THE WASHINGTON CESSPOOL — WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED?

Watching Bill Moryers’s interview with Mark Leibovich today, on the system of relations in Washington, I learned what I could not have made up, could have have imagined.  Justice is being subverted in DC on a
gargantuan and pervasive scale.  Moral sensibility has been dulled all around, not only among the political leaders who
are being bought off by the powerful corporations but also among the
media.
The details of Liebovich’s book are worth repeating, some of them discussed in the interview.  Every person named here should be closely inspected for how he or she has caved into the powerful vortex of corporate interest, which now controls the way our country’s wealth is being divvied up.
Here I reproduce Bill Moyers’s critical summation of the situation at the end of the interview: it states so bluntly and vigorously the sense of outrage that the people of this country
should feel toward what is happening in Washington [I only wish I could write like him].  Washington is not a place where the interests of the
American people are being dutifully served but a place where vultures [the rich and well connected of all sorts] feed on the
wealth paid in by the ordinary Americans, distributing the largess in such a way as to insure that blame
is so broadly distributed that no one — no person, no corporation, no industry — can be held to account.  Most of us don’t know how totally our country is dominated by an upper class that includes both parties and even a media that now sucks up to the powerful and connected.

BILL MOYERS: We are so close to losing our democracy to the mercenary class, it’s as if we are leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon and all that’s needed is a swift kick in the pants. Look out below. 

The predators in Washington are only this far from monopoly control of our government. They have bought the political system, lock, stock and pork barrel, making change from within impossible. That’s the real joke. 

Sometimes I long for the wit of a Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. They treat this town as burlesque, and with satire and parody show it the disrespect it deserves. We laugh, and punch each other on the arm, and tweet that the rascals got their just dessert. Still, the last laugh always seems to go to the boldface names that populate this town. To them belong the spoils of a looted city. They get the tax breaks, the loopholes, the contracts, the payoffs. 

They fix the system so multimillionaire hedge fund managers and private equity tycoons pay less of a tax rate on their income than school teachers, police and fire fighters, secretaries and janitors. They give subsidies to rich corporate farms and cut food stamps for working people facing hunger. They remove oversight of the wall street casinos, bail out the bankers who torpedo the economy, fight the modest reforms of Dodd-Frank, prolong tax havens for multinationals, and stick it to consumers while rewarding corporations. 

We pay. We pay at the grocery store. We pay at the gas pump. We pay the taxes they write off. Our low-wage workers pay with sweat and deprivation because this town – aloof, self-obsessed, bought off and doing very well, thank you – feels no pain. 

The journalists who could tell us these things rarely do – and some, never. They aren’t blind, simply bedazzled. Watch the evening news – any evening news – or the Sunday talk shows. Listen to the chit-chat of the early risers on morning TV — and ask yourself if you are learning anything about how this town actually works. 

William Greider, one of our craft’s finest reporters, fierce and unbought, despite a long life in Washington once said that no one can hope to understand what is driving political behavior without asking the kind of gut-level questions politicians ask themselves in private: “Who are the winners in this matter and who are the losers? Who gets the money and who has to pay? Who must be heard on this question and who can be safely ignored?” 

Perhaps they don’t ask these questions because they fear banishment from the parties and perks, from the access that passes as seduction in this town.   

Or perhaps they do not tell us these things because they fear that if the system were exposed for what it is, outraged citizens would descend on this town, and tear it apart with their bare hands. 

“ONE DROP OF NEGRO BLOOD”: WHAT IT MEANT AND WHAT IT MEANS

[This is a revised version, 8/8/13]
It took me many years in my teaching to declare to my
students that societies run on myths.  At
this point it seems strange that it took so long for me to come to that. But
now I see it so clearly in so many places, in so many ways.  David Runciman reviewed a book in the London Review of Books that caught my attention. Ira Katznelson, in Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our
Time
, explains the strategic partnership that FDR had with southern
Democrats.  Both sides had to compromise
in order to work together even though in fact their agendas were different and
actually contrary in some critical ways. 

