"What a black person knows in Brazil, or anywhere else in the world is that their situation won't improve unless you have ... policies that lead to change."
"The symbolic part is important," she said. "But it's not everything."
Special report: Why Brazil's would-be first black president trails among blacks
By Brian Winter
Oct 3, 2014
(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Todd Benson, Kieran Murray and Ross Colvin)
...Speaking of STARK CONTRADICTIONS AND REALITY VS. DESIRE... Check this out...
Eric Holder's Complex Legacy: Voting Rights Advocate, Enemy of Press Freedom, Friend of Wall Street
Monday, 29 September 2014
By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Interview
Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plan to resign Thursday after nearly six years as head of the Justice Department. He will remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Assessments of Holder’s legacy as attorney general have been mixed. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund hailed Holder as one of the finest attorneys general in the nation’s history in part for his role in transforming the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and his leadership on voting rights. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Holder’s record on national security issues. The ACLU notes that during Holder’s time in office, the Justice Department approved the drone killing of an American in Yemen, approved the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined. We speak to Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, Leslie Proll of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
AMY GOODMAN: Attorney General Eric Holder announced his plan to resign Thursday after nearly six years as head of the Justice Department. He’ll remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed. Holder spoke on Thursday at the White House.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Over the last six years, our administration, your administration, has made historic gains in realizing the principles of the founding documents and fought to protect the most sacred of American rights—the right to vote. We have begun to realize the promise of equality for our LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities that they protect. We have kept faith with our belief in the power of the greatest judicial system the world has ever known to fairly and effectively adjudicate any cases that are brought before it, including those that involve the security of the nation that we both love so dearly. We have taken steps to protect the environment and make more fair the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate. And we have held accountable those who would harm the American people either through violent means or the misuse of economic or political power.
AMY GOODMAN: Assessments of Eric Holder’s legacy as attorney general have been mixed. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund hailed Holder as one of the finest attorneys general in United States history, in part for his role in transforming the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and his leadership on voting rights.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union criticized Holder’s record on national security issues. The ACLU notes, during Holder’s time in office, the Justice Department approved the drone killing of an American in Yemen, approved the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, failed to prosecute any Bush administration officials for torture, and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined.
Today we host a roundtable discussion looking at Eric Holder’s record and legacy. Joining us from Washington, D.C., Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; and Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. Here in New York, Baher Azmy is with us, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Washington, D.C. Let’s go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Leslie Proll, your assessment of Eric Holder’s record? And by the way, were you surprised by his announcement yesterday?
LESLIE PROLL: Well, I was surprised that it happened yesterday. I think there have been rumors about his impending departure for some time now, and I think he himself had said that he was going to wait until the November election. So I think we were taken a little bit off guard in terms of the actual day that it happened, but we have expected this for some time now.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about his record. Talk about Eric Holder’s record and your assessment of it.
LESLIE PROLL: Sure. I mean, we think that he will go down in the history books as one of the nation’s finest and most extraordinary attorney generals. I mean, he’s going to be right up there alongside Bobby Kennedy. And, you know, it’s not only for his aggressive enforcement of civil rights cases, but he has shown commitment and vision and courage in the way that he has used the platform of his office to really advance the national conversation on race. And I think when his legacy is brought out, that that is really what people are going to remember about him. He was unafraid to talk about race in this country. And that, I think, is what he will be remembered for most.
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, President Obama applauded Eric Holder for his work combating financial fraud.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’s helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama hailing the record of Eric Holder, who announced his resignation yesterday, though it might well be a long time before he leaves, because a replacement will have to be approved. Rob Weissman of Public Citizen, your response?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Well, I think that Eric Holder’s record in the area of financial fraud and holding corporate criminals accountable is really radically different than his record in the area of civil rights and voting rights. In this area, he has failed utterly. No one has been held accountable for the Wall Street crash, none of the Wall Street executives, none of the Wall Street firms, for widespread financial misdeeds that led to the worst recession we’ve faced in 70 years, tens of millions of people being thrown out of work, millions of people being thrown out of their homes. There was basically immunity. And in fact, when the Department of Justice under Eric Holder found evidence of large financial firms engaging in epic-level money laundering on behalf of narcotraffickers and countries the U.S. government considers to be enemies, it still decided not to criminally prosecute them, on the grounds that they were too big to fail, or, as it became known, too big to jail. Essentially, a decision was taken that if you are a financial institution and you become big enough and powerful enough, you are above the criminal law. And unfortunately, that, too, is going to be a major part of Eric Holder’s legacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, your assessment of the attorney general?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I agree with Attorney Proll. I think he’s one of the most extraordinary attorney generals in the history of this nation. By the time he finishes, he may be the third-longest-serving attorney general ever. He has weathered the storm of an enormous racial backlash against black people in power at the top. He is arguably the second-most-powerful black person in the history of American politics after the president himself. So this is a man who was a proxy for the president in many ways, in terms of the symbolic representation of black power and the way in which—or American power in a black man, I should say—and the way in which that has been responded to by such vicious and acrimonious, if you will, articulations by people in the Senate, people who are questioning the attorney general, by politicians who felt open season on him. And as a result of that, when we look at his record, we’ve got to put it in the context of the abstract versus the real, the abstract versus what’s achievable, in a similar vein that had Barack Obama come into office and allowed the financial institutions of America to fail, you can’t overcome that headline, "First Black—Nation’s First Black President Allows the Financial Institutions to Fail." There’s nothing that we can ever do or say that would have counteracted or countervailed that particular reality and that headline.
