Michael Brown Jr. Case Update

I want to mention a recent report by Shaun King of Daily Kos on a key contradiction between the facts and the official police account of Officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr. King took measurements at the scene and proved that when Brown was killed, he was standing a far greater distance from Officer Wilson’s SUV (about 148 feet) than the St. Louis County Police reported (about 35 feet).

That fact severely undercuts Wilson’s reported defense that he feared for his life. Brown fled so far away that Wilson was obviously not in danger, especially since he had called his dispatcher for backup before any physical confrontation took place, and could expect reinforcement soon. (In fact, analysis of police audio by Robert Patrick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts another officer on the scene just 73 seconds after Wilson asked for backup.)

This evidence also has implications for the St. Louis County Police and the press. King writes:

If the police will lie about this fact, what else have they openly lied about? Did they present this false distance to the grand jury? Why does the media continue to advance this lie?

You can King’s report, including video of him and a colleague conducting a measurement at the scene, here.

Causes of the Ebola Epidemic

The international outbreak of the Ebola virus has drawn a lot of media attention in the U.S. Conservatives linked Ebola with ISIL and immigration in order to spread fear that America was under external threat, just in time for the election. But what is at the root of the Ebola epidemic? Guess what? Poverty and economic exploitation.

Dr. Allyson Pollock, professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, discussed the spread of Ebola with Tariq Ali. Pollock criticized western governments’ response to Ebola, which has focused on providing vaccinations.

Actually, vaccines are not what these countries need. It’s proper redistribution and public-health measures. And we learn nothing from history—that’s what’s so shocking. All the great reforms, all the great collapse of infectious disease epidemics, was actually not down to drugs and vaccines. It was down to redistributive measures which included sanitation, nutrition, good housing. And, actually, above all, a real democratization.

Why is there such an imbalance? Because banks have demanded privatization and cuts to social spending in poor countries, and because drug companies have demanded an emphasis on vaccination rather than strengthening of local public-health systems. “These are very, very poor countries, where the infrastructure has increasingly been ripped out, especially in terms of health systems,” Pollock said. In addition to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the professor blamed the Gates Foundation, which she said is “doing untold harm” by distorting health policy in the countries facing the most danger from Ebola.

See video of the full interview here.

Unequal Justice

St. Louis County authorities will soon announce a decision in the grand-jury inquiry into the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. There has been a great deal written about this subject, but I want to highlight two particular pieces that get to the core of the issue.

Shaun King of Daily Kos has 15 Questions for Darren Wilson.” Especially pertinent are these two questions:

3. Four eyewitnesses report seeing and hearing your tires screech as you violently put your SUV in reverse on Canfield Drive, nearly hitting Brown and Johnson. Why did you reverse in such a reckless and provocative manner?

. . .

7. Reports have surfaced that you told federal investigators that you were repeatedly punched and scratched by Brown through your SUV window. Why did you not see the medic who arrived on the crime scene? Why do no photos or videos or eyewitness reports from the scene have evidence of even a shadow of an injury, or you touching or favoring any injury?

Question 7 also deserves an answer from Sean Hannity, who ran with (danced with, somersaulted with) the unsubstantiated claim that Wilson suffered a broken eye socket. Then there is the matter of the final two shots Wilson fired.

13. Before you fired the two fatal shots into Brown’s eye and the crown of his head, as he was falling down, you had shot him a total of four times already. Did you still believe him to be a threat to you at that point?

Those who are inclined to believe that Wilson acted in self-defense should spend some time pondering King’s questions. They should also ask themselves if they aren’t gullible for invariably believing stories of unarmed black males going berserk and assailing armed cops (or, in the case of George Zimmerman, a cop in his own mind).

On the larger issue of racial and class bias in policing, veteran activist Percy Green II has offered proposals for reforming police departments.

Green recommends that police be required to live within the boundaries of their department’s jurisdiction. He notes that had that policy been in place in Ferguson, “then the existing problem of only three blacks on the police force with a population of 68 percent African Americans would not exist.” He also proposes regular psychological testing of police officers, which would help screen out bigots, sadists, and psychopaths. These proposals should be the starting point for a new, nationwide program of police reform, whatever happens in the Michael Brown case.

Right-Wing Welfare Lies

In February 2010, I wrote this piece about conservative hypocrisy on welfare. It was published on a page that is now defunct, so here it is again. I believe the article is as topical now as it was then.

