Zombies for Kerry; Arundhati Roy Explains NGOs; Joseph Anderson Displays Anti-Blackism and Anti-Semitism in the East Bay

Didn’t John Kerry ever read about rope-a-dope?

Karl Rove must be kicking his heels with merriment at the way the horse-faced son of Boston is tangling himself up in the Swiftboat comedy. A couple of weeks more and I reckon Kerry will start crying on tv at the besmirchments of his war record and it will all be over. Are there any skins thinner than those belonging to Democratic loyalists-for-Kerry? The other night CounterPunch co-editor Jeffrey St Clair, found himself to a gathering of antiwar activists in downtown Portland, touting our new book, Dime’s Worth of Difference, Beyond The Lesser of Two Evils.

There were about a hundred souls assembled, and Jeffrey’s seasoned eye assayed the political temper of the throng. Sure enough, at least a score had that fixity of gaze and tensed naso-labial musculature that betrayed the presence of Zombies-for-Kerry.

Jeffrey plunged into his talk, an even-handed assault on both Bush and Kerry. First he whaled away at Bush, tracing the shameful decline of this war-resister from the moral Everest of his Quaker-like refusal to spill Vietnamese blood (or his own) to his latterday militarist posturing and use of the National Guard as a de facto draft, with the draftees press-ganged into indentured servitude by stop loss orders. (The stop loss orders, I should note, now face a challenge in US District Court in San Francisco, with lawyers Michael Sorgen and Joshua Sondheimer suing the Defense Department on behalf of an Army sergeant in the California National Guard.)

Then Jeffrey turned his spotlight on Kerry’s record in Vietnam and began to review the unpleasing record of unmerited Purple Hearts and Silver Star, plus those actions of Lieutenant Kerry that could be arguably classified as war crimes. At this point a lady of middle years, the leader of the Kerry loyalists, rose in indignation and after a whispered and vehement colloquy with the organizer of the event, led her troops haughtily from the hall.

I’ve no way of knowing, but it’s quite possible that among those protesters were several, maybe many, who were passionately opposed to the war in Vietnam, and themselves denounced it as fifteen years of war crimes against the Vietnamese people.

Yet here they were, so deeply committed to voting for Kerry that they could not even bear to hear a discussion of his conduct in Vietnam, let alone sit still for a reasoned discussion of Kerry’s pledges to keep the troops in Iraq. My in-box overflows with furious denunciations from Zombies-for- Bush as a “draft-dodger” and fervent testimonials to Kerry as a “war hero”.

The calculation in the Kerry camp is obviously that the liberal-progressive part of their base will put up with anything, and they seem to be correct in making that <assumption.Last> weekend one of these aides took the opportunity, in a debate on CNN , to emphasize that Kerry supported “96 per cent” of the Patriot Act and indeed wrote some of the language of the Act.

John Kerry announces that even if he’d known the allegations of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs were spurious, he’d had attacked Iraq. There’s scarcely a quiver in the ABB loyalists. Kerry was issuing these endorsements of Bush’s war on Iraq at the same moment that two senior Republicans , Rep Doug Bereuter of Nebraska (number 2 on the House Intelligence Committee) and Rep Jim Leach of Iowa, were saying the war was a disaster launched on fraudulent pretexts. At the Iowa State Fair Leach said the US should get out by the end of the year.

Such criticism on the Democratic side was virtually inaudible with only Robert Byrd and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, publicly criticizing Kerry’s stance on the war. The Democratic power brokers have even gone so far as to try to squelch anti-war protests at the RNC convention. They want to present the image of a loyal opposition, with the mesage, Oppose Bush but not the war.

After argument with an ABB-er the other day, I asked him about his long-term political perspective . Here he was, I said, beating the drum for a man who stood for everything he opposed: war in Iraq, war in Colombia, war on drugs, war on the deficit, war on teen morals. Oh, he said, the day after we elect John Kerry we’ll go to war on him.

Yeah, right! Back in the early and middle 1990s the liberals and progressives were exactly as indulgent to Clinton as they are to Kerry now. After almost four years of Bill Clinton, Washington’s liberal advocacy groups, foundations and public interest networks resembled the Vichy French after six years of Nazi occupation.

Pressed for explanations for their pusillanimity, the liberal advocates explained that the Republican hordes who swept into Congress in 1994 were so barbaric, as was the prospect of a Dole presidency, that they had no choice but to circle the wagons round Bill Clinton.

