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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Death of Seth Walsh (Part 2) 

This is just one of the many candid, biographical videos of gays and lesbians describing how they overcame bullying and familial and community ostracism to live fulfilling lives as adults.

They are part of the It Gets Better project launched by columnist Dan Savage. He was inspired to do after the suicide of Billy Lucas in Greensberg, Indiana earlier this month:

Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother’s property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates—classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.

“My heart breaks for the pain and torment you went through, Billy Lucas,” a reader wrote after I posted about Billy Lucas to my blog. “I wish I could have told you that things get better.”

I had the same reaction: I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.

Indeed, Billy was treated horribly by his classmates:

He was a teenager who didn't quite fit in. His classmates said Billy Lucas was bullied for being different.

The 15-year-old never told anyone he was gay but students at Greensburg High School thought he was and so they picked on him.

People would call him 'fag' and stuff like that, just make fun of him because he's different basically," said student Dillen Swango.

Students told Fox59 News it was common knowledge that children bullied Billy and from what they said, it was getting worse. Last Thursday, Billy's mother found him dead inside their barn. He had hung himself.

Students said on that same day, some students told Billy to kill himself.

They said stuff like 'you're like a piece of crap' and 'you don't deserve to live.' Different things like that. Talked about how he was gay or whatever," said Swango.

Not surprisingly, it's not a new phenomenon at Greensberg High School:

It's a common problem inside Greensburg High School that goes way back.

I was bullied several times because I was gay. I was called f**, queer. i was thrown up against lockers. I would tell the school officials about it and they would dismiss it," said a former student who did not want to be identified.

Furthermore, it is important to note that, according to his mother, Lucas wasn't gay, although her statements are tinged with language of fundamentalist denial. So, it's not just gay teens at risk, but anyone that bullies like the ones in Greensberg and Techachapi believe are gay. They abuse their gay peers and seek to enforce their code of conduct by calling non-conformist students gay and bullying them as well. Next thing you know, they will be bullying straight kids who support the gay ones.

And, then, there's the suicide of Asher Brown in Houston, Texas:

Brown was found dead on the floor of his stepfather's closet at the family's home in the 11700 block of Cypresswood about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. He used his stepfather's 9 mm Beretta, stored on one of the closet's shelves, to kill himself. He left no note. David Truong found the teen's body when he arrived home from work.

On the morning of his death, the teen told his stepfather he was gay, but Truong said he was fine with the disclosure. We didn't condemn, he said.

His parents said Brown had been called names and endured harassment from other students since he joined Cy-Fair ISD two years ago. As a result, he stuck with a small group of friends who suffered similar harassment from other students, his parents said.

His most recent humiliation occurred the day before his suicide, when another student tripped Brown as he walked down a flight of stairs at the school, his parents said.

When Brown hit the stairway landing and went to retrieve his book bag, the other student kicked his books everywhere and kicked Brown down the remaining flight of stairs, the Truongs said.

Durham said that incident was investigated, but turned up no witnesses or video footage to corroborate the couple's claims.

Savage and the participants in the It Gets Better effort couldn't reach kids like Walsh and Brown and even Lucas, because these videos aren't just for gays and lesbians, they are for everyone. But, hopefully, they will reach them in the future, and perhaps make a critical difference in someone's life.

NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: For those of you have thoughtfully challenged my willingness to compare these deaths to the lynchings of African Americans, please consider that the bullies of gay and suspected gay teens have actually induced the victims to inflict the same violence upon themselves that lynch mobs directed towards African Americans. Walsh and Lucas hung themselves, and Brown shot himself. In this, they can be said to have improved upon the technique.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Death of Seth Walsh (Part 1) 

Fifty or sixty years from now, will the public consider these suicides as comparable to the lynchings of African Americans?

No charges will be pressed against the children who bullied Seth Walsh, a 13-year-old Californian who died this week after injuries sustained in a suicide attempt, which was reportedly the result of cruel treatment over his perceived sexual orientation.

Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears, Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi, Calif., police chief, told NBC affiliate KGET. They had never expected an outcome such as this.

Dan Savage asserts that the abuse of Walsh was severe:

Seth Walsh is the 13-year-old boy who attempted suicide last week after enduring years of bullying at the hands of his classmates and peers in Tehachapi, California. Seth was being home schooled because the abuse at his middle school was so severe. But the bullies didn't relent: they harassed Seth at his home, on the street, in parks.

Given that the family is emotionally traumatized, and has understandably asked for privacy, and that the community seems more interested in diminishing the situation, as shown by the remarks of the Tehachapi police chief, we may never know the extent of the bullying experienced by Walsh. But the fact that he was being home schooled, as also reported by KGET 17 in Bakersfield, suggests that it was pretty bad.

In that report, Susan Ortega, the principal of his public school, Jacobsen Middle School, didn't inspire confidence about her commitment to protect gay and lesbian students when she said that Walsh had made possible expressions of orientations for being . . uh . . uh . . homosexual. Trying to find a substitute for the heinous word gay, she could barely get out the word homosexual without choking on it. It certainly tended to discredit her claim that Walsh and his family had never submitted any complaints.

