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Forum Post: The Invisible Hands That Do All the Work

Posted 4 years ago on Feb. 16, 2014, 3:42 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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The Invisible Hands That Do All the Work

Sunday, 16 February 2014 00:00 By Eleanor J Bader, Truthout | Book Review


The stories in Corinne Goria's Invisible Hands paint a horrifying portrait of the impact of rampant consumerism on communities and individuals from Bangladesh to Zambia. But while the workers experience profound disrespect, they dream of equity, fairness and workplace decency.

Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy, Compiled and Edited by Corinne Goria, Voices of Witness/McSweeney's, 400 pages, $16

Several decades ago, after dropping out of school, a friend of mine found work as a hospital porter. While pushing his broom and mop, he often overheard the health center's administrators discussing high-level internal policies, information that he then turned over to his union. When the union later used this data in its organizing campaigns, the bosses were flummoxed, totally unaware that they, themselves, had transmitted the material. As far as they were concerned, speaking in front of a lowly porter was akin to speaking in a private setting. In their eyes, he was invisible.

Similarly, we rarely consider the day-to-day lives of the women and men who harvest our food, sew our clothes, assemble our electronics or excavate gold and other minerals. Of course, we know that countless people work in these occupations, but for the most part we don't spend a lot of time thinking about the dangers they face or the exploitation they experience.

The 16 oral histories in Corinne Goria's excellent anthology Invisible Hands is an attempt to change this by elucidating the realities behind the scenes of the so-called global economy. While each of the book's four chapters is preceded by a brief overview of working conditions in a particular occupation, individual accounts form the bulk of the text. And although these accounts are not wholly eye-opening - numerous labor journalists have covered worker mistreatment consistently in articles and books - when taken as a whole they illustrate the profound disrespect that greets far too much of the world's workforce. What's more, the stories in Invisible Hands paint a horrifying portrait of the impact of rampant consumerism on communities and individuals from Bangladesh to Zambia.

One of the most dramatic accounts comes from Kalpona Akter, a Bangladeshi seamstress turned labor organizer, whose employment in an exploitative garment factory began when she was 12. Among the indignities she experienced was the boss' refusal to pay bonuses for overtime, even after workers had spent 16 straight days hovering over their sewing machines to meet a deadline.

Akter was 17 when she went on strike for the first time. Already married, her husband bristled at her involvement and assaulted her for participating. Nonetheless, when she heard that classes in labor law were being offered by the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Federation, she wrangled her way into them. Shortly thereafter, she took it upon herself to share what she had learned with her coworkers,

"My husband was an anti-union guy," Akter told Goria. "I was beaten by him because of my involvement with the union. ... Also, when I tried to give some of my wages to my family, he beat me because he wanted me to give all my money to him."

But Akter prevailed. She eventually left her spouse and got more involved in workplace organizing, something that had an immediate - and unanticipated - impact on her ability to support herself. Thanks to an industry blacklist, a host of activists, including Akter, suddenly found it impossible to work. Although she eventually was hired by a series of pro-worker community groups, troubles continued to brew. Indeed, the government of Bangladesh made clear that it would do whatever it could to suppress revolt and keep wages low. Worse, as workplace organizing ramped up, several of Akter's colleagues were kidnapped, and she herself was arrested in 2010. "There was no cell for females," she recounts, "so I had to sit on the floor in a tiny, dirty, office room. They forced me to sit squeezed behind a desk and a wall. The 2-by-4-foot space was so small I couldn't even lie down. That's where they kept me sitting, cramped, for seven days. I couldn't sleep the whole time."

After 30 days, Akter was released on bail, but backlash against Bangladesh's movement for worker sovereignty continued to accelerate. Indeed, two years later, in April 2012, the tortured body of another organizer, Aminul Islam, was discovered 60 miles from their union headquarters. Sadly, Islam was not the only trade unionist to meet this fate.

Despite these grim events, Akter has not been deterred. In fact, she continues to be outspoken on behalf of Bangladesh's garment workers, supporting the many campaigns that have come to fruition since the June 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse that killed 1,100 and injured 2,500 workers.

Meanwhile, as demand for cheap jeans and T-shirts continues unabated, China has become the leading producer of the clothes hanging in our closets. Most of the cotton for this clothing, Goria writes, comes from India, the United States and Uzbekistan, and those who produce it often fare badly. In India, for example, Invisible Hands reports that more than 250,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1998 - the largest wave of suicides in human history. "A great number of those affected are cash crop farmers, and cotton farmers in particular," the book explains. "In 2009, 17,638 Indian farmers committed suicide - that's one farmer every 30 minutes." The reason? According to Goria, numerous surveys and reports link farmer suicide to debt and the pressure to repay high-interest loans. "Increasingly," she writes," farmers borrow money to buy seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The cost of these investments has risen dramatically, even as the market has kept the price at which farmers can sell their cotton relatively flat."

Closer to home, Neftali Cuello, now 17, tells her interviewer about working in a North Carolina tobacco field. Because farm work is not bound by the same age restrictions as other employment, Cuello spent four summers working 64 hours a week in extreme heat and humidity. She told interviewers that after her parents separated, she and her mom and siblings moved to Pink Hill, North Carolina, where her mom found work, first on a pig farm and later as a tobacco picker. By the time Cuello was 12, she understood that family finances were extremely tight. And as soon as school let out, she began working as a "sucker," removing the tobacco shoots that grow between the leaves of the plant.

She recalls the first day as pure hell. "Within two or three hours I was feeling nauseous," she begins. "It was because of the nicotine. The leaves were really sticky that day. I think the plants had been sprayed with pesticides like maybe a couple of hours before, or the day before. You could really smell it."

