What a beautiful piece, and how important and, alas, rare to talk about the internal emotional life of public events…….
Dear Mr. Moses,
I read an awful lot of stuff online, from CounterPunch to Rense, and I have got to tell you that this is the best piece I have read in a LONG, long time. Your talk was very much in the flavor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a true continuation of his work damned near in his voice.
Thank you, more than you will ever know.
May our better angels, finally, prevail.
ps — even a staunch Republican lawyer I know in Chicago would — at last — agree with every word you said. Perhaps — just perhaps — the pendulum is swinging again in the direction of freedom. If so, it is the responsibility of EACH of us, black, white … to ensure that it never again swings back.
Thank you very much for the article. I just read it in “Dissident Voice.”
Your “plateau of sorrow” is a most helpful concept to think upon.
Subject: Counterpunch Feedback
This is my perception of Cindy Sheehan. While working on a psychiatric ward, years ago. Confrontational therapy was used when someone became out of control, risking injuring themselves or other people.
The client had to be confronted and restrained. This was never a happy event, but due to the dysfunction of mainstream therapeutic practices, this was necessary in the heat of the moment.
Cindy Sheehan is the first person to confront the insane idiot, who holds the title of top authority figure in the u.s. Cindy has confronted the behavior of the coward, this dysfunctional moron!
I believe her courage aroused many and has enabled people to feel THEIR courage and also understand the enormity of the problems in the u.s. from another’s perspective and fortitude.
Capitalism creates poverty. A cost of living driven by the very wealthy. The poor cannot keep up, not even close. For every book sold, someone making a minimum wage is effected. For every SUV sold…etc., etc.,
Many people cannot save, cannot get beyond the cycle of poverty, working, 2 – 3 jobs and getting nowhere, paying bills, exhausted, not resting well. Not a very good mindset to raise children.
Cindy has confronted this classist, hierarchy, medieval system, with all its inherent problems, inequities, imbalances.
It would take a woman to challange this patriarchal disaster that belongs in the last chapter of bad history books !
Note: I like Joe’s image of confrontational therapy. Brings to mind an intervention. And there are so many addictions to consider, including capital’s addiction to poverty (some call it “incentive”). But I would ask, what gives Cindy Sheehan’s confrontation the social traction that so many previous attempts failed to achieve? She was not even the first to take a stand in Crawford.–gm
Andrew Councill / AFP – Getty Images
Cecily Letendre of Nashville, Tenn., places roses on crosses of a makeshift cemetery representing soldiers killed in the Iraq War, near the Washington Monument on Saturday. (MSNBC)
By Greg Moses
The movement for peace and justice in the USA has been transformed during the past two months. But what is the nature of the change, and how will it help to move us forward? The short answer, I think, is that we have been enriched by sorrow; we gather upon a sorrow plateau. Because of this place we have come to, we have new opportunities to broaden the scope of our power to sustain lasting change for freedom.
Sorrow is the new power that Cindy Sheehan brought into the movement last month. And the power of our sorrow has grown in response to the sufferings caused by hurricane Katrina. This sorrow has not overcome us, but it has infused our motivations. Out of this sorrow comes a renewed sense of our struggle’s significance.
Sorrow grounded Cindy’s moral footing in the bar ditches of Crawford, Texas. Her sorrow was the reality that could not be conjured away by the alchemists of spin. It drew like a magnet so many who were grieving the loss (or the risk of loss) of a dearly loved life. The beauty of this sorrow was how it wept in consideration of one precious life at a time. For Cindy, the loss of her son Casey was enough. With each new arrival to Camp Casey came testament that one wasted life brings sorrow enough. To save just one life more is now motivation enough to stop the Iraq war.
Then came hurricane Katrina and the sorrowful reports of last moments: the one man who held with one hand the one woman he had to release. And that also was sorrow enough.
Refusal to share our plateau of sorrow was what exposed the President to the most devastating public rejection of his political life–a rejection from which he may not recover. When, during the early days of Katrina, we tuned to televised images of his trademark smirk and watched him attempt his cheerleading formulas as answer to the devastation, we saw naked as never before one man’s incapacity to be moved by sorrow.
From the bar ditches of Texas and from the broken canals of New Orleans, the nation had been lifted to a sorrow place, and the President on vacation had transparently refused to follow. On that basis, his approval ratings sunk to the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain, faster than a sack of sand.
What we have learned over the past month thanks to Cindy, thanks to the unspun truths of Katrina, is that sorrow can serve as a worthy guide to the values of peace and justice. Our tears have made us stronger. The President’s lack of tears has made him weaker. This lesson we should try never to forget.
As many commentators have noted, including Cindy Sheehan, some of the President’s public declarations do not seem to make sense when compared to his record of performance in New Orleans. I think especially about the President’s public declarations for freedom. We are a freedom-loving people says the President. They hate us for our freedoms, he explained. And so we are engaged in full scale war on two fronts in order to bring freedom to other parts of the world.
When Katrina blew the cover off of the USA’s longstanding structures of poverty and racism, I thought about the President’s concept of freedom and asked where did he find this freedom that he loves? Where did he locate the freedom that others would hate? And what kind of freedom is he building through full-scale war overseas?
Of course, it is possible to just dismiss everything said in political circumstances as mere politics. But I think there is a concept of freedom that fits the President’s usage, which makes sense and stands true in the statements that he makes to the world.
To make sense of the President’s sense of freedom, all we have to do is carefully draw the line around who the President means by ‘us’ when he talks about ‘our’ freedom. So long as we draw that line carefully enough in the first place, I think we can see that the President means what he says. Certainly the President is speaking about himself, and his Vice President. Certainly the President is speaking about his Vice President’s favorite company Halliburton. Then we throw in the oil companies, some wealthy corporate donors, and a certain crowd of upper middle class suburbanites who roam the highways to work and back each day with lots of freedom, too.
So long as we understand who it is that the President is talking about, we can see that they indeed love their freedoms, that their freedoms are the kind that provoke hatred, and when we go into full scale war, these are the folks who indeed wind up doing as they please everywhere they go.
