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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

From the Archives: The Girlfriend Experience 

See you in 2010, originally posted on June 2, 2009.

Looking back wistfully, Hal Ashby attempted to capture the zeitgeist of that period when the expanding horizons of the 1960s imperceptibly receded. He did so by profiling the life of a popular, libidinous Southern California hair dresser in the final hours leading to the 1968 election. The movie was, of course, Shampoo, and Warren Beatty portrayed the hair dresser, George Roundy, in one of his best performances. Roundy discovers that the power of money and the need for emotional security trumps the willingness of people to take the risks required to achieve personal fulfillment.

Over three decades later, Stephen Soderbergh has remade Shampoo, but, apparently, in such a way as to render it unrecognizable to most people, even movie critics. In The Girlfriend Experience, a high end call girl, Christine, portrayed by Sasha Grey, a porn star, navigates her way through a world that Roundy could have only vaguely anticipated, a world where the circuits of capitalist exchange have moved beyond the commodification of sex to the commodification of personal relationships themselves. In a disjointed narrative that remains faithful to the broad outline of Shampoo, Christine provides her New York City clients with something more addictive than sex, the illusion of a perfect relationship.

While Christine has sex with her clients, this is not her selling point. Rather, it is her willingness to spend most of her time with them as if she was their girlfriend as she goes to Manhattan clubs, restaurants and movies with them. Indeed, while she doesn't always have sex with them, she always ends up listening to them. She does so with feigned empathy as they engage in meandering dialogues about their families, their jobs, and, most especially, their financial anxieties. Because, just as Shampoo is set in the hours before the 1968 election, The Girlfriend Experience captures the moments in the lives of Christine, her boyfriend and her clients in the days before the 2008 one.

Hence, her clients are terrified and disoriented as they live through the collapse of the financial system. Frustrated with their loss of control over their investments and businesses, they compensate by perpetually offering Christine financial advice. Invariably, they supply her with such insights as to buy gold, because there is no way of knowing when this is going to end. As you have probably already guessed, they never, with one exception, show any interest in her life, and they certainly don't want her to express any opinions beyond banalities such as I definitely think relationships are about communication, don't you?

Through their attainment of great wealth, Christine's clients therefore find themselves incapable of resisting the transformation of human relationships into a form of consumption whereby one can purchase a partner that will go to the movies that you want to see, listen raptuously to everything that you have to say and go to bed with you whenever you ask. In response to an inquisitive reporter's question as to whether she believes that there is anyone who wants her for who she is, she responds: If they wanted you to be yourself, they wouldn't be paying you. Yes, Christine gets it, even if the reporter does not. She gets paid precisely because she is willing to strip away those all too human qualities of annoyance, independence of mind, fatigue and disinterest that always manifest themselves periodically in any real relationship.

Christine provides, in effect, a simulacrum of a relationship, bringing to mind a quote from a great French film of the early 1970s: the simulacrum is superior to the original. Or, more precisely, the simulacrum is always more irresistable than the original, with all its imperfections. As Robert Abele of the Los Angeles Times described the film: . . . an exquisitely filmed piece of urban impressionism that, unfortunately, leaves one feeling that a sleek gadget has been needlessly purchased. Implicitly analogizing Christine to a sleek gadget is an admittedly brilliant insight, but she is most assuredly not needlessly purchased. Soderbergh is telling us a cautionary adult fairy tale about how we have moved beyond the fetishism of objects to the fetishism of people.

Perhaps, the most disturbing aspect of the film is the extent to which Christine and her clients internalize the values of this world without question. The only collective ethos expressed by the characters is one of self-promotion and enrichment. They are incapable of the contemplative reflection of alternatives, even as one of the greatest speculative financial bubbles in history unwinds before them. Instead, they aspire to be among the few that escape the wreckage unscathed. The scriptwriters, Brian Koppelman and David Levien, empower their characters to give expression to it through dialogue that is so banal, so spot on, as to be unintentionally hilarious. In fact, one can argue quite convincingly that The Girlfriend Experience is actually a black comedy.

Soderbergh and the scriptwriters tell this story by means of a narrative that is chronologically fragmented, with a visual emphasis upon cool, modernistic interiors of loft apartments, fashion boutiques, warehouses and restaurants. Colors are consciously drained of their vibrance. Overall, the effect is mildly claustrophobic, an urban environment lacking any spontaneity, one in which its protagonists measure their success by recourse to cynical calculation. Soderbergh has cited Antonioni's The Red Desert as an influence, but the precision of the compositions within an experimental narrative also invoke the work of Oshima Nagisa and Peter Greenaway as well. In this instance, Soderbergh exposes the soullessness of contemporary, neoliberal Manhatten much in the same way that Oshima did in regard to the utilitarian Tokyo of the late 1960s. There is an extreme formalism on display here, one deftly executed on a level commonly associated with the most daring and creative filmmakers.

Most impressively, the tone of the film is consistent throughout. Greenaway has said something to the effect that the challenge for a filmmaker is to take an idea and relentlessly follow it through to its conclusion, and Soderbergh accomplishes this difficult task here. Characters are portrayed in a low key naturalistic way devoid of sentimentality, paradoxically rendering them more accessible to audience identification. Rarely have I seen a film in which I was immediately able to recognize and relate to the characters upon contact as I was with this one. I was engrossed as I was carried forward from scene to scene. Predictably, critics get enmeshed with the fact that the lead, Grey, is also a porn star, and, in most instances, derided her performance. But I thought it was quite fine, because it seamlessly blended into the overall mood. Most professionally trained actresses would have brought an artifice to the role that engendered a more emotional audience response that undermined Soderbergh's intentions.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

From the Archives: Iran and the Left 

See you in 2010, meanwhile, this post, originally posted on June 16, 2009, may have some relevance in regard to the new outbreak of violent protests throughout Iran.

Iran, like Honduras, is no longer newsworthy. The protests have abated as the government has apparently successfully suppressed popular opposition to Ahmadinejad's reelection as President. Dissatisfaction instead makes itself known through factional disputes within the governing elite.

As explained here in late June, many on the left were surprised by the eruption of public protest in the wake of Ahmadinejad's announced landslide victory, resulting in a contentious, and frequently acrimonious, debate. Now is a good time to revisit the subject as the intensity of feeling has subsided.

