<$BlogRSDUrl$>

'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Beichuan 

Corpses are not part of our closeted world, and certainly not several at once. Most of those I'd seen before becoming a reporter were treated with powder and rouge, dressed in their finest, displayed as much to provide "closure" to survivors as to respect the memories of the deceased.

Looking at this unvarnished business, you can't help wondering what these people must have felt at the end, their worries and passions. The woman with the beautiful long black hair, now by the fifth day starting to fall out. How she combed it, admiring herself in the mirror, careful to choose the flowered dress she wore on the last day of her life hoping a husband or lover might notice. An elderly person unidentifiable beneath a blood-soaked mattress who had hobbled as far as the front door before falling head first, blocking the stairs, cane jammed against the wall.

Most victims appeared to have died quickly, but I'm haunted by the body of one large man. By the looks of it, he had lived long enough for some good Samaritans to place him on a bed frame and fashion makeshift stretcher handles before abandoning him to save their own skin. Nearby, a store mannequin, split in half, mocked human grief with its painted smile.

Heading out of Beichuan on the steep incline up to the road, a resident back for one last look gave a wave at the wreckage. "Goodbye, my lovely hometown," he said. "My house is gone, the relatives have fled, I'll probably never see you again."

Labels: ,


Support antiwar.com 

They are having a tough time of it, and really need to raise more money to continue to survive as an excellent alternative, anti-imperialist news source. If you don't remember why antiwar.com is so important, consider what I wrote in November 2006:

I can't recall ever encouraging the people who read this blog to financially contribute to anything. It may have happened once or twice, but if so, I have no memory of it.

Today, I believe that it is very important that we support antiwar.com during its quarterly fund drive. Fund drives are always challenging, and it is easy to succumb to the temptation that a wealthy saviour will step forward at the last minute, as has appeared to have happened during previous antiwar.com drives. In this instance, we need to resist it, and show our appreciation for the most dynamic American anti-imperialist site on the Internet.

Admittedly, antiwar.com is not a leftist one, it is avowedly libertarian. I have substantial disagreements with the social and economic beliefs of the people who operate it. Even so, on the most important issue of our time, the expansion of the American empire through extreme violence and economic coercion, the people involved with antiwar.com are unequivocal and forthright in their opposition to it.

It is the portal to news articles and columns from around the world regarding the war in Iraq, the war on terror, a possible war in Iran and the perpetual attempt of the Israelis to colonize the entirety of Palestine. It has played an essential role in destroying the monopoly of information that the US media once possessed. No longer are we at the mercy of the The New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and, worst of all, FOX News.

The breath of news and commentary at antiwar.com is, quite simply, without peer. Ideologically, one finds the anarchist Noam Chomsky alongside Reaganite Paul Craig Roberts, the Tory Peter Oborne with Tom Engelhardt of The Nation. Indispensable reports and analysis from Dahr Jamail, Aaron Glantz and Jorge Hirsch are readily available. Without antiwar.com, it would be much more difficult to readily access such disparate sources of information.

The thread tying them all together is the essential cause of creating a broad based coalition from right to left to resist the predations of the American empire, a cause that has become even more urgent as a consequence of neoconservative control over US foreign policy. The loss of antiwar.com, or even just a reduction of service, would be significant setback for this endeavor.

I plan to make a donation later today. I hope that you join me in doing so.

Labels: , , , , ,


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Paradox of Same Sex Marriage 

Opponents of same sex marriage have responded to the California Supreme Court decision requiring the state to accept such marriages by saying, just wait, we will take care of it this fall. It is generally recognized that they will shortly qualify an initiative for the fall ballot which would amend the California Constitution so as to restrict marriage to unions between men and women.

But are they correct? Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times released the results of a poll showing that the measure was only supported by a 54% to 35% margin. A 19% margin superficially appears impressive, but the more important number is the fact that it is now only supported by 54% of the electorate. Historically, initiatives have required support significantly greater than 50% months in advance of an election to pass. Or, to put it differently, California voters tend to break against initiatives in the final weeks of a campaign because they are fearful of passing something that they don't understand.

Today, there was even better news. The highly respect Field Research Corporation released poll results showing the measure losing by a 51% to 42% margin. My guess is that the selection of Obama over Clinton as the Democratic nominee will ensure the defeat of this measure, given his ability to turn out younger voters between 18 and 40 who strongly support same sex marriage. I used to believe that gay marriage would come to the US as a consequence of a judicial decision in a state with no initiative process, or one in which initiatives qualified through a highly restrictive process, such as requiring legislative approval.