And Eric Holder, look, we’re not saying he’s perfect at all, because no attorney general or politician is. But what we’re saying, in the light of what we did, if you’re not alive, you can’t be worried about being sued. If you’re not alive, you can’t worry about financial malfeasance. So, if you’re in prison or in jail, disproportionately, and you happen to be an ordinary citizen, those things are really incredibly important. So, while—yes, get the criminals who have continued financial malfeasance in this country. But what he’s done for the criminal justice system, what he’s done for sentencing, what he’s done for mandatory sentencing, what he’s done for racial profiling, what he’s done to combat police brutality, what he’s done to say that the American Voting Rights Act should be protected, and his, I think, creative use of different aspects of, you know, different sections, when others were gutted by the Supreme Court, has to be acknowledged. And my colleagues on the left sometimes neglect what is important to the masses and millions of people who were never under the purview even of the white left to be concerned about some of the issues that African-American people and Latino people and many others, religious and ethnic minorities, have been concerned about. I think, in that case, he will stand tall in the history of American jurisprudence, and certainly as one of the great attorneys general of all time.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to comments President Obama made about Eric Holder’s record on counterterrorism.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’s worked side by side with our intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security to keep us safe from terrorist attacks and to counter violent extremism. On his watch, federal courts have successfully prosecuted hundreds of terror cases, proving that the world’s finest justice system is fully capable of delivering justice for the world’s most wanted terrorists.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s President Obama talking about Eric Holder. Baher Azmy, also with us, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been involved in a number of major national security lawsuits against the Department of Justice. Your response to his overall record and what President Obama said?
BAHER AZMY: Well, regarding the intersection of national security and civil rights, I think he’s had a very troubling legacy, most fundamentally by extending and solidifying the sort of wartime architecture and narrative into our legal system. And so, in some ways, he’s been an extension of the Bush administration’s Justice Department around indefinite detention at Guantánamo, the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, and in some areas has even gone farther, around the targeting of journalists who seek to expose illegal federal government misconduct and the use of targeted killing practices to execute U.S. citizens without due process.
AMY GOODMAN: Was there an alternative?
BAHER AZMY: Certainly there was an alternative. The alternative, I think, had been articulated fundamentally by President Obama—or candidate Obama, and in rolling back some of the excesses and rejecting the false choice between national security and civil rights. But that alternative wasn’t pursued. In fact, we sort of doubled down. And the danger, of course, is now that the sort of Bush administration practices around national security are not exceptional anymore, they have been solidified. There has been seepage and strengthening of the ties between wartime and law. And that’s going to take a long time to undo.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue with this discussion after break. Baher Azmy with us from the Center for Constitutional Rights; Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Michael Eric Dyson, professor at Georgetown University; and Leslie Proll, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: When speaking at the NAACP convention last year, Attorney General Eric Holder drew parallels between his own experiences as an African-American male and those of Trayvon Martin, when he recalled times in his life when he himself was racially profiled.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: The news of Trayvon Martin’s death last year and the discussions that have taken place since then reminded me of my father’s words so many years ago. And they brought me back to a number of experiences that I had as a young man—when I was pulled over twice and my car searched on the New Jersey Turnpike, when I’m sure I wasn’t speeding, or when I was stopped by a police officer while simply running to catch a movie at night in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I was, at the time of that last incident, a federal prosecutor. Trayvon’s death last spring caused me to sit down to have a conversation with my own 15-year-old son, like my dad did with me. This was a father-son tradition I hoped would not need to be handed down.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Eric Holder. Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, your response to what he said, but also what our guests have said so far in concern about, on the one hand, really taking on issues of racial profiling, but when it comes to, for example, U.S. citizens targeted for drone strikes, his record there?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, there’s no question that Eric Holder’s appeal to the existential, to the personal, added a weight, a heft, a gravitas, to his statements and also personal testimony, to suggest that there is a reasonable way in which one could highlight, underscore and embrace the issue of race while at the same time talking about principles that could be universally applied. I think when he spoke before the NAACP, he did the nation a great service. He suggested that these citizens of color, who happen to be African-American, are worthy of the respect of the state not to be viciously or arbitrarily targeted by them. The protection and service that should be rendered by police should also be extended to African-American, Latino, poor white people and all others equally. Equal treatment under the law and equal justice, of course, is extraordinarily important. So I think Eric Holder’s record in that regard will stand the test of time.
Of course, we talk about the conflicts, the contradictions and broader conceptions of American democracy in its application. And in that case, whereas Eric Holder has much more direct control over events, forces and realities within the context of the Department of Justice, when we’re talking about the other issues that my colleagues have alluded to, then you’re talking about the interaction between the president of the United States of America and the Justice Department. Then you’re talking about the bailiwick being extraordinarily expanded. And in that case, Eric Holder alone can’t shoulder the burden of that. Are there conflicts and contradictions? To be sure. But in terms of ascribing, you know, responsibility, I think that’s a much more muddy kind of context.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you Attorney General Eric Holder—this was in 2012 at Northwestern University Law School—arguing the Obama administration had the right to kill U.S. citizens who belong to al-Qaeda or associated forces.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of al-Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process. It does not guarantee judicial process.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Eric Holder. Professor Dyson?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Well, look, you know, he’s obviously supplying judicial predicate for what he felt was a righteous response by the president. There are those of us, of course, who severely and strongly disagree with that and who would suggest that there are other alternatives available. But as a Justice Department official, as the head law giver, so to speak, or law keeper, then Eric Holder’s role is one that’s divided. He is responsible to the broader American public, which is why the Department of Justice, in particular the Attorney General’s Office, is perhaps the most independent of Cabinet member—Cabinet-level appointments, and, on the other hand, serving at the pleasure of the president of the United States of America. So that’s an internal contradiction that certainly is not going to be resolved by Eric Holder.
Finally, in terms of the actual practice, we know that being involved in the so-called war on terror, which does continue the language of the Bush administration, these are very, very new times. And discerning the difference between traditional conceptions of war, where combatants are easily established, versus the war of, quote, "terror," or should I say, quote, "the war on terror," where the combatants are not easily distinguishable and vicious acts have been perpetrated even in the name of those who have legitimate gripes and complaints about the practices of the United States of America or other legally established governments, leads us into very, very new terrain. And, of course, mistakes will be made. And the reality is, we’ve got to continue to grapple with that. But I think his underlying principle of not, you know, targeting people because of their ethnicity, their race, their religious orientation is a huge move forward in terms of the Islamophobia that has prevailed in much of this war.
