California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again

Nothing better illustrates the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party—for all progressive intents and purposes—than California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s announcement on Friday afternoon that he was going to put a “hold” on the single-payer health care bill (SB 562) for the state, effectively killing its passage for at least the year.

The Democratic Party finds itself in a bind in California. They hold the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, so they can pass any bill they want. SB 562 had passed the Senate 23-14.

There was enormous enthusiasm among California progressive activists, who, with organizations like Campaign for a Healthy California (CHC,) and  the National Nurses United (NNU,) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) were working tirelessly, and hopeful of success.  After all, Bernie’s people were taking over the California party from the bottom since the election. I recall a night of drinking last year with an old friend who has been spearheading that effort, as he rebuffed my skepticism, and insisted that this time there would be a really progressive takeover of the California party, and single-payer would prove it. After all, once enough progressive pressure was been put on the legislators, the bill would be going to super-progressive Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown, who had made advocacy of single-payer a centerpiece of his run for President in 1992, saying: “We treat health care not as a commodity to be played with for profit but rather the right of every American citizen when they’re born.” Bernie foretold.

Unfortunately, today that Governor is, according to Paul Song, co-chair of the CHC, “doing everything he can to make sure this never gets on his desk.” And it won’t. Unfortunately, all the Democrats like Rendon, who “claims to be a personal supporter of single-payer,” will make sure that their most progressive governor is not put in the embarrassing position of having to reject what he’s been ostensibly arguing for for twenty-five years, of demonstrating so blatantly what a fraud his, and his party’s, progressive pretensions are.

Thus unfolds the typical Democratic strategy: Make all kinds of progressive noises and cast all kinds of progressive votes, while carefully managing the process so that the legislation the putatively progressives putatively support never gets enacted. Usually, they blame Republican obstructionism, and there certainly is enough of that, and where there is, it provides a convenient way for Democrat legislator to “support” legislation they know will be blocked and wouldn’t really enact themselves if they could.

In the California case, the dissembling is obvious. The Republicans can’t be blamed. The only thing standing in the way of single-payer in California is the Democratic Party. As it was on the national level in 2009, when Obama and the Democrats could have passed any healthcare bill they wanted, just as they passed the Republican-inspired, gift to the for-profit health insurance industry, the ACA—without a single Republican vote. It was true-believing capitalist Democrats like Max Baucus, led by Obama and his sidekick Rahm Emanuel (who called leftists “fucking retarded”) who arrested single-payer activists (including doctors) in order to prevent single-payer from even being considered. It was they who strong-armed reluctant Democratic legislators, who had signed an oath not to do so, into passing a bill that leaves 28 million Americans without health insurance, and forces the rest into plans whose premiums rise and networks of coverage shrink every year.

In fact, the perfectly reasonable discontent with that plan probably had more to do with helping Trump win than did any actions of bad-old (as opposed to good-new) James Comey. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, in a analysis that’s contested but should certainly not be ignored, Hillary’s fatal slide in the polls began before Comey’s notorious letter of October 28th, and coincided with the announcement, four days before, of steep Obamacare premium increases. You decide whether you think Anthony Weiner’s sexting emails, part three, had more effect on voters than anger over being hit with stiff premium increases (22% average, 25% in 20 states, 60% in some) on increasingly crappy policies:

So the Democrats create the ground for Trump by passing a lousy healthcare law that’s sure to piss people off rather quickly, then use the even worse plan that the Republicans come up with to do nothing but trash Trump, while blocking real progressives’ attempts to get the only plan that would actually cover all Americans and save money. In Colorado last November, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper refused to support a single-payer referendum because he “didn’t want to disrupt” the “strides [made] under Obamacare.” The Democrats’ ACA marched the nation straight into the shoals of Trump and the Republicans’ ACHA, and now the Democrats are blocking the only plan that solves the problems of both.

As Deborah Burger, Co-President of the California Nurses Association put it, Assembly Speaker Rendon, “Acting in secret in the interests of the profiteering insurance companies late Friday afternoon abandons all those people already threatened by Congress and the Trump administration.”

The excuse, of course, from California Democrats and Governor Jerry Brown is that they don’t know how they are going to pay for it, especially on the state level. That would be the same Jerry Brown who explained in 1992 exactly how single-payer would cut costs:

You cut out all the private health insurance. You have one single payer either at the national level or through the 50 states. And that one single payer will be the one that negotiates with the doctors, the hospitals, and the other providers. And since you have only one source of income in the whole medical establishment, you can drive down the cost.