The tragic death of Walsh brings to mind something that Louis Proyect posted about gay marriage a few months ago:

Logo, a polling company subsidiary of MTV, asked young gays about their hopes. It found the following:

For one thing, younger gays now expect to stay put: no more running away to be gay. Rather than heading to big cities where gays are more readily accepted, young gays are planning to put down roots and raise families in small-town America.

That means younger gays fully anticipate, and demand, acceptance from their local communities. At the same time, younger gays don’t see a great need to depart from most cultural norms as expressed by their heterosexual peers; while wishing to be open and honest about their core identities, young gays also wish for the support and purpose of family.

The expectation of a spouse and children is common among younger gays, whereas the research indicated that only about a third of gays 35 and older shared that same desire. Overall, gays polled by the study said their top priority was marriage equality, followed by the environment, health care, and the economy.

Interesting. Young gays have decided to stay . . and fight. Sadly, Seth Walsh took the other option recognized by Harvey Milk. We've known about this for decades, and young gay males are still killing themselves.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Committee to Stop FBI Repression 

Across the country organizations and individuals are standing together to protest the United States government’s attempt to silence and criminalize anti-war and international solidarity activists. We see the raids and subpoenas as an attack on anti-war and other progressive movements. It is an attack on our freedom to speak, our freedom to assemble with like-minded people, and our freedom to tell the government that their actions and policies are wrong. It is an attempt to clear the way for more wars and occupations of other countries by the U.S. military.

We are coming together in response to the FBI raids on seven homes and an anti-war office on Friday, September 24, 2010. The FBI also handed subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury to eleven activists in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. These activists are involved in many groups, including the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. These activists and many others came together to organize the 2008 anti-war marches during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

We Demand:

--Stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists.

--Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc

--End the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.

To Take Action:

(1) Call the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at 202-353-1555 or write an email to:

(2) Protest at your local Federal Building or FBI office this week. There are 20+ protests organized so far. Send us your info at info@colombiasolidarity.org

(3) Circulate statements of solidarity to your friends, neighbors and communities and ask them to sign on and do the same.

(4) Participate in the Committee to Stop FBI Repression. The first meeting will take place via conference call on Tuesday, September 28 at 8pm CST. Please register here: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/526389526

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Monday, September 27, 2010

. . . any documents containing the word Palestine 

(snip)

The FBI on Friday searched eight addresses in Minneapolis and Chicago, including the home of Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, attorney Jim Fennerty told The Associated Press.

The government's trying to quiet activists, Fennerty said. This case is really scary.

More than half a dozen agents went to Abudayyeh's home on Friday and took any documents containing the word Palestine, Fennerty said.

Abudayyeh, a U.S. citizen whose parent immigrated from Palestine, wasn't home at the time of the raid because he was at a hospital with his mother who is battling liver cancer, Fennerty said.

A message left for an FBI spokesman in Chicago wasn't immediately returned Sunday. The FBI has declined to give details on the searches, saying the agency was investigating criminal activity not protected by the First Amendment.

It will be interesting to see if the FBI ends up targeting activists involved in the effort to break the blockade of Gaza, as well as the Stop the Wall movement. For some reason, I think there's a good chance that this is really about suppressing American support for them, as limited as it is.

For those who can't resist speculating as to the link between the Arab American Action Network, Abudayyeh's employer, and the investigation, you can scrutinize the following for clues:

The Arab American Action Network is a Chicago community center founded in 1995, the brainchild of Columbia University historian and Professor of Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs Assistant Dean Mona Khalidi. It is a community-based organization that strives to strengthen the Arab immigrant and Arab American community, primarily in the Chicago area. Through use of such tactics as community organizing, advocacy, education and social services, and leadership development, it seeks to empower the Arab population in Chicago's low-income South Side. The organization acts as an advocate for Palestinian issues and for women's issues.

Not surprisingly, David Horowitz is harshly critical of it, although he describes it in language that makes the organization sound quite appealing for people with my social perspective.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Party for Marty 

Sadly, the Angry Arab, As'ad Abukhalil is correct, the crowd of protesters would have been larger if Peretz weren't primarily known for his bigotry towards Muslims. But, a more serious question is how such a loathsome person rises to such a position of prominence in this society.

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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 12) 

(snip)

Many activists involved in Central America issues became aware of ham-handed snooping by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in the early 1980's. In 1986 the Center for Investigative Reporting in California used the federal Freedom of Information Act to obtain FBI files which suggested a large-scale probe into CISPES. In 1987 testimony by a former FBI informant Frank Varelli also suggested a broad attack on CISPES by the FBI. Varelli later told reporters of the involvement of other governmental and private right-wing groups in targetting CISPES.

Some 1300 pages of additional FBI files released in 1988 by New York's Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), on behalf of CISPES, reveal in sharp detail the extent and nature of the FBI probe into CISPES. More importantly, the files show that the FBI, to justify its actions, accepted as fact a right-wing conspiratorial world-view which sees dissent as treason and resistance to oppression as terrorism.

The first FBI investigation of CISPES was launched in September of 1981 to determine if CISPES should be forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Among the documents used by the FBI to justify this CISPES probe, according to Congressional testimony by FBI official Oliver "Buck" Revell, was a 1981 article by a former FBI informant and ongoing right-wing private spy-John Rees. The Rees article appeared in Review of the News a magazine published by the paranoid ultra-right John Birch Society. This FBI investigation was terminated without indictments in December of 1981.