Now, it appears possible that California will lead the way by having the public ratify the decision of the California Supreme Court granting equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. It is hard to imagine a better outcome, unless religious fundamentalists launched a boycott of the state and left us alone. But I wouldn't want San Francisco or Los Angeles to be struck by a hurricane.

For a left, anarchist influenced blog like this one, however, there is an aspect of this social conflict that is frequently ignored, because, in this society, social acceptance of relationships through marriage remains highly prized. But, of course, anarchism has long rejected the need for relationships to be legitimized through an institution inspired by religion. And, through a group like Gay Shame, some gays and lesbians have vehemently opposed same sex marriage as an insidious means by which gays and lesbians are incorporated into a centuries old oppressive social structure. Consider these question and answer excerpts from its statement on the subject:

So, what is wrong with gay marriage?

In order to answer that question we must first understand what this thing called marriage is. Marriage is essentially a financial and legal contract that allocates the movement of property, power and privilege from one person to another. Historically it has been a way of consolidating family power amongst and between men, through women. In more recent times marriage in the United States has functioned to solidify the American middle class. Marriage does this through concentrating wealth and power through family lines and inheritance (both in terms of money and power). Because of marriage's ability to discipline class structures it is now, and always has been a primary structure of a capitalist economy. In reality most people marry within their own socioeconomic class. Marriage, earlier through miscegenation laws, and currently through racist "values" also contains wealth through racist ideologies of matrimony. Because of these realities there has been a long history of critique of the institution of marriage launched by feminists of color, white feminists, and queer people among others.

What about gay marriage? Isn't gay marriage going to change all of this?

NO. The current push towards gay marriage is, in fact, not going to subvert the systems of domination we all live through. Ironically, the gay marriage movement is standing on these same legacies of brutality for their slice of the wedding cake. Take for example the "Freedom to Marry" stickers created by the freedom to marry organization. Not only are these stickers falsely equating the intervention of the State into ones life (marriage) with "freedom" (when was the last time the State helped you to become more "free"?) they are trying to work this idea through horrifying star-spangled stickers. Instead of critiquing the ways US imperialism has rendered most transgender people, queer people, people or color etc. as expendable through its countless wars here and abroad, the Freedom To Marry stickers simply disguise these histories and reproduce this red-white-and-blue national theme for every married gay and guilt filled liberal to wear with PRIDE.

Stridency aside, there is undoubtedly a great deal of merit to this perspective. It is, however, based upon what I consider a false binary opposition, either you support marriage and all of the values of the society which promotes it, even the reprehensible ones, or you oppose marriage, even at the cost of social inferiority, as a means of resisting these values. Gays and lesbians must choose between being social inferiors, and the challenges associated with such status, or they must repudiate any motivation to agitate towards a more just world.

In other words, Gay Shame is also painting with a pretty broad reductionist brush in its characterization of the world around us. It is uniformly bad, and, in many ways, it is, but such an attitude eliminates the prospects for positive transformation by those of us who live within it without recourse to anarchist principles. After all, what other plausible prospect for such transformation exists? Gay Shame rejects the notion that the progressive expansion of marriage rights may incrementally undermine the religious fundamentalists who so strongly support the current global order.

Unfortunately, there is support for the Gay Shame perspective, one need only look at the extent to which some invoke the rights of gays and lesbians (and, more notoriously, women as well) to justify US imperial violence in the Muslim world. Feminism and gay rights have been incorporated into a contemporary rationalization for the purported cultural superiority of what are usually called Western, liberal, democratic societies, societies which must, regrettably, use violence against inferior ones to preserve themselves.

On Sunday, plato's cave commented in response to my second post about sex work in San Francisco, observing that the Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse recognized how liberal societies grant increased individual rights as a means of enforcing a more effective, more repressive collective social control on the populace as a whole. In effect, that's the indictment of same sex marriage put forth by Gay Shame. Are they correct? In the famous words of Zhou En-lai, it's too soon to say. But it has thrown down the gauntlet to the rest of us to prove them wrong.

Labels: , , ,


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

. . the problem of freedom of speech . . 

Ghosts of Elections Past, Present and Future 

An incisive piece by Tariq Ali in the Guardian Unlimited, a surgical political autopsy of the death of New Labour, that grand project whereby the British Labour Party would not only become electable again, but the dominant, unassailable political force in Britain:

The fact is that New Labour's time is up. When it came to power waving the Union Jack in 1997, the social landscape had already been wrecked by Thatcherism. The phallic architecture of the deregulated financial companies dominated the city, the old gents and their cozy networks were consigned to clubland. Silicon and pharmaceutical firms, funded by Japanese and American capital and immunised against a trade-union movement, neutered by the state, sprouted along the M4 corridor southwest from London and Reading.