Leaving aside the indispensable point that healthcare, like education and clean water, should be considered a non-discretionary expense, one of the main advantages of single-payer is precisely that it’s the only plan that can cut costs significantly. Not having single-payer will not mean healthcare will cost less; it will cost more every year, for every person and in the aggregate. It just means the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies won’t care. The real problem with single-payer isn’t about costs to the people or to the state; it’s about profits for those companies.

Besides, an economy the size of California has immense power. We’re not talking about Utah. All the hospitals and doctors and pharmaceutical companies are not going to stop selling their goods and services in California. And once single-payer becomes a reality in California, it will catalyze a movement in every other state and on the national level. That—the fact that it will start a wildfire of imitation—and not the fact that it’s too expensive, is what the California Democratic Party is desperate to avoid, and what its donors and lobbyists are ordering it to block.

This is the Democratic Party. Lying losers who will do anything to avoid taking an effective stance for a healthcare policy that would immediately solve one of the worst horrors American families face every day, that would be immediately and concretely helpful to everyone, and, to top it all off, would be immensely popular. The dissembling Democrats are throwing away just about the most popular policy anyone could imagine—something people are literally dying for. As Charles Idelson, spokesman for the NNU, says: “There is broad support for single-payer not only in California, but nationally, even among registered Republicans and Republican and conservative business leaders.”

Passing single-payer in California and fighting for it everywhere else would guarantee the Democrats electoral victories. But they will not do it—they’ll say they will, but they will not—because they are fervent supporters of the capitalist market system in healthcare (and everything else), and they are corrupt agents of the health insurance and pharma industries.

Because it captures and cages the energies of so many well-meaning progressives, the Democratic Party is the most effective obstacle to, and enemy of, single-payer, and it has to be fought. People in wheelchairs and cancer patients and all their healthy friends should be sitting in and obstructing Democrat Rendon’s, as well as any Republican’s, office, until he lets the bill through. Then they should move on to the Democratic governor’s office. And thence to Pelosi’s and Schumer’s offices as well as Graham’s and Ryan’s. This is not a Trump problem, and not a Republican problem, it’s a bipartisan capitalist elite problem.

We have to engage in this kind of fight against all of these politicians. Anyone who thinks such a fight can be avoided in order to play the Democrats’ game of defending the for-profit insurance plan called Obamacare while obsessing about Trump being a Russian spy, is helping to perpetuate this rotten healthcare system. Twenty-eight million people are now without healthcare, and, if the Republicans’ edited version of Obamacare passes (which it probably won’t, because even many Republicans know they can’t get away with making things worse than they are), there’ll be twenty-four million more. There is no time for either of these contemptuous parties and their contemptuous bullshit.

by JIM KAVANAGH/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Lead Astray: New Evidence Links Children with Higher Lead Exposure to School Suspensions and Juvenile Detention

When people are in pain or suffering from illness, they are more likely to act in destructive ways that carry negative consequences for both themselves and others. Children are particularly susceptible as they act out when agitated or unhealthy, a plight exacerbated by their common inability to articulate their feelings in a more constructive way.

A recent report authored by economists Anna Aizer and Janet Currie and published in the National Bureau of Economic Research confirms this link between illness and negative outcomes for school children. The working paper, titled “Lead and Juvenile Delinquency: New Evidence from Linked Birth, School and Juvenile Detention Records,” covers new ground by tracking individual children over time to assess the relationship between lead exposure and juvenile behavior. Using relevant data for 120,000 children born 1990-2004 in Rhode Island, the study found strong evidence linking those with higher exposures to lead with a substantially increased probability of school suspensions and juvenile detention.

Given school discipline is commonly administered in a racially disparate manner— and poor and African-American children are more likely to reside in old houses with chipped lead-based paint and neighborhoods with compromised soil— the implications of the study are troubling.

“A huge percentage of the problem resides in populations that oftentimes are invisible,” says Dr. Robert Bullard, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University. A prolific author commonly recognized as “the father of environmental justice,” Bullard says this lack of visibility represents how “the vast majority of this country really doesn’t have to deal with lead or address it on a daily basis” so it “tends to be minimized. But this does not detract from the fact that it’s real and very deadly for lots of children in this country.”

