Critics of Cornel West: Roasted by Chris Hedges

The usually hard-hitting Chris Hedges has a column at that sharply critiques the critics of Cornel West. Ignoring the big debate over West’s personalizing and supposed ego-tripping in his critique of President Obama, Hedges nails the main point West made:

The liberal class, which attempted last week to discredit the words … West spoke about Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, prefers comfort and privilege to justice, truth and confrontation. . . . It refuses to challenge . . . the decaying structures of democracy or the ascendancy of the corporate state. It glosses over the relentless assault on working men and women. . . . The pillars of the liberal establishment—the press, the church, culture, the university, labor and the Democratic Party—all honor an unwritten quid pro quo with corporations and the power elite . . . on whom they depend for money, access and positions of influence.

Hedges then cites the troubling role of President Obama in this continuing U.S. political drama, much like Dr. West did:

The liberal class . . . functions like a commercial brand, giving a different flavor, face or spin to the ruthless mechanisms of corporate power. This, indeed, is the primary function of Barack Obama. The liberal class . . . will decry the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or call for universal health care, but continue to defend and support a Democratic Party that has no intention of disrupting the corporate machine.

He ends up with a kind of social realism that reminds me greatly of Derrick Bell’s racial realism:

To accept that Obama is, as West said, a mascot for Wall Street means having to challenge some frightening monoliths of power and give up the comfortable illusion that the Democratic Party or liberal institutions can be instruments for genuine reform. . . . It means a new radicalism.

Interestingly, even Hedges does not note just who the leaders of this corporate state and political-economic machine are, that is, elite white men. It is highly significant that even the most radical critiques of this society almost never call out and analyze in some detail exactly who are the elite white men who run almost all our major institutions—and how they view the world, make decisions, and oppress most of the rest of us one way or another. Elite white men make up at least 95 percent of the ruling elite in this country, even though white men are just a third now of the U.S. population. Why and how do they still rule this country so easily and without much sustained attention? What is your take on all this?

Global Social Movements in Dakar to Forge Unity & Political Path

The World Social Forum (WSF) gathered in Dakar, Senegal February 6-11, 2011 as the systemic crisis of global capitalism intensified and popular uprisings were sweeping North Africa and the Arab world. The social forum was a powerful and inspiring convergence of peoples’ struggles and social movements from below, bringing together about 75,000 participants from all corners of Africa and the world to deepen relationships, to vision another world, and to chart a political path forward.

Goree Island, the strategic site of the Door of No Return through which at least 30 million African women, men, and children were forced into the genocidal violence and terror of the transatlantic slave trade, many destined for the United States, is a short ferry ride from the port of Dakar. This vividly contextualized the significance of the WSF focus on Africa and the Diaspora and the centuries of white supremacy and racism inextricably intertwined with systems of colonialism, neocolonialism, and capitalism on a global scale.

Social movement organizations – Grassroots Global Justice, World March of Women, La Via Campesina, International Alliance of Inhabitants, among many others – came together in the Social Movements Assembly to confront the 21st century realities of global capitalism, poverty, racism, patriarchy, war, and climate destruction and to put forth a declaration of unity of action. It lifts up the “new universality” of humanity in all our diversity – as both objects of capitalist exploitation and oppression, and as political agents of our history, our liberation, and our future.

The Declaration of the Social Movements Assembly, crafted to guide our struggles, declares:

“… [W]e are gathered here to affirm the fundamental contribution of Africa and its peoples in the construction of human civilization. Together, the peoples of all the continents are struggling mightily to oppose the domination of capital, hidden behind illusory promises of economic progress and political stability. Complete decolonization for oppressed peoples remains for us, the social movements of the world, a challenge of the greatest importance. …

We affirm our support for and our active solidarity with the people of Tunisia, Egypt and the Arab world who have risen up to demand a true democracy and build the people´s power. …

Capitalism´s destructive force impacts every aspect of life itself, for all the peoples of the world. Yet each day we see new movements rise, struggling to reverse the ravages of colonialism and to achieve well-being and dignity for all. We declare that we, the people, will no longer bear the costs of their crisis and that, within capitalism, there is no escape from this crisis. This only reaffirms the need for us, as social movements, to come together to forge a common strategy to guide our struggles against capitalism. …

We fight against transnational corporations because they support the capitalist system, privatize life, public services and common goods such as water, air, land, seeds and mineral resources. Transnational corporations promote wars through their contracts with private corporations and mercenaries …

We will continue to mobilize to ask for the unconditional abolition of public debt in all the countries in the South. We also denounce, in the countries of the North, the use of public debt to impose unfair policies that degrade the social welfare state.

