Thursday, December 30, 2010

Universal Love vs. True Love

The universal proposition “I love you all” acquires the level of actual existence only if “There is at least one whom I hate” – a thesis abundantly confirmed by the fact that universal love for humanity has always led to brutal hatred of the (actually existing) exception, of the enemies of humanity. This hatred of the exception is the “truth” of universal love, in contrast to true love which can only emerge against the background not of universal hatred, but of universal indifference: I am indifferent towards All, the totality of the universe, and as such, I actually love you, the unique individual who stands out against this indifferent background. Love and hatred are thus not symmetrical: love emerges out of universal indifference, while hatred emerges out of universal love. In short, we are dealing here again with the formulae of sexuation: “I do not love you all” is the only foundation of “There is nobody that I do not love,” while “I love you all” necessarily relies on “I really hate some of you.”

– Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Immorality of Charity

[People] find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this … Accordingly, with admirable, though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease. They try to solve the problem of poverty, for instance, by keeping the poor alive; or, in the case of a very advanced school, by amusing the poor. But this is not a solution: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to try to reconstruct society on such basis that poverty will be impossible. And the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim … The worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the horror of the system being realized by those who suffered from it, and understood by those who contemplated it … Charity degrades and demoralizes … It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property. It is both immoral and unfair.

– Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Open Letter to the Left Establishment

This letter is a call for active support of protest to Michael Moore, Norman Solomon, Katrina van den Heuvel, Michael Eric Dyson, Barbara Ehrenreich, Thomas Frank, Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher Jr., Jesse Jackson Jr., and other high profile progressive supporters of the Obama electoral campaign.

With the Obama administration beginning its third year, it is by now painfully obvious that the predictions of even the most sober Obama supporters were overly optimistic. Rather than an ally, the administration has shown itself to be an implacable enemy of reform.

It has advanced repeated assaults on the New Deal safety net (including the previously sacrosanct Social Security trust fund), jettisoned any hope for substantive health care reform, attacked civil rights and environmental protections, and expanded a massive bailout further enriching an already bloated financial services and insurance industry. It has continued the occupation of Iraq and expanded the war in Afghanistan as well as our government’s covert and overt wars in South Asia and around the globe.

Along the way, the Obama administration, which referred to its left detractors as “f***ing retarded” individuals that required “drug testing,” stepped up the prosecution of federal war crime whistleblowers, and unleashed the FBI on those protesting the escalation of an insane war.

Obama’s recent announcement of a federal worker pay freeze is cynical, mean-spirited “deficit-reduction theater”. Slashing Bush’s plutocratic tax cuts would have made a much more significant contribution to deficit reduction but all signs are that the “progressive” president will cave to Republican demands for the preservation of George W. Bush’s tax breaks for the wealthy Few. Instead Obama’s tax cut plan would raise taxes for the poorest people in our country.

The election of Obama has not galvanized protest movements. To the contrary, it has depressed and undermined them, with the White House playing an active role in the discouragement and suppression of dissent – with disastrous consequences. The almost complete absence of protest from the left has emboldened the most right-wing elements inside and outside of the Obama administration to pursue and act on an ever more extreme agenda.

We are writing to you because you are well-known writers, bloggers and filmmakers with access to a range of old and new media, and you have in your power the capacity to help reignite the movement which brought millions onto the streets in February of 2003 but which has withered ever since. There are many thousands of progressives who follow your work closely and are waiting for a cue from you and others to act. We are asking you to commit yourself to actively supporting the protests of Obama administration policies which are now beginning to materialize.

In this connection we would like to mention a specific protest: the civil disobedience action being planned by Veterans for Peace involving Chris Hedges, Daniel Ellsberg, Joel Kovel, Medea Benjamin, Ray McGovern, several armed service veterans and others to take place in front of the White House on Dec. 16th.

Should you commit yourselves to backing this action and others sure to materialize in weeks and months ahead, what would otherwise be regarded as an emotional outburst of the “fringe left” will have a better chance of being seen as expressing the will of a substantial majority not only of the left, but of the American public at large. We believe that your support will help create the climate for larger and increasingly disruptive expressions of dissent – a development that is sorely needed and long overdue.

We hope that we can count on you to exercise the leadership that is required of all of us in these desperate times.

Best Regards,

Sen. James Abourezk
Tariq Ali
Rocky Anderson
Jared Ball
Russel Banks
Thomas Bias
Jean Bricmont
Noam Chomsky
Bruce Dixon
Frank Dorrel
Gidon Eshel
Jamilla El-Shafei
Okla Elliott
Norman Finkelstein
Glen Ford
Joshua Frank
Margaret Flowers M.D.
John Gerassi
Henry Giroux
Matt Gonzalez
Kevin Alexander Gray
Judd Greenstein
DeeDee Halleck
John Halle
Chris Hedges
Doug Henwood
Edward S. Herman
Jack Hirschman
Dahr Jamail
Derrick Jensen
Louis Kampf
Allison Kilkenny
Jamie Kilstein
Joel Kovel
Mark Kurlansky
Peter Linebaugh
Scott McLarty
Cynthia McKinney
Dede Miller
Russell Mokhiber
George Monbiot
Roger Morris
Bobby Muller
Christian Parenti
Michael Perelman
Peter Phillips
Louis Proyect
Ted Rall
Cindy Sheehan
Chris Spannos
Paul Street
Sunil Sharma
Stephen Pearcy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Len Weinglass
Cornel West
Sherry Wolf
Michael Yates
Mickey Z
Kevin Zeese

Please sign the Open Letter to the Left Establishment.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Israel's Legitimacy

On April 29, 1956, a group of Palestinians from Gaza crossed the border to plunder the harvest in the Nahal Oz kibbutz's fields; Roi, a young Jewish member of the kibbutz who patrolled the fields galloped towards them on his horse brandishing a stick to chase them away; he was seized by the Palestinians and carried back to the Gaza Strip. When the UN returned his body to the Israelis, his eyes had been gouged out. Moshe Dayan, the then Israeli Chief of Staff, delivered the eulogy at his funeral the following day:

Let us not cast blame on the murderers today. What claim do we have against their mortal hatred of us? They have lived in the refugee camp of Gaza for the past eight years, while right before their eyes we have transformed the land and the villages where they and their ancestors once lived into our own inheritance.

It is not among the Arabs of Gaza but in our own midst that we must seek Roi's blood. How have we shut our eyes and refused to look squarely at our fate and see the destiny of our generation in all its brutality? Have we forgotten that this group of young people living in Nahal Oz bears the burden of Gaza's gates on its shoulders?

Apart from the parallel between Roi and the blinded Samson (which plays a key role in the later mythology of the Israeli Defense Force), what cannot but strike one is the apparent non sequitur, the gap, between the first and the second paragraph: in the first paragraph, Dayan openly admits that the Palestinians have every right to hate the Israeli Jews, since they had taken their land; his conclusion, however, is not the obvious admission of guilt, but rather the need for a full acceptance of "the destiny of our generation in all its brutality," or, in other words, the assumption of the burden - not of guilt, but of the war in which might is right, in which the stronger force wins. The war was not about principles or justice, it was an exercise in "mythic violence" - an insight totally obliterated by recent Israeli self-legitimization.

Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Audacity of a Wimp

And so McClatchy reports:

President Barack Obama's approval ratings have sunk to the lowest level of his presidency [42 percent], so low that he'd lose the White House to Republican Mitt Romney if the election were held today, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.