To drive home the racially skewed nature of the lead issue, Bullard draws an analogy with drugs in America. “For many years, drugs were in the African-American community and it was treated as a crime,” he says. “But as soon as white folks start overdosing and getting hooked on opioids, it then becomes a health problem. Lead is the same way.”

For those paying attention, what’s clear is the damage lead exposure causes in children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, “There is no known identified safe blood lead level.” Even at lower levels, the toxic metal can cause “damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems (e.g., reduced IQ, ADHD, juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior) and hearing and speech problems.”

Though some still believe lead poisoning is an issue that ended with the 20th century, Bullard notes how the Flint water crisis prompted “the rediscovery of this problem. And when they started reexamining what was happening not just in Flint, but across this country, it was revealed that Flint was not the only place that had problems.”

Bullard clarifies how such problems spawn others. Lead is not just an environmental and health problem, he contends, “It is also a societal problem in that it creates this challenge for children and young people to conform to the rules of our society. Anytime you have children of color that are disproportionately impacted by lead, and anytime you have behavior problems within these children, they are definitely going to be targeted for suspension and for the criminal justice system.”

Still, while such linkages between lead and poor behavior in children had been suspected for years, getting the actual data to nudge this strong hypothesis toward the realm of science was far from easy. The federal government banned lead-based paint in 1978 and phased out leaded gasoline soon after, so the vast majority of states, 40 altogether, don’t currently require blood-lead tests for children. For the ones that do, identification and compliance is an issue given most children exposed to lead reside in disadvantaged environments with poor services. And even when a child is tested, if the blood is not drawn at the right time or in the right manner, this can further compromise the process.”

Nonetheless, researchers Aizer and Currie not only documented the link between lead and school suspensions, they found the suspended children were also 10 times more likely to end up in juvenile detention. The implications are dire given recent studies reveal over 3000 water systems across the country with documented lead problems.

“At the same time, the EPA, with the current Trump budget, is cutting the lead prevention program’s budget by over $17 million,” laments Bullard. “It’s almost like the EPA is saying ‘We don’t have a problem, so we can cut that.’ That’s the kind of mentality that really makes it difficult to develop proactive policies to prevent children from being poisoned.”

The current administration’s stance becomes even more tragic upon considering, of all of the intractable and seemingly incurable problems facing government here in the 21st century, the lead problem is actually winnable.

“Lead poisoning is still the No. 1 environmental threat to children and it is preventable,” says Bullard, stressing “this is not something that has to happen.”

“So, it makes a whole lot of sense if we invest in prevention,” he continues, noting it will pay off “when it comes to kids succeeding in our educational systems and not being pushed into our criminal justice system, which is much more expensive and damaging to our society.”

By D. Amari Jackson/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

So far, so good: President Trump signed more bills into law than his four predecessors: report

Republican-led House also deemed most productive in the “modern era’

House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have issued a very promising report about President Trump so far in his presidency. Compared to his immediate predecessors, Mr. Trump is forging ahead in his bid to better the nation and move forward.

“To date, President Trump has signed 37 bills into law, placing him ahead of the last four administrations,” the two Republican leaders noted in a report issued Thursday.

At this point in his presidency, President Obama had signed off on 24 bills. President George W. Bush signed 15, President Clinton 33 bills and President George H.W. Bush 35.

The two leaders had other news of interest to voters weary of a do-nothing Capitol Hill.

“The Republican-led House has passed 158 bills, making it the most productive in the modern-era,” the pair said in their report, noting that during the equivalent passage of time in the Obama administration, the House passed 131 bills.

The lawmakers had passed 67 bills at this point during the George W. Bush era, 60 during Mr. Clinton’s time in office and 41 during the George H.W. Bush administration. Mr. McCarthy says it’s “record Congressional productivity to date.”

By Jennifer Harper/TheWashingtonTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

3 CNN journalists behind retracted Russia-Trump story resign

Three journalists, including the executive editor of a new investigative branch, have left CNN following the recent retraction of a story on an alleged Congress investigation into a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.”

Report author Thomas Frank and two senior CNN Investigations Unit figures resigned over the story. Investigations Unit editor Eric Lichtblau and Lex Haris, CNN Investigations executive editor, who was building a team that includes notorious Russia-hawk Michael Weiss, both resigned.

“In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story’s publication,” CNN stated.