From our vantage point on the sorrow plateau, however, we can also see that this is not the concept of freedom that we seek to spread through our movement. For the movement that has been recently strengthened and transformed through the sorrows of Iraq and New Orleans, freedom is a concept that would apply to an expanding circle of people. It is something we love because we do not already have it. It is something we would exercise in ways that do not provoke hatred. And it is a freedom that full scale wars cannot deliver, especially when those wars are motivated by secret agendas and made-to-order lies.
As a movement, the freedoms we seek are the freedoms of people to question and control the great powers of our day, whether those powers operate under public or private cover. The kind of freedom we seek is not the kind of freedom that allows a nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA to keep his working papers secret. As Dolores Huerta argued this week, when the public pays someone to work for the Justice Department, the public has a right to know what that person did.
The freedoms we seek as a movement are the freedoms of people to expand and share in the development of issues that preoccupy the state, not the freedoms of state actors to craft and deploy their policies from behind airtight vaults. Or witness on the one hand how the President’s circle of freedom made a state-by-state campaign this year to pass laws that would tighten up the access and identity of would-be voters. Notice how our movement fought those initiatives in each state, led by voices who remember and stand for the long struggle to expand the circle of freedom at the ballot box.
A movement that works to expand the circle of freedom operates much differently than a movement working to widen the gap of freedom between some ‘chosen’ circle and the rest of us. So we can say that the President makes perfect sense when he talks about freedom, but we reject his concept. From our gathering place on the sorrow plateau, we have learned the value of reaching out. And our sorrow has helped us to see what it looks like when the face of power has already decided whose freedoms do not count.
In the aftermath of Katrina, we can see that the President’s Homeland Security is not a security that cares for an expanding circle of freedom. His Homeland Security is all about increasing the freedom gap between those who can already do as they please and those who must seek permission and certification to count for somebody. This is the significance of the whisper that Karl Rove will be taking over the reconstruction of New Orleans, where prevailing wages will be neither maintained nor expanded, as the gap between workers and overseers will continue to widen apace.
The Clarity of Our Tears
So we don’t say, “no more tears.” Instead we value the clarity that the tears have brought to mind. From our place upon the sorrow plateau we feel the difference between the President’s concept of freedom and the concept we pursue. What we might also take to heart is how the form of struggle that follows from the concept of an expanding circle of freedom looks much different than the kind of power that gets organized to increase a freedom gap. In a circle of freedom already established, the sorrow circle is also already drawn. But for a circle of freedom expanding, sorrow helps to draw us more quickly outward.
Take the very practical example of guns. When the purpose of an action is to increase a freedom gap, guns have obvious and decisive value. In the work of expanding a freedom circle, however, it is not so obvious that we must shoot our way forward. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I think about how the image of guns appeared in the narrative of Malik Rahim, an activist from the Ninth Ward.
When asked about the problem of people shooting police, Rahim stated, “I know that the police shot a guy for looting.” After that Rahim says people did shoot at police, but not so much to hit them as to warn them that firepower was not a monopoly. Then says Rahim gangs of white vigilantes in pickup trucks appeared with guns, threatening to shoot people who looted. This provoked people into looting gun stores right away so that if the vigilantes came around again, the firepower would be more fairly distributed. In the aftermath of New Orleans, gun news was an important focus of concern.
But notice how in Rahim’s account of things the guns show up to defend property. And the property needs defending in this case because it is surrounded by people in dire need. So if we are on the side of expanding freedom (rather than seeking to expand freedom’s gap) it seems that we notice how deprivation is the condition that produces guns. From the circle of expanding freedom, we have here a lesson to learn. Guns teach us that deprivation is our danger. Failure to cure deprivation is what provokes a cycle of guns.
When I shared these thoughts with a friend she replied: deprivation, you mean like Cindy Sheehan losing her son? Yes, what a godawful deprivation. In Iraq, cycles of enforced deprivation during a decade of sanctions spiraled into cycles of grim violence that escalated to the point of full scale war between peoples who were forced into the ultimate deprivation game of all: your life or mine.
Of course at this point someone will raise the spectre of 9-11 and the massive deprivation of life on that day. Didn’t that require some response–a reaction armed with guns? I don’t know the exact answer to this question. It would certainly help to know more about the secret intelligence operation they called Able Danger–the one that had Mohammed Atta and three other suspected hijackers identified one year before the attack, the one that refuses to tell us more–but I do know that we as a nation have not yet tried to find an answer to 9-11 in good faith. We refused to step up to the plateau of sorrow. Instead of asking how we could respond to the massacre of 9-11 in a way that would expand our circle of freedom, we circled ourselves tightly and rushed off to kill. From the sorrow plateau that our movement has finally reached today, we must see that it is in our power to greet the world with a resolve from here on out, to always act in better faith than that.
Note: Thanks to Michael Parker, and the Shreveport Unitarian Universalist Church circle of activists who commissioned these remarks for the occasion of a teach-in that linked “Iraq, Katrina, and the State of Civil Rights Today.”
This piece was published in the Riverside Press Enterprise for Southern California:
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By JOS-ANTONIO OROSCO
Natural disasters have a way of not only transforming physical spaces but political landscapes as well. Twenty years ago this month, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City, killing nearly 10,000 people and leaving thousands homeless. In three minutes, $4 billion worth of damage was done. The parallels to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are striking.
Many Mexicans accused the federal government of not responding quickly enough to the earthquake. City officials said they were not to blame and pointed fingers at national politicians for years of neglect. When politicians did come to the destroyed neighborhoods, they brought along the media, hoping to score points on the front pages for the next elections. But the residents of Mexico City would not stand for this posturing. They began to organize their own neighborhood organizations from within the rubble in order to deliver food, medicine and shelter to survivors.
These organizations formed themselves into political forces that marched on government offices, demanding that officials pay attention to their needs and not try to cover up the extent of the disaster. When politicians made empty promises, these groups redoubled their efforts. Slowly but surely, residents realized they had power to influence the recovery of their city, and they did not have to wait for the politicians. One neighborhood leader proudly remarked, ‘We said that there had been a natural earthquake; now there would be a political one.’ The networks of citizens pressed for a government that would be responsive to the needs of the people.