AMY GOODMAN: Baher Azmy of the Center for Constitutional Rights?
BAHER AZMY: Yes, well, as someone who does believe that the president needs some judicial review before executing U.S. citizens, and as a lawyer, it was fairly shocking to hear the attorney general say—in a law school audience, particularly—that due process does not require judicial process. The essence of due process for hundreds of years is that executive officials do not get to themselves decide how to deprive individuals of rights and that the judiciary does have to be involved. But that analysis was one that gave legal cover to policy decisions of the executive branch, and therefore, you know, collapsed the distinction between war and the Constitution in the way, in a troubling way, that the prior Justice Department had. And what’s disappointing, I think, is that his great empathy and thoughtfulness about the role of race in this country and state violence in this country, I would have hoped could have informed the use of war and state violence against detainees in Guantánamo, innocent civilians killed by drone strikes abroad, and the simple perpetuation of raw executive power under legal cover.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Eric Holder talking about Robert Kennedy. This was yesterday at the White House when he announced his resignation. Again, Eric Holder has announced his resignation, but he will probably serve for quite some time, because not only would a replacement have to be nominated, but he would have to be approved by Congress. This is Eric Holder.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I have loved the Department of Justice ever since as a young boy I watched Robert Kennedy prove during the civil rights movement how the department can and must always be a force for that which is right. I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and to the legacy of all those who have served before me.
AMY GOODMAN: Leslie Proll, talk about the significance of these comparisons and the particular case, as you’ve been involved in so many, particularly in the South and where you come from in Alabama, that you will remember Eric Holder for.
LESLIE PROLL: Sure. I think that Eric Holder viewed Robert Kennedy as his role model, and that was kind of the guiding light for his tenure in the department. And with Eric Holder, it was very personal for him, this connection to Robert Kennedy. Not many people know this, but Eric Holder’s sister-in-law was one of the students who desegregated the University of Alabama. Her name was Vivian Malone. And she’s one of the two students who Governor George Wallace blocked in the schoolhouse door from entering the campus under a court order to desegregate that school. And the Justice Department, under the leadership of Robert Kennedy, was actually the agency that asked Governor Wallace to step aside and allow the students to enter into the campus, and it was Robert Kennedy who had sent his civil rights deputies, Nicholas Katzenbach, in particular, who negotiated the entrance of Eric Holder’s sister-in-law into that university. And that is a pivotal moment in civil rights history. And I have to think that he remembered that every day of his tenure. And, you know, he said that he had a painting of Robert Kennedy in his office. And I think that was very personal for him, because his family, more than most, understood the role of the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division in enforcing civil rights laws.
And he certainly carried that out with respect to a host of areas. I mean, certainly, he began his remarks yesterday in talking about his legacy, in mentioning voting rights. And certainly this is something that he will be remembered for. He defended the Voting Rights Act when it was under attack in the courts, essentially the constitutionality of it. His lawyers defended that act in federal courts. And then, when the Supreme Court struck down a key section of that act, he would not retreat. He said, "I am going to use the other provisions of the act in order to enforce the Voting Rights Act." And sure enough, he filed lawsuits right away after that decision in Texas and North Carolina. And in these last three weeks, the Legal Defense Fund has been working side by side with his lawyers in the Texas litigation. And so, he has been unabashed and unafraid to use the civil rights laws where he could, and that is going to be, you know, a huge part of his legacy, that he was willing to aggressively enforce these laws when it comes to fair housing, fair lending, education, desegregation, employment discrimination.
And certainly in the area—as the professor said, in the area of criminal justice reform, that is going to be another key legacy of his. He used the power of his position to talk about the unfairness of mandatory minimums and to take steps, through policy and through telling his prosecutors not to overcharge when there is a nonviolent drug offender and to take steps to talk about how are we as a country going to help people who are exiting from confinement and dealing with the collateral consequences, such as finding employment and finding housing. He chaired a 20-agency inter-agency task force just devoted to re-entry. Again, that is going to be another part of his legacy.
AMY GOODMAN: Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee a year ago, Eric Holder suggested that some banks are too big to jail.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large. Again, I’m not talking about HSBC; this is just a more general comment. I think it has an inhibiting influence—impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.
AMY GOODMAN: In May, Eric Holder sought to clarify the Department of Justice’s position on prosecuting financial fraud.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Why would I be anyplace other than right here, right now, you know, to talk to the people in this area who are deserving of our attention and who we want to help as best we can? And we also want to listen. That’s the main part of this trip. We want to listen to hear about the issues that you all are dealing with to see are there ways in which we can help.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Eric Holder in Ferguson, which I want to get to in a moment, very unusual for an attorney general to make that trip. But, Rob Weissman, on that issue of too large to fail?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, again, I think that there’s just a totally different story here. And I think I should say, you know, that his record in civil rights and voting rights is impressive, and it’s important, and it will be a defining element of his legacy, and I think, as Leslie said, not just what he did, but what he said. And it was really unusual, unfortunately unusual, not just for an attorney general, but really for any Cabinet official, to speak aggressively and openly and honestly about race, or really about much else, and use their power to try to change a national conversation. I think he gets tons of credit for that.
