing when work will be delivered, so they can’t take on other commitments for fear of forfeiting income. They check their computer screens anxiously, trying to piece together fragments of work so as to earn a decent income, like a hungry diner assembling crumbs in hopes of enjoying a decent meal.

The agonizing search for gigs without ending up with a real job is capitalism’s latest refinement of torture for the poor. Digital work delivered over the internet requires being glued to a screen. You can’t go anywhere or do anything for fear of missing a work opportunity. All one’s downtime goes to the search for more work. Spending endless hours applying for gigs and not getting them is one thing when one has money in the bank: it’s quite another when one doesn’t know how this month’s rent will get paid.

Prospects are especially bad given that Third World workers can underbid America’s poor, who can’t afford to work for $3 an hour. True, there are better paid gigs, but those tend to be extremely specialized, requiring college or master’s degrees. Only thirty percent of Americans have college degrees.2

As a whole, gig economy workers are disproportionately poor. Compared to Americans in general, twice as many of them earn less than $30,000 a year, below what MIT calculates to be a living wage for a family of four. They are members of in increasingly insecure “precariat,” living permanently hand-to-mouth. (According to a report from the Federal Reserve released in May, 2015, forty-seven percent of Americans cannot cover an unexpected $400 expense with their savings or a credit card).

The grossly exploitative nature of gig employment is nowhere more apparent than in the current crisis of Uber drivers during the corona virus pandemic. The unofficial “plan” is to let these drivers work right up to the moment they get sick, then hope they don’t die as they shelter in place at home awaiting a compensation check based on their collapsed earnings. In short, a token tiny payment inside a get-well card.

The Uberization of everything promises a “sea change in work” the same way sub-prime mortgage debt promised a sea change in wealth generation leading up to the 2008 financial collapse.  New technologies chop up traditional jobs into discrete tasks that are then assigned to individual workers just when a paying customer needs them, with wages set by highly volatile supply and demand, and every gig worker’s performance constantly tracked, reviewed, and publicized.  Though Kim Jong Un didn’t invent this system, he should probably pay the ones who did.

Long in the making, this dismantling of jobs and middle-class prosperity has been openly celebrated by CEOs, presidents, pundits, and stock markets around the world. Consultants replaced executives at the top, temp-workers took over from office workers in the middle, and day laborers displaced union workers at the bottom. Now gig workers are slated to replace everyone, including themselves, once they have taught computers to perform the rote tasks still done by humans.

Yes, change is in the air in the form of a virus that has stopped the market cold, starkly revealing its socialist underpinnings. Trillions of dollars are shamelessly funneled to corporations that refuse to concede public equity to the taxpayers underwriting their operations. If the “aid” comes at that price, say the corporate chieftains, we do not want it. But if they do not want it, then it’s clear they don’t really need it.

The socialist moment will pass if we don’t build a fierce and sophisticated democratic movement that can replace the current oligarchy’s disastrous rule. The former Occupy movement, the two Bernie Sanders campaigns for president, and the Medicare For All struggle can become the basis for economic democracy in the United States, otherwise known as socialism.

Our minimal demands should be full and dignified employment in good times, universal basic income in bad times, and free medical care (at the point of service) all the time.

Let’s make it happen.

  1. See: Gigged – The End of The Job and The Future of Work, by Sarah Kessler (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
  2. See: Temp – How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary, by Louis Hyman (Viking, 2018).

Legalienate Hails Democratic Coup In Bolivia

Legalienate editors Frank Scott and Michael Smith, who declared themselves co-president of the United States in February, today hailed the self-proclaimed presidency of Jeanine Añez in Bolivia as a harbinger of democratic self-determination throughout the world.

“Juan Guaidó in Venezuela was just the beginning,” exulted Smith. “On the eve of Thanksgiving, we are deeply grateful to have yet another self-proclaimed president, especially in Bolivia, which suffered the indignity of majority rule for 13 long years, and couldn’t have been expected to take it much longer.”

“Their long national nightmare is over,” added Scott, who observed that Morales’s “insane socialism” had sent the country careening disastrously into sustained high economic growth, increased literacy, and sharp reductions in poverty and inequality before rich white Christians restored the natural order of looting and burning homes, teargassing funerals, and firing machine guns into unarmed crowds.