Right-Wing Welfare Lies

In his 1999 book, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush summed up conservatives’ stance on government assistance for the poor. Bush and his ghostwriters argued that welfare made its recipients “less interested in pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and more interested in pulling down a monthly government check. A culture of dependency was born.” For the past three decades, that belief has governed the policies of Democratic as well as Republican administrations. While it is true that a “culture of dependency” arose during that time, it had nothing to do with poor people.

The chief theorist of the war on welfare is Charles Murray, who took President Ronald Reagan’s views and gave them a scholarly sheen. In his 1984 book, Losing Ground, Murray argued that welfare “subsidize[s] irretrievable mistakes” and encourages recipients “to behave in the short term in ways that [are] destructive in the long term.” Officials in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations cited the author as an authority while cutting a number of social-benefit programs and reducing eligibility for others.

But the biggest test of the GOP’s anti-welfare principles came when the Savings & Loan crisis hit in the late 1980s. Following the passage of Reagan’s 1982 deregulation law, many S&Ls engaged in irresponsible speculation that put them drastically in the red. In response, Bush I forgot his opposition to government giveaways and engineered a 1989 bailout that cost U.S. taxpayers $124.6 billion. Since the Savings & Loan troubles contributed to the recession of the early ’90s, the true cost was much higher. The S&L boondoggle was a clear instance of a policy that “subsidized mistakes” and encouraged behavior that was “destructive in the long term.” It is easy to see where today’s bankers got the idea that the U.S. Treasury was their private cash reserve.

However, the lessons of that case failed to make even a ripple in the deep wells of conservative thought. In the 1990s, Charles Murray renewed his attack on (non-corporate) welfare, arguing that it had caused the breakdown of the American family and the fundamental values of “self-restraint, self-reliance, and commitment to a civic order.” Murray charged that “the breakdown is disproportionately found in poor neighborhoods,” but the taxpayers who bailed out Silverado Savings & Loan and board member Neil Bush might have disagreed. Murray pushed his argument to its bizarre extreme in his 1994 book, The Bell Curve, written with Harvard professor Richard J. Herrnstein. The authors held that inequality stemmed from the genetic superiority of Asians and whites over African-Americans and Hispanics—and of the rich over everyone else.

A slew of other right-wing intellectuals joined the crusade against government assistance for low-income Americans. Marvin J. Olasky built on Murray’s foundation in books such as The Tragedy of American Compassion (1992) and Compassionate Conservatism (2000). In the latter, Olasky presented a series of questions that he used to assess any welfare initiative. In his foreword to Compassionate Conservatism, George W. Bush wrote that Olasky’s views were a “blueprint for government.” So let’s see how the most expensive welfare program of the Bush II administration—the bailout of Wall Street—compares to the criteria set forth by the former president’s mentor.

Olasky’s first question was, “Does the program demand accountability of the people it serves?” It is difficult to ensure accountability when you do not know how much your program costs or who receives the money. The answer to that question would therefore appear to be “No.” Olasky also asked, “Does the program teach recipients to live responsibly in conditions of freedom, or does it tend to maintain them in dependency?” Since President Barack Obama and the new Congress passed another rescue package for leading financial institutions five months after Bush’s, the 43rd president’s banker-relief plan did a bad job of teaching responsible living. (Don’t expect a better result from Obama’s plan.)

“Does the program require work by the able-bodied in return for assistance?” That is a more complicated issue. A large portion of the bailout money went to stockholders who were born rich and who rarely, if ever, held a job. As for those who actually worked in Wall Street firms that were granted federal largesse, many kept their jobs and even took home bonuses. So, from one perspective, they did work for their government checks. On the other hand, the Wall Streeters’ idea of “working” is to repeat the same scams that caused the crisis in the first place. If by “work” Olasky means employment likely to prevent the recipient from demanding another handout, then the answer to this question is “No.”

Olasky believes that it’s important for society’s no-goods to meet their benefactors and learn by their example. That is why he also asked, “Does the program foster one-to-one relationships between givers and recipients?” The bailout does not. The taxpayer provides funds to a bank at little or no interest, and the bank either pockets the money, uses it to acquire other businesses, or loans it back, often at 20-40% interest. If the taxpayer/customer has any questions, s/he is referred to an operator in India who probably never met any of the welfare recipients on the bank’s board of directors. At each point, the personal connection is lacking. In fact, the closer we look, the more amazing it seems that an Olasky disciple like George W. Bush could approve a blank check for a bunch of reprobates. It’s almost as if conservatives place an income cap on personal responsibility.