However, in the area, again, of financial fraud and holding corporate criminals accountable, it’s a really different story. And there was a decision made—and, by the way, this is not a decision that belongs to anybody else except Eric Holder. Eric Holder and his top lieutenants decided not to prosecute individuals, the CEOs and other executives, on Wall Street responsible for the crash and other wrongdoing, and not to seriously go after the institutions and hold them criminally accountable. And the purported rationale for that was what he said in the first clip, that the businesses had grown so large that there might be some overall impact on the national or global economy, if they were criminally prosecuted. So what evolved was this idea of too big to jail. These companies had become so big that they couldn’t become—they couldn’t be criminally prosecuted. That is turning every element of criminal justice upside down. It means if you become, as a company, so large and powerful, you rise above the criminal law. Due to your size and power, you become immune from criminal prosecution. It’s really perverse. Now, maybe it’s true. But then, if that’s true, then you’ve got to say the institutions are too big to exist and try to break them up, something that actually is within the authority of the Department of Justice. And there was no hint of that from Eric Holder’s DOJ.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, your response?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, in the abstract, I absolutely agree with my colleague, I mean, when we look at the kind of malfeasance and the kind of, you know, corruption that really was pervasive in the entire infrastructure. But a couple things. First of all, you know, the people who took the brunt of the mortgage crisis happened to be African-American people. The greatest bleed-off of black wealth in the history of this nation occurred there. So, if anybody is invested in trying to recoup some of that, it would be those people, and to redound to them significantly. The redistributive mechanism that might restore some of the capital to those folk is, again, of course, never the interest of many of my colleagues who are concerned about it. They just want to put in jail the CEOs and the others who did all this stuff, but they’re not really concerned about the redistributive mechanism that allows these people to regain, because even if you put those guys in jail, the people at the bottom continue to suffer, and there’s no direct response to that, number one.
Number two, if we’re going to talk about this in the actual political context, the kind of racial realpolitik that exists, let’s be real. If President Barack Obama can’t be seen as too gruffly treating white Americans vis-à-vis the Skip Gates situation, where he simply said that the policeman was acting stupidly—the uproar on that was incredible—what do you think will happen then if Eric Holder, as the first African-American attorney general, is seen to be going after mostly white CEOs and other corporate titans within the economic infrastructure? Now, it sounds great, on the one hand, because it is an acknowledgment of our adherence to rational principles of the defense of the poor and vulnerable, but in the real political context within which we exist, I think you’re underestimating the pervasive character of race, how it has shaped the very lens through which we perceive these issues. And unfortunately, the optics on black men at the top—Barack Obama and Eric Holder—exercising a certain kind of aggressive posture toward these particular entities or individuals is being underestimated here. Barack Obama, on the one hand, has receded in light of that kind of vicious racial reaction. Eric Holder has taken it by its tail and said, "At certain significant points, I’m going to intervene." To ask him to do the whole thing and to overcome an entire history of structural and perceptual inequalities that exist, I think is just asking too much.
AMY GOODMAN: Rob Weissman, too much?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: No, I mean, I think the world of Professor Dyson, but I strongly disagree with this. First of all, if you let these criminals get off the hook, they’re going to do it again. So if you care about protecting the communities, you’ve got to hold them accountable. It’s not an abstract principle. It has a very real application. Exactly as he said, the crisis that was induced by these Wall Street executives devastated communities across the country, especially poor and low-income communities across the country. And it’s going to happen again. It’s a certainty it is going to happen again, if we don’t have a change and hold people accountable for what they’re doing. Now, was it impossible for Eric Holder to prosecute these people? No, it wasn’t. Twenty years ago in the savings-and-loan crisis, which cost the country about $500 billion—a ton of money, but nothing compared to the $14 trillion in losses from this crisis—a thousand people want to jail. So, they can be prosecuted. And if you look at what—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Who was the attorney general then? That’s all I’m asking. I’m saying, who was the attorney general then?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: There was not an African-American attorney general, of course not.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: That’s all I’m saying, brother. All I’m telling you—
ROBERT WEISSMAN: But you can’t say—
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Race makes a difference that we’re underestimating.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: You can’t say—no.
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: That’s all I’m saying.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: You can acknowledge that. Of course, he’s faced all kinds of unfairness because he’s an African American in the job. But it doesn’t mean he’s not responsible for doing the job. And in fact, he was more gentle on corporate criminals than any predecessor. So one thing that’s really evolved in the last 15 years, but took off under Eric Holder, was the use of what’s known as deferred and nonprosecution agreements. These are deals with large corporations that have committed criminal acts, but the government says, "We’re not going to criminally prosecute you; we’re going to enter into a nonprosecution agreement. We’re not going to prosecute you. You promise not to do the same thing in the future, and we’re going to let you pay some money and get off." The government, under Eric Holder, did that 150 times—150 times—which has been done maybe a hundred in history prior to the Obama administration. So there’s been more use of this kind of tactic, to be gentler with corporate criminals, than there has been in the entirety of the Department of Justice history.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. I want to bring in Baher Azmy on the issue of journalists, in specific, not only talking about the crackdown on corporations, but on journalists, the surveillance of, the arrest of, and get response to what is happening right now in this country around voting rights. We’re talking to Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. We also have with us in Washington Professor Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In January, during an interview at the University of Virginia, Attorney General Eric Holder ruled out clemency for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: The notion of clemency was not something that we were willing to consider. But as I said, were he to come back to the United States, enter a plea, we would engage with his lawyers.
DOUGLAS BLACKMON: And presumably that would be a guilty plea to something.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the life, the legacy of Eric Holder as he announces yesterday that he is resigning as attorney general. Actually, when he actually will step down will be a very interesting question, considering how the kind of logjam there is in Washington right now, the deadlock between Republicans and Democrats. Our guests are Baher Azmy, legal director of Center for Constitutional Rights; Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen; Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown; and Leslie Proll, with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Baher Azmy, the issue of the significance of Snowden and what the U.S. government has done? He in political asylum now in Russia, but wants to come home.
