The Wealth and Justice Gap

I just started reading Matt Taibbi’s book The Divide: American Justice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.  This book, as the title suggests, talks about how the rich and poor in our country are facing an ever increasing amount of disparity in how the justice system treats them.  I thought the following paragraph would be a good thing to ponder:

We’re creating a dystopia, where the mania of the state isn’t secrecy or censorship but unfairness.  Obsessed with success and wealth and despising fairness and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process.  Winners get rich and get off.  Losers go broke and go to jail.  It isn’t just that some clever crook on Wall Street can steal a billion dollars and never see the inside of a courtroom; it’s that, plus the fact that some black teenager a few miles away can go to jail just for standing on a street corner, that makes the whole picture complete. 

The Folly of Man, Vol 2.

The following is a passage from L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  The jury is still out on if Prouty is a reliable source on many things.  However, I think he has great insight into why the Vietnam War was such a disaster.  I’ve seen enough things confirmed in other books.  The following is pretty long, but it is worth reading.  I do want to add that Prouty, in his book, admits that this story is an amalgamation of different things that he saw while in Vietnam. 

In an effort to try to cut this down a little bit I just want to add that the Rhade are a tribal group in Vietnam.  I also want to add that before this passage starts Prouty talks about how when Diem banished the French and the Chinese he also destroyed the local economy without instating something viable to take its place.  This story is another example of us invading a country without understanding the local culture.  Anyway, on with the show:

The padre, the young American, and the Vietnamese official returned many times.  After a while, the American was welcomed without the priest and often stayed for weeks.  He was interested in animal husbandry and agriculture.  He brought with him some poultry and a new breed of hog that he taught them to raise.  He carried with him new seeds and tried over and over to encourage the Rhade to plant them as he directed.  On countless occasions he would persuade the villagers to dig holes in the fields and to plant the seeds as he had learned to do at the university in Ames, Iowa. 

He never did understand the Rhade farmers and their primitive “slash and burn” farming.  And they never could explain to this young expert that the seeds could not grow in that heavy grassland of the open fields.  In any event, the American became a familiar figure, and his hard work and gifts of chickens, pigs, candy, and cigarettes were always welcome.  Then one day he came with the Magic Box. 

The padre, the American, and the Houng-ca sat in earnest discussion all that day.  The Magic Box rested on the hood of the jeep while several young men dug a hole in front of the patriarch’s hut.  They were unaccustomed to the American’s shovel, and work progressed slowly.  Meanwhile, the American felled a tree and cut out a section to be used on a post.  This post was put into the hole and the dirt replaced. 

Now a tall, sturdy, upright pedestal stood in the front of the chieftain’s hut.  To this, the American affixed a tin roof as shelter.  Then he removed the shiny jet-black Magic Box from the jeep and nailed it firmly to the post, about four feet above the ground, just the right height for the Houng-ca and above the prying hands of children. 

After the box was secured, the padre told the villagers all about the Magic Box and how it would work, about the wonders it would produce to save them from communism.  He told them that this box was a most miraculous radio and that it would speak to their brothers in Saigon.  It was, in their language, powerful medicine. 

At the same time, he warned that only the village patriarch could touch the box.  If anyone else did, the kindly government in Saigon would be most angry, and the village would be punished.  The padre told the villagers that whenever they were attacked, the patriarch should push the big red button on the box, and that was all. 

At this point in their Village Defense Orientation Program, the Viet soldier and the American interrupted the padre and ordered him to repeat that if the village was attacked by the Communist Vietcong from the forest – emphasizing the “Communist Vietcong” – the patriarch was to push the button.  To the Viet soldier and the American, the men in the forest were not starving and frightened refugees; they were the enemy. 

Because the elderly padre knew that these native people had never heard of the Vietcong, he explained that his friends called all bandits from the refugee camps in the forest “Vietcong” and that the Vietcong were to be greatly feared because they were the puppets of the National Liberation Front, who were the puppets of Hanoi, who were the puppets of the Chinese, who were the puppets of the Soviets, ad-infinitum. 

The padre explained that when the patriarch pushed that shiny red button on the Magic Box, the powerful gods of Saigon would unleash vengeful armies through the air, and the dreaded Vietcong would be blasted by bombs from airplanes and napalmed from helicopters.  And the village would be liberated and pacified.  He also told them that every village that had been selected by the Father of His Country in Saigon to receive the Magic Box would forever thereafter be furnished food, medicine, and special care. 

The Rhade would receive these “benefits” whether they wanted them or not.  For they knew only too well that the villages that had plenty of food and medicine and that were the special elect of Saigon were always the first targets for the starving bandits.  They knew enough to know that they would live in fear of the Magic Box and its munificence. 

Ever since the day when the padre had returned with the American, the village had received special medicine and food relief.  The “Extended Arms for Brotherhood” program of the new president in Saigon was the caring for these tribesmen.  Shortly after the first time this extra food had been delivered, the village had been visited by some young men from the camps in the woods.  They sat with the patriarch all day and quietly but firmly explained that they came from a refugee camp that was hidden in the hills and that was caring for thousands of homeless natives from the south who had been driven from their homes by the Diem backed police and hordes of northern invaders. 

