Sunday, December 28, 2008

the ceremony of Innocence

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
the blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats; The Second Coming

The attacks on Gaza have a certain Groundhog Day-like surreal-ness. Where can a resolution ever be found? Each side is mired in it's own destructive and dysfunctional construct. A deadly and perverse gamesmanship seems to infect all the players and a sado-masochistic inevitability permeates the bloody discourse.

"These strikes fuel our popular support, our military power and the firmness of our positions" Mushri al-Masri, a Hamas legislator intones. Yes indeed, and I can walk on water and shit gold nuggets. Who can he possibly think he is kidding at this exhausted stage? Is shooting random rockets into Israeli towns a reasonable response to being slowly strangled to death? Perhaps. Does it "fuel" anything other than the Palestinians ultimate destruction? Of course not. Because all imagination has been sucked out of the hollow shell of "politics as such", nothing more creative than mass suicide is suggested. To get a feel for the state of our "democratic" discourse, click on any comments link to any article on the current assault and read. Ignorance, racism, brutality and coarseness reign like cockroaches after a nuclear winter. Lots and lots of passionate intensity. Am I immune?

We see Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni parade through the propaganda circuit, stone cold and deliberate as lizards. "Right now Hamas didn't accept, is not willing to accept the requirements of the international community..." "We are trying to avoid any kind of civilian casualty.." David Gregory nods.Hillary Clinton blinks. Joe Lieberman checks his mailbox. When you strangle something to death, you can actually let a little air in, draw out the process. Like water boarding on a pleasant afternoon with nothing else scheduled. The Israelis bombed the university, the fishing fleet, the main medical warehouse supplying pharmacies. The rockets fired by extremists don't even have expolsive tips. Whatever.

Last week Mumbai, this week Gaza, next week, who knows? Packistan-India? Have a nice vacation Obama because the next time you say "We only have one president at a time" it will be a sobering gut-check. The "ceremony of innocence", like the water-boarded Palestinian, will be drowned.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Staying One Step Ahead

In a great piece for Foreign Policy in Focus (use my blog link and help support them), the always forward thinking Walden Bellow warns us to resist The Coming Capitalist Consensus. Starting from the premise that neo-liberalism is dead (sorry CB, I think this is a reality), he argues that a consensus is building towards a new regime of global social democracy. Perhaps best articulated by Gordon Brown but promoted daily by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs, George Soros, Joseph Stiglitz Paul Krugman, even Bill Gates, (though to varying degrees), GSD would be an "alliance capitalism..securing the benefits of the market while taming it's excesses." From CNN to the NewsHour, pundits have reached agreement on the need to "minimize the risk of disruptions, maximize opportunity for all" blah blah. Bad old Casino Capitalism, with its rogues and pirates, is suddenly chastised and calls for a reformed social order embraced. It is in essence a re-invigorated ideological consensus for global capitalism of which Bellow insists we must beware . Rather than settle for social management we must strive for social liberation.

Bellow points to the fallacy that "simply by adding the dimension of 'global social integration'( reducing inequality) ,an inherently socially and ecologically destructive and disruptive process can be made palatable and acceptable." I have written recently on the possibilities and limits of what might open up in this historical moment and have called for a deepening of the pension state as a way to re-awaken the public sphere. Perhaps these goals are to modest? What about the element of timing?

Bellow rejects such a compromising approach:
Fourth, GSD, while critical of neoliberalism, accepts the framework of monopoly capitalism, which rests fundamentally on deriving profit from the exploitative extraction of surplus value from labor, is driven from crisis to crisis by inherent tendencies toward overproduction, and tends to push the environment to its limits in its search for profitability. Like traditional Keynesianism in the national arena, GSD seeks in the global arena a new class compromise that is accompanied by new methods to contain or minimize capitalism’s tendency toward crisis. Just as the old Social Democracy and the New Deal stabilized national capitalism, the historical function of Global Social Democracy is to iron out the contradictions of contemporary global capitalism and to relegitimize it after the crisis and chaos left by neoliberalism. GSD is, at root, about social management.

Bellow is correct, our program must not be about a "settlement" but on consolidating gains and advancing the realm of the possible.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Academic Knowledge

In his essay Academic Virtue, ( Laphams Quarterly Fall 2008) Stanley Fish proposes a regimen "to make the educational experience everything in general and nothing in particular." His main concern is with ideology entering the academy and feels it is doing the job it is paid to do if "neither the university as a collective nor the faculty as individuals... advocate personal, political, moral or any other kind of views except academic views. Isn't the university primarily a place for the unfettered expression of ideas? The answer is no."