What struck me was how racism was such a critical basis of
the agenda of leaders in the South in that relationship.  The whole agenda in the South was to make
sure that the federal government didn’t interfere with what the power elite in
the south were doing in their own states.  States rights was
crucial in their federal discourse because the power elite needed to do what they
wanted locally.  Among themselves in
the South they justified their grip on power by appealing to racial
superiority.  Northern agendas should
never intrude on that myth. 

An example:  In a
debate about anti-lynching legislation in the US Senate in 1938 the Senator
from Mississippi, Theodore Bilbo, said that “one drop of Negro blood placed in the
veins of the purest Caucasian destroys the inventive genius of his mind and
strikes palsied his creative faculties.”  With this argument he protected lynching in the South from
federal legislation. 

In some ways not much has changed in the South, we might
say, because politics in the southern states seems still to be aimed at holding
at bay the pressures of outside [Northern] mores. 
The difference is that the Republican Party seems to be a better vehicle today for effecting that agenda than the Democratic Party. 

But of course in lots of ways much has changed.  Senator Bilbo made his statement – it shocks
ours sensibility in these times – in 1938. 
But his world was already ineluctably caught in a world that would
unmask the myth that seemed plausible in his time.  Thirteen years later, doctors in Baltimore
removed some cells from a tumor of an Afro-American woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was, it turned
out, dying of cancer.  To their surprise the doctors discovered that the cells taken from Mrs. Lacks could be multiplied in the lab.  Cell research became possible on a scale previously inconceivable.  Since that time those cells have been multiplied more times than anyone knows and become the basis for more than 74,000 scientific studies.  One drop of Negro blood has in this case provided
the world – scholars all over the world – with basic insights into “cell
biology, vaccines, and in vitro fertilization and cancer” [NYTimes 8/8/13, p. 1].

Little did the good Senator from Mississippi know. But my point is he wouldn’t care. What he sought to effect was protection of the interests of the power elite of his state [who happened of course to be white and their constituency to be white] justifying that agenda by reference to a myth about race; it paid to promote such a fantasy.  The justifications now are different – the power elite and their constituency in Mississippi are different now — but power seems to work about the same way as before.  Those who have it seek ways to protect it and — as humans need always to justify what they do – they explain the reasons for their behavior and policies in highly moral terms.  The South – and the North, and all human collectives, when they try to represent their collective interests – still speaks in moral terms; and in the case of the South it is still the Bible Belt.

The difference now is what can ring true: cell research, based on blood samples of a human being is taken to be exemplary of the whole “human race”; it is no longer considered to be a sample of a particular “race” [a category that cannot be documented biologically].

But it still raises questions about what is “real.”  Are all those studies based on Mrs Lacks’s cells?  Are they still hers?  Are they “Negro”? Who do they belong to?    

WHEN THE RICH CONTROL NEWS, ADVERTISING, AND CONGRESS

An unknown group is funding an advertising blitz in Missouri to reduce state taxes.  They tried through the Missouri legislature to cut state taxes but the governor vetoed the bill.  Now this group has put images of families and minorities on the screen to push for lower taxes, which they say will create jobs.

Reducing government services, which the reduction of taxes would entail, would put people out of jobs, not create jobs.  If jobs are created in this way they will be jobs working for the rich, in companies that will benefit the well-to-do, not the weakest elements of our society.

What the advertisements don’t tell us is who these people are who insist on reducing taxes — that is, for the well-to-do — and reducing services for the needy.  I would appreciate any guidance on who these people are.

We are getting closer and closer to being a country in which the weak and poor have little or no true voice.  How can this system escape the critique of the great prophet?
“They do not plead the cause of the fatherless,  they do not defend the rights of the poor…. I will certainly cause retribution on such a nation as this!
“… all of them are greedy for dishonest gain.  Prophets and priests alike all of them practice deceit.  They offer only superficial help for the harm my people have suffered.”
“Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands.  Stop killing innocent people in this land.”
Jeremiah  5:28-29; 6:13-14; 7:6