The old textile towns were reduced to the status of cemetries; iron and steelworks had been ploughed to rubble. The old working class was dead. In the transference of class wealth and power, Thatcherism and its neocon New Labour worshippers were eminently successful. Wealth disparities had increased during the Blair/Brown years. The "modernisation" had fallen manifestly short as a solution to long-term problems of productivity and investment, leaving aside the archaic political structures of the British state. Many of the cash-starved utilities had foundered in private hands. Schools and hospitals continued to deteriorate. As railway privatisation proved a disaster, New Labour "radicals" were thinking of how the "revolution of choice" could privatise health and education.

From the start New Labour was pledged to consolidate the Thatcherite paradigm rather than offer anything different. Blair's model was to depoliticise Labour (and the electorate) by preaching against the sin of "ideology" (ie social democracy) in the name of a new, beyond left-and-right, trendy Starbucks-style capitalism. And so it was decreed that Labour should become little more than a British version of the US Democratic Party with cheerleaders and all, though it is more remiscent of the Republicans. Domestically, Brown would aim for fiscal-surplus levels usually only demanded of the Third World, to be ameliorated by a few low-cost anti-poverty measures. Globally, New Labour would, in its own words, station itself "up the arse of the White House and stay there". This was 10 Downing Street's instruction in 1997 to Her Majesty's new representative in the United States.

Of course, it is not difficult to find ascerbic eulogies about the death of New Labour. Consider, for example, this one by lenin over at Lenin's Tomb. Like mushrooms after a spring rain, they have been sprouting all over after the calamitous performance of Labour in local elections earlier this month. With the exception of Labour activist diehards, nearly everyone in Britain believes that the Tories will win the next parliamentary election.

As lenin emphasizes in his obituary, the right will be the beneficiaries of the collapse of centrist politics of neoliberalism in both the US and the UK unless the left responds to the crisis with urgency and imagination. I couldn't help thinking, though, as I read Ali's commentary, that I was actually reading something published in, say, 2013 or 2015, after the first term of President Barack Obama, an allegorical piece, if you will. Exuberant supporters recall the acolytes of New Labour in the mid-1990s.

Unlike the Democrats of the past, we are breathlessly told, Obama appeals to evangelicals because of the sincerity of his religious beliefs. He is pragmatic, willling to work with Republicans, Democrats and people of all kinds in a post-partisan political world devoid of ideological values. Just as Blair and Brown devised a political and economic strategy to persuade Middle England to vote Labour instead of Tory, Obama is going to shatter the red state/blue state paradigm, and possibly even rout the Republicans in parts of the old Confederacy.

Apparently, if elected, Obama is going to create a new governing coalition by withdrawing US forces from Iraq, and reinvesting the peace dividend in the US. But he remains a neoliberal free trader, anti-NAFTA rhetoric in Ohio and Pennsylvania to the contrary, and his intention to withdraw from Iraq is more tactical than strategic. He will inherit a Bush policy of regime change in Lebanon, Gaza and Iran, and has expressed no willingness to reverse it. And, of course, he considers Afghanistan a good war, and justifies the need to withdraw from Iraq partially on the basis of the need to provide more resources to fight the Taliban.

What will happen if President Obama discovers that Afghanistan is an even more intransigent conflict than Iraq, as explained recently by Ted Rall? What will happen if President Obama finds himself incapable of addressing increasingly sour economic conditions because of the constraints of neoliberal policies adopted over the last 30 to 40 years? Or will an Obama presidency be marked by a complete failure to significantly depart from an Bush policies, leaving us with hundreds of thousands of troops remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan, commodity price stagflation and the continuing shrinkage of home ownership among middle class Americans?

I guess that I shouldn't dismiss the prospect that the process of creative destruction associated with capitalism will result in another spin of the wheel of fortune, moving us out of the depths of economic distress into a brief new age of prosperity and contentment. But isn't it arrogant to assume that Americans will continue to benefit from it as we have done for over 200 years? So, I just have this feeling that 4 to 6 years from now, I'll look back at this Ali commentary, and recognize that one need only update it to incorporate the contemporary American context.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Monday, May 26, 2008

Hillaryland 

Apparently, to be a member, you don't have to have an official position with the campaign. Just like you don't need to be a member of the Bush Administration to be a neoconservative. I guess it's too much to expect reporters at the New York Times to accept the limitations of journalism.