The Russia-related article quoted “a single anonymous source,” and was to be examined by “fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers” before being presented to the public. Haris, Lichtblau, and Frank failed to follow “some standard editorial processes,” a CNN internal investigation concluded.

“This breakdown in editorial workflow disturbed the CNN executives who learned about it,” CNN correspondent Brian Stelter said.

The resignations of the three men, who are experienced journalists, “are likely to come as a surprise to colleagues.” Lichtblau was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, and Haris had been working at the company since 2001 and was the executive editor of CNN Money before joining the investigative unit.

“On Friday, CNN retracted a story published by my team. As Executive Editor of that team, I have resigned,” Haris said.

CNN, however, has not concluded that “the facts of the story were necessarily wrong,” saying that “the story wasn’t solid enough to publish as-is,” the correspondent said, citing people involved in the investigation.

Following the journalists’ departures, US President Donald Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., called the story “the biggest fake news scandal in the network’s history,” and called on the company’s president, Jeff Zucker, to admit the story was fake.

“Maybe Jeff Zucker should do an on-camera press briefing about CNN’s fake news scandal before the White House does any more of them,” he told Breitbart News.

Wow, CNN had to retract big story on “Russia,” with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!

The story claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating ties between several figures in the Trump camp and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). The article mentioned a meeting between Trump’s ally and financier, Anthony Scaramucci, and the CEO of the RDIF, Kirill Dmitriev, claiming that the investigators wondered if they had discussed lifting US sanctions against Russia at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year. Both sides denied speaking on the topic, while Scaramucci told CNN that there was “nothing there.” The news company had to apologize to the financier.

Following the scandal, a report emerged on BuzzFeed, saying that all Russia-related articles will be under “new publishing restrictions.” BuzzFeed cited a leaked email which prohibits publishing “any content involving Russia” before showing it to the executive editor of CNN Money, Rich Barbieri, and Vice President of Premium Content Video Jason Farkas.

In wake of story retraction, CNNMoney exec editor sends memo to staff mandating all “Russia-related content” must be cleared by him or VP

From RT
Posted by The NoN-Conformist

Democrats in the Dead Zone

This year the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to grow larger than ever. Oceanologists predict the lifeless expanse of water below the Mississippi River Delta will swell to an area bigger than the state of Vermont, an aquatic ecosystem despoiled by industrial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, oil leaks and the lethal effects of a warming climate. But the desolate waters of the Gulf pale next to the electoral dead zone now confronting the Democratic Party, which seems to occupy about two-thirds of the geographical area of the Republic—a political landscape deadened by the Party’s remorseless commitment to neoliberal economics, imperial wars and open hostility toward the working class base which once served as its backbone.

The latest political zombie offered up as a vessel to freight the electoral asperations of the Democrats was a pious former congressional staffer called Jon Ossoff, whose name sounds like one of those creepy Svengali-like characters from a Tod Browning horror film of the 1930s. But the candidate wasn’t as scary as all that. In fact, Ossoff scared no one, which was both his campaign theme and his problem. One of his problems, anyway. Ossoff presented himself as an anodyne candidate, a nowhere man, a quiescent emissary for a return to civility in politics. He was the white Rodney King, who plaintively asked why we couldn’t all just get along. Of course, who really wants civility in politics, when you’re working two jobs, can’t pay the power bill, have a kid with asthma and just had your Ford Focus repossessed.

Ossoff proved much more popular outside the sixth congressional district of Georgia, than within it, which is only fitting for a candidate who didn’t even bother to reside in the district he was running to represent. Ossoff was an interloper, a carpetbagger, who refused to promote even the trickle-down benefits of a second Reconstruction for a South that has been ravaged by a 30-year-long exodus of good-paying jobs.

In an age crying out for a new kind of politics, Ossoff campaigned directly from the Clinton playbook (Hillary version), apparently hoodwinked into believing that absent Russian interventionism this stale platform was a winning strategy. His main opponent was Trump, not even Trumpism, which might offend some of the Republican voters he was targeting. In what became a kind of daily ritual on the campaign trail, Ossoff repeatedly scrubbed himself clean of any taint of populism or progressive inclinations. Ossoff denounced single-payer health care, kept himself at arm’s length from Bernie Sanders and never uttered even a minor critique of American imperialism. Think of him as a prettified Tim Kaine.