They became the nucleus of a movement that spawned a genuine opposition to the single party dictatorship that had ruled for more than 50 years and would eventually lead to the first truly democratic presidential elections in modern Mexico in 2000. It is possible that Katrina could propel similar deep changes in the political life of the United States. Already, many commentators are arguing that the horrendous amount of damage done to New Orleans reveals the failure of the political philosophy that believes big government is bad and the private sector can better deliver the services that people need. It is clear that in the past 30 years there has been a significant deterioration of public infrastructure because politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have been unwilling to fund it. Instead, they call for downsizing and outsourcing to contractors. The result is clear This year, the American Society of Civil Engineers surveyed roads, bridges, drinking water systems and public schools and gave them all failing grades. Before Katrina, the Louisiana Army Corp of Engineers proposed up to $18 billion worth of improvements to levees and flood-control structures.
None of these projects was funded; in fact, the Bush administration proposed significant cuts in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ annual budget for 2006. Now may be the time to consider that idea that homeland security requires massive investment in improving the quality of public services. Perhaps, instead of spending $1 billion a day on the war in Iraq, we ought to spend it in shoring up our schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, fire and police departments so that if catastrophe strikes, hundreds will not suffer and perish because of poor logistics, lack of food and water, and unresponsive politicians. We might learn from the example of Mexico, where citizens responded to disaster by demanding and shaping a government that would commit itself to improving the lives of ordinary people.
Jos-Antonio Orosco is a professor of political and Latin American philosophy at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore.
He received his Ph.D. from UC Riverside in 2002.
Revolution against inequality is a predictable force of nature in economics, equal to Joseph Smithâ€™s â€œinvisible hand,â€ at least thatâ€™s what Carl Marx would have had us believe. However, Marx, one of the founders of Communism, did not have a proprietary claim to the theory. Many economic and political theories have been proposed in recognition of this â€œproblem,â€ and seek less violent solutions than armed combat. Dr. Robert Heilbroner, in his book The Future as History, (1959, 1960 Grove Press, Inc. New York, reprinted Evergreen, 1961) written in 1959, recognized that both Smith and Marx were on the right track, but that their work has been taken to opposite extremes. By combining aspects of these theories, Heilbroner was able to create an economic model so comprehensive that he was able to predict many of todayâ€™s trends and upheavals in some detail.
Whatâ€™s Going on in South America?
Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, are Aligning With Castro,Communism Amid Rising Oil Prices and Anti-American Sentiments —And Dr. Robert Heilbroner, a Nostradamus of Political History, Saw It Coming Back in 1959
By Jefferson Peabody
Revolution against inequality is a predictable force of nature in economics, equal to Adam Smithâ€™s â€œinvisible hand,â€ at least thatâ€™s what Karl Marx would have had us believe. However, Marx, one of the founders of Communism, did not have a proprietary claim to the theory. Many economic and political theories have been proposed in recognition of this â€œproblem,â€ and seek less violent solutions than armed combat. Dr. Robert Heilbroner, in his book The Future as History, (1959, 1960 Grove Press, Inc. New York, reprinted Evergreen, 1961) written in 1959, recognized that both Smith and Marx were on the right track, but that their work has been taken to opposite extremes. By combining aspects of these theories, Heilbroner was able to create an economic model so comprehensive that he was able to predict many of todayâ€™s trends and upheavals in some detail.
Smithâ€™s â€œinvisible handâ€ refers to the idea that in a free market system, earnings will be distributed fairly according to merit over the course of time. A reading of Marx suggests that those who rise to power in a free market will tend to close the market and create monopolies and empires, leading to extreme inequality. Marxists suggest that once this happens, the only invisible hand will be in your pocket! This, they say, will predictably result in armed revolution by the â€œproletariat,â€ the workers. Although it has been further stated that economic policy is usually determined by the barrel of a gun, many seek to find non-violent alternatives and preventative measures. Some of these alternatives have been echoed recently in a book The Unconquerable World: Power, Non-Violence and the Will of the People, by Jonathan Schell. In it, he focuses on non-communist and non-violent examples of social and economic reform. The current administration tends to view all compromises regarding capitalism as â€œsocialist,â€ or left wing, and perhaps dangerous. What is becoming clear is that the real danger is to refuse compromise.
On September 1st, 2005, gasoline prices in the U.S. and Canada approximately 40 cents in one day, and continued to rise the next day. Many economists speaking to the media commented that such a change could not be due solely to the hurricane in New Orleans and the consequent flooding. (The flooding part was thanks largely to the unregulated development and removal of nearby wetlands, barrier reefs, sand bars, and forests. The effects of that carelessness, which were seen at the end of August 2005, were predicted in detail in an article published by the Houston Chronicle in December of 2001; they saw it coming!) ) Is it the result of â€œpeak oil,â€ the idea that worldwide crude drilling has reached a point of diminishing returns? No one seems to know. But oil producing South American countries have been feeling misused for decades, and more now than ever, and Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina, are breaking some traditional ties with the U.S. and are headed towards Communism. South America has been the location of many successful socialist initiatives, which tend to be peaceful, but Communist revolutions tend not to be, and generally happen in desperate countries with desperate workers.
Back in 1959, Dr. Robert Heilbroner, teaching at the New School for Social Research, wrote a book called â€œThe Future As History,â€ in which he dared to predict the future of mankind based on the socio-economic theory that . We have been living his predictions for the last fifteen years. Many of the problems created by our economic and foreign policies which the mainstream media paints as â€œunforeseeable,â€ were easily predictable in 1959, at least to one man. The Chavez â€œrevolutionâ€ in Venezuela, which Pat Robertson has called â€œan immediate threat to the United States,â€ was largely foreseeable, and may cause repercussions around the world among countries that have experienced similar economic exploitation. Robertson stated that assassination of Hugo Chavez will save the needless loss of many American lives in war. This is true, (if you fall for cheap rhetorical tricks such as the â€œunreasonable alternativesâ€ ploy) but Dr. Heilbroner learned years ago that there are options other than war or assassination; allowing for a sense of economic fair play and equality will also save lives on both sides, as that is the preventive medicine for revolution. Unfortunately, once revolution starts, such moves towards fairness look like weakness and pandering to terrorists. It seems to encourage violence, whereas when enacted beforehand, it prevents violence, and gives the appearance of strength without a display of power. Is it too late for the current administration to save face?