Obama's standing among Democrats dropped from a month ago, with his approval rating falling to 74 percent from 83 percent, and his disapproval rating almost doubling, from 11 percent to 21 percent.

Among liberals, his approval rating dropped from 78 percent to 69 percent and his disapproval rating jumped from 14 percent to 22 percent.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

What's On My Loop Today

Just got to Radiohead's In Rainbows. It's growing on me, especially this song.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Social Media As Narcissistic Utopia

[Marshall McLuhan] argued that Narcissus was in love not with himself but "with a technological extension of himself" and that electronic media may permit one to have the contact with one's own image - to manipulate it and change it - that was denied to Narcissus. Is this narcissism really a utopia?

Kevin E. Korsyn, Decentering Music: A Critique of Contemporary Musical Research

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Intellectual's Voice

Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you need the approval of a boss or an authority figure; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so, to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship. For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralise and finally kill a passionate intellectual life, it is these considerations, internalised and so to speak in the driver's seat.

And finally a word about the mode of intellectual intervention. One doesn't climb a mountain or pulpit and declaim from the heights. Obviously, you want to speak your piece where it can be heard best; and also you want it represented in such a way as to affiliate with an ongoing and actual process, for instance, the cause of peace and justice.

Yes, the intellectual's voice is lonely, but it has resonance only because it associates itself freely with the reality of a movement, the aspirations of a people, the common pursuit of a shared ideal.

Edward Said - The Reith Lectures: Speaking Truth To Power

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Cultural Theory of Information Exchange

The theory, as formulated by Eve E. Sweetser in "The Definition of Lie: An Examination of the Folk Models Underlying a Semantic Prototype," in Cultural Models in Language and Thought consists of three relatively straightforward propositions:

  1. Try to help (do no harm). This rule is combined with the belief that knowledge is helpful and that misinformation is harmful (which leads to the next rule).

  2. Give knowledge (do not misinform). Sweetser argues that what counts as knowledge, in everyday terms, is what we believe. All things being equal, we assume that what we believe matches some state of affairs or possible state of affairs: we take what we believe to be true, to count as knowledge. Using this understanding of knowledge together with (1) and (2), we arrive at the final rule.

  3. Say what you believe (do not say what you do not believe). If what we believe counts as knowledge, and if we wish to be helpful, we must give knowledge.


Zbikowski, Lawrence M.. Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: p. 226.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Training Americans to Submit to the Security State

Last week, California resident John Tyner was harassed by Transportation Security Administration officers after he refused to submit to the new body scanning and groping searches at the San Diego International Airport.

On Monday, the TSA announced that it was investigating Tyner to determine whether to impose $11,000 in fines on him. John Cole observed that "this isn’t a punishment for Tyner, it is a message to everyone else." Jane Hamsher argues that "whether Tyner is prosecuted or not, people will hear about what happened to him and think twice before refusing to become fodder for their new machines." She has launched an online petition to investigate the TSA.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Got Balls?

Apparently, some Americans feel the need to attach fake plastic balls (most likely made in China) to the rear of their cars. I wonder if that could be a sign of insecurity. Regardless, it is definitely something we don't need.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The New Left and the Counterculture of the 1960s

And excerpt from Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class:
Protest in the 1960s found its ideological roots in the disengagement championed earlier by Beats such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Borroughs. It was a movement that, while it incorporated a healthy dose of disrespect for authority, focused again on self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment. The use of hallucinogenic drug, advocated by Timothy Leary in books such as the Politics of Extasy, and the rise of occultism that popularized Transcendental Meditation, theosophy, the Hare Krishna branch of Hinduism, and renewed interest in Zen Buddhism and study of I Ching, were trends that would have dismayed the Wobblies or the militants in the old Communist Party. The countercolture of the 1960s, like the commodity culture, lured adherents inward. It set up the self up as the primary center of concern. It, too, offered affirmative, therapeutic remedies to social problems that embraced vague, undefined, and utopian campaigns to remake society. There was no political vision. Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, with its narrator's search for enlightenment, became emblematic of the moral hollowness of the New Left.

These movements, and the counterculture celebrities that led them, such as the Yippie leader Abbie Hoffman, sought and catered to the stage set for them by the television camera. Protest and court trials became street theater. Dissent became another media spectacle. Anti-war protesters in Berkley switched from singing "Solidarity Forever" to "Yellow Submarine." The civil-rights movement, which was rooted in the moral and religious imperatives of justice and self-sacrifice, what Dwight Macdonald called nonhistorical values, was largely eclipsed by the self-centeredness of the New Left, especially after the assassination of Malcom X in 1967 and Martin Luther King Jr. a year later. And once the Vietnam War ended, once middle-class men no longer had to go to war, the movement disintegrated. The political and moral void within the counterculture of the Bohemians or the Beats, was always in tune with the commercial culture. It shared commercial culture's hedonism, love of spectacle, and preoccupation with the self.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"No Ethnic Cleansing Without Poetry"

In an interview with Riz Khan of Al Jazeera, philosopher and author of Living in the End Times Slavoj Žižek makes an interesting point about the role art and poetry play in providing people with an ethnic national myth which, in turn, gives people the perverse strength to kill other people.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Bonaire in November

My favorite picture from this trip.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Inversion of the Liberal Class

This morning I was reading Chris Hedges' insightful essay The World Liberal Opportunists Made, where he squarely puts the responsibility of the destruction of the left onto the liberal class (the press, the church, universities, labor unions, the arts and the Democratic Party), which traded its historical principles for access to power and money. His critique of artists is particularly searing:

Artistic expression, along with most religious worship, is largely self-absorbed narcissism meant to entertain without offense.

Hedges explains how the current rise of demagogues on the right can be seen as the direct result of the failure of the liberal class to offer any credible alternative to the corporate state:

The collapse of liberal institutions means those outside the circles of power are trapped, with no recourse, and this is why many Americans are turning in desperation toward idiotic right-wing populists who at least understand the power of hatred as a mobilizing force.

Aside from the usual themes present in Hedges' critique, I would like to highlight a quote in his essay from political scientist Russell Jacoby, which, in his book The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in the Age of Apathy, writes:

The left once dismissed the market as exploitative; it now honors the market as rational and humane. The left once disdained mass culture as exploitative; now it celebrates it as rebellious. The left once honored independent intellectuals as courageous; now it sneers at them as elitist. The left once rejected pluralism as superficial; now it worships it as profound. We are witnessing not simply a defeat of the left, but its conversion and perhaps inversion.

The inversion of the left is a very interesting concept which can be observed in the current smear campaign of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange coming from all sides, including the liberal class and the establishment media.

Another good example of this inversion was clear in the recent debate over Don't Ask, Don't Tell between Lt. Dan Choi and Queer Activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore which took place on Democracy Now last Friday. In the debate, Sycamore pointed out the absurdly hypocritical situation that the liberal class has put itself in on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell debate. By pretending to champion civil liberties, the liberal class has put itself in the awkward position of promoting the Empire and its deadly military machine. Dan Choi, without a hint of irony, proudly made his own the title of one Chris Hedges' recent books War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning in order to justify the U.S. military machine:

I know this is going to sound like fingernails on the chalkboard to some of your viewers, but war is a force that gives us meaning.