“That is what democracy looks like,” said Smith.

Añez’s democratic legitimacy is beyond dispute, as her voter support soared to nearly two percent in the October elections, while her Democratic Unity Party did even better, claiming a massive 4.24% of the vote. The deposed and disgraced Evo Morales could only garner a meager 47%, just ten percent more than his nearest rival. Fortunately, the Organization of American States cried fraud, so the top vote-getter could properly be declared the loser, an increasingly common electoral standard famously celebrated by the United States in 2000 and 2016, though with a much wider margin this time.

Unexpected condolence calls from Al Gore and Hillary Clinton coached Morales on the art of showing grace under pressure. “Just bend over and take it,” said Gore, summarizing wisdom learned from his 2000 campaign. “It worked wonders for me.”

“Blame everyone but yourself,” recommended HRC, who revealed that, though widely detested, she is thinking of running for president on a third party ticket if Bernie Sanders wins the democratic nomination in the United States. “The challenge of our time,” said Clinton, “is to prevent a raving lunatic from destroying our democracy.” She added that she opposes Donald Trump, too.

President Añez, her smooth diplomatic skills already on display, announced from La Paz that “our power is God,” and humbly entered the Bolivian presidential palace toting a huge Bible while tweeting subtly that Bolivian Indian rites were “satanic.” Fortunately, Indians only make up a large majority of the population, so no repercussions can be expected.

Many experts object to describing Añez’s ascension to the presidency as a coup, insisting that Morales voluntarily resigned his post. Williams Kaliman, head of the Bolivian Armed Forces when Morales quit, insists that he merely suggested the former president step down, either before or after police finished ransacking his house. Kaliman, a graduate of the United States School of the Americas at Fort Benning, famous for democratic practices like mass torture, rape, and murder, said he had “no idea” how people got the idea that force was involved. “I left the matter entirely up to Morales,” he said, describing the atmosphere in which the decision was made as “completely calm,” except for the unrestrained arson, assault, and looting by democracy-loving police officers.

There is no truth to vulgar Marxist claims that the change in Bolivia’s government was motivated by a U.S. desire to gain control of the country’s lithium, (70% of the world supply), a crucial metal needed for mass production of electric car batteries.  Such conspiracy theories are based on the long discredited notion that private profit has something to do with a market economy dedicated to maximizing private gain.

Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”

Freedom begins between the ears.

— Edward Abbey

Edward Abbey

“What do old men who don’t believe in Heaven think about?” queried Edward Abbey rhetorically in his masterpiece Desert Solitaire. “… they think about their blood pressure, their bladders, their aortas, their lower intestines, ice on the doorstep, too much sun at noon.” In other words, they think about postponing dying, though many may never have gotten around to actually living.

To die well, one must live fully, Abbey thought, and dedicated himself to the task.

Anarchist, wilderness defender, story-teller, truth-lover, industrial saboteur, sex fiend, river runner, poker lover, beer guzzler, cantankerous social critic, part-time fanatic opponent of unrestrained growth, full-time desert rat, Edward Abbey went at life full throttle, forsaking a long, half-lived, half-life for a shorter span of years indulging his hearty appetite for bourbon, bacon, cigars, and countless nights out under the stars. (Abbey died at 62, before his own father did.)

Faced with terminal illness in late middle age, he never bargained with God for more time or experienced any of the alleged “stages” of accepting death that psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says we all inevitably pass through. The reason? For Abbey it was not death or dying that was tragic, but rather to have “existed without fully participating in life – that is the deepest personal tragedy.” He was philosophical, not horrified, by the inevitability of his own death, which he accepted decades ahead of time while communing with the desert:  “If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.”

You owe the earth a body, he believed.

A shy man infuriated by the devastating effect of industrial “progress,” Abbey’s rage was an expression of love for all that it destroyed: wilderness, freedom, free-flowing rivers, the pre-Stone-Age desert that his spirit would not leave even in death. And perhaps it was this passionate bond with the earth that gave Abbey his extraordinary poise, which never abandoned him, even in tragic moments. When he collapsed at a friend’s house in 1982 doctors gave him only a few months to live.  Quipped Abbey, then fifty-five: “At least I don’t have to floss anymore.”

