Outside the Asylum


It’s kind of harsh, and a little shocking, that I have to explain to anyone why voting for the prison labor ticket is not a blow against racism. It’s kind of harsh, and a little shocking, that people as smart as Matt Taibbi and Cornel West think that they can vote for the prison labor ticket and yet maintain some kind of political distinction between themselves and it which would allow them to remain critical of it in any meaningful way. It’s even a little surprising that neither Dr. West nor Mr. Taibbi seems to perceive the quality of the insult the Democratic party has just paid, not only to them, but to everyone dedicated to racial justice.

There are a lot of black women who are Democrats, many black women who are Democratic politicians, and several that come to mind who have achieved the stature necessary to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. How many black women are there in the United States who made their name and their money putting black and brown people in jail, and keeping them there in order to extract extremely low-paid labor ($1.45 an hour) from their bodies for the state? I'd guess very few. How many black women of political stature did they have to pass over in order to find one who climbed up to prominence on the back of disproportionately black and brown prison labor? Do we have more than one black woman like that in our country? I can't think of another one.

locked up.jpg

In fact, the selection of Kamala Harris was such a bad choice it had to be on purpose. Melding her into one ticket with the lead sponsor of the 1994 crime bill makes the conclusion inescapable. What do Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have in common? They like to put black and brown people in jail, and keep rich white men out of it. Steve Mnuchin is only free to be Trump’s Treasury Secretary because Kamala Harris refused to prosecute him for stealing people’s houses through fraud—despite having ample evidence to do so. During the Democratic primary, African-American Democrats rejected Harris as soon as her terrible record became known (see "Kamala Harris's Criminal Justice Record Killed Her Presidential Run," by Lara Bazelon, for a more complete rundown of that record, https://theappeal.org/kamala-harris-criminal-justice-record-killed-her-p...
though Bazelon does not include the instance where Harris' office argued that marijuana offenders should be kept in jail to fight wildfires, which you can find here: https://www.aclu.org/blog/prisoners-rights/prisoners-are-getting-paid-14...).

This is a calculated insult, designed to measure exactly how much people are willing to accept. It’s also designed to measure whether the Big Lie will actually fly with people of color in this country. Can we get them to cheer on two proponents of the racist criminal justice system at the same time that they wave Black Lives Matter signs?

Actually, the very idea that anybody inside the Democratic party can make meaningful criticisms of Democratic leadership has no basis in fact. If there’s one thing that has been proven over the past ten years, it’s that the Democratic party has no tolerance for dissent. Their response to criticism ranges from impervious indifference to coordinated media hatchet jobs done on anyone who dares to object to their views. In fact, the dissatisfaction of Democratic voters has, since 1994, led to no change I can see, either in policy or politics. And why should it, when the leadership knows that any and all criticism will be abandoned as soon as a Republican challenge to Democratic power comes along?

As for politics, most of the people who run the Democratic party have been in power for fifteen to thirty years: Pelosi, Schumer, Feinstein, Rahm Emanuel, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, both the Clintons, and, of course, Joe Biden. Even Harris has been a powerful establishment figure for seventeen years. The Democratic base has been criticizing these people, and wanting them to move left, for fifteen to thirty years, to no avail.

And why is that? Perhaps it’s because the various rebellions we’ve been offered aren’t real. Even when we’re being sold the idea that left-wing rebellion is burbling in the belly of the Democratic party, it actually isn’t. Look at the example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and a handful of other young, supposedly progressive women of color got into Congress and formed an alliance. They openly disagreed with the leadership. From the left.

Sound the trumpets! We’re going to storm the Bastille!

Well, no. We aren’t. Actually, Ocasio-Cortez voted for Nancy Pelosi to remain leader of the House Democrats. When people asked her why she, a rebellious change agent, supported the woman who had been leading the House Democrats for the past sixteen years, Cortez answered: “because Pelosi was the most progressive one running.”

Even if power came from somewhere to support a left-wing rebellion in the Democratic party—say, if someone found an example of the near-extinct Homo pecuniarius moralis in the New Jersey Pine Barrens or on the slopes of Mount Denali—that hypothetical conscientious rich man would never choose Ocasio-Cortez, or anyone who could make such an argument, as his change agent. How could he? The argument itself precludes change. You don’t get political change by selecting it off a predetermined menu of choices provided to you by the ruling elite. You’re trying to transform the country, not order brunch.