Cuello further notes that heat stroke is a common occurrence, and she and her coworkers were never told how to avoid becoming ill. Likewise, they were told nothing about nicotine poisoning and were given no protective gear or advice on precautionary behavior.

Safety is also a huge concern for workers in aluminum, borax, copper, diamond, gold and uranium mines, as well as for those working in energy production. In addition, the people who produce the electronic gadgets we rely on often risk life and limb to keep us connected. Twenty-six-year-old Li Wen, for one, lost a hand while cutting machine parts at an electronics plant in China. Although he sued the company for violating safety protocols, he won only a small settlement - about $19,500 - and is presently at a loss about what to do with the rest of his life. "I have to come up with a plan of some kind," he says. "I hope to have my own family. I'd like to get married but that might be difficult. I'd like to find a nice girl but she'll need to accept my disability. ... I'm thinking of starting my own business but I don't know what kind of business I would do. I don't feel very confident and I don't have any experience. I don't have a clear plan about how I should work it out."

All told, the accounts in Invisible Hands are horrendous, yet to a one, those interviewed are optimistic that employers can be forced to respect those who toil in occupations that are largely unseen by consumers. They envision workplaces in which hard work is valued and adequately compensated, demands that are neither radical nor unattainable. Still, all agree that victory will not happen without coordinated, collective action. Furthermore, they concede that there is no roadmap to successful organizing. That said, the interviewees believe that by sharing their narratives, they are helping to kick-start a movement in support of equity, fairness and workplace decency. As Akter writes in the book's foreword, "We share our stories in this collection to engender outrage, but also to cultivate an imagination of what is possible. It is through stories that we come to care, come to believe, and are ultimately transformed until we can no longer be silent."

Let the shouting begin.

Copyright, Truthout.



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[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 years ago

I've been troubled with the idea of consumerism

that we are all consumers

most in that I live pay check to pay check

and I don't buy much 'cept milk and potatoes

my car is old

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Any National "Conversation About Race" Must Include Black Radical Tradition

Sunday, 16 February 2014 00:00 By Adam Hudson, Truthout | News Analysis


Black radicalism has taught that any serious "conversation about race" must address the systemic racism that results in patterns of racial inequality in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-Europeans around the world.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman, the half-white/half-Peruvian neighborhood watchman who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, by a predominantly white jury in Florida in July 2013 sparked calls in the media for a national "conversation about race." However, what passes for most "conversations about race," particularly in corporate media, which shape public perception, are narrow or wrong. Right-wing commentators such as Bill O'Reilly blame black people's problems on "the disintegration of the African-American family" and other cultural pathologies, while liberal pundits typically point to conservatives as the sole racists in the country. Left out are black radical critiques of systemic racism. The marginalization of black radicalism has made honest conversations about race difficult to initiate - and erases a key piece of American history.

Defining Black Radicalism

Racism is a system of power that oppresses people of African descent and other non-European peoples within the United States and around the world. Systemic racism manifests itself in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

What passes for most "conversations about race," particularly in corporate media, which shape public perception, are narrow or wrong.

The foundation of this system as it exists in the United States was laid down by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in which black African people were stolen from Africa by European colonizers to work as slaves. Slaves worked in mines, rice fields or construction or on plantations. Their labor would be used to produce commodities that were later sold in international markets for profit, which helped create modern global capitalism. Slavery was protected by robust political and legal systems that designated slaves as property to be bought and sold, rather than human beings. The system curtailed the rights of all African-Americans, including those who were not enslaved. Slaves were brutally treated with torture, lynchings, whippings, rape and other forms of cruelty inflicted upon them. This created a system of racial hierarchy that put whites on top and blacks - free and slave - on bottom.

Slavery transferred wealth from black labor to white property owners because African slaves were not paid for their work. For centuries, slavery allowed whites - including those who did not own slaves - to amass wealth for their communities, while blacks were politically and economically oppressed. This laid the foundation for a massive wealth gap between blacks and whites that persists to this day, more than a century and a half after slavery's demise. A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found that in 2010, white families' average wealth was $632,000, black families' $98,000 and Latinos' $110,000. Redlining (the practice of denying or making it difficult for residents in poor, non-white communities to receive financial services like getting a mortgage or insurance or borrowing money), gentrification, discriminatory lending practices, no access to credit, low incomes and the recent recession have all prevented - and continue to prevent - African-Americans from accumulating wealth in their communities.

Moreover, slavery had dismal repercussions for the African continent. A 2007 Harvard study by Dr. Nathan Nunn analyzed the impact of the trans-Atlantic and the older but smaller trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean and Red Sea slave trades on Africa's economic development. Nunn found that "the slave trade caused political instability, weakened states, promoted political and social fragmentation and resulted in a deterioration of domestic legal institutions." Additionally, the "countries from which the most slaves were taken (taking into account differences in country size) are today the poorest in Africa." Nunn concluded, "if the slave trades had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today and 99% of the income gap between Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world would not exist."

After slavery ended in the 1860s, racism still persisted through the establishment of Jim Crow laws, a system that legalized racial segregation in the United States. This lasted for about a century. Jim Crow has been replaced by a mass incarceration system that disproportionately imprisons black people for nonviolent drug offenses, even though blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same rates. Oppressive policing reflects similar entrenched racism: Every 28 hours, a black person is extrajudicially killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilantes such as Zimmerman.