In a 1957 journal entry Abbey wrote that we don’t come into the world so much as grow out of it: “Man is not an alien in this world, not at all. He is as much a child of it as the lion and the ant.” But though we emerge from nature, its importance, especially in the desert, is that it bears no reflection of us: “In the desert, a man comes directly upon a world that is not a projection of human consciousness, a world that has not been interpreted by art or science or myth, that bears no trace of humanity on its surface, that has no apparent connection to the indoor human world.” Just this is its essential value. “In the desert one comes in direct confrontation with the bones of existence, the bare incomprehensible absolute is-ness of being. Like a temporary rebirth of childhood, when all was new and wonderful.” The city, for all its treasures, cannot reveal this.

Born in 1927, Abbey’s adult years were lived under the shadow of nuclear annihilation, among other ominous signs of massive destruction, but while others fretted over looming social disaster, Abbey actually looked forward to the end of human misrule, taking solace in the fact that his beloved Grand Canyon had already outlasted thirty failed civilizations.

“Be of good cheer,” he wrote in Down the River (1982), “the military-industrial state will soon collapse.” Although our “military industrial” state is now more of a military financial state, Abbey felt its approaching demise represented “good news,” the actual title of a novel he wrote on the topic, which critics took to be an ironic comment, whereas Abbey intended it as nothing more than the literal truth. Given that human population had vastly overshot its land base, progress required catastrophe, he thought, and he hoped that in the ruins of former cities “a small society of friends in a community of mutual aid and shared ownership of land” might manage to “rebuild the simple farming and pastoral economy that had been destroyed by the triumph of the city.” A Jeffersonian anarchist vision for the 21st century.

Though broadly cultured and obviously possessed of a lively intellect, prolonged visits to the city always produced in Abbey a longing for prompt return to “light on rock, the sun on my bones, the smell of a sweating horse, the bright thirsty air of the high plateaus.” Only a small scale civilization could be compatible with Abbey’s yearning for vast unspoiled wilderness, and then only if it recognized the primacy of nature. “A world without wilderness is a cage,” said environmentalist David Brower, and Abbey fervently concurred.

He flatly rejected the view that his deep urge to preserve what remained of humanity’s ancestral home was a marginal or superfluous concern. Wilderness, he wrote, “is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” Only in wilderness could one find an abundance of life’s essentials: clean air, pristine sunlight, pure water, unbounded space and time, grass and woods to play and get lost in, solitude and silence, “alien” life and the risk of death. “A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original,” warned Abbey, “is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” And the danger part was not to be omitted. Abbey agreed with his friend Doug Peacock that one was not truly in the wilderness unless one was at risk of being eaten.

An original thinker unafraid of honest examination of any issue, Abbey inevitably ran afoul of multicultural dogmas. He felt that liberal taboos against criticism of official minority groups was a form of censorship, and he was regularly accused of sexism, racism, “eco-fascism” and xenophobia for violating those taboos. Abbey rejected these rejections of his work. In response to a suggestion that he remove the “Archie Bunkerisms” from his then forthcoming novel The Fool’s Progress, he ranted:  “I’m not going to toady to chickenshit liberalism anymore; fuck it. I’ve already been called fascist, racist, elitist, as well as communist, terrorist, misanthrope, bleeding-heart etc. so often it doesn’t bother me anymore. To hell with all those petty, taboo-ridden dogmatic minds.”

The critics “hate my books,” he went on, because “almost all reviewers, these days, are members of and adherents to some anxious particular sect or faction . . . . As such, any member of any one of those majority minorities is going to find for certain a few remarks in any of my books that will offend/enrage’s/he’ to the marrow.” Thirty years after Abbey’s death Donald Trump is the arsonist in charge of our ideological fire department, eagerly flinging gasoline in the faces of identity politics dogmatists, setting off an ever-widening sectarian conflagration. Maybe we should have paid more attention to Abbey’s criticisms when he first made them.

