Glen Ford: American imperialism is unraveling (part 2)
An interview by Kathleen Wells, Glen Ford worked as a Network Broadcast Journalist in Washington DC and created in 1977 along with Peter Gamble, America's Black Forum which was the first nationally syndicated black news interview program on commercial television. America's Black Forum was quoted weekly by national and international news organizations -- a feat no other black news entity had achieved before and has not achieved since. Mr. Ford co-founded and is the Executive Editor of the Black Agenda Report. He is also author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of US Media Coverage of the Granada Invasion. -- Listen to the interview -- Kathleen Wells: I know that you've written that, despite the fact that Bush created havoc on this country, on America, for eight years -- despite that fact, 43 percent of whites voted for Obama in 2008. To you that's weak. That's a ... That percentage is impotent. It's small. Glen Ford: It shows that a president who has, by any measurement, been a total failure, who was a laughing stock in the world, whom the corporate media deride, even that kind of white president, can still get a majority of the white vote. And, you know, that's a majority nationwide. But if you go into the Deep South, if you look at precincts in Georgia and Alabama, you'll find Obama not getting more than single-digit support from white folks, less than 10 percent. The South is where a majority of black folks live. So when we're talking about the South, we're talking about a place that defines the black condition. And in that place, where we live, white folks are overwhelmingly opposed to Obama, and we know, of course, that it's based on race. Kathleen Wells:When I speak to my white friends, they say, "Oh, 43 percent of white folks voted for Obama in 2008. That's a good thing. That's a sign of change." So things are a point of view. They're a perception. Do you see what I'm saying? It's a prism ... Glen Ford: No, if you ... If one thinks that white folks' willingness to vote for a black man is the measure of progress, I think you've got a very shallow and not very meaningful test. White folks' willingness to vote for the kind of black person that they like -- remember that's their choice -- does not mean white people's willingness to even the racial playing field in the rest of relations among folks. It just means that they can tolerate the presence of a certain type of black person in their midst or even in their Oval Office. But that doesn't mean that their basic behavior is changed. It doesn't mean that white folks are not still running to get away from black folks every chance they get. It doesn't mean that white employers are more willing to hire black folks. It doesn't mean that white power structures are less inclined to lock as many black people up as possible. What does it mean, just because a white person says, "Okay, I guess I can tolerate a black president…" What does that actually mean, you know? Well, now that we have a black president, we should be asking that question. And it certainly hasn't meant much to black folks, has it? Kathleen Wells: And then you say that the tea party is a backlash. The tea party and the midterm results are a backlash. Elaborate on that thought. Glen Ford: Yeah. Well, we've been having periodic backlashes ever since I can remember. And white backlashes are nothing new. White backlashes brought us George Wallace's candidacy and the victory of Richard Nixon in '68. Another big surge of white backlash brought us Ronald Reagan, who kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, for his 1980 run. That was a huge and successful white backlash. And I believe that George Bush's success -- remember he stayed there for eight years despite his terrible limitations as a chief executive -- I think that that was because of another surge of white backlash in the early 2000s. And now we're having yet another one with the reality of a person of a darker hue in the White House. With each backlash, white folks, who in my memory became a lot more civilized and tamer during and after our struggle in the ‘60s about the way they presented and comported themselves around black people -- that is, racist language became undignified, not the kind of talk that you have in polite society. Well, when these backlashes surge, then you find white folks saying "nigger, nigger, nigger" again. And the tea party has that kind of effect, draws on that kind of sentiment today. All of these insults and assaults on Obama and his ancestry and folks trying to say that Obama's politics has something to do with Kenyan tribal practices -- it's just white folks hollering “nigger”. That's all that is. So, yeah, we're in the midst of a backlash. Kathleen Wells: Okay, now I did hear ... I saw a video of a speech you gave, where you made a distinction between the real left and the phony left. And you said for real social transformation to take place, there must be real progressives, not phony progressives. Glen Ford: Yeah, and I wasn't making some broad, important political statement where I would delineate the differences between the “real” left and the “phony” left in some kind of huge scale. Basically, I was talking about those people who consider themselves to be part of the anti-war movement but were afraid to confront this president about his expansion of the war, and, basically, I was saying that these are phony leftists. They are anti-war in some kind of abstract way, but they are not anti the war-maker, Barack Obama. And those are phony leftists as opposed to real leftists who say,” Look over there. That's the man who's killing folks. We must do something about him." Kathleen Wells: These are complicated issues because, if Obama isn't good for the left, what was our alternative? McCain? Glen Ford: You know, we can see how far from the period of mass activity, mass action, mass organizing we are when people constantly ask that question as if there is no alternative except to vote for candidate A or candidate B. As if we are in the restaurant and there is the menu and you've got to pick something from that menu. Well, that's the kind of choice that people assume faces them today and it's not. We have the choice to organize in large numbers of people to confront power in as creative a way as we can figure out at every stage to gum up the works, to make those who rule the society unable to rule as they used to rule, make them work for their power. [laughter] Kathleen Wells: Yeah, but that's not happening. We are not organizing. That's not happening. Glen Ford: Well, we are not organizing and we never will if people phrase the ... if people pretend that we must choose from the menu and that organizing is not on the menu. Because part of the reason that we are in such a great political crisis as black people is that the Obama effect has been extremely deep and broad in black America. Here we have people who are hitting 60 years old and older who call themselves revolutionaries all their life, who call themselves Marxists all their life, and yet become so intoxicated with the idea of a black man in the White House that all of that, the whole personal legacy of their lives they just drop it. They are no longer anti-imperialists because Obama's there. As somehow if a black man's in the White House it's no longer imperialism. What a difference a shade makes. Kathleen Wells: No, but I think there's something to be said about symbolism, no? Glen Ford: Well, yeah there's a great deal to be said about symbolism. And the reason that Barack Obama is so useful, so valuable to the real rulers, is because he makes other ... He makes people of color and whole nations of folks around the world think for at least an instant that there has been a fundamental change in the United States. That the presence of the black man symbolizes something deeper -- that this imperialism is not your old imperialism because it's got this new face. Well, it is the same old imperialism. It doesn't signal anything except an effort by the rulers to fool people into dropping their guard. Kathleen Wells: Oh, so you think this is intentional? Glen Ford: Oh, sure. People in the United States, because it is such a bubble and folks don't understand anything about the world -- although people in the world understand a great deal about the United States -- people do not realize how badly Bush, and especially his Iraq war … how badly Bush damaged the U.S. reputation in the world. Remember, the United States was at odds with almost all of Europe, except for Tony Blair and Britain, about this war. The United States was telling the world, including its allies, "Screw you. We're going to do whatever we want to do." This was extremely damaging. It had the elites of these other capitalist countries so upset that they didn't know how to deal with the United States. And a big monster like that, when you believe that he's acting erratic and can't be talked to, that's quite stressful. So the world was stressed out, not just the people who were on the receiving end of U.S. bombs, but American allies were stressed out behind George Bush and his behavior. Big businesses, international corporations -- they live in the world, they know firsthand when governments are anxious, nervous, ill at ease about the U.S. government policy, and it does affect their ability to do business -- to make money. And so yes, they wanted to put forward to the world a different face for the United States -- they wanted a makeover. They wanted to update the brand to the international community. Black folks in the United States -- we get parochial just like the rest of the Americans, and think that all of this was done for us. No. [laughter] It was done for an international audience as well, and, in fact, I think, primarily. Kathleen Wells: Now, last August, Timothy Geithner in a speech at NYU said that capital rules should be delayed so that it's easier for banks to earn money by using the capital made available to them. So the article that spoke about this speech termed it as “regulatory forbearance.” So we're forbearing -- we're halting, delaying -- regulatory rules for the banks. Glen Ford: Yes, and the rationale that Geithner gave and is the standard rationale (It's a bunch of crap) is that the nature of the problem is that banks don't have enough money to feel good about lending money. So let's give them the leeway and the dollars. It's not just leeway; it's also the Fed pumping dollars out to them. And as a natural outcome of those policies, the banks will then do their job -- their only reason for being -- which is to lend money to folks who will start productive enterprises that then lead to jobs for people and an economy. But the banks don't do that, as we discussed earlier. The banks use their money to play the very elaborate, developed casinos that they've setup for themselves with derivatives that leverage money into the stratosphere. It's the only way that they can earn the kinds of rates of return that investors demand. Investors are the market. Investors are a bunch of rich people who demand that they get a huge amount of profit every time they risk a dollar, and the kind of profits they demand are not the kind that can be gotten out of productive enterprises -- like factories, for example. You can't get that kind of money, honestly. So they engage in derivatives -- deregulations or lack of inclination to deregulate – simply means that you are going to allow them to continue to make money the casino way, which means that you won't have an economy. Kathleen Wells: Tell me, how have things changed [in the media] since you created in 1977 America's