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The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Border Wall Photo credit: news.stanford.edu

The Faux Political System by the Numbers

Published at CounterPunch on January 15, 2019

It’s sort of funny in a diabolical way: Trump a Russian agent. That’s the line that readers might expect from a remake of Back to the Future 1, 2, or 3, or a possible article from the National Enquirer… the stuff of science fiction, or fiction, or gossip. But the FBI, our national police, seem to have not much else to do than to cook up schemes of intrigue and espionage.

There is something going on in the dimension of real politics and it can be expressed by the equation mr=ip squared, where m stands for mild, r stands for a reformer, i stands for identity, and p stands for politics. Try it with, say, a mild, but genuine reformer like Ralph Nader and see how the formula works, or an even milder reformer like Bernie Sanders and the result will be the same. Come to the political and economic table in the U.S. in the 21st century, propose mild reforms such as consumer protection, or addressing the effects of climate destruction, and the few and the wealthy, the oligarchs and plutocrats, will stop you in your tracks.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the mildest of reformers, say with issues of student debt or of income inequality, but over the past few weeks his 2016 presidential campaign has been rocked by allegations of sexism (New York Times, January 2, 2019). No matter that the senator has apologized repeatedly and was committed to rooting out any semblance of sexism in his recent senate race in Vermont and in any potential future bids for higher office.

The Women’s March slated for January 19, 2019, has already seen the headwinds of reactionary change banging at its door. A noble cause, the major organization behind the march has seen allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at it. The march has splintered into smaller groups that in some cases will march under a banner highlighted by specific identities. The formula mm=ip squared could be applied to the march, where mm stands for mass movement and ip equals identity politics squared. A casual observer might conclude that these candidates and causes begin to self-destruct under their own particular weight of issues, but the nefarious hand of other forces cannot be discounted. Dirty tricks is the name of the game with powerful forces on the right. COINTELPRO, the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence program of the 1960s and 1970s, comes to mind. However, sometimes dirty tricks cannot explain intolerance.

Ralph Nader, a genuine reformer, but absolutely not a radical, has been marginalized since the 2000 presidential campaign. Despite being one of the most accomplished reformers in U.S. politics, he is universally seen as a political pariah among Democratic campaign operatives for the sin of not being a serious threat to Al Gore during that election cycle. His, Nader’s problem, is that he appeared to be a serious contender for those with an identity in the Democratic Party. Readers know Gore beat George W. Bush in that election, but they, the elite, threw it through a combined effort of the reactionary politics of Florida and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Then there is the political equation of gr=ip squared, where g is equal to being genuine, r represents a radical, and the ip in the previous equation stands for exactly the same elements squared. Take Professor Angela Davis for example. She was supposed to receive an award early this year for her achievements in civil rights. If anyone deserves such an award, it’s the professor. I know because I was right across the street from the Women’s House of Detention in 1971 when they brought in Angela Davis. When a person is willing to risk jail for their political beliefs for positive or even radical change, then questioning their commitment is bad business.

Professor Davis ran into the anti-BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement), racism, and red baiting. Some organizations in the Birmingham Jewish community criticized the professor who had already been told that she was to receive the award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (AL.com). Some of the naysayers who support a rabid form of modern Zionism, that contains all of the elements of racism, seem to have effectively nixed the professor’s award. Even a retired general and former college president got in on the criticism of Davis, citing her communist past and involvement with the Black Panther Party. Imagine being a member of a radical black liberation and action group. We can’t even imagine a mild reformer in the U.S., so why even consider Davis as the recipient of the Fred R. Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute? It’s all by the numbers, as readers can see.

Here’s the point in all of this: It doesn’t matter if a political actor or radical wants to reduce student debt, or put consumers on somewhat of an equal footing with capitalists, or support the BDS Movement to stop the suffering of the Palestinian people or establish a Palestinian state. The few and the wealthy and the haters will get their target every time without fail. They are flawless in how they focus their power and money like a laser beam against their intended target and leave destruction and confusion behind. They allowed Trump, a dangerous nincompoop, to ascend to the imperial throne and the destruction that lies in his wake is breathtaking. They will allow the environment to tank in their greed and lust for power and to hell with the species that populate the planet. Their biggest “games” now are military spending, endless wars, and predatory financial practices. So, putting monkey wrenches into the political system is small-time work for them. It’s all sort of part of their game.