Sycamore, appropriately rebutted:

When Dan Choi says that war is a force that gives us meaning, I want to know what is the meaning of the US obliterating Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan? What is the meaning of soldiers pressing buttons in Nevada in order to destroy entire villages? You know, the meaning is that the US is involved in wars for corporate profit and oil resources.

And I’ve heard, you know, Dan Choi’s coming out story, and it’s a harrowing tale. And as queers, you know, most of us grow up in a world that wants us to die or disappear. And I think we see that with the coverage of the epidemic of teen suicides. So we shouldn’t be telling queer teens, "Oh, when you grow up, you can become part of the same system that’s destroying not only your life, but the lives of everyone in the world."

We need to be fighting for universal access to basic needs, things like housing and healthcare and the right to stay in this country or leave if you want to. We need to be fighting for comprehensive sex education, for AIDS healthcare, for senior care, for safe houses for queer youth to escape abusive families. And the problem with all this attention on the war machine, all this support for, you know, soldiers to serve openly in unjust wars, the problem is that the military is what’s taking away the ability to fund everything in this country that would actually benefit, you know, the people who need the most. You know, the war budget—if we could just, you know, take half the US war budget, we’d be able to have everything that we want in this country, whether it’s renewable energy, whether it’s, you know, housing for everyone, whether it’s healthcare, whether it’s food on the table. I mean, we need to get back to a struggle for basic needs.

The question is: how do we get back to a struggle for basic needs when the liberal class has abandoned its historical core principles and values?

At this point, it seems that the most pressing question we have in front of ourselves is what Lenin asked himself and the left slightly over a century ago: What Is To Be Done?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The French Get It

When are we going to do something about our plutocracy?

Monday, October 18, 2010

America Is Number One!

Except for being:

- 49th in life expectancy.
- 30th in infant mortality.
- 19th in child well being.
- 27th in student math literacy.
- 22nd in student science literacy.
- 108th in terms of soundness of its banks.

But do not despair. We can rejoice in being:

- 1st in incarceration rate.
- 1st in world arms supply.
- 5th in number of executions.

Life is good in wonderland. Lets go to the movies!

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Essential Watching

Chris Hedges speaks at the the Veterans for Peace convention. Recorded on Saturday, August 28, 2010, in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

PFC Bradley Manning, A True American Hero

By releasing 92,000 classified military field reports from Afghanistan to WikiLeaks, PFC Bradley Manning is living proof that there is a spark of rebellion within the American Empire. Manning's courageous action goes to show what it means for a soldier to refuse illegal and immoral orders. And for this reason, PFC Bradley Manning is a true American hero.

Naturally, Empire is very upset for what Manning did in order to protect his comrades who are dying in foreign lands to scratch Obama's imperial itches. In true doublespeak, Empire tells us that Manning's action put the lives of our soldiers at risk. But in reality, we all know that it is Barack Obama, the commander in chief of the armed forces, who is putting the lives of American soldiers at risk every day.

If you would like to show your support, you can write PFC Bradley Manning at this address:

Inmate PFC Bradley Manning
TFCF - Theater Field Confinement Facility
APO AE 09366 USA

Thursday, July 8, 2010

High Art

High art, the kind we see displayed in museums, awarded at film festivals, literary prizes, or acclaimed by music critics is the kind of art the serves to set the boundaries of what is proper and admissible. It is how the elites, the wealthy and the insiders, decide what the rest of us should watch, read, and listen to. It sets the 'reasonable' boundaries of discourse. If we agree, if we accept what passes for high art, we can feel a certain sense of belonging even though we don't get the privilege of deciding what high art is. Or maybe, if we strive to be some music, or film critic, we can participate in picking the winners and loser who litter the history of art.

Since no human system is infallible (ask British Petroleum!), when something slips through the cracks, when something truly subversive makes it all the way to the top, all the better. Such 'glitches' in the system reinforce the illusion that we live in a free and democratic society, a society in which we are all supposed to be active equal participants (or so the myth goes). The true free market society believer, might say something like: "How can you possibly say we don't live in a free society when someone like Noam Chomsky is free to spew if anti-American bile?" And while true, I wonder why a person considered one of the leading living public intellectuals by the intelligentsia is rarely, if ever, featured in the corporate media. But mine is a rhetorical question, and this very fact demonstrates Chomsky's own propaganda model.

In a recent development, film festivals have been boasting the democratizing effect of their audience awards. Wow, We the people get to decide! Until I ask myself what kind of people can actually go to Cannes, or Venice's Lido, the most exclusive places on earth, to attend such events. I once attended the Venice Film Festival, when I was young and I thought that art was something more than egotistical people making a living by entertaining the elites, by making them feel they too have a soul, as well as entertaining distracting the rest of us, from the least to the most discerning. But all I could see were tuxedos and refined talk, Armani suits chatting with de la Renta gowns while sipping french bubbly champaign. Beethoven is famous for having once exclaimed: "I don't write for the galleries!" And so it still is, because that's where the money is and we all know how much Paul David Hewson (aka Bono) is really concerned about Africa.

As a side note, I just discovered that Giorgio Armani and other fashion designers are proudly designing the uniforms of italian troops in Afghanistan, as well as the uniforms of the police and carabinieri (who pays for that, I wonder?). I am not sure what this has to do with high art, but it sure has something to do with the suits worn by the elites at high art gatherings. And it may just be me, but these uniforms have an eerie resemblance with black shirts. Maybe this is supposed to remind me of something ancient, something that happened almost a century ago somewhere in Europe, a war of some kind, but I just can't remember what that was. Maybe it's because I had entrusted my memory to an iPhone and now I've lost it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

You Can Judge A Magazine by Its Cover

The world's economic standard bearer The Economist has been caught manipulating a Reuters photo of President Obama in order to convey the message of a 'damaged' presidency. The question that the magazine's editors should ask themselves is this: if people can't trust what's on the magazine's cover, how can they trust what's inside?

Another corporate media outlet caught red handed in the act of manipulating its readership for political purposes. You can address your complaints to The Economist here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

To breathe

I wish, like a dolphin, I could choose to stop breathing; not because I want to die, but because I want to feel that life is a voluntary act to be repeated every few seconds: I want to live, I want to live, ...


vorrei, come un delfino, poter smettere di respirare; non perché voglio morire, ma perché voglio sentire che la vita è un atto volontario da ribadire ogni pochi secondi: voglio vivere, voglio vivere, …

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ghana Advances to World Cup Semifinals

In a world where sports were supposed to symbolize fair play and healthy competition, Ghana would now be the first African nation to advance to a Fifa World Cup semifinal. Unfortunately, as yesterday's game between the African nation and Uruguay demonstrated, such a world is simply a figment of our imagination. The game was a reminder that the world we live in is a place where greed, selfishness and cheating are good.

In this world, our world, two players other than the goalie can stand in front of the goal both trying to stop the ball with their hands. In this world, scumbag player Luis Suarez of Uruguay who got expelled for denying Ghana its rightful place in the semifinals exulted once he realized that his feat had had the intended results:

"This was the end of the World Cup. I had no choice. I have the 'Hand of God' now. I did it so that my teammates could win the penalty shoot-out. When I saw Gyan miss the penalty it was a great joy."

And so, the message that our so called role models in the world of sports and their corporate sponsors are sending is that it's good and just to sacrifice oneself for the team, and that victory can and should be achieved at all costs. It just goes to show how far we have gone from the Olympic Creed:

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

In a different world, Fifa would have forfeited the game to Ghana.