With the benefit of contemplative reflection, several important themes come into view. First, despite their alignment in the anti-globalization movement, as well as their opposition to the US imperialism in the Middle East, the schism between anarchists and Marxists remains. By and large, anarchists were uniformly in support of the protesters. Conversely, some Marxists supported the protesters and others did not. There were even Marxists who initially condemned the protesters while defending the election returns in Ahmadinejad's favor as legitimate. Old lines of division reemerged: anarchist hostility to the state and religion, and its embrace of spontaneous protest, counterposed by Marxist pragmatism and the attempted application of class and anti-imperialist analysis to perceived facts on the ground.

Second, the left response revealed some enduring sources of confusion. While both anarchists and Marxists generally had the right line (foreign non-intervention, deference to the decisions of the Iranian working class, such as it is), some Marxists, as already noted, attempted to justify it by reference to what they described as the credible results of the Iranian presidential election. Of course, this lead to a vigorous, and, to this day, unresolved argument over the credibility of the vote count. Rarely did anyone mention the incongruity of this perspective, given the historic Marxist contempt for the electoral processes of liberal democracy, as given concrete form by the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917.

Given their rejection of the state generally, anarchists had little interest in the election results as they related to the protests, and, by extension, identified with the protesters because of the threat that they posed to the institutional structures of Islamic social control. As'ad Abukhalil was, quite rightly, hostile to elite efforts to limit the protests to liberal demands for fair elections and legitimate political representation within an Islamic society, even as he implicitly celebrated the attempt to dismantle this system under the banner of such protest. Both anarchists and Marxists feared the potential for neoliberal exploitation of unrest.

The initial willingness of some Marxists to accept the election result is connected to another doctrinal dilemma: what is the composition of the Iranian working class, and how can anyone purport to know what it is, much less purport to ascribe a political posture to it? Naturally, Marxists on both sides of the Iranian divide emphasized the importance of acting in the best interests of the Iranian working class. Marxists that accepted the election result therefore contended that much of the Iranian working class voted for Ahmanijedad, while those who rejected it asserted the opposite. But, after 35 years of the Shah, and another 30 years of Islamic rule, how does one define the Iranian working class, especially given the decimation of the left that occurred after the 1979 revolution?

Of course, this raises a question that has bedeviled the left for decades: what, in the wake of the restructuring of the global economy as a result of neoliberalism, is the proletariat, and what are its defining characteristics? Clearly, the industrial proletariat as envisioned by Marx and Engels exists in places like China, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Taiwan and India, if it can be said to exist anywhere at all anymore. In other words, in the export platforms facilitated by neoliberal policy, as well as the remnants of industrial production within the US and Europe. Certainly, there is such production in Iran and economic sectors associated with it, like transport, but can we say that it exists as an independent subject capable of projecting an ideologically coherent vision of society?

To be fair, Marxists did implicitly recognize the problem, but had little to say about it, other than that the Iranian working class might, at best, exploit developments to gain more freedom to organize and increase its influence. The opportunity to address the more profound dilemma was missed. Anarchists, not being as class conscious, recognized an affinity with socially marginalized groups, such as unemployed and underemployed people, young people and women, valuing their rejection of the governmental instruments of religious oppression, and did not, as Yoshie of the MRZine did, deny their historical agency. Yet, paradoxically, the anarchists (and here, I include myself) and their Marxist allies, like Richard Seymour of Lenin's Tomb, face the prospect that their perspective can be expropriated by neoliberals because of the Marxist failure to give ideological coherence to the class nature of the conflict. After all, secular democracies in Europe and the Americas were part of a process by which capitalism replaced feudalism and the religious controls associated with it.

Finally, the economic development aspect of socialism was completely ignored in relation to the Iranian developments. It is fair to say that the urgency of anti-imperialism has nearly eradicated this essential strand of socialist thought. One gets the sense that people on the left have forgotten that socialism, whether anarchist, Marxist-Leninist, or Social Democratic, was promoted by their advocates as economically more rational, more efficient and more just, than capitalism, with all of its excesses and brutalities. Yet, I do not recall anyone making the effort to develop an analysis that would clarify the nature of the Iranian working class while also explaining how they could empower themselves through the economic development of Iran.

Admittedly, there have been some enlightening efforts to explain how the Islamic Revolution has brought about a more equitable distribution of resources within the country, but socialism is more than Keynesianism, it is an ideology of economic development and worker empowerment, an ideology whereby workers take control of the state and the means of production (communism, Social Democracy) or, alternatively, dismantle the state while transforming the means of production into a collective form of social organization (anarchism), and the larger question as to whether Political Islam, such as the example on display on Tehran, can facilitate such radical social change remains to be engaged.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

From the Archives: Pardon John Brown 

See you in 2010, originally posted on December 3, 2009

Yesterday, David Reynolds, a CUNY Graduate Center professor who wrote a courageous, groundbreaking biography of John Brown published in 2005, emphasized the necessity of rehabilitating him:

It's important for Americans to recognize our national heroes, even those who have been despised by history. Take John Brown.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Brown’s hanging — the grim punishment for his raid weeks earlier on Harpers Ferry, Va. With a small band of abolitionists, Brown had seized the federal arsenal there and freed slaves in the area. His plan was to flee with them to nearby mountains and provoke rebellions in the South. But he stalled too long in the arsenal and was captured. He was brought to trial in a Virginia court, convicted of treason, murder and inciting an insurrection, and hanged on Dec. 2, 1859.

It’s a date we should hold in reverence. Yes, I know the response: Why remember a misguided fanatic and his absurd plan for destroying slavery?

There are compelling reasons. First, the plan was not absurd. Brown reasonably saw the Appalachians, which stretch deep into the South, as an ideal base for a guerrilla war. He had studied the Maroon rebels of the West Indies, black fugitives who had used mountain camps to battle colonial powers on their islands. His plan was to create panic by arousing fears of a slave rebellion, leading Southerners to view slavery as dangerous and impractical.

Second, he was held in high esteem by many great men of his day. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus, declaring that Brown would “make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Henry David Thoreau placed Brown above the freedom fighters of the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass said that while he had lived for black people, John Brown had died for them. A later black reformer, W. E. B. Du Bois, called Brown the white American who had “come nearest to touching the real souls of black folk.”

Du Bois was right. Unlike nearly all other Americans of his era, John Brown did not have a shred of racism. He had long lived among African-Americans, trying to help them make a living, and he wanted blacks to be quickly integrated into American society. When Brown was told he could have a clergyman to accompany him to the gallows, he refused, saying he would be more honored to go with a slave woman and her children.