Systemic racism manifests itself in multiple facets of society. Patterns of racial inequality exist in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

As a political tradition, black radicalism would look at these phenomena and diagnose them as consequences of a racist power structure that oppresses black people. Its critique of white supremacy is radical in that it does not look at individual bigots, prejudiced beliefs, individual privileges or one political party as the root cause of black people's suffering. The root cause of black people's misery, to the black radical, is a racist power system, the purpose and design of which is to keep their people miserable. Reforming, improving or integrating into the racist power system is not enough for a black radical because the system is irredeemably rotten at its core. That is why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., near the end of his life, worried that black people were "integrating into a burning house."

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Black radicalism is more of a collective political tradition than a coherent ideology. It encompasses ideologies such as Pan-Africanism, black nationalism, Black Marxism and black internationalism with varying beliefs and goals among them. What unites the black radical tradition is the challenging of systemic racism, the liberation of African peoples, and the goal of achieving fundamental change. If anything, black radicalism is a tradition of African peoples' resistance and self-determination.

Roots of Black Radicalism

The roots of black radicalism trace back to African resistance against European enslavement. Professor Cedric Johnson, in his book Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, writes about not just the well-known slave-led Haitian revolution but also slave rebellions in Brazil, the United States and other colonies. Some slaves ran away and formed maroon communities. Harriet Tubman, the famous African-American abolitionist who escaped slavery, helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom. Even on the plantations, slaves resisted in subtler ways, such as refusing to do work, pretending to be sick, working slow, stealing from their masters or damaging property. Johnson also explains that "for the period between the mid-sixteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, it was an African tradition that grounded collective resistance by Blacks to slavery and colonial imperialism" and "it had been as an emergent African people and not as slaves that Black men and women had opposed enslavement."1

This tendency emerged as a strategic response to the transnational nature of slavery's oppression. Black Internationalism … emerged as a strategic response to the transnational nature of slavery's oppression.

While slavery and colonialism worked to rob slaves of their African culture, they still retained parts of it. Slaves told folktales and fables that reflected various African oral traditions, incorporating symbols and themes rooted in African cultures. Slaves sang and danced with "field hollers" and "call and response" based on African musical forms. Enslaved women made quilts, rugs and baskets with African patterns. In addition, slaves fashioned gourds into musical instruments, such as drums and banjos, similar to those used in parts of Africa. Drumming was also as a secret method of communication for slaves, just as African drumming was used for religious and ceremonial functions, thus becoming a tool of resistance. African rhythms, drumming and oral traditions strongly influenced musical genres like blues, jazz, rock, R&B, samba, reggae and rap/hip-hop. Retaining bits of their African culture provided a strong sense of collective self that formed the basis of black resistance against their oppression.

Within black radicalism is the tradition of black internationalism. This tendency emerged as a strategic response to the transnational nature of slavery's oppression. African slaves were brought to European colonies in the United States, the Caribbean and throughout much of Central and South America. A slave rebellion in one colony inspired slaves elsewhere to follow suit. The successful slave-led Haitian revolution inspired African slaves in the United States.

Black internationalism views African-Americans and other members of the African diaspora as a transnational people. It is true that there are cultural and experiential differences between African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Caribbeans and Black Europeans. Even continental Africans have tribal and ethnic differences, which outside powers have exploited and which have contributed to horrific conflicts. But they do share obvious racial features, such as dark skin and kinky hair, cultural similarities, particularly in music, African ancestral heritage and shared collective oppression under European slavery, colonialism and racism.

Africans peoples' transnational identity was recognized by the international community when the United Nations proclaimed 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent. The year's event page states:

"In proclaiming this International Year, the international community is recognising that people of African descent represent a distinct group whose human rights must be promoted and protected. People of African descent are acknowledged in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action as a specific victim group who continue to suffer racial discrimination as the historic legacy of the transatlantic slave trade. Even Afro-descendants who are not directly descended from slaves face the racism and racial discrimination that still persist today, generations after the slave trade ended." (emphasis added)

Thus, African peoples throughout the diaspora, despite their differences, share not just ancestral heritage and culture but political fates. It is this internationalist impulse that forms the basis of black political ideologies like Pan-Africanism, black opposition to imperialism and black support for Third World struggles.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Civil War Victory and Subsequent Repression of Black Radicals

The end of slavery in the United States was one important victory for African-Americans and abolitionists. Reconstruction's abrupt end after the Civil War and the inauguration of Jim Crow created new political challenges for African-Americans.

One challenge was addressing economic oppression experienced by African-Americans after slavery. Civil rights groups not only challenged legalized racial segregation but also incorporated economic justice in their agendas, as professor Risa L. Goluboff explains in her book The Lost Promise of Civil Rights. According to Goluboff, it was a "particular combination of racial subordination and economic exploitation that made the political economy of the rural South unique."2 The tenancy system in the South during the late 1800s involved black farmers and sharecroppers, who wanted economic independence, living on the land of usually white landowners, who wanted subordinate black laborers. Workers paid landowners with money made from the crop or a share of it. If not, they worked as wage laborers. But wage workers and farmers were kept in debt by landowners.3 The point of Jim Crow segregation, along with vagrancy and other laws, was to "keep African Americans subordinate and to keep labor cheap."4 Thus, black workers in the South were not just concerned about racial segregation but also about economic disenfranchisement. Additionally, blacks were terrorized by whites through lynchings and other forms of brutal violence. Ida B. Wells, a black radical journalist, used muckraking journalism and her rhetorical skills to expose and speak out against lynching.

In the Northern and Western industrial economies, there was no legal regime of racial segregation as in the South, but blacks were marginalized in other ways. Black workers often were not adequately compensated for their work. Businesses avoided hiring blacks, and white managers were often indifferent to the concerns of black workers. Racism from white workers made work environments hostile to black workers.