When the G8 and G20 hold their meetings, let us mobilize across the world to tell them, No! We are not commodities! We will not be traded! …

We defend the food sovereignty and the agreement reached during the Peoples’ Summit against Climate Change, held in Cochabamba, where true alternatives to face the climate crisis were built with the social movements and organizations worldwide. …

We call on everyone to mobilize together, everywhere in the world, against violence against women. We defend sexual diversity, the right to gender self-determination and we oppose all homophobia and sexist violence. …

We fight for peace and against war, colonialism, occupations and the militarization of our lands. …

Inspired by the struggles of the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt, we call for March 20th to be made a day of international solidarity with the uprisings of the Arab and African people, whose every advance supports the struggles of all peoples: the resistance of the Palestinian and Saharian peoples; European, Asian and African mobilizations against debt and structural adjustment plans; and all the processes of change underway in Latin America.

We also call for a Global Day of Action Against Capitalism on October 12th, when we express in myriad ways our rejection of a system that is destroying everything in its path.

Social movements of the world, let us advance towards a global unity to shatter the capitalist system! We shall prevail!”

Perilous Family: Amy Chua, Sino-Anxiety, and US Politics

News and social media, bloggers, and readers have flocked upon Amy Chua’s controversial article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Since appearing in The Wall Street Journal last week, the article has generated over 7,000 comments, countless blog posts, rebuttals from Chua and her daughter, and even death threats.

Scholars have widely criticized the model minority myth, and Chua deserves no passes. But I want to examine the media’s interest in pursuing this dialogue in the first place. Notice that Chua’s article falls under the “Life & Culture” category. Lifestyle news isn’t simply a space wherein readers escape from depressing and laborious facts of hard journalism. It’s a soft arm to more overt U.S. geopolitics set forth by hard news, guiding readers toward a cultural view supportive of these politics. From this angle, we see Chua’s article playing to Sino-anxiety and tensions around the family as a unit of politics.

China’s economic ascension is an obsession of Western news media; so is the family. Consider, how often issues buttressing the conservative and liberal divide in American politics contend over defining the family—reproductive rights, gay marriage, the military. No wonder readers were riled up. Chua’s claim that Chinese parenting is “superior” to American families provokes both conflicts, hedging forth the fear that America’s apparent economic decline is also cultural, and accelerated by Chinese families “abroad” and within U.S. borders. Bourgeois trends might feel tacky for American readers struggling with their wallets; unacceptable are insinuations that “foreign parenting” would overpower the Western family.

Chua embodies “yellow peril,” a classic xenophobia scripting East Asians as willfully destructive toward Western civilization. (Interestingly, Chua has written on violence toward Chinese and other “market-dominant minorities” in the Global South.) But is this peril not contradictory, when it’s brought to the verge through affluence and dominance—values of a distinctly Western, neo-liberal lifestyle? The tensions are messy, but as they’re framed, not coincidental.

Chalmers Johnson Died Saturday

Chalmers Johnson, one of the sharpest critics and analysts of US imperialism today across the globe — much of it involving some oppression of the world’s non-European peoples–died Saturday at age 79. Those who work to try to understand US imperialism will greatly miss him.
As one analyst put it over at

Before 9/11, Johnson wrote the book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. After the terrorist attacks in 2001 in New York and Washington, Blowback became the hottest book in the market. …. He then wrote Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, and most recently Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope. …. Johnson was the more serious, the most empirical, the most informed about the nooks and crannies of every political position as he had journeyed the length of the spectrum. . . . Many of Johnson’s followers and Chal himself think that American democracy is lost, that the republic has been destroyed by an embrace of empire and that the American public is unaware and unconscious of the fix.

Here is a link to his last book, a blockbuster laying out one major way out of this imperial mess and hubris.

All these books are sharp and well-argued. He will be missed.