Ossoff dutifully punched one item after another on the checklist of neoliberalism. He wanted to end waste in government. He wanted to trim burdensome regulations stifling the old entrepreneurial spirit. He wanted to reduce the deficit and hectored struggling black families to demonstrate “personal responsibility” if they wanted to get their federal benefits. He pledged his loyalty to Israel, decried nasty dictators from Putin to Assad and vowed to eradicate the scourge of Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth. He sedulously avoided any mention of radioactive subjects such as hunger, homelessness, drone warfare, the death penalty or police shootings. The fate of entitlement programs from Social Security to Medicaid was much too thorny for Ossoff to deal with on the campaign trail. Prosecuting Wall Street criminals somehow escaped his attention. He remained opaque on the subject of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Bernie Sanders himself questioned whether Ossoff could be considered a “progressive,” but that warning sign didn’t stop progressives across the country from flooding his campaign coffers with cash. By the end of the campaign, Ossoff had raised more than $24 million, six times the amount raised by his Republican opponent Karen Handel.

After Ossoff’s ignoble defeat, Margaret Kimberly, the fiery columnist for Black Agenda Report, quipped, “What did they expect? It was a reactionary district in Georgia.” Good point. But these are precisely the kinds of districts that the Clinton Democrats (who have yet to melt  into a steaming pile of ectoplasm like most vanquished zombies) see as fertile terrain. The Georgia Sixth occupies the northern suburbs of Atlanta. It’s been solidly in Republican hands since the late 1970s, when Georgia’s segregationist Democrats had largely completed their migration into the Republican Party. For many years, the Georgia Sixth was the domain of the white-haired gnome Newt Gingrich. Later it passed into the hands of Dr. Tom Price, the errand boy of Big Pharma who views his obligations under the Hippocratic Oath with the same animosity that his ancestors once reserved for the Emancipation Proclamation. Price was reelected last November by a 23 percent margin over his Democratic challenger.

Demographically, the Georgia Sixth is populated by voters who are predominately white, suburban, middle-class and educated. In other words, it qualifies as the Democrats’ new field of dreams: cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of houses which once proudly sprouted Romney signs from their immaculately manicured lawns. And living inside those pastel-colored split-levels and golf course condo units are thousands of housewives, quietly bristling at the misogyny of Donald Trump and his Republican enablers. These are Chuck Schumer’s women, the soft-Republican matrons he predicted would flock to non-threatening, well-groomed Democrats in the age of Trump. These were the thoughtful, silent female majority who would have yielded Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania to Hillary had not Putin monkey-wrenched the vote. In order to seal the deal, the DNC orchestrated conveys of UberBlack towncars to shuttle Hollywood celebrities around Dekalb and Fulton Counties proclaiming the virtues of Ossoff.

So how did it all go so terribly wrong? How did the new wonder boy of Democratic politics crash-and-burn, when he had the looks, the money and the analytics all working in his favor? The answer is pretty simple. Most of the voters in the Georgia Sixth saw Ossoff as a manufactured candidate, a fraud, in a time when people are craving at least a hint of authenticity. Ossoff may have come by his timid neoliberalism honestly, but he struck many as a political cross-dresser. If you’re going to vote for a conservative, why not vote for the real thing?

The attack ad that really doomed Ossoff wasn’t the grotesque smear that ludicrously tried to link him to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, but a relatively routine spot that predicted he’d become the political automaton of Nancy Pelosi. In a region that understands the relationship between master and slave, this ad rang true. Throughout the entire campaign, Ossoff had shown not the slightest impulse toward independence of thought or character. He was a creature of a party establishment which had long since auctioned off  its soul to the same Wall Street predators that had looted the textile factories, fields and ports of the Southland as ruthlessly as General Sherman during his incendiary march to the sea.

There are Pyrrhic victories, where the cost of winning a battle is so great that you lose the war. The Ossoff campaign might be considered a Pyrrhic loss, where so many financial and psychic resources are invested into a relatively minor skirmish that the defeat dooms the course of the larger war, when ultimate victory was well within their grasp. The loss is compounded by the lessons the Democratic elites have drawn from the post-mortem. That Ossof’s campaign was too progressive for the region. That the Democrats need to turn away from populism and return to the corporate-friendly conservativism of the Bill Clinton years, with a little of the old Lester Maddox race-baiting thrown in where needed. Thinking like this all but ensures that the next made-for MSDNC centrist cipher will be even more feeble than Ossoff.