Heilbroner would see Chavezâ€™s friendly gestures towards Castroâ€™s Cuba as one filled with historical meaning. He saw Castroâ€™s Marxism as an embodiment of an eternal principle of revolution (against the injustices of capitalism), which he implies is usually tragic and unjust in itself, and must be prevented, but through balanced economic policies that do not disenfranchise the working class. Such revolutions cut off real social reform at the root. In a sense he predicted the events of September 11th, 2001, insofar as the attack was celebrated by individuals in certain economically depressed non-capitalist countries, regardless of the real cause. He saw socialistic policies on the other hand as a long-sighted means of preventing the conditions that lead to a bloody â€œMarxistâ€ revolt (or perhaps another 9-11). He sees inherent flaws in capitalism, specifically the great inequality between the classes, but also, I think, sees that one of communismâ€™s inherent flaws is that it does not lend itself to sustaining a stable government over a long period of time. He sees â€œsocialismâ€ as a tenuous compromise, a means of achieving â€œsustainability,â€ to use a term from our own time.
As part of his history lesson, Heilbroner points out that in 1913, capitalism was the dominant and unchallenged force in the world, with all its advantages and inequalities. This was before the Fair Trade Act was passed in the U.S. and before anti-trust laws were enacted, somewhat â€œsocialistâ€ ideas that prevented a second (or may we say third, after the civil war) revolution in this country. One of the main targets of this surge to reform corrupt capitalism was John D. Rockefeller, who developed the oil industry from its birth, and whose notorious exploits are cited in the text of the Fair Trade Act itself, and inspired the fiery anti-trust speeches of Ida Tarbell. These same abuses were prevalent around the world, and not all enacted by Rockefeller. It was John D.â€™s children who took control of Venezuela and its oil from 1949 (until the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998 by a 56% majority of the voters,) and exploited it mercilessly. This activity has been outlined exhaustively in Gerard Colbyâ€™s book Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (Harper Collins San Francisco, 2000) Anti-trust broke up Rockefellerâ€™s Standard Oil into Esso, Standard Oil of Ohio, Mobil, and others. When oil interests went aggressively into Venezuela after World War II, Esso and its affiliates played a big role. In 2000, the re-remerging of Exxon and Mobil should have been a warning to Venezuela, and to us all.
Venezuela is not alone in the feeling that someone has been stealing food from their table, and what happens now in Venezuela will probably set the course of history for a while to come.
Only seven of South Americaâ€™s thirty-three countries supported the U.S. invention (excuse me, intervention) in Iraq. Honduras pulled out in early March of 2004, responding to anti-American pressure in South and Central America. That set the tone for unrest concerning other economic issues regarding both the U.S. and the World Trade Organization. During the Bush administrationâ€™s term of office, full-scale Marxist revolution has been percolating in the land of coffee; Nestor Kirchner has moved Argentina towards communism and has been very buddy-buddy with Castro. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, since his election in January of 2003, has moved Brazil to a full Castro-Communistâ€™s stance, and is encouraging other neighboring countries to follow suit. His tough-guy foreign policy wonk Aurelio Garcia is associated with leftist-extremist group FARC, and the country is developing the potential for nuclear weapons, a very dangerous situation. Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil are now considered the cradle of the new reincarnated Communism, this time in â€œour own back yard.â€. Fueled by anger at George Bush, the infection is spreading rapidly. BBC reporter Greg Palast even quotes a general concern that a new â€œSoviet Unionâ€ a union of socialist republics, could form in South America, one with considerable military might.
Heilbroner predicted this would happen. He says that with global affluence will come many small revolutions. â€œMany of these revolutions, or near-revolutions [in non-communist block countries] will be undemocratic. Most will take the form of a thoroughgoing socialism. All will take its name.â€ (164) Again, we think of all the numerous socialist reforms in South America since 1959, possibly leading up to a major shift to the left in the near future among the remaining countries.
Heilbroner felt that the close proximity of growing U.S. wealth to third world poverty â€œâ€¦confronts us with the risk of an explosion of proletariat anger if, in the absence of such a movement, [a moderate socialist and diplomatic movement to share the wealth with those providing cheap labor for U.S. interests] the gap between us and the non-communist world continues to widen.â€ (165) Few if any areas of the world match this description as well as Central and South America. They are by nature â€œsocialistâ€ democracies, but are being pushed towards communistic revolution by extreme oil policy.
Venezuela is one of the countries Dr. Heilbroner was referring to; It is 80% black, but the white minority has had an iron grip on control of the country for four hundred years. Greg Palast refers to Hugo Chavez as â€œtheir Nelson Mandela,â€ and the old government of Venezuela as â€œapartheid.â€ The unrest in that country is not over. On April 12th, 2002, Chavez was captured by counter-revolutionaries. The U.S. State Department immediately sent out a report that he had resigned, and started announcing plans for a â€œlegitimate governmentâ€ to be put in place, when in fact he had not resigned. He was passed a cell phone by an infiltrator and reported to the nation that he was still president. The coup fell apart after 48 hours, and he has been highly critical of Condoleeza Rice ever since, who has been critical of him, both personally and on policy issues. There has been a media campaign in the U.S. to portray him as â€œcrazy.â€ Palast disputes this.
Heilbroner states, â€œBy 1959 [when he wrote this book] Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdomâ€”all staunchly capitalist governments in 1913â€”a so-called â€œsocialistâ€ administration had at least once come into power.â€ (96) Along the way, China, the Soviet block and Cuba had turned to Communism, peasant economies revolting against what was trickling down from capitalism elsewhere. In recent years, different systems of socialism have developed in Europe. A recent New York Times article applauded the success of Ireland, Denmark, and Englandâ€™s new programs, and criticized the lack of success in Germany and France, older forms of socialism. In a sense, socialism is a broad band of anything that lies between pure capitalism and pure communism. One jokester once said, â€œIn Capitalism, man exploits his fellow man, but in Communism itâ€™s just the other way around!â€ Socialism is the effort to prevent either extreme from taking over, preventing greater conflict between the two.