In the end, and as the 2010 Fifa World Cup turns into a sad spectacle of corporate greed and decadence, we can still rejoice in the fact that in some more just parallel universe Ghana has become the first African nation to advance to a world cup semifinal.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Did Jesus Know About Tomatoes?

If Jesus really existed, and he was truly a God, then he must have been all knowing. If so, he must also have known about the fruits and vegetables that were growing in the continent to be 'discovered' 1,500 years later. For example, he must have known about tomatoes, or potatoes. And yet, he never talked about either of those, or about anything other than what the people who wrote about him knew already. That's not very impressive for an all knowing being.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Am I supposed to be happy about the fact that BP is paying its bills?

Is it possible that we actually can't really put a price tag on what is happening in the gulf?

Is it possible to hold the thought that a painting can be priceless with the one that we can quantify the value of the life, human and non, irreparably affected by this disaster?

Sunday, May 30, 2010


“As to whether I have been deceived, disillusioned.... The answer is yes, I suppose. I had the misfortune to be nourished by the dreams and visions of great Americans—the poets and seers. Some other breed of man has won out. This world which is in the making fills me with dread. I have seen it germinate; I can read it like a blue-print. It is not a world I want to live in. It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress—a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful. The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.”

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, 1945

Thursday, May 6, 2010

America the Beautiful

This video shows a search warrant served by the Columbia, MO police department. The cops break in the house in the middle of the night and shoot two dogs while children are present. It turns out that rather than a big time drug dealer, the guy had a small pipe with some resin in it, a grinder, and what the cops call "a small amount of marijuana".

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

No One Cares


May 3, 2010

By Chris Hedges

We are approaching a decade of war in Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq is in its eighth year. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands more Afghans and Pakistani civilians have been killed. Millions have been driven into squalid displacement and refugee camps. Thousands of our own soldiers and Marines have died or been crippled physically and psychologically. We sustain these wars, which have no real popular support, by borrowing trillions of dollars that can never be repaid, even as we close schools, states go into bankruptcy, social services are cut, our infrastructure crumbles, tens of millions of Americans are reduced to poverty, and real unemployment approaches 17 percent. Collective, suicidal inertia rolls us forward toward national insolvency and the collapse of empire. And we do not protest. The peace movement, despite the heroic efforts of a handful of groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Green Party and Code Pink, is dead. No one cares.

The roots of mass apathy are found in the profound divide between liberals, who are mostly white and well educated, and our disenfranchised working class, whose sons and daughters, because they cannot get decent jobs with benefits, have few options besides the military. Liberals, whose children are more often to be found in elite colleges than the Marine Corps, did not fight the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994 and the dismantling of our manufacturing base. They did nothing when the Democrats gutted welfare two years later and stood by as our banks were turned over to Wall Street speculators. They signed on, by supporting the Clinton and Obama Democrats, for the corporate rape carried out in the name of globalization and endless war, and they ignored the plight of the poor. And for this reason the poor have little interest in the moral protestations of liberals. We have lost all credibility. We are justly hated for our tacit complicity in the corporate assault on workers and their families.

Our passivity has resulted, however, in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.

Last Thursday I traveled to Washington to join Rep. Dennis Kucinich for a public teach-in on the wars. Kucinich used the Capitol Hill event to denounce the new request by Barack Obama for an additional $33 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The Ohio Democrat has introduced H. Con Res. 248, with 16 co-sponsors, which would require the House of Representatives to debate whether to continue the Afghanistan war. Kucinich, to his credit, is the only member of Congress to publicly condemn the Obama administration’s authorization to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and cleric living in Yemen, over alleged links to a failed Christmas airline bombing in Detroit. Kucinich also invited investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, writer/activist David Swanson, retired Army Col. Ann Wright and Iraq war veteran Josh Stieber to the event.

The gathering, held in the Rayburn Building, was a sober reminder of our insignificance. There were no other Congress members present, and only a smattering of young staff members attended. Most of the audience of about 70 were peace activists who, as is usual at such events, were joined by a motley collection of conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job or that former Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated. Scahill and Swanson provided a litany of disturbing statistics that illustrated how corporations control all systems of power. Corporations have effectively taken over our internal security and intelligence apparatus. They run our economy and manage our systems of communication. They own the two major political parties. They have built a private military. They loot the U.S. Treasury at will. And they have become unassailable. Those who decry the corporate coup are locked out of the national debate and become as marginalized as Kucinich.

“We don’t have any sort of communications system in the country,” said Swanson, who co-founded an anti-war coalition ( and led an unsuccessful campaign to impeach George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. “We have a corporate media cartel that overlaps with the war industry. It has no interest in democracy. The Congress is bought and paid for. It is absolutely corrupted by money. We kick ourselves for not being active enough and imposing our demands, but the bar is set very high for us. We have to try very, very hard and make very, very big sacrifices if we are going to influence this Congress prior to getting the money out and getting a decent media system. Hypocritical Congress members talk about money all the time, how we have to be careful about money, except when it comes to war. It is hypocritical, but who is going to call them on that? Not their colleagues, not their funders, not the media, only us. We have to do that, but we don’t in large part because they switch parties every number of years and we are on one team or the other.”

Scahill—who has done most of the groundbreaking investigative reporting on private contractors including the security firm Blackwater, renamed Xe—laid out how the management of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being steadily transferred by the Pentagon to unaccountable private contractors. He lamented the lack of support in Congress for a bill put forward by Rep. Jan Schakowsky known as the Stop Outsourcing Security (SOS) Act, H.R. 4102, which would “responsibly phase out the use of private security contractors for functions that should be reserved for U.S. military forces and government personnel.”

“It is one of the sober realities of the time we are living in that you can put forward a bill that says something as simple as ‘we should not outsource national security functions to private contractors’ and you only get 20 members of Congress to support the bill,” Scahill said. “The unfortunate reality is that Rep. Schakowsky knows that the war industry is bipartisan. They give on both sides. For a while there it seemed contractor was the new Israel. You could not find a member of Congress to speak out against them because so many members of Congress are beholden to corporate funding to keep their House or Senate seats. I also think Obama’s election has wiped that out, as it has with many things, because the White House will dispatch emissaries to read the riot act to members of Congress who don’t toe the party line.”

“The entire government is basically privatized,” Scahill went on. “In fact, 100 percent of people in this country that make $100,000 or less might as well remit everything they owe in taxes to contractors rather than paying the government. That is how privatized the society is, that is how much of government has been outsourced in this society. There are 18 U.S. intelligence agencies on the military and civilian side and 70 percent of their combined budget is outsourced to for-profit corporations who simultaneously work the United States government as well as multinational corporations and foreign governments. We have radically outsourced the intelligence operations in this country because we have radically outsourced everything. Sixty-nine percent of the Pentagon’s entire work force, and I am not talking only about the battlefield, is now privatized. In Afghanistan we have the most staggering statistics. The Obama administration is infinitely worse in Afghanistan in terms of its employment of mercenaries and other private contractors than the Bush administration. Right now in Afghanistan there are 104,000 Department of Defense contractors alongside 68,000 U.S. troops. There is almost a 2-to-1 ratio of private-sector for-profit forces that are on the U.S. government payroll versus the active-duty or actual military forces in the country. And that is not taking into account the fact that the State Department has 14,000 contractors in Afghanistan.”