BAHER AZMY: Yeah, so, in general, I think what we’ve seen, in combination with sort of perpetuating illegal federal government practices in the national security area, is, on the other hand, secrecy and protecting government secrets. So, the illegality and the secrecy are braided together. And what’s particularly troubling is, when journalists or other whistleblowers have tried to expose the secrecy, the response has been to crack down in an unprecedented way on journalists, on whistleblowers, by using a fairly odious 1917 law called the Espionage Act, which was explicitly designed to repress dissent during wartime. And I think it’s now clear that Edward Snowden has done a service to this country by exposing deep illegality at the federal government and wide-scale surveillance that the government otherwise tried to keep secret. And I think that he needn’t be punished in the same way as this administration has tried to punish other journalists and whistleblowers, including Julian Assange.
AMY GOODMAN: The phrase, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, most often used in describing Eric Holder and President Obama now is saying that President Obama has presided over more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all presidents in history combined. And, of course, Eric Holder is pivotal to this. Your response?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, well, just like as Brother Weissman was talking earlier about this, and all of my colleagues, I don’t have any principled disagreement with, in the abstract, the arguments being made. And again here, I can’t defend, as a person who makes a living in part as a journalist and as a public intellectual, any kind of, you know, unjust assault upon the privileges and freedoms that they incur—that they enjoy. So there’s no doubt that there are some contradictions going on here and some fundamentally troubling and disturbing aspects to the legacy. So, I don’t deny that at all.
And I think that in regard to the Snowden tradition, obviously, as attorney general and as president, seeing that the national security under their purview and being privy to information that the rest of the public is not privy to carries its own weight. Of course, the counterargument is that, yeah, well, if you’re going to talk about a sunshine law where we expose, in transparency, all the elements that make up the decisions we make about what gets protected and what doesn’t, in terms of information on national security, then whistleblowers become critical and extremely important. And I understand the argument here vis-à-vis Mr. Snowden and why that’s so troubling to many of us in the American public.
AMY GOODMAN: New York Times's James Risen, who the Obama administration wants to prosecute, and that's in the purview of the Department of Justice, said to Maureen Dowd that President Obama is "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation." Professor Dyson?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Yeah, well, that could turn out to be true. I hope not. But the reality is, is that, look, there are chilling effects in terms of the decisions that have been made vis-à-vis President Obama. So it has to be reckoned with. I’m not here to defend that, and I’m not here to defend anybody’s record across the board, because there will always be lapses and contradictions, some of which are fundamental and some of which are extremely troubling. And so, I think, in this case, again, it is to be acknowledged that we can not only talk about that, we could talk about the master deporter in terms of vis-à-vis the issue of immigration. So, yeah, there are elements here that are extremely troubling and quite disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: And what happens next? This issue of, yes, he has announced he’s stepping down, he’s wanted to do this for a while, but, in fact, how long do you think, Professor Dyson, he will be staying?
MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know, I think he’s going to be there for a while, because the reality is, you know, we have to put pressure on the president here to say, "Look, choose a person who can carry the water that Eric Holder has carried in so many significant ways." My colleagues have already indicated some of the lapses and contradictions and the troubling and chilling consequences. But when you look at the overall, you know, you look at box score, when you look at a person’s average—and I’m not dismissing the legitimate critique on any area here—but when you look at the extraordinary work that Eric Holder has done, the good that he has achieved, and the impact on the domestic, you know, and sometimes international sphere, you’ve got to acknowledge that we should have at least another attorney general who will carry that weight forward. And we can’t use the excuse that, hey, you know, the Senate might change, the numbers of Republicans versus Democrats might alter, and as a result of that we should tamp down on some of the edifying fury that Eric Holder has brought to his job. No, I say we go in the opposite direction: We make certain that we carry on the legacy that this man has created. Let’s not subvert it or undermine it by a kind of tepid, lukewarm response to the politics at hand.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank Michael Eric Dyson, University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown; Leslie Proll, Washington director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; also Baher Azmy here in New York, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Rob Weissman, president of Public Citizen. Other big news this week, again, the resumption of bombing of Syria and Iraq going after the Islamic State.
Eric Holder: DoJ Will Challenge Voter Suppression Laws Using "Every Tool" at Its Disposal
By Ernest A Canning, The BRAD BLOG | News Analysis
Eric Holder's Reforms to Minimum Drug Sentencing Don't Address Structural Racism
By Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network | Video Interview
Eric Holder Pledges to Prosecute Banks – Believe Him?
By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | Op-Ed
"They" Live; "They" Rule
Saturday, 20 September 2014
By Paul Street, Paradigm Publishers | Book Excerpt
No longer content to limit his focus to one side of the dominant and narrow US political spectrum - either Obama Democrats or Teapublicans - Street has turned his attention to the plutocratic American system as a whole. Below we post the introduction to Street's latest and most important and sweeping book yet: They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm Publishers, September 2014). Inspired in part by the Occupy movement or "moment" of 2011, Street's new volume harkens back to John Carpenter's campy but classic film They Live (1987). Carpenter portrayed the United States as subject to invasion and control by alien invaders who wore corporate suits, distributed wealth and power upward, subverted democracy, managed minds and warmed the earth's climate - all in the name of free enterprise and economic growth. They Rule moves from Reagan era science fiction to the nitty-gritty details of how the US ruling class rules and why it matters in our current 21st century New Gilded Age. According to Gar Alperovitz, They Rule is "aserious, useful, and well-written and well-researched guide to the challenges we face and the genuine options we have as American corporate capitalism and its politics continue to decay."
The introductory chapter published here sets the stage for They Rule's "needed analysis of why American inequality became so extreme, and how the rich use political and economic power to keep it that way" (John Berg, Suffolk University).
Truthout readers receive a 30 percent discount by clicking here and inserting the code TOPS30 for Street's They Rule paperback.
John Carpenter's Magic Sunglasses and the Real Choice
Who could have imagined Occupy Wall Street (OWS), its urgent and fierce opposition to the US financial, corporate, and economic elite, and its rapid spread across US cities large, medium, and small in the late summer and early fall of 2011? Several prominent left commentators seemed prescient in their pre-Occupy writings and ruminations, including no less than Noam Chomsky as well as Charles Derber, Yale Magrass,1 Sheldon Wolin, and several others we will mention as we explore this territory. Perhaps no one, however, presaged the themes of OWS as early or as vividly as the filmmaker John Carpenter.