A second FBI investigation of CISPES began in March of 1983. It was premised on the right-wing conspiracy theory that CISPES was a cover for "terrorist" activity. To justify this view, the FBI relied not only on reports from its informant Varelli, but also in part on a conspiratorial analysis contained in a report written by Michael Boos, a staffer at the right-wing Young Americas Foundation. This FBI "counter-terrorism" investigation was terminated without indictments in 1985.

(snip)

FBI agents raided the homes of six activists in Minneapolis and two in Chicago on September 24, seizing computers, cell phones, CDs, files and papers. They left behind subpoenas ordering at least some of the targeted individuals to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. The FBI agents were seeking evidence of ties to "FTOs," or foreign terrorist organizations, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Steven Warfield, the FBI media coordinator, said that six warrants were issued in Minneapolis and two in Chicago as part of a terrorist investigation. The FBI agents were searching for evidence of "material support to terrorists." When asked about any subpoenas that were issued today, Warfield said "I can't tell you about any grand jury activities."

University of Minnesota Law Professor Peter Erlinder, who was arrested this summer near the Rwandan capital for representing Victoire Ingabire, attended a press conference at one of the homes that was raided on Park and 29th Street. He said that the raids today were not simply a small issue that happened on the South Side of Minneapolis. They were the result, he said, of a recent Supreme Court ruling, Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, which upheld a statute that made it illegal to support any organization that the Secretary of State deems terrorist because it is opposed to U.S. policies. The Supreme Court ruling makes providing "material support" to terrorist organizations a felony even if that support was peaceful. Thus, a lawyer providing legal services or a doctor providing medical services to a terrorist organization would technically be committing a felony, Erlinder said. "The individual doesn't have to intend to be furthering the illegal activities," Erlinder said.

NOTE: In Holder, the US Supreme Court adopted the legal reasoning of then Solicitor General Elena Kagan, an aspiring A. Mitchell Palmer of our times.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

The Killing Fields of Pakistan 

From Democracy Now earlier this week:

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s start with Pakistan and this catastrophe there and who is helping to help the people.

TARIQ ALI: It is the worst disaster we have seen for a very long time—24 million people homeless; massive malnutrition, which already existed, now worse; malaria and cholera raging in the camps, if one can call them that, where people are taking refuge. This should be a global appeal to the entire world to send doctors, to send medicines, to send food, to—for the United Nations really to move in and take over the rescue effort. That is what needs to be done. Any government—I admit the Pakistani government under Zardari is totally corrupt, and that is putting people off giving money, but there are lots of other organizations at work there which can be given money, and teams of doctors can be sent with medicines. I mean, the Cubans went during the last earthquake, and it was very effective.

But, I mean, just remember what happened in this country when the levees burst in New Orleans. People were stunned and shocked by the images that were coming out from New Orleans. Well, this is a hundred times worse. And so, this country really needs—its people need all the help they can get. Their tragedy is that they are ruled by a venal and corrupt elite. That’s not the fault of the people. And the overwhelming majority of the country is not involved in religious extremism. The images of Pakistan which we’ve seen on the screens just talks about sort of beards and people, you know, picking up guns. The overwhelming majority of the country is not like that, and it really needs help.

AMY GOODMAN: Just looking at the latest figures that the United States is spending, not on helping Pakistan, but on war, President Obama signed into legislation—this was one month ago—a war funding bill that provided 37 billion more dollars for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama signed the bill without public remarks in a low-key Oval Office session. With the new war spending, the total amount of money Congress has allotted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has now surpassed $1 trillion.

TARIQ ALI: This is obscene. I mean, on any level, judged by any criteria—moral, political, economic—it is obscene what is taking place and the amount of money being spent on the wars. And, I mean, I’ll give you a concrete example. A few weeks ago, the city of Jacobabad in the province of Sindh in Pakistan was threatened by the River Indus. A hundred thousand people were risking their lives. Their homes had already gone. The government’s health department appealed to the Pakistani air force that they needed helicopters to transport people to take medicines. They were told that they couldn’t use the nearest air force base, the Shahbaz Air Force Base near Jacobabad, because it was occupied by the United States, and the United States were using it to send drones to kill villagers in other parts of the country and would not make that air base available for rescue operations. So the priorities are all upside down. And, you know, this is a president who put out, initially, a sort of humane face to the world: We’re going to be different. It’s virtually—it’s the same business which goes on.

AMY GOODMAN: We have heard that story over and over, the secret base, that not only was it not used to be a place for aid, but that water was diverted so that it flooded areas of hundreds of thousands of people around it so it wouldn’t flood the base. But this issue going on, Obama administration has been criticized for sending only six helicopters, despite a Pakistani request for dozens more. The US has denied the request because helicopters play such a key role in the war in Afghanistan. A senior military official was asked about this by the Washington Post, and he said the decision would have had to come from Washington, adding, Do [the helicopters] exist in the region? Yes. Are they available? No.

But this goes to a very important issue of national security and the justification for the wars in Iraq and the drone attacks in Pakistan. It’s about national security in the United States. It’s about going after people who threatened the United States. So this issue of killing in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the amount of money that’s used for it versus paying for aid that could well sway so many millions of people to feel much more positively about the United States.

