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‘Freedom of the Press’ Is Why Smiley/West Poverty Tour Failed

11:30 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West attempted something very honorable this month, to take a big bus tour of the U.S. and try to put poverty and the poor into a national spotlight. It was an interesting and media-genic (if that’s a word) tour:

Having travelled to nine states and eighteen cities in just under two weeks, the Poverty Tour, like a communal “Love Train” (to quote the O’Jays), left its church-packed participants with the stories of families and young people struggling to find jobs. While facing homelessness, cuts (or coming cuts) in federal assistance, and a new social status (from middle-class to poor), these people shared a common story in the tearful frustration that their education and job experience had not saved them from social disaster.

They slept among the homeless, visited with white, black and native American families in provocative settings, but, hey, their tour was mostly ignored by the big, mainstream media. It failed.

The mainstream media is the corporate media, and their big corporate owners wanted August to be deficit hysteria month. And it was deficit hysteria month. They succeeded.

This is our media reality, and IT IS KILLING THIS COUNTRY. But something that never gets much discussion or play is a solution to the everlasting nightmare:

We need to free the mass media from capitalist control and disperse it among different democratically elected factions of popular opinion.

As I added in that comment, of course the solution is impossible. But it’s impossible in part because no one ever talks about it. To hell with TINA on this corporate-owned mass media.

Not that the corporate-owned politicians and electoral system isn’t an equal or even greater problem, but even with publicly financed elections the popular will would still contend with massive resistance by the corporate-controlled mainstream media. It would still ignore issues that matter to the great mass of us (i.e., poverty), and blast away at us with their huge megaphones, promoting the handing over of more of our wealth to the rich (i.e., deficit hysteria). 

Okay, technically, yeah, my solution violates our Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution’s First Amendment. But so does public financing of elections or any sort of control over campaign finances. What does that tell you about our established way of interpreting the Constitution?

Where Is West/Smiley “Poverty Tour” Going?

10:09 am in Uncategorized by fairleft

Well, straight to Tavis Smiley challenging President Obama in next year’s primaries, if I get my way.

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are speaking _our_ language, so why aren’t more myFDL folks excited about and supportive of their ‘Poverty Tour‘? Here’s Cornel West, for example:

We need massive job creation programs and massive investment in public housing, education, transportation and health. The health care bill was an attempt to move in that direction, it’s weak, but it’s better than nothing. It’s a billion-dollar giveaway to private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies that mandate people to buy their products. It extends the number of people who can become part of the health care system, but the reason the why we needed transformation in the health care system is because you’ve got 30 percent profits at the top. If you had Medicare for everybody, you’d only have three percent Medicare profits at the top and private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies would no longer be in the driver’s seat.

And West has the why exactly right too: A recent Pew Research Center report highlighted the widening wealth gap between whites, African-Americans and other minorities. To what do you attribute the growing disparity?

West: I think it’s tied primarily to greed and power among our oligarchs and plutocrats. I’m sure that the shattering of so much of the American middle class, but especially the Black and brown middle class, had to do with the Wall Street greed that led to the financial catastrophe in 2008—predatory lending, fraudulent behavior, insider trader—just criminal activity that has yet to be investigated or prosecuted.

Cornel and West have a much louder megaphone than do most of us on the left, and they plan to use it: ”When the tour ends Aug. 12, the men will continue to use their national public radio program, “Smiley & West,” as a platform to keep the conversation going through the November elections, they said.” (Ooh, don’t like that ’till November 2012′ part, but minds can be changed, the downward spiral of events and persuasion can change them.) Does any other possible challenger to President Obama have a national PBS radio show? Just sayin’.

Nonetheless, the hurdle that an African-American-led left challenge to Obama faces is that ”Blacks still celebrate Obama, if not his policies.” About that, Carolyn C commented (and I replied) yesterday:

CarolynC August 4th, 2011 at 8:07 pm «
Another thing I meant to add. I work in the inner city, in areas where unemployment is ridiculously high. Black and minority teenagers and adults always ask me if I know of actual jobs, any jobs at all. It’s the saddest thing you can imagine. People are desperate for jobs that will give them a foothold in the working or middle class. That upward mobility has become even more of a pipe dream under Obama. Make another progressive black male a credible candidate and watch black voters jump the Obama ship.

Reply fairleft August 5th, 2011 at 9:45 am «
Once black voters jump ship everyone else will join in.

It may feel strange, it may not be ‘right’ somehow, but the rest of left out America is waiting for our black brothers and sisters to lead us . . .

Seriously! Tavis Smiley for President!

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by fairleft

Only 43 percent of African-American men aged 18 to 29 have a full-time job.

Net worth of African-American families plummets.

One in four black and Hispanic workers is underemployed. (January 2010 headline, still true)

Find chart here and photo here.

National ‘poverty tour’ will highlight hardships in Obama’s backyard

Tavis Smiley, the syndicated talk show host who has been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama’s policies on behalf of African-Americans, will bring his national “poverty tour” to Chicago this weekend, putting the spotlight on economic hardships in the president’s hometown. …

The events … come on the heels of the deal approved Tuesday by Congress to raise the country’s debt ceiling while allowing for at least $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years. Smiley called the legislation, signed by the president, “a declaration of war on the poor.”