Black workers and organizers demanded not just legal nondiscrimination but also better wages and full employment. The economic plight of African-Americans, along with organizing by the Communist Party, made many black thinkers and activists turn to communism, including Paul Robeson and Langston Hughes. Famed black intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois embraced communism and fathered the Pan-Africanist movement after he founded the NAACP. In 1920, Du Bois advocated "the careful, steady increase of public democratic ownership of industry, beginning with the simplest type of public utilities and monopolies" in a collection of essays called Darkwater, thereby supporting a core tenet of socialism - workers' control of production. He also wrote in the same piece, "Perhaps the finest contribution of current Socialism to the world is neither its light nor its dogma, but the idea back of its one mighty word - Comrade!"

Another issue was the link between oppression of African-Americans in the United States with European colonialism abroad. Generations of enslavement, racial discrimination and other forms of domestic oppression made many African-Americans empathize with other dark-skinned, colonized peoples as fellow oppressed comrades - especially their brothers and sisters in Africa. Thus, many black people viewed themselves as a Third World people and questioned American nationalism. Indeed, slavery not only built American capitalism but also allowed its empire take off quicker than others. Black internationalism politicized this sentiment.

During the 1898 Spanish-American War, many black soldiers in the Philippines befriended the natives and were angered when white troops called the Filipinos "nigger."5 Those black soldiers defected from the US and joined Filipino rebels in their fight for independence from American imperialism. Jamaican political leader, entrepreneur, orator, and journalist Marcus Garvey advocated black nationalism, in which people of African descent throughout the diaspora would return to Africa to set up their own independent nation. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 to promote black political and economic independence and the ship company Black Star Line in 1919 to foster commerce between black communities. The Black Star Line shut down in 1922 as the organization struggled with poor management, financial troubles, charges of mail fraud against Garvey and sabotage by J. Edgar Hoover's Bureau of Investigation, predecessor to the modern FBI. In 1946, DuBois, the NAACP, National Negro Congress (NNC) and others petitioned the United Nations to redress governmental oppression of African-Americans as a human rights violation.6 African-American author Richard Wright attended the 1955 Bandung Conference, where newly independent Asian and African countries pledged mutual cooperation and opposition to colonialism and neocolonialism by any nation. This led to the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement. African-American revolutionaries were inspired by Third World liberation movements, including successful revolutions in Cuba, Algeria and Ghana. Malcolm X, whose black nationalism fused with Third World liberation, visited Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt and Che Guevara. He also publicly opposed the Vietnam War before it was popular to do so. Shortly before his assassination in February 1965, Malcolm X delivered a speech linking the struggles of African-Americans with Third World liberation movements:

"There's a worldwide revolution going on. ... What is it revolting against? The power structure. The American power structure? No. The French power structure? No. The English power structure? No. Then what power structure? An international Western power structure. An international power structure consisting of American interests, French interests, English interests, Belgian interests, European interests. These countries that formerly colonized the dark man formed into a giant international combine. A structure, a house that has ruled the world up until now. And in recent times there has been a revolution taking place in Asia and in Africa, whacking away at the strength or at the foundation of the power structure."

Black activists like Bayard Rustin opposed US militarism, including the war in Vietnam. King opposed the Vietnam War later in his life. The Black Panther Party, along with its breakfast program and armed self-defense wing, had an office in Algeria that many black revolutionaries would retreat to.

In the 1930s and '40s and during the late '60s Black Power movement, black radicalism thrived as a political force to be reckoned with. Black activists tied their claims for civil rights to economic justice and Third World liberation. Debates about black nationalism, communism, internationalism, reformism and Third World revolution were fairly common among black thinkers and activists. It was a vibrant element within left-wing and African-American politics because it provided radical fuel to the civil rights and antiwar movements. However, a multitude of factors decapitated the movement.

Cold War politics played a considerable role. UC Irvine professor Sohail Daulatzai, author of Black Star, Crescent Moon: The Muslim International and Black Freedom Beyond America, explained to Truthout that the Cold War was a "coded race war. It was about the darker peoples being subject to US and Soviet Cold War aims." While the United States and Soviet Union never directly attacked each other, the Third World was their proxy battlefield. Fearing newly independent Asian and African nations would embrace communism or go their own route, the United States projected power in those regions through direct and indirect military interventions. The United States also pursued a diplomatic war. The Soviet Union and the Third World lambasted the United States for its racist treatment of African-Americans. To counter, the United States made concessions to the civil rights movement and passed desegregation laws in return for black support for its anti-communism efforts. Thus came desegregation in the armed forces and diplomatic corps. Groups that petitioned the UN to redress America's violations of African-Americans' human rights were branded "communist and un-American" by the FBI.7 The United States defeated the petition in the UN. Daulatzai said this was "part of the chess game that the United States played to project out to the rest of the world, especially the Third World, that it was racially progressive." He added, "Ultimately, US expansion into the Third World was about undermining real national liberation." That also played out domestically by weakening the black liberation movement. McCarthyist witch hunts during the 1950s targeted outspoken leftists all of colors, including African-Americans. For example, Hughes had an FBI file. Thus, the mainstream civil rights movement strategically dropped economic justice and internationalist demands to focus on eliminating legalized racial discrimination, which they had a better chance of winning. In 1964 and 1965, they did win with the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Acts, respectively. But even King became frustrated with integrationist efforts because they did not tackle poverty or militarism.

