Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Be Careful What You Wish For

You will often hear me complaining about the pro-zionist leaning of Waltzers Dissent magazine but it still carries some thought provoking articles. One such is Abandoning the World Bank by Mark Engler. I hadnt realized ,till he mentioned it, that a neo-liberal critique of the world Bank exists alonside the global justice critique. While we have been chanting Hey Ho The World Bank Must Go, we really havent spent much time contemplating a replacement ,although apparently global capital has. Engler asks whether it is possible to find common cause. Unfortunately, the answer conservatives propose for the failures of the World Bank is (no shock here) to privitize it and make it "performance based". No Child Left Behind meets Social Security reform. Progressives ,on the other hand, hope to reform the Bank and make it more accountable for workers rights, environmental sustainability, gender equality etc.. (thanks go out to renegade eye for the post title)

Of course, states Engler,"in the end, poor countries and progressive movements do not have the POWER to dictate terms of a post-World Bank system." Sure you can "insist" that civil society has input in these types of decisions. But these demands need to have some consequence.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Why Atlas Shrugged

I have not read Ayn Rand in thirty five years, but even way back then I remember some aspect which, though at the timeI was unable to articulate , I definately opposed. In the intervening years I have seen her work and philosophical perspective, known as Objectivism, referenced by many other people whose positions I opposed and now that I have formulated a philosophy of my own, I am better able to express why I find her work not just intellectually weak but destructive to the project of social justice.

A Russian emigre during the time of Stalinist repression, Rand over-compensated with a hyper -nationalistic fervor for her newly adopted country. "I can say, with full knowledge of the necessary metaphysical, epistimological, ethical, political and aesthetic roots, that the United States is the greatest ,noblest, and only moral country in the history of the world." She also had a tendency towards over- the-top rhetoric and a mediocre-at-best writing style that refected this.
This over-compensation was also reflected in her embrace of classic liberal economic theory.In her "objective reality", laissez-faire capitalism is the highest form of rational good while collectivism or any form of altruism are irrational and even immoral.

" my philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity and reason as his only absolute."

What this meant in practicle terms was that Rand upheld the modern industrialist as one of the most admirable members of any society. You can imagine how the right wing embraced this "intellectual" apologetic and she became the darling of power-brokering, anti-communist zealots although she opposed Senator joe Mc Carthy as well as Ronald Reagan. She exalted egoism and had a strong opposition to any form of mysticism and the idea of charity. Her philiosophy seemed to exemplify a guiltless, compassionless, Nietzschean self-assertion and "will to power" though she later distanced herself from Nietzche. Her scholarly work, particularly the critique of Kant , does not hold up but her novels had great popular appeal. Both TheFountainhead and Atlas Shrugged sold well ,though as literature they are weak and cliched.

Ayn Rand had her own tangled love life, carrying on long term affairs and her views on sex and gender roles are laced with a violent and fetishistic anti-feminism. She said ;"Homosexuality is immoral and disgusting."

It is easy to see why these reactionary views and quasi-philiosophy have been championed by the capitlist elite as a justification for their own immoral and disgusting behavior. The mythical heroic individualist plays a particularly destructive role in the retarded social development of the American West, although some see a positive contribution in her ideas of self-control and individual responsibility. I would argue ,however, that her concept of responsibility extended not to that of each for all but only to the idea of each reponsible TO himself and in conflict with all others. This adaptation of Humes "all against all" accounts for much of the destruction of society and the concept of the social, best expressed by Margaret Thatcher when she stated : "there is no society."

Cut and Run Revisited

"When you PULL OUT before the job is done, that's 'cut and run' as far as Im concerned." George Bush
Sounds like he is trying to explain Conflictus Interruptis. No macho man pulls out, for Christs sake! The new mantra in the world of country -western music world, where our President gets most of his philosophy( the rest he gets from the Bible) is "git er done." How do I know this? I just do.

As for doing your job, this is what every soldier who is interviewed says when asked about how they feel. "Just doing my job." Corporatizing killing, in the linguistic sense as well as practical. What does a businessman say when he makes a lot of profit? Just doing my job? Hell no. He says "I made a killing." The rapist /murderer MAKES THE KILLING but doesnt PULL OUT. harsh? Perhaps.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hegemonic Hangover

Im not averse to tackling some difficult theory every once in a while but Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe is dense and about as challenging as any I've attempted. There are however, gems to be dug out and it is helping me to form some needed revision that I could never articulate. For instance, in de-constructing the orthodox Marxist concept of historically "determined" tasks assigned to natural class agents, the authors insert the over-arching hegemonic relation to replace the mechanistic view which was so full of contradiction. The authors note that Trotsky examined the theoretical problem when it was realized that the proletariat would have to fill the historical role of the bourgeoise in 1905 Russia, but that he "systematically conjured away" this fatal split or dislocation in his theory.