TARIQ ALI: Well, exactly. You know, I mean, on that level, they should have poured in aid to try and help peoples, encourage the rest of the world to send doctors. All this should have been done. They don’t think like that, Amy. This war has now become obsessive for the American military political rulers. And Obama, as we know, has in fact ordered more drone attacks on Pakistan in his two years in office than Bush did for his previous eight years. And these drone attacks are largely killing civilians. When you read terrorists destroyed, militants killed, don’t believe it. Very unlikely that more than ten percent of those people targeted have anything to do with helping the Taliban or whatever they’re accused of. It’s largely innocent people being killed. And, you know, a year ago or so when that poor Iranian woman died, Neda, in Tehran and the entire world wept for her and a moist-eyed president appeared on the White House lawn, that same day US drones killed fifty women and children in Pakistan, and there wasn’t a mention of it on the news. So, their behavior is creating so much anger. So the notion that these wars are going to stop people hating or racking the United States is just nonsense. It’s the exact opposite that’s going on.

Indeed, the US military apparently had other priorities as the water level of the rivers rose in late August:

It has been reported earlier that the US Air Force has denied the relief agencies use of the Shahbaz airbase for the distribution of aid and assistance. Soldiers of the Pakistan army, a federal minister and the administration of Sindh province are blamed for the incident involving Shahbaz Airbase at Jacobabad district in Sindh province in which it has been reported that flood waters were diverted in order to save the airbase. The diversion of the floodwaters is blamed for inundating hundreds of houses and the displacement of 800,000 people. According to the media reports, the Federal Minister of Sports along with soldiers from the army and a contingent of officials from the Sindh provincial government breached the Jamali Bypass in Jafferabad district of Balochistan province during the night between August 13 and 14 to divert the water entering the airbase which has remained in US Air Force hands since the war on terror started in 2001.

Mr. Ejaz Jakhrani, the Minister of Sports, while explaining the situation to the media said that if the water was not diverted the Shahbaz Airbase would have been inundated. Mr. Jakhrani himself was present along with the district coordination officer of the Jacobabad district, district police officer and other officials when the breach was made. It is reported in the media that Mr. Jakhrani was assigned to protect the air base by officials at the Pakistan army’s headquarter as he was elected from Jacobabad district.

A former prime minister, Mr. Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali said that in order to save Shahbaz Air Base, Jamali bypass was demolished and the town of Dera Allahyar was drowned. Mr. Jamali said that if the airbase was so important, then what priority might be given to the citizens. He blamed minister Jakhrani, DPO and DCO Jacobabad for deliberately diverting the course of the floodwaters towards Balochistan.

Similarly, there are rumors within Pakistan that the Pakistani military and other members of the Pakistani elite have manipulated the breaching of the levees to protect their own properties.

But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank President Robert Zoellick have found the right emphasis:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Zoellick, saying that Pakistan must lead by instituting the reforms that will pave the way to self-sufficiency.

The international community will support Pakistan's efforts at reform and reconstruction, she said.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi responded by saying that every dollar it receives will be utilized in the most efficient manner ... and in the most transparent manner.

Under the terms of $11 billion in loans the International Monetary Fund has made to Pakistan in recent years, Islamabad had agreed to implement a number of reforms, such as improving the energy sector, boosting tax revenues and fiscal improvements. But it has been slow to implement those reforms.

Translation: the floods in Pakistan represent an unprecedented opportunity to impose an even more rigorous structural adjustment program upon the country. Markets are, after all, more important the needs of millions of people in distress, impoverished people who increasingly have no place within a global economy centered around low cost production and consumption fueled by the use of credit.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Postmodern Mexican Revolution? 

Despite his tendency towards hyperbole, John Ross has an interesting article over at Counterpunch. After observing that there has been a proliferation of armed leftist groups, he relates the following observations:

All this duel centennial year, ideologically driven leftists here have been waiting with baited breath for a resurgence of armed rebellion such as in 1994 when the EZLN rose up against the mal gobierno in Chiapas, or in 1996 when the EPR staged a series of murderous raids on military and police installations - but the leftists may be barking up the wrong tree.

If revolution is to be defined as the overthrow of an unpopular government and the taking of state power by armed partisans, then the new Mexican revolution is already underway, at least in the north of the country where Calderon's ill-advised drug campaign against the cartels (in which according to the latest CISEN data 28,000 citizens have died) has morphed into generalized warfare.

Although the fighting has been largely confined to the north, it should be remembered that Mexico's 1910 revolution began in that geography under the command of Villa and Orozco, Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregon, and Francisco Madero, and then spread south to the power center of the country.

Given the qualitative leap in violence, Edgardo Buscaglia, a keen analyst of drug policy at the prestigious Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico now describes Calderon's war as a narco-insurgency - a descriptive recently endorsed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Daily events reported in the nation's press lend graphic substance to the terminology.

Narco-commandos attack military and police barracks, carrying off arms and freeing prisoners from prisons in classic guerrilla fashion. As if to replay the 1910 uprising in the north, the narco gangs loot and torch the mansions of the rich in Ciudad Juarez. The narcos mount public massacres in northern cities like Juarez and Torreon that leave dozens dead and seem designed to terrorize the local populous caught up in the crossfire and impress upon the citizenry that the government can no longer protect them, a classic guerrilla warfare strategy.