There was a real move toward electoral politics by elements of the black petit bourgeoisie. That split itself off from the more radical elements of the black liberation movement that were under severe repression from the state.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Through surveillance and infiltration, the FBI and its counterintelligence program, known as COINTELPRO, severely repressed the black radical movement. The FBI spied on and amassed long files on black leaders such as King and Malcolm X. Black political groups like the Black Panther Party and black student unions were infiltrated by FBI spies. Agents wiretapped phones and sent false letters to those in the movement, including one to King encouraging him to commit suicide. Informants and provocateurs sowed division, distrust and paranoia among black radical groups. Government surveillance covered the entire African-American community, including even the study of what music black people listen to. The repression even reached the level of political assassination, when Chicago police, under FBI direction, shot and killed Black Panther organizers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark on December 4, 1969. While COINTELPRO decimated the Black Panther Party, militant offshoots sprang up, such as the Black Liberation Army, which committed violent acts, like robberies and murders, for insurrectionist purposes. However, these actions achieved little. Many black revolutionaries were imprisoned or forced to flee the country. Notable examples are Mumia Abu Jamal, who remains in prison after being convicted - under highly contested circumstances - of murdering a police officer in 1981 and Assata Shakur, a Black Panther leader who escaped prison and fled to Cuba, where she has lived in political asylum since 1984. In 1977, Shakur was convicted for the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper. However, she was shot in the altercation, and her role in the murder is still heavily disputed. The Obama administration recently placed her on the FBI's most wanted terrorists list.

As black revolutionary leaders and organizations successfully were repressed, many of those groups' foot soldiers returned to their communities with little hope. Deindustrialization decimated manufacturing jobs that black workers relied on. As a result, the former foot soldiers of black radical groups formed street gangs, which is how the notorious Crips and Bloods came to be.8 The rise of crack-cocaine trafficking in the inner cities during the late 1970s and 1980s made gang life more lucrative. However, those drugs are not indigenous to black communities. CIA-backed Contras funneled crack-cocaine from South America to America's inner cities to raise extra funds for their war against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. This led to the 1980s crack epidemic that ravaged black communities. Under the guise of the "War on Drugs," the prison system and draconian police tactics expanded, leading to the arrest, harassment, incarceration and murder of large numbers of predominantly black and brown people.

"Our dismal economic condition has silenced us,” Margaret Kimberely, a columnist for Black Agenda Report, said in an interview. “The jobs black people depend on are gone." Deindustrialization is not the only phenomenon that hurt black labor. Recent austerity measures have slashed many government jobs that African-Americans rely on. African-Americans are 30 percent more likely to hold public-sector jobs than the general workforce. As of August 2013, the official black unemployment rate is 13.4 percent, compared with 6.7 percent for whites. Meanwhile, African-Americans make up nearly 40 percent of the prison population, even though they are 13 percent of the national population. Kimberley added, "We don't even have the stability to marshal our forces because if half your people are in jail and no one has jobs, that really just decimates the population. It makes it very difficult to galvanize around anything substantive."

Ajamu Baraka, a human rights defender with roots in the Black Liberation Movement, explained to Truthout that after the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, "there was a real move toward electoral politics by elements of the black petit bourgeoisie. That split itself off from the more radical elements of the black liberation movement that were under severe repression from the state."

Professional and upper-middle-class African-Americans composed much of the mainstream civil rights movement. As a class, they were more concerned with eliminating legal barriers to integration within mainstream society rather than tackling deeper problems like inequality, poverty, or militarism.9 Tactically, they focused on legal battles and, later, electoral strategy rather than radical grassroots organizing. As black radicalism was crushed, this reformist element of black politics won. Mainstream black politics hitched itself to the Democratic Party. Integration, narrow multicultural diversity and piecemeal reform became the dominant goals. Now black people overwhelmingly vote Democrat and most mainstream black commentators support the Democratic Party. But this also meant that black politicians, including those in the Congressional Black Caucus, embrace corporate money and neoliberal policies. As a result, the country's first black president, Barack Obama, embraces many policies that harm African peoples domestically and abroad - cutting food stamps, privatizing education, domestic surveillance, police militarization, globalized extrajudicial killing and perpetual war.


The decimation of black radicalism has made a national conversation about race difficult in the age of Obama. Obama and the Democrats are held up as anti-racist vanguards, even as they implement policies that hurt the black community. This is no accident. It is the inevitable consequence of the repression of black radicalism, a tradition that has long opposed imperialism, systemic racism and capitalism. But it's not all doom and gloom. The black radical tradition continues to exist in outlets like Black Agenda Report, Pambazuka and elements of the movement against mass incarceration and other struggles. It's weakened, but still continues. The prospects of increasing black radicalism's impact are dim. The assimilation of black political leaders such as Obama into the power structure have led many to confuse black representation with black liberation, even though they are not the same. That makes systemic racism harder to challenge. But as long as black intellectuals, activists, journalists and others keep their radical tradition, culture and history alive, black resistance politics will not go away.


1 Robinson, Cedric J., Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, The University of North Carolina Press, 1983, 2000, p. 169-171

2 Goluboff, Risa L., The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2007, p. 77

3 Ibid., pp. 58-59

4 Ibid., p. 79

5 Zinn, Howard, A People's History of the United States, First Perennial Classics edition, HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York, 2001, p. 319

6 Normand, Roger and Zaidi, Sarah, Human Rights at the UN: The Political History of Universal Justice, Indiana University Press, 2008, p. 162

7 Ibid., p. 163

8 "Bastards of the Party"

9 Goluboff, The Lost Promise of Civil Rights, pp. 175-176

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 years ago
[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Corporations? Corporations? Nobody Here but Us Chickens

Sunday, 16 February 2014 00:00 By Donald Lazere, Truthout | Book Excerpt


In Why Higher Education SHOULD Have a Leftist Bias, author Donald Lazere surveys the means by which American corporations render their own political and economic power invisible while diverting blame for social ills to "the government."

