The Contradictions Have Officially Been Heightened

by Russell Dobular

“Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?”

-Pete Seeger

“The Hamptons are not a defensible position. The Hamptons are on a low-lying beach. Eventually the people will come for you.”

– Mark Blyth

I had a bike accident right at the beginning of the pandemic. Between the destruction of my bike and physical injuries that were probably worthy of a trip to the hospital, under circumstances where one could go to the hospital without risking the plague, I haven’t been off my block in almost three months. More or less fully recovered now (there are still things moving around near my shoulder blade that aren’t supposed to move, but I’m not going to quit being a prime example of why men die younger at this late date, so fuck it), I finally got my bike fixed, headed downtown, and tried to do what I used to do before it all went to hell. I blasted the kind of dumb joy classic pop on my iPhone that I favor for workouts. I got an ice cream cone just because for the first time since March, I could.

It wasn’t normal – the boarded up storefronts, the empty streets, the almost-non-existent- for-Manhattan traffic – but it was the most fun I’d had in awhile.  Then reality came along and screwed it all up, as it will.

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Coming up 6th Avenue, I saw a crowd at 23rd Street. What the fuck is this, I thought. This is New York. We aren’t the anti-lockdown protest types. But it wasn’t that kind of protest.  Coming closer I saw the signs. Can You Hear Us. Stop Police Violence. Fuck the Police. One listed the names of the dead. Donald Trump’s head sat on a spike above the crowd.

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The NYPD were lined up on scooters, maintaining a little distance, clearly under orders not to make things worse. There wasn’t a pussy hat or a hashtag resistance symbol in sight. It wasn’t that kind of party. This was the kind of party where the protestors walk up to the police and try to talk them out of their duties on the grounds that they’re propping up a failed, racist system. It was a common tactic in the 60’s, but we haven’t seen people confront authority this way outside the obligatory boomer nostalgia doc in two generations. At least not these people. They were neither the kind of hardcore lefties who would pay their own way to Standing Rock to get doused by water cannons in sub-zero temperatures while the nation goes about its indifferent consumerist business, nor were they looking for the easy virtue-signaling win. This was a new silent majority at the end of its rope and ready to break shit. It was the majority of younger Americans who have been screaming at the top of their lungs for most of their lives about racism, about climate change, about student loans, and about inequality, coming to the realization that elections aren’t going to solve any of it. They don’t watch MSNBC, and they know Joe Biden is only the lesser of two racists. The kind with black friends. And they have fucking had it.

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“I can’t wait until you pigs get what’s coming to you. This is just day one motherfuckers,” from a clean-cut white guy. “The police are here. White people in front,” screamed a black man in a knit cap. “NYPD suck my dick,” the crowd chanted in unison. All this as the mostly white cops repeatedly attempted to stop them from going any further up 6th Ave by lining up their scooters in the road. And each time the protestors walked right through them and around them. Retreating, they would make another attempt on the next block. And every time they were met by curses, chants, and a palpable desire for physical confrontation. But they followed their orders, not doing anything that would make headlines, until the crowd finally dispersed on its own around Macy’s.

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Like the man said, this was only day one. Over the weekend, New York followed the lead of other cities nationwide, with protestors breaking out windows, looting stores, and lighting cop cars on fire. Banks and high-end retailers were a favorite target for vandalism. Orders or no orders, the police responded by trying to run people over in Brooklyn and issuing hundreds of arrests. The relationship between New York mayors and the NYPD has always resembled the one Roman Emperors had with their legions.  Knowing that their power is tenuous and dependent on the good will of the troops, they run for office as reformers, and end up as staunch defenders of the department’s privileges. Hence Mayor DeBlasio’s quick defense of crowd control by SUV.