Black Forum? Glen Ford: Consolidation has squeezed out all of the space for independent political activity in commercial media. You can't do syndication anymore. You know, I didn't just do the television syndication, I’ve done three radio syndications as well -- Black World Report; BlackAgenda Reportback in the 80s, which was, in that incarnation, five daily programs on black women's sports, business, history and entertainment; and the first syndicated hip hop show, Rap It Up, in 1987 through 1993. None of these syndications are possible today because the huge chains have basically taken up -- bought up -- all the space in radio. You can't find a station manager or program director who can agree to air your syndicated program at his station because he has to deal with headquarters, at a city far away, and they make decisions based on their status as what's good for the chain of radio stations. And a chain of radio stations, probably, will deal with the syndication put out by another huge media entity, not an independent. So that's why you don't have those kinds of programs that I used to produce and others used to produce on black radio. You don't have them in general commercial radio either. This is a function of consolidation under corporate domination of media. Kathleen Wells: But, on the other hand, we have the Internet now. Glen Ford: So what? [chuckle] Kathleen Wells: Why did you say that? Why did you... Glen Ford: I say so what because the Internet cannot be compared to mass broadcasting. In terms of black radio, still today -- I guess this may relate to your question about post-racial societies -- still today, at least 70 percent of black households listen to black-oriented radio, whether it's called urban or whatever, everybody knows what it is. That means that programs on black-oriented radio reach seven out of ten black Americans -- sitting in their cars, casually moving around, cooking breakfast or whatever. What on the Internet can compare with that kind of penetration, that kind of potential to mold masses of people’s ways of thinking and acting? Nothing comes close. Kathleen Wells: But that doesn't mean it won't ... Glen Ford: No, it won't. It will not, it could not possibly do that. The Internet does not behave like radio. People do not go to the Internet and treat it the same way as they do a radio station. It just cannot happen. It's the ultimate in the segmenting of markets: smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller segments from this kind of medium -- the Internet -- whereas radio is a broadcast, as the word connotes -- reaching broad masses of people. So the extinction of news on black radio, for example, I think it’s had profound effects on black political development and devolution. I'll give you an example: When I was working in Washington, D.C., 1973, there were three black-oriented radio stations basically competing for the market, and those three stations combined fielded a total of 21 black radio reporters. That is a black radio press corps all its own, just from three radio stations. Today there are six black-oriented radio stations competing for the market in Washington, D.C., and they field a total of four reporters -- three of them from only one station. We have more -- twice as many radio stations for black folks, geared toward black folks in D.C. as we did almost 40 years ago but almost no news whatsoever. And that has a profound effect on political development in the black community. It means that new organizations -- as they come up from the grassroots to demand this or organize around that -- there is nobody there to hearthem, to report on them, to disseminate their information, to criticize their work, to let other people across town who are in similar circumstances know that there are other people who are trying to correct whatever the situation is. They can't exchange ideas about how to improve the community, even though they are confronting the same problems, because they don't even know each other exists, because there is no news -- excuse me -- there is no news function in the radio stations that reach seven out of ten members of that black community. You see what I'm saying? Kathleen Wells: What I'm hearing is that -- just to summarize everything that we've discussed today -- what I'm hearing: On the one hand, we have the corporatization of America, but on the other hand we have the unraveling of finance capital. Glen Ford: Sure and they go together. Here's how it goes together. The consolidation simply means that the big guys eat up the little guys and then they start eating up each other, and what's left is bigger and bigger and bigger, like these banks that are too big to fail -- there are about five of them. These are the culprits -- the Goldman Sachs, the Bank of America. There's about five of them. These people basically sit at the top of the pyramid of the economy and determine what happens and what does not. And because they are consolidated, they are able to, in fact, stifle growth by any other sector of the economy at will. They withhold credit, for example -- that's part of the crisis we're still in. They bid up assets. When you bid up assets, that helps the people who hold the assets, like banks, but it certainly hurts the people who can't afford the assets, like people who need to pay rent. So the ... as this inevitable consolidation, which is a function of the unraveling of capitalism -- at every stage that they get bigger, that is a sign, in fact, of the further decay of the system, because the larger they are, the more capable they are of wiping out activity by any other sector of the society -- but banking. Kathleen Wells: I wish you had a crystal ball there. I mean ... I know ... I liked your analogy about an old car. You just know it's going to break down but you don't know which part is going to break