John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Escape from New York, etc.) deserves special credit for partly envisioning the Occupy Movement as early as 1987. All the way back then, he penned and directed what the prolific left social critic and historian Mike Davis calls Carpenter's "subversive tour de force" - They Live, a "depicti[on of ] the Age of Reagan as a catastrophic alien invasion." In Carpenter's brilliant, outwardly campy spoof, America is ruled by aliens disguised as members of the business and professional elite. The extraterrestrials colonize America and the Earth, dismantling the nation in the name of "the free market." They speak in hushed tones to one another through small radios installed in Rolex watches that symbolize their elevated status while providing a safe conduit for intra-alien communication. In a vast underground complex whose existence is kept secret from the hated human herd, they communicate in outwardly idealistic terms of their real objectives - ruthless economic exploitation for the galactic Few sold as "growth" and "development" for the earthly Many - to a large audience of fellow aliens and a minority of well-off and co-opted human collaborators. Hyper-mobile across the galaxy in their shiny business suits, they send resources off-planet and manipulate the citizenry through subtle, subliminal forms of thought control encoded in advertisements and other corporate mass media content.
"They're free enterprisers," a leading human resister of the alien presence explains: "The Earth is just another developing planet - their Third World."
"We are like a natural resource to them," a different resister elaborates. "Deplete the planet and move on to another. They want benign indifference. They want us drugged."
Some humans are cultivated for co-optation, rewarded for their collaboration with fancy jobs, money, and consumer goods. They are invited to sumptuous banquets where aliens dressed as business chiefs regale them with the latest data on the robust "per capita income growth" enjoyed by earthlings who cooperate with the extraterrestrials' "quest for multi-dimensional expansion. . . . The gains have been substantial," one such alien explains, "both for us and for you, the human power elite."
Resistance is futile and there is no alternative, so you might as well play ball with the invaders and enjoy the rewards. So the collaborationist story goes, encouraged by bribery and media messages selling personal consumption, keeping up with fashion, and narcissistic self-display as the meaning of "the good life." As one turncoat explains to They Live's resister heroes near the movie's end,
It's business, that's all it is. There ain't no countries anymore. They're running the whole show. They own everything, the whole goddamned planet. They can do whatever they want. What's wrong with having it good for a change? And they're gonna let us have it good if we just help them. They're gonna leave us alone. Let us make some money. You could have a taste of that good life too. . . . We all sell out every day. Might as well be on the winning team.
Those who cannot be co-opted or numbed by dominant media and consumer gratifications and who dare to question and challenge alien and state-capitalist authority are designated as "terrorists" and "communists who want to bring down the government." They are subjected to violent repression by a heavily armed high-tech police state, whose tools of surveillance and repression include airborne spy cameras that prefigure low-flying military police and border patrol drones currently being prepared for use inside the United States.
To make matters worse for the mostly working-class American human subjects, they struggle with strong internal divisions of race and ethnicity that are richly cultivated and enjoyed by the wealthy few in their Machiavellian quest to divide and conquer. "Maybe they love it," They Live's leading black protagonist muses, "seeing us hate each other, watching us kill each other off, feeding off our cold fucking hearts."
Along the way, the aliens' economic system generates unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and methane, heating the environment in ways that fit their own home climate but threaten life on Earth.
The aliens are opposed by a revolutionary human cadre that has developed special sunglasses and contact lenses that decode the deadening messages of the alien-run corporate mass media and reveal the repulsive nonhuman identity of many of the privileged. When the glasses are donned, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and television programs are shown to express their real intended meaning, telling humans to "obey," "consume," "watch tv," "sleep," "conform," "submit," "buy," "honor apathy," "marry and reproduce," and "work eight hours." Bills of money are shown to say "this is your god," while billboards are seen to proclaim "no thought," "do not question authority," and "no imagination."
The cadre oversees a makeshift campsite of mostly poor and unemployed working-class Americans. Sitting behind a threadbare church in the shadow of Los Angeles's downtown financial district, the multiracial and multiethnic camp captures the rising poverty and joblessness of the reckless get-rich-quick Reagan years and harkens back to previous episodes of mass homelessness in American history.
The campsite is brutally cleared by a militarized Los Angeles Police Department early in They Live, a key moment in protagonist Nada's (played by professional wrestler Roddy Piper) political evolution. Reviewing this scene as I prepared this manuscript for publication, I was struck by how closely it presaged the police-state clearances of Occupy Movement encampments in the fall of 2011.
The cadre struggles to escape detection and repression as it seeks to break into the all-powerful media to tell ordinary Americans what they have dis- covered about who is really running and ruining the country. The movie ends when Nada and his black construction worker comrade Frank Armitage (played by Keith David) succeed in penetrating the aliens' corporate media headquarters to disable the aliens' great satellite cloaking mechanism, thereby exposing the alien identity of the privileged on television and in daily life. The uncovering portends the coming of a great popular rebellion.