Author's note: This is an except from my recent book, "Why Higher Education SHOULD Have a Leftist Bias," published by Palgrave-Macmillan. The book argues that the unremitting propaganda campaign by conservatives against leftist bias in American higher education and mass media is based on a rhetorical trick: It singles out every instance of alleged bias on the left - some accurate, some not - then magnifies them far out of proportion to comparable biases in conservative camps, and to the larger forces of conservative bias pervading American society that are not generally even perceived as bias, but only as the norm of neutrality, of "business as usual." So my book surveys a wide range of these "unmarked" sources of conservative bias past and present then calls for teachers, scholars and journalists to be forthright in providing minimal leftist, especially socialist, counterweight to the whole range of conservative business as usual - while urging them to address these issues in a scrupulous manner that does not just replace one variety of propaganda with another.

For more than a century, corporate agents have propagated an image of large corporations that renders them invisible as economic special interests and wielders of partisan - or bipartisan - political influence. An irony downplayed by conservative theorists of the invisible hand of the free market is that a quite visible hand is considered necessary to manipulate the selling of the conservative agenda, through billions of dollars spent every year by corporations and corporate-wealthy individuals on political lobbying and campaign contributions, public relations agencies, law firms, foundations, think tanks, and above all news and entertainment media controlled directly or indirectly by ownership and advertising.

This PR image depicts corporations as champions of a myriad of mom-and-pop businesses, so that any legislation aimed at curbing big business and the corporate wealthy is deflected by a pretense of concern that it will harm small business. This image further equates corporations with individual citizens, deserving the same constitutional rights as individuals - an assertion whose ultimate vindication came in the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United case. (For historical perspective on corporate legal and PR strategies here, see Hartmann, Aune, Fones-Wolf, Stauber and Rampton.)

A corollary PR campaign, to sell the notion that corporate "free enterprise" was endorsed by the American founders, is based on shameless lies. It is hard to find a word about corporations in early American political writing and literature that does not regard them with loathing. When writers like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Hector St.-Jean de Crèvecoeur praised free enterprise and private property, they meant individual farms or trades, not the modern usage of finance capital, stock markets, and multinational corporations. When they lauded "industry," they meant individual industriousness, not corporate industries. Thus Crèvecoeur emphasized in his definitive 1782 essay "What Is An American": "Here there are ... no great manufacturers employing thousands, no great refinements of luxury. The rich and the poor are not so far removed from each other as they are in Europe. We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself."

In fact, Jefferson wrote in 1816, "I hope we shall crush in its infancy the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." As recounted by Thom Hartmann in his book Unequal Protection, tracing the rise of corporate dominance over government, "Jefferson kept pushing for a law, written into the Constitution as an amendment, that would prevent companies from growing so large that they could dominate entire industries or have the power to influence the people's government."

The clearest sign of the triumph of the perennial campaign by corporations to render themselves invisible is that when college students and writers of letters to the editor complain about excessive power or corruption in America, its source is almost always identified as "the government," almost never "the corporations." Few of my students over the years have taken any courses that studied the influence of corporate lobbies and PR on "the people's government." Thus national debate over President Obama's proposed health care reform became framed (largely through health-care industry PR) in terms of the dangers of a government monopoly depriving individuals of free choice - a false dilemma that excluded attention to the financial restrictions on individual free choice under the present system of corporate oligopoly in health care, insurance, and pharmaceuticals, or to the immense profits and executive incomes of those corporations. This same pattern is visible in nearly every other conservative campaign, such as privatizing public education, Social Security, and Medicare, where conservative arguments always play up "individual choice," not the potential multi-billion-dollar profits or power over education for the corporate privatizers behind these campaigns. Likewise with debates over gun control, nearly always framed in terms of individual rights, rarely in terms of the profits of gun manufacturers and sellers, nationally and internationally, or their lobbying power at the federal and state level.

Perhaps the least-scrutinized key fact of American political and civic life is that our major institutions of mass communication are themselves corporations driven by the profit motive; it is almost tautological to say that they are the least likely source to count on for finding intensive criticism of corporate society in general or of their own biases stemming from ownership and commercial sponsorship by conglomerate mega-corporations that are involved in a multitude of cross-promotions and conflicts of interest.

Consider the debasement of American politics by the absurd increase in the length of political campaigns, as presidential candidates begin virtually on one Election Day to run for the next one four years later, while the primary season drags out for a year before the general election. The prime beneficiary here is parties and individuals who can raise the most money to outlast rivals and who have constantly increased the stakes in campaign financing, mainly from corporate-wealthy patrons. However, the news media are equally complicit, through the billions of profits they now generate from both campaign advertising and the bump in general advertising for coverage of these protracted campaigns.

Further beneficiaries of the boom in campaign advertising are the star TV reporters, commentators (whether conservative or liberal), and debate moderators making millions and glorying in their self-importance; or the similarly well-paid, young Ken and Barbie dolls who have replaced seasoned journalists in newscasts, being fed sound bites through their earbuds or teleprompers, while they chirp with "happy talk" between accounts of bloody world conflicts and natural tragedies. (Thank goodness for the unglamorous professionalism of Candy Crowley and Barbara Starr on CNN.) Most media analysts were blind to the impending financial collapse in 2008 caused by runaway speculation and executive income on Wall Street, because they themselves had profited from the boom to jump into the top percentiles of wealth. So is it surprising that there is virtually no self-scrutiny aired on national or local TV of the corporate concentration of wealth biasing the ideological perspective of mass media? Corporations? What corporations?

[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33491) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

Good article - shooz posted it as well and I made sure to tweet it. Hopefully it will get wide notice/circulation - as people need GOOD FOOD FOR THOUGHT - thought that will open eyes and inspire action.