Reynolds concludes with a request that Brown receive a posthumous presidential pardon, and you can go here to sign a petition encouraging Obama to issue it. Despite the passage of time, the life of John Brown still touches upon the rawest of nerves in the American experience.

While subsequent revisionist historians succeeded in stigmatizing him as part of a broader project to justify the emergence of the New South and the segregation that replaced slavery, many people, such as myself, have always known better, and held him in our hearts. Many of us preserved a different, almost folkloric, rememberance of Brown at odds with mainstream historical accounts. The intensity of the stigmatization merely reflected the desperation of those who recognized that they could never erase his shining example as a man who, despite his flaws, never shrank from confronting the most horrific injustice of his time.

Make no mistake. Brown retains enemies to this day, not because of his recourse to violence, after all, if there is one common thread that runs through much of American history, it is violence, violence to seize lands from Native Americans, violence to bring African Americans here as slaves and maintain control over them, violence to expand the frontier from the Appalachians to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, violence to impose a neoliberal economic order upon peoples and states who resist it.

Indeed, violence is, as H. Rap Brown once said, as American as cherry pie. If Barack Obama proved anything by his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, it is the continuing accuracy of this acid assessment. So, no, John Brown was not maligned because he was violent, because to do so would have required the condemnation of many of the most prominent American social and political figures of the last 233 years. Non violence is for the opponents of American imperial designs, not for those who facilitate them.

Instead, Brown is considered beyond the pale because he resorted to violence to try to free the slaves. It was the purpose, and not the method, that resulted in his condemnation. And, more than that, he did not insist upon a white monopoly upon the use of violence for this purpose, but sought to empower the slaves to free themselves by seizing the arsenal at Harper's Ferry in order to distribute weapons to them. Brown believed that enslaved African Americans had the ability to free themselves and should be assisted in the endeavor.

In this respect, as well as his reliance upon the past examples of black rebels like Toussaint L'ouverture in Haiti, Brown foreshadowed the national liberation movements of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, Toussaint L'ouverture also finds himself exiled to the same circle of historical oblivion as Brown because his life runs counter to the modernization mythology that still infuses much of our perspective about US and European imperialism. Brown was no socialist, but, in a sense, he was actually more radical than many leftists of the time, because he embraced the notion of a multicultural society wherein capital did not exploit racial and class divisions to its advantage, similar to the sort of polyglot social formations described by historians like Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker.

Paradoxically, if one believes that Brown made the Civil War inevitable, he accelerated the transformation of the US from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, one in which his utopian vision of white, black, red, brown and yellow struggling together on the frontier as individualists bound together collectively was overwhelmed by the emergence of a working class in the mill and in the slaughterhouse. The steam engine, the railroad and the manufacturing processes that emerged during the war rendered his vision obsolete. As Brown stood on the scaffold, he was frozen in that moment when the workers of America were about to be proletarianized on a massive scale.

But Brown not only rejected the white monopoly on violence, he challenged the state monopoly on it as well. He did not, like the Project for a New American Century, petition the government to launch a war to achieve his end, the eradication of slavery. He trained and provisioned his own group for this purpose, a 19th Century example of an affinity group, as it were, with a well thought out plan for igniting a slave insurrection. In this, he prefigures propaganda by the deed, much as his earlier life, such as his homesteads, his attempt to break the wool monopoly, his farming in an integrated community in upstate New York and his participation in the underground railroad, prefigured the anarchist emphasis upon the creation of social institutions independent of the government, mutual aid and free agreement. No one had to explain the concept of direct action to John Brown, he was too busy living it.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

See You in 2010 

I am going on vacation and will not return until 2010. So, don't anticipate any new posts until sometime between January 2nd and January 4th. Of course, there's always the slight possibility that something so serious will happen that I just have to comment. Hopefully, 2010 will be a better year than 2009, which was extremely disappointing in many respects. In the meantime, I will post a few items from the 2009 archives.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gaza Freedom March Blocked 

Perhaps, you haven't heard of the impending Gaza Freedom March:

Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a flagrant violation of international law that has led to mass suffering. The U.S., the European Union, and the rest of the international community are complicit.

The law is clear. The conscience of humankind is shocked. Yet, the siege of Gaza continues. It is time for us to take action! On Dec. 31, we will end the year by marching alongside the Palestinian people of Gaza in a non-violent demonstration that breaches the illegal blockade.

Our purpose in this March is lifting the siege on Gaza. We demand that Israel end the blockade. We also call upon Egypt to open Gaza’s Rafah border. Palestinians must have freedom to travel for study, work, and much-needed medical treatment and to receive visitors from abroad.

As an international coalition we are not in a position to advocate a specific political solution to this conflict. Yet our faith in our common humanity leads us to call on all parties to respect and uphold international law and fundamental human rights to bring an end to the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 and pursue a just and lasting peace.

The march can only succeed if it arouses the conscience of humanity.

Unfortunately, Egypt is not willing to allow the marchers to enter Gaza from Egypt, thus confirming the isolation of the people of Gaza:

We are determined to break the siege

We all will continue to do whatever we can to make it happen

Using the pretext of escalating tensions on the Gaza-Egypt border, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry informed us yesterday that the Rafah border will be closed over the coming weeks, into January. We responded that there is always tension at the border because of the siege, that we do not feel threatened, and that if there are any risks, they are risks we are willing to take. We also said that it was too late for over 1,300 delegates coming from over 42 countries to change their plans now. We both agreed to continue our exchanges.

Although we consider this as a setback, it is something we've encountered-and overcome--before. No delegation, large or small, that entered Gaza over the past 12 months has ever received a final OK before arriving at the Rafah border. Most delegations were discouraged from even heading out of Cairo to Rafah. Some had their buses stopped on the way. Some have been told outright that they could not go into Gaza. But after public and political pressure, the Egyptian government changed its position and let them pass.

Our efforts and plans will not be altered at this point. We have set out to break the siege of Gaza and march on December 31 against the Israeli blockade. We are continuing in the same direction.

Egyptian embassies and missions all over the world must hear from our supporters (by phone, fax and email)** over the coming crucial days, with a clear message: Let the international delegation enter Gaza and let the Gaza Freedom March proceed.