Racist-Right Radio Commentary Perpetuates Old White-Racist Frame

A recent article by Casey Gane-McCalla at Nation’s NewsOne blog provides a list of the racist comments and commentaries of Rush Limbaugh. Because he is a major propagandistic shaper of the opinions of many Americans, most especially white (and disproportionately white male) Americans, these racist opinions are powerful in perpetuating the four centuries old white-racist framing of this society (with is racist stereotypes, ideologies, images, narratives, emotions, inclinations to oppress materially), as well as the systemic racism of which that framing is only part:

“Have you ever noticed how all composite pictures of wanted criminals resemble Jesse Jackson?”

“Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”

“The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”

This idea of black criminality is very old, and here Limbaugh is parroting the modern version of the white racial framing of African Americans as criminal, which I have shown thorough actually dates back to at least the 1600s. Elite whites say this type of thing century after century so that what is a racist and highly stereotyped and BS imagery comes to be accepted by many people “truth.”

[To an African American female caller to his program]: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

This imagery of African Americans as savage and uncivilized also dates back to the 1500s and 1600s, and was originally (and ironically) created by slaveholding, and highly savage, Europeans.

A bit later these were added to the NewsOne list:

Limbaugh Says Steinbrenner Was A “Cracker Who Made African-Americans Millionaires”

Limbaugh: Obama & Oprah Are Only Successful Because They’re Black

Limbaugh Calls Gov. Paterson A “Massa”

There are also many negative comments full of highly stereotyped white-racial framing of African Americans aimed at President Obama:

‘Limbaugh has called Obama a ‘halfrican American’ has said that Obama was not Black but Arab because Kenya is an Arab region, even though Arabs are less than one percent of Kenya. . . . . Despite the fact Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law school, Limbaugh has called him an ‘affirmative action candidate.’ Limbaugh even has repeatedly played a song on his radio show ‘Barack the Magic Negro’ using an antiquated Jim Crow era term…’

These and many other racist comments from Limbaugh regularly suggest and reinforce old racist images of African Americans, or variations on four centuries old racist stuff. White-racist commentaries are amazingly un-original and parrot-like. Conformity to past racist imaging is essential to contemporary racist thinking.

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky argue that much U.S. opinion is shaped by the organized propaganda that comes out of the capitalistic mass media of the United States. This mainstream media propaganda model shows

how propaganda, including systemic biases, function in mass media. The model seeks to explain how populations are propagandized and how consent for various economic, social and political policies are “manufactured” in the public mind.

Radical-right talk show host like Limbaugh, with their millions of listeners, play a central role in this propagandizing and keeping the United States are foundationally and fundamentally racist society.

Large-scale and organized action to create alternative media networks of equal power are essential if this huge propaganda process is ever to be effectively countered.

Hank Willis Thomas: Artist Exploring Commodification of Black Bodies

Today, I visited PS1-Contemporary Arts Center and discovered the fabulous work of Hank Willis Thomas, an artist exploring the commodification of black bodies by corporate advertisers.  The exhibit I saw was called “Unbranded” is a series of images taken from magazine advertisements from 1968 to the present, such as this one from 1978 of an advertisement for pancakes.  The artist removes all text and logos to “reveal what is being sold,” and alters nothing else of the image.

(“Smokin Joe Ain’t Je’mama” 1978/2006)

In statement about this work, Thomas writes:

“I believe that in part, advertising’s success rests on its ability to reinforce generalizations about race, gender, and ethnicity which can be entertaining, sometimes true, and sometimes horrifying, but which at a core level are a reflection of the way a culture views itself or its aspirations.  By ‘unbranding’ advertisements I can literally expose what Roland Barthes refers to as ‘what-goes-without-saying’ in ads, and hopefully encourage viewers to look harder and think deeper about the empire of signs that have become second nature to our experience of life in the modern world.”

Although Thomas’ work includes images of black men and women, he says that he is most interested in exploring the “link between the commodification of African men in the slave trade and the use of black bodies to hawk goods from credit cards to Nikes today.” Thomas’ earlier work, Branded, deals explicitly with branding, from the product logos plastered on athletes and rap stars to the markings that identified slaves.  In an interview Thomas says:

“I think that the irony of the ideal of the black male body is interesting…it is fetishized and adored in advertising but in reality black men are in many ways the most feared and hated bodies of the 21st Century. The majority of this work comes out of the experience of losing my cousin Songha Thomas Willis – he was killed because he was with someone who was wearing a gold chain. It is this idea – that someone could be killed over a tiny commodity. In NYC in the 1980s, people were killed over sneakers and backpacks. Songha was someone who survived DC when it was the murder capital of the country and then came home to Philly and was killed over a commodity. I want to question what makes these commodities so precious that they are worth defining and more importantly taking another person’s life?”