Labels: , ,


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Liberation or Commodification? (Part 2) 

For the first post on this subject, see this entry on Friday. Here are a couple of comments, and my further elaboration:

Talking about sex workers as an example of capitalism's ability to market anything -- like cell-phones or SUVs -- misses the point. These affluent, white, middle class, politically sensitive men are all committing adultery. That will really bite you in the ass, in the end.

I'd be more interested if you had said "capitalism's NEED to market anything", or what Debord refers to as "the colonization of individual consciousness."

plato's cave | 05.24.08 - 12:57 pm | #


if they are single, they aren't.

I'm not sure what relevance this really has to do with capitalism per se, since while I can agree that how sexual desire is expressed can be affected to some extent by capitalist modes of production; the basic human desire to have sex is mostly hotwired into human beings as a basic human desire and need.

Challenging and ultimately replacing capitalism with a more egalitarian system certainly would change sexual relations and allow human beings more resources to express themselves sexually....but I'm not so sure that even a socialist society would go so far as to eliminate the need for a sex media or even the desire for sex work. Capitialism didn't create sexual desire, it just exploits it for the gain of the few.

But then again, I happen to be a libertarian socialist who happens to be more of a sexual progressive who defends sex work and sexual expression....so perhaps my views are peculiar. VMMV, as the saying goes.

Anthony
Anthony Kennerson | Homepage | 05.24.08 - 4:55 pm | #


It would seem to me that the fantasies and role playing involved, which seem to have evolved to a very high level in places like the Bay Area, are directly associated with the privileges of success in the region's capitalist, entrepreneurial economy. Wealth engenders an urbane rejection of middle class familial morays, and the ability to pay to gratify the desires of a such a lifestyle.

If Brecht were alive today, he would probably recognize the primacy of entertainment and communications technology in such an economy, a postmodernist view, of course, and how the creativity and imagination required by its participants necessarily crosses the boundary into their erotic lives, not to mention the influence of entertainment products upon consumers. So, it raises a question, could the world described in this article exist in a different kind of society, and, if so, in what form?

The article provides a clue elsewhere in the interview, in an answer not posted here. Reid later talks about how SF is really a small place socially and how you have to deal with the challenge of encountering your customers in more conventional settings. Of course, in a socialist or anarchist society, this would not be an issue, as sex work would be respected, as would be the gratification of sexual desire, and there would no reason to be embarrassed or discomforted by encountering one of your clients.

And, this gets to a more central point: sexuality in such a society would not be transacted through the mechanisms of commodity exchange. As a result, there would not be sex workers and clients, as they are currently understood, because the gratification of sexual desire and the playing out of one's fantasies would not be based upon your ability to pay to do so. Something which requires a lot of money in the society in which we currently live, only a few can afford to do it.

There is a well known dark side to the commodification of sex, and it periodically emerges in the Bay Area. For example, a man was extradited from Mexico a few years ago for having sex with young boys. Prostitution involving minors is common as it is in many places. Sex for money is invariably non-consensual, even for adults, because the number of people who would perform sex work without being paid is probably pretty small compared to the those who do it for money.

And what about the fantasies and role playing? Wouldn't they be different in a non-capitalist economy? Probably, but we can't say to what degree. Dominance and submission would appear to be human universals, but beyond that, who knows?

Richard Estes | Homepage | 05.25.08 - 8:11 am | #

And, what about the fact that the sex workers seem to be women and men serving men? Are there markets with women and men serving women? Are they anywhere near as substantial as the one serving men? If not, what's up with that?

Labels: , , ,


Friday, May 23, 2008

Wish Fulfillment 

Liberation or Commodification? (Part 1) 

All of you aspiring left sociologists, feminists, postmodernists . . . read this column by Violet Blue and decide:

I asked established escort and professional dominatrix Giselle Reid — who has worked in many regions of the country as well as internationally — what makes San Francisco clients different from clients from anywhere else.

Reid tells me, "My clients here, as anywhere I've ever worked, are primarily white, middle aged, upper middle class to upper class men. In my experience, and in general, the men of San Francisco make delightful clients. They tend to be politically liberal, with at least a rudimentary social/ecological consciousness."

Violet Blue: How does this translate in an everyday sense?