Contact your local consulate here:
http://www.mfa.gov.eg/MFA_Portal/en-GB/mfa_websits/

Contact the Palestine Division in Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cairo
Ahmed Azzam, tel +202-25749682 Email: ahmed.azzam [at] mfa.gov.eg

If you are in the U.S., contact the Egyptian Embassy, 202-895-5400 and ask for Omar Youssef or email omaryoussef [at] hotmail.com

There is also this link where you can send an e-mail directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Egypt. For updates related to the March, go here and also here, Jewbonics, a blog maintained by Max Ajl, one of the participants. His most recent post describes the vulnerability of the people of Gaza to viruses like H1N1.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pathetic 

Contributions to the Carter Center have apparently declined significantly. Amazingly, Abe Foxman, delighting in Carter's pitiful act of self-flagellation, is oblivious to the fact that Carter is essentially conflating Jewish identity with Israel. Or, perhaps, that's one of the reasons Foxman likes it so much. Carter remains one of the most embarrassingly overrated figures among liberals and even some leftists.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

It's the Beginning of Our New Age 

Last night, around 9pm, my son was watching a DVD before going to sleep for the night. Nearby, my wife was following the debate on the Senate health care bill over the Internet. Meanwhile, I tried to focus my attention upon reading Beijing Coma.

Even so, I couldn't help but overhear snippets of various speakers like Lamar Alexander, Tom Harkin and John McCain. Of course, they went on and on and on, as if the importance of their declarations rivalled those of Zeus. Brevity is not something for which Senators are known, and, from my limited exposure, they did not disappoint the expectations of the typesetters of the Congressional Record.

The most striking feature of the debate, though, was the mendacity on display by representatives of both parties. Alexander, smooth and polished as always, maligned the bill for provisions that, if included in a bill directed towards the desk of a President Bush, Romney or McCain, he would have enthusiastically supported. McCain, apparently embarrassed by this, focused upon Obama's embrace of secrecy in the negotiations that resulted in the final version, while scrupulously avoiding any substantive engagement. And then there was Harkin, the good liberal, striving mightily to put lipstick on a pig, recharacterizing a mandate to buy insurance on terms set by the insurance industry as the fulfillment of our right to health care, with a reassurance that, if it all doesn't work out, we can fix it.

All three were oblivious to the larger implications of the debate and its outcome. The passage of the health care bill in the Senate is one of the five most important congressional events of the last 20 years, with the others being the narrow passage of the resolution authorizing the Gulf War in 1991, the passage of NAFTA in the face of overwhelming public opposition in 1994, the late 2002 passage of the authorization of force resolution paving the way for the invasion of Iraq in early 2003, and, of course, the October 2008 bailout of the global financial sector. Each of these actions reflected a further dimunintion of the institution's ability to respond to public sentiment during its deliberations, with an accompanying increase in public dissatisfaction. Each also, not coincidentally, also reflected the the marriage between neoliberal economic policy at home with military expansionism abroad.

No doubt, Gaius is correct, the purpose of the Senate, as opposed to the House, is precisely this, to ensure that the majority does not infringe upon the perogatives of elites, but it was never supposed to be this blatant. Accordingly, we are now entering uncharted territory, a period that will be marked by intense populist eruptions against politicians and the government more generally. Liberals, seeing over the horizon, are already in disarray, with Jane Hamsher of firedoglake extending an olive branch to those willing to work with her on specific issues of concern, while Kossacks appear horrified at the prospect of people marching upon the iron triangle in DC with pitchforks. In any event, the notion that Democrats, and by extension, existing establishment relationships, can survive by saying that this health care bill is just the beginning of a larger generational enterprise is ludricrous. Instead, the bill is the last straw for a populace enraged by a government that perpetually socializes the needs of the wealthy while privatizing those of everyone else.

Or, to put it more colorfully, the earthquake at the bottom of the Pacific has already happened, it cannot be reversed, and the only questions remaining are where the tsuanami will strike and the severity of the devastation. Liberals are especially alarmed, because, after having rejected several opportunities in the last 20 years to harnass populism, they are now synonymous with the militaristic plutocracy that runs the country, and, indeed, much of the world, despite, paradoxically, having periodically expressed opposition to some aspects of US foreign policy. Much of the liberal discourse that one encounters at places like DailyKos entails distinguishing liberals as better educated, more rational and less prone to superstitution and bigotries than those who do not agree with them. Needless to say, there is little to support this perspective, but it does have the effect of isolating them for much of the American public.

Most importantly, they have willingly distanced themselves from the everyday economic problems of people, as noted by Sam Smith the other day:

Most of all, however, Obama represented a triumph of a generation of liberals dramatically different from their predecessors, most markedly in their general indifference to issues of economic as well as ethnic equality.

This heavily professional liberal class never once - in the manner of their predecessors of the New Deal and Great Society - took the lead in pressing for economic reforms. It wasn't that they opposed them; they just never seemed to occur to them.

They, after all, had risen in status even as much of the rest of the country was slipping. Over a quarter of a century passed and the best the liberal Democrats could come up with was to slash welfare and raise the age for Social Security.

Obama was the epitome of this new generation: well educated, well connected and well toned in rhetoric. But far distant from the concerns of so many.

Most of us out here in the real world recognize this, even as people in DC do not. Hence, the argument that we will only get worse from the Republicans if we do not turn out for the Democrats in future elections, no matter how odious we find the prospect, has no resonance. People feel defensiveless in the face of a neoliberal onslaught in which members of both political parties participate. There is no political comprehension of the scope of the failure of the Obama economic program, a program in which millions remain unemployed, millions continue to have their homes foreclosed and millions, despite this economic distress, now find themselves handed over to the insurance industry through a requirement that they purchase health insurance.

Through Obama, the Democrats have finally succumbed to the neoliberal state just as it is about to be repudiated. They, not the Republicans, are going to get blamed for the ruthless restructuring of the economy that they are allowing transnational finance to impose upon us. Conversely, the Republicans are going to harvest a bushel of populist votes next fall, as they cynically play the game of serving as a vessel for discontent that will allow them to return to power. It worked for Reagan, it worked for the second Bush, and it will work yet again. But this time, will the public mood tolerate an intensification of the policies that precipitated the current crisis? I doubt it.