We can sense here a sincere defense of pedagogy, but based on a romantic and nebulous notion of academic virtue exemplified by being "conscientious in the pursuit of truth". This is well and good in the rarefied atmosphere of theory but a university is also a community and his prescribed ban on "engaging your students in discussions designed to produce action" is at once condescending and telling. It reinforces the notion that students are simple receptacles, both naively susceptible and without their own ideology. If this is true it is the fault of education and a demand for change, not a reason for perpetuation of the same "ideal". Seen in another way, discussions designed to NOT produce action are another subtle form of reinforcing and reproducing the status quo. I believe most students at the university level can smell such a "design" a mile away and can are capable of choosing to act or not.

It may sound like the height of rationality to restrict the university to a narrow task, "to produce and disseminate (through teaching and publication) academic knowledge and to train those who will take up that task in the future", but it is asking us to take at face value the notion that "academic knowledge" is a standardized, normative, apolitical body agreed upon universally. This is patently false. Claiming a total lack of bias in ones choices ( "I can assign whatever readings I judge to be relevent to the course's topic. Those are pedagological choices") is to engage in the self-deceptive idea that "relevant" is not in itself a term loaded with ideological implication.
Tell me your politics and teach me what you want. Invite challenge and let learning happen. The world outside of academia is filled with hucksters claiming to be non-ideological and apolitical. A student should be prepared to deal with them.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Cabinet

Pres.-elect Obama has just asked Dick Cheney to stay on in his role as Commander in Chief, at least through the first year they will be co-deciders. It is also reported that his first act as President will be to grant a pardon to Bernie Madoff and put him on his council of Economic Advisors. He wants to "listen to all sides". A great idea in my opinion (full disclosure : the Madoff sons Mark and Andy are clients at the fishing lodge I work for) (really) and in keeping with centrist, liberal openness to ideas. Is Margaret Thatcher available?

Heard a tremendously entertaining piece on BBC tele last night by business editor Robert Preston titled The New Capitalism. Echoing centrist-liberal Pres.elect Obama, he called for "more upstanding attitudes" from those in the Financial Sectors, a return to "more responsibility"and "less greed". A courageous stand! Preston conceded that some new regulation may be required (at least till the masses have been mollified and re-anesthisized) but the important thing is for the Masters of the Universe to take a hard, long look in the mirror (perhaps each morning as they shave?) and ask themselves: "Am I prepared to do the right thing today?"

In the last thread Renegade Eye directed me (us) to a piece by the windy but thorough Marxist scholar Alan Woods who describes just this type of sentimental and un-scientific approach to political economy in a scathing critique of the work of Arno Peters and Deiterich. The latter tries to develop the "theoretical" foundation of Venezuela's Socialism for the 21st Century. Anyway, I have a pretty good grasp of materialism and use-value vs exchange-value etc. and realize this is why folks of different ideological stripes have such difficulty in dialogue. Terms like value, price, wage, or labor remain disputed. Obama and Preston and CB and I are using the same words but with different meanings. The liberals have a romantic, sentimental view based in"natural" justice, a la Saint Simon or Proudhon. The conservatives are metaphysicians. I am a dialectician and all this talk of rights and fairness is just so many words flying past each other. It is why the Jews have spent so much time in hot water over "usurey", a moralistic term with no meaning and therefore malleable to whatever ends Power wishes to use it for. Interest good. TOO MUCH interest bad! Profit good. TOO MUCH profit bad. Who decides what is "too much"? You get the point.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Distributive Justice

It's hard to remember all the Spectacular babble surrounding Obama's campaign comment about "spreading the wealth". (Joe the Plumber is suddenly a vague clown from a far away circus, now we have Blogo and the Bailout) But I return to it having read another book given to me by the same friend who gave me Tucumsehs Fist a while back. This one is called Unjust Deserts by Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly and following Dahl, Sandel, Rawls,Posner, Cass Sunstein and others, it develops a theory of just remuneration which acknowledges the wealth created by "society itself". In this view, the whole of a "scientific, technical and cultural stock of knowledge" is a collectively owned property(what we can call a residual) which creates the bulk of modern wealth but which is appropriated by a small elite. This is a fairly radical proposition which convincingly demolishes a number of conservative fetishes, such as the holiness of individualism and private property and opens up a valuable conversation about earned vs unearned income. It would not be high on Ayn Rands reading list.