The real engineers of this debacle, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Tom Perez, shield themselves from any culpability. They did their part. They raised truckloads of money off of Ossoff–$24 million, a record for any congressional campaign. The long-held view from the DNC suites is that it’s fine to lose as long as you lose profitably. Those floods of cash keep the electoral-industrial complex fueled, regardless of its win-loss record. The four consecutive defeats in the special elections this spring had their programmatic upside. The tragic stories of those failed campaigns will help generate even more desperately worded fund-raising appeals from the DNC in the weeks and months to come, warning of the fascist schemes of the Trump Monster and his puppet master Vladimir Putin. Even Bernie Sanders has fallen for the scam, investing $100,000 last month from his Our Revolution account into the repositories of a party which views his political agenda (and its adherents) as an anathema. And thus the Democrats—left, right and center–sink deeper and deeper into a hypoxic doldrums of their own design.

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR/CounterPunch

James Baldwin FBI Files: How the Author’s Fearlessness Led to a Decade Long Witch-hunt

One of the many paradoxes of American society is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become both destroyer and archivists of 20th-century American radicalism. It has consistently provided to the public the intellectually sexiest of all public government documents — an FBI file on the life of an American radical. The bureau’s counter-intelligence program (COINTEL-PRO), a division of the FBI that spied on and attempted to disrupt and destroy American radical movements from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, produced tons of paper that scholars and others have asked for, read and studied for the past 40 years.

Enter William Maxwell, a major scholar of the FBI and Black literature. In his new book, he shows that from the 1960s through the mid-1970s, the bureau treated James Baldwin, the Negro writer, as a “civil rights VIP” because the author and activist was at the crossroads of every shade of Black American activism of that period — Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the radical Black leftist Robert Williams, the Nation of Islam under Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and the Black Panther Party. Because he kept this level of company and integrity, the FBI put Baldwin in its “Independent Black Nationalist Extremist” category.

The book shows not only how the novelist was monitored by the FBI, but how Baldwin, who often claimed in interviews and speeches that he knew that the bureau and the Central Intelligence Agency were stalking him, fought back by publicly claiming he was going to write about the bureau’s devilish acts. The intellectual’s public threat enraged FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who had become one of the most powerful men in 20th-century America by mastering the sinister art of spying and disruption. Baldwin referred to Hoover as “history’s most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur.”

“James Baldwin: The FBI File” is exciting and humorous in all the right and wrong historical ways. The disturbing civil liberties and privacy issues aside, it is always historically entertaining to see how afraid and ignorant white authorities were of Black people, particularly Black activists. One burst-out-laughing moment was when one agent described Baldwin’s elegant, flamboyant diction as a French accent. “Both uncloseted homosexuality and open criticism of the FBI were capital offenses in Hoover’s extra-legal criminal code,” reminds Maxwell, “and Baldwin was especially suspect for combining them in one super-articulate package. … The more Baldwin spoke out against FBI failings, the more dangerous he was judged and the more starkly this tension was set: one of America’s greatest living writers was also one of America’s most wanted.”

Baldwin made statements in these pages that in 2017 would get him banned from sitting on an MSNBC live roundtable but would get detailed negative coverage from Fox News. In a summary report, the FBI took the writer/activist’s quotes from a 1963 Washington, D.C., newspaper account of him speaking at Howard: “I wonder how long we can endure — stand and not fight back. … Many … even members of my own family who would think nothing of picking up arms tomorrow.” He was not afraid to often say that it was revolution that the United States needed — and not the mostly symbolic, electoral one Bernie Sanders is talking about today. One of Baldwin’s softer statements, translated from French, states, “We represent around 10 percent of the American population. Without talking about starting a revolution, it is certainly enough to destroy society.”

The bureau, which also created internal reviews of Baldwin’s books, officially gave up harassing the writer in 1974. Wrote Maxwell: “The nearly 2,000-page Bureau biography of Baldwin that took off with his speech before the Liberation Committee for Africa in 1961 thus landed with a whimper, a delisting rather [than] an arrest, an escape or a hard-to-imagine conversion to Hooverism.”

Like his Black activist contemporaries, Baldwin’s FBI files remind the reader how powerful Black activism was before it was co-opted by desegregation, Corporate America, the Democratic Party, the expansion of local and national broadcasting and film (and now, social media), and white nonprofit grant givers. That time’s political and social improvisation, along with the audacity of optimistic public self-determination, well documented here, makes the spirit hum.