As for policy, in the broadest sense, it has not changed since 1994. The Clintons and their friends decided to take the Democratic party to the right, and in the thirty years since they made that decision, nothing and no one has altered that trajectory. In 2020, as in 1994, the Democratic party supports war, the fossil fuel industry, a deregulated financial system, a predatory economy, a captured regulatory system, the parasitical health insurance industry, and a racist criminal justice system. In 2020, as in 1994, the Democratic party opposes the possibility of peace. It opposes the possibility of creating an energy economy based on something other than fossil fuels. It opposes reinstating the New Deal banking regulations which protected us for decades, and against which Clinton Democrats themselves led the successful assault. It opposes a non-profit healthcare system (something that’s rarely even discussed), and even opposes a system which would provide actual universal health insurance, instead preferring that triumph of Orwellian language, the Affordable Care Act. It opposes modifications of—or the outright abandonment of—NAFTA, CAFTA and all the other cartel diplomacy, and is happy to leave the United States a banana republic declining into a failed state. It opposes applying the rule of law to rich and powerful men, and is happy to continue pouring billions or even trillions of dollars in bailouts down a bunch of white-collar sneak thieves while keeping a disproportionately black and brown population in the prisons so that underpaid labor can be extracted from their bodies.

Above all, it opposes returning political power to the people. The four-year-long Sanders movement, like a canary in a coal mine, has finally made it clear that in this place, there is nothing left to breathe.

The last real choice Democrats got to make, on a federal level, was the choice between Obama and Clinton. That was a real choice, as far as it went; the Obama wing had a few differences of opinion with the Clinton wing, mostly in the realm of foreign policy. A Hillary Clinton administration would never have negotiated the Iran agreement, because Hillary Clinton had no objection to nuclear war. (Her supporters apparently either shared Hillary’s lack of concern that the United States might get into a hot war with both China and Russia, or didn’t realize the nature of their candidate’s views.) Obama, being the most rational and intelligent of the authoritarians, had a more sensible view of geopolitics.

But if Obama was the least worst in terms of policy, he made up for it by transforming American politics into an entirely authoritarian landscape. In order to make American politics authoritarian, there had to be authoritarians controlling both of the political parties. That was easy for the Republican Party; many of their voters were Republicans precisely because they were authoritarian. It was trickier for the Democrats, and I’m guessing several political think tanks ransacked the houses of liberal doctrine for some time looking for a justification for blind obedience. They found the Left’s weak underbelly: the idea that members of oppressed minority groups cannot be wrong, whether in the sense of inaccuracy and error, or in the sense of morality and good judgement. White liberals are squeamish about disagreeing with a member of one of those minority groups, fearful of being branded a bigot. So the Democratic party’s political advisers, whether from a consulting firm, a think tank, or Langley, decided to use Obama’s blackness as a way of silencing anyone who disagreed with his policies. Once it was established that disagreeing with Obama meant you were a bigot, Obama himself became a political version of a money-laundering operation; the most disgusting policies and people could be washed clean by his approval. When some people didn’t want to play that game, and criticized those policies, they also had to criticize Obama, which played right into the hands of the authoritarians.

Thus, Obama, who ran on change, instead enforced unity of a kind dear to all authoritarians: anyone disagreeing with the leader became unacceptable to decent folk. Accusations of racism became the club with which the powerful silenced their critics. The moral authority of the fight against racism was appropriated by the rich men who actually run the country, most of whom are white, via the color of Barack Obama’s skin. As long as Obama himself continued to support the policies those rich white men wanted from government, it was as if the rich white men themselves, through him, were wielding the moral authority of anti-racism. Apparently, that strategy worked so well that we're going to stick with it, and apparently, most black people, at least most black people who are speaking publicly, have no problem with this version of the movement for black power and liberation.

According to Mr. Taibbi, we’re supposed to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris but not legitimate them. That political strategy is close to incoherent if we’re living in a republic. The entire idea of a republic is that the people express their will through the vote. They have an impact on politics and policy via "legitimating" one candidate or another by voting for them. And if we’re not living in a republic, these elections are a sham, and our votes are too.

H/t to Cassiodorus, whose essay "Trump-weariness" brought Taibbi's essay to my attention.

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Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

It seems I am about to part ways with Mr. Taibbi. A sad day for me, who have admired him again and again over the years. Our parting of the ways not only comes from his near-incoherent justification for supporting Harris and Biden (well-covered by Cassiodorus on this site in his essay "Trump-weariness," which I really should cite above), but also from the horrendous argument he just sent to my inbox about why we shouldn't look at censorship of social media as censorship.