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A lot of people have seen this coming for a long time, and not just on the left. We’ve had at least one billionaire warning his fellow 1 percenters of the impending pitchfork mobs for years now. And the Scottish-American political scientist, Mark Blyth, has wryly advised that the “Hamptons is not a defensible position,” without being taken very seriously by those who continue to vacation there without any apparent fear that hordes of the economically dispossessed might just descend on them one of these idyllic summers. But you know nerves are getting frayed when The New York Times starts running articles that don’t entirely miss the point, and CNN looking for a hot take, bypasses the usual cadre of Congressional Black Caucus members, in favor of Cornel West, who predictably took the opportunity to call out neoliberal Democrats from within their own stronghold. It’s no accident that CNN headquarters was targeted by protestors in Atlanta. If Jeff Bezos has any sense, he’s on the phone with Blackrock right now, hiring as many mercenaries to stand around the perimeter of WaPo’s offices as he can get his filthy hands on.

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The police execution of George Floyd was the spark, but the kindling has been gathering for 400 years. If you’re white, its only been 40, but you’ve also been conditioned by your previous experience of America to expect better than what you’ve been getting of late.  By comparison to the black experience, what whites have been getting is still pretty good. But when good starts to mean the bare minimum of being able to leave your house without getting choked to death by the police, and even that starts to look dicey, some measure of disillusionment is to be expected. As usual, it will be the black community who will lead the way forward, just as the civil rights activism of the 50’s and 60’s served as the model for all the anti-Viet Nam, feminist, and gay rights protests that followed.  And make no mistake, these protests are only the beginning. Pretty soon 30 million people are going to get kicked off unemployment in a country without jobs. The results are going make the closing scenes of Joker look like Gandhi marching to the salt mines.

There’s a lot of predictable hand-wringing right now about looting, vandalism and attacks on the police, as if those things are independent of the protests themselves, and exclusively the acts of “outside agitators.” But even if, strictly speaking, there are people running off with flat screen TV’s who don’t have George Floyd at the forefront of their minds, what kind of society produces so many people who want to risk getting murdered by a notoriously trigger-happy national law enforcement regime, just to hang a 60” on their walls? Doesn’t the fact that so many have responded to these protests as an opportunity to grab something while they can, say something about how many don’t have anything at all? Would you leave your home in a riot for a TV? I wouldn’t. But then, I already have one.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s they had a name for all this.  They called it Tuesday.  Or sometimes Wednesday.  Occasionally Thursday.  That history has been largely suppressed, but in 1971 alone there were over 2,000 domestic bombings, on top of constant protests, riots, and college campus shut-downs. That’s why you can’t just buy dynamite anymore in a country where owning an AK-47 is seen as an inalienable right.  Until the mid-70’s, you could get it at any hardware store. And that’s also why local police departments have been beefed up with tanks and all sorts of other military grade equipment over the past couple of decades. The state has seen this coming for awhile too.

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Always working the comedy angle, Joe Biden has released a statement calling for an end to the looting and violence, without ever acknowledging the historical role he played in creating the carceral state that in part has inspired it. He also failed to mention all the pepper spraying, tear gassing, and random beatings that have been inflicted on even peaceful protestors. Nor did he bring up the somewhat ironic arrest of a CNN journalist along with his crew. It’s unlikely that he ever will. On the corporate looting of the nation that has taken place over the past several decades, on a far wider and more devastating scale than a few improvised raids on chain outlets could ever hope to match, most recently in the package of tax cuts and bail outs contained in the two pandemic relief bills, he has nothing to say. And the possibility that the way the Democratic Party propped him up to stop a more progressive candidate from securing the nomination may have played some role in turning the young towards extra-political means of redress, is not entertained in his philosophy.

Joe Biden didn’t consider any of this because he is far too much a product of the forces that have brought us to this moment, for him to even begin to understand its nuances.  He’s still defending the crime bill he co-authored with segregationists. He’s still reassuring his wealthy donors that nothing will fundamentally change for them under his administration, even as that decision increasingly slips out of the hands of the Washington establishment that he represents. Biden is as qualified to meet this moment as Donald Trump is to form a truth and reconciliation committee. His candidacy is a farce that might be funny if the stakes weren’t quite so high.