Not surprisingly, this story of FBI easedropping doesn’t hide the movement infighting. Reading about how Stanley Levinson, Dr. King’s (white) leftist aide and ghostwriter, used the homophobic card in attacking Baldwin for saying (white) liberals were partly responsible for the bombing of the four little girls in a Birmingham, Ala., Baptist church, was fascinating. (Hoover, who saw Baldwin as both militant Black terrorist and homosexual pervert, enjoyed that tidbit.) The reports remind us now in 2017 how angry and militant Black activists were after that bombing.

The book’s major disappointment, however, is that the publisher, literally photocopying the bureau’s file, didn’t take the time, spend the money or make the effort to digitally clear up the unnecessarily unreadable English-language articles and translate the French interviews included. Even if this scholarly book supposedly triples as a coffee-table text and an advertisement for the author’s historically significant website archiving the FBI files of major Black American writers, Arcade’s refusal to do the extra work makes the total product pointlessly annoying; the author should be slightly embarrassed. Showcasing the powerful, public resistance of this world-historical figure should involve the most effort possible, because his words, public associations and open-air acts were so brave, bold and inspiring. No idea, no statement, should be left undocumented, untranslated and unanalyzed. History demands better, and Maxwell and Arcade know that and should have done better.

Maxwell, who correctly describes the FBI’s COINTEL-PRO files as “strange documents of both literally criticism and secret police work,” is yet another intellectual who has taken the academic field of Baldwin Studies a significant public step toward the full biographies that will one day exist now that Baldwin’s family has finally released much of his papers to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “James Baldwin: The FBI File” includes a particularly powerful introduction by Maxwell comparing Baldwin’s public work and government harassment to the largely Facebooked and Tweeted, and therefore heavily monitored, Black Lives Matter movement: “Likely the single thing that Hoover’s bureau shares with Black Lives Matter, in fact, is the once-uncommon judgment that Baldwin was the ’60s’ most significant Black author.”

This collection of documents reminds Black America what real power looked like and could look like again. It should be experienced along with Raoul Peck’s superb Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” It must be purchased, read, passed around Black America and discussed in and out of the classroom immediately. Maxwell should be congratulated for allowing the reader, the recipient of Baldwin’s life and work, to read (into) the raw rage and fear of those faraway, somewhen days and nights filled with revolutionary fervor — that powerful time the pen and the sword threatened to merge.

By Todd Burroughs/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Taking on the Alt-Reich

Hitler’s American Model: the United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, by James Q. Whitman, brings into full view the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924’s place in the context of Nazi theory and practice, writes Scott McLemee.

Finding himself in prison following the beer-hall fiasco in Munich in 1923, Adolf Hitler had time to put his thoughts about politics and destiny into order, at least as much as that was possible. The United States was part of his grand vision, and not as someplace to conquer.

“The racially pure and still unmixed German has risen to become master of the American continent,” he wrote in Mein Kampf, “and he will remain the master, as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution.” He was encouraged on the latter score by what he had learned of American immigration policy. With its stated preference for Northern Europeans, its restrictions on those from Southern and Eastern Europe, and its outright exclusion of everyone else, the Immigration Act of 1924 impressed Hitler as exemplary. It manifested, “at least in tentative first steps,” what he and his associates saw as “the characteristic völkisch conception of the state,” as defined in some detail by the Nazi Party Program of 1920.

Revulsion is an understandable response to this little traipse through the ideological sewer, but it is wholly inadequate for assessing the full measure of the facts or their implications. The admiration for American immigration policy expressed in Mein Kampf was not a passing thought on the day’s news (Hitler had been in prison for about two months when Calvin Coolidge signed the act into law) nor a one-off remark. Its place in the full context of Nazi theory and practice comes into view in Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton University Press) by James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale Law School.

Many people will take the very title as an affront. But it’s the historical reality the book discloses that proves much harder to digest. The author does not seem prone to sensationalism. The argument is made in two succinct, cogent and copiously documented chapters, prefaced and followed with remarks that remain within the cooler temperatures of expressed opinion (e.g.: “American contract law, for example, is, in my opinion, exemplary in its innovativeness”).

Hitler’s American Model is scholarship and not an editorial traveling incognito. Its pages contain many really offensive statements about American history and its social legacy. But those statements are all from primary sources — statements about America, made by Nazis, usually in the form of compliments.