One very 2010 wrinkle to the upsurge in violence: car bombs triggered by cell phones detonate in downtown Juarez, a technology that seems to have been borrowed from the U.S. invasion of Iraq (El Paso just across the river is home to several military bases where returning veterans of that crusade are housed.) Plastique-like C-4 explosives used in a July 15th car bombing that killed four in downtown Juarez are readily available at Mexican mining sites.

Perhaps, it is worth recalling that the political movement that resulted in the electoral victories of Evo Morales in Bolivia partially originated amongst coca growers, including Morales himself, angry at US crop eradication efforts, although these growers insisted that they did want to grow coca for refinement into cocaine, and organized non-violently. Even so, we should be wary of media characterizations of the violence in Mexico that places it outside of any context other than criminality.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Foundation Pit 

Andrey Platonov lived much of his life in the USSR during the Leninist and Stalinist periods, but his novels, short stories, plays and film scripts only became known, in the form that he had written them, after it no longer existed. New English translations of them continue to filter out into the marketplace, such as the New York Review Books release of The Foundation Pit last year. He has been celebrated as a allegorical, spiritual voice of the absurdities and horrors of Stalinism.

Without question, Platonov was a very fine writer, but we should be careful about incorporating his work into an American anti-communist perspective, least we lose sight of his actual accomplishments. In The Foundation Pit, a short, 150 page novella, he relates the brutalities of the collectivization of agriculture in seemingly surreal fashion. But, as two of the translators, Robert Chandler and Olga Meerson, remind us: This impression is, however, misleading; they contain barely an incident or passage of dialogue that does not directly relate to some real event or publication from these years.

Hence, in the broadest possible sense, Platonov appropriates them to create his own deformed language so as to reveal the depraved social relations that accompanied collectivization. Furthermore, according to Chandler and Meerson, he had been heavily influenced by 19th and early 20th Century Russian Orthodox religious philosophers, leading him to conclude that communism should not aspire to eliminate religious faith, but rather, to improve upon it: Many of us think that it is possible to take faith away without giving people anything better. The soul of contemporary man is organized in such a way that if faith is removed from it, it will be completely overturned.

In The Foundation Pit, Platonov examines the catastrophic consequences of the failure of the Bolshevik Revolution to provide what he described as more than religion to substitute for the Christian faith that it sought to subordinate to the state, resulting in what he characterized as the end of the socialist generation. The narrative itself is fairly simple: a thirty year old man, Voshchev, is discharged from his workplace, and wanders off into the countryside, where he comes across a group of workers in another town. They have been assigned to dig out a foundation pit for a new proletarian home envisioned by by Prushevsky, an architect. He joins them, and encounters a number of characters symbolically associated with the first Five Year Plan. In the latter part of the novel, he travels with several of them, and participates in the forced collectivization of a nearby village.

One of the great paradoxes of the novel is that the collectivization of the peasantry is facilitated by their practice of Russian Orthodox religious rituals. A group of peasants designated as kulaks accomodate themselves to their fate by their communal expression of farewell to those who sent them away, while those who remain consecrate their abandonment of their homes and their entry into the collective through behaviour consistent with the rite of Forgiveness Sunday. Of course, it goes without saying that the action of pauperizing one's self for the general good is a profoundly Christian act. More generally, the authors of the directives for the implementation of collectivization insist that enthusiasm is the essential attribute for the undertaking, a religious state as opposed to a material one. Even the activist responsible for the collectivization of the village cannot avoid memorializing it in reports that take on a distinctly religious tone. Platonov recognized that the utopianism responsible for the atrocities of collectivization required a perversion of spiritual as well as material aspirations.

Meanwhile, the proletariat, as manifest in the menagerie of characters involved in the digging of the pit, is in perpetual movement without making any progress anywhere, except towards death, and, indeed, those who embrace their proletarian identity have a higher mortality rate than those who do not. Here, Platonov hints at the heresy of Cherkazov, among others, namely that the proletariat is a creation of the bourgeoisie. One can therefore construe the collectivization process imposed upon the peasantry by the proletariat in The Foundation Pit as a bourgeois one, which sounds implausible, until one recalls that, according to James Scott, US capitalists took a great interest in Soviet collectivization because of the economies of scale that they thought could be obtained through the application of industrial processes to agriculture.

There is a contemporary resonance to the narrative as well. The proponents of collectivization proceed, with a religious fervor already described, to force the peasantry to sever themselves from all reassuring bonds of their former lives, their small plots, their homes, their livestock, their Christian religion, and, in some instances, even their relatives, if the relatives had been found to be kulaks. Upon doing so, the peasants then adopted a relatively more atomized existence within the collective farm. Platonov leaves it to the reader to speculate as to their survival in such stark conditions.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It is precisely what has happened in much of the lesser developed world in the last 40 years, where indigenous peoples have been compelled, through lesser degrees of coercion and violence, to leave their villages and live as either poorly paid industrial workers or participants in the informal sector. Much like the party members of the early Stalinist period, the contemporary proponents of this social transformation have rationalized it in similarly messianic terms (most obviously, Thatcher and Reagan, but also Friedman's conflation of freedom with market participation.) Ultimately, Platonov cautions us against the extremism inherent in all involuntary modernization projects. It has fallen to those on the anti-authoritarian left in South America and elsewhere to organize a resistance centered around the family, the community and even a religious cosmology, as Raul Zibechi has observed in relation the Aymara people in Bolivia.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

The Sub-Proletarianization of America (Part 9) 

Rarely is it so obvious:

President Obama's proposal to boost the research tax credit for businesses is widely seen as necessary to bolster American competitiveness in the global economy.