“Within a matter of months, and certainly within a year, the United States will have upwards of 220,000 to 250,000 U.S. government-funded personnel occupying Afghanistan, a far cry from the 70,000 U.S. soldiers that those Americans who pay attention understand the United States has in Afghanistan,” Scahill said. “This is a country where the president’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, said there are less than 100 al-Qaida operatives who have no ability to strike at the United States. That was the stated rationale and reasoning for being in Afghanistan. It was to hunt down those responsible for 9/11.”

Josh Stieber spoke at the end of the event. Stieber was deployed with the Army to Iraq from February 2007 to April 2008. He was in Bravo Company 2-16, which was involved in the July 2007 Apache helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians depicted on the video recently released by WikiLeaks. Stieber, who left the Army as a conscientious objector, has issued a public apology to the Iraqi people.

“This was not by any means the exception,” he said of the video, which showed helicopter pilots nonchalantly gunning down civilians, including a Reuters photographer and children, in a Baghdad street. “It is inevitable given the situation we were going through. We were going through a lot of combat at the time. A roadside bomb would go off or a sniper would fire a shot and you had no idea where it was coming from. There was a constant paranoia, a constant being on edge. If you put people in a situation like that where there are plenty of civilians, that kind of thing was going to happen and did happen and will continue to happen as long as our nation does not challenge these things. Now that this video has become public it is our responsibility as a people and a country to recognize that this is what war looks like on a day-to-day basis.”

I was depressed as I walked from the Rayburn Building to Union Station to take the train home. The voices of sanity, the voices of reason, those who have a moral core, those like Kucinich or Scahill or Wright or Swanson or Stieber, have little chance now to be heard. Liberals, who failed to grasp the dark intentions of the corporate state and its nefarious servants in the Democratic Party, bear some responsibility. But even an enlightened liberal class would have been hard-pressed to battle back against the tawdry emotional carnivals and the political theater that have thrust the nation into collective self-delusion. We were all seduced. And we, along with thousands of innocents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond, will all be consumed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Center Cannot Hold: Rekindling the Radical Imagination


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

By Noam Chomsky

One month ago, Joseph Andrew Stack crashed his small plane into an office building in Austin Texas, hitting an IRS office, committing suicide. He left a Manifesto explaining his actions. It was mostly ridiculed, but it deserves much better, I think.

Stack’s manifesto traces the life history that led him to this final desperate act. The story begins when he was a teenage student living on a pittance in Harrisburg PA near the heart of what was once a great industrial center. His neighbor was a woman in her ‘80s, surviving on cat food, the “widowed wife of a retired steel worker. Her husband had worked all his life in the steel mills of central Pennsylvania with promises from big business and the union that, for his 30 years of service, he would have a pension and medical care to look forward to in his retirement. Instead he was one of the thousands who got nothing because the incompetent mill management and corrupt union (not to mention the government) raided their pension funds and stole their retirement. All she had was social security to live on”; and Stack could have added that there have been concerted and continuing efforts by the superrich and their political allies to take even that away on spurious grounds. Stack decided then that he couldn’t trust big business and would strike out on his own, only to discover that he couldn’t trust a government that cared nothing about people like him but only about the rich and privileged; or a legal system in which, in his words, “there are two `interpretations’ for every law, one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us.” A government that leaves us with “the joke we call the American medical system, including the drug and insurance companies [that] are murdering tens of thousands of people a year,” with care rationed largely by wealth, not need. All in a social order in which “a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities… and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours.” And much more.

Stack tells us that his desperate final act was an effort to join those who are willing to die for their freedom, in the hope of awakening others from their torpor. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had in mind the premature death of the steel worker that taught him about the real world as a teen-ager. That steel worker didn’t literally commit suicide after having been discarded to the trash heap, but it’s far from an isolated case; we can add his and many similar cases to the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism. There are poignant studies of the indignation and rage of those who have been cast aside as the state-corporate programs of financialization and deindustrialization have closed plants and destroyed families and communities. They reveal the sense of acute betrayal on the part of working people who believed they had a fulfilled their duty to society in a moral compact with business and government, only to discover that they had been only instruments for profit and power, truisms from which they had been carefully protected by doctrinal institutions.

There are striking similarities in the world’s second largest economy, investigated by Ching Kwan Lee in her penetrating inquiry into Chinese labor. Lee draws the close comparison between working class outrage and desperation in the discarded industrial sectors of the US and the fury among workers in what she calls China’s rustbelt -- the state socialist industrial center in the Northeast, now abandoned by the state in favor of state capitalist development of the southeast sunbelt. In both regions Lee finds massive labor protests, but different in character. In the rustbelt workers express the same sense of betrayal as their counterparts here, but in their case betrayal of the Maoist principles of solidarity and dedication to development of the society that they thought had been a moral compact, only to discover that whatever it was, it is now bitter fraud. In the sunbelt, the workers lack that cultural tradition and still rely on their home villages for support and family life. They denounce the failure of authorities to live up to even the minimal legal requirements of barely livable workplace conditions and payment of the pittance called salaries. According to official statistics there were 58,000 “mass incidents” of protest in 2003 in one province of the rustbelt, with 3 million people participating. Some 30-40 million workers who were dropped from work units “are plagued by a profound sense of insecurity,” arousing “rage and desperation” around the country, in Lee’s words. She expects that there may be worse to come as a looming crisis of landlessness in the countryside undermines the base for survival of the sunbelt workers, who lack even a semblance of independent unions, while in the rustbelt, workers do not have anything like the civil society support that often exists here. Both Lee’s work and the studies of the US rustbelt make clear that we should not underestimate the depth of moral indignation that lies behind the furious and often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power.

We find something similar in rural India, where food consumption has sharply declined for the great majority since the neoliberal reforms were partially implemented, while peasant suicides are increasing at about the same rate as the number of billionaires, amidst accolades for India’s fabulous growth. Fabulous growth for some, that is – but not so attractive for the workers transferred to India to reduce labor costs by IBM, which now has three-fourths of its work force abroad. Business Week calls IBM the “quintessential American company,” not inappropriately: it became the global giant in computing thanks in large part to the unwitting munificence of the US taxpayer, who also substantially funded the IT revolution on which IBM relies along with most of the rest of the high tech economy – mostly under the pretext that the Russians are coming.

There is much excited talk these days about a great global shift of power, with speculation about whether (or when) China might displace the US as the dominant global power, along with India – which, if it happened, would mean that the global system would be returning to something like what it was before the European conquests. Their recent GDP growth has indeed been spectacular. But there is more to say. In the UN human development index, India retains its place near the bottom, now 134th, slightly above Cambodia, below Laos and Tajikistan. China ranks 92nd, a bit above Jordan, below the Dominican Republic and Iran. By comparison, Cuba, under harsh US attack for 50 years, is ranked 52nd, the highest in Central America and the Caribbean, barely below Argentina and Uruguay. India and China also suffer from extremely high inequality, so well over a billion of their inhabitants fall far lower in the scale. Furthermore, an accurate accounting would go beyond conventional measures to include serious costs that China and India cannot long ignore: ecological, resource depletion, and others.

The speculations about global shift of power overlook something that we all know: nations divorced from the internal distribution of power are not the real actors in international affairs, a truism brought to our attention by that incorrigible radical Adam Smith. He recognized that the principal architects of power in England were the owners of the society, in his day the merchants and manufacturers, who made sure that policy would attend scrupulously to their interests however “grievous” the impact on the people of England and worse, the victims of “the savage injustice of the Europeans” abroad: British crimes in India were the main concern of an old-fashioned conservative with moral values.