down. And that ... You like analogies because you like to ... I heard you using the tag team wrestling matches on TV to describe the political ... the two political parties. Glen Ford:Yeah. Well, I'll give you an example. Because of the position that these five banks too big to fail occupy, they decide if there's going to be green energy in the country. There is nobody else to decide that except the federal government -- that is, who is going to finance green energy? We're talking about multiple billions and billions and billions of dollars. And those billions can only come from a) the federal government or b) those giant banks. The giant banks are not going to do it because it doesn't give them a high enough rate of return. They can make money in their casinos much more easily. They can make money simply by borrowing at one percent from the U.S. government and then lending the money back to the U.S. government in the form of treasury bonds at three or four percent. And that doesn't require them to risk a damn thing, build a damn thing or anything. But they ... It's pure profit. It's a crime. But because they are so big, they get to control the government, which means that the government is not then going to spend the tens of billions of dollars on green energy -- this fundamental infrastructural project -- unless the bankers find a way that they can profit enormously from it with huge rates of returns, and, of course, they can't. And the moneys that the federal government might allocate toward green energy would be moneys that the bankers couldn't get funneled to them, so they don't have an interest in that. They're doing quite well with quantitative easing. [laughter] So, therefore, they block it through their control of the legislatures and the presidency, you see? Now this is part and parcel of decay. I think people don't quite ... We have such an impoverished political discussion in this country, it's understandable. But decay does not mean that everything is going out of business all the time everywhere. Decay can also mean, must mean in these circumstances, that some people can't go out of business because they are ... They have seized, basically, the reigns of the economy and the government and therefore cannot be put under, cannot be controlled. So decay can mean gross profit-taking just as it can mean massive bankruptcies. The debauchery of profit-taking on Wall Street is a sign of decay is what I'm saying because it shows that they cannot be controlled. It shows that they have overcome all the mechanisms that would stop them from doing this. You see what I'm saying? And that means that the system must fall apart. You can't give the head to these guys without them inevitably driving everything off the cliff. And there's nothing to stop them, because theyare too powerful. They do control the goddamn president. Do you see what I'm saying? They do control the Senate and the House. That's why no one stops them; it's just that simple. There's nothing genius about that analysis. Kathleen Wells: I read reports that the non-prime lending crisis is forty times larger than the S&L crisis of the ‘80s. But because all of the facts and figures are murky and there was deliberate covering up and changing of accounting rules and ... Glen Ford: It's almost hopelessly muddy now, because there you have the crimes that we are familiar with, like the S&L -- that category of crime and even on a larger scale, as you said -- but at the same time you have the massive transfers of money going on that are themselves crimes. Do you see what I'm saying? These are essentially crimes. They certainly have the effect of crimes. So you have your traditional crimes over here, the S&L type things, [chuckle] but then you have a situation in which most of the activity by these bankers we would categorize as a crime. Do you see? But it's not indictable. That this legal -- officially legal, formally legal activity, actually is at least as dangerous, harmful, damaging as the old-style usual S&L, basically, embezzlements. There are trillions that are moving, have been moving. Trillions and trillions. Kathleen Wells: Right. Well ... Glen Ford: That have been moving from the fed to the banks at that one percent or less interest rate. Kathleen Wells:Right. Glen Ford:Then into government bonds. That is lending it right back to the people who you just borrowed it from at one percent, and then you buy the bonds and you get paid at three or four percent. Now, I don't think that is legally a crime, and yet it is ... People deserve to be shot in the head behind it. [laughter] Kathleen Wells: We don't know what actually has happened. Glen Ford: But we do know that has happened. That's ... Kathleen Wells: No, but I mean, we don't have like exacting numbers and figures because you see they deliberately covered up. They deliberately changed accounting rules. The regulators deliberately looked away. Glen Ford: Oh, you're absolutely right. Kathleen Wells: If they were doing their job, there wouldn't just be Bernie Madoff in prison. Glen Ford: There is no question. I'm simply adding to that by saying that there is a whole range of rather new and novel activities involving huge amounts of money that I don't think violate any statute. Kathleen Wells: You may be right about that, but those rules need to be put on the books, right? Glen Ford: Yeah, it will never happen because they control the machinery. Kathleen Wells: But during the S&L crises there were rules on the books and people actually got arrested. Glen Ford: That's right. They weren't as strong then, that was the 80s. [My mistake here because I didn’t fully understand this additional financial scenario that Glen was describing. So I was addressing the wrong issue here.] Kathleen Wells: So what's necessary? Glen Ford: That means that you have to organize people from