There is a lot of good research on the history of invention and a de-bunking of the "heroic"view of progress coming about through the diligence of "great men and women". We know that a lot of public effort and resources contribute to what ends up being private wealth generation and accumulation.Guess where it ends up. In a similar vein, the ever-brilliant Lewis Lapham does a great riff on those models of modern capitalism, the pirate "mercenaries" hired by the colonialists of 1770 to plunder the British fleet. (Jan. Harpers)

In terms of suggestions on how to recapture that portion of wealth known in some circles as "the commons", it is a little weak. We know the "social contract" is often hard to enforce and we know that when bullies are in charge, "formal" freedom and justice is often substituted for the actual. Drawing on Rawls, we can assert that no one really deserves the natural assets ( talent, smarts, productive capacity) or family background (genetic lottery) they are born with, that these assets are "arbitrary from a moral point of view." Therefore ,"distributive shares" are likewise arbitrary. Of course Rawls does not pretend we can eradicate unequal endowments so he balances a scheme of benefits and burdens so that the least advantaged may share in the resources. He wants to do this within the structure of markets, (like Obama and Joe the plumber), which is where we part ways. Not that I wouldn't take a little single payer healthcare or national pension while we wait for the real deal.

The "fairness" of Rawls is important but doesn't get to the site of another basic unfairness, the wage system. This has nothing to do with helping the less fortunate and everything to do with recovering what is rightfully ours. Both are important but one is about morals and one is about power. And like Obama, the authors of Unjust Deserts are perhaps well meaning but again fall short. If we are going to try for fair, why not go all the way?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Computer Hell Isn't Really That Bad

I am technologically challenged, that is, I don't invest a lot of energy in trying to keep up and the logic or language do not come "naturally" to me. So it has been a particularly frustrating couple of days fighting with a virus on my PC (and losing) at the same time I have been trying to upgrade to DSL through my phone company. As to the virus, what makes a human want to do this to others? It calls itself "anti-virus 360" and so deviously plays on ones fear of infection. Fortunately, my companero Che Bob ( who by the way is back blogging after a short hiatus) gave me his old laptop which I now have running at "high speed"but I am unable to work on my novel. And its about 30 below outside. Enough of my problems. Life is for learning and going where we are not comfortable.

The Arab world has a new hero in the form of a shoe throwing journalist, although i think "murderous dog" was a bit generous. Bush joked that he "saw his sole", perhaps a reference to Putin, and I heard a reporter on the Today show (fair and balanced) actually say that "the crowd was shocked and awed". It's a movie you can't stop watching!

Getting back to the cold weather, I spent a lot of last Thursday in the Missoula public library and a lot of yesterday in the mall while my wife and daughter shopped.(I bought a shirt but mostly watched consumer world in frenzied motion) What I noticed in both public spaces was the homeless people getting in out of the weather. In the library a succession of rough characters sat around me coughing and hacking and trying to get some rest. In the mall a couple of guys sat across from where I was reading-watching and went over the Greyhound bus schedule. I heard them talking about how it was time to move on (no doubt south) and I wondered about their life. I used to knock around quite a bit when I was young but I always had a warm place I could return to when things got rough.I was a vagabond out for adventure, just a tourist compared to these hard veterans of the bus stations and underpasses. In these hard times there will be a growing army heading south where I suspect there are few prospects for work or a functioning welfare system. Shelters and soup kitchens. Hard times.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Might Makes Rights

December 1948- December 2008: Sixty years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was approved. "But" ,according to Amnesty International, "the Southern Democrats made it very clear that a statement of universal human rights threatened the maintenence of white supremacy." "Maintenence of white supremacy" is a euphemism for lynching. Same Southern Democrats, by the way, who watched blacks drowning in New Orleans and called in Blackwater to protect their private property.

Of course everyone knew that the declaration was only meant to be, as former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles so aptly put it, a "sermon on the mount" and not some legal document.
"As the United Nations turned to develop the declaration into a covenant- a lasting ,binding ,treaty- the US balked." It didn't want to give up State domestic jurisdiction (the "this applies to everyone but us,we'll handle our own affairs" principle) and it wouldn't support "communistic" aspirations like economic and social rights. You know, commie shit like housing ,education and healthcare. So it broke the covenant in two and at first supported political and civil rights but eventually abandoned both. ( sticking with sovereignty and lynching).

Eventually we "signed but never ratified the covenant on Economic ,Social and Cultural Rights and when we finally ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we did so with so many exceptions as to render it virtually meaningless."

So when you hear the talk of a "shining city on the hill" or "beacon of hope" or other such nonsense, you might consider that the entire discourse of "human rights" is a liberal shibboleth, a fetish which takes the place of talking about actual justice and not worth the rope around a black mans neck or the hood over a "suspected insurgents" head. Like the Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration is a lovely sermon. You do have the right to remain silent and most people exercise that one quite well.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Signs of Unrest

Certainly the Chicago factory occupation has captured the imagination of the left generally and the left-Left especially. I hope they increase their demands and inspire others facing the same brutal situation, other such victims of "creative destruction". The country is pissed but no one knows what the boiling point is.