Although it is difficult to see Abbey as outright hating anyone (except the rich, whom he loathed), it’s easy to detect double standards in his work and life. While enjoying the benefits of monogamous marriage, he cheated on four out of five wives, using his celebrity to help bed attractive women. Though he was convinced that (1) “girls should be encouraged from infancy on to see the world as a playground of potentiality,” and (2) women’s under-representation in most fields was regrettable, and (3) “no man who is really a man will feel his manhood demeaned or threatened by the act of washing dishes,” he nevertheless disapproved of novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s having left young children at home in order to attend a 1989 writing conference that Abbey also attended (Kingsolver says Abbey was “respectful to the point of deference” in his treatment of her, however).

Abbey’s justification for the double standard was uncharacteristically unoriginal. Women are morally superior to men, caring for others, while men crave sexual variety out of selfish pleasure. (“I’ve never met a nymphomaniac I didn’t like,” commented the hero of Abbey’s The Fool’s Progress). The vast majority of men are polygamous, bogged down and frustrated with monogamy, which they submit to only out of sloth. So why did Abbey, hardly a slothful type, get married five times? His fifth and final wife (Clarke) said that he was seriously conflicted: “There was always the real complex issue of wanting to be married and have a family and wanting to be totally on his own and doing what he wanted.” One illustration of just how serious the conflict was for Abbey is provided by his fourth wife, Renee, who remembers a time she sent him to the store for groceries and had to wait two days for his return.

On feminism, Abbey had a very mixed response. Three years before Roe v. Wade his unpublished “Some Second Thoughts on Women’s Lib” contained the opinion that “a woman’s womb is not the property of the State . . . She must be mistress of all that’s enclosed within her skin.” On the other hand, he saw feminism as androgyny-promoting and contemptuous of working class men. And though he supported the Equal Rights Amendment and reviewed, counseled, and befriended several women writers, his negative portrayal of feminism in The Fool’s Progress offended his father (a lifelong socialist who appreciated the social gains of the Bolshevik Revolution) to the point that he stopped reading the book, and also his wife Claire, who hated the depiction, saying that Abbey never treated her in the sexist manner he sympathetically portrayed in his books. At a book event in 1987 a number of women who apparently shared this dislike walked out of an Abbey reading of The Fool’s Progress.

On the issue of race, Abbey very clearly did not sympathize with the multiplication of victim minorities, which he claimed were “advance men for planetary majorities.” However, it should be kept in mind that Abbey’s misanthropic convictions (in one book he commented that what the world needed to solve the overpopulation problem was a vast, painless plague) made him portray nearly all groups in a negative light, white people included. For example, in a 1956 journal entry he wrote: “On the Negro question: I don’t like ’em. Don’t like Negroes,” which seems to be an openly bigoted statement. But the next sentence is: “As far as I can see, they’re just as stupid and depraved as whites.” Similarly, in one breath Abbey depicted (American) Indians as alcoholic welfare bums, while in the next he had the hero of one of his novels say, “Indians are just as stupid and greedy and cowardly and dull as us white folks” (The Monkey Wrench Gang).

Asians he portrayed as products of authoritarian “anthill societies” mindlessly producing consumer junk for clueless Americans (“Jap crap,” the hero of The Fool’s Progress called it). He rejected the idea that (densely overcrowded) Eastern cultures had anything important to teach the West, and roundly criticized those who thought differently. “I find it pathetic as well as ironic to see the enthusiasm with which hairy little gurus from the sickliest nation on earth are welcomed by the technological idiots of all-electric California,” he said in Abbey’s Road.

However, when Washington unleashed a nearly genocidal assault on tiny Vietnam, Abbey spoke out harshly against the deeply racist slaughter. He considered the Vietnam war the most shameful chapter in U.S. history apart from slavery, and in a 1968 appearance to promote Desert Solitaire, he offended many in his audience by denouncing the war instead. Four years later in a letter to the Arizona Daily Star, he compared it to the worst atrocities of totalitarian states: “Nothing in American history, not even the wars against the Indians, can equal the shame and brutality and cowardice of this war. It makes an obscenity of our Christmas holidays and sinks our own Government and all who passively consent to its atrocities down to the moral level of Stalinist Russia and Hitler’s Germany.”

