Search This Blog

Monday, August 21, 2017

The NFL and Heroes

   The cheapest currency in the US is the award of ‘hero’. At a time noted for its pervasive corruption, moral slack, and self-regard, the shapers of opinion search far and wide for acts of atypical goodness that can be heralded as heroic, acts that might paint an inspired picture in these sordid times.
   The bar for doing-good has been set so low that simply doing what you do or are supposed to do earns hero status: a fireman rescues a dog and becomes a media hero; a dog rescues a fireman and also becomes a hero.
   In more heroic times, the standard set for hero status was much higher.
   A hero should be someone who stands up for those whose voices are not heard; a hero ought to be a person casting personal interest aside to confront a bully.
   I thought about this question when I saw a picture of a young African American couple mourning the loss of Heather Heyer, the victim of a brutal attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. Because she was standing against the forces of injustice when her life was taken, isn’t she a hero by any standard?
   I was reminded of another young woman, Rachel Corrie, who was killed in Israel while standing for justice for Palestinians. Isn’t she a hero? Should we not hold her memory close and tell others of her heroism?
   Perhaps measured by different standards, I would count Colin Kaepernick worthy of hero stature as well. While he has not given his life for the cause of racial justice, he risked his career in professional football to make a statement against institutional racism-- especially persistent police violence against Black people-- before millions of people. As part of the National Football League elite, Kaepernick stepped far over the close line of propriety set by the Neanderthals who own and administer the sport that captures the worst elements of public life in the US. If brutal, bloody public entertainments in arenas became a symbol of decadent Rome, then surely the Sunday celebrations of violence and their accompanying mass hysteria in stadia serve to celebrate the decay of public life in our own US empire.
   Because Kaepernick decided to forego the vulgar pre-game ritual of mindless patriotism and slavish conformity of fall Sundays, he has brought down the ire of the man-child “sportsmen” who own the NFL and its teams. This group of privileged white businessmen enjoy the financial benefits of a sport constructed from base sentiments of aggression and dominance. The sport’s creative directors have understood the value of connecting untempered violence with an equally base and artificial loyalty to a wholly constructed collective-- a “team” -- assembled from entirely disparate parts. Unmistakably, they have successfully replicated the centuries-old attachment of martial sacrifice and ignorant allegiance to an ensemble of vapid symbols. By scorning the NFL’s ritual and, in the minds of many, the symbolic pledge of unexamined loyalty to the national warmongers, Kaepernick and a handful of other African American players have loosened the emotional glue that holds the entire sordid artifice together.
   To Kaepernick’s credit, his anti-racist gesture attacked the most vulnerable link in the chain holding the NFL together, the explicit worship of blind, unfounded loyalty to team and country: the national anthem. Kaepernick chose to protest police violence against Black people by refusing the long-established custom of standing while the national anthem is played.
   That the owners understood this relationship between cheap patriotism and team devotion was demonstrated by the tawdry exploitation of the death in combat of Pat Tillman. Anyone engaged in the NFL industry would likely notice that for all the flag waving, war glorification, and exalted patriotism exhibited at football games, there was a scarcity of volunteers emerging from NFL ranks for the past two decades’ many wars. Owners, administrators, sportswriters, players, and hangers-on were seldom inspired to enlist or offer up their own sons or daughters. So, when Pat Tillman turned his back on his lucrative player contract and joined the Army, NFL royalty jumped at the opportunity to associate NFL warrior-talk with the actual sacrifice of a member of their tough-guy community. Tillman was celebrated far and wide, stadium to stadium, as the NFL role model. And when he was killed in Afghanistan, the tributes and honors grew even more. The entire NFL basked in the sun reflected by Tillman’s heroism. But when Tillman’s death was exposed as a result of friendly fire, when his mother revealed that Tillman had grown vocally critical of the war, the NFL decided that Tillman was not the kind of hero that benefited the interests of the NFL. Consequently, the NFL is left with no “heroes” from the US’s unending wars. Tillman became our hero and not theirs.
   Not only are the NFL owners embarrassing chicken hawks, but they are rapacious, predatory capitalists as well. They have parlayed extraordinary popularity into an economic entity that guarantees increasing profit and asset value, but with absolutely no risk, a secure status even better than that enjoyed by the megabanks. Since teams are merely franchises granted by NFL nobility, much of the real asset value resides in the infrastructure, the stadia, which is largely paid for out of public funds-- not from the pockets of ticket holders or fans, but from the general public. Up until 2015, the NFL was an unincorporated, nonprofit association paying no taxes, though the teams pay taxes on their profits.
   And just in case fans would note that they are paying for the stadia and recognize that owners add nothing and are of no genuine use, Congress has ordained that public ownership will never be an option.
   Incredibly, an industry with 70% Black players refuses employment to a proven, competent African American player because he uses a pre-game gesture to draw attention to injustices against Blacks. Of course, that shameful response should come with little surprise since the arrogant white owners have a long history of racial insensitivities, if not bald-faced racism. Long after most ugly stereotypes were banished from acceptance, owners thought that Black quarterbacks were insufficiently intelligent to lead a professional team. African American head coaches and management was nearly non-existent until the League was shamed into adopting the “Rooney rule,” which obligated teams to interview Black applicants for open coaching positions, a pathetic public relations-induced gesture.
   Of course, the owners see the players as little more than high-priced chattel. As knowledge of the severe, debilitating, often mortal effects of football violence became widespread, the owners did everything to suppress the facts.
   While Colin Kaepernick is blacklisted from playing in the NFL, others have taken up his cause and the cause of justice for African Americans. Richard Sherman has been outspoken and his teammate Michael Bennett has followed Kaepernick’s example by remaining seated during the playing of the national anthem. Bennett has vocally called out white players to join the protest. Several white teammates have shown support for his action, though none have remained seated. Hopefully, some will show some courage and join the protest, especially some of the hyper-salaried, elite white quarterbacks who usually identify closely with the owners. That will make a difference.
    I urge all to sign the online petition/pledge circulated by calling for a boycott of the NFL in support of Colin Kaepernick. With fan interest waning last year, the NFL is sensitive to a decline in its fan support.