The work is beautiful, thought-provoking, compelling, disturbing – like art should be, in my view.  If you can get to PS1, make sure you see “Unbranded.” If not, you may want to check out Thomas’ online portfolio or his monograph, Pitch Blackness.

How Diverse is the Dominant US Culture?

Often when I am talking about how the dominant culture in the U.S. is white-centered, shaped, and maintained, someone usually pipes up with a comment about the “diverse” array of foods that are now central to our “highly diverse” general culture.

They like to cite Chinese food, Japanese food, Middle Eastern food, Asian-Indian food, Mexican food, and so on, to try to make the point that whites of European origin no longer dominate U.S. culture, and thus that the U.S. is a truly “diverse” culture. There is certainly some truth to this reality of diverse foods and some other cultural features, such as music, but the typical comments miss very important points.

One of these is how adulterated much of this “diverse food” really is. I have been reading former FDA Commisioner (and MD) David Kessler’s relatively new book, The End of Overeating, and at one point he makes this very important point:

Bottled teriyaki sauce … combines soy sauce and rice wine to mimic Japanese flavorings, putting an American spin on a classic Japanese cooking technique. The amount of added sugar makes it far sweeter than anything found in Japan. We’ve also invented new approaches to sushi classics—for example, mayonnaise-topped tempura shrimp now comes wrapped in rice as a sushi roll. . . . The dish we call ‘General Tso’s chicken’ is loaded with sugar, much to the consternation of the Taiwanese chef who created it. . . . Traditional Chinese cuisine also makes use of a lot more vegetables than are included in our versions.

Many other international foods are similarly adulterated with high fat, high sugar and/or high salt.. Kessler discusses throughout his book how U.S. food corporations have aggressively added sugar, fat, and salt to—and otherwise significantly altered–many food items from across the world. So, Chinese food is not really Chinese food, and Mexican food is not exactly Mexican food. And so on.

Working for top corporate executives in the food industry, who are aggressively seeking so much added profit that people are often harmed, thousands of U.S. workers are constantly redesigning the world’s foods to fit what Kessler calls “American desires.” Once again, as we often ask here, just who are the Americans who have disproportionate power to redesign the world’s foods — and then to successfully manipulate via advertising, the media and other avenues U.S. (and then overseas) consumers to eat them (and, increasingly, become obese)?

I have not seen any demographic data on these top food industry executives lately, but I’ll bet they are mostly white, male, and upper middle class and middle class. And the Us food culture is not as international and diverse as it is often made out to be.

Photoshopping Racial Diversity?

AngryAsianMan draws from a TPM blog post that shows how the American Petroleum Institute created an image of employment diversity simply by photoshopping heads of two people of color onto white bodies. This is the “diverse” API photo he offers on his website. (Source: API)api_pamphlet

He notes this standard stock photo with mostly white heads that is the basis for the diverse photo, then adds:

Another so-bad-it’s-hilarious Photoshop job… This pamphlet for the American Petroleum Institute, given out a forum earlier this month, appears to show oil and gas industry employees as a racially diverse group of people. Hooray for the natural gas industry. . . . [The stock photo is] Two people whiter. The API pamphlet appears to have added a dark-skinned guy (third from the left) and an East Asian dude (second from the right, front row).

It is hard to know what to say about how absurd this country’s leaders (professionals?) can get on faking a concern with “diversity.”

Cree folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie’s New Album

Over at blog Meteor Blades has a nice commentary on the new album of Cree Indian folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie, accompanied on a long tour by a 5-piece all-Aboriginal band.running-for-the-drum (Photo: Her Website)

One song in which includes these critical words on U.S. capitalism and racism:

Ol Columbus he was lookin good
When he got lost in our neighborhood
Garden of Eden right before his eyes
Now it’s all spyware Now it’s all income tax

Ol Brother Midas lookin hungry today
What he can’t buy he’ll get some other way
Send in the troopers if the Natives resist
Same old story, boys; that’s how ya do it , boys

Here is her interesting website.

