A "Racist Country" With "Perveted Priorities"
Speaking of declining U.S. hegemony, how's this for an editorial headline from France's right-wing and historically pro-American newspaper Le Figaro:
"The Superpower is forced to call for help" (Le Figaro, September 3, 2005)
"The French," the corporate weekly Business Week reports, "have contrasted America's eagerness to project power abroad --- as in the war that France opposed ---- with its failure to fix problems at home. 'Is powerful America more sure of itself outside its borders?,' asked an editorial in the right-leaning Le Figaro."
"The French," Business Week adds, "have also focused on race. 'It confirms many of the worst stereotypes we have about the U.S. --- that it is a racist country, and that the U.S. has perverted priorities,' says Denis Lacorne, senior associate at the Center for International Studies & Research in Paris. 'Instead of sending teams of doctors and nongovernmental organizations they sent the National Guard.' The French, who are proud of their welfare state model, also attribute the disaster in part to the Bush Administration's free-market credo: Washington just doesn't have much faith in government's ability to solve problems."
" Media: A Hurricane of Criticism - For the World, the Debacle Shocks, Surprises, and Reveals," Business Week (September 19, 2005), p. 54.
Well, fine but I would revise this with a formulation from the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: concentrated U.S. power seeks to subvert and undercut the left hand of the state (including the welfare state and other parts that include and assist poor people and generally serve the non-affluent majority) but has enormous faith in the ability of the right hand of the state (including the military, the proto-fascistic/racist mass incarceration system, and other and related more direct subsidies for private power) to "solve problems."
"Perverted priorities" was a frequent phrase in Martin Luther King's Jr.'s brilliant oratory and writing on U.S. policy at home and abroad during the middle-late 1960s.
Among many pieces I've done on all this, please see especially:
Street, “The Repair of Broken Societies Begins At Home,” ZNet Magazine (July 18, 2003), available online at
“Social Health and Spiritual Death: Empire, Inequality, and the Costs of War,” ZNet Magazine, Featured Article (May 20, 2005), available online at http://www.zmag.org/content/print_article.cfm?itemID=7902§ionID=10.
Business Week's statement of how the French have been portraying the meaning of Katrina is an almost exact match for a core thesis of my book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2004 can be ordered at www.paradigmpublishers.com). See especially chapter 22, titled "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall."
More recently, please see my early intervention (today) on dominant media's privilege-friendly framing of Katrina:
...where I note, among other things, dominant corporate-state media's preference for human interest survival stories over serious discussion of core societal disparities that made such stories necessary in the first place. I would add to this piece that dominant media can be expected to de-emphasize a special sort of harrowing human interest survival story from New Orleans: the tale of people who were turned away by force from surrounding parishes by public and private authority figures who said in essence: "get back: we will not share resources and means of survival with you wretched and criminal ghetto residents."
I'm curious to know how many of the people who stood guard and barred entry to folks trying to flee floodwaters call themselves (as 85 percent of Americans do) "Christians." There's a certain disconnect here with Jesus' injuction to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
A brief story, finally: I spoke at length yesterday with a white, 26-year-old New Orleans evacuee named Tony. Tony was a cook in a French Quarter restaurant. He was just off a Greyhound bus and trying to get his wits about him in DeKalb, Illinois. Tony verified reports of inner-city poor being turned back by force from higher/dryer/richer/whiter ground.
He also told me something that struck me as rather remarkable. He said he saw New Orleans police ripping off Red Cross facilities and trucks. "The cops are the biggest gang in New Orleans." So there's another angle on armed force and looting. It's a first-person account from a single evacuee and I will not pretend that I can verify. Still, here is another "human interest" angle that might merit more investigative pursuit.
"Dishonest and Reprehensible"
One of the more depressing phenomena in our time is the frequency with which dominant (so-called “mainstream”) United States (U.S.) media reports without question the most mendacious imaginable utterances of criminal high-state policymakers.
How many times in recent years have we seen television newscasters dumbly relay the Bush White House's blatantly false claim that its starkly regressive tax cuts for the wealthy few offer serious “tax relief” for “the middle class” and “everyone who pays taxes?”
How many times did the media idiotically transmit the administration's preposterous claims that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed a serious threat to the United States and that Saddam was linked to al Qaeda and 9/11 and possessd significant “weapons of mass destruction?”
How many times have we witnessed “mainstream” (concentrated corporate-state) media unquestioningly broadcast and appear to completely internalize the laughable notion that the Bush administration wants to establish “democracy” and “freedom” in Iraq? This notion was passed along uncritically by dominant "homeland" communications forces even as U.S. occupation authorities rapidly imposed a neoliberal economic regime that almost completely opened Iraq up for ownership by foreign corporations.
No truly free or independent nation would ever tolerate such blatant external colonization of its natural and human resources. Nor would it permit another country to establish a permanent military presence on its own Iraqi soil – a basic U.S. aim in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration has no interest in seeing Iraq's Shiite majority substantively empowered. It knows very well that its imperial objectives in Iraq clash fundamentally with the wishes and convictions of most of that nation's population.
How many times has dominant media obediently repeated the White House's patently false claim that the occurence of Iraqi elections was a great victory for administration policy when the White House and Pentagon worked desperately to escape the Iraqi people's demand for the exercise of voting rights?
How many times have the corporate mass communications system repeat as self-evidently obvious the administration's richly deceptive claim that the U.S. Social Security system will careen rapidly towards fiscal collapse unless and until decisive (privatizing) changes are made to existing law?