You see, there's such a thing as doxxing and other forms of horrendous abuse that proliferate on social media, and so we should assign legal responsibility for everything that's published on such platforms to the platforms themselves. What we shouldn't do, apparently, is be "seduced" by a free speech argument.

The argument is so specious that it makes me sad, since it leaves out an honest assessment of who those corporations actually are and what it would mean to legally demand that they police all information published through their services. Taibbi actually makes the argument that it's somehow anti-corporate to pass such laws, when it seems to me that Google and Twitter, at least, are more than delighted to censor "content providers." Indeed, most of the digital overlords have been more than happy to embrace some faux-humanitarian excuse for wiping dissent off their services, usually by censoring a right-winger like Alex Jones to great fanfare and then quietly wiping out 800 indie left-wing channels like Copwatch while talking about how anti-racist they are.

9 users have voted.

"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

Cant Stop the Macedonian Signal's picture

In retrospect, this "parting of the ways" from Harry Potter reminds me of how I felt when Democrats allowed Bush to run amok and get away with it...and it led--along with the rightward movement of the Democratic party generally--to Trump.

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing.

He had always thought of Fudge as a kindly figure, a little blustering, a little pompous, but essentially good-natured. But now a short, angry wizard stood before him, refusing, point-blank, to accept the prospect of disruption in his comfortable and ordered world - to believe that Voldemort could have risen.

There's also an applicable critique of the Democrats' acceptance of the corrupt, racist criminal justice system here.

"Voldemort has returned," Dumbledore repeated. "If you accept that fact straightaway. Fudge, and take the necessary measures, we may still be able to save the situation. The first and most essential step is to remove Azkaban from the control of the dementors -"

"Preposterous!" shouted Fudge again. "Remove the dementors? I'd be kicked out of office for suggesting it! Half of us only feel safe in our beds at night because we know the dementors are standing guard at Azkaban!"

"The rest of us sleep less soundly in our beds, Cornelius, knowing that you have put Lord Voldemort's most dangerous supporters in the care of creatures who will join him the instant he asks them!" said Dumbledore. "They will not remain loyal to you, Fudge! Voldemort can offer them much more scope for their powers and their pleasures than you can! With the dementors behind him, and his old supporters returned to him, you will be hard-pressed to stop him regaining the sort of power he had thirteen years ago!"

Fudge was opening and closing his mouth as though no words could express his outrage.

And then there's the right-wing white working class. An analogy for that too.

"The second step you must take - and at once," Dumbledore pressed on, "is to send envoys to the giants."

"Envoys to the giants?" Fudge shrieked, finding his tongue again. "What madness is this?"

"Extend them the hand of friendship, now, before it is too late," said Dumbledore, "or Voldemort will persuade them, as he did before, that he alone among wizards will give them their rights and their freedom!"

"You - you cannot be serious!" Fudge gasped, shaking his head and retreating further from Dumbledore. "If the magical community got wind that I had approached the giants - people hate them, Dumbledore - end of my career -"

"You are blinded," said Dumbledore, his voice rising now, the aura of power around him palpable, his eyes blazing once more, "by the love of the office you hold, Cornelius!... I tell you now- take the steps I have suggested, and you will be remembered, in office or out, as one of the bravest and greatest Ministers of Magic we have ever known. Fail to act - and history will remember you as the man who stepped aside and allowed Voldemort a second chance to destroy the world we have tried to rebuild!"

"Insane," whispered Fudge, still backing away. "Mad..."

"If your determination to shut your eyes will carry you as far as this, Cornelius," said Dumbledore, "we have reached a parting of the ways. You must act as you see fit. And I - I shall act as I see fit."
--Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Ch. 36
J.K. Rowling

Funny how Rowling ended up being the best of authoritarian neoliberals. Ah well, the work always transcends the author--if it's any good.

8 users have voted.

"More for Gore or the son of a drug lord--None of the above, fuck it, cut the cord."
--Zack de la Rocha

"I tell you I'll have nothing to do with the place...The roof of that hall is made of bones."
-- Fiver

which is good for a change. Thought I’d stop in and say ‘high’.
Still kickin’, and lurkin’. Don’t know what I’d do without this mooring line, the current’s pretty fierce out beyond the harbor.
Thanks for maintaining, folks.