Greg Godels (Zoltan Zigedy)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ruminations on the JFK Assassination

I found four good reasons to revisit the John F. Kennedy assassination.

First, I have finished reading the 2017 Antonio Veciana memoir, Trained to Kill. Gaeton Fonzi, one of the most thorough and honest assassination investigators always maintained that Veciana, a Cuban anti-Fidel CIA asset, and Sylvia Odio, another member of an anti-Communist organization, were the keys to unlocking the CIA, Oswald, assassination nexus.

Second, there are strong parallels between the engagement of security forces in “correcting” US foreign policy in 1963 and a similar direct activism of security forces in reshaping US foreign policy in 2017.

Third, the National Archives has released the first tranche of the remaining unreleased government JFK assassination files held in the archives. It is mandated to release the rest by October 26.

And finally, a reader of this blog claimed that most Marxists have failed to challenge the Warren Commission orthodoxy and have shown little sympathy toward alternative accounts. Perhaps he is right about most “Marxists”, but my reply: “I don't believe you can endorse that apologia [the Warren Commission] for a political coup and be a Marxist.”

Veciana and the Security Apparatus
For years, Gaeton Fonzi, formerly an investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, sought to get Antonio Veciana to confirm that his CIA contact known by the nom de guerre “Maurice Bishop” was, in fact, CIA handler David Attlee Phillips. In recent years, Veciana has affirmed that connection, though long after Phillips’s death. Had Veciana done so at the time of the investigation, interrogators would have had a useful lever to pry open the tightly shuttered windows to CIA connections with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Self-described as a terrorist (Veciana claims personal engagement with numerous bombings, fires, and assassination attempts before he exited Cuba), Veciana tells of a 1963 meeting in Dallas with Phillips that was also attended by Oswald. A neutral, uninvolved witness claims that the date was September 7. Veciana’s status as a friend of the CIA and a prominent leader of a community bitterly disappointed with Kennedy leaves little room for a motive to lie about the Oswald meeting. To the contrary, Veciana had every reason to connect Oswald to the hated Fidelistas and not his CIA enablers. Similarly, Sylvia Odio’s allegation that Oswald visited her with two anti-Communist militants can only cast a shadow over her political cohorts in that anti-Fidel movement, a movement that would benefit only from the image of Oswald as a leftist. Nonetheless, she has stuck to her story of meeting Oswald.