But even if the $100-billion plan is approved, it won't begin to address the fundamental question of how to turn that research and new technology into jobs and renewed prosperity for Americans.

Over the last two decades, U.S. scientists and engineers have discovered or pioneered the science behind one blockbuster product after another — from flat-panel screens and robotics to the lithium batteries that run next-generation power tools and electric cars.

Yet in almost every case, production, jobs and most of the economic benefits that sprang from those breakthroughs have ended up overseas.

America's innovative spirit may still be the envy of the world — major steps forward in nanotechnology and biomedical fields, among others, continue to be made in U.S. labs. But without more effective policies to translate those achievements into gains at home, the fruits of America's creative genius will probably continue to be reaped by others.

And new reports show that during the recession American companies ramped up investment overseas for plants and new hires, as well as research and development — even as they cut back domestically.

Foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations increased their spending on research and development by more than 7% in 2008 from the previous year, pushing the total to nearly $37 billion. But these same multinational companies sliced R&D expenditures in the U.S. that year 2.2% to $199 billion, Commerce Department data showed.

A similar but less dramatic difference was evident in hiring: Employment at these overseas units rose 1% in 2008 — and a stunning 15% in China — but was down 2% for the U.S. elements of the 2,200 multinational firms the Commerce Department studied.

Some of these jobs were lost to automation, but Obama and many independent economists said a big factor was the sharply different policy approaches of U.S. and foreign governments.

For decades, Washington has taken a largely hands-off, or laissez faire, approach, sometimes even adopting tax and other policies that critics said actively encourage the movement of manufacturing and other business activity overseas.

By contrast, export giants such as Germany, Japan and South Korea have embraced government policies — and even pressure tactics — that push businesses to maintain operations at home.

You mean, say, something like this?

Government officials here are confident they found the right approach, including a better solution to unemployment. They extended the Kurzarbeit or short work program to encourage companies to furlough workers or give them fewer hours instead of firing them, making up lost wages out of a fund filled in good times through payroll deductions and company contributions.

At its peak in May 2009, roughly 1.5 million workers were enrolled in the program. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently estimated that by the third quarter of 2009, more than 200,000 jobs may have been saved as a result.

The German economy’s comeback is visible in smaller towns like Memmingen, in the historic region known as Swabia. The brightly painted market square in this prosperous town is straight out of a German fairy tale, but it is beyond the medieval fortifications of the old town that Memmingen’s part in the nationwide rebound of employment, which Chancellor Merkel has likened to a small miracle, took place.

After a record year in 2008, the family-owned firm Magnet-Schultz watched orders for its electromagnetic products plunge. Nearly one-third of the company’s more than 1,500 workers in Germany were put on the short-work program. Only 57 were laid off.

The firm’s chairman, Wolfgang E. Schultz, whose grandfather founded the firm nearly 100 years ago and whose son Albert joined as a vice president in January, said that his goal was to maintain the company in the long term by losing as few skilled workers as possible. He promised to try to rehire those who were let go when times improved. Forty of those workers have been rehired already.

It is essential to observe that the issue here is not a nationalistic one, but, rather, one as to whether the government is pursuing policies that benefit workers or capital. In the US, the Obama administration continues to emphasize programs that benefit capital, international capital, in fact, as shown by the research and development tax credit proposal, as well as by TARP, which expended funds that went to European as well as American banks. Indeed, it is almost impossible for the US to structure economic measures solely for the benefit of domestic capital, given the overseas units of US companies and the operations of foreign firms in the US.

Conversely, the German government, while unabasedly capitalist, did implement some policies that softened blow of the global recession upon the workforce, such as the one described in the New York Times article. Of course, one should not go too far with this, as German governments have imposed austerity measures upon workers in recent years. Even so, such governments have recognized that the preservation of a skilled workforce is essential for the future prospects of a manufacturing economy. Apparently, policymakers in the US, no longer so concerned with the manufacturing sector, consider such measures unnecessary, believing that the provision of services, including well compensated professional ones, have become fungible in a global economic system.

Perhaps, the conflation of the needs of the US economy with those of international capital explains the development of deficit reduction policies, with an emphasis upon social programs, Social Security and Medicare, despite the fact that they are minor contributors to the deficit:

Capitalists requires subsidy, so the US government has assidously provided it over the last 40 years, regardless of its impact of the federal budget. Capitalists also require the use of military force, or the threat of it, to open new markets and initiate the ruthless process of accumulation, so, again, the defense budget has grown, without concern as to the fiscal consequences. Meanwhile, social programs (roughly equivalent to the Domestic Discretionary Programs in the chart), Social Security and Medicare (pejoratively described as Entitlements in the chart) find themselves in the firing line, with everyone from President Obama on down frightening the populace about a non-existent crisis in the growth of such spending. Meanwhile, the various forms of subsidy provided to the financial sector through the Federal Reserve and the Treasury since 2008 remains an inappropriate subject in polite company.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mendacious Pope Goes On Holiday 

From today's Guardian:

In a speech at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the pope also praised Britain for its role in fighting Nazi Germany and forging the postwar consensus, but warned again of the dangers of what he termed aggressive secularism.