[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33491) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

FU U eternal prevaricator & social disease.


[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 years ago

In champions 4th edition Hero games are 3 characters illustrated in the in the margin that make comments upon the tome of rules and construction for super hero gaming.

One is the mechanic/rules layer that is looking to build the most powerful character for the points allotted.

One is the Role player who want to considered the experience imagined through these games

One is the game master who seeks to create a balanced world that all players can enjoy

The founders of the constitution wanted a three party system

judges, executive(bad name as in executioner). legislative

judges, development, design


when did issues become mono directional left? right?


[-] 2 points by DKAtoday (33491) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

Leaving aside considerations of left and right - we really should only consider matters of health for ALL including the whole world/environment - that should be our guide = the HEALTH OF ALL/EVERYTHING

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 4 years ago

It suggests that needs come from more than two sources

[-] 1 points by shoozTroll (17632) 4 years ago

"Jefferson kept pushing for a law, written into the Constitution as an amendment, that would prevent companies from growing so large that they could dominate entire industries or have the power to influence the people's government."


If you are rich enough to buy a government, you are entirely too rich.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

Or consider the saturation point in commercial corruption of college and professional sports reached in recent decades, when every game has become an orgy of corporate promotions - as in the branding of stadiums like Petco Park or GEO Stadium at Florida Atlantic University, sponsored by a private prison corporation, and of golf tournaments like, I kid you not, the Waste Management Open. The funneling of wealth to the corporate elite throughout society is reflected in the mainstream media's escalation in advertising revenue through sports, with commensurate revenue hikes for colleges and pro teams from the broadcasters, enabling hundred-million-dollar income for athletes, who in earlier periods typically were low-paid, blue-collar workers, chawing tobacco instead of bubble gum. (Not that I advocate a return to that period when players were slaves to owners - it is again a matter of proportion, and owners and media make far more than players.) How often are these issues discussed on TV sports broadcasts?

The myriad forms of corporations' power - all disappeared from the agenda of public debate - also include their prerogatives as employers, the consequent subservience of students and workers to corporate bosses, the extortion from national and local governments of favoritism under the threat of moving elsewhere, and the willingness of legions to be a good team player, to lie, swindle, and despoil in the pursuit of corporate riches. Most social-science scholarship on authoritarianism has focused on authoritarian submission to royal, totalitarian, or military rule, but the most dominant form in contemporary America is obviously to corporations and the corporate wealthy. What explains why so many Americans (including college students) blank out on placing blame on the wealthy for socioeconomic problems, even as the gap in wealth and political power between the wealthy and everyone else widens exponentially? Most likely a combination of indoctrination into the faith that anyone has a chance to become rich (a faith constantly expressed by my lower-middle-class students at state colleges) and reluctance to bite the hand that feeds you or is likely to in the future. Thus follow all manner of doublethink rationalizations of submission to power that Orwell summed up as loving Big Brother.

To be sure, not all corporate behavior is blameworthy, but isn't the extent of opportunities for - and actual instances of - corporate malfeasance, and the number of humans who will do anything for enough money, sufficient to discredit conservatives' idealized model of free enterprise? Several of my aggressively conservative students have also flaunted their ambition to get on the gravy train of Republican-aligned political consultants, media, foundations and think tanks. I recall no instance of liberal students saying they sought riches through labor unions, teaching, civil rights, feminist, and environmental groups, or ACORN. This is not to deny that some in those circles find ways to cash in through them, but only to suggest that most young people who seek careers in them do not claim this motivation, in the brazen manner of many young conservatives.

Although the Republicans have long been labeled the party of big business, the increasing dominance of big business and the corporate wealthy over the Democrats (and likewise over labor and social-democratic parties in Europe) has rendered meaningless the endless conservative attacks on Democrats' putative leftism or "socialism." Conservative polemicists love to deride the hypocrisy of Democratic "limousine liberals." I argue that it is admirable for liberals who become wealthy to maintain a principled sense of social justice against their own class interests (despite the undeniable ethical dilemmas their retention of wealth poses), but I also argue that a major factor undermining progressive politics is that accession to affluence and power is a conservatizing force that has been irresistible for countless liberals or leftists in every walk of life - including not only politics, but unions, journalism, advocacy organizations, higher education and scholarship, and the arts; in every field their iconoclasm predictably diminishes as they become more established. With dismal frequency, those liberals who have reached the upper levels of their occupations - intoxicated by the sweet smell of success - change into advocates for the status quo of capitalism, producing rationalizations in the mode of Norman Podhoretz's Making It and Breaking Ranks for the moral virtues of wealth and the free market.

In Making It, Podhoretz recounted the shock to his shabby-genteel, liberal-intellectual consciousness resulting from going on an all-expenses-paid junket to the Bahamas in the early 1960s for an international conference of artists and intellectuals sponsored by billionaire Huntington Hartford, the A&P heir. Podhoretz sighs, "This is what it meant to be rich: to sleep in a huge bright room with a terrace overlooking an incredibly translucent green sea, to stretch one's arms out idly by the side of a swimming pool and have two white-coated servants vie for the privilege of depositing a Bloody Mary into one's hand ... without giving money a second thought." (In the Bahamas, these obsequious servants would have almost certainly been black, and the omission of this detail was significant for the author of "My Negro Problem, and Ours.") His point was that "the dirty little secret" of liberal intellectuals was that they were not immune to the lure of wealth and power.