8 users have voted.

Ya got to be a Spirit, cain't be no Ghost. . .

Explain Bldg #7. . .

If you’ve ever wondered whether you would have complied in 1930’s Germany,
Now you know. . .
Sign at protest march

enhydra lutris's picture

its contents and especially for "the prison labor party". I see in my mind's eye a beautiful poster with the NewDemocratic party kicking jackass in red, white and blue in the border's lower corners and perhaps bottom center too with a historic picture of a chain gang centered between two orange jumpsuit clad modern equivalents while the over-sized smiling faces of oe and Kamala gaze down paternally from above and behind under a free floating banner reading "They're Not Trump".

Your overview and capsule history of the NewDemocratic party policy positions, internal politics and recent history is also spot on, and particularly the perfect explication of the presidency, purpose and "accomplishment(s)" of Obama. The shift to IP as the tool to bring about uniformity of expression and authoritarianism is also blistering while yet succinct and cogent.

Your opening comment calls up one of my pet peeves. Supposing that "doxxing" exists, so what? The issue is for whom? Democracy thrives in openness and daylight, and dies in secrecy and concealment. Cops shouldn't need to be "doxxed", their identities, assignments, acts, actions and activities should all be public knowledge. They are public servants, are they not. They should be proud to show their faces and display their badge numbers and all the rest. They are supposed to be out there helping the populace, serving and protecting, and all that. They are supposed to work for "truth, justice and 'the American way'", and so long as they do so should happy to have their identities known. Theory says that their friends and neighbors, as well as fellow officers, will insure their safety even against vengeful ex-prisoners. The reality is that they frame people, use excessive force and intimidation, lie, cheat and steal, plant evidence, harass people and bust folks for petty shit like jaywalking, coerce perjured testimony and false confessions and totally disrespect the citizenry, and hence fear reprisals, and well they should. Should those of that ilk, a mere few rotten apples we are told, get doxxed, well and good, that threat might make their perfidious souls contemplate doing the right thing instead of being criminal gans in blue or brown.

be well and have a good one

10 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Anja Geitz's picture

To describe the pretzel logic that goes into voting for two politicians who have personally benefitted from the racist policies they have signed into law and/or instituted under their watch as a means to strike a blow against racism, but I’d prefer not to given that I’m using my real name here.

Excellent essay. Excellent argument. Beyond frustrating.

9 users have voted.

There is always Music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it. ~ Minnie Aumonier

"I'm not saying I condone this, but I Understand," said Chris Rock regarding OJ Simpson killing his wife who he saw sitting beside the young guy driving the car OJ'd given to her.

3 users have voted.


Anja Geitz's picture


Chris Rocks “reasoning” works because it’s pithy and direct. But if we were to actually unpack the emotional state of mind capable of that thought process, I’m not so sure that kind of “understanding” wouldn’t scare the hell out of us and get us running into analysis ASAP.

6 users have voted.

There is always Music amongst the trees in the Garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it. ~ Minnie Aumonier

Succinct. Hope it will soon be extinct.

perhaps in cali we can call it the fire gang

4 users have voted.
snoopydawg's picture

It’s kind of harsh, and a little shocking, that people as smart as Matt Taibbi and Cornel West think that they can vote for the prison labor ticket and yet maintain some kind of political distinction between themselves and it which would allow them to remain critical of it in any meaningful way.

One thing I can't wrap my mind around about the people that say that we have to vote for Biden to get Trump, the most dangerous president ever out of office refuse to see that he can be that because democrats have been supporting most of his agendas and that they refused to take the one option available to them to remove him from office. There were so many other issues Trump could've/should've been impeached for, but Pelosi did not want to charge him for them. Just like she refused to impeach Bush for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. The biggest reason she couldn't do that was because she was complicit in many of his crimes. She knew for years before it came to light that Bush was torturing people whose countries we invaded.

It’s even a little surprising that neither Dr. West nor Mr. Taibbi seems to perceive the quality of the insult the Democratic party has just paid, not only to them, but to everyone dedicated to racial justice.

We know the all out press democrats took to keep Bernie from winning and how the primary was rigged against him from the git go after seeing the Iowa primary debacle where the cheating was on full display. Now for people to overlook what democrats did and will reward them with their vote is beyond mind boggling to me. THEY SCREWED us out of reversing the hellish course the country has been on for decades. And the almighty Obama stepped in to protect his legacy because if Bernie won it would have been a rebuttal of what Obama's presidency was.