In his book, Veciana makes some interesting, currently relevant observations about the nature of rule in the US or other imperialist countries (“empires”):
I came to think that there is a parallel power at work in empires, that sets its own rules, for its own ends… But Bishop [Phillips] made me see that outside this traditional, visible authority there is an invisible power acting in the shadows, directing events. However, the true power lies in the hands of a hidden consortium that acts as an unseen overlord, watching over and deciding civilization’s destiny. This “invisible directorate,” this “shadow government,” is politically, economically, and militarily powerful… It passes from generation to generation, forever hidden, yet forever in control.

This is a truly remarkable commentary, coming from a man whose politics were mostly defined by his visceral hatred of Fidel Castro. Assuredly, his words echo the fashionable notion of the “deep state” so frequently cited today.

But a more apt characterization of the forces acting below the surface, in the shadows, is the classic Marxist concept of a “ruling class.” For Marxists, every society since antiquity has been based upon social classes, with one class dominating the others. Until classes are eliminated, this will be so. So, in Marxist theory, behind every form of rule, there exists a ruling class, either out in the open or in the shadows. In modern capitalism, that ruling class governs behind a curtain of bourgeois democracy; it presents a facade of popular rule while ensuring that the outcomes cohere with the interests of that ruling class.

While the term “deep state” conveys the idea of stealth governance, it fails to unambiguously affirm that covert rule is the norm of capitalism; it may suggest that Veciana’s “hidden consortium” is an aberration, a deviation from the normal course of capitalist governance, a “conspiracy” and not a structural feature of capitalist society.

For the liberal who believes that capitalism is reformable, the concept of the “deep state” is welcome because it imagines a world in which the “conspiratorial” apparatus-- the CIA and the other security agencies-- can be reined in or contained by the “democratic” superstructure of modern-day capitalism. But the truth is that the security services, though often operating clandestinely, are reliable tools of the US ruling class. From the Marxist perspective, the security services acted against Kennedy precisely because the ruling class was determined to change the course of Presidential governance or, at the very least, an important sector of the ruling class decided to alter that course. The agents of change were not, in any significant sense, rogues.

Similarly, the current deluge of anti-Russia leaks attributed to anonymous sources in the security apparatus, are directed at pressing the Trump administration toward a ruling-class consensus on foreign policy. Because no solid evidence is supplied, the insinuating, guilt-by-association claims are grounded on public confidence in the snoops and assassins. The security services are successfully molding the Trump foreign policy agenda without resorting to the violent solution chosen by their predecessors.

The National Archives
It is naive to believe that the National Archives will release a blockbuster document in the next three months. That does not mean, of course, that careful, diligent investigators won’t unearth interesting leads that cast doubt on the official narrative. But be assured that the CIA, the FBI, and other government agencies have suppressed or destroyed any documents that might link them with Oswald, the assassination, or any other element of the Dallas events.

Nonetheless, assassination investigators have done a remarkable job of using the selective documentary evidence to find weaknesses, even contradictions in the dominant narrative. This is truly remarkable because the investigators, excepting those with the Church Committee, the Garrison investigation, and the HSCA, have few resources, limited expertise, and scant support. Certainly, the government did nothing to help and everything to hinder any effort to dig deeper.

It is interesting to see the timing, the content, and the media reaction to the release of the first tranche of documents. The National Archive release featured the Yuri Nosenko files, a quaint sideshow to the assassination and the obsession of the Strangelovian CIA mole-hunter, James Jesus Angleton. Angleton was fixed on laying the blame for the assassination at the Soviet door step. And today’s media is taking the National Archive bait, adding the Nosenko affair to its year-long mud-slinging at Russia based on gossip and innuendo. Typical of the media were the following headlines:
Newly released top secret documents may show that Russia was behind the assassination of JFK (

Another transparent effort to divert attention from CIA complicity based on the recently released documents can be found here.