Giselle Reid: They have good and expansive taste in cuisine. They are less obsessed with orgasm than men who, in other parts of the world, cussed at themselves or me if they came too quickly or not at all. Often they are with me to have a good time, not to prove themselves. They are eager to have their asses played with. They are less likely to smoke. They are generally more informed and supportive of sex workers' rights issues and more willing to talk openly and objectively about sex work. They know and use the term "sex work." They are less likely to be homophobic and more open with their sexual curiosity about other men. They are more likely to bring their girlfriend, wife or other favorite sex worker with them. They are less likely to speak ill of their wives. Some of them call or write me on holidays and my birthday. And of course, they, like everyone in this great city, are generally better looking.

Violet Blue: Is there an experience you've had that characterizes the San Francisco client?

Giselle Reid: Here are four experiences that I feel characterize the San Francisco client: I once had a client ask me if it was OK to say hi to me if he ran into me at Pride. One client, as a sweet gesture of perversity, gave me the underwear her Craigslist date had removed in the bathroom and traded with her own over lunch earlier that day. I once asked a client if I could take the sample toiletries from his hotel room for the homeless and he assembled a little baggie for me and praised the act heavily. A first-time client who gave me his ass virginity looked at me meaningfully between moans of pleasure and said, "You have really beautiful eyes."

I'll give you a hint as to my perspective: the ability of a capitalist society to market sexuality and fantasy appears to be boundless. But, of course, as Brecht and Weill demonstrated in the opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, an opera centered around the theme of the marketization of human needs and desire, one has to be able to pay the price of admission or face the consequences.

Labels: , , ,


Monday, May 19, 2008

A Moment of Silence 

The most recent news reports place the death toll at over 71,000.

Labels: ,


Sunday, May 18, 2008

UPDATE: The Horrors of ICE 

According to psychologist Stephen Soldz:

In Soviet Russia, psychiatrists sometimes collaborated with the repressive regime by locking up dissidents in mental hospitals and injecting them with powerful psychotropic drugs, "antipsychotics" designed to treat schizophrenia. The Soviet psychiatrists were rightly condemned for their misuse of medicine for the un-therapeutic purpose of social control.

American health personnel are not immune from cooperating with efforts to misuse psychiatric drugs for social control purposes having no connection with those drugs' intended uses. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has been systematically administering psychotropic drugs to immigrants in the process of being deported as the Washington Post reported this week. Deportees who in the past had resisted deportation were injected with drugs, often a three drug "cocktail," in order to keep them pliant during deportation. These drugs included the powerful antipsychotic drug Haldol, as well as the antianxiety drug Ativan, and Cogentin, a drug used to treat the often severe Parkinsons illness like side effects of Haldol.

These drugs were prescribed by psychiatrists and administered by specially selected nurse "medical escorts." The drugs were administered in extremely high doses, sometimes rendering the deportees unable to speak. It sometimes took deportees days or even weeks to get the drugs out of their system. Thus Michael Shango was injected with 32.5 milligrams (mg) of Haldol, as well as 8.5 mg of Ativan and some Cogentin over 11 hours. His initial Haldol dose was 10 mg. Compare this with a usual Haldol dose of 2 to 5 mg repeated in 4 to 6 hours for "control of the acutely agitated schizophrenic patient with moderately severe to very severe symptoms" and 2 to 6 mg of Ativan daily for patients whose bodies have already adapted to the medication; lower doses of these drugs are recommended for new patients as people need time to adjust to them.

These drugs, especially Haldol are extremely powerful and are almost never utilized in individuals not diagnosed as actively psychotic. They can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if first administered in high doses and can disorient an individual for days. When Shango was imprisoned upon his return to the Congo, he was so disoriented that he didn't know where he was fortunately, friends helped him escape. It was weeks before he fully recovered from the drugs.

Soldz rightly places the responsibility for these abuses upon the medical professionals themselves:

In 35 years of practice, I have never had to give such high doses of antipsychotics to any person with any mental illness as is described in this story.

Again, we have an utter breakdown of the accountability of health professionals. As with the behavior of nurses and doctors in the war on terror prisons and the use of drugs for the CIA-State Department's rendition flights, we have a failure of understanding of professional ethics and complete passivity of the AMA and the American Nurses Association.

It is time for both Congress and the health professions themselves to investigate. Recently Senators Levin, Biden and Hagel wrote the Defense Department Inspector General requesting an investigation of the reports of involuntary detainee drugging. This new report of involuntary drugging may be investigated as well.

We need a mechanism, however, for a detailed examination of the perversions of the health professions by the current administration. I have previously called for a Truth and Reconciliation process to deal with the shameful cowardice of the health professions in actively and/or passively aiding the administrations' detention and interrogation abuses. Perhaps this process needs to be expanded to confront the broad range of health profession failures to actively oppose their professions' perversion by the forces of the state.

