Saturday, January 31, 2009

End Strong

I have mentioned Mexico Unconquered by John Gibler ( City Lights) a couple of times. It provides a great "short history" of the subcontinents movements, uprisings, revolts and( near) revolution and ends strong with a challenge to "widen the range of public debate upon the ideological underpinnings of the relative wealth and privilege that pass as everyday life..."

How wide? How about " capitalism is the immense and widely celebrated ideological package used to rewrap theft as freedom. to recast imperialism as democracy." Sourcing such thinkers as Immanuel Wallerstien, David Harvey, Juan Manuel Sandoval, Arnaldo Cordova, Albert Memmi, Bolivar Echevarria, Paulo Freire, Slavoj Zizek and others he rips the mask of legitimacy from the plunder of states and corporations, the decentered empire of capital. Exposing such ideological artifacts as poverty, the "rule of law" the "search for a better life" and other discourses used to maintain "the grip of colonial control, he tells the stories of those who have rejected the "ordained inevitability of their own destitution."

A young friend (18 yrs) and fellow CAJA board member left today to spend three months in a caracol (Zapatista villiage) in Chiapas. This brave young woman is pioneering the Language Institute we are setting up in Missoula/ Chiapas. Another group of twelve, mostly young students, will be leaving in June. Anyone want to join me next winter?

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I think this question of "the stimulus bill" is pivotal in the context of our historical moment. Decades of ideological struggle, (think-tanks, media message control, pundits, student groups, scholarship etc) are on the line. The conservative movement feels existentially threatened and has taken a stand, as witnessed by the unanimous vote in the House of Representatives yesterday. Democrats chose not to take my advice (yesterdays blog) and call their bluff, but instead pushed through this massive spending package that some like (progressives), some hate (fiscal hawks), but all see as necessary to staunch the flow of blood. Meanwhile the TARP and Wall Street become the whipping boy for both sides.

What has galvanized the conservatives is mainstream talk of "nationalizing" the banking system. Bernie Saunders was talking it up yesterday and there have been quite a few others. When I heard William Greider say this (he was pessimistic it could happen politically) on Democracy Now, I turned to my wife and said "Why save capitalism?" She jumped all over me, citing the negative consequences of total failure of the system. In this sense, then , my wife, Greider, populists like Bill Moyers et al are counter-revolutionaries, arguing like the social democrats of an era gone by that a kinder gentler capitalism is the way out, revolution too messy. Ducky mentioned France in the last thread, a perfect example of that form of progressive social contract they advocate. Is that what we want?

Here is what John Gibler says to social democrats:"But the agnostics tend to think the problem is one of degree, or scale, that capitalism can be softened or "humanized", by using the state to erect limits to profit. AND THIS SOUNDS THE DEATH KNELL TO THEIR RESISTANCE: the capitalist state, composed of the privileged beneficiaries of exploitation and conquest, is the principle protector of endless "economic growth", the endless accumulation of capital." They will parade out a little re-regulation, a little social spending, some Keynsian New Dealing but in the final analysis a golden opportunity for structural change is lost if workers don't take to the streets with a deep critique and even deeper demands.

While I reject Bernie Saunders AND Rush Limbaugh, the politics of this are quite a Spectacle. Obama sees his idealistic "unity" evaporate, Republicans hope the last twenty years of brainwashing holds up for one more tax cut, the Democrats now own an economy headed into the toilet and the American electorate realizes what all that "change" they voted for really is.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Call their Bluff

While Liberals slavishly work to save capitalism from itself, Conservatives are absolutely cavalier about the whole "crisis" thing. They gain populist points by crying about "fiscal responsibility" and "accountability" and acting all cool about the meltdown. I wish Democrats had the balls to call their bluff. They could propose a "balanced budget"! They could grind out deliberations on the stimulus package for a few weeks to make sure every i was dotted and t crossed in order to get "consensus" and " bi-partisan support". Meanwhile the economy bleeds 70,000 jobs every couple of days (like it did today) and we could see who blinks first. The Dems could agree to just give tax breaks to the rich! They could agree to let the "free market " sort itself out!