And what does it say about a Democratic Party that styles itself the champion of the downtrodden that so many of its leading candidates in this cycle have such highly problematic histories in office that it’s complicating Biden’s search for a VP?  Buttigieg, Harris, and Klobuchar have all repeatedly stomped on black citizens in order to appease the racial anxieties of their white constituents. It’s no accident that Amy Cooper was a Buttigieg fan. The corporate media has covered for these “lock ‘em up” Democrats time and again, but too many people are seeing them clearly now for that to work anymore on any but their most out of touch consumers.

These are the desperate tactics of a dying aristocracy finally being confronted with the rage of their subjects.  Eventually, when all other methods fail, as they seem bound to do, the gloves will come off along with the mask and the true violence of the state will be revealed for all to see.  At which point people will be forced to choose a side.

Choose well.

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Podcast: Minneapolis is Just the Beginning

The murder of George Floyd sparked protests and riots in Minneapolis. We discuss why this wave of civil unrest is just getting started.

Photo: Stephen Maturen, AP

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Garbage In, Garbage Out: Amy Cooper is the Embodiment of Toxic Meritocracy

by Keaton Weiss

“I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life,” said Amy Cooper, as she took out her phone to call the police on Christian Cooper (no relation), a black man who asked her to leash her dog in accordance with the rules of Central Park’s “Ramble,” where their paths happened to cross early Monday morning. She made sure to mention his race again to the police once she got them on the phone, only this time, in a strained, high-pitched tone of voice she employed to make herself sound distressed, or even endangered by Christian, the benign birdwatcher who was calmly documenting this entire exchange on video. She told the police, “There is a man, African American, he has a bicycle helmet and he is recording me and threatening me and my dog!”

Later that day, Christian’s sister, Melody, shared the video on her Twitter account, where, at this writing, it’s been viewed approximately 36 million times. Some were quick to assume that Amy was a Trump supporter who had been empowered by the president’s own bigoted rhetoric to “crawl out from under the rocks” and show her true racist colors, even in the deep blue heart of New York City. Others were quick to point out that, in fact, Amy Cooper is a liberal Democrat, who, according to public campaign contribution records, donated to Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign, and that racism often transcends political ideology, or at least political affiliation. But a closer look at Amy Cooper, and what she represents, paints a grim picture not just of American politics, but of the meritocratic ideal upon which all of American politics is predicated.

Consider where this episode took place: in the Ramble region of Central Park. The Ramble is a wooded section of the park that occupies about 38 acres of land between 73rd and 78th streets, nestled between two zip codes whose median incomes are well over $100,000 per year.

Consider what Amy Cooper did for a living, before being fired over the incident: she was a “head of insurance portfolio management” at an investment firm called Franklin Templeton. She has over 500 “connections” on her LinkedIn profile, according to which, she “leads the insurance portfolio management and strategy business at Franklin Templeton. She has dedicated her career to delivering and executing investment solutions for insurance and pension companies globally. … She is a recognized industry leader in insurance accounting and regulatory issues, asset liability management and strategic asset allocation. She has worked in a variety of insurance focused roles.”

Consider where she used to work: Citi, Lehman Brothers, and Willis Towers Watson.

Consider where she went to school: the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, where she got her MBA in analytical finance.

In other words, consider this: Amy Cooper is the ultimate meritocrat. She did everything exactly as she was supposed to. She went to school, she built her resume, she amassed a portfolio of business contacts, and she landed a lucrative job at a multi-billion dollar asset management company on Park Avenue. To paraphrase Barack Obama, whose campaigns Cooper has also donated to, she “worked hard, played by the rules, and got ahead.”

And because she so successfully climbed the ladder of American meritocracy, she had the morning off on Monday, a national holiday, to walk her dog through Central Park. You see, on a normal business day, she couldn’t do this. She’d have to go in to the office and work her analytical magic to earn her big paycheck to pay for her nice apartment and her Mayor Pete donations. During this time, one of her hired dog-walkers would be tasked with walking and cleaning up after her Cocker Spaniel.