“I don’t understand how the president could agree to a deal that does not extend unemployment benefits, does not close a single corporate loophole and doesn’t raise the taxes on the rich,” said Smiley. “The poor are being rendered more and more invisible in this country. Nobody, not the president, not the Republicans in Congress, is speaking to the truth of the suffering of everyday people.”*

Sometime between President Obama putting Social Security and Medicare on the table and the final debt deal, the left as represented at MyFDL has lost touch with reality. Quickly then: ‘football back’ not ‘debt deal’ obsesses a lot of Americans right now; the debt deal has pretty much no effect in 2011 or 2012; Social Security and Medicare were left untouched (for now); Elizabeth f$#%kin’ Warren?; and, last but not least, by and large liberals and progressives still heart President Obama (Why Obama’s Base Won’t Revolt).

Nonetheless, our reality is bad, specifically the economy: as bad as it’s been since the 1982 Reagan recession (Great Depression comparisons are not (yet?) reality-based). Worse, the 16.2% underemployment rate economy is stagnant and Obama and the rest of the ruling elite don’t plan to do anything about that. And, yeah, when Obama finally fought hard for something it was for cutting Social Security. Ugh! However, despite how revealed as a right-wing economic know-nothing Obama is — President Obama said Sunday night that the deal “begins to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the economy” — and despite how bad “it’s the economy, stupid” is, and despite “Deal traps Obama into helplessness on jobs creation,” I repeat: the opinions polls are emphatic that there is no left revolt against Obama:

Gallup’s latest poll has him at 75 percent approval among liberals. Among “liberal Democrats,” Gallup, [Salon's Ed] Kilgore notes, finds Obama’s approval rating to be 85 percent, about where it has remained for this entire year. CNN, he notes, finds Democrats’ approval rating for Obama at 80 percent. Seventy-seven percent say they support his renomination, 20 points higher than Bill Clinton’s support in 1994.

Spun optimistically, _maybe_ let’s just say we’re at the beginning of a revolt, but only if we recognize we’re at the bottom and that you and me are responsible for all the hard climbing. And that revolution better hurry, because primary filing deadlines and such hit in November and December. Activists, therefore, have maybe four months to generate a real left revolt against Obama, not just one on the pages of MyFDL.

Some may naively ask, “What’s the hell could be the hold up, then, when there’s 9.2% unemployment?”

Well, here it is: the dynamics of politics and race in this country create these twin realities:

• A left against Obama revolt must neutralize the race issue.
• So, probably the only way for that revolt to happen is for African-Americans to revolt first.

Leftists real quick need to recognize and act on the preceding. The President is certainly doing his part: his economy is kicking African-American asses with, officially, 16.2% black unemployment and roughly 25% African-American underemployment. So, let’s do it: grab a candidate who ‘neutralizes the race issue’ and who would inspire and lead an African-American revolt against President Obama. So, give it a try and say it together: Tavis Smiley for President!

Let’s contrast Smiley to, say, Elizabeth Warren. I mean, what, a Harvard professor to lead your hoped for _populist_ left revolt? (In these times a professor is political death: including (oops) Jamie Galbraith.) No doubt Warren would be a great President, as would Paul Krugman or Dean Baker, but the corporate media immediately marginalizes and disappears no-name-recognition candidates as no-hope protest candidates. We want to make a big SPLASH in 2012, maybe not winning but at least enlightening many millions of Americans to the fact that there is a common-sense left alternative to the Tea Party and Wall Street Republicrats. And since both of those ‘parties’ have been and will be economic failures, Americans will eat up a Keynesian and populist vision that connects to an honorable (and perhaps mythical) better America of solidarity, social egalitarianism, and civil rights.

Smiley would have a real chance at turning attention to that vision and its economic good sense. Why: his blackness mixing with privileged white corporate media guilt and fascination, the dynamics of race and politics, you know, the usual. And Smiley is an exceptional speaker and communicator, both on TV and live, and not (just) to ‘the smart set’ or to professors but to regular folks, ‘the people’ of all races and classes. Yeah, ‘male Oprah’ comparisons are valid. Once Smiley gets a sliver of media attention, he’s the kind of guy who might crack wide open the tightly controlled media space and find himself leading a wildfire populist campaign.

Or not. Of course, he may make one entirely human misstatement and the corporate media will pounce with ravenous force, leaving him just another carcass along our bleak political desert highway. Damn, meant to end this diary optimistically.

P.S. — The Philly Inquirer:

Obama, having weathered the ginned-up debt-ceiling crisis, is again declaring that he wants to “put America back to work,” but those words are hollow. He’s handcuffed by this deal. He and the Democrats won’t have the money to launch any big job-creation programs even if they muster the will to try.

… Polls suggest [Americans] just want to get back to work, by any means possible. Last month, when Gallup asked people to name their most important issue, 31 percent cited the “economy in general”; 27 percent cited “unemployment/jobs.” A distant third, at 16 percent, was “federal budget deficit/debt.”

This is a time when the jobs crisis requires more government spending, not less. Consumers won’t prime the economic pump, because they’re still in a fetal position. Private businesses won’t hire, because they’re still playing it safe.

*Sharp contrast with Obama’s elaborate birthday celebrations and fat cat fundraising noted.