Saturday, August 23, 2014

Behind the Veil

Apparently American teevee viewers get tired pretty quickly of watching so much truth about how things really are in the "heartland." I've read MSNBC had terrible ratings this week. Meanwhile on Fox they're raising money for Officer Wilson's defense fund:

Fox News reported that the fund existed yesterday evening, and gave the url in case you want to contribute. They also remarked that a few of the comments left on the site have been tastefully removed.

Charles Pierce sums up the week well, and centers his comments on the very same detail I've been thinking a lot about. As usual, he puts it more forcefully that I might have, being as he is a professional scribe:

Bodies are not left in the streets of the leafy suburbs. The bodies of dogs and cats, or squirrels and raccoons, let alone the bodies of children, are not left in the streets of the leafy suburbs. No bodies are left in the streets of the financial districts. Freeze to death on a bench in the financial districts and you are whisked away before your inconvenient body can disturb the folks in line at the Starbucks across the street. But the body of a boy can be left in the street for four hours in a place like Ferguson, Missouri, and who knows whether it was because people wanted to make a point, or because nobody gave a damn whether he was there or not.

The piece is pretty long and makes many points. You should read it all. It struck me as soon as I saw that sheet-draped photo, the blood running out from underneath, and heard it had lain there for four hours and counting, that someone was sending a clear message. The fundraising for Wilson, and the frantic outrage by everyone on Fox, from O'Reilly down, that Wilson should be defended, that he is in fact the victim of, ultimately, Mr. Obama, Mr. Holder, the army of "street thugs", the "outside agitators," the "liberal elite," all of this develops the message. So does the savage execution of the deranged black man in Saint Louis this week, yet another message mostly noticed by the locals and eclipsed by the glow in the sky from Ferguson, just to the north. Cenk Uygar took note, in a remarkable editorial. He played the whole video of the execution, and noticed that it did not coincide with the police chief's public account, including weird details never mentioned any where else, such as the handcuffing of the obviously dead victim.

What we're experiencing is a long experiment. It started perhaps with Mr. Reagan, or perhaps somewhat earlier. It involved a relentless retelling of the history those of us alive in the 1950s and '60s and '70s lived and witnessed. Over and over again, in every medium possible, we were reassured, we had not seen what we in fact saw, America was just like it was when we were children, and it was only "outsiders" with an axe to grind who were making life just a little more difficult for those of us who had jobs and could still make a car payment and cover the electric bill and the cable bill, and at least buy a decent beer in a bottle, or an occasional single malt, or some good coffee. Our individual lives were pretty much ok, and the scarey stuff was pretty much at bay.

Meanwhile, the small slow progresses were being reversed, bit by bit. Ferguson, Missouri is states rights, as it is in 2014, and it will take not only Mr. Holder coming in with federal power to deal with oppression, but the actual grinding it out work that was already done and is at present being dismantled, bottom up and top down. If the Republicans win the Congress this fall, you can expect Mr. Holder to be utterly defunded, and Mr. Obama to be impeached. The Republicans are making a counter-revolution, and they are not about to stop until it's finished. And it's already close to finished.

The spear-points of these reactionaries are the local police. They know not to intimidate nice white folks in their newish cars, the ones with jobs, the ones who are being taught nightly that poor people are going to be coming for them any minute, so they'd better have a gun in each and every room of their house, and one in the glove box just in case. The gun folks are hard at working, marketing fear. In our little rural area three new gun stores have opened this year with fanfare. Their target market is female suburbanites. They promise to teach gun safety. They are "certified" by the NRA.

Meanwhile, the mayhem must be kept at bay. At the ballot box the right wing argues that poor people shouldn't find it easy to vote, since they will only vote to take "our" money from us, because "tax is theft." In Ferguson, a majority-black town, official-dom is majority white, from the police on up. But that's a superficial mistake that can be remedied--it's not like they can't find enough conservative black people to be cops and town-councilmen. Where's Herman Cain? And while they slowly tighten the funnel to the ballot, if they need to they'll send a clearer message.

Got it? Don't make me hurt you, because it hurts me more than it does you.