"Never for a moment do we find in Trotsky the idea that the democratic and anti-absolutist identity of the masses constitutes a specific subject position which different classes can articulate and that, in doing so, they modify their own nature"

There has been plenty of critique of this deterministic, economistic paradigm, of Kautsky and Plekhanov as well as Lenin and Trotsky and analysis that shows Marx was not nearly as concerned about the"scientific" nature of his work as many considered him to be. These authors direct us towards Gramsci and his turn away from the idea of "proletarianization" towards something more like hegemonic unity. I am only starting and it is a slog but I can see there is much of value. Katha Pollitt delves into this realm a bit with her review of Walter Michaels polemic, The Trouble With Diversity. She says , "like him, Im bothered by the extent to which symbolic politics has replaced class greivances" but that" Michaels is agressively, almost proudly obtuse about racism and sexism, which he sees as distractions from class struggle". Hard to find middle ground in this hegemonic construction.

Also sitting by my chair is Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival, so I am super-sizing my theory intake. He speaks to the more familiar terrain of the Military/Corporate/State model of dominance and control. What is frightening to me is the realization that left without class identity or consciousness, we seem to have only un-consciousness. That is, when we can no longer be organized on the economic level (no unions, no proletariat, in fact, no classes because we are all "the man") or on the political level (the "party" is now some castrated sham like Republican or Democrat), then not only the workers but the People have been effectively nuetralized hegemonically. It is the end of politics. And as we see with the eviscerated "anti war movement", the end of action and resistance. Is there a way out? To be continued.

"The enervation of collective resistance under these conditions (advanced capitalism) seems to signal the advent of an order of things in which praxis has become an enigma."
Adorno (I think)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Curmudgeon

I ended up at the local Democrats fundraising dinner the other night and actually got all caught up in the excitement. Lots of talk about "a perfect storm" and payback for 94 and next thing I know Ive got my checkbook out and Im volunteering for lit drops and phone calling. Im only human and all that optimism is infectuous but in a more sober mood ,Im thinking ,the Dems may ride a little wave but they are going to be handed a mountain of problems they will be expected to deal with and quite frankly, they don't have a chance in hell. Especially if they end up winning both the House and Senate, expectations for quick change will soon become frustration at the inertia and infighting which are the hallmark of modern Dems. A re-invigorated right-wing and Evangelical movement will do what they do best, which is oppose ,whine and react. Dems face a war they voted for with it's own inexorably destructive logic, a health care crisis they can't fix, social security reform, gays who will want a place at the table, environmental meltdown, pissed off working class, in other words, all the problems they have no answers for because ...they just don't. There are a few progressive local issues it would be nice to have passed but it won't help these folks:

The over three thousand migrants who have died out in the desert, trying to reach a chance for a better life. Today we start building a 700 mile wall, Israeli style security.
The 30,000 killed every year in Columbia's US financed civil war (now in it's 40th year) or the over 3 million people internally displaced, scond only to Sudan's 5.4 million.
The 852 million people,13% of the worlds population, who do not have enough food each day according to the Food and Agriculture Organization

F.Scott Fitzgerald said that America lives in a state of "it's own vast carelessness". Carelessness suggests a certain benign quality which may exist on one level. The US was the only vote against a UN arms treaty. What State capitalism does is far from benign.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mutually Assured Destruction Hooey

Thinking of N.Korean situation,instead of all this divisiveness ,perhaps we should stress what the countries have in common. Like populations terrified of each other. And a belief that nuclear armaments lead to safety. And leaders a little off their rockers. Perhaps not.

I got to wondering, how did the price of oil go from 77 dollars a barrel in August to around 60 today? I head over to the Energy Information Administration and find "lower predictions of demand growth from both the Paris based International Energy Agency and the US Department of Energy, combined with a weaker-than-anticipated hurricane season and increased output from non-OPEC suppliers brought crude prices down." It seems energy corporations are suddenly willing to make a little less profit. They mentioned a stabilized situation with Iran. It's all a little fishy, if you know what I mean. Speculative markets, geo-politics, national politics, all I want to know is, what determines the price of gas?