“The most important event in the history of the states of the Second Millennium — up until the [First World] War — was the founding of the United States of America,” wrote a Nazi historian in 1934. “The struggle of the Aryans for world domination thereby received its strongest prop.” Another German author developed the point two years later, saying that “a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged” without American leadership on the global stage following the war.

Examples could be multiplied. The idea of the United States as a sort of alt-Reich was a Nazi commonplace, at least in the regime’s early years. But it was not just a matter of following Hitler’s lead. The white-supremacist and eugenicist writings of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard — among the best-selling American authors of a 100 years ago — circulated in translation in the milieu that spawned Hitler. (I don’t recall Hannah Arendt mentioning Grant or Stoddard in Origins of Totalitarianism, oddly enough.) A popular Nazi magazine praised lynching as “the natural resistance of the Volk to an alien race that is attempting to gain the upper hand.” European visitors noted the similarity between the Ku Klux Klan and fascist paramilitary groups like the Brownshirts, and they compared the post-Reconstruction order in the South to the Nazi system.

But the journalistic analogies and propaganda talking points of the day, while blatant enough, don’t convey the depth of American influence on Nazi race law. The claim of influence runs against the current of much recent scholarship arguing that Nazi references to the Jim Crow system were “few and fleeting” and that American segregation laws had little or no impact on the Nuremberg Laws. (At the Nuremberg rally of 1935, the Nazis proclaimed citizenship limited to those “of German blood, or racially related blood” and outlawed marriage or sexual relations between Jews and German citizens.)

While the Nazis did call attention to segregation in the United States — so the argument goes — it was to deflect criticism of German policy. The error here, as Whitman sees it, comes from treating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson as the primary or quintessential legal component of racial oppression in the United States, and presumably the one Nazi jurists would have looked to in reshaping German policy. But, according to Whitman, “American race law” in the 19th and much of the 20th century:

sprawled over a wide range of technically distinct legal areas … [including] Indian law, anti-Chinese and -Japanese legislation, and disabilities in civil procedure and election law …. Anti-miscegenation laws on the state level featured especially prominently … [as] did immigration and naturalization law on the federal level ….

Even before the outbreak of World War I, German scholars were fascinated by this teeming mass of American racist law — with a particular interest in what one of them identified as a new category of “subjects without citizenship rights” (or second-class citizens, to put it another way) defined by race or country of ancestry. By the 1930s, the anti-miscegenation laws in most American states were another topic of great concern. While many countries regarded interracial marriage as undesirable, Nazi jurists “had a hard time uncovering non-American examples” of statutes prohibiting it.

A stenographic transcript from 1934 provides Whitman’s most impressive evidence of how closely Nazi lawyers and functionaries had studied American racial jurisprudence. A meeting of the Commission on Criminal Law Reform “involved repeated and detailed discussion of the American example, from its very opening moments,” Whitman writes, including debate between Nazi radicals and what we’d have to call, by default, Nazi moderates.

The moderates argued that legal tradition required consistency. Any new statute forbidding mixed-race marriages had to be constructed in accord with the one existing precedent for treating a marriage as criminal: the law against bigamy. This would have been a bit of a stretch, and the moderates preferred letting the propaganda experts discourage interracial romance rather than making it a police matter.

The radicals were working from a different conceptual tool kit. Juristic tradition counted for less than what Hitler had called the “völkisch conception of the state,” which demanded Aryan supremacy and racial purity. It made more sense to them to follow an example that had been tried and tested. One of the hard-core Nazis on the commission knew where to turn:

Now as far as the delineation of the race concept goes, it is interesting to take a look at the list of American states. Thirty of the states of the union have race legislation, which, it seems clear to me, is crafted from the point of view of race protection. … I believe that apart from the desire to exclude if possible a foreign political influence that is becoming too powerful, which I can imagine is the case with regard to the Japanese, this is all from the point of race protection.

The lawyers whom Whitman identifies as Nazi radicals seemed to appreciate how indifferent the American states were to German standards of rigor. True, the U.S. laws showed a lamentable indifference to Jews and Gentiles marrying. But otherwise they were as racist as anything the führer could want. “The image of America as seen through Nazi eyes in the early 1930s is not the image we cherish,” Whitman writes, “but it is hardly unrecognizable.”

By Scott McLemee/InsideHigherED

Posted by The NON-Conformist