Beneath the science-fiction and horror-film surface, of course, Carpenter was portraying the subordination of late twentieth-century America to its own unelected dictatorship of corporate and financial wealth - what would become known twenty-three years later as "the 1%." "Who," Davis wrote in the wake of Occupy's emergence,
can ever forget the brilliant early scenes [in They Live] of the huge third world shantytown reflected across the Hollywood Freeway by the sinister mirror glass of Bunker Hill's corporate skyscrapers? Or Carpenter's por- trayal of the billionaire bankers and evil mediacrats ruling over a pulverized American working class living in tents on a rubble-strewn hillside and begging for casual jobs?. . . From this negative equality of homelessness and despair, and thanks to the magic sunglasses, the proletariat finally achieves interracial unity, sees through the subliminal deceptions of capitalism, and gets angry. Very angry.2
The Occupy Movement was dismantled before it achieved anything like interracial proletarian unity, the disablement of modern mass media and advertising, or a popular rebellion that removed corporate exploiters from their privileged perches. Still, with some real if short-lived help from the mass media itself,3 Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of copycat populist encampments it inspired across the country donned and passed out something of a version of Carpenter's magic sunglasses in a way that not only held the news cycle for a few weeks in 2011 but altered the political discourse and consciousness of the nation ever since. It brought the language of class and the inseparably linked problems of economic inequality and plutocracy (the latter term refers to government by and for the wealthy) to the front and center of the national political culture like no time since the 1930s.4 And that is no small part of why it was taken apart by coordinated state repression within and beyond New York City, where a brutal police-state eviction was ordered by Michael Bloomberg, a leading financial titan and media mogul who also happened to be the mayor of the world's leading capitalist city - something John Carpenter would certainly have appreciated.
This volume is not, however, primarily about the Occupy Movement, possibly better described as "the Occupy Moment." The primary focus here is on key questions posed by Occupy, questions that have also been raised by previous generations of labor, farmer, socialist, anarchist, and populist protestors and critics, including Carpenter (whose They Live heroes are heirs to the antiplutocratic rebels and revolutionaries portrayed in such past American novels as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Jack Conroy's The Disinherited, John Steinbeck 's In Dubious Battle, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Jack London's The Iron Heel, Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano, and John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up): Who owns and rules America beneath and beyond the claims and indeed the pretence of democratic popular governance? Why and how does it matter that the nation's economy, society, culture, and politics are torn and shaped and deformed by stark class disparities and a steep concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a privileged few, a "ruling class"? What is the price - or more precisely what are the prices - of that savage inequality? How did and do the privileged few gain their remarkable wealth and power, and how do they keep it? How does the ruling class rule, over and against the desire of most Americans for a more roughly equal and genuinely democratic, not plutocratic and savagely unequal, society? What can "we the people" do to resist and end that rule in defense of democracy, the common good, a livable natural environment, and a decent future?
In tackling these and related questions, I have been struck at the signifi- cant extent to which the answers resonate with key themes in Carpenter's film. To be sure, the real Earth-specific story of US ruling-class power is far more complicated and detailed than what can be conveyed in a short and often deliberately comic, cartoon-like sci-fi horror film like They Live. Disentangling that story has involved consulting a vast nonfiction literature and the reflections of numerous scholars and critics, including leading "power elite" analysts like George William Domhoff and Thomas R. Dye - none more deeply and recurrently insightful than Noam Chomsky (who will be quoted and cited more than a few times in the present volume). Still, having returned from that nonfiction journey and conducted my own empirical and primary source research, I am struck by the haunting relevance of They Live's nightmarish vision - a nation ruled by amoral, sociopathic, hyper-mobile, highly organized, and socially (if not literally) alien capitalists who operate within and beyond national boundaries as they cultivate human divisions and exploit mass media and culture along with the high-tech repressive apparatus of the state to propagate mass consumerism, individualism, narcissism, and an ideology of endless growth and to demobilize, depress, delude, diminish, demoralize, degrade, and drug the citizenry and the democratic ideal. Along the way, "they" advance a savagely soulless and unequal political-economic order that warms the planet to a dangerous degree while dismantling the nation in service to endless selfish wealth accumulation - the common good be damned.
"Neither Is It a Democracy in Any Recognizable Form"
As the Occupy Movement was being dismantled by armed state forces for having committed the sin of rendering visible the nation's real rulers and some of the hidden injuries of America's class hierarchy, I was contacted by a television reporter from Iran. "How," the reporter wanted to know, "can America credibly claim to advance democracy in the Middle East and across the world when it crushes freedom of expression and protest in its own city streets? " "Why," another reporter at the same network asked me, "do American people tolerate the control of their government and politics by a small and wealthy elite, what Occupy Wall Street calls 'the 1 percent'? "
This book is my belated answer to tackle these difficult and unpleasant questions. The contemporary United States, I find in the volume, is neither a dictatorship nor a democracy. It is something in between or perhaps different altogether: a corporate-managed state-capitalist pseudo-democracy that sells the narrow interests of the wealthy business and financial elite as the public interest, closes off critical and independent thought, and subjects culture, politics, policy, institutions, the environment, daily life, and individual minds to the often hidden and unseen authoritarian dictates of money and profit. It is a corporate and financial plutocracy whose managers generally prefer to rule through outwardly democratic and noncoercive means since leading American corporations and their servants have worked effectively at draining and disabling democracy's radical and progressive potential by propagandizing, dulling, pacifying, deadening, overextending, overstressing, atomizing, and demobilizing the citizenry. At the same time, American state and capitalist elites remain ready, willing, and able to maintain their power with the help from ever more sinister and sophisticated methods and tools of repression, brutality, and coercive control.