A stalemate in UN Security Council voting after 30 or so rounds for next non-permanent member. Between Venezuela ("I smell sulpher") and Guatemala, about whom I recieved an urgent email yesterday because their military is about to violently evict and displace two whole villages whose politics they disagree with. Nice human rights record there, but of course that is our administrations pick.

On the home front, Tony Snow yesterday called the idea that the White House will seek a course correction in Iraq "a bunch of hooey." Really. Not even my mom would say hooey.
Nine former Republicans will be on the Nov.ballot as Democrats in the "Intelligent Design" state, Kansas. Soon to be designated the "rats jumping ship" state. A black conservative group has run a radio ad proclaiming that the Rev.Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican. Like, if he hadn't caught that bullet , he and Rick Santorum would be best buds. And here's one about my favorite Republicans, right-wing Christians. "When the new president ( of the Christian Coalition) started talking about opposition to the death penalty and support for raising the minimum wage, we decided it was time to say 'hi-ho Silver'" said John W Giles ,president of Christian Action Alabama. They won't sit by while commie reformists take away the right to snuff people and starve poor people.

Hooey and Hi Ho Silver in the same post, not bad,huh?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Heads He Wins, Tails I Lose

Somewhere in my rambling, I think it was Graems blog, democrats were berated for not taking seriously enough the threat of terrorism.In the commentors world view they were being manipulated into this lackadaisicle attitude by cynical politicians, the exact mirror view of anti-Iraq war exponents. Its a wacky world and while I'm not technicaly a "democrat", I think Lewis Lapham nails this one again in his Harpers Notebook essay, Going by the Book, wherein he writes that the journal Foreign Affairs "compared the total number of people killed since Sept.2001 by Al Qaeda or AlQaeda-like agents operating outside of Afghanistan and Iraq to the number of people who drown every year in bathtubs." Also .."the lifetime chance of an American being killed by an act of international terrorism is about 1 in 80,000, the odds roughly equivalent to those of being killed by a comet or meteor."

The advantage in argument that someone has in accusing me of being a naive ,heedless, chump is that the second some new "plot" is discovered or heaven forbid some bomb actually goes off he can prance on his bandwagon while I am forced to wait for eternity to create a proof that fearmongering is unwarranted. Proving a negative is never a position you want to be in.

Meanwhile, I am wondering just how many jelly beans it would take to make a thousand-square- foot mosaic of Ronald Reagans face, a mural that could be placed somewhere on Wall Street where they are just now celebrating the DOWs climb to 12000. Perhaps I am rich? My capitalist complicity extends to owning a couple Mutual Funds, maybe I could go invest my windfall in some Louisiana development, where the Army Corp of Engineers is allowing folks to develop wetlands without review "to help the poor people of Katrina". Right. Those big hearted engineers.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Decent Left or Whatever

As I have explained on more than one occasion, I was prompted to start this blog by a piece I read in Dissent Magazine by Norm Geras, a man for whom I had a great deal of respect, derived from his past work. In this article (Jan. 03) he was taking "the left" to task for not supporting George Bush's war in Iraq. His was an anti-totalitarian ,pro-democracy position ( like Hitchens) which remained oblivious to the the motives of the Bush administration, the history of Iraq, the pre-emptive rush to war but above all, the incalculable risks to a population of already desperate people ( years of war, oppression and UN sanctions). Because I and many others were skeptical I was being accused of supporting a tyrant, but I had done tons of research and was unconvinced not only of Sadaams possesion of WMDs, but that shock and awe followed by invasion could lead to anything but disaster.

Here is Norm yesterday: "Had I been able to forsee in Jan. and Feb. of 03, that the war would have the results it has actually had..I would have withheld my support without giving my voice to the opposition to it." Pathetic bastard, does this mean he would have just sat in his lounge chair and drank? Does he realize how much blood he has on his hands for lending his support? Those poor people were depending on our ability to look into some crystal ball?