Although Making It was published in 1967, before Podhoretz became a neoconservative, after he did so, he continued to fixate on such hypocrisies on the left, without ever acknowledging that personal wealth and power are more readily available to conservative intellectuals, and more often a motivator, underlying their professions of disinterested belief in the virtues of free enterprise. Nor has he ever acknowledged this as a possible motivation in his own latter-day conservatism or that of his many family members and friends who have "made it" in the Republican or corporate upper ranks. In his book about the neoconservatives, They Knew They Were Right, Jacob Heilbrunn significantly observes, “Allan Bloom was close to Irving Kristol, but not until he had become a millionaire. (When I visited Bloom at the University of Chicago shortly before his death, he said that his relationship with Kristol had become ‘easier’ once he, like Kristol, was wealthy.)” Exactly how Kristol, long an impecunious journalist for intellectual "little magazines," got wealthy after becoming a corporate and Republican strategist has been a closely guarded secret in conservative circles.

In similar fashion, foreign dictators lavishing money in American public relations have been able to turn the heads of liberal American journalists and scholars, as in the embarrassing case of Muammar Gaddafi with Benjamin Barber and Joseph Nye (see Wiener, "Professors Paid by Qaddafi"). My point is that the co-opting force of access to corporate wealth and power is another subject erased from the agenda of American public discourse, and that an agenda more open to socialist views would include consideration of possible ways of limiting acquisition, by any individual or institution, of excessive wealth and power.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 4 years ago

The best smoking-gun evidence I know of for the rhetorical trickery used to disguise the operations of corporate special interests is found in the transcript of a "60 Minutes" interview in March 1995 by Leslie Stahl with tobacco lobbyist Victor Crawford shortly before he died of throat cancer from smoking.

STAHL: You yourself said it wasn't addictive when you were smoking and knew it was addictive.

CRAWFORD: Sure, it's not a crime because I wasn't under oath. It wasn't perjury. And it was what I was being paid to do. ... Was I lying? Yes.


STAHL: (Voiceover) Crawford says the tobacco lobbyists, often lawyers from the top firms, call themselves "the black hats." So you took on a black hat. Why did you ...

CRAWFORD: Money. Big money. ... Unfortunately, the other groups are not in a position to pay the big bucks, which is necessary to hire the best people.

... We used to bring a scientist out of the woodwork and have this particular lab do this, and we'd have a poll pulled by some cockamamy pollster saying this, that or the other.

STAHL: You're walking around with a study, and you're thinking to yourself, "This study's totally bull. ...

CRAWFORD: Oh. sure.

STAHL: " ... but I'm going to give it to this guy anyway?"

CRAWFORD: Oh, sure. Just to show them that the jury's still out, that you shouldn't take away anybody's civil rights until you're absolutely sure what you're doing. How can you be absolutely sure when this - this X-Y-Z laboratory, world-famous laboratory - why ... is it world famous? Because I said it is, and nobody's checked.

STAHL: I have to tell you, it's shameful.

CRAWFORD: It happens. It happens every day. It happens in every - in every legislature. ...

STAHL: (Voiceover) One of Crawford's first assignments as a lobbyist for the Tobacco Institute was to head off a local ordinance in Maryland to ban smoking in bars, taverns and restaurants. He thought a rally for smokers' rights would be a good idea.

STAHL: (Voiceover) But the demonstration against the proposed ban didn't work, so Crawford tried a new tactic. He denounced the ban's backers as "health Nazis," a term he coined. What did you mean when you first used it?

CRAWFORD: I attacked the messenger on the grounds that they were trying to destroy civil liberties; that what they were trying to do was put their values upon the general public and try to impose it upon the working man, who wants a glass of beer and a pack of cigarettes, and destroys his freedom of choice.

STAHL: I've heard that argument myself.

CRAWFORD: That's right. If you've got good people arguing for you, you can turn the issue away from the message. That's what I'm saying. Get them away from the focus - because you can't defend it - and attack the messenger.

STAHL: You know, you are describing the most cold-hearted, cynical, destructive set of values - I'm sorry - because these were your values.

CRAWFORD: They were.

STAHL: And you're just telling it to us as if "Sure."

CRAWFORD: It's the American way. ("60 Minutes")

Crawford's confession is paradigmatic of the tricks of the PR trade for disguising corporate special pleading, including "astroturf" pseudo-grassroots support groups, phony polls and research institutes, smearing of opponents, and appeals to civil-libertarian freedom of choice and fairness and balance ("the jury's still out"). A good assignment for college students, and challenge to conservative polemicists, would be to ask if they can document comparable examples that have been perpetrated in recent decades by liberals or leftists such as scholars, journalists, labor unions, public employees, or civil rights and citizen advocacy organizations like ACORN - at Crawford's level of power, greed, cold-blooded deceit, and propagation of socially pernicious policies. Far from being an isolated case of the "few rotten apples in every barrel," Crawford's confession is a perfect emblem of the conservative special-interest propaganda that is indeed so ubiquitous as to be "the American way." Unless they repent like Crawford or get caught in illegal acts like Jack Abramoff and his congressional accomplices, such PR agents and lobbyists are regarded as upstanding citizens, the envy of legions seeking to emulate them, with college major programs devoted to their training. Again to avoid over-generalization and stereotyping here, many PR agents, lobbyists, and the organizations they represent scrupulously provide useful social services, but there are far more than a few rotten apples, many of whom never repent or get caught. (The "60 Minutes" report on Crawford was itself a praiseworthy exception to the rule of exclusion of such stories from the mainstream media.)

Conservative theorists tend to avoid the issue of what restraints in the free market, without government legislation and regulation, can prevent the possibility of corporate power corrupting the entire polity. So at the very least, college liberal arts courses are justified in filling the vacuum in public discussion on this issue.

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