The contemporary United States may not be a fascist state. But this hardly means it deserves to be considered anything like a genuine democracy. As the brilliant Australian filmmaker, author, and commentator John Pilger (long a close and knowledgeable follower of US politics) noted in January 2012, as the presidential election spectacle took center stage in American mass media,
America is now a land of epidemic poverty and barbaric prisons: the consequence of a "market" extremism which, under Obama, has prompted the transfer of $14 trillion in public money to criminal enterprises in Wall Street. The victims are mostly young jobless, homeless, incarcerated African-Americans, betrayed by the first black president. The historic corollary of a perpetual war state, this is not fascism, not yet, but neither is it democracy in any recognisable form, regardless of the placebo politics that will consume the news until November. The presidential campaign, says the Washington Post, will "feature a clash of philosophies rooted in distinctly different views of the economy." This is patently false. The circumscribed task of journalism on both sides of the Atlantic is to create the pretence of political choice where there is none.5
As veteran political scientist Sheldon Wolin argued in 2008, the United States may have "morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled." Wolin's chilling book Democracy Incorporated describes a mass-incarcerationist and hyper-militarized nation "where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive - and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best," Wolin argued, "the nation has become a 'managed democracy' where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls" and where "unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies" (emphasis added). In Wolin's view, America has the potential to become modern history's third great totalitarian formation, succeeding the brown fascism of Hitler's Germany and the red fascism of Stalin's Russia.6
Particularly "unnerving" is the possibility that this formation could be the most sophisticated and powerful species of authoritarian rule yet developed. As the brilliant Australian propaganda critic Alex Carey noted back in the pivotal Ronald Reagan–Margaret Thatcher era, the greatest and most potent long-term menace to "the liberal-democratic freedoms we are all supposed to enjoy" has not come from the 1984 "left" but rather in the deceptively "uncoercive" form of "a widespread social and political indoctrination" in the ostensibly liberal West - "an indoctrination which promotes business interests as everyone's interests and in the process fragments the community and closes off individual and critical thought." The critical homeland and headquarters of this indoctrination and the oxymoronic "corporate-managed democracy" it breeds is the outwardly freedom-loving United States, where the art and science of "taking the risk out of democracy" (something different and arguably even more dangerous than twentieth-century fascism's and Stalinism's open and explicit bludgeoning of democracy) have, for various historical reasons, been carried to new levels.7
Clearly, however, the American ruling class is not so confident of its success in softly de-fanging democracy as to forego extremely dangerous forms of hard authoritarian coercion and control. Deadly tools of brute repression remain a highly relevant and increasingly significant part of the contemporary power elite's privilege-preserving toolbox when a significant number of Americans throw off the habit of submission. At the same time, the US elite continues to rely also on its ability to exploit numerous divisions within the nation's demoted citizenry or ex-citizenry - divisions that must be overcome by activists who want to have any chance of saving America from the depredations of the rich and powerful.
But authoritarianism is not the worst threat posed by the super-rich and their profits system. The single greatest and most imminent peril is environmental collapse, the death of livable ecology and hence of the prospects for a livable future - a topic that will be addressed repeatedly in this book. It's "socialism or barbarism if we're lucky," the Hungarian Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros wrote in 2001, adding a critical environmental caveat to Rosa Luxemburg's famous slogan ("socialism or barbarism") on capitalism's long-run tendency to breed authoritarianism, repression, and war.8
The chief beneficiaries of the "new and strange kind of political hybrid" are found among the richest slice of Americans, those for whom the Occupy Movement gave the instantly famous shorthand designation "the 1%." Alongside the ever more imminent specter of ecological destruction - itself the single greatest current risk and inextricably bound up with the intimately related problems of capitalism and inequality (so I will argue) - and the ever-present danger of nuclear war, this great authoritarian threat (potentially "totalitarian" by Wolin's account) underlines the desperately "fierce urgency of now" (to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) when it comes to growing and multiplying the nascent American democracy upsurge that emerged in 2011. The stakes - the fate of the democratic ideal and a livable Earth, the very prospects for a decent and desirable future - could hardly be higher. Tying it all together, I shall argue, are the amoral institutional imperatives of the state-capitalist profits system, absurdly described as the "free market" in reigning US political discourse.
Captive to and controlled by corporate, financial, and professional elites, the 2012 highly personalized and quadrennial US presidential "electoral extravaganza" (Chomsky's evocative phrase) swallowed up the lion's share of official American domestic news and commentary for the year that followed Occupy's dismantlement. One month before the spectacle's culmination, the Public Broadcasting System's investigative journalism show Frontline broadcast a show purporting to "present the definitive portraits of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney." The show, titled "The Choice,"9 provided sensitive, deeply researched, and highly personal biographies of the two official contenders, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. "The Choice" was as remarkable for what it left out as it was for what it included, however. It was loaded with details about the candidates' family histories and marriages and past careers and cam- paigns. At the same time, it was conspicuously silent about the different and yet - from the perspective of many observers - all too similar policy agendas of the two business-backed candidates and about the massive amounts of elite money that paid for both of the campaigns in what had already become far and away the most expensive US election of all time.
Americans need to look through John Carpenter's magical shades and pick from options that go deeper than recurrent once-every-1,460-days contests between two elite-sponsored state-capitalist politicians. "We must make our choice. We may have democracy in this country," US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted more than six decades ago, "or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both."10 that is the real choice for serious citizens beneath and beyond the much ballyhooed choice offered by two candidates selected for us in advance by the powers that be. It was the choice that Occupy Wall Street and its many hundreds of offshoots across the country tried to place before the American people in the late summer and fall of 2011.
Acting on that choice in a seriously democratic fashion, however, is not a simple or easy matter. It involves difficult and detailed movement-building work each and every day, not just once very four years. As the great radical American historian Howard Zinn explained in an essay on the "election madness" he saw "engulfing the entire society, including the left" with special intensity in early 2008,
The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. . . . Would I support one [presidential] candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes - the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. . . . But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.11
By the time I completed this book (started in the summer of 2012, months before the election that returned Barack Obama to the White House), the latest and current "election frenzy" had begun to recede like a bad hangover. It always does. As the dull crush of persistent plutocratic rule beneath and beyond quadrennial election spectacles sinks back into popular consciousness, the time is ripe again for serious and sustained popular mobilization, dedicated to a serious, at least partly Occupy-informed version of radically democratic politics. It is my hope that this book will aid that project by sharpening the subversive egalitarian vision one can garner from donning a good pair of They Live's demystifying sunglasses. And that it will suggest at least some of what might be done to save democracy and a livable future after we see through the powerful myths and propaganda that do much to sustain the contemporary de facto dictatorship of the rich.
Paul Street is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm, 2004) and The Empire's New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010).