And, finally, some liberals get it. Hamsher, through an astute reading of the current climate, is consciously seeking to create a liberal, progressive alternative that is independent of the parties, willing to challenge anyone, Republican or Democrat, who continues to insist upon the current orthodoxy. While she will not say it publicly, she recognizes that Obama has made the old progressive blogosphere slogan, More and Better Democrats, laughable. Naturally, the reaction from many hidebound Kossacks was arrogant and insulting. Hamsher understands that not only liberalism, but the legitimacy of the government itself, are in peril, and that it is essential to slip the establishment noose. Otherwise, the right will run wild.

Will it work? That's hard to say. Liberals and Democrats often resort to fearmongering to impose strict conformity with the neoliberal orientation of the party, and, naturally, they are falling back upon it now. As a leftist, not a liberal and definitely not a Democrat, I read such dystopian alarms with care. People, even those within the tea party scene, cannot be reduced to a simple right, left or center program. Instead, it is critical, as Chomsky recently said, that the left begin to directly engage people who are experiecing severe economic distress so that they can actually improve their lives. An alternative discourse is urgently needed to counter the illusory one provided by the right.

I guess that you could say that I am suggesting a popular front program centered around class conscious economic policies and demilitarization as a means of alleviating the distress of millions of Americans, and, ultimately, billions around the world. No doubt, you consider that strange coming from someone who purports to be anarchist influenced, but the immediate necessity is to address the suffering of people and prevent it from becoming worse, much worse. There is no way to do that in the absence of a political movement that emphasizes such a perspective over party identification, while allowing for the involvement of people all across the spectrum who agree with a radical assertion of personal and economic equality.

Personally, I believe that it would be most effective in the form of a non-electoral, direct action protest movement, but that's why you have a popular front, so that liberals, Marxist-Leninists and anarchists can act in ways that they consider most appropriate. I also believe that such a movement, should it succeed, would eventually result in a dramatic transformation of the US, if not its disintegration, much as what in relation to the USSR, given the intensity of the conflict required to dismante the military-industrial complex and redirect resources towards the populace. It is, as Lou Reed sang many, many years ago, the beginning of our new age.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

The Okey-Doke Presidency (Part 2) 

The embrace of expediency by the Obama administration continues unabated. Just announced:

President Barack Obama declared Friday a "meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough" had been reached among the U.S., China and three other countries on a global effort to curb climate change but said much work was still be needed to reach a legally binding treaty.

"It is going to be very hard, and it's going to take some time," he said near the conclusion of a 193-nation global warming summit. "We have come a long way, but we have much further to go."

The president said there was a "fundamental deadlock in perspectives" between big, industrially developed countries like the United States and poorer, though sometimes large, developing nations. Still he said this week's efforts "will help us begin to meet our responsibilities to leave our children and grandchildren a cleaner planet."

The deal as described by Obama reflects some progress helping poor nations cope with climate change and getting China to disclose its actions to address the warming problem.

But it falls far short of committing any nation to pollution reductions beyond a general acknowledgment that the effort should contain global temperatures along the lines agreed to at a conference of the leading economic nations last July.

Meanwhile, cue the music, the AFL-CIO is against the evolving Senate health care bill . . . well . . . sort of. As is Andy Stern of SEIU. Given that both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win are now singing from the same songbook, all the way down to self-serving press releases about ongoing faux resistance, while the White House, the Congress and industry lobbyists decide the provisions of the health care reform bill in secret, one wonders why the split in the union movement persists. The only plausible explanation is that it would require SEIU to stop raiding the members of AFL-CIO affiliated uinons.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

President Joe Lieberman 

Over 50,000,000 Americans have yet to realize that they really voted for him in November 2008. The bailout, the stimulus, executive salaries, Afghanistan, and now health care, Joseph Lieberman is the man. Curiously, people who post at liberal sites like firedoglake still persist in pejoratively talking about President Olympia Snowe and President Susan Collins as a way complaining about Obama's lack of leadership and his seeming obsession with bipartisanship, but they never say President Joseph Lieberman. They persist in the perpetuating the fiction that Lieberman is some sort of outrider, a self-serving mercenary on the edge of the legislative frontier raiding liberal outposts, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Perhaps, it is too close to the bone, given that Lieberman was Obama's mentor when he entered the Senate in 2006. Meanwhile, as the health care bill is eviscerated in secret, the unions have gone silent, holding their powder again until after all the important decisions have been made. A visit to the AFL-CIO home page reveals that the emphasis upon the public option has been replaced by a new theme, Don't tax our health benefits. An television ad to this effect, absent any reference to the public option, is also posted there. Sadly, the AFL-CIO is conducting itself as predicted after it allowed the Baucus bill to escape the Senate Finance Committee without opposition:

One wonders how their members are going to react when they discover that, starting in 2013, many of them are going to be facing a 40% surcharge on portions of the health plans, plans that actually provide decent coverage, because they are considered, in the words of the President and others, Cadillac plans.

One suspects that, in the end, organized labor will soften the blow of this provision during reconciliation, without fully eliminating it, and call it a victory after the Baucus bill is signed.

After more than a week of secret negotiation in the Senate, most of what the liberals attempted to insert into the Baucus bill has been jettisoned. All that remains is the illusion of a reconciliation process with the House whereby enough crumbs are tossed the way of the AFL-CIO in order for it to claim victory.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Wow! 

It is embarrassing to be recycling material from firedoglake, given the volume of that site and mine, but this Guardian article is just too much of an eye opener:

Drugs money worth billions of dollars kept the financial system afloat at the height of the global crisis, the United Nations' drugs and crime tsar has told the Observer.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result.

This will raise questions about crime's influence on the economic system at times of crisis. It will also prompt further examination of the banking sector as world leaders, including Barack Obama and Gordon Brown, call for new International Monetary Fund regulations. Speaking from his office in Vienna, Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor," he said.

Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.

No wonder reform of the financial system is being watered down before it even reaches the Senate.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Rare Debate on US Policy in the Middle East 

American policymakers and their representatives are scrupulous about not putting themselves in a position of actually having to engage informed critics of US policy in the Middle East, and American media assists them through the exercise of self-censorship in regard to the range of opinions that it requires such policymakers to address. But, here, there is an actual debate between General Richard Myers, a former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and As'ad Abukhalil about Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Myers literally doesn't know what hit him.