And this final note about mild reformers, except for Ralph Nader: They cling to the war machine and will only make small concessions to the causes of justice and peace when they are pushed by their constituencies. Natural constituencies on the left need to consider when consensus is possible among groups, and that consensus of demands is not limited to the electoral system.

Readers may want to make note of the fact that on the political right, fundraising is not a particular problem since they have their own form of identity politics. An Iraq veteran has raised more than $20 million (Huffington Post, January 13, 2019) that may be returned to donors by GoFundMe. The money had been raised to donate to the building of a border wall along the southern border of the U.S. The money may be returned because the organizer of the fundraiser has opted to use a nonprofit for the donations rather than sending the money to the federal government.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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The Use and Misuse of Charity: The Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System

Photo credit: oil-spill-info.com

 

The Use and Misuse of Charity: The Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System

Published in CounterPunch August 10, 2018.

The appeal appeared on the Huffington Post. It was one of these Go Fund Me requests. It looked bonafide and the story behind the appeal was compelling: A high-school kid would not be able to attend college if he didn’t get some sort of funding. His parents had cut him off because he was gay and they were religious conservatives of the fundamentalist stripe. So, I sent a small donation along to him and wished him well in a note that accompanied the contribution.

I felt good in the same way that I felt when I had completed an overnight shift at a homeless center for which I was the grant writer and a volunteer. It was uncomfortable getting to the assignment, but the rewards were sort of like going to a demonstration. A person can’t help but feel good.

But all of this masks the reality that in a predatory capitalist system there will be some charitable winners and many more losers. In other words, in the real world of grotesquely slanted unequal opportunities, many more in need will lose than win, and the system that produces such high levels of inequality will rejoice in the one or two or few thousands of situations where someone got the help that a humane society needs to provide as a matter of doing its daily business.

Here’s an example from the real life of charity on the streets and it took place at about the same time that I wrote grants for the homeless shelter in Rhode Island. In late June 1989, I was awakened by an all-encompassing sickening smell that permeated my entire house in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The smell was unmistakably oil. Since our house was heated with natural gas and wood, I knew that it could not be a malfunction of the heating and hot water system. And besides it was summer, so heating was not an issue. Getting up and going out to see what was happening, I had to walk only a quarter mile to high ground above the open Atlantic Ocean to see a huge tanker immobile. Helicopters were hovering all around it and once back at home the news was exploding with the details of this oil tanker that had run aground just off of the shores of Jamestown, Rhode Island, only a few miles across Narragansett Bay from the famous historical and tourist destination, Newport.

It took only hours to be connected with a volunteer opportunity at a local environmental group, Save the Bay. My wife Jan did some work with a phone bank and I took calls from individuals and groups that wanted to send money to help with the cleanup. The group already had enough volunteers and professionals who were scouring the local beaches and cleaning  oil off of wildlife and working on cleaning up oil slicks in the same area.

During the next day, I would be absolutely amazed at what I found out by answering the group’s phone. Offer after offer came it without any strings attached. It was sort of like: How much can you use? Now, since I had been doing grants for the homeless, I knew the process of getting grant money was a fairly complicated matter, with a search for agencies and foundations that offer money for specific kinds of grants, a call to those groups for their literature, the formal application process that required a very specific budget as to what the homeless shelter would be using the money for, and sometimes an interview at the foundation’s office or an onsite visit by a representative of the foundation. It was not the easiest process, but money for the homeless was fairly “abundant” at the time and the cause had not yet become passé. 

The conclusions here are clear. If a person or group can make it onto the charitable radar screen then all might be somewhat well, but if not, then lots and lots of variables come into play and a person and a group have to be at the right place at the right historical time, or the gears of a predatory system will drown that class of people in need out.

 

And if indeed charity does start at home, close attention is merited by a recent interview with the senior editor of the Real News Network, Paul Jay. In “Is Trump Betraying the American People?” Jay holds the Democratic Party to task for some of its representatives, especially Bernie Sanders, for their slavish cheerleading of “The Russians did it in 2016 chorus.” With Michael Moore and Bill Maher attacking Professor Larry Wilkerson in a clip highlighted during the Jay interview, it’s a wonder that those of the left even need the evil of Trump, et al to do us in.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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