Tag Archives: howard zinn

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Reparations for Blacks? For an Exceptionally Vicious Nation, Just a Start

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In the latest of periodic revivals of the argument that the United States ought to issue reparations to African-Americans as compensation for slavery, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in The Atlantic: “Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

That discrimination, poverty and genocide are at the heart of the black American experience is not in doubt — at least not in the minds of people of moderate intelligence and good will. That tens of millions of blacks continue, “even” after the election of the first black president, to suffer systemic racism along with its attendant symptoms — schools starved of funding, grinding poverty, police brutality, a viciously skewed judiciary, bigotry in every aspect of life from the workplace to housing to romance — is obvious to all who care to open their eyes the slightest bit.

Reparations are obviously justified. Moreover, they are normative; in the United States, aggrieved parties routinely seek and receive compensation for their injuries and economic losses via class-action lawsuits and the occasional U.S. Treasury payout. During the 1990s, for example, Congress issued $20,000 reparations checks to 82,210 Japanese-Americans and their heirs in order to compensate them for shipping them to concentration camps during World War II (and, in many cases, stealing their homes and businesses).

Better ridiculously late than never; better insultingly small than nothing.

Other U.S. reparations precedents include North Carolina residents forcibly sterilized during the mid 20th century as part of a nationwide eugenics program targeted at minorities and the mentally disabled (they are receiving $50,000 each), victims of the infamous Tuskegee untreated-syphilis experiment ($24,000 to $178,000), and blacks killed in the 1923 mass lynching at Rosewood, Florida ($800,000 for those forced to flee).

Coates admits that complications arise from his proposal: “Who will be paid? How much will they be paid? Who will pay?”

Should blacks who are not descendants of American slaves, like President Obama, receive reparations? What about wealthy blacks — should a wealthy black person receive a payout while members of other races go hungry? Should poor blacks get more than rich blacks? What about “mixed race” people — if your father was black and your mother was white, should you get half a check?

These are good questions, but as a white man (not descended from Americans who lived in the United States during slavery), I don’t enjoy the political standing to ponder them, much less answer them.

Whatever the details of a theoretical reparation scheme, my only objection to the idea overall would be that no amount of money would or could be enough. Reading through Coates’ survey of centuries of savage rape, abuse and degradation, one can’t help but ask, how could $100,000 make up for a single ancestor turned away from restaurants or rejected for promotions or unable to attend college due to the color of her skin? $1 million? $10 million?

Not that doing the right thing is going to happen any time soon. “For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for ‘appropriate remedies,’ Coates writes.

The bill “has never—under either Democrats or Republicans—made it to the House floor,” he says, because “we are not interested.”

Well, I’m interested. And I’d be paying, not getting.

Coates is, if anything, too polite. Congress’ disinterest in trying to atone for America’s original sin of slavery, he says, “suggests our concerns are rooted not in the impracticality of reparations but in something more existential.”

That existential something, of course, is that the United States and its economic infrastructure are the products of so much brutality, stealing, lying and exploitation, of so many hundreds of millions of people not only within “our” borders but — as the center of a vast economic and military empire — that it would not only be impossible to compensate all of its victims without going broke many times over, reparations would force American political leaders to concede that we are indeed an exceptional nation, if only in our violence and perfidy.

One place to start compiling lists of victims and heirs to consider for reparations would be Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” All 49 states (except Hawaii) belonged to Native Americans; any fair assessment of compensation would give the total real estate value back to them, plus four centuries of interest and penalties for pain, suffering, and opportunity cost. Hawaii was stolen from native Hawaiians by an invasion force of U.S. Marines.

Chinese railroad workers were abused, discriminated against and in some cases murdered; America’s freight travels the rails they laid down. Except for slavery, Latinos too have suffered many of the same horrors, and still do, as Coates enumerates. There are the victims of America’s countless wars of colonial conquest in North America and around the world: Filipino patriots tortured to death in the early 20th century, two million Vietnamese, Koreans, Afghans, Iraqis and Yemenis — honestly, this is like one of those Oscar speeches where there isn’t enough time to thank everyone who made this “wonderful” exceptional country possible.

By all means, cut everyone a check, then close up shop.

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COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

AL JAZEERA COLUMN: How the US Media Marginalizes Dissent

The US media derides views outside of the mainstream as ‘un-serious’, and our democracy suffers as a result.

“Over the past few weeks, Washington has seemed dysfunctional,” conservative columnist David Brooks opined recently in The New York Times. “Public disgust [about the debt ceiling crisis] has risen to epic levels. Yet through all this, serious people—Barack Obama, John Boehner, the members of the Gang of Six—have soldiered on.”

Here’s some of what Peter Coy of Business Week magazine had to say about the same issue: “There is a comforting story about the debt ceiling that goes like this: Back in the 1990s, the U.S. was shrinking its national debt at a rapid pace. Serious people actually worried about dislocations from having too little government debt…”

Fox News, the Murdoch-owned house organ of America’s official right-wing, asserted: “No one seriously thinks that the U.S. will not honor its obligations, whatever happens with the current impasse on President Obama’s requested increase to the government’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.”

“Serious people.”

“No one seriously thinks.”

The American media deploys a deep and varied arsenal of rhetorical devices in order to marginalize opinions, people and organizations as “outside the mainstream” and therefore not worth listening to. For the most part the people and groups being declaimed belong to the political Left. To take one example, the Green Party—well-organized in all 50 states—is never quoted in newspapers or invited to send a representative to television programs that purport to present “both sides” of a political issue. (In the United States, “both sides” means the back-and-forth between center-right Democrats and rightist Republicans.)