I've been arguing for reform but the more I watch these idiots talk about "responsibility" the more tempted I am to just say let it go. I realize a total meltdown would be a painful thing, lots of good people would suffer, could in fact lead to a fascist shit storm, but the alternative, blowing up another short-term bubble just to delay the inevitable? Is that really any better? Passing it on to our kids? They are arguing over contraceptives! We could emerge on the other side with a real democracy. Having to watch Dean Baker ( a Center for Economic Policy Research fellow who has warned of housing bubble since 02) argue on PBS with some discredited moron from the Heritage Foundation has put me over the edge. Why do they still exist?

I will personally pay to have a large dumpster delivered to the Heritage Foundation and with a few other burly guys we could go in and start emptying the trash as it were, taking all their computers and files and whoever tries to stop us and just throwing it all in the garbage where it belongs. With CNN and Fox News there. Would we be convicted by a jury of our peers? How about the Ayn Rand Institute? Bye Bye Miss American Pie.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I'm sitting in the dentists waiting room and a guy comes in, picks up the Newsweek with our new President on the cover and says to me "I hope Obama can save this thing before there is nothing left to save." I've never seen this guy before. Normally in waiting rooms, people just nod politely. Not knowing where he was headed, I replied with a smile "We'll see." He continued "Where did six trillion dollars go? Who made off with it?" I shrugged. He told me about his two tours in Vietnam, how you were fed lies so you would follow orders, how you were taught to hate. He said he was storing food for the times ahead. I wished him luck but wondered if he was ready to go postal.

I can only imagine how the local Supremists must be feeling now that it is 24/7 Black TV on every channel (I don't get FOX). Honestly, you can't turn on a news show where there isn't a black person telling you how it is or being newly appointed to run some government agency or living in the White House.While the rest of the economy is slowing, gun sales are brisk in Montana.

Conservatives are on the verge of panic as well, I tuned into Limbaugh and Hannity and they are digging trenches and preparing for the Long Black Night. Ayn Rands "John Galt " turns out to be Bernie Madoff. The wealthy took their tax breaks and speculated in the derivitives market and trickle down turned into nosedive. Banks take the bail-out money and give themselves huge bonuses. They try to shrink the government to where they can drown it in a bathtub and we end up with nationalization. The standard bearer for white-male-privilege, House minority leader John Baynor wants more tax cuts for wealth. When does persistent become obsessive? Speaking of nationalization, Larry Summers could not force the words "government ownership" between his clenched teeth on Meet the Press.

Then there are all those "suspected terrorists" headed from Cuba to our shores and fewer ways to torture them "legally". Pete Seeger singing aginst Private Property at the Lincoln Memorial. Contraceptives being dispensed. Whats this world coming to?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Awkwardly Ineffective

I mentioned John Giblers book, Mexico Unconquered, in an earlier post and that I admired his work and his analysis but here I want to challenge his assumptions about the APPO uprising in 2006. He writes "The incredible participation and creativity expressed on the streets during the Oaxaca uprising teaches that revolt is not only necessary, it is also possible...we have more ideas, and we will advance them."

What I and many others learned is "creativity" and "ideas " are not nearly enough.I am a strong supporter of the goals of the APPO but critical of the tactics used to achieve them. Between State, Federal and para-military forces, seventeen protesters were killed, hundreds more were abducted , tortured , beaten and wounded. Hundreds were jailed. And nothing was gained, Governor Ruiz remained in power, Fox ( then Calderon) remained in power, the teacher strike was broken, no one in power was punished or held responsible, none of the rest of the country rose up in revolt. Marches and barricades are not an end in themselves.