These people had fled from their wasted homes.  They had been the enemies in every new region they came to, and now, terrorized and starving, sick and dying, they had had to turn to that last resort of mankind, banditry and pillage.  These countless refugees, in their own homeland, had fled the careless deprivations and brutal massacres of the benevolent forces of Saigon.  They wished to be peaceful, but they desperately needed food and medicine.  They demanded that the village share some of its plentiful goods with them.  This arrangement, although unappealing to the village, was accepted, and for a while it kept a fragile peace between the two worlds.  However, the refugee numbers swelled, and their demands became greater and greater.  It wasn’t long before the Saigon political observer and the padre reported to the American that they suspected that the patriarch was collaborating with the “enemy.”  This sharing of their meager goods with the refugees was called “the payment of tribute” by the Vietnamese.  The refugees had become the “enemy,” and the American’s word for “enemy” was Vietcong.  The political leader explained to the patriarch that collaboration with the Vietcong meant death for him and removal of the village people to the Citizens’ Retraining Camp or a “Strategic Hamlet,” as the Americans liked to call it.  No matter what their benefactors chose to call these displacement centers, they were prisons to the natives. 

The more or less peaceful demands of the refugees became adamant orders as their needs increased.  What had begun as a reluctant sharing of food became submission to force and banditry.  The ranks of the refugees swelled as the exodus from such areas as the no-man’s land of the once-prosperous and fertile Mekong Delta area of the Camau Peninsula turned into a vast and relentless human wave. 

A situation not unlike that of the Native American migrations westward took place.  Each tribe, displaced from its ancestral homeland by the white man, became marauders and attackers in the territory of the next Indian nation.  Thus it was tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of once-peaceful, docile, and reasonably well-to-do rice farmers became feared, terrorized bandits called the Vietcong. 

The Fruits of Racism, Colonialism, and Segregation

I have been thinking lately about the word conciousness in terms of an emerging conciousness coming about because of an issue.  Two big influences on my thinking lately have been Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers and the band Public Enemy. 

Public Enemy is a rap group that often talks about problems facing the black community.  The book The Brothers deals largely with US policy during the Cold War as directed by John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. 

During the Cold War a lot of third world countries were emerging from the shackles of colonialism.  Many of the resources in these countries were owned by foreign powers and only marginally helped the local economies.  Many of these new countries wanted to nationalize the industries concerning these resources so that their own people could benefit.  Instead of realizing these were nationalistic movements that wanted prosperity after years of hardship, we viewed them as puppets of Moscow.  Because of this we often intervened in these countries and subverted their democracies.  Sometimes we even inspired or directly took a role in violence.  In the case of places like the Congo and Iran we actually helped overthrow their governments, helping to install leaders that were brutally oppressive. 

Meanwhile in this country, in current years after the election of Obama, we like to view ourselves as post-racial.  However, listening to PE I am reminded by the daily indignities that black people still face in this country.  Even if we are not talking about larger issues, there are things that would drive anyone crazy.  Imagine someone crossing the street because of the color of your skin.  Imagine being watched in a store and thought of as a theif, again just because of the color of your skin. 

Last year I was in east Texas and there was a girl who was slightly less drunk than her male friends.  I asked her jokingly if she was the designated driver.  She said, in a way that was full of shame, “If you are the right color, you can get away with anything in this town.”

Over the years, in this country and outside of it, there has simply been a very real effort both explicitly and implicitly to subvert people of color from rising above their station.  Slavery, segregation, and colonialism have shaped the world we live in.  Well on one hand I believe that people do need to be responsible for their own actions, we must also acknowledge the effects that these forms of institutionalized brutality have played upon our world. 

Life in general is not fair.  That is something everyone has to deal with.  However, in understanding the history of our country’s actions both at home and abroad concerning people of color, we can hopefully learn empathy and understanding for different kinds of people.  None of us get to choose the conditions we are born into in life.  There is a hope though that we can help each other get through this life, whatever it is. 

The Evil Empire of Everything

The newest Public Enemy album, The Evil Empire of Everything, is simply one of the best, most powerful albums I have heard in a long time.  It is also the most powerful political statement put on record since Neil Young’s Living with War.  I am a little late to the party.  I say the newest album because this record came out in 2012.  But better late than never, because this record is absolutely essential. 

In the late 80′s Public Enemy put our a trilogy of ground breaking albums.  From It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Back they were pretty much perfect.  I kinda lost the thread after that, as some label problems took them out of the public eye, and quite frankly my tastes changed.  Recently, looking for music of substance, I have decided to revisit those albums, and eventually decided I wanted to hear something I hadn’t heard before.  Knowing that I was going on the road this weekend, and that I would have 20 plus hours in the van over four days, I decided to give their newest album a shot.  I am glad I did because this album simply blows my mind.  It is fearless politically and top notch musically.