No one should think that it is a coincidence that these long dismissed charges are surfacing again precisely in the midst of an all-out media campaign to demonize Russia and fuel a new Cold War. The calculated release does a disservice to the truth of the JFK assassination and further demonstrates government complicity in the demonization of Russia.

Marxists and the Kennedy Assassination
There are “Marxists” and there are Marxists. Michael Parenti is one authentic Marxist who has consistently argued that Kennedy was assassinated by the security arm of the ruling class. In his words:
The state is the instrument used in all these societies by the wealthy few to impoverish and maintain control over the many. Aside from performing collective functions necessary for all societies, the state has the particular task of protecting the process of accumulating wealth for the few… Occasionally an incident occurs that reveals in an unusually vivid manner the gangster nature of the state. The assassination of President John Kennedy in November 1963 is such an occasion… To know the truth about the assassination of John Kennedy is to call into question the state security system and the entire politico-economic order it protects. This is why for over thirty years the corporate-owned press and numerous political leaders have suppressed or attacked the many revelations about the murder unearthed by independent investigators…
While Parenti favors the colorful words “gangster state,” it is clear that he identifies the agents responsible for Kennedy’s assassination as “instruments” of the “wealthy few” (the ruling class). “Gangster” serves Parenti well because, looking in the rear-view mirror after the assassination, he understands the all-too-common thuggery, deceit, manipulation, and violence used against the leadership of sovereign countries in the early years of the CIA: Iran (Mossadegh), Guatemala (Arbenz), and, of course, Cuba (Fidel). Certainly, with such a history of gangsterism in attempting to depose leaders, the CIA should be the first, and not the last, rock to overturn while looking for those responsible for Kennedy’s murder.
The current adulation by the media and elected officials of the FBI and CIA over their claims of Russian interference in the US election is made even more absurd by an even casual knowledge of this history. Why does the hard-charging media refuse to look in the rear-view mirror to see CIA/FBI lies and deceit?

It is wise to heed Parenti’s methodological recommendation:
Unlike fictional mysteries, in real life there usually is no smoking gun. Historians work by a process of accretion, putting piece by piece together until a picture emerges. In the Kennedy murder the pieces make an imposing picture indeed, leaving one with the feeling that while there may not be a smoking gun there is a whole fusillade of impossibilities regarding the flight of bullets, the nature of the wounds, the ignored testimony of eye witnesses, the sudden and mysterious deaths of witnesses, the disappearance and deliberate destruction of evidence, and the repeated acts of official coverup that continue to this day regarding the release of documents.
For anyone identifying with or familiar with US Communism and its history, the official account, from the Warren Commission to Gerald Posner, defies credibility. At the time when Lee Harvey Oswald was building a reputation as a Marxist (in the Marine Corps!), defected to the Soviet Union, returned, and re-established himself as a “friend” of Cuba, Communists were still undergoing McCarthyite repression. In 1958, Junius Scales was convicted as a Communist under the Smith Act. He was released from jail in late 1962.  We are asked to believe that open Marxist “Oswaldkovitch” was functioning in the Marine Corps at this time, holding a security clearance, and was assigned to the secret U2 base in Atsugi, Japan. This was a time when two top leaders of the Communist Party were finishing their sentences for being Communists! No Communist or Marine would find this account to be even remotely possible.

According to the accepted timeline, Oswald was professing Marxism at a time when anti-Marxism had reached hysterical levels in the United States and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover had collected a Communist Index with over 200,000 names. Unlike the tens of thousands of family, friends and associates of Communists who received visits by the FBI in this period, there appears to be few records of visits in Oswald’s circles. The FBI seems to have shown little interest in him.

Similarly, his return as a defector seemed to draw scant attention from the security services who were reading every letter from the Soviet Union to the US. Apparently, letters posed more interest from the CIA than returning defectors (or, at least, this one!). Since the FBI was suspiciously inquisitive about even mere visitors to the Soviet Union in this era, anyone touched by the rabid anti-Communism of the time would find this lack of interest stunning, indeed!

And the ready acceptance of a defector from the Soviet Union in right-wing circles in the heartland of reaction defies belief.