In Giblers romanticized view, it is a positive aspect of the movement that " it is not a creature of the Mexican Left". Using "de-centralized, horizontal forms of protest..They neither employed traditional Latin American guerilla tactics nor espoused philosophical non-violence. It was -awkwardly and innovatively- somewhere in the middle." He forgets to mention- unsuccessfully as well. Here is what you are up against; besides right-wing para-military there are "several hundred riot police...armed with submachine guns,tear gas grenades, riot shields and batons..military helicopters circling overhead and anti-riot tanks behind." The "resistance" has bottle rockets, sling shots, spray paint, rocks and a few handguns. "Revolt" is "tending to piles of burning tires..brewing coffee...creating protest stencil art and painting city walls...writing new protest songs.. opening spaces of resistance on equal footing- all are members, rock throwers,and coffee brewers alike."

To me this sounds like an anarcho recipe for getting totally fucked. The Greek Black Bloc and student rebels can smash windows and start fires but in Mexico ( or the USA) they don't just slap your wrist and send you back to class. Without a solid theoretical base , a long term organizing plan nation wide, discipline and timing, you only end up setting a bad example, discouraging people and setting the "movement" back. Theory takes work and if you don't like Left theory, fine, come up with something better. Organizing takes work, you need a nationwide strike to enforce your demands, a nationwide student walk-out. Discipline means if you are non-violent you can't have guns, you can't throw rocks (totally idiotic), you can't shoot bottle rockets or destroy property.Strictly enforced. If you are going to use violence, be prepared for the real deal.Incredibly important is the ability to control your media message. It's not a game for tourist revolutionaries and how you govern is different than how you fight. The Israeli Model doesn't care about your horizontal structure. We are all Palestinians now.

When Hope Is Not Enough

Helmut over at Phronesisaical argues for a "pragmatic" approach to the serious issues facing the world and support for Obama as a leader in this effort. He is a DC policy establishment guy whose opinions I respect for their considered thoughtfulness but I think he is misreading the historical moment. Pragmatism is a fall-back position for those who lack the courage to embrace the opportunity for structural change. The world (except for Sonia and the people of Idaho) let out a collective sigh of relief that Sarah Palin did not have her hand on that massive Bible. ( actually, Mark Slouka has a great piece in Harpers reminding us of Sonias other comrades). I let out my own sigh of relief that no crazy redneck took a pot shot. And I understand liberalisms joy that at least this time the Idiot Brigade was stopped in it's tracks. But it is delusional to think the battle was won. Being the anti-Sarah is not enough.

Barack Obama believes in US benevolence and exceptionalism, in the ability of markets to provide for all, in a non-ideological "coming together" to work harder, in short, he believes in our "democratic"-capitalist system to provide justice, grow the economy and sustain ecological systems. This is neither pragmatic nor non-ideological. This is the status quo pure an simple and we need no further proof of it's destructiveness and barbarity.

As Obama delivered his stirring speech the stock market fell below 8000 and we are nowhere near the bottom. Schools are closing. Hospitals are turning away patients. College graduates are applying at WalMart. Bombs stopped falling on Gaza but that shit-storm is far from over. Iraqis have not yet settled the question of power. 3000 troops are set to head for Afgahnistan. etc, etc...

"Non-ideological" is just capitalism with lipstick. The media fascination with Sasha and Melia will soon wear off. Well meaning liberals and progressives will see their Hope fading like stars in the morning sky and we can only Hope they find the courage to admit that neither the Banks nor the Corporations or Representative Democracy are expressing the true will of the people or delivering the goods. Get some comfortable shoes because we will be in the streets very soon. It's time for a peace dividend. Single Payer Health Care, Pensions, social investment, tax on wealth, full employment in worker owned industry.If we are going to bail out banks we should own them as well.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bottom Line