The sound of Public Enemy is every bit as important as the lyrics.  Even when Chuck D isn’t saying something explicitly politically, the sound of the band conveys revolution.  On their classic run of albums Public Enemy created a dense chaotic wall of sound.  They did this by combining an untold number of samples into something truly original.  Both the sound of the band and the structure of their records was like a collage.  They took little pieces of different music, sound effects, and dialouge, and spliced them together until these different sounds became something greater than the some of their parts.  Because of changes in copy right laws, this approach is really no longer possible.  I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I read that their album Fear of a Black Planet has so many samples on it that each copy sold would have resulted in five dollars they would have had to pay out under existing copyright laws. 

Surprisingly, although being slightly less dense, they have been able to replicate the sonic chaos of their early albums.  There are still drum loops that sound like they came off old funk records, electric guitars, interesting sonic treatments, and thought provoking dialouge. 

The album begins, after a brief bit of treated soul music, with George Zimmerman’s 911 phone call on the night Trayvon Martin was killed.  There is an another song called Beyond Trayvon where members of Public Enemy trade verses with their sons to talk about the fact that it is still dangerous to be black in America, even after electing a black president.  Although this could seem, upon first inspection, as something that will date quickly, this incident is used as a jumping off point to talk about larger questions of race that will unfortunately be relevant for a long time to come. 

One of the things that is so great about the lyrics on this album is that Chuck D and the other MC’s seemed to have widened their nets.  Although the lyrics on this record definitely come from a black perspective, they also spend plenty of time going outside their tribe talking about much larger issues of social and economic justice.  One of the most important things in life is learning empathy for people outside of your tribe.  If this perspective cannot be reached there is no chance for unity and therefor building the coalitions that must be made to tackle the serious problems facing the world.  Chuck D and the rest of Public Enemy find commen cause with illegal immigrants and other members of the economically downtrodden.  This gives their album a much more universal appeal. 

What are other topics talked about on this record?  They touch upon the horrible state of the media as they have done before on Don’t Believe the Hype.  They also talk about war, the way the United States is percieved throughout the world, the housing crisis, problems with fame and materialism in the culture, the war on terror, the decline of meaning in the music business, and the environment among other issues.  Only Flavor Flav’s 31 Flavors provides some comic relief in the storm.  This also unfortunately makes it the one track, however enjoyable it is in and of itself, that doesn’t fit the themes of the record. 

Although their songs take strange detours like their classic run of albums, where songs were often spliced with spoken word or insturmental parts that do not resemble the main tracks, this happens less often.  However this provides the album with a stronger song oriented approach than in the past.  In some ways this actually makes the album more enjoyable on repeated listens.  Although the album lacks some of the mad genius of something like Fear of a Black Planet, in some way this album is actually more listenable because of it.  Many more of these songs have a single quality to them.  There is still enough of mini pieces to give the album a unified feel. 

Another thing that I like about the album from a lyrical perspective is that, although again they touch upon many stories ripped from the headlines, they use these stories to jump off into wider criticisms of modern America.  This album will again, unfortunately, be relevant for years to come. 

Although PE addresses many problems in our country the music still has a take no prisoners approach that is inpiring.  Thematically the record is dark, but the album has a bravado that makes you feel as if there is still hope to change things before it is too late.  It is a magic trick because except for one song this music does not feature uplifting major key melodies.  It is musically a tough record, like most of their work, that gets one ready for battle.  While it does acknowledge the problems of the world head on, it will not be defeated by them. 

If you are looking for music of substance that is gauranteed to be thought provoking, look no further.  This is powerfully passionate stuff.  PE have added another classic album to their cannon.  I can’t reccomend this album highly enough.  It features the trifecta of interesting music and arrangments, thought provoking lyrics, and especially in Chuck D, a voice for the ages.  Although his voice is more ragged than in the past, it still sounds like he is casting thunder from the mountaintop.  Get this album, and get ready for the struggle. 

Interview With Chuck D

http://www.progressive.org/mag_intv0805

I am on the road today, so I thought I would post this interesting interview with Public Enemy’s Chuck D.  Worth reading for his ideas on music, culture, and politics. Right now I am obsessed with their absolutely amazing album The Evil Empire of Everything.

Arrogance in a Former Secretary of State

I have mentioned several times that I am reading the book The Brothers, a book about former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, who headed the CIA.  These brothers not only ratcheted up the Cold War, but created problems for America that we are still dealing with.  I know I have talked a lot about this book, but it is something every American should read.  Foster Dulles helped the military gain power in Pakistan.  The following passage, where Foster is interviewed by Walter Lippman, would be comical, if the ending wasn’t so tragic.  You cant make this stuff up!  Remember this is an interview with a sitting Secretary of State during the Eisenhower Administration:

“Look Walter,” Dulles told him, “I’ve got to get some real fighting men into the south of Asia.  The only Asians who can really fight are the Pakistanis.  That’s why we need them in the alliance.  We could never get along without the Gurkhas.”

“But Foster,” Lippman replied, “the Gurkhas aren’t Pakistanis.”

“Well, they may not be Pakistanis, but they’re Moslems.”

“No, I’m afraid they’re not Moslems, either.  They’re Hindus.”

“No matter!” Foster replied, and launched into a half-hour lecture about the dangers of Communism in Asia.

George W. Bush and John Bolten’s spiritual father has been found.