Curiously, Abukhalil lets Myers get away with implicitly stereotyping Arab governments as uniquely corrupt in contrast to the developed world when Myers speaks as if only Arabs are adversely influenced by money. Abukhalil could have also acidly inquired, and, yes, General Myers, where perchance does this money come from? Maybe, he thought it was all rather obvious to the audience, which, if I am any indication, it was. But Abukhalil scores a body blow when he accurately characterizes the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as efforts to colonize the two countries, a statement that so shocked Myers, who has been sheltered from such a blunt discourse in the US, that he could only absurdly sputter that the US actions are altruistic. Apparently, he's never heard of Paul Bremer and what Bremer unsuccessfully tried to accomplish in Iraq.

As it became more and more obviously that Abukhalil was mopping the floor with him, Myers could only fall back to that old American populist standby, anti-intellectualism, comically comparing Abukhalil to the purported academics that erroneously advised the Bush administration that Iraqis would welcome the US military presence in their country. Again, Abukhalil let this one pass, again apparently recognizing that he did not have to underscore the ridiculousnes of this comparison for the audience. If I may hazard one constructive criticism of Abukhalil, it would be that he should point his figure at the monitor less frequently as he makes his argument. Oh, did I mention that network that aired the interview? PBS? CNN? MSNBC? No, Aljazeera English.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Okey-Doke Presidency (Part 1) 

Over the course of the last week, the liberal narrative of political change has been exposed as a fiction, a creation as illusory as the Mighty Oz. According to this evolving fairy tale of wish fulfillment, the Democratic victories of 2006 and 2008 were part of a generational transformation of American politics, one potentially as important as FDR's victory in 1932. With a savvy new Democratic President to go along with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the road was now open towards the enactment of creative progressive policies that would overturn much of what had happened since the Reagan admininistration. Liberal and progressive activists who had labored mightily over the last 30 years to create conditions favorable to their social vision were about to reap the rewards of their persistence.

But the events of the first two weeks of December have buried both the prospects and plausibility of such change. If he were alive today, T. S. Eliot would have written that December, not April, is the cruelest month. With his Nobel speech in Oslo today, unabashedly advocating for the continuation of war in the Middle East and Central Asia, Obama put an exclamation mark to a series of events that extinguished any remaining residue hope that Democratic governance would alter the country's economic and military policies. If anything, they have demonstrated that transnational financial instituations and the military industrial complex have intensified their control over them.

On December 1st, Obama gave a speech in which he explained why he was sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. It was remarkable for the sort of fear mongering and dishonesty indelibly associated with Bush and Cheney. He tied the Taliban and the people of Afghanistan to 9/11, without expressly saying it, just as Cheney implied that Saddam Hussein was connected to al-Qaeda, preserving the ability to deny it if challenged. One can only assume that he deliberately refused to acknowledge the actual connection of two American allies, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Just as Cheney evoked the mushroom cloud, the fear that Saddam might obtain nuclear weapons, to justify the invasion of Iraq, Obama revived it in regard to the proximity of Afghanistan to the Pakastani nuclear arsenal. And, finally, just as Bush floated imaginary withdrawal dates to allay public anxiety, Obama did likewise by putting out a withdrawal date of July 2011, a date that was promptly repudiated by his own defense secretary.

It is entirely possible that Obama's Afghanistan speech will be remembered as a seminal episode, a slow motion lighting strike in which the inevitable failure of his administration flashed through the public mind, a squandering of all the goodwill that he had accumulated over the course of his life in politics. During mass campaign rallies on the eve of Super Tuesday in 2008, Obama exhorted his supporters not to fall for the okey-doke, slang for the ways in which politicians consciously manipulate people to vote for them by asserting a similarity of perspective that doesn't really exist. Now, we have an administration and a Congress that can only communicate by recourse to the okey-doke, and people are wise to it.

Obama's Afghanistan speech was, however, only the beginning. On Monday night, December 7th, it was announced that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had reached a deal that would get the stalled health care reform bill out of the Senate. Predictably, the abandonment of the public option, so prized by progressives as a means of getting costs under control, is an essential feature of the deal, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is OK with it. Shockingly, it is now Thursday afternoon in California, and the Senate has yet to release the terms of the deal, or the language of the bill that incorporates it. The President knows, the Senators know, their staffers know and, most likely, lobbyists associated with health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies know . . . but the public does not. Just as a California state budget that cut services to millions of California residents was determined in secret Gang of Five meetings, and then rammed through both houses for the Governor's signature, the provisions of the health care reform bill are being decided by 10 Senators, after months and months of committee hearings and votes that have been reduced to a meaningless form of political theatre. Of course, the President has remained as invisible as possible during this process.

Now, it is being rumored that, upon the passage of the bill by the Senate, the bill will be force fed to the House whole, subject to a straight up or down vote, without reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill in conference. Hence, the inconvenience of having to deal with a House bill that includes a timid public option is eliminated, at the price of reducing the deliberations of the entire House to nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Senate and the President. No need to worry, though, the members have been able to accumulate a lot of irrelevant votes that will serve the purpose of getting them re-elected in November 2010, or so they think. They seem to be blissfully unaware of the electoral tsunami that looms just over the horizon. Meanwhile, there are early warning signs that the impetus for financial reform is going down the same road as health care reform, yet another progressive issue of concern about to exploited for the benefit of finance capitalists and their electoral retainers.

And, then, over in a small, dark corner, there is the Obama administration response to what has happened in Honduras. After months and months of passivity in the face of a June coup that deposed the elected President of the country, after perpetual efforts to obtain a face saving resolution that would allow the rightist coup participants to prevail while permiting the leftist President to serve out the few remaining days his term as a figurehead, the administration threw in the towel on December 4th and urged the other countries of the hemisphere to accept the outcome of an election carried out by a coup regime that has frequently imposed curfews and martial law. The administration did so despite accounts of systematic fraud that concealed a low turnout of less than 50% generated by the opposition's refusal to participate. In Oslo, in Washington, D. C. in Tegucigalpa, the month of December has revealed a remarkable consistency in the policies of this presidency and its party in Congress.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Just Imagine 

Can you imagine the furor that would have erupted if Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post had submitted this for publication?

The referendum on the construction of synagogues with the star of David is no different. No one quite says what the real issue is, but everybody knows: As grotesquely unfair as a referendum to ban the star of David may have been to hundreds of thousands of ordinary, well-integrated Jews, I have no doubt that the Swiss voted in favor primarily because they don't have much Zionist extremism -- and they don't want any.