I cannot recommend this article enough. This is the case against voting for Biden and I hope people will read the full article.

The Left Case Against Supporting Joe Biden in the General Election

Trump, for all his faults, poses no existential threat to the republic. What’s more, Sanders and Robinson are deeply underestimating the damage a Biden presidency will cause. The Republican Party has become what it is because of Democrats like Joe Biden. These Democrats are pushing the Republican Party further and further right, and a Biden presidency will make the Republican Party even more dangerous going forward. Let me show you how it works.

Democratic Presidents Push the Republicans to the Right

Since World War II, every two-term Republican president has been more right wing than the one before. Dwight Eisenhower was first. Then Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. In between these five Republican presidents, there were four sets of Democratic administrations: Kennedy/Johnson, Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

Each of these Democratic administrations made key concessions to the right, and these concessions produced resentment and frustration. Kennedy/Johnson went to war in Vietnam to prove that they were just as tough and anti-communist as the Republicans. Carter appointed Paul Volcker Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and began pursuing a ruthless anti-inflation policy that drove up unemployment and laid the foundation for the neoliberal era. Clinton sliced the federal budget and attacked the welfare system. Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, starving the recovery of necessary stimulus and allowing extraordinarily unequal growth.

Carter, Clinton, and Obama all oversaw increases in inequality. The top 1%’s share of income increased under all three:

Democrats promise to help us and then let the oligarchs get their way. The frustrated American has nowhere to turn but the Republican Party, and Republicans attract them by becoming steadily more nationalist and more committed to liquidating the establishment and its institutions. Ordinary rank and file Republicans hate government because they think it’s too corrupt to do any good for them. Every chance the Democrats get to prove them wrong, they fail. Worse, they reinforce the view.

I am seeing more people saying that Trump is Obama's legacy because it is true and this article proves it. Obama was only president for the 1% and told the 99% to deal with things on their own. By bailing out the banks and not the people Blackstone was able to buy 5 million foreclosed homes for pennies on the dollar and then they kept them off the market which allowed home prices to skyrocket. This also made rents skyrocket because there were less homes available to rent. And guess who is putting Blackstone's CEO in the cabinet? JOE BIDEN. Wow what great timing huh? Just as 30-40 million people are at risk of being evicted from their homes and apartments Blackstone will once again be in position to buy them up for pennies on the dollar.

This might have been better as an essay, but I am not up to it. So I will end my rant here.
FUCK Biden and democrats. Since Reagan and especially since Clinton's tenure we have seen democrat presidents passing legislation that has hurt the working class. But oh boy have the elite class made out like the bandits they are. They get congress to write legislation that is friendly to them at our expense. Now why in hell would I reward that with my vote?

Bonus quiz:
Which republican president ended habeous corpus?
Do states use prison labor because they don't tax the rich and therefore don't have enough money to run their states without using it? I think so. Unless it's just an excuse for why they can get away with it. During the wild fires exploding in California the prison labor controversy came to light. I thought there would be an outrage over it it, but sadly no. I just read a headline yesterday that said CA has made it so that people who fought fires in prison now have a path to becoming fire fighters. No details, Just that.

Oh yeah: Here is a shout out to Tulsi for ending Kamala's campaign. Kudos, Tulsi!

Excellent essay, CTSM. This needs more eyes on it so tweeted and will tweet it through the day.

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It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

Proud election denier

snoopydawg's picture


Let’s be clear. The Democratic Party under Bill Clinton transformed itself into the traditional Republican Party, and the Republican Party moved, was pushed, so far to the right it became insane.- Chris Hedges

6 users have voted.

It is not until the tide goes out that you discover who has been swimming naked.

Proud election denier

Bernie, The Squad,the entire Common Dreams site, Amy Goodman, Tulsi, Warren,...
Call them Blue No Matter Who, call them anti-Trumpsters, call them cowards, call them traitors.
CMST, this is a really good essay. These truths, which are self-evident, are nevertheless unseen and buried by so many formerly relevant leaders and critics.
I am enjoying my morning, despite receiving client emails containing photos of an injured auto crash victim, an injured child, and an 18 month old playing 2 feet away from Dad's loaded pistol. I had to have a laptop to bring onto the front porch, so I brought work with me, didn't I?
edit: I call the listed folks, infra, irrelevant.

4 users have voted.

"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." ---- William Casey, CIA Director, 1981