And me, Im so smart, so godamned brilliant ,I think Ill sit here and gloat? No, no, Im actually just another silly fool, sitting in this comfortable room, intellectualizing about the decent left and wondering how many will die tommorro. I actually sent Geras an email back in 03, the tone was a bit nasty and he wrote back saying he would not engage me if I couldn't be civil. I was being honest, like he still isn't.Whatever.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Small T Truth

Sergeant: What they could use around here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization!..It takes a war to fix that. In a war, everyone registers, everyones names on a list.
From Mother Courage and her Children by Bertolt Brecht

"One of the great privileges of power is the right to attack others for doing exactly what you do without anybody who matters calling you on your hypocricy."
Paul Street author of Empire and Inequality:America and the World since 9/11

"Banking institutions and moneyed corporations" would,"if not curbed, become a form of absolutism that would destroy the promise of the democratic revolution."
Thomas Jefferson

Ive been on this damned computer all day and Im tired. Good night and good luck.
Troutsky

Saturday, October 14, 2006

No Way To Delay That Trouble Comin Everyday

Any Zappa fans out there? I have been gone for a week, working ( what? troutsky?) and fishing. (thats more like it) . Fish do tremble, and for good reason. I caught three beautiful steelhead and will share one tonight with friends. Speaking of trembling, because I was not quite depressed enough by the weeks news and graemfinsons or poetrymans blogs, I watched When The Mountains Tremble," the astonishing story of Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize". Starting with the CIA orchestrated coup of Arbentz in 54, it chronicles the incredibly sad exploitation of a beautiful people, namely ,the indigenous Guatemalans. When one sees scenes of the death squads interpersed with clips of Ronald Reagan one is sorely tempted to adopt Zatikias approach and chalk it up to evil but I resist for reasons I have explained in previous posts. Lets just say that Arendts famous phrase, "the banality of evil", certainly helps explain an attribute of totalitatian regimes and thinking, but does not provide us with a program to combat it. Instead we need to turn to the often laborious, sometimes tedious work of analyzing structures of power and their oppressive mechanisms to find openings where we can insert opposition effectively. This means finding opportunities to educate as many as possible on the history of Guatemala, (as well as current events there like we did at Wednesdays CAJA meeting), talking about Mexico, Iraq, Sudan etc and talking about our own unjust priveledge and complicity with the workings of our empire. This means taking to the streets, to the polling booth, to the schools and workplaces to confront the complacent ones with the blood that is flowing, the hearts that are breaking, the children that are suffering.

Speaking of suffering, I sometimes tune into Christian Radio to try to fathom what is going on in peoples minds. A few days ago I tune into a sermon on the goodness of being "broken"in Gods eyes. The preacher said sometimes a shephard sees a lamb wander off from the flock and he lovingly retrieves it . If the shephard then sees the lamb wander off again he needs to take the lamb over his knee and "lovingly" break it's leg! This must be what tough love is all about. God trembles.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Voice of the People

In Mexico, not so very far from our little pink houses, Oaxacan rebels have siezed a radio station called La Ley and are using it to broadcast their calls for solidarity and justice. 20,000 Mexican soldiers are massed nearby. Vincente Fox is obviously weighing the effects of an all out assault. The Inter-American Press Association and the Ass. of Mexican Newspaper Editors have denounced the occupation. In the corporate media, the division of labor requires the manufacturers of consent to merge with State interests and they do not like having an independent group confiscating their own means of production (producing information, propaganda, etc) An independent voice can bring ideas , the most dangerous enemy of the Corporate State. A slow burning fuse has been lit in this "other" America but of course here in the Homeland we are consumed with penis scandals and the Axis of Evil. In Venezuela, independent radio stations carry the rythm of the Bolivarian Revolution throughout the favelas of Caracas and beyond. Our local station here in Montana carries Country Western ( the Special Olympics of Music) and right- wing talk shows. Pehaps it needs a shakeup?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

1953

I was born in 53, the year Congress changed the national motto from" E Pluribus Unim" to "In God We Trust". The year the CIA facilitated the removal ofMogadesh in Iran and Arbentz in Guatemala, setting off a chain of events leading to now. The year the Korean War stalemated at the 38th parallel, a strange,bloody horrible conflict still basically unresolved. The year Fidel attacked the barracks at Santiago and the Rosenbergs were executed. The year in which the US supplied 80% of the arms and financing of the French war effort in Viet Nam. And the year Joseph Mc Carthy had The Selected Works of Thomas Jefferson removed from libraries.

But that was then and this is now and here we are! Condi Rice has plans to help Cuba "transition" to democracy but they are on hold because The Lonely One is pretty busy not remembering and then remembering hearing about some "immanent attack" on the US. Paul Bremmer, Iraqs first, how shall I put this, "crummy" administrator after the invasion, worked for Kissinger and Associates. Who did James Baker work for? Everybody and Anybody with cash. Speaking of cash, Wal Mart has decided to go from a 20 to 40% part-time work force and curtail staff health care options to "better serve their customers." Dick Cheney is in Montana today stumping for Burns and hopefully they are going hunting together. In what he calls "a revolution within the revolution", the Chavez government is spending billions on anti-poverty programs and "handing a large degree of authority over the spending to thousands of elected local councils."