In fact, it was two of Amy’s former dog-walkers, Kyle Stover and Lindsey Cork, who outed her identity after seeing the viral video. Kyle and Lindsey are 30 and 31, respectively, about 10 years younger than Amy, and neither of them work at Lehman Brothers. I’m not even sure if they have LinkedIn profiles. But I’d bet my bottom dollar that neither of them live in Amy’s neighborhood. They surely had to slum it on the subway from whichever lesser zip code they lived in for at least a good half an hour to 45 minutes in order to walk Amy’s dog, for, I would guess, maybe $12/hr (that was about the going rate for a dog-walker when I lived in Brooklyn just a few short years ago, and yes, I checked). See, neither Kyle nor Lindsey ascended to Amy’s place in society. I guess they just hadn’t worked hard enough; they hadn’t “earned” the life that Amy had. I mean, come on, they were “just dog-walkers.”

Funny, then, how the lowly, less “worthy,” less “deserving” of a dignified life according to the meritocratic ethic, dog-walkers, are some of the heroes of this story. Cork, whose boyfriend is a black man, said to the New York Daily News, “If I know a person doing this, and I can identify them, I’m not going to just be quiet. I can’t. It’s against any kind of ethics I have.”

Stover said, when interviewed about the matter, “We’ve seen so many videos of people being shot or killed for less, and that’s terrifying, and like she either doesn’t understand the weight of her actions or words or she does, both of which are terrible.”

So in this case, it was those without the impressive resumes or the fancy zip codes or the Park Avenue offices who blew the whistle on this professional, highly educated, highly skilled cretin who, until yesterday, was enjoying the life she had “built for herself” through years of “hard work,” “perseverance,” and “determination.”

In case my use of quotation marks doesn’t sufficiently signal my ironic use of those terms, I’ll refer you to a quote from George Carlin in one of his later stand-up specials. He said this in reference to the American political class, but I would argue this would apply to the professional managerial class (sometimes known as the “wine-track” folks in modern political jargon) more broadly:

“Where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out.”

Indeed. Garbage in, garbage out.

Despite many people’s knee-jerk reactions to this story which led them to believe Amy Cooper was your typical white trash deplorable from MAGA-ville, I can honestly say I had her pegged from the second I saw the video.

Was I surprised to learn she had a higher degree from a great school? No.

Was I surprised to learn she had an impressive resume? No.

Or an extensive professional network? No.

Was I surprised to learn she had a high paying job in the financial services sector? No.

Was I surprised to learn she supported Pete Buttigieg? Fuck no.

Is this to say that all, or even most, people who achieve success in their lives, are morally inferior to those who don’t? Of course not. But the dominant attitude of our society for generations has been that the opposite is true; that success is borne of moral virtue, and that failure is borne of moral deficiency.

Furthermore, a cultural ethic which insists that dignity is not inherent in every human being, but rather, must be earned through a years-long process of schooling, training, networking, interviewing, and, finally, performing in a professional environment, is bound to commit the moral sin of elevating some of its shallowest, cruelest, and most craven members to positions of great power and influence, because those are the people most likely to conform to such an ethos without questioning it.

Run all this through the Rube Goldberg machine of American meritocracy, and what comes out of it? Amy Cooper.

It makes perfect sense. And it makes even more perfect sense that the dog-walkers were the ones who called her out in the name of justice. Because it stands to reason that those who don’t make it their life’s work to ascend the meritocratic ladder would be the ones to strive towards a different ideal. And so, as a society, the only way to weed out the Amy Coopers once and for all, is to join the dog-walkers, and smash the meritocracy.

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Podcast: Political Imagination and The False Pragmatism of Lesser Evil Voting – w/Asad Haider

Asad Haider, author, writer, and editor of Viewpoint Magazine, discusses how political imagination is actually more pragmatic and necessary than lesser-evil voting.

Asad Haider’s book Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump can be found at Verso Books.