Of course, we all know that she probably would have been fired, despite having served on the Post's editorial board from 2002 to 2006. But, she didn't have any problem getting this past the editorial page editors and into the paper:

The referendum on the construction of minarets is no different. No one quite says what the real issue is, but everybody knows: As grotesquely unfair as a referendum to ban minarets may have been to hundreds of thousands of ordinary, well-integrated Muslims, I have no doubt that the Swiss voted in favor primarily because they don't have much Islamic extremism -- and they don't want any.

Sometimes, antisemites reveal themselves not by their true opinion of Jews, which they conceal, but, rather, by their opinion of Arabs and other non-Jewish semitic peoples. Contrary to the efforts of orientalists like Bernard Lewis to persuade us otherwise, anti-semitism can, and has been, directed against non-Jewish people. Indeed, we can fairly say that it is thriving these days, as Applebaum's views are frequently expressed, in more virulent form, by American religious fundamentalists and Zionists when they describe the purported attributes of Islam, or, more specifically, the Palestinians.

Along these lines, it is important to note that representatives of the right in Europe cynically embraced philo-semitism after World War II, as a way of both cynically distancing themselves from fascism, especially Nazism, and resisting the left. Hence, a German rightist historian, known for his revisionist biography of Hitler, attacked Fassbinder for being an anti-semite because of his controversial 1975 play, Garbage, the City and Death, a play in which a Jewish character assumed the norms of his oppressors, and, thus, was unable to provide an alternative to the anguished protagonist. The embrace of Israel by the racist British National Party in Britain is the most extreme manifestation of this phenomenon.

A similar sort of philo-semitism is currently on display now. Religious fundamentalists strongly identify with Israel even as they hope that a conflict between Israel and its neighbors will bring about the second coming of Christ. Meanwhile, US military intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia is partially justified by the need to defend Israel, despite the fact that Israel clearly has the military means to protect itself. The conflation of Judaism and Israel is a common thread that seems to run through most current opportunistic expressions of philo-semitism, as it would otherwise be impossible for the people engaged in the practice to achieve their ends.

Hat tip to the Angry Arab News Service.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

SEIU: No Dissent in the Labor Movement Allowed (Part 4) 

If forced to choose between hospital employees being represented by a union other than SEIU, and siding with management, SEIU would choose . . . well, you already know the answer, don't you?

SEIU, whose mission includes the unionization of hospital workers, is now waging a full-scale campaign to prevent over 600 workers at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital from joining NUHW, a rival union. SEIU’s effort follows its abandonment of its own union organizing drive at the facility, and its success at convincing workers to vote for “no union” in the December 17 election would ensure these workers remain non- union for years. In response to SEIU’s actions, longtime SEIU supporter Monsignor John Brenkle recently condemned what he described as SEIU’s “anti-union campaign,” and revealed that SEIU had rejected efforts by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and himself to negotiate ground rules that would avoid negative campaigning and ensure a fair election.

Brenkle blamed SEIU’s refusal to negotiate ground rules for giving employer St. Joseph’s Health System (SJHS) “the freedom to continue anti-union practices. ” He also accused SJHS of violating the principles for Catholic health care organizing adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last June – an agreement SEIU helped negotiate but now claims does not apply to NUHW’s Santa Rosa organizing drive.

When SEIU devoted millions of dollars and hundreds of staff to battling NUHW over Fresno home health care workers last spring, the struggle was fierce. But the stakes at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital are much higher. An SEIU “victory” would defeat unionization for over 600 workers in Santa Rosa, and prevent NUHW from using its success as a springboard for organizing SJHS’s over 9000 non-union workers at its hospitals across California.

Few could have imagined one year ago that SEIU’s number one hospital organizing drive in 2009 would focus on preventing workers from joining a union.

Last week, lenin wrote a downbeat, realistic appraisal of the current state of the US labor movement. People engaged it sincerely, refusing to idealize a difficult situation. In light of this most recent episode, I hope to return soon to the subject of the left and the extent to which it achieve a meaningful social transformation through an emphasis upon trade unionism.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Pardon John Brown 

Yesterday, David Reynolds, a CUNY Graduate Center professor who wrote a courageous, groundbreaking biography of John Brown published in 2005, emphasized the necessity of rehabilitating him:

It's important for Americans to recognize our national heroes, even those who have been despised by history. Take John Brown.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Brown’s hanging — the grim punishment for his raid weeks earlier on Harpers Ferry, Va. With a small band of abolitionists, Brown had seized the federal arsenal there and freed slaves in the area. His plan was to flee with them to nearby mountains and provoke rebellions in the South. But he stalled too long in the arsenal and was captured. He was brought to trial in a Virginia court, convicted of treason, murder and inciting an insurrection, and hanged on Dec. 2, 1859.

It’s a date we should hold in reverence. Yes, I know the response: Why remember a misguided fanatic and his absurd plan for destroying slavery?

There are compelling reasons. First, the plan was not absurd. Brown reasonably saw the Appalachians, which stretch deep into the South, as an ideal base for a guerrilla war. He had studied the Maroon rebels of the West Indies, black fugitives who had used mountain camps to battle colonial powers on their islands. His plan was to create panic by arousing fears of a slave rebellion, leading Southerners to view slavery as dangerous and impractical.

Second, he was held in high esteem by many great men of his day. Ralph Waldo Emerson compared him to Jesus, declaring that Brown would “make the gallows as glorious as the cross.” Henry David Thoreau placed Brown above the freedom fighters of the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass said that while he had lived for black people, John Brown had died for them. A later black reformer, W. E. B. Du Bois, called Brown the white American who had “come nearest to touching the real souls of black folk.”

Du Bois was right. Unlike nearly all other Americans of his era, John Brown did not have a shred of racism. He had long lived among African-Americans, trying to help them make a living, and he wanted blacks to be quickly integrated into American society. When Brown was told he could have a clergyman to accompany him to the gallows, he refused, saying he would be more honored to go with a slave woman and her children.

Reynolds concludes with a request that Brown receive a posthumous presidential pardon, and you can go here to sign a petition encouraging Obama to issue it. Despite the passage of time, the life of John Brown still touches upon the rawest of nerves in the American experience.

While subsequent revisionist historians succeeded in stigmatizing him as part of a broader project to justify the emergence of the New South and the segregation that replaced slavery, many people, such as myself, have always known better, and held him in our hearts. Many of us preserved a different, almost folkloric, rememberance of Brown at odds with mainstream historical accounts. The intensity of the stigmatization merely reflected the desperation of those who recognized that they could never erase his shining example as a man who, despite his flaws, never shrank from confronting the most horrific injustice of his time.