In an article in the NLR July/Aug called Offshore Zionism, written by Gadi Algazi, we find out what a "sweetheart deal" is all about. It seems the largest IT firm in Israel, Matrix, makes use of it's "comparative advantage" by hiring ultra-orthodox women from state -subsidized settlements in the Occupied Territories. They don't have to be paid much because their living costs are subsidized (for being willing colonizers), and they work hard because they are brain -washed fertility units, ie,baby producers . It is the first "Zionist local off-shore outsourcing", and the perfect marriage of State and Capital.

In Memory ofW.B.Yeats by W.H.Auden

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark
And the living nations wait
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Old Desert Rat

The new Sun magazine has some letters from Ed Abbey, an iconic and complex figure of the environmental movement. A great critic, he was ,in my opinion, short on solutions. His theoretical work stopped short of systems analysis, leaving him unable to articulate WHY conditions and attitudes are how they are. He located power in "government" and corporations but never provided solutions beyond "monkey wrenching" or somehow changing your conciousness to embrace the "truth" of natural processes. For example:

"Having raised the question (concerning animal egalitarianism),I think I see the answer.In demanding that humans behave with justice, tolerance, reason, love toward other forms of life, we are doing no more than demanding that humans be human- that is, be true to the best aspects of human nature."

First of all, he mistakenly equates "egalitarianism", equality, with the question of being "better" than other animals. ( animals tend to overrun their carrying capacity, humans can prevent themselves from doing so) Having a "moral sensitivity unknown to other animals" would not make us unequal, it would make us dissimilar, a great distinction. But more to the point, who is doing the "demanding" in his answer? Having not located any power, such a demand rings hollow, and species, habitat and landscapes continue their decline. He hopes we would be true to the "best aspects of human nature" but it is obvious by now, certainly, that mere "hope" doesn't cut it.
Abbey famously opposed immigration and "massive tax-payer funding for the terminally sick", positions for which he got a lot of flack from the left , and which he spent a great deal of time defending. Seeing only the detrimental effects of over- population, he concerned himself only with stopping these effects at our national border. Once again, a lack of ability to see more than the "particular" limited his ability to strategize ,or effect real change beyond ,perhaps ,inspiration.

He states: "The ugliest thing in America is greed, the lust for power and domination, the lunatic ideology of perpetual Growth.." Reducing the problem to a pathology, his best advice is for humans to "learn to walk again".He strictly avoids the political realm, although in fairness, he does recommend Chomsky. I like this piece of advice, given to someone who wanted him to suggest a "great four wheel drive trip".
"The ideal off road journey? Ill tell you: under water.I would like to see every four-by-four on earth, every three wheeler, every dirt bike,trail bike andBig Foot truck driven straight into the Marianas Trench ..and parked there-left there-for the duration.
For the duration of what?For the duration of this techno-industrial-commercial slime mold that is transforming our planet into one vast battleground of Cretins against Nature." Sure, but what produces "Cretins" or "slime mold"? He never really suggested anything.

The old curmudgeon leaves us with this slightly pessimistic view: "No wonder the galaxies recede from us in every direction..They are frightened. We humans are the Terror of the Universe." It does not necessarily have to be so ,Ed.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

From the Mouth of Babes

Presented with the poll numbers showing over 70% of the Iraqis want the US out yesterday, the Ohio Senate candidate DeWine said: "This is not about what the Iraqis want". Hard to argue with that sort of truth. His democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, who voted for torture a week after gracing the cover of the Nation, babbled incoherently about a timetable that wasnt a timetable and leaving without cutting and running and blah blah. I seriously thought they were going to start scratching and pulling hair in front of Russert. Fortunately for Sherrod and the rest of the "opposition", certain Repubs can't resist young boys,even for just a few more weeks. To late to fire Rumsfeld and replace him with John Madden?

I saw more criticism of Chavez on ZNet , this time for praising Ahmadinejad when Iran has such lousy protections for womens rights. Thats valid, to a point. Certainly the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

Is there something about the NIE report that reminds you of Orrs position in Catch 22, something of the double bind, the paradox. Remember,he was crazy, but if he asked to be grounded he would ,by making such a rational decision, be declared sane. And would have to fly more,which was crazy. " If he flew,then he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to." The report is telling us we are creating more terrorists by staying in Iraq but leaving would embolden the terrorists.