If alive today, Heilbroner would predict that the further the United States moves from socialist partner to capitalist boss, the more likely it is that other countries, unable to deal as equal partners with the U.S. under a rigged form of â€œfree marketâ€ enterprise, (such as has been happening in Venezuela since 1949) will abandon â€œstableâ€ socialism and embrace â€œunstableâ€ Marxism and Communism. He states that as of 1959, â€œno nation has gone communist which was not then a peasant economy.â€ He says communism â€œis not so much the successor to but the substitute for capitalism.â€ He says that communism â€œits cruelties, its use of terror, its indifference to personal liberties, is not so much the face of the new world as the shadow of the old.â€(99)In fact, in the few short years since the so-called â€œFall of Communismâ€ in Europe and Asia, these â€œshadowsâ€ of unchecked capitalism have become familiar to us here at home. They have long been evident in Venezuela and Brazil.
Although the writer mentions the Middle East, and predicts much of what has happened, much of what he says about communism can apply today to the fundamentalist Islamic state, which is also somewhat collective and totalitarian in nature. He says, â€œTo retreat before the violence and cruelty of communism, [read, Islamic fundamentalists] without recognizing on the one hand the historic roots of that cruelty, and on the other, our failure to offer an alternative route of development as speedy and efficacious, is to vent a moral indignation which is shallow, or worse, arrogant.â€ In other words, for Bush, et al, to blame the terrorists is missing the point. Better to work to prevent the economic injustices that lead to terrorism, than ignore the warning signs. A good manager in a corporation does not egg on â€œproblemâ€ employees to rage to the point where they stage a labor revolt, or â€œgo postal,â€ that is not responsible management. They should foster productive communication that makes each party feel as they are in partnership. Again, the same could be said of Venezuela.
The causes of the inequalities of capitalism are not outlined in The Future as History, only that they have always existed even in the best of times. â€œA staff report of the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency in 1955, pointed out that â€˜less than one per cent of all American families owned over four-fifths of all publicly held stocks owned by individuals.â€ There are many examples given.
As far as the growth of the U.S. military economy, he was right on target. He said, â€œ..it is a strong likelihood that our core of military expenditures will grow. Indeed, as we have seen, our defense purchases which now absorb about a tenth of our total national output, may very well take a seventh within the next decade.â€(136) He says that this rise in â€œnon-consumable goods would soon set up uncontainable inflationary pressures on the civilian body..â€ In 1959, the military budget was $352.5 billion. Ten years after he wrote these words, in 1969, inflation was in a bell-curve, and military spending, funding the struggle in Vietnam, was at $438.1 billion. But the increase he predicted did not happen until recently. Although the military budget is officially $343 billion in 2000, it will reach $400 billion in 2005, however this figure does not account for money spent on Iraq and Afghanistan, which is astronomical.
In 1959, around the time that Sputnik was launched, he wrote that the Russian economy was growing â€œapproximately twice as fast as our ownâ€¦it will not be too many generations before Russia will rival us, not only in the production of steel and other basic industrial products, but possibly even in general living standards.â€ Although he was wrong about the living standards, he wasnâ€™t far wrong, and was correct on the industrial side, except that it took only one generation. It was the inequality and injustice within the Soviet block that led to its downfall, which Hielbroner could have predicted. He would have seen Glasnost as an unavoidable revolution, and a step towards a more sustainable system. According to these same principles, if the so-called â€œfree marketâ€ does not encourage those former Soviet block countries to prosper as equal partners, if they are exploited by the capitalism they risked so much to enjoy, they will again turn to Communism, and the destructive kind of revolution that generally entails. In a sense, he predicted what happened in Kosovo in 1999.
He brilliantly predicted the rise of off-shoring, and the movement of key industrial plants to third world countries where men and women work for incredibly small wages. Venezuela is one of these countries. First of all he restates certain economic principles that until recently have been a set fixture of the American â€œfree marketâ€ economic landscape: â€œWe are free in a number of extremely important ways, such as the right to choose our employmentâ€¦ our economic liberty could result in a disastrous social breakdown if our free choices of employment left undone the tasks on which community depends.â€ (150) â€œâ€¦we know that economic pressure will drive us to do themâ€¦.when we ask how it is that free men go willingly to the subways or busses, the assembly line or the office, the answer is: there is where the jobs are; and when we ask why free men charge so littleâ€”barely more than a modest comfortâ€”to do work they do not much enjoy, the answer is: they are not worth moreâ€”which is to say that by virtue of their low levels of skill, their educational and cultural deficiencies, their lack of wealth, they are not able to strike too hard a bargain for doing what must be done.â€ (151)
In other words, if all Americans achieve a standard of self-worth and education, while being raised in the self-serving capitalist model, they will refuse to do certain jobs on which society depends. Then he hones in on this flaw in capitalist theory that over time lead to its downfall, the trend which thirty-five years after his book was published, became known as â€œoff-shoring.â€
â€œThis [low pay for manual labor] has been an eternal condition of society. But it is a condition which the emergence of abundance begins to undermine. For if the approach to abundance has any one paramount historic significance, it is the gradual elimination ofâ€¦the great mass of anonymous men on whose generalized willingness to work the high edifices of civilization have been built. It is this group which abundance slowly causes to disappear.
He states that current trends promise â€œa gradual drying-up of applicants for the meaner jobs of society, and the steady increase in pay for those who will still take them.â€ He then states that some day there may be â€œno arrangement of incomes or rewards that will lure men to the posts society must fill. England experienced a foretaste of such an impasse in the postwar period, when its miners began to use their new-found affluence to leave the pitsâ€¦In the end, England had to import foreign miners to maintain an adequate force at the coal face.â€ (151) He also cites a rising trend of society to use Negro, Mexican and Puerto Rican workers to do menial jobs, as long as they are willing to work for low wages and be associated with low-status work. He says these populations are being used as â€œforeigners,â€ however unfairly; it stands to reason that if and when they reject this label, the menial labor will go to those who are even more foreign to North America, leading to off-shoring.
He then explores the possibility that there will be other negative repercussions of increasing abundance, that when the restraints of poverty which keep the masses honest disappear, other controls will have to be put into place. (153) He states that Smithâ€™s â€œinvisible handâ€ of economics may weaken as wealth increases and that â€œother social controlsâ€ may take its place. He feels that in a prosperous society, corporations must have self-discipline in place of competition, they must think more about the community. If they donâ€™t, some social force will eventually rein them in, and seems to favor socialist government, rather than a vacuum of authority in this regard.