They found out in Greece however. A vibrant anarchist-student-worker alliance has been growing there for a decade , hidden by the US corporate media. (when I think of Rush Limbaugh condemning the "left-wing media" I want to spit) It's not the Revolution but it provides a clear look at how the sides are shaping up.

Our neighbors to the North meanwhile, are facing down the neo-liberals at a very opportune time and putting their ideological poverty on display. An alliance between the social-democrats, Greens and the Left party has formed in Sweden to oust the center-right neo-liberals from their seat of power. Add these movements to the growing indigenous and aboriginal peoples movements north to south and the other Left gains in Latin America and we see the outlines of a powerful new bloq showing a lot of Black and Red.

As to the US, all I can say is these are interesting times. Students? Workers? Unemployed? who knows where the spark might come from. For my part, I agree with Robin Blackburn that "strengthening the element of planning and re-distribution to the point where its logic encroaches on the logic of capital" is a good way to go, especially since circumstances not of our making have already started that process in dramatic fashion. "The riposte to todays "grey capitalism" should be a species of pension socialism."

Saturday, December 06, 2008


We now live in a post-Ironic Age. Each Spectacular moment demonstrates more and more clearly our cultures complete immersion into Dada-ism. To watch the Auto Executives drive up in their Efficient Cars and prostrate themselves before The People was a piece of performance art Duchamps could not have concieved. They all stopped at Burger King for "value meals". They all promised to work for $1 a year for their insensitive Jetscapades last time through. I thought at least one might perhaps commit public sepaku but alas. Properly humbled Capitalism grovelled before the cameras and begged to be excused for it's failure, it's excesses, the pain it has caused. Margaret Thatcher rose in the balcony and shouted "There Is No Alternative!" The Gaurdians of Morality said : "While you are Too Big To Fail, we must keep a tighter leash." and Milton Friedman's ghost (with CB at his side) cried : "No, No, it must be set Totally Free, it's Destruction is Creative!" Bertolt Brecht took a bow as the curtain came down.

Meanwhile,the constant parade of economic prognosticators and "forecasters" shrug their shoulders, each admitting more and ever yet complete bewilderment. Where is the Bottom? What Forward Looking Indicators should we watch? How do we stop the VISCIOUS cycle? (pay attention to the vernacular of capital) Did we overshoot? Is this a V shaped or L shaped recession you said we weren't in two months ago? Needed correction. Prices must find their TRUE level. "The only way out is for the government to fill the void." It was "GMs...inability to strike a BALANCE between those inside the company who pushed for more innovation ahead of the curve and the finance executives who worried about returns on investment."

Notice where those models of efficiency, the Hondas and Hyundais and Toyotas, moved? To the deepest American South, the most Bible-belted, patriotic, superstitious, pathologized,poorest, right-wing region of the country. Who needs health insurance or a pension when the Lord will provide?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Our Immediate Program

We're going to see if we can get a guest editorial in the local paper calling all workers to action:

While the global economic meltdown and resulting recession will undoubtedly be a time of challenge and hardship for working citizens all around the world, it also presents opportunities for deep, lasting change not seen for generations. Due to it’s spectacular failure,the very logic of neo-liberalism is being questioned and new models discussed. Issues like fairness and sustainability are rising to the forefront. Here in the US, the country with the most responsibility for precipitating this collapse, the working class also carries a responsibility. It is incumbent on us to see that solutions for recovery go beyond mere re-regulation and involve a fundamental re-ordering of relative power in society. The larger political questions we face are: what form will a rescue take and who will pay for it?

Because the burden for any rescue will fall, as it always does, on the backs of the workers, it is time to make three demands in return. The first is single payer health care for all citizens. For too long the US has lagged behind the rest of the developed world in providing comprehensive care for all its citizens. The second is a public pension system for all. A dignified, secure retirement with defined benefits should await each worker who has contributed. The third demand should be for a jobs creation program directed at building public infrastructure. Creating a green energy system, localized food systems and carbon free methods of transport will both provide jobs and be an investment in the future.

Of course taking advantage of this opportunity for change will depend on citizens’ ability to correctly identify their interests as workers and to mobilize with a unified voice. This is why we see such an aggressive attack on unions by Big Business and the media which serves them as this crisis unfolds. Only through solidarity will we see not just a bailout for financial markets but a re-invigoration of true democracy and a society which works for all of its citizens. Instead of top-down decrees we call for public discussion. It is time for workers to have a say.

Two Rivers Branch IWW