Let me make one more historical point. For all that we went through in the '60s, in the long slogging effort to simply achieve what was already legally promised, consider the situation of America in, say, 1875. The country had lived through the most gawdawful war imaginable until the machine gun, the poison gas cannister and all the other scientific developments in killing and maiming quicker and more completely brought the world to the First World War. Yet. Yet! In 1875 the politicians, north and south, and the people they represented, agreed that reconstruction was a failure and should be ended forthwith. At which point the South and much of the rest of the nation was segregated. It would seem, then, that there is absolutely no payment in blood that can resolve that which prejudice maintains in the human heart. All those boys in gray and blue died for our national sin, and in ten years the nation spit on their sacrifice, and go anywhere you like in this country and you can easily find folks who will tell you in all abject seriousness that the Civil War was not about slavery.

That is where we stand. I'm sorry to tell you. I'd have thought things would have been a lot better by now, back when I was a whipper-snapper just noticing that fiddling was an art I wanted to look into more deeply. That optimism was just my cheery disposition. Alfred Hitchcock made the movie about this truth back in 1943, during the depths of World War II. It was called Shadow of a Doubt. It might have been called Morning in America. I watched this perfect movie again this week, as a way of avoiding the relentless news. I thus contributed in my small way to the lowered rating of MSNBC.


Sunday Update: The Guardian did some interviews with various folks in Ferguson (Chris Hayes also did a number of remarkable interviews, including one with the current Mayor). Here's what a landlord says:

Steve Hewkin, who lets 20 properties as low-income housing, blames the government for dumping poor people in the city. “You end up renting to the least worst,” he said. “Obama has destroyed the economy. The jobs are gone. The American dream is gone. These people have no hope and he put them here.”

Hewkin, who said he assumes he’s on a government watch list because he’s a “white Christian gun-owner that believes in liberty”, says he doesn’t regard people who move from outside the city into low-income housing as even being part of Ferguson. “That over there isn’t even our city. People in Ferguson don’t even know they’re there. Listen to those people talk, they’re haters,” he said.

Mr. Hewkin surely has been around since well before Mr. Obama became President. A person who's got a nice business in real estate rentals would probably be at least 40, and more likely between 40 and 60. As such, he's watched the evaporation of working class jobs that has been going on in the United States since at least 1980. The term used to be "globalization." It was a major issue in the 1992 campaign for President, which included candidates such as Iowa's Tom Harkin and also the independent Ross Perot, both of whom were almost screaming that losing so many jobs to overseas manufacturing was going to end up damaging our economy. Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. George H.W. Bush believed that there was no governmental answer to "globalization," and that the cost in jobs would be off set by the gains in general economic activity and prosperity. And, indeed, the Clinton years were economically robust, with very low unemployment generally.

However, as we all know, the end of the George W. Bush administration saw a severe economic collapse. When Mr. Obama took office jobs were disappearing at an alarming rate, and banks and other businesses were failing or being bailed out by huge government cash injections when it was deemed that they were too big to fail. During Mr. Obama's first year in office, and despite a documented Republican commitment to thwart all of his Administration's efforts on nearly every front, the job losses were slowed. It's easy to find graphic reports of many economic negatives reversing during the Obama administration, although the screaming negative of stagnation of wage growth, and of the near vertical ascent of high end income, remains a feature of the "Obama economy." The country is far better off economically now, than when Obama took office; working people black and white, not so much. Our huge manufacturing sector has been hollowed out over the past 30 years, and people who would once have worked such jobs are much more likely to be unemployed than in, say, 1980. Economists argue in their academic way about what to do about this. Some say there must be some restraints on capital fluidity. Others, including most economists in government, remain afraid of any effort to restrain globalization of labor, which depends for its existence on capital fluidity.

Why, then, does Mr. Hewkin attribute the economic situation to Mr. Obama. The answer to this question, in my opinion, is that he doesn't ever hear the truth from his news sources. Instead, his prejudices are massaged daily by the radio pundits and Fox News. He's not alone. I run into the same opinions almost daily. It's subtle, this constant barrage of propaganda. When Mr. Obama appears on our teevee to give America's reaction to the appalling murder of an American journalist, Fox News spends the next three days talking about whether he should have worn a tie, or stopped all of his recreational activities for the duration. Think Fox News would say something positive if he, instead, adopted a "Rose Garden" strategy?

Mr. Pierce was too kind. The body was a message.

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