Under Clinton, we saw a rise of a subtle form of socialist agenda to address these issues. Under Bush, we see a very different way of addressing these issues, one which Heilbroner warned against. He writes, â€œâ€¦we shall acquire economic abundance only at the cost of crushing social restrictions. Yet there can be no turning back from a prospect whose material allurements far exceed these premonitions of future constraint.â€ (156) Whatever social restrictions industry felt under Clinton seem insignificant now compared to the social restrictions now perpetrated in the name of anti-terrorism.
Heilbroner also foresaw the growing economic dependence of America on technology. â€œâ€¦our growth is not only largely dependent on the upward curve of invention and discovery, but it becomes an economic reality by adding layer upon layer of technical apparatus to the productive foundation of the economy.â€ (157)
He foresaw the rise of the PC, although not in specific terms, when he wrote, â€œAnother is the mechanization, not of factory work, but of the simplest and most traditional tasks within the home. Yet another, still further removed from the industrial base, is the refinement of the arts of communication and persuasion.â€(158)
Then he hits home with a prediction that is so accurate as to be funny, one that most of us can identify with. â€œIn one fashion or another, [technological advances] weaken his solitary capacity to cope with life, whether as a job-seeker faced with the threat of technological displacement, or as a home-owner unable to make the most elementary repairs on his personal equipment without outside assistanceâ€¦.â€ (158) When is the last time you fixed your PC and VCR, or your carâ€™s computer chip, yourself?
He goes on to say, â€œAnd this loss of social mastery cannot be blamed only on the complexity of the technological process. It also lies with the fact that the main control we exercise over the social incursion of technology is that of economics.â€ (158-9) â€œThe problem is not how to avoid the incursion of science and technology, but how to bring that incursion, with all its social consequences, under deliberate social control. In the end, the question is: who is to be the master, man or his machines? As long as the control over technology rests primarily on economic calculation, the victor is not likely to be man.â€ (161)
In the chapter The American Counter-challenge, section 11, the Wrath of Nations, is perhaps the most intriguingly prophetic. â€œWe turn now to a second critical problem in which our growth involves us. This is our relationship to the underdeveloped world. And here we shall find, as with our encounter with the technological forces of our times, that the direction of our present economic momentum does not lead us away from the historic difficulties that this problem presents, but directly into the closest entanglement with them.â€ (161)
Prophetically, he states, â€œChina is now less than a dayâ€™s flight away from us; it soon will be but a few hours.â€ He points out the same with every other emerging country and says, â€œBut this compression of the world is not only manifest from our side, as our inextricable involvement with the fate of the great masses of the world. Even more significant is the reality of the worldâ€™s compression from their side, as the masses awaken to their existence as human beings on the same earth as ourselves.â€ (162) â€œAs a result what was once a gulf which divided two wholly separate worlds is rapidly becomg a rift which dives one self-conscious human communityâ€¦ and what stands out is the terrible disparity of living conditions in their own lands compared with the favored few. The division of the world into the abjectly poor and the grossly richâ€¦suddenly becomes a dispensation of human history which seems iniquitous, intolerable, and infuriating.â€ (162)
â€œIt is not difficult to project the effect of a race in which the poorer nations would watch the richer draw steadily ahead of them, or in which after their vast labors they would find the gap in no wise diminished. It would expose us to a wrath and fury of a kind we have never heretofore knownâ€”a proletarian wrath.â€ (163)
There is another kind of wrath he envisions, which is even more prophetic in nature. He states the U.S. economy was expanding twice as fast as India, most of South and Central Ameirca, and Africa.â€ He writes, â€œTo bring about comparable rates of economic development in non-communist countries will require not only economic efforts of comparable intensity, but very likely social and political transformations of a far-reaching kind. In some nations, like Saudi Arabia (which has been described by one authority as â€œrushing madly from the eleventh century into the twelfthâ€) such transformations are likely to require a revolutionary upheaval.â€ (164) This was more true in Iran and Iraq after 1959, but in the end it may the Saudiâ€™s success that is our downfall, as they refuse to accept American social and political values along with its great influx of money.
â€œIn some nations, particularly in the Near East, [namely Iraq and Iran] we have lent support to governments which are anachronistic and corrupt, and which have a vested interest in preventing social advance. In others, our contribution to economic development has been grudging or none at all.â€ He states that our economic aid to India, Indonesia, South America, and Africa was one tenth of one percent of our total gross national product from 1955-57, and that the Soviets were far surpassing us in that regard. He says â€œit is surely a policy that will one day reap the whirlwind.â€(165) It certainly has, but becoming a glaring problem mainly in recent years.
He writes, â€œâ€¦in the longer view, if there is any hope for a convergence of views and attitudes, values and ideals, within the concert of nations, it must await some closure of the economic fissure which now divides the world.â€ (166) Whether NAFTA and CAFTA will accomplish this is hard to predict.
He is critical of the sheep-like American malaise of his time which is much like todayâ€™s America: â€œPopular sentiment today allies itself with the centers of economic power in the view that the future lies with the maximum unrestricted growth of our economic capacity. The average American family, engrossed in its present needs and understandably desirous of material advance, is not much exercised over changes which seem remote, nebulous, and far from the realities of daily life. As much as or more than the business community, it abides by the belief that abundance will simply make life easier without reflecting on its associated problems which also make it more difficultâ€¦â€ (168) The current ideologists surrounding Bush have tapped into this attitude and used it masterfully, playing on the emotions of middle-class Americans like a violin.
He talks about the increasing incompetence of the individual within society, in the face of technological complexity, implying â€œa further growth of the private and public bureaucracies which control the complex whole and which support the dependent human being.â€ (169) That is more true now than in 1959, when it was written.