the grass- roots up, and you have to do direct action, and at some point you are going to go beyond what they call legality, because they will make illegal that which is legal. There is no guarantee here -- You see what I'm saying? -- for a good outcome. Kathleen Wells: You think we need a revolution? Glen Ford: These people who are ... These bankers, this finance capitalist class must be overthrown -- absolutely. If there's going to be a world, they must be overthrown. There's not one problem that the world faces that can be solved with these people in charge. I'm talking about global warming; I'm talking about disarmament -- not disarmament -- peace among nations. Nothing, nothing can happen as long as they sit there like that. And remember, I keep on coming back to this, they're not performing their historical function. They're just playing with that money. What is a derivative? It's phony money -- it's money that's only recognizable to the people on their planet who have it. How could there be any real connection between their economy and the real economy, except a parasitical one. If their economy is worth at least $600 trillion, and the world economy is only $50 to 70 trillion a year. What is the ... You see what I'm saying? Obviously, these are not connected spheres of activity. They're playing in that other sphere, but power is real. And they exert real power on the ground, and they suck the real value out of that 50 to 70 trillion-dollar economy in order to play their 600 trillion dollar games. This is inherently unsustainable as well as unstable. Kathleen Wells: I'm solutions-oriented, like problem solving-oriented, and you think ... Glen Ford: I just told you how to solve it: You have to overthrow them. Kathleen Wells: Right, yeah. And what is the likelihood of that happening in our lifetime? Glen Ford: Well, we... It depends on where you sit. We're here in the belly of the beast, which is not good. It used to be good, you know what I mean? [laughter] Comfortable. I remember when I was five years old, I was so glad I was not from India. You know what I mean? Kathleen Wells: Yeah, I know what you mean. Glen Ford: But this is not good, now, as we reach the endgame ... Kathleen Wells: Why do you say that? Why do you say that? Glen Ford: Because, as I was discussing before, the rest of the world is trying to disconnect itself from this unravelment that is occurring. That's why they are making multilateral and bilateral agreements between each other in terms of trade and currencies -- the whole infrastructure of international dealings. They're actively trying to circumvent the United States. It's a very delicate operation because they also don't want to see a collapse of, for example, the dollar, since that would hurt everyone if it happened now. You know what I mean? It would be good for the world, if the dollar just kind of got less and less important, less and less important, less and less important, and other currencies became more and more in circulation, more important, and other people had more -- over time concluded more agreements with each other that went around the United States and didn't get sucked into that. That would be nice and that's what people -- the elites (These are also capitalists, you know what I'm saying?) These are what the elites would like to happen. There's a problem. The problem is the United States ain't gonna to let that happen. They're not gonna go out like that. What do they do? They do things like the invasion of Iraq, which was not just an invasion of Iraq -- that was a move to change the whole board game of world power relationships. Iraq was just supposed to be the first stop that would be easily consolidated, and then American power, if not American troops, would've been all into the ‘Stans – the former Soviet Republics -- and that would've made ... That basically would've put that whole energy region under U.S. control, putting China in a really bad bind in terms of its plans for its own economic expansion. Kathleen Wells: You think we have our sights set on Iran? Glen Ford: Well, it's like Iraq only in spades. They also know that that would be catastrophic, an attack on Iran. That would create an economic crisis immediately. Immediately! And the United States would be blamed for it. You see what I'm saying? Just as surely as they were blamed for attacking Iraq, they would be blamed for Iran. Kathleen Wells: But Israel is pushing us to attack Iran. Glen Ford: Yeah, Israel as an is … If you're talking about inherent instability, we cannot … That regime cannot conceive of a way of surviving in a peaceful world -- they really can't. It's just a little place; it ain't shit. I'm talking about as a place to put a country. And it could only be important by manipulating its relationship with the superpower so that they can create a money stream that swirls through them and around them. Otherwise, there's nothing there for an Israel. I mean, what the hell is an Israel? It's not an important place but they want to be players, right? Kathleen Wells: But they are big players. Glen Ford:They are big players because of their relationship with the U.S. Kathleen Wells: That's right. Glen Ford: And that relationship is maintained by keeping the region in a state of simmering warfare. Kathleen Wells: Exactly. So the peace process will never happen. Glen Ford:That regime in Israel has no interest in peace – exactly the opposite. If there were peace, then Israel would not be an important place compared to all the rest of the places around it and therefore would not be a player and wouldn't be getting all of this money. Kathleen Wells: That’s right. Well, I think we've covered a lot of ground, don't you? Thank you, Glen. Glen Ford:Yeah, it's been fun. Kathleen Wells:Okay, thanks. Bye. Glen Ford:Bye, bye
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