Or, as I more generally explained in regard to the involvement of psychologists in the tortures inflicted at Guantanamo:

One of the common features of an increasingly violent, unaccountable society is the degradation of its professional classes. Now, to some extent, they always invariably serve as functionairies for their masters, only the most independent minded align themselves with movements for radical social change, but, even so, they perform within a complex network of ethical limitations and analytical standards that legitimize their outward appearance of objectivity

Indeed, such limitations are essential to their effectiveness. After all, how else could Blackstone have permanently established the principles of larceny within Anglo-American jurisprudence in the 18th Century, thus criminalizing perquisites, an opaque, informal means of shared property rights in the production process by laborers, entrepreneurs and merchants in England, leading to the enshrinement of new, substituted system of wage labor? How else could Lombroso have persuaded so many that people reveal an inherent criminality through purported physiological deformities, deformities that, not coincidentally, matched the common perception of what was then known as the lower orders? . . .

Accordingly, instead of the education, ethics and methodology of the psychology profession legitimizing the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, quite the opposite has occurred. The abuse and the transparent rationalizations for them are delegitimizing the profession, exposing some of its participants, and its primary organization of governance, the American Psychological Association, as willing facilitators of these sadomasochistic practices. A similar phenomenon has occurred in the legal profession in regard to the judicial defense of these indefinite detentions and the conditions of confinement associated with them. One can only assume that the increased freedom to act violently and abusively more than compensates for the loss of institutional credibility and the potential domestic risk associated with it.

A similar tension between delegitimization and the benefits associated with the unencumbered use of violence and physical abuse is now repeating itself in relation to the deportation of detainees by ICE. One wonders, will any profession in the US, and its publicly pronounced ethical values, values frequently displayed to the rest of the world as a model to be emulated, escape being discredited by the purported war on terror? Of course, I can't avoid exposing my own cynicism by saying that Soldz's exhortation for Congress to take action strikes me as extraordinarily naive. Something more direct, more confrontational is necessary to reverse this perverse process.

Labels: , , ,


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Anarchism of Howard Zinn 

You may have already read this interview of Zinn by Ziga Vodovnik over at the COUNTERPUNCH website, but if not, I thought it worthwhile to post this excerpt:

Ziga Vodovnik: From the 1980s onwards we are witnessing the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day. Many on the Left are now caught between a “dilemma” – either to work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or to strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. What's your opinion about this?

Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization – it is nothing wrong with idea of globalization – in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.

ZV: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: “Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order.” Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?

HZ: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.

ZV: Do you think that a change can be achieved through institutionalized party politics, or only through alternative means – with disobedience, building parallel frameworks, establishing alternative media, etc.

HZ: If you work through the existing structures you are going to be corrupted. By working through political system that poisons the atmosphere, even the progressive organizations, you can see it even now in the US, where people on the “Left” are all caught in the electoral campaign and get into fierce arguments about should we support this third party candidate or that third party candidate. This is a sort of little piece of evidence that suggests that when you get into working through electoral politics you begin to corrupt your ideals. So I think a way to behave is to think not in terms of representative government, not in terms of voting, not in terms of electoral politics, but thinking in terms of organizing social movements, organizing in the work place, organizing in the neighborhood, organizing collectives that can become strong enough to eventually take over – first to become strong enough to resist what has been done to them by authority, and second, later, to become strong enough to actually take over the institutions.

ZV: One personal question. Do you go to the polls? Do you vote?

HZ: I do. Sometimes, not always. It depends. But I believe that it is preferable sometimes to have one candidate rather another candidate, while you understand that that is not the solution. Sometimes the lesser evil is not so lesser, so you want to ignore that, and you either do not vote or vote for third party as a protest against the party system. Sometimes the difference between two candidates is an important one in the immediate sense, and then I believe trying to get somebody into office, who is a little better, who is less dangerous, is understandable. But never forgetting that no matter who gets into office, the crucial question is not who is in office, but what kind of social movement do you have. Because we have seen historically that if you have a powerful social movement, it doesn’t matter who is in office. Whoever is in office, they could be Republican or Democrat, if you have a powerful social movement, the person in office will have to yield, will have to in some ways respect the power of social movements.

We saw this in the 1960s. Richard Nixon was not the lesser evil, he was the greater evil, but in his administration the war was finally brought to an end, because he had to deal with the power of the anti-war movement as well as the power of the Vietnamese movement. I will vote, but always with a caution that voting is not crucial, and organizing is the important thing.