William J. Bennett is another morality cop who ignored rich crooks and put out an all-points-bulletin on poor ones. In 1996, Bennett, John J. DiIulio, and John P. Walters published Body Count: Moral Poverty and How to Win America’s War Against Crime and Drugs. The authors presented the case that immorality and criminal impulses were reaching flood tide. The most dangerous manifestation of that threat was the “super-predator.” “Super-predators place no value on the lives of their victims,” the trio explained. “The things that super-predators get by their criminal behavior—sex, drugs, money—are their own immediate rewards. Nothing else matters to them [italics original].”

Bennett et al sketched the lives of some anonymous “super-predators” in the book’s appendix, using parole officers’ case files. The appendix makes an interesting read, in light of the later actions of the Bush II administration, which Bennett endorsed, and which DiIulio joined. One super-predator was a fly-by-night contractor. He served a jail term for defrauding a woman of $2,000 “for home repair and landscaping work never performed.” The subject’s record was compiled shortly after his release from prison, so it’s impossible to tell whether he became an executive at Halliburton. At any rate, he “does not accept any responsibility for his behavior” and “has no remorse.” On the other hand, no one died as a result of this particular fraud, unlike the U.S. servicemen electrocuted in defective showers sold by a Halliburton subsidiary. Nor does the file indicate that the subject helped rapists escape legal responsibility for their actions. Consequently, his criminal instincts seem underdeveloped, compared to those of Dick Cheney’s old business cronies.

Another convict in the files “impersonated a security company employee and talked to an 81-year-old burglary victim about putting bars on the windows.” Once inside the house, she “took blank checks and credit cards from the victim’s purse.” It is indeed monstrous to rob vulnerable people under the guise of offering them safety. But if this fake home-security specialist is a “super-predator”, what should we call the Bushites who started a war for oil profits in Iraq, and sent patriotic Americans to die in it? “Ultra-extra-super-duper-predators?” Right-wing politicians have acknowledged taking ideas from Bennett’s books, but none mentioned that they were referring to the appendix of Body Count.

The results are in: the country is indeed saddled by parasites and predators who are addicted to government handouts. The culprits are top corporate executives and stockholders, plus the politicians they own. The right-wing war on welfare for the poor is a red herring to rival any whale. It provides cover for the real freeloaders, while assailing programs that are needed to keep the average American from financial ruin. In a series of studies beginning in the late 1990s, scholars Mark R. Rank and Thomas Hirschl showed that 60% of Americans will spend at least one year below the poverty line. Two-thirds will receive government aid such as Food Stamps or Medicaid for at least a year, while 40% will receive such assistance for five years. And that was before the current crisis, which, incidentally, was caused by corporate welfare.

If conservative welfare “experts” want to do something productive for a change, they can prepare new editions of their books, substituting the word “rich” for “poor” every time the latter occurs. It may seem a tedious task, but the first step toward personal responsibility is often the toughest.

Elitism and the Democrats

The Democrats did even worse in the midterm elections than most observers expected. Many of the Republicans’ class-of-2010 governors (e.g. Paul LePage, Rick Snyder, and Scott Walker) got re-elected, and a whole new crew of GOP rakeshames is headed to Washington. There has been a lot written about the causes of the Democrats’ electoral woes, but one question has yet to be answered fully. On election night, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show asked Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, ““Were you surprised that the Democrats’ strategy seemed to be—again, I’m not a political strategist—curling up in a ball and hoping you didn’t kick them in the face too hard?” Priebus said that he was surprised, but that only makes the Democrats’ behavior seem more bizarre.

Commentators such as Bill Maher, have chided the Dems for failing to tout the economic improvements under Obama: unemployment falling from 10.2% in October 2009 to 5.9% in October 2014, new highs on the stock market, and a federal budget deficit that is less than half what it was during Obama’s first year in office. Why didn’t Democratic candidates campaign on those facts?

I believe they planned to do just that. I’m sure that President Obama and his team have studied the economic forecasts carefully and often. They expected the economy to be where it is now, and expected it to carry the party through the ’14 election. But I would bet that when the Democratic candidates started polling that message, they found that the people had no interest in hearing how well off they allegedly were. Shorn of an economic appeal, Democrats went back to their default message: “We’re Republican-Lite.” It worked as well as it always does.

Why was the cheery economic message a non-starter? Because, for the vast majority of working-class people, the economy still isn’t any good. Democrats looked at indicators like unemployment, the stock market, and the deficit, while ignoring the real suffering of recent years. Having a job is generally better than the alternative, but if your wages, benefits, and prospects are poor, you will rightly believe that the economy isn’t working for you. The truth is that most working people have not been able to dig out from the economic disasters of Bush II’s final year in office.

In early 2008, we had staggeringly high costs of gasoline and heating fuel. Many people had to borrow to make ends meet and were therefore already in the red when the 2008 crash hit. The huge increase in unemployment resulting from the crash has consequences that are still being felt. (Among people I know, the unemployment rate was about 50%. People who had never been out of work in the years I had known them were unemployed for six months or more.) Long-term unemployment causes more debt, often in the form of credit cards issued by bailed-out financial institutions.

In many cases, it also means lost assets, possibly even a repossessed house. Then you have the problems faced by recent college graduates who have student-loan debt and entered an economy with very little hiring. With real wages stagnating, debt rising, and nearly all new wealth going to the already wealthy, there is little reason for most people to celebrate improvements in the economic indicators that obsess Washington.

It didn’t have to be that way, of course. Back in 2009, when Democrats had big congressional majorities, they could have listened to the real economists. Joseph Stiglitz, among others, strongly urged them to pass a stimulus plan substantial enough to get the economy working again. That would have ended the long, destructive siege on working-class livelihoods that dominated the early years in Obama’s presidency. Obama & Co. could also have sided with the people by prosecuting Wall Street criminals, passing real financial reform, and breaking up the too-big-to-fail banks. But that would have offended the Democrats’ rich backers, who are also the Republicans’ rich backers. Isn’t that right, Mr. Geithner? It’s true that the Republicans are worse, but the Democrats refused to take the necessary action on the economy.

The success of ballot initiatives to increase the minimum wage in states like Arkansas, where the Republicans won handily, proves that an economic-populist message was a winner. But, unfortunately for the Democrats, you can’t claim it unless you actually deliver on economic populism.

Vote Against the Republicans

The Democrats haven’t given the people much reason to vote for them, but there are more than enough reasons to vote against the Republicans. Many of the key races are at the state level, because of the billionaire Koch Brothers’ successful takeover of many state governments in the 2010 elections. Voters in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have a chance to reject the destructively elitist governors elected in 2010.

There has been a lot written about GOP extremism at the state and federal level, so let me cite one example that sums up the rest. Maine’s governor, Paul LePage, is up for reelection today and seems to have a good chance of winning. Take a look at this piece on LePage by Mike Tipping, which was published at Talking Points Memo.

Despite LePage’s appalling record, including ties to far-right insurrectionists, he has been embraced by the Republican establishment, including supposed centrist Chris Christie. The only limit to Republican fanaticism is when the voters refuse to elect Republicans.

 

Welcome

This blog is about working-class people and the bigotry we face daily. Discrimination against the working class is considered socially acceptable, even by those who would balk at other forms of discrimination. It is time to change that.

I talk about class, rather than using the current fashionable terms “inequality” and “the wealth gap.” Those latter expressions are too abstract. They also obscure the fact that many others face the same circumstances we do. Though we may often feel alone, we have many natural allies in our social class—people we need to understand and unite with, despite the best efforts of the elite to keep us apart.

Speaking of forces that keep us apart, I will also discuss racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious fundamentalism: the divide-and-conquer tactics employed by the world’s owners. We need to uncover the causes of our all-too-frequent readiness to kiss the instruments that keep us in our place.

Of course, that will mean taking aim at the ideology of conservatism, which is merely a series of contradictory excuses for the exploitation of cheap labor by hereditary wealth. (The same goes for conservatism’s mutant offspring, libertarianism.) Fortunately, the people are starting to realize that. The one small positive effect of maldistribution of wealth in recent decades is that it has made the rich more overtly arrogant. These days, many elitists are proud to express their hatred toward people who work for a living. I’ll examine cases of that here.

But don’t think liberals will get a pass. Liberalism is just a series of poses that allows certain economically privileged people to feel better about their privileges. We need to see liberalism for the hoax it is in order to build a true popular movement, a true anti-elitist coalition, and, yes, a true left.

I will have a lot to say about liberals’ class bigotry in the sectors of society over which they hold the greatest sway, particularly higher education and their portion of the media. In recent years, liberals have gone from ignoring class to talking about talking about class. Regarding higher education, liberals have finally acknowledged that working-class people are underrepresented at elite colleges and universities. But it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them to blame discrimination for that. Nor have elite media liberals shown any interest in criticizing socially exclusionary hiring practices at their own magazines, newspapers, or other media outlets. Quacks, heal thyselves.

I’m an American, so this blog will include much coverage of American issues. But class bigotry is not confined to one country, and I’ll discuss examples drawn from other parts of the world. I don’t allow comments on the blog (for reasons I address in “Frequently Asked Questions”), but feel free to send me your views via the e-mail address at the “Contact” prompt.

You won’t see anything like this blog in elite media. Welcome to Against Class Bigotry.