"They fight against the most devastating weapon of modern times- hunger. Hunger is not simply the body's lack of nutrients; it is an assault. In the world of antibiotics ,email, and commercial air travel, a world where money moves faster, farther, and in greater quantities than ever before , hunger is not accidental; it is a preventable form of genocide. No, poverty is not a state of nature, not an accident of history, poverty is both callous neglect by a complicit society and an ideological instrument used to de-contextualize and naturalize forced destitution and new forms of political domination and social control; hunger is biological class warfare; hunger is a weapon of mass destruction."
Author John Gibler, from his book Mexico Unconquered : Chronicles of Power and Revolt from City Lights Books

Gibler is replying here to Jeffrey Sach's apologia The End of Poverty in particular and the neoliberal model in general and he displys this same power and passion throughout his great book. John was here in Missoula last year, rallying us nortenos to oppose Plan Mexico and examine more deeply the roots of migration. He covers not only the devastated, emptied villages but the horror and brutality along the border towns and gives us as good an understanding of the groundswell of revolt as anything I have read. (and with more eloquence) Most Americans know somebody who has left their country to come here and work. Few know the brutal conditions they left behind. This analysis goes beyond the particular, however, and paints a very clear portrait of the structures of authority and domination which thrive on poverty.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Thought experiment: A "murderous criminal" is holed up in a school full of children. In order to neutralize him, is it acceptable to bomb and destroy the entire school, knowing you might also kill all the children? Could you later claim it was the criminals fault the children died because he had used them as shields?

I put quotation marks around murderous criminal because I want to explore how language is used. If you COULD SOMEHOW accept such massive loss of innocent life to neutralize a murderer, would it then matter if you discovered that person "murdered" someone who was torturing his mother, just for instance? Would that amount of context change your decision? Would you want to know who is controlling the narrative before making your decision?

What if the state, rather than just executing the murderer, also executed his entire family? If a citizen from your country were murdered by a citizen of another country, would you be justified in destroying their entire city? Country? Killing all of their citizens? Would hearing such a rationalization come from fifty "respected" officials make it any more palatable? A thousand?
Just wondering.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Pinnacle of Mediocrity

Watching Pres. Bush's Last Press Conference was painful. The man is tortured by what I think is newly aquired knowledge of his own banality and he projects this discomfort with every gesture. His body language screams deep neurosis and I am reminded of another two term freak, Richard Nixon, waving goodbye before boarding the plane. Only Nixon was complex. Then I am forced to think of the "Good Americans" who not only voted for this used-car salesman twice, but now worship the latest incarnation of weightlessness in action, Sarah Palin. Something is very, very wrong with our educational system.

I say "new knowledge" because I think the man entered office believing in his own charm, as a sort of totem,a real "special-ness", that had protected him through his previous failures and would surely guide him to a "place in history". The charm, of course, was no match for the immensity of responsibility which is the Office, Leader of what was THE, but is now only another, World Power. This is not a job for a salesman or the ex-beauty queen and yet conservatives seem determined to make it so. Asked if he felt "lonely",he said he hated whiners, said every day was joyous. Excused and defended torture because we hadn't been attacked.This time he could think of a few "mistakes" and lots of "dissapointments". The US had only lost moral standing amongst a few snotty euro- "elites".Painful and terrifying.

The biggest dissapointment was that not one reporter had the courage to take off his shoe and throw it at Bush. How priceless would that have been? It could have been contageous, the whole room could have erupted and they would have had to escort the pathetic fool from his Last Press Conference under a hail of flying shoes. A fitting end. A perfect legacy.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Union Raiding

It is unfortunate that one of the more successful unions is undergoing a wrenching internal battle at this very inopportune moment. I don't pretend to know all the facts nor can I pass judgment but from what I have read (article Jan 6 Znet by Steve Early and I saw Roselli on Democracy Now) the SEIU, a generally "progressive" and growing union led by Andy Stern, is trying to forcibly consume one of it's subsidiaries, the United Health Workers west, led by Sal Rosselli. There is bad blood and a boycotted vote, charges of financial impropriety and even ties to Rod Blogoyevitch, all bad news at a time when unionism itself is under attack (particularly UAW).As of this morning, the executive board of the SEIU has held off on any action but a vote is scheduled.