When some people ask me about voting, they would say will you support this candidate or that candidate? I say: ‘I will support this candidate for one minute that I am in the voting booth. At that moment I will support A versus B, but before I am going to the voting booth, and after I leave the voting booth, I am going to concentrate on organizing people and not organizing electoral campaign.’

An excellent interview that should be read in its entirety, especially for Zinn's insight as to how the direct action principle of anarchism has significantly influenced American social movements, such as the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

In regard to the excerpt posted here, Vodovnik has elicited a candid response from Zinn as to one of the most fundamental dilemmas facing an anarchist: when should one participate in existing social structures and processes, such as elections, and when should one not? Apparently, it is only possible to muddle through as best as one can, based upon one's subjective perception of external perils and opportunities, and hope that one does not unintentionally legitimize, and thereby prolong, a system that one hopes to someday transform.

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Congratulations, Shelly and Ellen 

Every now and then, less and less frequently, unfortunately, there are days when you just can't help being proud of where you live. In California, today is one of those days. Earlier this morning, the California Supreme Court released a 4-3 decision to the effect that same sex marriage must be permitted under the California Constitution. Predictably, gays and lesbians responded with tears of joy.

At last, my gay and lesbian friends will no longer be implicitly ostracized as social inferiors because they cannot receive the respect that we show for straight couples. Even so, I can't resist expressing my contempt for Justices Chin and Corrigan. Both dissented on the ground that such a decision should have been left to the voters of California. Indeed, Justice Chin, we should have left it to the voters of California to decide whether people can exclude Chinese people from owning property. Indeed, Justice Corrigan, we should have left it to the voters of this state as to whether women should have opportunities in the workplace equal to those of men. Cowardice is as easily found in the California judiciary as it is within the state's political system.

Finally, on a more personal note, congratulations to Shelly and Ellen, the affection and integrity of your relationship, something that many of us experienced all along, has finally been legally recognized. I remember interviewing Shelly several years ago on KDVS, and she off-handedly did something that must have been difficult. She described how she came out by merely raising her hand to donate $20 to the effort to defeat the Briggs Initiative, a measure that would have prohibited the employment of gays and lesbians as teachers, after being exhorted to do so by Harvey Milk in 1978. That was it, I was out, she said. After the accumulation of millions of other similarly brave decisions, the world changed.

Labels: , ,


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Horrors of ICE 

I guess that I shouldn't be surprised by anything anymore, but I was taken aback by this article in the Washington Post:

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government's forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the "pre-flight cocktail," as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.

"Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac," says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was "dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose," according to an airline crew member's written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards "taking down" a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."

Such episodes are among more than 250 cases The Washington Post has identified in which the government has, without medical reason, given drugs meant to treat serious psychiatric disorders to people it has shipped out of the United States since 2003 -- the year the Bush administration handed the job of deportation to the Department of Homeland Security's new Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

The drugs are apparently administered by nurses hired as medical escorts:

If the government wants a detainee to be sedated, a deportation officer asks for permission for a medical escort from the aviation medicine branch of the Division of Immigration Health Services (DIHS), the agency responsible for medical care for people in immigration custody. A mental health official in aviation medicine is supposed to assess the detainee's medical records, although some deportees' records contain no evidence of that happening. If the sedatives are approved, a U.S. public health nurse is assigned as the medical escort and given prescriptions for the drugs.

After injecting the sedatives, the nurse travels with the deportee and immigration guards to their destination, usually giving more doses along the way. To recruit medical escorts, the government has sought to glamorize this work. "Do you ever dream of escaping to exotic, exciting locations?" said an item in an agency newsletter. "Want to get away from the office but are strapped for cash? Make your dreams come true by signing up as a Medical Escort for DIHS!"

Perhaps, the drugged detainees should be lucky that they are still alive. An earlier article in this series exposed the frightening lack of medical care provided to detainees:

Some 33,000 people are crammed into these overcrowded compounds on a given day, waiting to be deported or for a judge to let them stay here.

The medical neglect they endure is part of the hidden human cost of increasingly strict policies in the post-Sept. 11 United States and a lack of preparation for the impact of those policies. The detainees have less access to lawyers than convicted murderers in maximum-security prisons and some have fewer comforts than al-Qaeda terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But they are not terrorists. Most are working-class men and women or indigent laborers who made mistakes that seem to pose no threat to national security: a Salvadoran who bought drugs in his 20th year of poverty in Los Angeles; a U.S. legal U.S. resident from Mexico who took $50 for driving two undocumented day laborers into a border city. Or they are waiting for political asylum from danger in their own countries: a Somali without a valid visa trying to prove she would be killed had she remained in her village; a journalist who fled Congo out of fear for his life, worked as a limousine driver and fathered six American children, but never was able to get the asylum he sought.