So the Democratic Party, from DLC governors to liberal public-interest groups mustered around their leader and marched into the late Nineties arm in arm along the path sign-posted toward the greatest orgy of corporate theft in the history of the planet, deregulation of banking and food safety, NAFTA and the WTO, rates of logging six times those achieved in the subsequent Bush years, oil drilling in the Arctic, a war on Yugoslavia, Plan Colombia, a vast expansion of the death penalty, re-affirmation of racist drug laws, the foundations of the Patriot Act.

The serious rebellion took place in the streets, in Seattle right at the end of 1999, and the insurgents most certainly didn’t come from the progressive/ liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

There’s a strong case for arguing that the importance of these presidential contests is disastrously exaggerated. As always, a monocular obsession with getting behind the Democratic nominee means quitting vital battlefields. In the 1996 and 2000 campaigns the AFL-CIO pulled many of its field organizers off its issue campaigns, to work for Clinton and Gore, the very architects of the Agreements that these labor organizers had spent the previous three years fighting.

Only weeks ago Andy Stern, head of the SEIU, blurted out to Dave Broder of the Washington Post at the Boston convention that a Kerry victory might well demobilize labor. He had a strong point, even though he swiftly recanted. So we see Stern sending his SEIU organizers out across Oregon, in an effort to keep Nader off the ballot, who’s done a lot more for SIEU members in substantive terms than Kerry ever has or will.

Rope-a-dope can mean tiring out your opponent. It can also mean getting your brains beaten in, and shuffling along as a Zombie.

Footnote: A shorter version of this column ran in the edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday. The previous week The Nation ran a Polonius-like piece by “Uncle Tom” Gitlin and another fellow called John Passacantando, chieftain of GreenPeace, wagging their fingers at RNC demonstrators and quavering nervously that at all costs a rerun Chicago ’68 must be avoided.


Arundhati Roy Explains NGOs to You

Say the acronym “NGO” and most people say Huh? Then you have to explain to the unitiated what exactly an NGO is, which produces the same sort of confusing noise you got from people in the fourth century debating the precise nature of the Trinity. The online Free Dictionary has a brief general definition, then some examples which betray an oddly specific interest in Pakistan. I quote:

“NGO: an organization that is not part of the local or state or federal government nongovernmental organization organization, organisation.”

As very correctly stigmatized by Arundhati Roy, the NGOs that concern us are semi-official groups, usually dependent on grants from governments or cautious and orthodox private foundations. Their general relationship to mass protest and vigorous movements for social change is sedative, conservative and ultimately lethal. Take the efforts to curb the rampages of the World Bank, an outfit that should be destroyed, with its senior officials reassigned to useful tasks at the lower levels of the recycling industry. In the end the directors of the World Bank had the bright idea of simply importing the bank’s fiercest critics and setting them to work in the World Bank where the zeal for reform in their bosoms soon subsided to a decorous smoulder, then vanished altogether as they mutated into compliant functionaries spouting the nonsense they had spent their previous existence deriding.

At one point in a long and very interesting talk she gave in San Francisco on August 16 Ms Roy raises a cautionary finger about the evbolution of the World Social Forum:

“In January 2001, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, 20,000 activists, students, film makers–some of the best minds in the world–came together to share their experiences and exchange ideas about confronting Empire. That was the birth of the now historic World Social Forum. It was the first, formal coming together of an exciting, anarchic, unindoctrinated, energetic, new kind of ‘Public Power’. The rallying cry of the WSF is ‘Another World is Possible’.It has become a platform where hundreds of conversations, debates, and seminars have helped to hone and refine a vision of what kind of world it should be.

“By January 2004, when the fourth WSF was held in Mumbai, India, it attracted 200,000 delegates. I have never been part of a more electrifying gathering. It was a sign of the social forum’s success that the mainstream media in India ignored it completely. But now, the WSF is threatened by its own success. The safe, open, festive atmosphere of the forum has allowed politicians and nongovernmental organizations that are imbricated in the political and economic systems that the forum opposes to participate and make themselves heard.

“Another danger is that the WSF, which has played such a vital role in the movement for global justice, runs the risk of becoming an end unto itself. Just organizing it every year consumes the energies of some of the best activists. If conversations about resistance replace real civil disobedience, then the WSF could become an asset to those whom it was created to oppose. The forum must be held and must grow, but we have to find ways to channel our conversations there back into concrete action.

Then, a little later, Roy returned to the topic of what she calls “the NGO-ization of Resistance”:

” It will be easy to twist what I’m about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.

“In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India’s markets to neo-liberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport, and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending. Most large funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are in turn funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN, and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neo-liberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.

“Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? Guilt? It’s a little more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right.

“They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar [the government]and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

“In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They’re what botanists would call an indicator species. It’s almost as though the greater the devastation caused by neo-liberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the U.S. preparing to invade a country and simultaneously readying NGOs to go in and clean up the devastation.

“In order make sure their funding is not jeopardized and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present their work in a shallow framework more or less shorn of a political or historical context. At any rate, an inconvenient historical or political context.

“Apolitical (and therefore, actually, extremely political) distress reports from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, another starving Ethiopian, another Afghan refugee camp, another maimed Sudanese . . . in need of the white man’s help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and re-affirm the achievements, the comforts, and the compassion (the tough love) of Western civilization. They’re the secular missionaries of the modern world.

“Eventually–on a smaller scale but more insidiously–the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it). Real political resistance offers no such short cuts.

“The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.”

This is the best dissection of the political function of NGOs I’ve ever read. Next time you see someone like Vivanco of Human Rights Watch rushing to Caracas, as he did earlier this summer, to assist in efforts to turn out Chavez, consult Ms Roy on NGOs for the fundamental reasons.

Anti-Blackism and Anti-Semitism In the East Bay: Notes from Joseph Anderson

Any leftist talking to an audience in the Bay Area will probably have faced some penetrating questions from Joseph Anderson. Both your CounterPunch editors have, to their edification.

Not so long ago Ishmael Reed ran a startling piece by Anderson in his online magazine Konch, which described a truly amazing piece of invective by a member of the faculty of the Berkeley Journalism School. If a public official had made the same sort of remark appropriate sanctions would have been swift. Reed, incidentally, asked witnesses for comment or refutation of Joe’s description, and received no response. Here’s Anderson in Konch:

“The incident, which took place back in 2003, involved a Cody’s-sponsored book interview of Anne Garrels, NPR’s Iraq celebrity war reporter, ‘off-site’ (at a nearby church hall).Garrels had recently made a scandalously unconscionable (except in white society) statement about the U.S. military killing of a prominent Palestinian reporter in Baghdad, saying that, ‘he got what was expected, because he shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’ (Yet, Garrels subsequently claims–somehow in order to cover her remarks–to have been ‘a good friend’ of the slain reporter. I say, gee, with ‘good white friends’ like Garrels, what Palestinian needs the Israeli army!?’) The Palestinian reporter, Tareq Ayoub, was killed (assassinated?) when a U.S. military fighter-jet leisurely–not at all in ‘the fog of war’–fired two missiles: one, then, the jet circling in a few minutes, another one, directly at Al-Jazeera’s building, with Ayoub on the roof

“I–and far from alone in the nonwhite world–considered Garrels’ remark to be an egregiously racist statement. So, when I saw Garrels afterwards, I asked her about it.

“I civilly, but frankly told Garrels–merely performing what logicians call a substitution analysis–that she never would have said such a thing about “journalist” Daniel Pearl, for example. Pearl, as you would recall, was the white media-mourned Jewish white-American reporter killed in Pakistan. This, when he went looking for people he knew to have connections to the formerly U.S.-supported (and later betrayed) al-Qaeda, during the U.S. war and bombing in Afghanistan, within which al-Qaeda had bases! Most importantly, Pearl was well-believed, or well-suspected, by many as having direct connections to the CIA and Israel’s Mossad! (Simply put, of being a CIA/Mossad informant or spy.) Thus, it was Pearl who–even much more arguably–‘got what was expected, because he really shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’

“At that point, the event interview host, Sandy Tolan, UC Berkeley Journalism School lecturer scornfully told me that my comparison of Pearl vis-à-vis the Al-Jazeera reporter was “deeply anti-Semitic.”.. However, Tolan, for all his concerns about anti-Semitism, apparently doesn’t care much about other forms of racism. Tolan, suddenly, angrily, shouted to me, “We’re tired of all your Black s—!” Quoi!??? That’s French for, ‘Say what!???’ Amazingly, this is Tolan–one of those white liberals who apparently only respects Black turn-the-other-cheek sports celebrities (or perhaps safely dead Black historical figures)–who wrote an entire book about all the white s— even baseball great Hank Aaron had to put up with. (But then, conservative wack George Will’s greatest hero was Willie Mays. Will even wanted his first grandson named after Willie: “Willie Wills”! That’s right! You can’t make that s— up!)”

More recently Joe went to the 3-day conference on anti-Semitism in Oakland, and filed an interesting and often amusing report in IndyNews: “My overall, albeit limited, personal experience of the conference and the numerous discussions I had, with Jews having a range of political positions on Zionism/Israel, was enjoyable, I am pleased to say.”