One of the most useful and quotable passages comes at the end of this outstanding chapter, The American Counter-Challenge. He writes, â€œFinally, the future holds out the grave threat of an ideological isolation of the American system. In this regard it is instructive and sobering for us to reflect on the case of England. Having won an empire â€œin a fit of absent-mindedness,â€ sincerely convinced of the enlightenment of their motives and of their dedication to the cause of liberty, the English found it difficult to believe that so much of the colonial world regarded their nation as a sinister power. In much the same fashion it is difficult for us, who are absent-mindedly creating our own civilization and who are convinced of the purity of our international motives, to believe that much of the world sees us as a malign and threatening influence.â€ (169) These words are so much more relevant today than they were forty-five years ago, it is remarkable. He adds, â€œâ€¦we would be ill-advised to ignore the possibility that an excess of lavish growth at home, coupled with an ideological rigidity abroad, may turn the hostility of a starving and frustrated world against us.â€(170)
Heilbroner is not in favor of revolution; he feels economic stability is important to the fostering of creativity and productivity, but he feels that uncontrolled capitalism leads inexorably to inequality and therefore revolution. He writes, â€œWhat is perhaps the most sorrowful aspect of this tragedy is that its victims are chosen arbitrarily and at random. [He could be referring as well to the victims of terrorist attacks in London, New York, or Baghdad.] There is no guilt or innocence, no measure of culpability or responsibility in the fate meted out by a world which is still more brute than man. Those who fall in wars do not â€œstartâ€ the wars. The victims of Hitler or Stalin were not those who raised these dictators to power. Nor will there be a fine balancing of accounts when the crimes of South Africa eventually exact their terrible retribution, [amazingly, these words were written thirty-eight years before the end of apartheid in South Africa, and it was rather messy; South Africa signed their new constitution on February 3rd, 1997, ] or when the indignities of the American South work their full damage to the American social fabric.â€ (200)
Heilbroner had the prescience to know that the â€œrise of the southâ€ was far from over in 1959. Today, the painful split between â€œblueâ€ states in the north and â€œredâ€ states in the south, and the conflict between the two cultures which the media plays up and exploits mercilessly) is a creation of the Bush campaign team. But it works because the south and its culture have never forgotten the evils of the carpetbaggers and Shermanâ€™s ride through the south. There is a certain underground desire to â€œget evenâ€ with the north for Gettysburg, at least according to Heilbroner, and both Bush presidents saw this trend and milked it for all it was worth, buying up Texas (the heartland of southern sentiments) and sporting outrageous accents not their own. Divide and conquer is their motto, which lurks behind every â€œUnited We Standâ€ bumper sticker. If the Bush agenda was to unite Americans behind the defense of New York after the tragedy of 9-11, why did New York submit the highest percentage of the vote of any state in the Union against Bush in 2004?
Bush has used all the old rivalries to his advantage. He is harnessing the power of revolution the way Rockefellers harnessed the power of crude oil One has to suspect that an â€œoil Presidentâ€ from an oil family is benefiting somehow from the rise in oil prices. One could wildly speculate that those in the power of oil want to see a revolution in South America, so that they can attack and take over more foreign oil fields in defense of America and the â€œfree market.â€ Maybe they can trigger and control revolutions; if they can, then the spectre of a worldwide empire of oil is not just a fantasy. What they canâ€™t control is terrorism, which now is more technologically possible and dangerous than ever, and that could affect our lives as Americans in a big way.
As regards the rise of terrorism, again Dr. Heilbronerâ€™s words can be seen as prophetic: â€œAs a consequence of the new weapons technology, we have not only lost our accustomed military security, but also any possibility of enforcing a military â€œsolutionâ€ â€¦.The weapons stalemate has thus magnified the influence of the non-military determinants of the central struggle of our times. The â€œhistoric forcesâ€ of politics and economics, of technologies and ideologies, are therefore of crucial importance in the resolution of this contest.â€ (176)
In other words, the advancements of military technology in his time parallel our own, and with similar effect. They bring only temporary relief as it were to the fundamental problem before all governments, providing domestic tranquility and security from foreign attack. In the long run, as enemies acquire these weapons, our security greatly decreases, to the point where we have arrived today, a world in which any one person can threaten the lives of any other ten thousand or more people with the push of a button. And now, as then, if I am reading Heilbroner correctly, the answer is diplomacy, economic, political, and social. The appointment of Robert Bolton to the United Nations as the U.S. ambassador (over the heads of Congress) gives us a clear notion of where the Bush ideologues are headed both inside the beltway and beyond our coastal waters; less diplomacy, less rule of law, less meeting of the minds, more fear and aggression, more exploitation. All of this can only lead to more terrorism and less security at home.
How can we stop a terrorist revolution in South America? Given the quickly spreading nature of military technology, and the fundamental human tendency of revolution against inequality, the answer is singular: the only way to overcome your enemies is to make them your friends. America needs to learn some lessons from history, and from Robert Heilbroner. Letâ€™s return to FDRâ€™s good neighbor policy in South America, and deal fairly with Latin American countries.
Note: I attest that the author of the above essay, Mr. Jefferson Peabody, is a fine patriot of upstanding character. As for the author’s intellectual perspicuity, the reader is given ample evidence in the treatise to judge for herself.–gm
IndyMedia New Orleans
Telephone interview with RadioActive San Diego. Audio link here.
Well, right now it’s getting much better. It’s finally getting a little organized. But it took, you know, I mean, the last week, the week and a half have been pure hell.
So many people have lost their lives, because there wasn’t no organization. And it’s sad to say that. It just wasn’t organized. It’s something different than what happened in the Pacific with the tsunami. We had prior warning that this was coming. We had two days that we could have got people out when we knew we were going to be hit in New Orleans or in the general New Orleans area with a catgory five hurricane.
You had all type of studies done on what would be the worst-case scenario, and with that it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing prior to the hurricane during those two days, because I’m going to tell you they said to leave the city. And many people couldn’t afford to leave. It came at the end of the month. Most people that was on welfare or social security, you know that’s gone at the end of the month, they normally don’t have anything.
It was over 100,000 people in New Orleans that had no transportation. And wasn’t nothing done for them. You know we sit and watched almost 500 buses — school buses that could have been used to evacuate people — we’re seeing them — and about 400 of them — just get inundated with water. You know, there wasn’t nothing to get people out.
That’s what kicked off a lot of this looting. Because you know they told a lot of people to go to the SuperDome, and they had to bring food for five days. Most people didn’t have food. So that’s what started all the fights up in the SuperDome.
A a lot of people was walking down the highways. Cars upon cars passing by. And I’m talking about military convoys, and state police, and all these different transportation. Didn’t pick up no one. I mean my son, he walked with his three kids and wife six and a half miles to get to the SuperDome only to be turned around, because at that time they was just taking women and children, and wasn’t taking no adult males.