And how did Oswald’s incarnation as a lone soldier of the pro-Cuba left in New Orleans bring so little action from security services, little harassment, and little violence from the enemies of the left, even with a contrived incident? Have Warren Commission apologists forgotten the murderous violence against dissent, nonconformity and civil rights activism (often equated with “Communism”)? Does “Communist” Lee Harvey Oswald’s unhindered, bold forays through the racist, anti-Communist South make any sense in this context when leftists of any persuasion at that time, or in the following decade, were risking their lives?

Probably nothing ridiculed the plausibility of Oswald, the Marxist revolutionary, as the backyard photo of Oswald holding both the Trotskyist Militant and the Communist Worker in one hand and a rifle in the other. Veterans of the left were astonished that anyone with even a vague relationship to leftist politics would put the three objects in the same room, not to speak of in the hands of one person. The only purpose would be to tarnish the left.

Marxists offer no special technical knowledge or expertise on trajectories, wound analysis, or marksmanship, though acknowledging that assassin investigators have cast more than a little doubt on factual details of the official narrative. However, even the greenest, most inexperienced leftist of the time would have picked Oswald out as a provocateur. For that reason, Oswald’s handlers never placed him in the actual presence of anyone even remotely identified with the US Marxist movement. Oswald never visited headquarters, offices, meetings, etc, but only dealt with the left remotely. Where he approached foreign Marxists (Soviets, Cubans), they were cautious and hesitant with him.

Oswald was a leftist poseur serving a different master. 

For More
For a credible, plausible counter-narrative to the Warren Commission, I recommend JFK: The Cuba Files by Fabian Escalante. Escalante is the retired head of Cuban Intelligence, the mastermind behind countering decades of CIA attempts on Fidel Castro. He may well be the world’s leading expert on CIA intrigue, and brings Cuban intelligence resources to the question.

The Last Investigation by former HSCA investigator, the late Gaeton Fonzi, is indispensable for chronicling his tenacious pursuit of the truth in the face of government intransigence, deception, and complicity.

Vincent Salandria was one of the earliest and most challenging critics of the Warren Commission. His False Mystery shows his detailed dissection of the Report and how he located anomalies that occupied the next generation of investigators.

Two more recent investigators, David Talbot and Jefferson Morley, approach the assassination from very different perspectives, but draw fresh, useful conclusions that help flesh out the assassination picture.

E. Martin Schotz’s History Will Not Absolve Me is a useful anthology that brings forward a number of associated issues, especially concerning various responses to both the assassination and the Warren Commission Report.

For a fascinating allegory of the assassination, one should read Michael Parenti’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome.

There are, of course, uncountable commentaries on the JFK assassination. Most are well-intentioned and contain some useful facts or interpretations. It should be understood that the vast majority of these commentators, though honest, are amateur sleuths. Consequently, there are mistakes, false interpretations, and dead ends in many studies. Nonetheless, much useful work has been done.

Among the commentators, there are charlatans, shills, and spooks, some purposefully casting a cloud over assassination studies. The perpetrators, their friends, and allies have great resources, and they use them to great effect.

But there was a coup. We will live with the fears, the uncertainties, and the unchecked elite rule until we expose it. It continues to shape the world we live in.

Zoltan Zigedy

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More on Energy Imperialism

Literally days after my last post on the changes in US energy policy and its influence on the trajectory of US imperialism, President Donald Trump and his energy secretary proclaimed those changes in their customary blunt and bombastic way. On June 29, Trump declared a US policy of “energy dominance” at a meeting at the Department of Energy. Reuters‘s headline on their coverage perfectly captured the meaning of this policy: “Trump Seeks to Project Global Power through Energy Exports.Bloomberg News’s Gennifer Dlouhy quotes Trump: “We are a top producer of petroleum and the No. 1 producer of natural gas. We have so much more than we ever thought possible. We are really in the driver’s seat.”

Clearly, Russia is a target of the emerging policy. The Administration’s Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry said that “... the entirety of the EU totally get it that if we can lay in American LNG [liquefied natural gas] ... we can be able to have an alternative to Russia…” “The US will be able to clearly create a hell of a lot more friends by being able to deliver them energy and not being held hostage by some countries, Russia in particular.” (Reuters)

Lest anyone fail to get the message, Trump told cheering Polish people in Warsaw on July 6: "We are committed to securing your access to alternate sources of energy, so Poland and its neighbors are never again held hostage to a single supplier of energy.” (CNBC) Instead, they will be held hostage to the US.