Abbey called himself a racist in Confessions of a Barbarian, though he defined the term as an aversion to being dominated by a race to which one did not belong, which definition would render nearly all of humanity “racist”:  “Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.” Abbey was aware of the contributions of Western colonialism and imperialism to the widespread misery found in those regions, but argued it was but “Western guilt neurosis” to assign primacy to them in accounting for Third World conditions in the late twentieth century.

He urged a complete halt to immigration coming north from Mexico, contending that a porous border was allowing in “millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally, morally, generically impoverished people.” Such people brought with them an “alien mode of life which . . . is not appealing to the majority of Americans . . . Because we prefer democratic government . . . hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful  – yes, beautiful! – society. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see.”

Abbey argued that a solution to mass immigration from the south had to be sought in Mexico, not the United States: “Mexico needs not more loans – money that will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of los ricos – but a revolution.” According to his best friend John Du Puy, Abbey considered the Mexican government an appalling betrayal of the Zapatista revolution and he vehemently opposed allowing them to “dump people on us” that they “couldn’t deal with.” In One Life At A Time, Please, he called for the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, but also advocated handing out rifles to those turned back there, so they could return home and settle accounts with their exploiters. Though more rhetoric than serious policy proposal, the implied sympathy for social revolution is hardly racist (racists prefer eugenic solutions). Curiously, Abbey “didn’t think much” of the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, which implemented a wide range of popular programs for the poor that made it unnecessary for Nicaraguans to migrate to the United States in large numbers, as campesinos from Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador did (and still do), much to Abbey’s dislike. Perhaps Abbey was the kind of anarchist who favors every revolution except the (imperfect) ones that succeed.

In any event, Abbey had curious associations for a “racist.” Early in his career he spoke at a Navajo rally, and in 1959 he edited the bilingual newspaper El Crepusculo de la Libertad (Twilight of Liberty), which promoted Indian rights. Years later he favorably reviewed Vine Deloria’s Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, one of several favorable articles he wrote on Indian affairs. He lamented that Deloria’s views were not being taught in schools, and noted that “the many parallels between the war in Vietnam and the war against the American Indian has not escaped the American Indian.”

Though, as noted, he opposed mass immigration from Mexico, he bore no grudge against Hispanics per se, and felt that any immigrant who had managed to live in the U.S. five years or more should be allowed to stay. For many years he wore a cap with the inscription “Viva La Causa,” and his best friend John De Puy reports he was sympathetic to Chicano activists in Taos and throughout northern New Mexico. De Puy says Abbey’s opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal, was not because of contempt for other cultures, but because of the problems inherent in large scale immigration.

Responding to Alfredo Gutierrez in the New York Times in August, 1983, Abbey conceded he preferred his own culture to others:  “I will confess to cultural bias. Though an aficionado of tacos, Herradura tequila, and ranchero music (in moderate doses), I have no wish to emigrate to Mexico. Nor does Alfredo Gutierrez . . . At some point soon our Anglo-liberal-guilt neurosis must yield to common sense and enlightened self-interest.”  In a 1987 letter to Earth First! Journal, Abbey drew a distinction between chauvinism and racism: “I am guilty of cultural chauvinism – I much prefer life in the USA to that in any Latin American country; and so do most Latin Americans – but chauvinism is not racism. Racism is the belief that all members of one race are innately superior to all members of some other race. I do not subscribe to any such belief.” In a 1988 journal entry he wrote that the only “superior” races would be those who have done the least harm to the earth; he suggested the Bushmen of Africa, the Australian aborigines, and perhaps the Arizona Hopi.

If this is white supremacy, it’s a rather novel strain.

Bombshell! Trump Era Over As Legalienate’s Editors Proclaim Themselves “Rightful Democratic Rulers” of U.S.

— Chris Hodges, Truthdog

Inspired by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president of Venezuela a month ago, Legalienate blog editors Frank Scott and Michael Smith have announced that they are the legitimate leaders of the United States and have begun performing executive functions to “restore democracy” and bring the era of “capitalist usurpation” to an end. At a press conference in a bus terminal in Richmond, California, the two men took turns swearing each other in, after which they denied that their action constituted a coup d’etat.