Later, Joe writes:

“I noted the word anti-Jewish ‘oppression’ appeared so many times in the workshop titles that you would think that ‘Jews’ were barely surviving and getting profiled, harassed, framed, beaten or killed by cops in American city and town ghettos, instead of Blacks, Latinos, and poor SE Asians.

“In fact, it was I who was stopped by a cop and held up for about 40 minutes(!) — as he checked me out(!) — on a pretext for ‘parking while Black’ on a quiet residential side street later that night, when I was giving three white attendees a ride, later after the conference! (Don’t that count for ‘somethin’!!???) I guess the cop might have thought the three whites in my car might have been in trouble!: being held hostage or something for money! No good deed by Black men (even for whites or white senior citizens) goes unpunished by the cops!

“Smarmily, the cop even said as he finally let me go, though both I and the remaining white senior citizen passenger were obviously wearing our seatbelts and shoulder straps, “You both be sure and buckle up now!” I just rolled my eyes. Even the Jewish senior citizen woman in the car immediately said, “You were definitely just racially profiled!” I’m lucky some white people I knew were there; otherwise, God only knows what could have happened to me — all by myself in the middle of the night! But, especially with my lawyer friends, those cops don’t intimidate/scare me: I just want them to do what they gotta do — write a ticket (that I can get dismissed anyway) or whatever — and get the fuck outta my face.

“But, the assumption at the workshops seemed to be that the presence of any anti-Semitism automatically equals anti-Jewish OPPRESSION — in America!! When it was my turn to speak, I said that traditional American minorities of color face EVERYTHING — ALL THAT casual prejudice — which was queried by the presenter-moderator [in all that very broad, casual criteria that anyone might experience for any reason — external and internalized], PLUS MUCH, MUCH MORE– at the hands of society’s INSTITUTIONS or the STATE!

I then said that these would be my questions:

“If the police have stopped you for ‘driving while Jewish’, then raise your hand.”

“If you have been in prison or have relatives in prison because you’re Jewish, then raise your hand.”

“If you have been manhandled, roughed up, or beaten by a cop, because you are Jewish, then raise your hand.”

“If you fired from a job because you are Jewish, then raise your hand.”

“If your house was busted into by the cops because you are Jewish, then raise your hand.”

“If you had a non-Jewish white guy pull a gun on you in your own residential, predominantly white [university] neighborhood, demanding to know what you were doing there, and trying to mockingly talk to you in Yiddish slang — and when you reported it to the cops they did nothing about it — because you are Jewish, then raise your hand.”

“If you were denied a business or investment loan or insurance because you are Jewish, then raise your hand.”

I would have added, “If you were denied a house/apartment because you are Jewish, then raise your hand,” but I didn’t want someone trying to evade my point by talking about the 1920’s or something.

I did mention it, but could have posed it as a question, “If you were pretextually stopped by a cop and detained for about 40 minutes, while he checked you out, for ‘parking while Jewish’ on a quiet residential street last night while you were dropping off passengers from this conference, then raise both your hands.”

But, I want to end on a positive note (not because I believe in namby-pamby, superficial “happy endings”), but because there were at least some very POSITIVE things about the conference:

I especially enjoyed my conversations there with, generally but not only, younger, enthusiastic, morally-conscious, energetic, anti-Zionist Jews (unlike UC Berkeley IAC/AIPAC/Hillel Jewish students) that — raised in, in principle, egalitarian democracies, NOT religioethnically-defined states — weren’t up for all that political/nationalist, ethno-chauvinistic Zionism shit!

And those younger anti-Zionist Jews catch hell and political pressure from older, reactionary Zionist Jews too, at least behind the scenes. I told them that they should be like The White Rose Society during the Nazi era: morally-driven, energetic younger non-Jewish Germans who opposed the state-institutionalized persecution and attacks against Jews. I told a couple of them, “You remind me of the spirit of The White Rose Society!” — who put their lives on the line for German Jews — and, sadly, sometimes paid for that with their lives.

Those energetic younger anti-Zionist Jews with whom I conversed — like me, my Palestinian friend, and my non-European Jewish acquaintance — indeed fervently wanted a Palestine (which Israel is IN[!!]; not, by the new Zionist geographical propaganda, apart from) as a multicultural society, where EVERYONE has ABSOLUTELY equal rights (with no tricks in the small print) without regard to ethnicity, race or religion.

Only then would Palestine-Israel be “a light unto the world”.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.