The most vulnerable detainees, the physically sick and the mentally ill, are sometimes denied the proper treatment to which they are entitled by law and regulation. They are locked in a world of slow care, poor care and no care, with panic and coverups among employees watching it happen, according to a Post investigation.

The investigation found a hidden world of flawed medical judgments, faulty administrative practices, neglectful guards, ill-trained technicians, sloppy record-keeping, lost medical files and dangerous staff shortages. It is also a world increasingly run by high-priced private contractors. There is evidence that infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and chicken pox, are spreading inside the centers.

Federal officials who oversee immigration detention said last week that they are "committed to ensuring the safety and well-being" of everyone in their custody.

Some 83 detainees have died in, or soon after, custody during the past five years. The deaths are the loudest alarms about a system teetering on collapse. Actions taken -- or not taken -- by medical staff members may have contributed to 30 of those deaths, according to confidential internal reviews and the opinions of medical experts who reviewed some death files for The Post.

According to an analysis by The Post, most of the people who died were young. Thirty-two of the detainees were younger than 40, and only six were 70 or older. The deaths took place at dozens of sites across the country. The most at one location was six at the San Pedro compound near Los Angeles.

Immigration officials told congressional staffers in October that the facility at San Pedro was closed to renovate the fire-suppression system and replace the hot-water boiler. But internal documents and interviews reveal unsafe conditions that forced the agency to relocate all 404 detainees that month. An audit found 53 incidents of medication errors. A riot in August pushed federal officials to decrease the dangerously high number of detainees, many of them difficult mental health cases, and caused many health workers to quit. Finally, the facility lost its accreditation.

The full dimensions of the massive crisis in detainee medical care are revealed in thousands of pages of government documents obtained by The Post. They include autopsy and medical records, investigative reports, notes, internal e-mails, and memorandums. These documents, along with interviews with current and former immigration medical officials and staff members, illuminate the underside of the hasty governmental reorganization that took place in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The authors of the series, Amy Goldstein and Dana Priest, imply that these abuses are associated with immigration policies implemented after 9/11. I'm dubious. The predecessor to ICE, the INS, La Migra, was known for its notorious treatment of detainees as well. Consider this New York Times story about beatings at an INS facility in New Orleans in 1999. Or the inhumane conditions of detention described in this 1999 Human Rights First report. Sadly, a lot of Americans, once they have classified someone as illegal, have no concern with how they are treated.

Labels: , , ,


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Jeffrey Sachs, Neoliberal Anarchist 

Check out this excerpt from Binoy Kampmark's article about the global food crisis:

. . . A narrative of catastrophe is gradually building – stockpile or perish. The Wall Street Journal (April 25) was one of the first to issue the clarion call: ‘Start Hoarding Food Americans!’ The paper had various suggestions. Stock up on some products – dried pasta, rice, cereals, canned products. Buy them all in bulk to save. Sit the children down give them a good talking to – no, not about the birds and the bees, but about ‘how our generation and the two behind it, screwed their world into a death spiral through greed and predatory capitalism.’

Solutions suggested by such economists as Jeffrey Sachs, somewhat patchy yet desperately needed, are forthcoming: allow easier access for sub-Saharan African farmers to fertilizers; reduce the amount of crops going into bio-fuel development; shore-up climate change policies. Sachs, in his work Common Wealth, also advocates the abolition of states in the face of a crowded planet. But it was state regimes besotted by neoliberal economics that brought us here. They can take us back and remedy the damage. Abolishing them would simply absolve their regimes.

Say what!? Sachs, in his work Common Wealth, also advocates the abolition of states in the face of a crowded planet?? The same Jeffrey Sachs responsible for shock therapy in the Eastern bloc after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Apparently, he's created a new socioeconomic way of evaluating society: neoliberal anarchism. Anyone know more about it?

Labels: ,


Wow! 

From the USA Today:

Hillary Rodham Clinton vowed Wednesday to continue her quest for the Democratic nomination, arguing she would be the stronger nominee because she appeals to a wider coalition of voters — including whites who have not supported Barack Obama in recent contests.

"I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on," she said in an interview with USA TODAY. As evidence, Clinton cited an Associated Press article "that found how Sen. Obama's support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

Can't get more obvious than that, can you?

Labels: , , , ,


Friday, May 02, 2008

Elect the First Female President . . . . 

. . . by suppressing the black vote. Killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis just didn't get the job done.

Labels: , , , ,


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?