To his modern worshippers, Smith’s truisms are ridiculed as “elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks,” one of the tragic legacies of the ‘60s, to quote NYT thinker David Brooks; actually the ‘70s, 1776 to be exact. One of many illustrations of how the intellectual and moral level of today’s “conservatism” compares to what its heroes understood full well.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I’m identified as the villain who adopts Adam Smith’s heresy.

Bearing Smith’s radical truism in mind, we can see that there is indeed a global shift of power, though not the one that occupies center stage: a shift from the global work force to transnational capital, sharply escalating during the neoliberal years. The cost is substantial, including the Joe Stacks of the US, starving peasants in India, and millions of protesting workers in China, where labor share in national income is declining even more rapidly than in most of the world.

In his very illuminating work, Martin Hart-Landsberg observes that China plays a leading role in the real global shift of power, having become largely an assembly plant for a regional production system. Japan, Taiwan, other Asian economies export parts and components to China, and provide most of the advanced technology. Much concern has been aroused by the growing US trade deficit with China, but less noticed is the fact that the trade deficit with Japan and rest of Asia has sharply declined as the new regional production system takes shape. US manufacturers are following the same course, providing parts and components for China to assemble and export, mostly back to the US. For the financial institutions, retail giants, ownership and management of manufacturing industries, and sectors closely related to this nexus of power, all if this is heavenly. Not for Joe Stack and many others like him.

To understand the public mood it is worthwhile to recall that the conventional use of GDP to measure economic growth is highly misleading. There have been efforts to devise more realistic measures, such as the General Progress Indicator, which subtracts from GDP expenditures that harm the public (crime, pollution, etc.) and adds estimated value of authentic benefits (volunteer work, leisure, etc.). In the US, GPI has stagnated since the 1970s, though GDP has increased, the growth going into very few pockets. That result correlates with studies of social indicators, the standard measure of health of a society. They tracked economic growth until the mid-1970s, then began to decline, reaching the level of 1960 by 2000 (the latest figures available). The correlation with financialization of the economy and neoliberal socio-economic measures is hard to miss, and not unique to the US by any means.

It’s true that there is nothing essentially new in the process of deindustrialization. Owners and managers naturally seek the lowest labor costs; efforts to do otherwise, famously by Henry Ford, were struck down by the courts, so now it is a legal obligation. One means is shifting production. In earlier days the shift was mostly internal, especially to the southern states, where labor could be more harshly repressed. Major corporations, like the US steel corporation of the sainted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, could also profit from the new slave labor force created by the criminalization of black life after the end of Reconstruction in 1877, a core part of the American industrial revolution, continuing until World War II. It is being reproduced in part during the recent neoliberal period, with the drug war used as a pretext to drive the superfluous population, mostly black, back to the prisons, also providing a new supply of prison labor in state or private prisons, much of it in violation of international labor conventions. For many African-Americans, since they were exported to the colonies life has scarcely escaped the bonds of slavery, or sometimes worse.

In the ultra-respectable Bulletin of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, we can read that “The prison system in America has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history,” making the US “the home to the largest custodial infrastructure for the mass depredation of liberty to be found on the planet,” mostly black, a product of the past 30 years, as is the fact that the US “leads the world not only in incarceration rates but in executive compensation,” facts that are “increasingly recognized to be linked, a Harvard Business School professor points out, as is the fact the fact that the US is lagging far behind much of the world, particularly China but Europe as well, in green technologies.

It is easy to ridicule some of the ways in which Joe Stack and others like him articulate their very genuine and just concerns, but it’s far more appropriate to understand what lies behind their perceptions and actions, and particularly, to ask ourselves why the radical imagination is failing to offer them a constructive path while the center is very visibly not holding, and those who have real grievances are being mobilized in ways that pose no slight danger, to themselves and others.

Stack’s manifesto ends with two evocative sentences: “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

Stack minces no words about the capitalist creed. We can only speculate about what he meant by the communist creed that he counterposed to it. It’s not unlikely that he regarded it as an ideal with gemuine moral force. If so, that would not be too surprising. Some of you may recall a poll in 1976, on the bicentennial, in which people were given a list of statements and asked which they thought were in the Constitution. At that time, no one had a clue what was in the Constitution, so the answer “in the Constitution” presumably meant: “so obviously correct that it must be in the Constitution.” One statement that received a solid majority was Joe Stack’s “Communist creed.”

I qualified the comment with the phrase “at that time.” Today, a segment of the population memorizes and worships the Constitution, the words at least. The recent Tea Party convention produced its catechism for candidates: one requirement is that they must agree to scrap the tax code and replace it with one no longer than 4,543 words -- to match the length of the Constitution, unamended. Only some amendments share this holy status, particularly the Second under the recent interpretation by the Supreme Court reactionaries, but the First Amendment is more questionable because of what it might be taken to imply about separation of Church and State. On the same day, Texas announced its new textbook requirements, which apply to the whole country because of the size of the Texas market. Jefferson was cut from the list of those who inspired 18th and 19th century revolutions, replaced by Thomas Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone. The decision reflects the distaste for Jefferson because, among other heresies, he coined the phrase “separation between church and state.” For today’s version of conservatism the US is a Christian country, something like the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the Jewish State of Israel. In that connection, Golda Meir is listed as required learning for children, but no Hispanics. Along with normal racism, that reflects the curious amalgam of extreme anti-Semitism and support for Israel among right-wing religious sectors. Such matters are of no slight significance when we try to look ahead.

The anti-tax extremism of the Tea Party movement is not as immediately suicidal as Joe Stack’s desperate action, but it is suicidal nonetheless, for reasons that need no elaboration. California today is a dramatic illustration. The world’s greatest public system of higher education is being dismantled. Governor Schwarzenegger says he'll have to eliminate state health and welfare programs unless the federal government forks over some $7 billion, and other governors are joining in. At the same time a powerful states rights movement is taking shape demanding that the federal government not intrude into our affairs – a nice illustration of what Orwell called “doublethink”: the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind while believing both of them, practically a motto for the times. California’s plight results in large part from anti-tax fanaticism. It’s much the same elsewhere, even in affluent suburbs.

Encouraging anti-tax sentiment has long been a staple of the business propaganda that dominates the doctrinal system. People must be indoctrinated to hate and fear the government, for good reasons: of existing power systems, the government is the one that in principle, and sometimes in fact, is answerable to the public and can impose some constraints on the depredations of private power; the corollary to “getting government off our backs” is groaning beneath the even greater weight of unaccountable private tyrannies. But business anti-government propaganda has to be nuanced: business of course favors a very powerful state that works for Adam Smith’s principal architects, today not merchants and manufacturers, but multinationals and financial institutions. Constructing this internally contradictory propaganda message is no easy task. Thus people have to be trained to hate and fear the deficit, a necessary means to stimulate the economy after its destruction at the hands of the dominant financial institutions and their cohorts in Washington. But at the same time the population must favor the deficits, almost half attributable to the growing military budget, which is breaking records, and the rest predicted to overwhelm the budget thanks to the cruel and hopelessly inefficient privatized health care system, a gift to the insurance companies and big Pharma.

