NEWS FROM NEPTUNE for week 46 of 2014

In the week’s news, “Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it’s from Neptune.” — Noam Chomsky

The Israel lobby joins the corporate university to invade academic freedom.

“God is dead, and we did it for the kids,” said the late Abbie Hoffman, guying 1960s liberalism. At the Little University Around the Corner here in C-U, academic freedom is dead, and we did it for Israel. U of I dismissed Steven Salaita from the faculty because he said unpleasant things about Israel’s latest attack on Gaza. He seems to be a victim of an aggressive campaign across the country to suppress criticism of Israel on campuses — a campaign that enlists neoliberal business and political figures to influence universities made over into a corporate model — regardless of the principles of academic freedom — which in fact go beyond a general assertion of free speech to protect the utterances of faculty, particularly their political asseverations.

Cary Nelson, late of the university’s English department and a former president of the American Association of University Professors, seems to have been a principal instigator of Salaita’s firing. Nelson, who described himself as a “tenured radical,” has now edited a book, “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel” (MLA Members for Scholar's Rights, 2014), made up of statements from aging postmodernists. Nelson says, “Claims that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state, that it was an illegitimate colonialist enterprise from the outset, are indeed anti-Semitic in effect.”

It’s at least a bit sweeping to assert that those two claims, arguable as they are, constitute anti-Semitism (“in effect”). As the British critic Terry Eagleton remarks, 

“The Enlightenment and its Romantic aftermath gave birth to two doctrines distinguished only by the letter 's.' The first was that people had the right to self-determination; the second was that peoples had such a right. The former belief is the keystone of modern democracy, and indeed of socialism; the second is a piece of romantic mystification, a fact which has not prevented a good many on the political Left from endorsing it.” 

And apparently you can’t teach at U of I unless you buy some romantic mystification. 

Doesn’t the closeness of most elections mean that the outcomes don’t make much difference?

If one candidate were offering something that the public really wanted — jobs, free education (like Germany), an end to war, free medical care (like all other developed countries), a guaranteed annual income (as the Nixon administration proposed 40 years ago) — and the other candidate were opposing that, then the former would be elected by a substantial majority, and not a fraction of 1%, as was the case in most elections this week.

But as Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall said long ago, “I don't care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating” — and that’s what the 1% accomplish: no one becomes a Republican or Democratic candidate without passing muster with them. 

A recent book by Martin Gilens, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America (2013), states:

“...points out that the lower 70 percent have no influence on policy, so they're essentially disenfranchised. And then as you move up higher, you get a little more influence. When you get to the very top, they essentially get what they want. Polling results aren't sharp enough for him to deal with the crucial segment of the population — the top fraction of 1 percent — which is where the real concentration of wealth is, and undoubtedly the real concentration of power. But you can't show it, because the polls aren't good enough." — Noam Chomsky

By the time the US “election process” reaches election day, the candidate selected by the 1% have done what they could to make themselves attractive to the public — but without a binding promise on any of the things that the public really wants. (Lying helps.) And regardless of who is elected, the usual programs will be followed in office. Remember, for example, that the peace candidate was elected as president in 2008 — and in 1968 — and in 1916...

Bill Kauffman gave one of the few important speeches in this political season.

Kauffman, author of Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (2010), spoke to the Liberty Political Action Conference in Alexandria, Virginia on September 19th

He’s very much worth listening to. He's a thoughtful contributor to the growing and necessary anti-neoliberal alliance (i.e., Left & Right together against the Republican & Democrat parties — the playthings of the 1%). The year our White House child-killer became President by co-opting the anti-war movement, Kauffman published Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism — rallying Americans against Bush & Obama's neoconservatism. [h/t Wayne Johnson]

Kauffman was an undergraduate at the University of Rochester 35 years ago, when I was teaching there, and I'm surprised I didn't know him. It was a rather small place then, with a radical history department (e.g., Gene Genovese, Christopher Lasch, Peter Linebaugh) and a reactionary political science department. (My proudest moment was the refusal of the latter to participate in a political forum - on the 1980 election — organized by the editor of the student paper, because he'd asked me to participate. Apparently they had determined that I was anti-American “in effect.”) 

What’s happening to real Indians, while we think about imaginary ones?

The U of I has trouble with Indians, from the Chief to its American Indian Studies Program, but matters are perhaps more serious in other parts of the county. I traveled recently through the Navajo Nation and came away with two memorable impressions — the poverty of residents and the remarkable job done by the US Park Service: my ignorance of the region was without spot or wrinkle, but the two weeks I spent there at least besmirched it a bit with information on the past and present of native Americans. It would contribute substantially to the sum of human happiness to switch the budgets of the Park Service and the Pentagon.

The Navajo Nation is a semi-autonomous Native American-governed territory of more than 27,000 square miles in northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. If it were a state, it would be the thirteenth largest in the United States. It contains the most populous American Indian tribe, some 300,000 members — but unemployment in the Nation averages 40-45 percent; in some communities it rises to 85%.

While I was there, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell (a banker and former Mobil employee) staged a signing ceremony in Window Rock, Arizona, for a recently-agreed trust settlement. Reuters reported, “The Obama administration has agreed to pay the Navajo Nation a record $554 million to settle longstanding claims by America's largest Indian tribe that its funds and natural resources were mishandled for decades by the U.S. government.” The US continued to steal from the Navajos, apparently particularly in the Clinton administration, although the Nation’s legal claims date back 50 years. 

“In return for $554 million, the Navajo agreed to dismiss its lawsuit and forego further litigation over previous U.S. management of Navajo funds and resources held in trust by the federal government... Navajo Attorney General Harrison Tsosie... declined to quantify the total sum the Navajo had claimed it was owed before the settlement, saying he needed to review non-disclosure clauses... The deal comes over two years after the administration announced similar settlements with 41 tribes for about $1 billion collectively. Since then, the government has resolved breach of trust claims by nearly 40 additional tribes for more than $1.5 billion...” [Reuters].

For a country founded on two of the greatest crimes in human history, the extinction of Native Americans and the enslavement of Native Africans, it seems the least the US might do. 

Top photo by Neuters.