The pope said that even in his own lifetime, Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

Driving home a point that is expected to be central to his four-day visit, Benedict went on: As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a 'reductive vision of the person and his destiny'.

The quote was from his own encyclical on social and economic issues, Caritas in Veritate, published last year.

In what might be regarded as a less than warm endorsement, the pope noted that the UK strove to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms.

His choice of words echoes controversial comments made yesterday by a senior Vatican adviser who claimed Britain discriminated against Christians, and likened arriving in multicultural Britain to visiting a third-world country.

Apparently, Benedict internalized the values that he encountered during his brief participation in the Hitler Youth than has ever been publicly acknowledged. Within the British context, and, perhaps, to a lesser degree in the American one as well, multiculturalism is primarily identified with the social acceptance of Muslims. His condescending remarks about the cultural diversity of British society, as well as those of his advisor, Cardinal Kasper, are thinly concealed expressions of racism and Islamophobia. They are providing spiritual sanction for those in Europe and the US who perceive Muslims as a threat that must be denied the civil liberties granted to the rest of the populace. Beyond this, Benedict and Kasper are suggesting that Europe has been spiritually degraded by the immigration of non-whites from around the world in recent decades. As Benedict ages, and becomes even more cantankerous, we can anticipate even more baldly bigoted statements from him.

Benedict's remarks about aggressive secularism should be equally alarming. In them, we see echoes of the Nazi condemnation of the Weimar Republic. Nazis described the republic as a cesspool of decadence, fouled by the activities of avant garde artists, Jews, Communists and sexual deviants. He perceives similar perils in atheism, feminism, publicly accepted homosexuality and, in substitution of Judaism, Islam. His Freudian slip of exhorting Britain to fight secularism with the zeal that it displayed against the Nazis makes the association explicit. Of course, the notion that there has been an exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life is preposterous, yet another example of how some intolerant Christians describe themselves as victims of oppression if not permitted to impose social norms on everyone else.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

The Man from O.B.A.M.A. 

BOOK REVIEW: In Hiding 

Before 1969, it was difficult for academics to examine the lives of Spanish leftists. Jerome Minter, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, surrepticiously conducted the interviews of anarchists and others who recalled life in Casas Viejas during the period leading to the 1934 uprising, interviews that subsequently formed the backbone of his intimate 1982 book, The Anarchists of Casas Viejas. As related by Stuart Christie, a number of Spanish anarchists remained in exile in the United Kingdom during the 1960s.

And, then, on March 28, 1969, the fascist government of Francisco Franco finally announced an unconditional amnesty for those who, in its view, had committed crimes during the civil war. Several days later, Manuel Cortes, the socialist mayor of Mijas in 1936 and 1937, emerged from hiding in one of the homes that he had secretly lived in with his family for 30 years. During those years, Mijas had been transformed from a remote agragian village near Malaga into a tourist destination, with numerous homes and farms owned by foreigners. With his assistance, Maria, his resilient, industrious wife, provided for the family, which included a daughter, through a variety of business activities, including egg sales and the weaving of esparto into crafts, such as baskets and cords. Interestingly, it appears that they became one of the wealthiest families Mijas.

British historian Ronald Fraser made contact with the Cortes family and interviewed Manuel, Maria, and their daughter, Juliana, about their experiences. Fraser thereafter published a book based upon these interviews in 1972, In Hiding, a book that has been recently reissued by Verso. It serves as a prologue to Fraser's riveting, multidimensional oral history of the civil war itself, Blood of Spain, published in 1979. Manuel and Maria describe life in Mijas, commencing with the days of their youth, decades before the civil war began, all the way through to his decision to report to the authorities after the announcement of the amnesty. Juliana relates the tension of living in a family where the presence of her father could not be publicly acknowledged. For example, from the age of 4, Maria had emphasized that she would lose her father if she ever mentioned him, and she did something similar with her children after she got married.

Preliminarily, one might wonder, was it necessary for Cortes to conceal himself in the ingenious ways that he devised? During the first few months after his covert return to the village upon the war's conclusion, he resided inside a small, concealed compartment where he could stand, but not move about, while otherwise sitting on a chair facing one way, with his shoulders touching the walls. As he obtained more space and mobility, did he and his family really still have to plan their daily lives with great care to prevent anyone from discovering him? At a subsequent residence, Maria carefully choreographed the remodeling and cleaning of it while Manuel remained in a nearby room.

Without doubt, such measures were necessary in a small village where everyone knew everyone else's business. As Cortes explains, he was one of only two surviving socialist mayors in the region. With the passage of time, he feared the loss of his life less, while becoming more alarmed about the prospect of lengthy incarceration. And, as he states several times, he was not guilty of anything. In fact, he had been a moderating presence that had prevented the killings of numerous property owners and business people in Mijas.

In regard to his life prior to his seclusion, Cortes recounts his political awakening and conflicts with the local landowners and anarchists from a Socialist perspective. His was not a life of theory, but one in which what theory he knew was being perpetually tested by the vagaries of everyday life in a village of landowners, peasant small holders, sharecroppers, herders and campesinos. And, beyond that, by the incremental, yet inexorable, modernist integration of his village into a nation state increasingly interwoven into a global economy. It is here that Cortes' account of his life may have a particular contemporary resonance, perhaps partially explaining why Verso has reissued it.