She didn’t want to see her family separated so they wind up coming here. And it was just by the grace of God that I was here, because they didn’t even know if I was going to be here.
I’m going to tell you that I believe most of those [reports of people shooting at police] were just rumors. I know that the police shot a guy for looting. And that started retaliation, where guys started shooting back at the police. Because I’m going to telll you, you tell a person who don’t have nothing that hey, you know, you got to fend for yourself and there’s nothing to fend with. And then you’re going to tell them I want you to be more neighborly than anyone else.
People sit up here and watch people leave. And park cars. And just park them and lock them and take the keys with them. And they didn’t try to say, well hey neighbor, here’s my other car, you can use my second or my third car. No they parked them all in the yard. That’s the reason, that’s the thing that really started this frustration. You know you want the poor to have more morality than anybody else. And it just don’t work. I mean it’s just sad. I think it was criminal the way this transpired.
The murder rate in New Orleans is ten times the national average. Poverty in New Orleans: the average income of a person in New Orleans, a poor person, is roughly between five and seven thousand dollars a year. So when you talk about a person that’s only getting seven thousand dollars a year, and that’s basically for a family of three, and there’s no work. The work that they do have there’s no real training programs. There’s over 90 million dollars of Hope Six construction going on in New Orleans and no training. And part of those funds was supposed to be set aside for community and supportive services. Nothing is going on. There’s no training.
I believe Louisiana has the highest dropout rate in the country. And even though it’s high in the country, the highest part in Louisiana is here in New Orleans.
Our juvenile justice system is basically a disgrace, especially the detention centers. You know, we had to fight for almost four years to get Tallulah, which was a juvenile detention center — a for profit juvenile detention center — and it was classified as the worst detention center in the country.
What you see happening in New Orleans is not something that is just happening here. There was a study that Tom Hayden did in California on violence in California — and I believe he commissioned a person by the name of Dr. Gilliam — that’s while Hayden was in the state senate. And he said that outside of war, the most violent environment in America is prisons and jails.
Here in Louisiana we incarcerate — here in our county jail we have over seven thousand people in that county jail. And almost five thousand of them are in there for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. I mean it’s just a breeding ground. They go up in there, they come out no jobs, nothing to do and next thing you know either their second or their third offense is violence.
Most of the murders — and listen, we’re approaching 300 murders right now — in New Orleans. And I’m not talking about during this hurricane, I’m talking about prior to it. 300 murders. And that’s just for one year. And what is this, September? We still got four months left? And we’re already approaching 300 murders. And most of the murders is ex-offenders killing ex-offenders. Because there’s no jobs. The only equal opportunity employer here is drugs.
But now, all of a sudden it take a hurricane to devastate the city for it to become — for work to come out of it.
And the first bit of looting was people stealing food. But then they started hearing the horror stories of if you don’t have any money what happened to you? Then they started stealing anything that they feel like they could barter for to get out of town. If that means me stealing a tv to sell that tv to get some money, then that’s what they was doing. You know, because common sense will tell any sane person or any rational person what you going to do with a tv when your house is flooded? But what this guy is saying is I have this tv and maybe I can trade this tv for some gasoline.
Because right now here in New Orleans, gasoline is worth more than gold. There’s not even one functioning filling station in the entire city of New Orleans. So what people are doing now, they’re going around taking any car that they see empty, they’re puncturing holes in the gas tank trying to get gas so they can leave.
And I’m going to tell you the orders just came today, and they came with the military. All the way up until then you had white vigilante groups — and I’m calling them vigilantes, because that’s what they were — they would ride around in trucks, five, six of them to a truck with shotguns and rifles, you know talking about they were going to shoot looters.
Well they said there was three [shootings]. But it was only by the grace of God that the police finally came and stopped it, because it was about to be a riot. It was about to break into a race riot here in New Orleans. When guys found out this was happening, they started breaking into gun stores, pawn shops, stealing guns. So the next thing you know you had a whole bunch of armed people saying yeah if they shoot at me I’m shooting, because I’m not going to allow my family to sit here waiting on a government that have no idea what they’re doing to make sure that I have.
I took a guy to the ferry today so that he could be transported out. He didn’t really want to leave, but he was running out of insulin. He had insulin, but the insulin he had, he didn’t know whether it was good or not, because he didn’t have no place to keep it cool, to keep it refrigerated. And these are the kinds of cases where you hear of people dying like this.
We have dead bodies in this city right now that have been laying there that we went and covered up Tuesday, and today it’s Friday, and they are still laying there. This is what creates the insanity that’s going on.
Racism? No. No. I’m going to tell you it’s a small segment of whites that’s doing this, because I’m going to tell you I’ve seen many whites take their own personal boats to go into a black community and, excuse me for a second (crying) I’ve seen many of them take their own boats and go into a black community and rescue people. Listen, it’s bad, but I’ve seen too many acts of heroism between different individuals. Individuals sharing ice, sharing water, not knowing whether they’re going to get water, because the city didn’t even tell any damn body when they could have water.
We went to fire stations and in those fire stations they had water almost up to the ceiling. The firemen had guns, and wouldn’t give out the water.
We had a group of my neighbors and we were going to cook food to bring out to those families that they were evacuating. Why? Because they had them sitting there starving. Some of the people were stuck up on their roofs of their houses (crying) for two or three days with nothing. And then they made then sit outside in this hot sun, because I’m going to tell you here when it gets to 95 that’s a heat index of over 100. And you see people steady dropping. And they wouldn’t give them nothing! It was like they was trying to do whatever they can to force them to leave.
I mean when you talk to people and they have lost everything. And the few valuables they have, once they get to the ferry here, they have to leave it, because they only allow them to take one bag. I mean it’s heartbreaking when you see people who have lost everything and the last bit of valuables and possessions that they have, and then they have to leave it, you know, to go anywhere. Because any place beat here.
I mean it’s sickening, especially when you are seeing individuals who have literally watched some of their loved ones die. Charity hospitals, they have worked the doctors almost to death up in there with no lights, no gas, and backup generators didn’t work. Some of them run out of fuel. There was no fuel sent to them. And they watched their patients literally die.
Like I said, we did more for the tsunami than we did here….
Note: this is roughly half the audio file.–gm