This is just the kind of conflict that the minions of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr.Blocks and other foes will use to sow fear and reinforce anti-union prejudice just as legislation to strengthen organizing capability , the Employee Free Choice Act, finally has a chance of being enacted. It is a long way from worker emancipation but it is a start and I hate to see another defeat because of internal strife. The stand of the rank and file should be for bottom-up empowerment and a resistance to huge, professional bureacracy.

This does not mean I believe there can or should be perfect harmony in the union movement, we are as prone to dispute and antagonism as any other form of organization, obviously. But I think it imperative that we demonstrate the capability to settle dispute through true participatory, democratic process. There will always be conflict, even in the new society, but only if the skills of authentic, deliberative politics are learned will conflict be celebrated as the necessary dialectic movement that history requires rather than seen as a obstacle to achieving utopia.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

International Law

Perhaps the most dramatic example of the state of "international law" is the Israeli targeting of the UNRWA compound in Gaza. The UN agency had given the IDF the exact coordinates of the facility, painted the place bright blue, (how thoughtful) then opened their doors as a place of refuge for terrified civilians. Once the IDF knew it was full they bombed it, sending a message that "no place is safe". It would be as if all the deer were painted orange and feeders full of apples were put out on opening morning. Hamas was still able to set off three cherry bombs and a sparkler and claimed they would drive Israelis into the sea.

Terms are bandied about such as "humanitarian crisis" or "proportional response" or "collective punishment" as though they had some sacred meaning. I would have thought Rumsfeld Cheney and the "War on Terror" would have polished off such idealist romanticism (that is, any crumbs left by Reagan, Clinton) yet many continue to plea for international norms to be adhered to. Remember the Geneva Conventions? Nuremberg Trials? Unfortunately they only apply to losers. "International norms"concerning civilians are being adhered to, think Warsaw, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima. The only "proportionality" recognized is the ratio of bullets to caskets. These are the same norms you will find in the Congo or Sudan.

One crucial aspect of this post-modern/humanitarian age is being able to control information and here the Israelis are the acknowledged masters. Who needs ugly old Joe Lieberman when you have Tzipi Livni and Dana Perino. Even Bloombergs getting in on the act. No reporters allowed in, not even 'embedded" ones. Brilliant. So what we are witnessing is the modern re-development agency at work, the "Katrina effect", tearing down the slums , removing the undesirables, and opening it up to the highest bidder. Valuable property once it's been cleared. The International Law at work here is the law of supply and demand, the law of returns on investment. And not a peep from Hillary. What will Condi call her book?

Another tool of management is the show trial, so to show the world the US is serious about The Law it will prosecute a few Blackwater "contractors" and a few grunts for killing 600,000 Iraqi civilians (give or take a few) and collective guilt is assuaged and we can move on. Guantanamo is closed and Justice is served. Expect the same sort of hand wringing and reprimands once the carnage ends in Gaza. Ceremony of Innocence indeed.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Twist of Fate

As fate would have it, I'm trying to write a novel whose center of action is Israel/Palestine 2007 and the task is made more difficult by the current events. Though I cannot close my ears, I am trying not to let "Knowing the future" influence the narrative to much. Certain characters could end up less nuanced or objective by my having too much information, as it were.

The novel encompasses broader themes, de-constructions of the "War on Terror" and "clash of civilizations" as well as explorations of language and the effects of technology and modernity in general. It is overtly political (but not radical) and it may suffer from being too contemporary, but I lack the imagination for some journey into the future, or the time needed for research to treat some historical past in decent fashion.

As to current events, they are in keeping with the modern "change in the structure of experience", such as the "War on Terror"or"Road Map to Peace" perfectly exemplify. What do those thing really mean? Nothing of course, but we are able to put Israel's Right to Exist or Victory in Iraq or Iran's Nuclear Weapon Program in this meaningless context and come up with a meaningless debate about meaningless policy. Which perfectly suits the Suits, arms manufacturers, oil companies, casket producers etc. and the hegemonists they fund: think tanks, councils on this or that, pundits, media.Status remains quo.