Despite such difficulties, the propaganda tasks have been carried with impressive success. One illustration is the public attitude towards April 15, when tax returns are due. Let’s put aside for the moment the thought of a much more free and just society. In a functioning democracy of the kind that formally exists, April 15 would be a day of celebration: we are coming together to implement programs that we have chosen. Here it is a day of mourning: some alien force is descending upon us to steal our hard-earned money. That’s one graphic indication of the success of the intense efforts of the highly class-conscious business community to win what its publications call “the everlasting battle for the minds of men,” and like even the most vulgar propaganda it has grains of truth that the Joe Stacks perceive.

Another stunning illustration of the success of propaganda, with considerable import for the future, is the cult of the killer and torturer Ronald Reagan, one of the grand criminals of the modern era, who also had an unerring instinct for favoring the most brutal terrorists and murderers around the world, from Zia ul-Haq and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in today’s Afpak to the most dedicated killers in Central America to the South African racists who killed an estimated 1.5 million people and had to be supported because they were under attack by Nelson Mandela’s ANC, one of “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world, the Reaganites determined in 1988. And on and on, with remarkable consistency. His grisly record was quickly expunged in favor of mythic constructions that would have impressed Kim il-Sung. Among other feats, he was anointed as the apostle of free markets while raising protectionist barriers more than any postwar president – probably more than all others combined -- and implementing massive government intervention in the economy. He is hailed as the grand exponent of small government and of law and order. Government grew relative to GDP during his years in office, while he informed the business world that labor laws would not be enforced, so that illegal firing of union organizers tripled under his supervision. His hatred of working people was exceeded perhaps only by his contempt for the rich black women driving in limousines to collect their welfare checks.

There should be no need to continue with the record, but the outcome tells us a lot about the intellectual and moral culture. For President Obama, this monstrous creature was a “transformative figure.”At Stanford University’s prestigious Hoover Institution, he is revered as a colossal figure whose “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost.” We arrive in Washington at Reagan International Airport – or if we prefer, at John Foster Dulles International Airport, honoring another prominent terrorist commander. His achievements include installing the torture regime of the Shah and the reign of the most vicious of the terrorists of Central America, whose exploits reached true genocide in the highlands while Reagan praised the worst of the mass murderers, Rioss Montt, as “a man of great personal integrity” who was “totally dedicated to democracy” and was receiving a “bum rap” from human rights organizations.

Painfully to record, many of the Joe Stacks whose lives the “warm and friendly ghost” was ruining join in the adulation, and hasten to shelter under the umbrella of the power and violence that he symbolized.

All of this evokes memories of other days when the center did not hold. One example that should not be forgotten is the Weimar Republic: the peak of western civilization in the sciences and the arts, also regarded as a model of democracy. Through the 1920s the traditional liberal and conservative parties that had always governed the Reich entered into inexorable decline, well before the process was intensified by the Great Depression. The coalition that elected General Hindenburg in 1925 was not very different from the mass base that swept Hitler into office 8 years later, compelling the aristocratic Hindenburg to select as Chancellor the “little corporal” he despised. As late as 1928 the Nazis had less than 3% of the vote. Two years later the most respectable Berlin press was lamenting the sight of the many millions in this “highly civilized country” who had “given their vote to the commonest, hollowest and crudest charlatanism.” The center was collapsing. The public was coming to despise the incessant wrangling of Weimar politics, the service of the traditional parties to powerful interests and their failure to deal with popular grievances. They were drawn to the forces dedicated to upholding the greatness of the nation and defending it against perceived threats in a revitalized, armed and unified state, marching to a glorious future, led by the charismatic figure who was carrying out “the will of eternal Providence, the Creator of the universe,” as he orated to the mesmerized masses. By May 1933 the Nazis had largely destroyed not only the traditional ruling parties but even the huge working class parties, the Social Democrats and Communists, along with their very powerful associations. The Nazis declared May Day 1933 to be a workers holiday, something the left parties had never been able to achieve. Many working people took part in the enormous patriotic demonstrations, with more than a million people at the heart of Red Berlin, joining farmers, artisans, shopkeepers, paramilitary forces, Christian organizations, athletic and riflery clubs, and the rest of the coalition that was taking shape as the center collapsed. By the onset of the war perhaps 90% of Germans were marching with the brownshirts.

The world is too complex for history to repeat, but there are nevertheless lessons to keep in mind, and even memories. I am just old enough to remember those chilling and ominous days of Germany’s descent from decency to Nazi barbarism, in the words of the distinguished scholar of German history Fritz Stern, who tells us that he has the future of the United States in mind when he reviews “a historic process in which resentment against a disenchanted secular world found deliverance in the ecstatic escape of unreason.”

That is one possible outcome of collapse of the center when the radical imagination, though powerful at the time, nonetheless fell short.

The popular mood today is complex, in ways that are both hopeful and troubling. One illustration is attitudes towards social spending on the part of those who identify themselves in polls as “anti-government.” A recent scholarly study finds that by large majorities, they support “maintaining or expanding spending on Social Security, child care, and aid to poor people” and other social welfare measures, though support falls off significantly “when it came to aid to blacks and welfare recipients.” Half of these advocates of reducing the role of government believe “that spending is too little [on] assistance to the poor.” In the population as a whole, majorities, in some cases substantial, feel the government is spending too little to improve and protect the nation’s health, and on Social Security, drug addiction, and child care programs – though again, there is an exception on aid for blacks and welfare recipients, partly a tribute to Reaganite thuggery, I suspect.

The results give some indication of what might be achieved by commitments even far short of the radical imagination, and of some of the impediments that will have to be overcome for these and much more far-reaching purposes.

The Massachusetts election in January, which undermined majority rule in the Senate, gives some further insight into what can happen when the center does not hold and those who believe in even limited measures of reform fail to reach the population. In the election to fill the seat of the Senate’s “liberal lion,” Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown ran as the 41st vote against health care, which Kennedy had fought for throughout his political life. A majority opposed Obama’s proposals, but primarily because they gave away too much to the insurance industry. Much the same is true nationally.

One interesting feature was the voting pattern among union members, Obama’s natural constituency. Of those who bothered to vote, a majority chose Brown. Union leaders and activists reported that workers were angered at Obama’s record generally, but particularly incensed over his stand on health care. As one reported, “He didn’t insist on a public option nor a strong employer mandate to provide insurance. It was hard not to notice that the only issue on which he took a firm stand was taxing benefits” for the health care won by union struggles, retracting his campaign pledge.

There was a massive infusion of funds from financial executives in the final days of the campaign. That was one part of a broader phenomenon, which reveals dramatically why Joe Stack and others have every reason to be disgusted at the farce that they were taught to honor as democracy.

Obama’s primary constituency was financial institutions, which have gained such dominance in the economy that their share of corporate profits rose from a few percent in the ‘70s to almost 1/3 today. They preferred Obama to McCain, and largely bought the election for him. They expected to be rewarded, and were. But a few months ago, responding to the rising anger of the Joe Stacks, Obama began to criticize the “greedy bankers” who had been rescued by the public, and even proposed some measures to constrain their excesses. Punishment for his deviation was swift. The major banks announced prominently that they would shift funding to Republicans if Obama persisted with his offensive rhetoric.

Obama heard the message. Within days he informed the business press that bankers are fine “guys.” He singled out for special praise the chairs of the two leading beneficiaries of public largesse, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and assured the business world that “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth,” such as the huge bonuses and profits that are infuriating the public. “That’s part of the free market system,” Obama continued; not inaccurately, as “free markets” are interpreted in state capitalist doctrine. His retreat however was not in time to curb the flow of cash to help gain the 41st seat.