Bloomberg’s Dlouhy notes that negotiations have begun to sell more LNG to the Republic of Korea. And Reuters’s Timothy Gardner comments that the US exports more petroleum products to Mexico than does any other country. In fact, according to Gardner, the US is already the world’s largest exporter of refined petroleum products.

Despite the near total neglect of the foreign policy implications of this emerging policy by US commentators and, especially, the left, they have not gone unnoticed in important circles internationally. Writing in the largest circulation UK paper, The Sunday Times, Irwin Stelzer stated on July 2: “LNG has created a new Great Game, with America’s ‘yuge’ reserves of natural gas giving Trump a weapon with which to offset Russia’s early lead.” Talk of “Great Games,” of course, invokes memories of the imperialist rivalries and clashes of the late 19th and early 20th century. While the “Russia-gate” controversies uncritically consume many US observers, even conservative Europeans are identifying the material interests, the imperialist interests standing behind the hysterical anti-Russia campaign.

Further, Stelzer sees the recent Gulf States’ aggression against Qatar for what it is: “... the Saudi royal family believe now is the time to wring a total surrender from Qatar… The implication for the global LNG market of a potential isolation of Qatar [the world’s largest exporter] could not be more consequential.” And it could not be more beneficial to the emerging US LNG shippers.

The recent Trump European trip was a sales trip for US LNG as much as it was participation in the G20 summit.

OPEC ‘Monopoly’ versus US Hegemony

It appears more and more likely that the era of OPEC dominance of energy markets is dwindling, broken by US energy production. Saudi Arabia attempted to reverse the expansion of US production by over producing and driving the price of oil below a level that would allow US shale producers to be profitable. Consequently, US operators lost $130 billion since 2015. But Wall Street has subsidized the shale industry by ploughing $57 billion back into the industry over the last 18 months, a move that shows both no fear of a price war and a determination to dominate the markets. The Wall Street Journal (7-8-2017) likened the investments to the tech boom of the past.

At the same time, the US is using political sanctions to hinder competitors. The recent Senate vote on Russian sanctions is one obvious example. But Iran is another competitor that the US hopes to discourage. The European sanctions are now lifted, but EXXON MOBIL and CHEVRON, as US companies, are still deterred from investing in Iran because of remaining US sanctions. BP is afraid of those sanctions and only French TOTAL has dared to invest, along with CHINA NPC. Where Iran is seeking $92 billion in energy investments, it has only secured $1 billion.

Worldwide, most energy investments have channeled to US shale oil.

The monopoly price-manipulation model enforced by OPEC discipline is eroding. Since competition is intensifying, pricing has become extremely volatile. With Chinese imports of crude oil up 13% this year, the Saudis have sharply cut the price of super light crude to Asia to garner a greater share of this burgeoning market.

The Future

Of course, it is impossible to spell out all of the foreign policy implications of the new energy imperialism. But it appears certain that the US drive toward energy dominance will reshape US imperialist designs and generate a strong international response.

The House of Representatives companion bill on sanctions passed 419-3, demonstrating again the ruling-class consensus on punishing oil and gas producers-- Russia and Iran. The European Union wisely interprets this and its Senate companion as a challenge to existing energy relations. As The New York Times reported (July 25) immediately after the vote: “...the new sanctions have important implications for Europe because they target any company that contributes to the development, maintenance or modernization of Russia’s energy export pipelines.” It notes that: “Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s bureaucratic arm, has called for an urgent review of how the European Union should respond.”

Speaking to the “principles” behind the House bill, Russian “Alexey Pushkov, a legislator and frequent commentator on international relations, wrote on Twitter: ‘The exceptional nation wants to block Russian gas supplies to Europe and to sell expensive shale gas from the U.S. to its European servants. That’s the entire ‘morality’ of Congress,’” as reported by The New York Times (7-25-17)

And the price war between the US and OPEC along with its friends has left OPEC unity in danger and its policies in shambles. At the most recent meeting in St. Petersburg, disputes over production and exports have combined with frustration over the effectiveness of agreements. States are conflicted over protecting prices and earnings or fighting for market share.