Photo: AP

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Podcast: Biden Shuns Latinos, Liberals Shame Socialists, Our Revolution DemExits, & Other News

As liberals call out progressives for their “white privilege,” Biden forfeits the Latino vote. Our Revolution LA leaves the Democratic Party. We talk this and other headlines.

*Photo: Charles Mostoller, Philadelphia Inquirer

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Democrats Shun Latinos for White Suburbanites, Still Yell ‘White Privilege’ at the #NeverBiden Left

by Keaton Weiss

On Wednesday, May 13, The New York Times published yet another absolutely fucking horrible op-ed entitled “These Young Socialists Think They Have Courage. They Don’t.” The article’s main point (do I even have to tell you?) is that certain young progressives who supported Bernie Sanders in the primary are a bunch of privileged white people who are being selfish and egotistic for not sucking it up and supporting Joe Biden in the general election.

This sentiment is so banal that, in all honesty, I’m a bit exhausted even thinking about it, much less organizing my thoughts into a piece of coherent writing. But I shall do my best.

The author, Mitchell Abidor, is the editor and translator of “Down With the Law: Anarchist Individualist Writings From Early Twentieth-Century France.” No white privilege there, I’m sure. I’ll bet a lot of truckers, steel workers, and coal miners moonlight as translators of obscure European political literature. I mean, it’s hard work, but someone has to do it. He begins:

The progressive magazine The Nation published an open letter last month in which former members of the radical 1960s organization Students for a Democratic Society pleaded with a younger generation of leftists to support Joe Biden for president. The letter, titled “To the New New Left From the Old New Left,” warned that the re-election of President Trump would jeopardize “the very existence of American democracy.”

The signatories expressed fear that some supporters of Bernie Sanders, including members of the Democratic Socialists of America, would “refuse to support” Mr. Biden because they consider him “a representative of Wall Street Capital” — and therefore, in essential respects, not fundamentally better than Mr. Trump.

The letter was fair and sensible in its reasoning and right-minded in its conclusion. Given that the difference of a few thousand votes in states such as Michigan and Wisconsin might allow Mr. Trump to win a second term, a quixotic display of socialist principle in the 2020 election could have disastrous repercussions for the nation and the world.

Get the picture? The “old lefties from way back,” to quote the brilliant satiric performance art of comedian David Feldman, have written a nice letter to the naive idealistic youngsters, who are enrolling in Democratic Socialists of America by the thousands, about the virtues of compromise, and lesser-evil voting, and blah, blah, blah.

I’m sure you get where this is going, but in case you don’t, the article concludes:

“Members of the Democratic Socialists of America are largely white, largely college educated, largely American citizens. If Mr. Trump is re-elected, they could spend the next four years suffering little more than the pangs of political outrage. But millions of less fortunate people would suffer real consequences.”

Perhaps there’s a sweepstakes I don’t know about in which the five millionth person to make that exact same point wins a free car or something. And that’s about how many times I’ve heard it put that way, so Mitchell, if such a contest exists, you might just be the lucky winner. But who are some of these “less fortunate people” whose wellbeing the sensible, pragmatic “Old Left” sages are purportedly so concerned about?

Well, the following day, Politico published a piece entitled “Biden’s Latino Outreach is Under Fire: ‘I can’t tell what their strategy is.'” The article charges that the Biden campaign is making little to no effort to rally Latino support or drive Latino turnout in November. Outreach to younger progressive Latino groups like United We Dream and Make the Road Action, both of whom endorsed Bernie Sanders in the primary, has failed to include any policy commitments that would cause them to rally their members behind Biden. Bill Richardson, former New Mexico governor and Democratic super delegate, a party man to his core, hardly someone you’d expect to admit a thing like this, said, “The Trump Hispanic effort is much more active.” Jess Morales Rocketto, digital organizing director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, went as far as to say, “I do not think that the Biden campaign thinks that Latinos are part of their path to victory.”