In fairness, we should concede that the greedy bankers have a point. Their task is to maximize profit and market share, in fact that’s their legal obligation. If they don’t do it, they’ll be replaced by someone who will. These are institutional facts, as are the inherent market inefficiencies that require them to ignore systemic risk. They know full well that this oversight is likely to tank the economy, but such externalities are not their business, and cannot be, for institutional reasons. It is also unfair to accuse them of “irrational exuberance,” to borrow Alan Greenspan’s brief recognition of reality during the tech boom of the late ‘90s. Their exuberance was hardly irrational: it was quite rational, in the knowledge that when it all collapses, they can flee to the shelter of the nanny state, clutching their copies of Hayek, Friedman, and Rand. The same is true of the Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and the rest of the business leaders who are running a massive propaganda campaign to convince the public to dismiss concerns about anthropogenic global warming – with great success; those who believe in this liberal hoax have reduced to barely a third of the population. The executives dedicated to this task know as well as the rest of us that the liberal hoax is real, and the prospects grim. But they are fulfilling their institutional role. The fate of the species is an externality that they must ignore, to the extent that market systems prevail.

Returning to the very instructive Massachusetts election, the major factor was voting patterns. In the affluent suburbs, voting was high and enthusiastic. In the urban areas, heavily Democratic, voting was low and apathetic. The headlines were right to report that voters were sending Obama a message: the message from the rich was that we want even more than what you are doing for us. And from the rest, the message was Joe Stack’s: in his words, the politicians are not “the least bit interested in me or anything I have to say,” though very much interested in the voices of the masters. Doubtless there was some impact of the populist image crafted by the PR machine (“I’m Scott Brown, this is my truck,” “regular guy,” nude model, etc.). But this appears to have had only a secondary role. The popular anger is real and entirely understandable, with the banks thriving thanks to bailouts and many other gifts from the nanny state while the population remains in deep recession. Even official unemployment is at 10% and in manufacturing industry at the level of the Great Depression, with one out of six unemployed, and with few prospects for recovering the kinds of jobs that are lost as the economy is being reshaped.

National polls reveal much the same phenomenon. The latest, a few days ago, shows a 21-point enthusiasm gap between the parties, with 67% of Republicans saying they are very interested in the November elections, compared with 46% of Democrats. In a major shift from the norm, by a 10-point margin registered voters with the highest interest in the November elections said they believe the Republicans are better at dealing with the economy, a combination of a solid Republican (mostly affluent) sector and disillusioned Democrats. Half of Americans would like to see every member of Congress defeated in the election, including their own representative. The public conception of democracy is almost as negative as that of the business world, which is now lobbying fiercely to ensure that even shareholders should have no say in choice of managers, let alone stakeholders, the workforce and communities; though some liberals are seeking to find “`a fair position’ that straddles the divide between companies and shareholders,” as the Wall Street Journal puts it, implicitly recognizing the decision of the courts a century ago that the corporation is identical to the management.

It is true that there was a stimulus, much too small but it had an effect – saving over 2 million jobs according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the perception of the Joe Stacks that it was a bust is not without basis. Over a third of government spending is by states, and the decline in state spending approximated the federal stimulus, so the aggregate fiscal expenditure stimulus was flat, according to a study by the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research.

The center is clearly not holding, and those who are harmed are once again shooting themselves in the foot. The immediate consequence in Massachusetts was a vote to block the appointment of a pro-union voice at the NLRB, which has been virtually defunct since Reagan’s successful war against working people. That is what can be expected in the absence of constructive alternatives.

Do these exist? Let’s have a look at the industrial heartland, in Ohio, where GM continues to close plants. A few weeks ago, Louis Uchitelle of the New York Times, one of the few journalists who pays attention to labor issues, reported from the scene of one recently closed plant. He writes that President Obama “never sought to reopen the factory even after the federal government became controlling shareholder in G.M. during the auto bailout. What he has done instead is try to ease some of the pain by sending an ambassador as a salve for the community’s wounds, offer[ing] hope and aid” – the aid mostly suggestions. Meanwhile another Ambassador, Secretary of Transportation Roy Lahood, was in Spain, offering federal stimulus money to Spanish firms to produce the high speed rail facilities that the US badly needs, and that could surely be produced by the highly skilled work force that is reduced to penury in Ohio. Joe Stack’s experience in Harrisburg again.

In 1999, as a Republican Congressman, Lahood introduced a bill that would have provided federal financing for transportation infrastructure. It would have authorized the Treasury to provide $72 billion a year in interest-free loans to state and local governments for capital investments, including investment in transportation infrastructure, not borrowing the money but issuing US notes, much as Lincoln did to finance the Civil War and as FDR did during the Great Depression. Today’s Lahood is using federal stimulus money to obtain contracts in Spain for the same purpose. Another sign of how the center has been shifting to the right in the past 40 years.

The radical imagination should suggest an answer. The factory could be taken over by the workforce with the support of the communities that are left desolate, and converted to production of high speed rail facilities and other badly needed goods. The idea is not particularly radical. In the 19th century, it was intuitively obvious to New England workers that “those who work in the mills should own them,” and the idea that wage labor differed from slavery only in that it was temporary was so common that it was even a slogan of Lincoln’s Republican party. During the recent years of financialization and deindustrialization there have been repeated efforts to implement worker and community takeover of closing plants. The ideas not only have immediate moral appeal to the affected workforce and communities, but should be quite feasible with sufficient public support. And far-reaching in their implications.

For the radical imagination to be rekindled and to lead the way out of this desert what is needed is people who will work to sweep away the mists of carefully contrived illusion and reveal the stark reality, and to be directly engaged in popular struggles that they sometimes help galvanize. What we need, in short, is the late Howard Zinn, a terrible loss. There won’t be another Howard Zinn, but we can take to heart his praise for “the countless small actions of unknown people” that lie at the roots of the great moments of history, the countless Joe Stacks who are destroying themselves, and maybe the world, when they could be leading the way to a better future.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

US Covering Up Reality in Honduras

According to a report by The Real News Network, Honduras has pretty much been forgotten by the international community. Now that the United States has endorsed the coup and the subsequent piloted presidential election, the international community is acting as if everything is back to normal in the small and poor Central American country. This could not be further from the truth, and the Honduran people and political dissidents have been subjected to intimidation at best and outright assassination at worst ever since the June 28, 2009 military coup which ousted president Manuel Zelaya.

In the report we learn how ten political dissidents have already been killed since Pepe Lobo has been inaugurated as president. Among those killed was Claudia Larissa Brizuela, daughter of resistance leader Pedro Brizuela. She was assassinated in her own home in San Pedro Sula on February 24, 2010. It was the day of her 36th birthday, and the day before a planned demonstration in Tegucigalpa which had been organised by the FNRP (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, or National People's Resistance Front).

On the positive side, it looks like sensible tourists and divers (Honduras' Bay Islands are a prime diving destination) around the world are speaking out with their wallets against the silence of their own governments. A few days ago, I received a 2 for 1 email offer from Anthony's Key Resort, one of the biggest resorts in Roatan, Honduras. If they need to send out offers like this in April, they must really be hurting. Hopefully, this kind of voluntary boycott by conscious tourists around the world will translate into a more proactive approach by the international community.

Cross posted on Daily Kos.