Where unbridled competition arises, conflict is soon to follow. With economic interests joining with political maneuvering, as the US-contrived hysteria over Russia and Iran instantiates, the danger of aggression and war grows exponentially.

The new US imperialist “Game” is played to dominate energy markets, an even more perilous project that threatens friend and foe alike.
Zoltan Zigedy

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Last Liberal

The year 1989 marked the death of the independent journalist, Isidor Feinstein (I.F.) Stone, the last twentieth century US liberal. Liberalism in the last century combined the liberties of the original Bill of Rights with Roosevelt’s proposed Second Bill of Rights. By mid-century, US liberalism reached its greatest heights, supplementing the historic bourgeois rights that dismantled feudalism and enshrined the right to property with the promise of an entirely new set of economic rights-- rights to employment, housing, medical care, social security, education, among others. The economic rights sought to codify the social democratic gains made in the New Deal era.
By the time of I.F. Stone’s death in 1989, liberalism had nearly shed all of its commitment to the Rooseveltian social justice rights. The bearer of the liberal legacy, the Democratic Party, swiftly retreated from New Deal values in the face of the Reagan attack on social welfare programs. Consequently, the Democratic Party of Bill Clinton, the “third way,” market-obsessed Democrats, eschewed the term “liberal” and appropriated the once-meaningful term “progressive” in its place. Stone would have been appalled.
But the thinness of the US liberal commitment to its own principles were well known to Stone. He well knew of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 that affronted the Bill of Rights before even a decade had past.
He knew of the betrayal of the rights of Blacks granted by the 14th and 15th amendments that closed the Reconstruction era.
He was, of course, familiar with the shameful, tepid response of liberals to the Palmer Raids of 1919-1920, the government repression and deportation of political dissidents.
But Stone was most familiar with the sell-out of classical liberal values by Republicans, Democrats, and nearly all self-described liberals in the late 1940s and 1950s, a repressive time commonly called the McCarthy era.
Stone denounced the “two decades of carefully nurtured nightmare” that began with the Smith Act of 1940, an “era in which the mere allegation of leftist sympathy or affiliation was enough to put a man outside the pale.”
From ACLU secret collaboration with the witch hunt to the establishment of the Americans for Democratic Action as a haven for untainted, anti-Communist liberals, liberalism fared poorly in the Cold War era. The liberals who didn’t think that associating with Communists was necessarily traitorous were banished with the Communists. The liberals who were enthusiastic about anti-Communism saw no contradiction between abrogating the rights of Communists and fervently defending the sanctity and universality of those rights.
Stone could not understand this posture of Cold War liberals. He truly believed that the rights granted in the Bill of rights were absolutely universal and beyond abrogation, just as the celebrated Founding Fathers proclaimed. He didn’t think that they only applied in good times or when it was convenient.
Stone believed the contradiction of Cold War liberalism could be summed up with one example of a Cold War security case. With respect to a specific “security” firing, Stone cites the comment of the era’s arch-liberal, Walter Lippmann, who advocated “to have the charge tried by due process,” a seeming appeal to fairness. But Stone responded with exasperation: “How do you try the ‘charge’ that a man once worked for Armtorg or has two sisters in Russia?”
Stone recognized that it was innuendo and association that propelled a country supposedly built on liberal foundations to qualify, obfuscate, and relinquish those values.
After the 1950s hysteria diminished, Stone continued to serve as a vigilant watchdog over liberalism and its hypocrisies. At the same time, he fervently defended liberal values, especially freedom of speech, the value of an independent press, and freedom of association.
One wonders what he would have thought of liberalism in our era?
Unlike in the McCarthy era, when liberals felt compelled to show their loyalty by following the Republicans on the anti-Communist crusade, today’s liberals have mounted their own, unprompted campaign of innuendo, guilt by association, and fear-mongering.
Where the security services fed the Red scare through reliable media contacts and opinion-makers, the 2017 security services play the same role, feeding some of the same media outlets and many others unsubstantiated, politically charged, and unattributed charges against capitalist Russia. In the latter case, the catalyst for the new hysteria is US liberals.