“The people are with us,” said Scott. “We represent the majority: Those that refuse to vote, plus those who back candidates opposed to the fake democracy. We are deeply humbled to be the first truly popular government in U.S. history.”

“In spite of unique and massive advantages, the country is in disastrous shape, and has been for some time,” added Smith. “That alone justifies regime change – check with Thomas Jefferson.”

After a brief power struggle, Scott emerged as foreign policy czar and Smith democratic emperor of domestic affairs, although experts warn that further self-proclamations in the near future may alter this state of affairs.

“This is a democracy,” said Smith. “Everything belongs to the head of state.”

“That’s us,” observed Scott.

The two men immediately began forming their cabinet, giving appointments to friends and family members with long records of public service undermining capitalism and imperialism.

“My cousin Vinnie punctured both his eardrums to avoid the mass slaughter in Korea,” said Scott. “He has trouble listening to advice, or listening to anything, but at least he knows war is our enemy.”

“He’ll have peace in a week,” added Smith.

An urgent text message from Kim Jong Un quickly lent credibility to the prediction: “I’ll scuttle the nukes for season tickets to the NBA!!!!” Reached for comment, newly appointed ambassador to Pyonyang Dennis Rodman said, “I think that can be arranged.”

In order to bring an end to the “pointless wars” Donald Trump promised to terminate but never did, Smith has frozen U.S. government bank accounts around the world.  Newly sworn in Defense Secretary Tulsi Gabbard, ordered by Scott to “cut the crap” about Putin, Assad, and other stand-ins for Satan, announced that the Pentagon will be converted to peaceful production, principally hash pipes and male birth control.

“Make love, not war,” said Gabbard, who served in Iraq in 2005 and saw the worst of it.

In a spiteful move, Donald Trump has refused to leave the White House, citing his “democratic” election in November 2016 as justification. But those elections are widely regarded as fraudulent. “Trump got 46% of the vote in an election that had 58% turnout,” said Scott, “which means he won less than 27% of the electorate. That’s lower than Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, who got 31.7% of the electorate there.”

“And just look at the mass demonstrations against Trump,” added Smith. “Overwhelming numbers of women, ethnic minorities, youth, and gay and transgender people openly dispute his right to rule.”

“That’s why we have to take over,” said Scott, who called upon the armed forces to cooperate with the transition to people power, and “do the right thing” with ex-president Trump.

“With that hair of his he actually looks good in an orange jumpsuit,” said Smith.

Smith and Scott face accusations that their calls for international “humanitarian aid” to help Americans dying of opiode addiction, poisoned drinking water, and lack of access to medical care, are a Trojan Horse to allow foreign interests to take over the country.

“They’re a front for Vladimir Putin,” declared Rachel Mad Dog, a popular television talk show host. “Just because we can’t give people clean water, medical care, a decent wage, or relief from constant despair, doesn’t mean Russian troll farms aren’t our biggest problem.”

• Michael Smith and Frank Scott co-blog at www.legalienate.blogspot.com

Venezuela: Capitalist Success, Not Socialist Failure

A “democratic” U.S. government legally elected by a minority of the vote is now calling for democracy in Venezuela by attempting to overthrow its government,  which was recently elected by a more than two-thirds vote after a highly-fragmented political opposition abstained from participation (on U.S. instructions) because it lacked popular support and felt that it was unlikely to win. The point man for the regime change operation is Elliott Abrams, whose biography tells us everything we need to know to evaluate the alleged democratic intentions of the Trump administration.

A fire-breathing fanatic for imperial Israel who championed the invasion and destruction of Iraq, Abrams was formerly Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights for the Reagan administration, and famously called U.S./Salvadorean death-squad operations that produced tens of thousands of mutilated civilian corpses (1979-1994) a “fabulous achievement.” He also claimed that the Nicaraguan contras, famous for torture, rape, and murder in a campaign to overthrow the socialist government of Nicaragua, would one day  be fondly remembered as “folk heroes.” Today he is a member of the board of directors of the National Endowment for Democracy, which was created to be a continuation of CIA skullduggery by other means, and currently finances Washington’s destabilization efforts not only in Venezuela, but also in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. Convicted of lying to Congress about Iran-Contra, Abrams called his prosecutors “filthy bastards,” dismissed the proceedings as “Kafkaesque,” and denounced the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as “pious clowns.” After hearing Abrams’ testimony, then Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton expressed a common reaction: “I want to puke.”