And how many times have we seen corporate newscasters sustain straight faces while putting out Bush's claim that “we [the U.S.] do not torture?” As any self-respecting journalist or newscaster ought to know, Bush's statement is an egregious, lie (a much bigger one, from any serious human rights perspective. Numerous readily available reports and accounts reveal the considerable use by U.S. authorities of coercive interrogation techniques in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere – including secret U.S. prisons in Singapore, Thailand, Pakistan, and other sites, With countless unnamed Arabs, Pashtuns, and others being kept naked in U.S. cells, bitten by dogs, denied sleep and food, and made to pose for humiliating photographs, Bush has requested, received, and acted in accord with high-state legal counsel claiming that captives of his curiously terrorist war on terror are magically unprotected by the Geneva Conventions.
Last Tuesday, corporate newspapers and television reporters respectfully and dutifully relayed yet another administration lie from Master Orwellian War Pig Dick Cheney. The occasion was Lord Darth Cheney's public response to rising criticism of the criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Cheney claimed to welcome free debate over the nation's foreign policy. He was moved to speak, he said, only to counter the “dishonest and reprehensible” claim of some war critics that the administration invaded Iraq on the basis of selective and distorted ingtelligence. In a speech delivered at that great peoples' forum the American Enterprise Institute (a revealingly favorite public stage for the Cheney-Bush cabal), he charged those who accuse the White House of lying the nation into war with “historical revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety.
"Any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped, or fabricated by the leader of the nation,” Cheney proclaimed, “it utterly false. Senator McCain,” Cheney added, “put it best: ‘it is a lie to say that the president lied to the American people.'”
Well, pardon me for sounding like a parody of Al Franken, but any serious news professional knows by now that it is a shameless revisionist lie to say (stay with me here) that it's a lie to say that it's a lie to say that the president lied to the American people on Iraq.
The simple truth is that the administration lied its ass off and othwerise deceived to get the American citizenry to accept the illegal and immoral occupation of that oil-rich state.
Here are some of the most "dishonest and reprehensible" and flatly false things the administration and Pentagon said to manipulate the populace into not opposing the falsely named "Operation Iraqi Freedom:"
* Saddam's Iraq regime had tried to purchase uranium for a nuclear bomb from Africa
*Iraq possessed 30,000 liters of anthrax and other lethal biological agents.
*Iraq attempted to buy aluminum tubes to be used to construct nuclear weapons.
*Iraq had "in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons" (Cheney)
*Iraq possessed a "growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles" that could be used to dispense chemical weapons against US targets within and beyond US soil.
*Saddam possessed 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents and inspectors had recently turned up 16 of them (Powell, to United Nations).
*Saddam was building ballistic missiles that could fly 620 miles, nearly seven times the range permitted by the United Nations (Powell).
*Saddam's regime possessed several mobile biological weapons labs.
*Saddam removed United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq during the late 1990s without any provocation, seeking to hide a resurgent program of WMD reconstruction.
*During the (U.S.-manufactured) crisis leading to US invasion, "we gave [Saddam] a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in....so we decided to remove him from power."
*Iraq had strong and longstanding ties to al Qaeda and was linked to 9/11 and a serious threat to hand off weapons to mass destruction to Islamic militant terrorists like bin-Laden.
*Saddam's past horrific (and US funded and approved) use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers and his invasion of Kuwait (with perceived US approval) proved his reckless (in fact suicidal) willingness to use WMDs against the US and/or other states.
*The Bush administration wished to avoid military action against Iraq, seeing the use of military force against that nation as "a last resort" and only "reluctantly" engaging in war.
*The US invaded Iraq out of respect for international law, the United Nations, and international democracy and in opposition to the use of violence in international affairs.
*Invading US troops would certainly be welcomed as grateful, joyous Iraqi masses, celebrating the freedom granted them by George W. Bush and his "liberating" armies.
Even as he and his subordinates made such strikingly misleading claims in preparing and conducting an illegal invasion of a sovereign state - an action opposed by the preponderant majority of the human species, Bushincluded the following quotation from John F. Kennedy in the text of a pivotal war speech given in October 2002: "Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small."
Reflecting on these and other brazen deception before, during, and after the occupation of Iraq, Cheny should ask his legal staff to review Title 18, part 1, chapter 47, and section 1001 of the United States federal statutory code (US Code Collection, http://www4.law.cornell. edu/uscode/ 18/1001.html) mandates fines and imprisonment up to five yearsfor a federal office-holder who "knowingly and willfully - falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact; makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry."
For what it's worth, the administration is talking about of two wisdes of its mouth (imagine) when it claioms to welcome open "homeland" debate on its failed and miserable Iraq policy. In a chilling Veteran's Day speech in Pennsylvannia, Bush more than suggested that democratic American criticism of his occupation strengthens "the terrorist enemy" and undermines "our troops." Cheney and his fellow Orwellian War Master Donal Rumsfeld have said much the same, accusing war critics of "sending the wrong message" to "America" and "freedom's" and therefore of (at best unintentional) treason on numerous and recent occasions. The "wrong message" is that some Americans (in reality most by how) are not lining up in blind obediece of their Imperial Masters as those masters commit hideous war crimes in the name of what Cheney calls "the civilized world."
"Dishonest and reprehensible?" It's what the proto-fascist Bush administration is all about.
Paul Street (email@example.com) is a professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. His many publications include Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm Publishers, 2004).