We will also find out a lot about Obama and Hillary as they are faced with some fairly stark choices. It is one thing to talk theoretical scenarios in campaign debates and quite another to make life or death decisions on a world stage. The foreign policy failures of Bush and Rice turn into an inheritance of tragic proportions not only for the new administration but for all of us. Listen to the language: "we must teach them a lesson", "we must demonstrate..", "they must learn..." The language of the Great White Father as he moved into Indian territory or, later, hunted down those who refused the reservation.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Another Tale of US Exceptionalism

We saw a wonderful film last night by Cao Hamburger titled The Year My Parents Went on Vacation about the upheavals in Sao Paulo in 1970. The story is woven between two events, the climax of the brutal military dictatorship with it's crackdown on leftists and Brazils play in it's third World Cup win that year. The young protaganist's parents are forced to flee their country ( leaving their son behind) after being identified as communist sympathizers, an all too familiar scenario that played out in those turbulent decades. Though we are constantly informed and reminded (especially during political campaigns!) that America has always been a beacon for democracy and freedom blah blah blah the facts prove that to the contrary, we played a much different role during the global "proxy" Cold Wars. And while the stories of Central American, Argentinan and Chilean dictatorships are fairly well known, Brazil does not seem to recieve the same attention generally.

The coup deposing Jao Goulart in 1964 was given tacit approval by that famous Texan commie fighter, Lyndon Johnson. US support for the successive military dictatorships ( aprox. 2000 people Dissapeared in 21 years) continued through Nixon/Ford as strongmen Branco, de Silva and Medici helped keep the continent safe for capitalism. At the same time , nationalistic fervor was maintained through the great Brazillian football team ( including Pele) which dominated with three World Cup wins. The film juxtaposes these cultural and political contradictions and gives a interesting view into the Jewish exile community living there post-Holocaust. These were years of booming economic growth, showing, (as has the Chinese example) that contrary to popular myth, capitalism, like bureacratic statism, thrives under authoritarian rule.

It is good people are making films to preserve memory, else we truly are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Every exceptionalist, City on the Hill, apologist needs to be denounced and corrected. There is some great acting and a poignant story in this case of revisionism. I recommend it.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Change Obama Can't Believe In

I have to turn from the scenes of destruction and despair and find my own reason for hope and one good sign is the number of mainstream commentators "outing" themselves as socialists. In the Nation, where the word is rarely seen, we have Andre' Schiffrin making a case for public ownership.Former NY Times foreign correspondent Chris Hedges just did a piece on Truthdig, Why I am a Socialist. Prof. Gary Olson on Common Dreams, Harlan Baker in the Portland Press Herald, I already mentioned Walden Bellow and an article in the New Statesman admitting that "all around Europe, the red flag is flying."

Last but not least(and this is just a small sampling) is an op-ed piece the IWW just got published in The Missoulian calling for the socialization of the healthcare and pension systems and a public jobs program. Add to these the myriad critiques of capitalism and calls for reform and we see the opportunity the combination of Joe the Plumbers "share the wealth" comment and the collapse of the financial system and recession has given us leftists. The Glenn Becks of the world thought they had us dead and buried but we'll just have to wait and see just who is in the tomb.

The point is that a unique moment exists and how we take advantage of it (or don't) will determine it's historical significance. Besides radicalizing our unions ( the fight over card-check might be just the thing) ,we need a Left Party like we see building in Europe, a broad coalition which can consolidate gains and push an economic agenda politically. The battle will be with liberals and Quisling Democrats, with "progressives" being the key to any success. Socialists need to focus as well on the newly unemployed and disenfanchised, those who have seen the "American Dream" turn into a personal nightmare.Markets have lost their magic. It's time once again to ask: Which side are you on?