Make no mistake. Brown retains enemies to this day, not because of his recourse to violence, after all, if there is one common thread that runs through much of American history, it is violence, violence to seize lands from Native Americans, violence to bring African Americans here as slaves and maintain control over them, violence to expand the frontier from the Appalachians to the Pacific Ocean and beyond, violence to impose a neoliberal economic order upon peoples and states who resist it.

Indeed, violence is, as H. Rap Brown once said, as American as cherry pie. If Barack Obama proved anything by his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, it is the continuing accuracy of this acid assessment. So, no, John Brown was not maligned because he was violent, because to do so would have required the condemnation of many of the most prominent American social and political figures of the last 233 years. Non violence is for the opponents of American imperial designs, not for those who facilitate them.

Instead, Brown is considered beyond the pale because he resorted to violence to try to free the slaves. It was the purpose, and not the method, that resulted in his condemnation. And, more than that, he did not insist upon a white monopoly upon the use of violence for this purpose, but sought to empower the slaves to free themselves by seizing the arsenal at Harper's Ferry in order to distribute weapons to them. Brown believed that enslaved African Americans had the ability to free themselves and should be assisted in the endeavor.

In this respect, as well as his reliance upon the past examples of black rebels like Toussaint L'ouverture in Haiti, Brown foreshadowed the national liberation movements of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, Toussaint L'ouverture also finds himself exiled to the same circle of historical oblivion as Brown because his life runs counter to the modernization mythology that still infuses much of our perspective about US and European imperialism. Brown was no socialist, but, in a sense, he was actually more radical than many leftists of the time, because he embraced the notion of a multicultural society wherein capital did not exploit racial and class divisions to its advantage, similar to the sort of polyglot social formations described by historians like Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker.

Paradoxically, if one believes that Brown made the Civil War inevitable, he accelerated the transformation of the US from an agrarian economy to an industrial one, one in which his utopian vision of white, black, red, brown and yellow struggling together on the frontier as individualists bound together collectively was overwhelmed by the emergence of a working class in the mill and in the slaughterhouse. The steam engine, the railroad and the manufacturing processes that emerged during the war rendered his vision obsolete. As Brown stood on the scaffold, he was frozen in that moment when the workers of America were about to be proletarianized on a massive scale.

But Brown not only rejected the white monopoly on violence, he challenged the state monopoly on it as well. He did not, like the Project for a New American Century, petition the government to launch a war to achieve his end, the eradication of slavery. He trained and provisioned his own group for this purpose, a 19th Century example of an affinity group, as it were, with a well thought out plan for igniting a slave insurrection. In this, he prefigures propaganda by the deed, much as his earlier life, such as his homesteads, his attempt to break the wool monopoly, his farming in an integrated community in upstate New York and his participation in the underground railroad, prefigured the anarchist emphasis upon the creation of social institutions independent of the government, mutual aid and free agreement. No one had to explain the concept of direct action to John Brown, he was too busy living it.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A Troop Surge Can Only Magnify the Crime Against Afghanistan 

Malalai Joya, in the Guardian:

After months of waiting, President Obama is about to announce the new US strategy for Afghanistan. His speech may be long awaited, but few are expecting any surprise: it seems clear he will herald a major escalation of the war. In doing so he will be making something worse than a mistake. It is a continuation of a war crime against the suffering people of my country.

I have said before that by installing warlords and drug traffickers in power in Kabul, the US and Nato have pushed us from the frying pan to the fire. Now Obama is pouring fuel on these flames, and this week's announcement of upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will have tragic consequences.

Already this year we have seen the impact of an increase in troops occupying Afghanistan: more violence, and more civilian deaths. My people, the poor of Afghanistan who have known only war and the domination of fundamentalism, are today squashed between two enemies: the US/Nato occupation forces on one hand and warlords and the Taliban on the other.

While we want the withdrawal of one enemy, we don't believe it is a matter of choosing between two evils. There is an alternative: the democratic-minded parties and intellectuals are our hope for the future of Afghanistan.

It will not be easy, but if we have a little bit of peace we will be better able to fight our own internal enemies – Afghans know what to do with our destiny. We are not a backward people, and we are capable of fighting for democracy, human and women's rights in Afghanistan. In fact the only way these values will be achieved is if we struggle for them and win them ourselves.

Joya insists that governments in the US and Europe address the people of Afghanistan as people with an independent historical agency, as something other than a primitive people requiring an enlightenment project imposed through violence. To do so would require rejecting the surge, and seeking alternative solutions, such as the ones proposed by Tariq Ali the other day:

Mara: Is there anything positive the US can do about Afghanistan and Pakistan, except the fact that they need to pull out? Can they do anything else?

Tariq: Well, they need to pull out, and they need to pull out sensibly, not like they did the last time, after defeating the Russians. And, as I've argued consistently now, for the last so many years, there needs to be an exit strategy that needs to involve the local regional powers. I think it would be wrong if the United States essentially handed Afghanistan over to the Pakistani military, like they did the last time, when they said "It's your problem. Deal with it." I think the Iranians, the Russians and the Chinese have to be involved. And if the Americans don't involve them, Pakistan should, because it certainly is not capable of handling the situation on its own, economically or politically or militarily. So it needs to do that. And were that to happen, it would be something positive. As to what the United States can do, I mean its record in Pakistan has, so far, been abysmal. So, I think a period of withdrawal from Pakistani politics, once a strategic withdrawal has taken place, if it takes place, would be positive.

Judy: May I follow up on that question? Do you think the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has invited Pakistan and Afghanistan in as Observers, could be engaged to involve local powers in the Afghan recovery? Iran is involved and China and Russia are central players.

Tariq: It is a possibility, because the Chinese involvement is very crucial for economic reasons. We need to construct a social infrastructure in Afghanistan, and only the Chinese could fund it. But in return for that, the Chinese would demand total peace and an end to war. And that you can't have unless the Pakistani and the Iranians and Russians guarantee it. So I think the Shanghai group could play an important role if the United States lets them.

Unfortunately, such a rational inquisitiveness about the prospects for a peaceful resolution based upon the cooperation of the dominant nation states of the region is far beyond the capabilities of US policymakers. Despite symbolic gestures to the contrary, unilateralism remains the order of the day. Maybe, Obama can expound upon the necessity for this approach in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

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