One source for the article was so dismayed they didn’t offer their name:

“Right now I can’t tell what their strategy is with the Latino community. I just don’t see it,” said one Latino lawmaker who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “They have a lot of people out there willing to help, but they’re not engaging many people outside of the ones who were part of their campaign originally.”

So we have two news stories, each printed within 24 hours of each other. The first, an op-ed that calls out progressives and socialists for their white privilege, claiming, without citation, by the way, that most of these young people are financially comfortable white college graduates, and American citizens, who ought to be more mindful about how their decision on election day might impact more marginalized and vulnerable communities. The second, an uncovering of how the Biden campaign is essentially forfeiting the Latino vote by not crafting a sufficiently robust policy platform or outreach operation necessary to win their support in the fall.

Only the Democrats could be so hypocritical as to chide the left flank of the party (that is, while they’re still in the party, and they won’t be for much longer) for their white privilege, while consciously failing to appeal to the largest non-white community in the country, who happen to be the most vulnerable under Donald Trump.

In fact, immigration is the main issue that blue-no-matter-who voters use to guilt Bernie-or-Busters and other #NeverBiden people into bending to their will. The point has been repeated ad infinitum that we simply must vote for the Democrat, lest Trump be allowed to perpetuate his horrific immigration policies, and that since we’re not ourselves immigrants, we’re inconsiderate for not putting ourselves in their shoes and just voting blue.

Except now we’ve got a presumptive Democratic nominee whose support among Latinos is shockingly low, especially considering his opponent. Recent polling has Biden winning a miserable 49% of Latino support, with only an additional 10% saying they were leaning towards backing him. If these numbers hold, Biden stands to win at most 59% of the Latino vote, significantly less than Clinton’s underwhelming 65% showing in 2016.

Given Biden’s own dismal history on immigration issues, his lack of outreach, and his blatant suggestion that certain immigrant activists “vote for Trump” if they’re not happy with his record, it’s quite possible that Biden will lose the 2020 election not because of stubborn self-righteous white socialists (who, by the way, live mostly in safe blue states) who refuse to vote for him at the behest of older and wiser liberals, but rather, because of his and his party’s own failings to convince the very “non-privileged” communities for whom they supposedly care so deeply that they’re in better hands under a President Biden than they are under President Trump.

Finally, and perhaps most ironically, the Democrats are now the party of privileged white people. They made a big play for them in 2016, when Chuck Schumer admitted that working class support was expendable if they could win over enough suburban Republican women. Then, in 2018, upper middle class white voters won them the House, particularly in California and the DC suburbs of Virginia, where there were several affluent “red to blue” districts. And they’re obviously who the Democrats are hoping will deliver them the White House in 2020. Comfortable suburban white voters who now pine for the bygone era of political “normalcy,” during which 63% of their fellow citizens couldn’t afford a $500 emergency, millions of people, disproportionately African American, had their homes foreclosed upon by marauding, lawless bankers, and, of course, 2.5 million immigrants were deported, are now the power base of the Democratic Party. When you read those statistics to them, they’ll almost certainly brush you off and tell you to just vote blue anyway. You know why? Because they’re privileged white people, and so those numbers don’t really mean shit to them.

Nowadays, it’s tough to be too surprised by Democratic hypocrisy. But for a party that in recent years has actively chosen to cater to affluent white suburbanites in favor of pushing universal social programs that would disproportionately benefit people of color, to nominate a candidate who is woefully unpopular among the largest and most critical non-white voting bloc in the country, and then to have the Times pump out the most insipid op-ed about how the young progressives who voted overwhelmingly for a sweeping social justice agenda need to check their privilege and vote for more of this austerity-lite horse shit on offer from the Biden campaign, is what we might call a new low.

*Photo: Meg Kinnard, AP

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Podcast: Free Birds: Why Bernie Supporters are Weighing a 3rd Party Vote

A new poll shows 51% of Berners considering a 3rd party vote in November. We discuss why that is on this freewheeling episode.

*Photo: Steve Dykes, AP

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