Throwaway Cities: Systemic Racism and Capitalism

October 2009
Creative Commons License photo credit: lessismoreorless
The British Guardian/Observer just did one of the better stories I have seen on US cities suffering greatly in this Bush depression–showing that in Detroit things are worse than in the great Depression of the 1930s. Much of Motor City is now “a ghost town.” The 1930s saw official unemployment reach about 25 percent. Today it is 29 percent in Detroit. This predominantly black city has lost more than half its population in recent years as U.S. capitalists have made many poor decisions, usually in the name of profit, including disinvestment in U.S. industry. Among other things they have sought cheap labor overseas, often at near-slave wages, and weak government regulation. Once the fourth largest city, Detroit has dropped to 11th in the country.

One summary of 2000 and 2005-2007 census data describes racial percentages in the city:

The racial makeup of the city was 81.6% Black, 12.3% White, 1.0% Asian, 0.3% Native American, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 2.5% other races, 2.3% two or more races, and 5.0 percent Hispanic. The city’s foreign-born population is at 4.8%. Estimates from the 2005-2007 American Community Survey showed little variance.

A city once overwhelmingly white, Detroit is now one of the least white cities, the probable reason mainstream national media have paid little attention to the economic depression firmly entrenched here. Journalist Paul Harris at The Observer describes severe conditions in Detroit thus:

Try telling Brother Jerry Smith [at a Capuchin brothers’ soup kitchen] that the recession in America has ended. . . . Outside his office the hungry, the homeless and the poor crowded around tables. Many were by themselves, but some were families with young children. None had jobs.

He adds:

There is little doubt that Detroit is ground zero for the parts of America that are still suffering. The city that was once one of the wealthiest in America is a decrepit, often surreal landscape of urban decline. . . . The birthplace of the American car industry, it boasted factories that at one time produced cars shipped over the globe. Its downtown was studded with architectural gems, and by the 1950s it boasted the highest median income and highest rate of home ownership of any major American city.

Then U.S. capitalists started aggressively disinvesting in U.S. cities’ industries, and whites had already begun to flee cities like Detroit for the suburbs. With the help of white real estate decisionmakers, White flight created the famous “doughnut” pattern of black residents at the center surrounded by mostly white suburbs. Manufacturing decentralized in the metro area, then started fleeing to the South and other countries — for cheaper labor and no regulation. The city dropped half its nearly two million population to about 900,000 now. And today even the suburbs are also in trouble:

Its once proud suburbs now contain row after row of burnt-out houses. . . . Now almost a third of Detroit – covering a swath of land the size of San Francisco – has been abandoned. Tall grasses, shrubs and urban farms have sprung up in what were once stalwart working-class suburbs. . . .
The city has a shocking jobless rate of 29%. . . . Recently a semi-riot broke out when the city government offered help in paying utility bills. Need was so great that thousands of people turned up for a few application forms. In the end police had to control the crowd, which included the sick and the elderly, some in wheelchairs.

To make matters worse the city has a huge government debt and is cutting major services like street lights and public transportation.

(For a boosterish story on Detroit, that barely touches on these issues see Wikipedia here)
We have summarized the significance of much of this capital flight from US cities here:

Capital flight—the movement of companies to locations with lower labor costs and favorable profit-making conditions—is now a threat to many U.S. workers. And it is distinctively racialized, with workers of color in recent decades often suffering disproportionately from it. Especially African American and Latino workers in blue-collar jobs in major US industries like the auto industry.

Many US corporations now routinely operate around the world. The global capitalistic market has made low-wage labor and unregulated working situations available to most big corporations which shift investments out of moderate-profit industries to higher-profit international ventures, abandoning U.S. industries. From the (usually white) corporate executives’ view, plant closings and capital flight “discipline” U.S. workers to accept lower wages—and to be docile in the face of corporate decisions. A variety of U.S. firms are using relatively low-wage, nonunion labor pools in poor countries to cut production costs. Computer and electronics industries, which many have counted on to provide jobs to replace the decent-paying ones lost in declining “smokestack” industries, have joined the corporate flight overseas. Many blue-collar jobs and, increasingly, many white-collar jobs are being exported overseas; they are often the jobs important for many new entrants into the U.S. work force, such as non–college-bound high school graduates. The U.S. government has aggressively facilitated the export of many decent-paying jobs to low-wage areas in other countries. Without some countervailing power, corporations with accountability to no country will go wherever labor is cheapest and most repressed, a process that has steadily eroded the standard of living for many U.S. workers and their families–of various racial backgrounds.