So much for Washington seeking democracy, as though we didn’t already know. For the plain fact is that there is more democracy in Venezuela now, where members of the vast poor majority can be routinely found in animated political discussion of the events that shape their lives, than there has ever been in the United States, where the poor are deliberately excluded from representation or even consideration, and have therefore long since dismissed politics as a sensible concern.

But if not democracy, what then is the U.S.’s motivation in Venezuela? Well, Venezuela has large gold and nickel reserves, along with the largest oil supply in the world. Gaining control of such resources is an attractive prospect for any U.S. president, but especially for one under siege from multiple investigations and constant media questioning of his legitimacy. Making America great again by plundering Venezuela oil supplies would be an imperial achievement that the entire U.S. political class would admire. Witness Nancy Pelosi reaching across the aisle to tweet support for the coup right off the bat, to wit: “America stands by the people of #Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.” Who says Trump and the Democrats can’t get along?

Though the current coup in Venezuela has roots going back to 2002 (when President Chavez was kidnapped and nearly killed by the U.S. backed “opposition”), long before any economic crisis was even on the horizon, giddy triumphalists of American Empire stridently declare that the Venezuelan crisis proves nothing more than the “failure of socialism.” Ignoring the deliberate U.S. policy of sowing economic chaos, they denounce the Bolivarian Revolution as  a sham on the grounds that its supposed beneficiaries are now allegedly suffering mass starvation due to lunatic Marxist policies run amok.

Except that there is no mass starvation, the mass Chavista base remains intact, and the Venezuelan economy is overwhelmingly in private hands.

In other words, the entire thesis of “socialism has failed” is a propaganda offensive, not a news story. And those who try to make Venezuela a news story by getting out the real facts on the ground are regularly threatened with being burned alive by the U.S.-led political opposition now claiming it wants to re-establish democracy in Venezuela. In recent years it has attacked and killed dozens of poor black Chavistas in the streets (often torched), attempting to provoke police responses that can subsequently be denounced as socialist “authoritarianism.” Imagine the reaction in the United States if a foreign power were sowing arson and murder in the U.S. in an effort to force Trump out of office for having lost the popular vote in 2016. We’d launch a nuclear war.

There are, of course, real economic issues, such as hyper-inflation and food shortages. However, the shortages are often of staple items produced by a handful of companies that withhold them from the market as a form of class warfare. In any case, the crippling sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in 2017 on the ludicrous pretext that Venezuela represents a national security threat to the United States have made the situation worse, not better (as intended).

With the Trump administration now extending the sanctions to the energy sector, a solution could become outright impossible. About one-third of Venezuelan exports are to the United States, and Venezuela meets about 40% of its economic needs through the foreign exchange it earns by exporting. If it can’t export to the U.S. it suffers a huge loss of income that previously went for purchasing imports. This is the heart of Washington’s longstanding “make the economy scream” strategy previously successfully employed in Chile (1973) to overthrow a socialist government and install a dictator (Augusto Pinochet), who promptly initiated a bloodbath.

To make a long story short, the current crisis has been meticulously planned, nurtured, and yearned for for years by U.S. imperial strategists, who are now perfectly delighted, not appalled, by the crisis. For them to call the situation a failure of socialism is like Jack the Ripper pronouncing his strangled female corpses a failure of feminism.

There is nothing to discuss with the Venezuelan opposition, which is obviously only interested in the complete eradication of the Bolivarian Revolution, the detested policy of meeting the needs of Venezuela’s poor black and Indian majority with Venezuelan oil revenue. It would be nothing less than treason to collaborate with these right-wing demagogues. At the same time, however, it would be suicidal to pretend that the U.S. is not exploiting real popular disenchantment with Chavez and Maduro’s economic policies, especially Maduro’s exchange controls.

But let’s let Venezuelans solve their problems for themselves, not force them to submit to imperial ultimatums.