Portrayed by Democratic Party nobles and liberal-leading lights as a defense of our treasured democratic process, the campaign is, in reality, a stealth mission to solidify an aggressive, dominating US foreign policy. Just as the Red scare really targeted left unity, militant trade unionism, and the more committed New Dealers, the current Russia-baiting targets foreign policy dissidents, anti-imperialists, and the rejection of post-Soviet triumphalism. Under the guise of meeting Trump perfidy, liberals are wittingly or unwittingly shaping an aggressive, imperialist foreign policy consensus.
As for the news media, media conglomerates have used the interminable leaks from the security services as the candy to coax subscribers in the rating wars. So far, several have outmaneuvered the Fox News empire which is trapped in defense of right-wing interests aligned behind the unsavory Donald Trump (MSNBC has narrowed a nearly 46% gap in prime time viewers favoring FOX News at the beginning of the year to 17.5% six months later, an unprecedented gain).
I. F. Stone understood the rank opportunism of the media and its challenge to liberal values decades ago. He warned of the use of anonymous sources as early as 1955: “…[one] cannot come into court and ask for conviction on undisclosed evidence by undisclosed persons on the grounds that to reveal them would endanger its source of information.” But this is precisely what liberals and the media are doing today in the Court of Public Opinion with the so-called Russia-gate.
Though Stone could not have anticipated its further corruption, he fully recognized the deteriorating function of the news media. He wrote in 1963:
...most American newspapers carry very little news. Their main concern is advertising [based on circulation and media ratings]... All the so-called communications industries are primarily concerned not with communications, but with selling. This is obvious on TV and radio but it is only a little less obvious in the newspapers. Most owners of newspapers are businessmen, not newspapermen. The news is something which fills the space left over by the advertisers. The average publisher is not only hostile to dissenting opinion, he is suspicious of any opinion likely to antagonize any reader or consumer.
And today’s handful of giant monopoly, multimedia corporations have far surpassed the commercial imperative identified by Stone. As the uncritical transmission belt of security services’ leaks, the US media have totally abdicated their mission as news sources. They have not only failed to deliver news, but have packaged rumor as news and presented it as entertainment.
Stone was aware of the dynamics of news “management” long before journalists were “embedded.” Writing in 1955:
... it is easy to see why the average Washington correspondent is content to write what he is spoon-fed by the government’s press officers… Why dig up a story which the desk back home will spike?... The private dinner, the special briefing, are all devices for “managing” the news, as are the special organizations of privileged citizens gathered in by State and Defense Departments for those sessions at which highly confidential (and one sided) information is ladled out to a flattered “elite.”
And the reporters and media news readers are not likely to reject the government feeding tube and will, instead, stick with the consensus: “Most of my colleagues agree with the Government and write the accepted thing because that is what they believe; they are indeed-- with honorable exceptions-- as suspicious of the non-conformist as any group in Kiwanis.” Unfortunately, there are few exceptions today, honorable or otherwise.
Stone knew how the media failed to provide the necessary condition for a truly informed, democratic citizenry. Nonetheless, he had an abiding confidence that liberal values would prevail and find a way to reverse, or at least correct, the course of US democracy. He had a faith-like confidence that independent journalists like himself would prevail somehow against the media behemoths. He believed that freedom of speech, freedom of association, and an independent and diverse press would protect citizens from the manipulation of the rich and powerful. Subsequent history shows he was wrong.
In our time, liberals are the key players in the Russian-under-every-bed witch hunts that are boiling over in the media. At all the past critical junctures when liberal values were tested by duress, liberals failed to defend those values. They are failing now.
Perhaps liberalism is philosophically incoherent. Perhaps it’s theoretically flawed and that is what accounts for its failure at critical moments. That’s an argument for another time. But clearly liberals have shown little spine when liberal values would be most useful, times when deliberation and measure should confront mob hysteria and waves of duplicity. Instead they stand knee-deep in hypocrisy.
You know your friends in times of crisis; liberals consistently fail the test.

Zoltan Zigedy