Marginalization is the intentional decision to exclude a voice in order to prevent a “dangerous” opinion from gaining currency, to block a politician or movement from becoming more powerful, or both. In 2000 the media-backed consortium that sponsored the presidential debate between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush banned Green Party candidate Ralph Nader from participating. Security goons even threatened to arrest him when he showed up with a ticket and asked to be seated in the audience. Nader is a liberal consumer advocate who became famous in the U.S. for stridently advocating for safety regulations, particularly on automobiles.

Read the full article at Al Jazeera English.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Brave New Book

Political Scientist Argues the U.S. is a Police State

The United States is a police state.

Not in danger of becoming one.

Is.

And it’s too late to restore democracy.

That’s the stark message of Andrew Kolin’s brave, lucid and important book “State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush.”

Kolin comes out swinging like Joe Frazier. Illusions and delusions about America as a democracy, much less one that is benevolent, don’t stand a chance.

The U.S., Kolin says, shares all the major attributes of a Third World police state: a constant state of emergency in which security always trumps civil liberties; sidestepping of laws by the government; excessive secrecy; the use of preventative detention and holding enemies of the state without filing formal charges; the manufacturing of reasons to go to war.

“The expansion of state power over the course of U.S. history came at the expense of democracy,” Kolin begins. “As state power grew, there developed a disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy in the United States. Ever-greater state power meant it became more and more absolute. This resulted in a government that directed its energies and resources toward silencing those who dared question the state’s authority.”

Some will find Kolin’s more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger deadpan delivery disconcerting or depressing. I think it refreshingly honest. Notice his use of the past tense to describe this country?

The U.S. is over. It’s always been over.

Creeping authoritarianism, Kolin says, began “not long after the end of the Revolutionary War, starting with the conquest of North America and by the start of the twentieth century, continuing with the expansionism outside of North America.”

That’s halfway down the first page.

A hundred pages in, you’ll either be stuffing rags into Molotov cocktails or slitting your wrists. You’ll definitely check the expiration date on your passport.

I was surprised to learn that Kolin is a political science professor at Hilbert College in upstate New York. His methodical walk through U.S. history and the struggle between increased state repression and popular democratic movements, a tug-and-pull in which government and its big business allies won the important battles, feels like a tight legal brief.

As Kolin argues, the fix was in from the start.

“The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] needed to establish a government that could promote and protect property, regulate the economy, create an elaborate infrastructure, and acquire native Indian lands, adhering to the policy of North American expansion, while allowing the democratic surge from below to be both expressed and contained,” Kolin writes.

Obviously, the legal status of most Americans has improved since 1789. For example, “the Abolitionists prove that political movements can disrupt repressive state policies and advance democracy.” However: “The success of the Abolitionists suggests that the government can accommodate reformism, provided its core interests [namely, to enlarge state power] remain unaffected.”

Anyone who has read Zinn or Chomsky will be familiar with the long litany of criminality and ultraviolence which expose the claim of exceptionalism as a ridiculous hoax. These are all here: the Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, the Red Scare, dirty deals with dictators. Where the book becomes indispensable is its last third, focusing on the Clinton, Bush and early Obama administrations. This, the author argues beyond any sane ability to disagree, is when Americans citizens lost our basic freedoms and civil liberties once and for all. Habeas corpus, an 800-year-old right held by the citizens of all Western nations, gone without so much as a broken window. A president-king who orders the execution of American citizens without a trial—nay, without evidence of wrongdoing, with barely a harshly-worded newspaper editorial to complain.

For Kolin the USA-Patriot Act, passed in haste by a cowed and cowardly Congress that hadn’t had time to read it after 9/11, marks the final end of formal democracy in the United States. If nothing else, sneak into a bookstore (if you still have one in your town) and read pages 142 to 152.

Here you will find the most thorough and clear dissection of this horrible law in print. Describing Title I, for example, Kolin explains: “Due process is not mentioned in the part that grants the president the authority to freeze assets at the start of, or even prior to an investigation [into terrorism], instead of after it is completed. All property seized can be disposed of according to the president’s wishes. There is no legal requirement to have a court order prior to a seizure, creating the possibility that mistakes may be made and, in most cases, won’t be corrected.”

Unfair confiscation may seem like a minor concern for an innocent man or woman arrested, tortured or assassinated on the order of a president. For conservatives who believe property rights are sacrosanct, however, the symbolism is unmistakable: a government that can steal your stuff with impunity is the enemy of the people.

I can imagine one logical objection to Kolin’s thesis. The government may have the right to oppress. But it is not impelled to do so. So long as government officials are well-intentioned men and women, stout of heart and full of integrity, they will refrain from abusing the rights they claim against us.

However, recent history proves that our government is not run by such individuals. And even if it were—a purely theoretical supposition—who would want to live in a nation where the difference between democracy and dictatorship relies on the whims of a coterie of elites?

Though “a glimmer of hope seemed to appear after President Obama took office,” Kolin shows how the Democratic president “merely modified police state practices.” Furthermore, the transitional nature of the brutal authoritarian tactics enacted by Bush into the next presidency indicates that they are not anomalous but structural. “The Obama Administration’s position that amnesty should be granted to those who tortured [under Bush] as well as those who authored the torture memos, itself violates national and international law; it also ensures that such policies will likely be repeated.”

Attorney General Eric Holder said: “We don’t want to criminalize policy differences.” Kolin replies: “Since when is support for a police state a policy difference?”

If you’ve somehow managed to ignore Obama’s record over the last few years, and you’re still thinking of voting for him next November, this book will change your mind.

Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL