Air Date 06/29/2020
Jay Tomlinson - Host, Best of the Left: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left podcast in which we shall take a deeper look at the concept of "I can't breathe." And to explain, let me just tell you where this episode came from. The seed of the inspiration started a few weeks ago when I came across the Urban Dictionary definition of "I can't breathe.""
If you're not familiar with Urban Dictionary, it's where anyone can create a new word or a new phrase that's maybe in popular culture and write their own definition. And then anyone can write a definition and the best definitions get voted up. So this is the top-voted definition of "I can't breathe" on Urban Dictionary right now.
"'I can't breathe.' True of COVID-19 sufferers and of George Floyd, the key phrase at this moment in American history", and then used an examples. "'I can't breathe' said Floyd, as he was being suffocated. 'I can't breathe' thought more than 100,000 victims as they were dying of COVID. 'I can't breathe' chanted countless Americans in the streets, protesting enduring police brutality."
And to that definition, which I think is fantastic and frankly, haunting, I would move also from the literal to the metaphorical. And I would add that the millennial generation has been dubbed the "burnout generation." I think that is another example of living life in such a way that we can't fully breathe.
You know, we, we came of age during the great recession. That was the first major alarm bell of the sort of exposure of the metaphorical bankruptcy of the neoliberal order. And we were driven by heightened economic precarity, even more so than was already there, and we responded to it the way Americans are taught to respond to everything: by just working harder and longer.
And I can personally relate to that a lot. I've talked about it throughout the years on the show, you know, my own struggles with burnout and working too hard and not being able to find that balance, no matter how much I advocate for good labor practices for other people, I have a hard time giving that to myself.
And then there are the older generations who are leading the way in so-called deaths of despair caused by, you know, opioid addiction or alcoholism and suicide. And. They're all spurred, at least in part or in large part by a lot of those same economic forces, the framework that we all live in that has depressed wages for 40 years while efficiency has gone up, wages have remained stagnant all while stoking an ideology that says that your lack of wage growth is just a sign of personal failing, which of course only encourages people to work harder and longer.
Maybe 40 years ago, as, as those lines began to diverge people thought, "well, you know, no big deal. I'll just work a little bit harder, you know, we'll get through. This, uh, this Carter malaise and, and, you know, we'll get to the other side of that", but no, the, the, the link was completely broken. The Reagan administration and everyone after have pursued policies that have not even attempted to link worker productivity with raising wages as had been the case for decades and decades before then. So when you look at it that way and you see the economic precarity that is permeating all of society it seems predictable, basically inevitable that some people would end up falling through the cracks, drinking themselves into oblivion or ultimately taking their own lives.
So I argue that each of us in our own ways, but all tied together by systems that affect us all, we are all struggling to breathe. And whether we consciously recognize it or not, That has played a role in the massive worldwide uprisings that we have seen this month that have ostensibly been focused on police brutality and injustice.
And that is absolutely true. And I'm not taking away from that at all, but that was all taking place in the context of massive societal discontent that was there aside from police brutality. But, as we'll learn today, it turns out, those two issues are actually incredibly closely linked to one another, even though we may not be aware of it at all.
So that's what today's show is about. Clips today, come from Doomed, this is Hell, Jim Hightower, Tysky Sour. Stay tuned with Preet, Democracy Now, and The Takeaway.
Black Lives Matter Protests, "Outside Agitators," and the Coronavirus - DOOMED with Matt Binder - Air Date 5-30-20
Matt Binder - Host, Doomed: The thing though, that's been completely overlooked in a way. And I bring this up because there's so many aspects of this in terms of what happened to George Floyd , in terms of who's out there protesting, in terms of why it is how it is across the country, a little bit different than the previous protests for similar reasons.
I don't know why this hasn't been covered more, but George Floyd lost his job because of the Coronavirus. Now, I didn't mention it earlier, but the man was arrested for apparently... this is allegedly what the police were called for, a grocery store clerk called the police, claiming that George Floyd tried to pay with a forged to $20 bill.
I don't know if it's true. I mean, the idea that you would call the cops for a forged $20 bill , that seems to say a lot about how the store clerk viewed this black man, because I mean, my first thought if I was working somewhere, and I had service jobs when I was younger, if I received a $20 bill working at a grocery store that was fake or forged or whatever, a check or whatever , I would assume that this person was also had.
I mean, this is a low sum of money. This isn't like someone trying to fake a couple, you know, a hundred thousand dollars check and cash it, or a $10,000 check and cash stream and a 5,000 and a couple of thousand dollars. This is we're talking 20 bucks. My assumption would be this guy was fooled and he's at 20 bucks.
Sucks for him. "I'm sorry, buddy."
So , there's a lot of lot going on there, but George Floyd lost his job because of the Coronavirus. I was reading that his family, in an interview with his family, but he discussing how, you know, he was trying to make ends meet. He lost his job. He worked multiple jobs. He was a bouncer at a club. He was a delivery driver, I believe was one of the other jobs,and he lost them because of the coronavirus lock downs.
So whether this dude meant to try to cash this $20 bill at the grocery store or whether he was duped and was fooled and lost and was out $20 himself. I mean, it's pretty clear. The situation here is that you have a guy who is struggling because he's one of, what is it? 40 million, at least. Cause that's just people who filed for unemployment, I belive, who have been failed by the government during a fucking pandemic.
Structural robbery, mass resistance with William C. Anderson Part 2 - This Is Hell! - Air Date 6-4-20
Chuck Mertz - Host, This is Hell!: Looting is robbery during war or riot by definition. In the state of California under penalcode 463, state laws view looting as any burglary committed during a state of emergency. Historically looting and pillaging was a crime committed by soldiers against civilians only during war.
In your opinion, what is the point of using a term that by definition, historically, and even legally is not accurate and in every instance pertains only to war? Why does the media and the state want the citizenry and voters and viewers to believe we are in a state of war?
William C. Anderson: Well, you know, one of the things that I think a lot about is citizenship, and as I mentioned prior, just now, Black people in this country are not considered true citizens.
That's why all of the things that are supposed to be promises and guarantee the citizenship do not necessarily apply to us. Um, It's definitely intentional to use these sorts of terms because it is a concerted effort to make black people seem as if we are the enemy and that we are bringing whatever is happening to us on ourselves.
So, you can think about, for example, in Ferguson, when the police were referring to black people Um, as enemy combatants and using this war language, uh, against people who are uprising there, this is always happened. Black people are not considered true citizens. So, when you start getting people to think, "Oh, they deserve that," or, "Oh, we brought this on ourselves and this is our fault." that's when you start to take away people having solidarity and understanding with, uh, you know, the protesters and people who are resistant on the ground is very intentional. So you have to turn people who are protesting, uh, into enemies. You have to turn the protest and then the uprising and the movement inside out and create Uh, division. So you have people who become so concerned with respectability and how the protests look and how, um, the media is portraying it, that they start feeling like they have to police the actions that are going on and they become so focused on what do we need to do to make sure everything looks the way that it should.
There is more than one way to protest. And that has always been the case. It's always been the case. Uh, We have to actually start thinking about. The, the actual history here. Rioting and looting, as we know them are terms that have always been used against black people historically to accomplish the thing that I've just talked about and we have to push back against that.
These are uprisings. These are rebellions. These are revolts that we're seeing, and these are part of unnecessary process that needs to take place to transform the conditions and the society because people have tolerated as much as they possibly can. And when people start to push back after saying, 'I'm not going to tolerate this anymore,' we need to share solidarity with them, period.
We don't need to be saying, "Oh, why are they taking stuff out of target? Why are they taking stuff out of best buy? Why did they break that window?" When there's the much, much larger robbery going on in this country and that's the robbery of black lives. That's the robbery of peoples' healthcare. That's the robbery of people's housing.
That's the robbery of people having the resources that they need to survive and have a life in this country. We're in the middle of a pandemic and this is absurd that people are focusing on looting and talking about looters . There's, there's tens of millions of people out of work. Like, bigger picture here, at the end of the day, it's about the bigger picture. Like let's focus on that.
Chuck Mertz - Host, This is Hell!: You also write that as protesters are being accused of looting and rioting in Minneapolis or anywhere else, this time, uh, demands that we reflect on these systematic robbery of black America, as you're pointing out. Now, make this one really important distinction. You write, "corporations in the United States again have walked away with an unprecedented, an astronomical amount of money in 2020 with no accountability in sight.
"There was little to no opposition to their monumental robbery. They were handed trillions. Politicians working in service to the corporate elite and afraid of appearing, opposed to a deal that would largely benefit wall street, pushed it through. Of course, the deal left many vulnerable people in the dust."
This is definitely not a perspective, William, that has been shared on any establishment TV news outlets, even with several being on 24/7 and constantly talking about the uprising over the last week. To you, what explains the lack of a connection between the CARES Act, which gave trillions to the already rich and wealthy corporations.
And what explains to you this only being seen as protests against police violence and not having these other economic aspects to it?
William C. Anderson: Yeah. You know, uh, corporations in the US did walk away with an unprecedented amount of money again. Um, And yes, they were handed trillions. That money is stolen.
So let, let me say that again, that money is stolen. So when we're talking about people stealing out of stores or stealing in a community or stealing from a, a business franchise, it actually pales in comparison to the theft that had taken place from wall street. So, that money stolen from workers and people who pay taxes.
Um, These are corporations that are polluting, that are underpaying, their employees that are not providing healthcare that are not doing anything for the community that they extract from. Uh, You know, politicians working in service to these corporate elite have pushed this pandemic response deal through uncritically with little to no opposition.
And people got a measly $1,200 check and some fraudulent protections like eviction bands. And I called them "fraudulent" because they weren't actually enforced. You know, the deal left a lot of vulnerable people in the dust. No changes have been made after the unresolved debt crisis that took place in 2008 that devastated, vulnerable people with austerity and social cuts.
You know, these cuts of social needs and important resources that are hurting us while wealthy people are handed trillions and allowed to hoard more and more and more, you know. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are making billions right now and in the midst of a pandemic, and it's so disgusting. And so, that needs our attention and that needs to be a central message here about everything that's taking place. It's not a coincidence that all of this is happening right now. This is very much a response to that violence. So, if we want to really talk about who's hurting community by taking from them, then that's who we need to be talking about.
You know, there's like a monopoly on violence, right? When you talk about, "Hey, the protests have to be... Uh, they have to be peaceful and they, you know, we can't, we can't do anything that's, you know, quote unquote "violent." Well, the state has a monopoly on violence. The state is considered the only, uh, to have the only justifiable use of violence in this society.
And the state also, when we think about wall street has a monopoly on theft because the state is, it is actually saying we're the only ones who gets the steal. We're the only ones who gets to take. You can't take anything from us. We only get to take from you. We're going to take your tax dollars and give them to the police who also steal, that's called civil asset forfeiture when the police are able to go in to somebody's home. And take something that, uh, they please, and, you know, during searches and raise and keep it, even sell what they take and give them permission to be able to, you know, claim whatever they want, just and give them in a sense of the take from people. The state has a monopoly on theft there, and then the state has a monopoly on theft when it comes to these corporations that they enable to go throughout the world exploiting communities and exploiting people who are in need and taking from them without giving anything back. We can't let the state actually think that that's okay for us to be taken from it and for us to be robbed and for some person who's reacting to that, that is, you know, unjustifiable and that's wrong. That is a complete imbalance of the way things should be viewed. That does nothing to recognize power. We absolutely have to make sure that people understand that this is not two sides on equal footing.
These are people who are vulnerable and who are exploited and who have been oppressed and who are reacting. And they're going up against a huge force. And it is, it is just, you know, if it's really wrong to think that we should, um, have as much sympathy for a piece of property or for police as we should for people who fall victim to these much larger forces that I'm talking about.
George Floyd, you, me… us - Jim Hightower - Air Date 6-9-20
Jim Hightower: Viewing the video of George Floyd's gruesome murder, one word from him stuck in my head. One painful human utterance that conveys the horror of it all. " Mama," Mr. Floyd cried out in desperation and disbelief as his life was cruelly and senselessly, suffocated, in yet another White-on-Black slaying by so-called “officers of the law.”
This can’t be America. Can it?
Yes and no. Certainly it can’t be the America we accept, one totally antithetical to our people’s deeply-held democratic values of justice for all. Yet, from the founding of the nation forward, the official knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd has been a common experience for African-Americans, and also for Latinos, Native Americans, and other people of color.
It’s that stark separation between the American ideal and reality – now so vividly and violently thrust in our faces – that has ignited such a diverse, massive, and furious protest from coast to coast.
To me, this outpouring of public anguish feels different than previous ones, for the protesters are not only angry about what the power establishment did to George Floyd, they’re also angry for themselves. The intentional spread of inequality in America is now swamping the once-middle-class majority. So, more and more people – especially among the young – are feeling the establishment’s knee crushing their opportunities, rights, and lives, too. More than empathy for the Black community, there’s now a shared inkling that the rise of autocracy and plutocracy is engulfing all but the moneyed elites, threatening the existence of America itself.
There’s a rising political awareness that today’s social order is corrupt and the system itself must be changed, not tinkered with, but fundamentally changed.
And there's a growing understanding that we really are all in this together. So we've got to stand up for George Floyd, each other, and the America we want
The End of Policing with Alex Vitale Part 1 - Tysky Sour, Novara Media - Air Date 6-3-20
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: Were you expecting this kind of outpouring of, of resistance? We knew there'd be another Michael Brown another Eric Garner. Another sort of, you know, a Trayvon Martin. It's happened with, with George Floyd, but what's different this time? Why is it that much more antagonistic towards the States? Towards the police?
Alex Vitale: Well, I didn't really expect it though, I have to say there were little hints. You know, the way the police were , uh, enforcing the COVID crackdown was generating a lot of videos in which you could see people resisting the police, crowds resisting the police. And to me, that was like a red flag that something is going on, but I still didn't expect what we have in front of us today.
As to why it's happening, I mean, I think there's the, the deep economic insecurity and uncertainty of this moment. But in terms of policing, I think part of it is that, you know, five years ago, after the police murder of Eric Garner and Tamir, rice, Mike Brown, and so many others, we were sold this idea: "Don't worry, we're going to fix it."
The politicians, the police leaders, the Obama administration, the department of justice said we had a bunch of academics and foundations said, "Don't worry. We've got a plan. It's called 'procedural justice.' We're going to make the police fairer and nicer and more transparent. And this'll fix the problem."
Well, it's been five years. They've implemented all these fixes and nothing has changed. And I think that people have realized that these superficial solutions, they see through them, they're not working and the they're just outraged by the lack of change.
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: So then at the beginning of the book, it's kind of like a genealogy, a history of the police.
Well, can we just go into that? Where did the police come from? What's the sort of historical moment within which they emerge? What are they a response to?
Alex Vitale: <Dryly> It's it's all England's fault.
There's a kind of liberal narrative about the origins of policing that always begins with the London metropolitan police in 1829.
They're routinely pointed to as the, sort of, first example of a modern police force, which is less than 200 years ago, this is a fairly modern institution But what's left out of that, that narrative, that standard liberal narrative that you see in the policing textbooks, et cetera, is where this idea came from.
So the London police are created by Sir Robert Peel, Robert, Bob, the bobbies, and he got this idea in his previous job, which was that he was in charge of the English occupation of Ireland. And he develops the Irish peace preservation force to help manage a growing number of what they called, you know, agricultural outrageous, which were really peasant uprising against landlords.
And he could not rely on the military to bail him out because they were tied up with Napoleon. And the treasury was empty. And so he comes across this idea of a cheaper, more nimble community embedded sort of hybrid force that would allow them to act more preemptively to kind of quell things before they got out of hand and also to deal with things in a way that preserves some legitimacy for the occupation. The use of the military often involves shooting on crowds, killing people that further undermine the legitimacy and if policing could come in and calm things out with less violence, that would be good for the regime.
He takes that idea to England to manage this massive influx of folks coming from the countryside. Who've been displaced by the enclosures who are drawn by the new industrial economy and policing is needed to craft that population into a stable working class to put down the, the bread riots and the strikes and the just crime and widespread disorder.
So it's about manufacturing, a new working class. In the U S there are additional factors at work here. We have our own colonial origins of policing in the U S tied to, you know, the American occupation of the Philippines at the end of the Spanish American civil war. Uh, The Texas Rangers and other Western police forces that are created to drive out the indigenous population to make way for white settlement.
But we also have the role of policing in maintaining and managing slavery. And I talk in the book about the case of Charleston, South Carolina in the cities of the South slaves lived and worked outside the home of their owners in wharves and workshops and warehouses and policing emerges to manage that mobile slave population.
In fact, the Charleston city got guard and watch his form well before the London metropolitan police, but it's never talked about in these liberal narratives because their primary law enforcement mission was suppressing the slave population.
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: Yeah, something I've noticed. I mean, I'm not, I haven't written this in the script, but it's something I've noticed a lot actually is for instance, when people talk about neo-liberalism, there's this story about neo-liberalism through Europe, through Heyak, the Austrian school, there's this other school of James Buchanan and the end of sort of, you know, desegregation.
And it seems to me, as you just very lucidly highlighted, there's kind of this counter narrative of where policing comes from deeply imbricated within the history of slavery in the American South. There's a really nice way you put it, which is that the American police, which if this kind of a speculation of yours is correct, it's actually more of the sort of protean police for than what we have with the metropolitan police service or the Bow Street Runners, their forerunner. It's this amalgam of Northern technocracy and Um, Southern oversight of, of olaves. So what, what precisely was bad about the Northern bit? Because obviously in the sort of cliched understanding of the North American South, we, we know why the sort of, you know, the, the relationships of domination oppression about what the South, what, what was the bad sort of features of Northern policing?
Alex Vitale: Well, let's keep in mind that even, you know, the precursors in London, were also about this beginning process of forming a capitalist working class. You know, the, the Thames Wharf police were created to, to eliminate the historical practice of gleaning, where workers took the spillage and the overage home as part of their wages and capitalism can't abide that.
So they, they create this protean police force to try to put a stop that and to create a solely wage economy. And we see similar things happening in the Northern United States where policing emerges to bring this massive immigrant population that's flooding into the United States and form them into an industrial working class.
They were regulating how people wore their clothing, all kinds of regulations about alcohol consumption about public interactions, that really had nothing to do with public safety issues or the law. It was about stamping people into this new working class. And then I'll just give this example, you know, the first state police force in the United States was the Pennsylvania state police created a 1903.
They were created because of the widespread strike and labor actions that were happening in the Pennsylvania coal and iron fields and local police were unable or unwilling to suppress those labor movements. And so they created a state police force modeled on the U S occupation forces in the Philippines to put down those strikes.
Uh, Striker's at the time referred them to them as the Pennsylvania Cossacks. And so, uh, Northern policing has always been about a kind of racialized understanding of immigration, the management of those blacks who are in the city and the suppression of workers, movements, and really working class lifestyles.
America, Racism & Patterns of Change (with Heather Cox Richardson) Part 1 - Stay Tuned with Preet - Air Date - 6-11-20
Preet Bharara - Host, Stay Tuned with Preet: This is a moment that we’re in, while, we still have a pandemic, a global pandemic causing a lot of harm and death. And we have a massive protests, not just in this country, but in other countries as well over issues of racism and police brutality.
Are we actually at an inflection point in American history?
Heather Cox Richardson: I would say yes. And here's why. Because we are at the end of a particular political period. That is really since the Democrats and FDR put through a series of new laws that created an activist government in the 1930s and the 1940s and after Dwight Eisenhower picked it up and made it part of the mainstream Republican platform in the 1950s.
There has been a backlash against what was then known as the liberal consensus. That is the idea that the government has a role to, regulate business and to provide a basic social safety net and promote infrastructure that was really widely spread that idea was widely spread in the 1930s, and the 1940s, and the 1950s, and the 1960s, in the 1970s. But the backlash against that really took hold in the 1980s. And we’re seeing now the culmination of that, the idea that in fact the government has no role in either regulating business or promoting a social safety net, or promoting infrastructure. That those things should be privatized or not done at all.
And that’s gone so far, I think that we have come to a backlash against that. And it happens that the combination of this deadly pandemic, which has fallen out of the news cycle in a lot of ways. And that’s really a problem. And the attack on Mr. Floyd as well as Breonna Taylor and all the other many people who have died at the hands of police. Those two things have combined really to give a voice to a lot of people who believe that the government is no longer working in their best interests here in America. What’s happening internationally is perhaps the same story, but perhaps a different one.
But here in America, it’s this moment that is not just about police brutality I don’t think. And it’s not just about the pandemic and the feeling that the government has kind of said our economy is more important than your life. But really the culmination of, “Hey, wait a minute. This is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Why is all the money moving upward? Why is it the people at the top or getting all the protection? Why is our president getting away with whatever it seems he wants to do? Why is the Secretary of State doing the same? Why is the Attorney General doing the same?” This moment is giving voice to that anger.
Now the real question though, is what’s going to happen in the next several months. We’ve had a lot of times in the past when people took to the streets and anger and then didn’t follow it up. And that’s really what I’m going to be watching is what are the concrete steps that people are taking to create systemic change, as opposed to simply voicing their anger?
Preet Bharara: The systemic change, or other kinds of significant change always require some kind of significant catalyst, or can it happen without a catalyst like a pandemic or protest?
Heather Cox Richardson: I think systemic change happens when the people who run the system begin to change. And there are I think cosmic catalysts that create that. I would argue that there have been four major changes throughout American history that have created huge changes in society and the way we interact with our government.
The first in the early 19th century was when people started, Euro Americans started to move West. And that created a crisis for democracy. And from that crisis in democracy, we get the first activist government under the Republican Party in the 1860s. People always forget that it’s the Republicans who create national taxation and income taxes, and actually create a government that works to provide education and provide a basic social safety net for people.
We get that. And then the 1880s and the 1890s and into the 19 odds, we get industrialization. And industrialization once again forces this if you will, come to Jesus moment where people say, “What is the government supposed to be doing?” And out of that, we get the progressive era.
And then in the middle of the 20th century, we get the rise of internationalism and the very real fear of nuclear war. And the idea that the world literally could end tomorrow. And that once again, creates an America, what we knew as the liberal consensus. Now we’ve got a different crisis, and it’s a unique crisis in American history. And that’s the rise of what appears to be a want to be dictator. And once again, Americans are coming to the wall and saying, “What is our government supposed to be? And what is it supposed to be doing?”
It’s interesting as a historian to look at these major changes. And that’s sort of the cosmic law, but does society change without those? Sure. I mean, if you look at really the backlash against the new deal and Eisenhower's middle way, this liberal consensus that happened, not because, , protesters took to the streets in the 1960s and said we have to change things. It happened after the Goldwater campaign of 1964, when Goldwaterites said, “We’re obviously not going to change things in the streets. So we’re going to have to do it by taking over school boards.” And that’s precisely what they did. Quietly and almost insidiously changed our government.
Preet Bharara: So I was taking notes as you were speaking. And I just want to be clear. You said the third major change was in the mid 20th century with internationalism and the fear of nuclear war. And just make sure I didn’t miss it. The fourth major change was what?
Heather Cox Richardson: I would suggest looking at this from a large perspective that the fourth major crisis. And let me just say here that what I’m suggesting is what you were asking about was changes in government. So when I’m talking about these crises, I’m talking about crises of government. Certainly Americans have had other crises in the past that I’m not mentioning know. Little things like world wars. But what I’m suggesting is the fourth major crisis of government has been when we see, as we are seeing in the present, that our guard rails really don’t exist. And that we’ve got the problem of the rise of a want to be dictator in Donald Trump. I think this moment will go forward as one of those four major crises in the American government that I’m identifying.
Preet Bharara: If we’re not talking about just crises, but just sort of major change that follows crisis. You’re not including on the list of those few for what happened after the Vietnam War and people’s lack of trust in institutions? Or Watergate, or the great society or any of those things?
Heather Cox Richardson: No, I’m not. I’m putting those in the larger backlash against the liberal consensus after the 1950s. And I think we could dig down into that if you’re interested. A lot of people say, “Why would this moment be any different now than the movement after the 1960s?” And what I would say about that is that after the movements of the 1960s, one of the things that didn’t happen to the degree that would have required to have happened for change is the people who were making those demands in the 1960s tended not to go into politics. They tended to leave politics to the Goldwaterites who did in fact take over the system. Controlling the system really matters.
Preet Bharara: Well, yeah. Well, after all that in the sixties, it was not a liberal who got elected. It was Richard Nixon.
Heather Cox Richardson: That’s correct.
Preet Bharara: Let me ask you this question. Because lots of people seek to find historical parallels. real historians like yourself, but also armchair historians, people who read history in the papers. Is it wrong to say that there’s a parallel in 1968 in the current day?
Heather Cox Richardson: So lots of people are looking-
Preet Bharara: I note that sigh. I note that sigh.
Heather Cox Richardson: A lot of people are looking at ’68 and saying, “We’re basically reliving ’68.” But it’s very important to remember that what they’re really looking for when they make those parallels is to say unrest in the streets really helps reactionary forces. Look, it elected Richard Nixon.
And it’s important to remember that Richard Nixon was not in office in the midst of all those protests. And what we have right now is a situation where the person in power is overseeing those protests in the third year of his presidency, or is it the fourth year?
I can't remember at this point. So I think that what's different here is that the unrest is against somebody in power. In that case, it was LBJ, led reactionary backlash to put Nixon in power.
LBJ: I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.
Heather Cox Richardson: But we have the opposite situation nowadays in that the person who has created this situation and who is currently in power is the one that this movement is going to take out. I’m not entirely sure I’ve articulated that. But it matters that the president who is in power is the person against whom this unrest is happening. As opposed to it being somebody who is riding on the outside into the White House, on this kind of chaos.
Preet Bharara: Is it useful or silly to try to draw direct parallels between the time we’re living in and other periods? Peter Baker of the New York Times has been a guest on the show said …
Peter Baker: We started this year thinking it was another 1998 because of impeachment. And then we’d moved to 1918 with the pandemic. And then we thought maybe it’s another 1929, throw that on top of 1918, because of the Great Depression. Now we’re talking about 1968.
Preet Bharara: Should we be sitting around talking about how similar or different our time is to other years? Is that a useful enterprise or not?
Heather Cox Richardson: Well let me go back first of all, where you started this and how people are responding to it. I think it is very real that Americans are traumatized. We are going through major crises, one on top of each other. And that does in fact create a really hard situation for an awful lot of people. So I think it’s important in that way to recognize that what we’re going through is extraordinary and hard for a lot of people.
That being said, one of the things that historians are very, very used to saying and very fond of saying is that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. And what historians do is they study society. And it doesn’t really matter for this principle, what society they’re studying. I mean, they could be studying farm workers in Southern France or, Icelandic. Fishermen. It doesn't really matter what you're really studying. Anytime you try and look at the history of a population is to see what creates change. What stresses on a society mean that society either moves in one direction or in another? And to that degree, we can learn an awful lot by looking at the pandemic of 1918, or the depression. We can look at those things and say, “Look. Under these circumstances, American society did these things because of this.” And one of the reasons that historians argue is what I see as being crucial in the depression for example, might be something very different than what one of my colleagues does. That’s fine. That’s exactly what we should be doing is arguing about what creates change.
But in that sense, it’s very important to look to the past and say, “Oh yeah. When the depression hit, this was going on. And it really mattered that for example, FDR sent Eleanor to talk to the bonus marchers rather than the army, the way Hoover had. Because it created this kind of goodwill in the media.” That sort of looking at it really matters. What you cannot do is say, because this happened in 1918, the same thing is going to happen in 2020.
The End of Policing with Alex Vitale Part 2 - Tysky, Novara Media - Air Date 6-3-20
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: The godfather of this theory, which, well it doesn't come from him, but the idea that there was a social study, we talked about actually with Rutger Bregman last week, you know, if a car is left in a neighborhood and it's fine, nothing happens to it. If the cars left their neighborhood with a single broken window before you not, it becomes the epicenter of violence and criminality and so on.
And in the book you say that that's just evidently failed. Um, It's underpinned racist policing practices, the sort of broken windows theory we adopted here wholesale as well. I guess the counter argument is, and you do talk about this in big cities. You know, New York for instance, has a levels of homicide, which are historic lows.
We've seen crime fall in major cities across the United States, but also here in Britain too actually for decades and the background to that was zero tolerance approaches to policing. Now, I would never endorse those, but how do you, how do you respond to the argument: "Well, look that they're doing what they claim they do. They sort of do the job."?
Alex Vitale: Well, there's a lot to unpack there, so let's just start with the crime decline numbers. So the crime decline is in fact, an international phenomenon it's happening in a lot of places. Including a lot of places that never used broken windows policing. In the United States, we have about 18-20 thousand independent local police departments.
And there's no national policy, no national standards. And when we look at things like when did a department implement broken windows, policing, uh, versus other departments, we find no effect that the broken windows theory. You know, it got so much currency for two reasons. One is that it was in New York where the media are and it corresponded with this crime decline.
And the, the other is that it provided this powerful political narrative to justify austerity politics. The genius of it, right, and it's linked to these very conservative, uh, intellectuals, part of the, kind of, neo-conservative turn in American politics who managed to switch the idea that poverty causes crime to the idea that crime causes poverty, that when we leave disorder unchecked, It automatically leads to serious crime.
And of course it was often used to do things like go after homeless people for panhandling as if they were somehow going to turn into murderers if we didn't arrest them for panhandling. You know, there's never been any empirical research to justify this. The original article was in the Atlantic magazine, it was not in a peer-reviewed journal.
It was a political intervention that got picked up by politicians because it justified their turn away from social services and towards criminalization. And I think that's, that's really, what's driving this. And you asked before about, you know, don't police go after the bad guys, but what they've done is they define the bad guys as those people who are a source of disorder and discomfort, precisely because they're on the losing end of these new economic relationships. And it's essential to them to define homelessness and youth crime and, uh, mental health problems as problems of individual and group moral failure that will only respond to punitive policing because the alternative would be to acknowledge that these are market failures.
These are failures of labor markets, of housing markets, of healthcare markets, which unfortunately we have in the U.S.,right? And that if we acknowledge that, then they'd have to do something about those markets, but that's precisely what they don't want to do. They want to preserve this Neo liberal ideology that keeps pumping resources up the economic ladder.
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: And this quite, I mean, maybe you can go into some of the individuals involved in this, you know, that there is quite an intimate relationship between, uh, that explicitly in our liberal thought architecture stuff, like the bell curve and then the broken windows stuff. Can you go into some of the personalities, the quote unquote "thinkers" involved in this stuff and that proximity to right wing politics?
Alex Vitale: Yeah. Well, the root of this in some ways is Edward Banfield. Who in the early sixties, after serving in Vietnam as an advisor in Vietnam, as part of the architecture of counterinsurgency in Vietnam, he comes back to the United States and sees poor people in the United States as if they're the VC in a sense. He's like "these folks are a threat to the order" and they're also, he treats them like they're children, right? The racism inherent in the U S project in Vietnam, that these people are incapable of making their own decisions. So he writes about how the poor aren't interested in bettering their lives. If you try to give them something positive, they'll just damage it.
"Open a new library, they'll just vandalize it. We don't need to waste our time trying to help these people. We need to give them authoritarian interventions to force them to be productive citizens, according to, you know, our idea of what's good and just, and, and productive." So Banfield kind of writes these books, making these essentially deeply racist arguments, and there's a whole community at the university of Chicago, Neo liberal economists, like Milton Friedman, sociologists like James Q. Wilson, and they are all trying to connect the dots between disinvestment, austerity, and criminalization, and really the broken windows theory is this linchpin, this linchpin of connecting neoliberalism and neoconservatism. So David Harvey, for instance, talks about how, you know, neoliberalism is the economic ideology of, you know, heightened class power for the rich, and it generates these consequences that get responded to through neoconservatism, both at home and internationally.
So, it's about warmongering internationally, counterinsurgency internationally, and it's about criminalization and mass incarceration domestically.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor on how racism & racial terrorism fueled nationwide anger - Democracy Now! - Air Date 6-1-20
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Many people have referenced the 1960s, have referenced Ferguson in 2014, but I think it's important to say that. These are not just repeats of past events. These are the consequences of the failures of this government and the political establishment, the economic establishment of this country to resolve those crises, and so they build and accumulate over time. And we are watching the boiling over of that.
Imagine how angry, desperate, rage-filled you would have to be to come out and protest in the conditions of a historical pandemic that has already killed over 103,000, Americans that has had a disproportionately horrendous impac in black communities, I believe 23,000 or 24,000 black people have died. to put it more bluntly. One in every 2000 African Americans in the United States, has died as the result of COVID. So imagine how difficult, things have to be, for people to come out, in those conditions. So I think that the, buildup around police brutality, the continuation, of police brutality, police abuse and violence and murder has compelled people to have to endure those conditions, because it is obvious that there is either nothing that our government can do about this or that the government is complicit and chooses not to do anything, about this. And I think that we have to add to that the crisis that is unfolding beyond police brutality in the country as well, because we all know that the videotapes of police beatings, abuse, murder have never stopped. So the movement that, grew out of the Ferguson uprising that became black lives matter, the conditions that led to that never actually ended. And I think that what has re-ignited that. Is obviously the public lynching of George Floyd, one week ago Minneapolis, but also the conditions, the wider context within which, that is, spilling over.
And because of that wider condition of mass unemployment of, the death that has been, caused by the pandemic that this is not just. I don't believe these are just protests around, or against police brutality. but we see a lot of hundreds, if not thousands of young white people.
in, these uprisings making these multi-racial rebellions really. And I think that that is important. Some people have, described the participation of white people as outside agitators. Or I know that there are reports of white supremacists, infiltrating some of the demonstrations.
And I think that those are things that we have to pay attention to keep track of and try to understand. But I think we cannot dismiss in a widespread way, the participation of young white people, because we have to see that what has happened over the last decade has gutted their lives too. And there has been some discussion about this with perhaps their parents' generation with the, description of deaths by despair. So we know that the life expectancy of ordinary white men and women has gone into reverse. Something, by the way, that does not typically happen in the developed world and it is driven by opioid addiction, alcoholism, and suicide.
And so this generation. Whose lives really, you know, if you've graduated from college, your life has been bracketed by war at the turn of the 21st century by recession and now by a deadly pandemic. And so I think we're seeing the convergence of a class rebellion with racism and racial terrorism at the center of it.
In many ways we are in uncharted territory in the United States.
The End of Policing with Alex Vitale Part 3 - Tysky, Novara Media - Air Date 6-3-20
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: Alex, why are there police, why are there so many police in America schools? Because that that is something which is utterly incomprehensible to a British audience. The idea of almost quotidean and mundane feature of school, life being the police. Why are they there? When did this start happening?
Alex Vitale: In New York city, we have 5,000 NYPD personnel stationed in city schools. That's more than all counselors of all varieties combined. It is just the most colossal injustice. School policing was, you know, starts in little fits and starts in the fifties as an effort to deal with, you know, youth gangs and stuff. And actually they put them in elementary schools because, it had nothing to do with keeping kids safe, it was about teaching them respect for authority to get them to, you know, get close to police so that hopefully when they grew up, they would be better behaved. But the real explosion happens in the 1990s and there are really a few factors involved there. One was, uh, the emergence of the school reform movement in the U S, which was part of austerity politics.
Politicians like, uh, George W. Bush, when he was mayor of Texas.., uh Governor of Texas, excuse me, he begins, you know, this move towards rigorous standardized testing on a small number of subjects as the only real measure of educational success, tearing out everything else. High stakes testing, and then a whole set of zero tolerance disciplinary procedures that turn out to be designed primarily to drive out those kids who are not performing.
And they put them in these alternative high schools that really look like jails, and then they exempt them from participating in the testing. So then the testing looks great and Bush says, "it's the Texas miracle. We fixed education by criminalizing tens of thousands of school children." This gives rise to school policing across the country, which is subsidized by the Clinton administration and the 94 crime bill where he gives them money to hire school police.
The second factor was the Columbine shooting in Colorado that happens in the nineties. And the thing is, is that that created a kind of panic about school safety, that the school policing folks, you know, drove right into.
But the reality was there were armed police at Columbine that day. It made no difference. There were armed police, you know, in Parkland, Florida, it didn't matter. Armed policing is not working in preventing these school shootings. The third factor that was driving all, this was the super predator myth, which goes back to the same collection of neo-conservative intellectuals.
In this case, John Dilulio at Princeton at the time who says we're getting ready to have this wave of sociopathic youth violence based on a lot of spurious demographic data that turned out to be totally false and the amiss representation of some research in Philadelphia. And every year since the super predator myth came out youth violence has fallen.
Youth crime has fallen, but the politicians picked up this hysteria about super predators, to create more school policing to lower the age of criminal responsibility to increase zero tolerance, policing, et cetera. So all three of these things come together to create a kind of perfect storm that generates the creation of thousands of new school police departments, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of new school policing officers.
And that legacy is still with us today.
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: There's been this austerity logic since 2008. Uh, Every year it has been a huge public debate in America about, you know, the federal sort of budget overhead to talking about the deficit. But as you detailed in the book, it's so expensive to incarcerate so many people. It's so expensive to have, have such high levels of recidivism and re-offending.
It's so expensive to be giving that military level hardware to police forces. I mean, surely there is a counter argument here, surely sort of austerity could have been an impetus for the police to be doing less. You know, like you say, defund the police. Uh, I, I, and I'm not suggesting that that's a particularly radical message within the context of austerity that would just be privatizing and outsourcing the places that as a conservative party have done here, but it does seem strange that something which would save the taxpayers so much money, uh, hasn't been pursued. In which case you think, well, this must tap into something deeper is set of cultural values, a powerful lobby. Uh, I mean, can you just sort of touch upon that briefly?
Alex Vitale: Yeah, I think there, there are two ways to think about this. One is that it's essential that they preserve the Neo liberal ideology because the Neo liberal ideology protects the most successful segments of the economy from being taxed and regulated.
It gives them free reign to do what they want to do. And once we acknowledge that maybe the state could play a redistributive role, then they're going to be the first target of that. So they cannot abide that and they have done a very good job of funding both political parties. The other thing is, is that ultimately to solve the kinds of problems we need to solve, it's going to be more expensive than what we spend on police and prisons.
The police and prisons do save them money, actually building the amount of public housing that would be needed to house millions of Americans is going to be expensive. It's going to require not just dismantling prisons and policing. It's going to require dismantling militarization and all the economic interests that are embedded in that and a significant redistribution of wealth.
And that's really the battle that's in front of us. And unfortunately, there's, there's really not too many players on the national stage, in the U S who are willing to talk about that.
Aaron Bastani - Host, Tysky Sour: So I guess that's the point of disagreement then between you and somebody like a Rutger Bregman I've talked about? Uh, His last book was in last week, "Humankind."
He did "Utopia for Realists." I dont' know if you saw Rupert Murdoch reading it, it was a big account over here in Europe, he would say, well, look, you know, if you look at Norway, that prisons mean such low rates of re-offending. I mean, John Edwards said it in, I think in 2008, it's cheaper to sender a young man to Yale than to jail.
What you're saying is actually "that's not entirely accurate" because the prison industrial complex is overseeing such profound inequality. That as a, as a sort of, as a, as a complex of social control, it is good value for the 1%. It is good value for the elites. Do you think, is it fair to say you think that somebody like a Rutger Bregman is kind of misguided in his analysis in relationship prison and policing?
Alex Vitale: Yeah, I think it's just, it's a, it's a softer version of this, right? So it's trying to like make the pocketbook argument. But Norway has a, you know, a completely different approach towards taxation. They have much less overall inequality. They don't allow, you know, this wage spread that we have in the U S they don't allow there to be all these billionaires.
And so, yeah, in that context, it seems like, Oh, this is more efficient than we could just save money. But I always say, you know, it's not, mass incarceration and mass criminalization, it's not about a few private, private prison contracts. It's not about $10 million in food commissaries here or there. It's about the raiding of trillions of dollars.
That's what's at stake here. It's an ideology, it's a project that enables the looting of the entire economy. So there is a lot at stake here.
The Uprising and Its Leadership: What Does it Look Like in This Moment? - The Takeaway - Air Date 6-10-20
Tanzina Vega - Host, The Takeaway: Neil I'd love to, for you to pick up on a point that George made, uh, really about how many of these struggles internationally are connected, whether they are affirming black lives, whether they are, uh, challenging colonialism in the case of Puerto Rico, for example, um, as we see these uprisings continue, uh, the demands that they're asking for are also showing a lot of similarities. We've heard a lot about defunding the police, yesterday on the show we focused on that. How is it that the demands are in line or very similar without having these sort of figureheads at the top? Where are the demands and the ideas, for example, to restructure policing, uh, coming from in these movements.
Peniel Joseph: Well, these movements are really intimately linked in a continuation of post world war two global movements for decolonization, anti colonialism and indigenous self-determination. So when we think about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Malcolm X, um, they are these watershed figures in this contestation between the global North and global South, since the second world war and that continues.
And so when we think about this movement is a movement that is, um, a version of Arab Spring, but an American and Global Spring, this is our "Tiananmen Square" with race at the center. Um, It's a movement to defeat white supremacy, eradicate institutional racism, but it's also a movement against racial capitalism.
And when we think about that term, that's just the term. That means that. Globally, capitalism has always been based on the super-exploitation of people of color, but especially black bodies because of racial slavery as the global engine to capitalism in the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. So what people are struggling with in the United States and the context of neoliberalism. And all that word means is just the privatization, the militarization, the commodification of public spaces for the private gain of the 1% globally. People are suffering similar deficits and similar vulnerability, whether we're talking about food, hunger, and food, justice, child nutrition, as best those led children with asthma. The over-incarceration the criminalization of black and Brown people and indigenous people globally.
So, they're all getting together and even though there aren't these global leaders in the same way that we saw in the 1960s and 1970s, there are leaders nationally and globally and locally who are sharing information across social media, they're sharing information across all these different media scapes, and now people are supercharged in a way that we really haven't seen since the 1960s.
And we think about this moment in 1968, May Day in 1968, we had global uprising. We had uprisings in Asia, in Latin America, in the Caribbean, in Europe and the United States. And they were uprising for the same issues. But those movements, unfortunately, were defeated. One of the things that we tell ourselves nationally is that the civil rights movement had a beginning, middle, and an end.
It starts with Rosa Parks, then MLK, and Barack Obama, he freed us all. That's not true. And what we're seeing with these protests is that 52 years later, after 1968, we now have a generational opportunity to transform. And re-imagine not just the American democracy, but the whole state of global civil society.
Who's a citizen and who's not? Why do we treat immigrants as if they're garbage and not human beings? Why do we treat LGBTQ and indigenous people as if they're less than human? And can we transform that at the local level, just through a people powered democracy? And I think we're seeing extraordinary, extraordinary transformations right before our very eyes.
Tanzina Vega - Host, The Takeaway: One of the things that came up when I was covering the Black Lives Matter, the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement for the New York Times, particularly after Ferguson was, from a lot of folks, particularly white journalists, the questions were focused on, "well, what is this actually going to accomplish?"
Right. "What are all of these protests going to accomplish?" And I think, uh, George I'd love your thoughts here because I never thought that I would see as many Americans, and white Americans in particular, calling out, uh, "black lives matter," um, affirming that, that phrase and also looking for policy change.
I mean, can we talk, I mean, to me, that's, that's a big thing that happened, right, from 2014 till today. But how do these movements, George, actually affect policy change? And is it enough for people to sustain these types of protests without a visible leader to make those policy changes happen, or do you need somebody to make that, to go to Congress to make those changes happen?
Do you have to engage leadership, more formal leadership, for example, in Congress to get to that point?
George Ciccariello-Maher: I think we have an incredible blind spot, in particularly in the United States, when it comes to how social change happens, because we repeat over and over and over again, uh, uh, sort of wishful thinking, uh, that all power moves through the ballot box and that slow gradual changes are really the way to go.
And yet we're constantly shown in the streets that actually real power lay with movements in the streets, making demands that can not be denied. Um, Every time, there's a mass rebellion, whether it's Los Angeles or, you know, I've written a lot about Oscar Grant in Oakland, there was a chorus of voices that say, "this is not the way to make change."
And yet at the same exact time that they're saying that, change is happening .At the same time that they're saying that, officers were being arrested who weren't going to be arrested without these mass protests. You know, there are several compilations out there just from this week about all of the things that have been won so far, including the beginnings of defunding, including moves toward dismantling the Minneapolis police department, uh, , and others, including the arrest and, and firing of different officers in Philadelphia and elsewhere, an officer in Philadelphia who was, uh, you know, absolutely, uh, you know, had decades of abuse under his belt.
Um, And so these changes are happening. I think that's the first thing to recognize. The next question then is how to make them permanent, how to make them sustainable. And that does not center, I don't think, on the halls of official public power and public policy, but it definitely calls those into, you know, into the equation.
Uh, And here we have the difficult paradox, almost, that, you know, that this kind of leadership that the moving into the electoral arena and into the political arena is both necessary and sort of poisonous to movements. It saps their energy. Anything that gets passed and changed, ultimately is a watered down version of what's being demanded in the streets.
And yet this is kind of the condemnation that these movements have to pass through, is that they need to push and force change into the institutional structure even if that change will never be enough. Um, and you know, and this is something that you see with. Uh, local elected leaders. Um, many of whom are betraying the movements, uh, today.
Um, But it's also something you see, for example, with political candidates like Bernie Sanders, who, um, who I think opened up a whole range of possibilities and inspired a lot of people. Um, and yet ultimately did not fully reflect and would not fully reflect what's going on on the ground today, but this is something that's going to be hashed out by the movements in the future.
Uh, They're just in a particularly complicated situation right now, because they're already locked in, for example, to Joe Biden as a presidential candidate, who was not the presidential candidate, I think that many or any of those in the streets today would choose.
Cornel West: Nationwide uprisings herald "America's moment of reckoning" - Democracy Now! - Air Date 6-1-20
Cornel West: Well, there's no doubt that this is America's moment of reckoning, but we want to make the connection between the local and the global, because you see when you sow the seeds of greed, domestically inequality, globally, Imperial tentacles, 800 military units abroad. Violence and AFRICOM in Africa, supporting various regimes, dictatorial ones in Asia and so forth — there is a connection between the seeds that you sow of violence externally and internally. Same is true in terms of the seed of hatred, of white supremacy, hating Black people, anti-Blackness hatred having its own dynamic within the context of a predatory capitalist civilization obsessed with money, money, money, domination of workers, marginalization of those who don’t fit — gay brothers, lesbian sisters, trans and so forth. So, it’s precisely this convergence that my dear sister Professor Taylor is talking about of the ways in which the American Empire, imploding, its foundations being shaken, with uprisings from below.
The catalyst was certainly Brother George Floyd’s public lynching, but the failures of the predatory capitalist economy to provide the satisfaction of the basic needs of food and healthcare and quality education, jobs with a decent wage, at the same time the collapse of your political class, the collapse of your professional class. Their legitimacy has been radically called into question, and that’s multiracial. It’s the neofascist dimension in Trump. It’s the neoliberal dimension in Biden and Obama and the Clintons and so forth. And it includes much of the media. It includes many of the professors in universities. The young people are saying, “You all have been hypocritical. You haven’t been concerned about our suffering, our misery. And we no longer believe in your legitimacy.” And it spills over into violent explosion.
And it’s here. I won’t go on, but, I mean, it’s here, where I think Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer and Rabbi Heschel and Edward Said, and especially brother Martin and Malcolm. their legacies, I think become more central because they provide the kind of truth telling they provide the connection between justice and compassion in their example, in their organizing.
And that's what is needed right now. Rebellion is not the same thing in any way as revolution. And what we need is a nonviolent revolutionary project of full-scale democratic sharing, power, wealth, resources, respect organizing, and a fundamental transformation of this American empire.
Final comments Jay Tomlinson - Host, Best of the Left: We've just heard clips today, starting with Doomed highlighting the seldom-mentioned detail that George Floyd was under suspicion of an economic crime only after losing his job due solely to the pandemic. This is Hell spoke with William Anderson about the real theft in a capitalist society. Jim Hightower connected the dots between racial injustice and the even more widespread economic injustice we're all feeling. Tskey Sour in three parts, spoke with Alex Vitaly about the neoliberal economic underpinnings of our policing and justice system. Stay Tuned with Preet spoke with historian, Heather Cox Richardson about historical parallels to the protests. Democracy Now featured Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor talking about the failures of government amid crisis.
The Takeaway spoke to the international angle of protest movements and neoliberal economics. And finally, we just heard a Democracy Now featuring Cornell West pointing to our current moment as a moment of a reckoning for America.
Members are going to be getting a bonus episode that I'm still in the middle of formulating. I'm thinking we're going to talk about some black academic perspectives on racism, but we haven't recorded it yet so it's a little hard ti tell. I don't want to make promises I can't keep, but to hear that whenever it comes out and all of our bonus content, which usually includes more voicemails and commentary for me, and sometimes Amanda, plus ad-free versions of every regular episode, sign up as a patron of the show at patreon.com/bestoftheleft.
Now today to finish up, I thought today was going to be the day that I got back to voicemails, but it turns out I have a story which hasn't happened in a little while so I want to give myself enough time to tell the story. I talked at the beginning about the definition of "I can't breathe" on Urban Dictionary.
They focused on the literal inability to breathe. Very rightly, quite rightly. And I expanded on that, expanding into the metaphorical shortness of breath that I think is being felt by nearly everyone to one degree or another living under economic precarity. Intentional economic precarity, let me remind you.
We are intentionally refusing to create systems that would allow a little breathing room, things like, uh, to take care of everyone's health care for them so that they're not terrified of getting sick lest they go bankrupt. Or, uh, you know, increasing the minimum wage to create a floor for all wages that would push wages up or policies that encourage unionization or the creation of cooperatives, that sort of thing that would create worker empowerment and, and wealth accumulation at the bottom and the middle rungs of society and not just at the top in the hopes that they would trickle down. So all of this is done intentionally and it creates what we call economic precarity for everyone, which makes us great workers. We're desperate to work. We will work as hard as we are told to for as little as they can get away with paying us.
And that has filtered all throughout society, uh, top to bottom. And the story I have, I think, sort of sits at this intersection between the, uh, the literal inability to breathe and this metaphorical shortness of breath. And I think ultimately turns out to be a pretty good metaphor for our country. And it goes back to when I was a kid, I played soccer for, you know, for about 10 years or so from six to 16, it was, that was my life outside of school, which, you know, when I was in school, I just wished I was out of school so I could be playing soccer. And when I was out of school, I was playing soccer or going to practice or going to tournaments and all of those sorts of things. And as I said, I played until I was about 16 or so, so into my high school years, and one day on my high school team and we were very focused on, uh, on fitness, endurance, that sort of thing.
And so there would be some days when we wouldn't even pull out the soccer balls, we would just run, just doing during his training. But this particular day, I do not think was one of those. This particular day I think we had done something wrong. I think the coach was pissed off at us and we were being punished.
So I think practice was stopped and he said, "go for a run." And the run that he wanted us to do, there's a, you know, a specific sort of formation that we were supposed to do this day. And so the team is probably about 20 people or so, so we're supposed to line up in two lines about, uh, about 10 people, each parallel lines, and we're supposed to jog pretty slowly, but just jog around the soccer field and in a continuous pattern, whoever is at the back of the line is supposed to pop out of the line to the side, sprint to the front of the line and then pop back into the front and slow down to that same jogging pace again. And, and you just do this in a continuous pattern. So whoever is last, as soon as the person gets to the front, you're now last, now you pop out and you sprint to the front.
So the team is jogging, but it's a unified, cohesive team activity, uh, you know, done in synchronicity. You know, it's not just about exercise. It's also about the, you know, the team working together. And as I said, I think we were in trouble that day because we ran around the field at least once. Like there's maybe a couple of times and the coach just said, "you're doing it wrong, do another lap."
And we said "okay." So we did another set of jogging with wind sprints interspersed, and we get around the field again and he says, "you're doing it wrong. Do it again." And at about that point, maybe the third or the fourth lap of this, the, the sort of de facto team leaders, you know, so I was a freshmen in high school this year.
So maybe the sophomores on the team. So, you know, we're talking like 15, 14 year old kids, the de facto leaders of the team were trying to figure out like, "what are we doing wrong? We don't know what we're doing wrong. I guess let's go faster. Pick up the pace instead of jogging super slowly and doing sprints let's, let's do like a nice, fast paced jog or, you know, approaching a run."
And of course this made it harder. I mean, we were already tired. We'd already been running around the field. And now when it's your turn to sprint, you have farther to sprint because everyone else is going faster. Everyone else is running and you, you then have to get yourself to the front. And of course you're even more tired than you were before and you have to run longer.
So we, we try that once, once around and the coach says "you're doing it wrong. Do it again." And the leaders of the team say, "okay guys, come on, speed it up, speed it up. We're still not doing it right." And so, you know, imagine these, these, you know, 14, 15 year old kids, we're stuck in this system. We are being controlled by forces, larger than us telling us that we are not succeeding.
And our only thoughts, our only conclusion is. We must just have to go faster. So we try again, we go faster. Now we're running almost full speed, which means when you're at the back of the line and you need to sprint to the front. It's nearly impossible. You can hardly get yourself there because you're already running practically full speed.
What sort of superhuman effort is it going to take to then be able to sprint after having been doing this now for 10 straight minutes or however long.
By the end of what must've been the fifth or sixth lap, the whole thing collapses, uh, you know, people start dropping out of line, myself, included.
I literally can't breathe. I am choking for a breath. I feel like my throat and lungs are closing up from the inability to breathe and, and ultimately the run completely breaks down. And once we've recovered to some degree and the coach gets us circled up again he explains, "the problem was not that you weren't going fast enough.
The problem was that you weren't doing it well enough. You weren't in sync with each other. You weren't a tightly packed unit, as you were instructed to be. The lines weren't perfectly parallel and straight." And he explains that the right way to do it is to jog slowly, as we had in the beginning, but to do it well and synchronized with one another and in perfect formation.
Now this story is certainly not, not claiming that this particular coach of mine was a strategic or philosophical genius and that this lesson he was teaching us was profound in its own way. Uh, As I said, the team members were about 14, 15 years old. The coach of this is just the junior varsity team at high school.
The coach I think, was in his early twenties. So he was like, basically a kid the way I would see it from my perspective these days. So I'm not arguing that his coaching was brilliant, but what I see as a metaphor is our guess that when told we're doing it wrong, when told you're not getting ahead, when told you are not getting to the goal that has been set for you, you are not succeeding that are only guess as to how to do it better was to go faster, was to run longer, run harder, exhaust ourselves to the point of literally not being able to breathe.
And I just feel like that is what society is doing to itself. We know that we are not getting ahead. We know that as labor efficiency and profits go up, that does not trickle down to the workers. We know that the system is rigged against us and it feels like we are only just recently getting to the point where we are figuring out that we need to demand systemic change rather than just work harder, work longer, run faster, get to the point where we can't even breathe in our life, sometimes literally, often metaphorically. And that is the context that we have been living with for decades that has been put on full display first by the coronavirus and now by seeing the connection between police brutality and our economic system and recognizing that it's not just in the interest of our economic system to militarize our police, but that the funding that goes to the police is very likely the same funding that could be used to create a system that supports people. To have a society that is conducive to human flourishing rather than the economic precarity that keeps us in a position of helplessness and acting out of desperation for the little that we have, rather than acting from a position of security and power from which we would inevitably demand more.
So it's not just about the need to defund the police because of the damage the police do. It's also about redirecting that money so that we can build the society that actually allows society to flourish in way that it has not been as evidenced by the opioid crisis. As evidenced by widespread depression and dissatisfaction. As evidenced by the burnout generation. As evidenced by the deaths of despair. We should all see crystal clear by now that we are not doing things right.
We are not going about society the right way, and we need fundamental change to set us in the right direction. More on all of that in an upcoming episode, that is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or making donations of any size at patreon.com/bestoftheleft.
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So, coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the best of left podcast coming to as often as we are able, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from bestofleft.com.