During the period of the Republic and the Civil War, Cortes was a tireless advocate for unionization and land reform. He told resistant land owners and small holders that, in the absence of a redistribution of the land and the collective organization of the workforce, they were likely to experience much worse, and, in many instances, he was proven correct. If one connects Cortes' memories of the poverty of his early life with the political conflict of the Republic and ensuing civil war with the world as he understood it during his seclusion and subsequent public emergence, one pieces together a mosaic of the modernization of Andalusia that Cortes imperfectly perceived. Even before the Republic, he was well aware that life in Mijas was going to be transformed. For him, the challenge was to persuade the campesinos, herders, sharecroppers and even the small holders that a collective, socialist form of modernization was the most ideal outcome. If his account is taken at face value, which seems reasonable, given his straightforward candor, he was largely successful, until the fascists captured the town upon the outbreak of hostilities.

After the civil war, Mijas was connected, first, to the larger Spanish economy, and then, to Europe, much like the major cities and resource regions of other lesser developed countries were interwoven into their national economies as a precondition to being incorporated into the global one. The construction of a road from Malaga to Mijas enabled the Cortes family to more easily trade in goods in both places, and eventually brought foreign tourists, who, as noted, proceeded to purchase a number of dwellings and farm properties in the 1960s. In words that echo eerily across the decades to present day Spain, as it painfully confronts the bursting of yet another real estate bubble and the collapse of an economy centered around tourism and foreign investment, Cortes ridiculed the notion that Mijas could rely upon importing tourists and exporting workers to secure its future. In effect, Spain was a testing ground for neoliberal development doctrines that would be subsequently applied to Africa, the Americas and much of Asia. Much as Mao put into the place the infrastructure that permitted foreign capital to afterwards penetrate the Chinese economy, it seems that Franco did something very similar while also taking tentative steps to open the Spanish economy to European and American capitalists.

Consistent with this process was the atomization of social life that Cortes recognized. Having lived his early years during a time of intense class conflict, when people invariably organized themselves collectively out of necessity, if not idealism, he was dismayed by the young people he encountered upon coming out of his house: And the first thing that struck me was that they know absolutely nothing about anything except amusing themselves. No wonder he was dismayed, he knew more, despite being shut inside a house, with his access to information limited to newspapers, a radio and a television, than people walking the streets!

Furthermore, note that Cortes said this around 1970, when young people around the world were much more politicized than today. Even taking into account his caveat that his observations did not apply to young people living in cities with universities (with hindsight, we can say, sadly, that they did), he inferentially connected the imposition of an ephmeral economic model in Mijas with an increasingly apolitical, more individualistic social life. In this, he brings to mind Christie, who, because of his working class upbringing and his encounters with exiled Spanish anarchists, maligned the hippie scene that he subsequently encountered in London as grossly self-absorbed and irresponsible. Regardless of how one relates to these generational disputes, Cortes' life is a testament to the fact that it could have been different, and may well be in the future.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

A 9/11 Collage 

(snip)

Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor.

(snip)

In A Journey: My Political Life, Blair depicts Cheney as believing the United States was at war not only with Islamic terrorists but with rogue states that supported them and that the only way of defeating [this threat] was head-on, with maximum American strength.

Cheney wanted forcible regime change in all Middle Eastern countries that he considered hostile to U.S. interests, according to Blair.

He would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc., Blair wrote. In other words, he [Cheney] thought the world had to be made anew, and that after 11 September, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.”

(snip)

The majority concludes its opinion with a recommendation of alternative remedies. Not only are these remedies insufficient, but their suggestion understates the severity of the consequences to Plaintiffs from the denial of judicial relief. Suggesting, for example, that the Executive could “honor[ ] the fundamental principles of justice” by determining “whether plaintiffs’ claims have merit,” [see Maj. Op. at 13554] disregards the concept of checks and balances. Permitting the executive to police its own errors and determine the remedy dispensed would not only deprive the judiciary of its role, but also deprive Plaintiffs of a fair assessment of their claims by a neutral arbiter. The majority’s suggestion of payment of reparations to the victims of extraordinary rendition, such as those paid to Japanese Latin Americans for the injustices suffered under Internment during World War II, over fifty years after those injustices were suffered [Maj. Op. at 13554], elevates the impractical to the point of absurdity. of Similarly, a congressional investigation, private bill, or enacting of “remedial legislation,” [Maj. Op. at 13556], leaves to the legislative branch claims which the federal courts are better equipped to handle. See Kosak v. United States, 465 U.S. 848, 867 (1984) (Stevens, J., dissenting).

Arbitrary imprisonment and torture under any circumstance is a “ ‘gross and notorious . . . act of despotism.’ ” Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 556 (2004) (Scalia, J., dissenting) (quoting 1 Blackstone 131-33 (1765)). But “ ‘confinement [and abuse] of the person, by secretly hurrying him to [prison], where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten; is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.’ ” Id. (Scalia, J., dissenting) (quoting 1 Blackstone 131-33 (1765)) (emphasis added).

(snip)

Yet nothing comes closer to Titus Andronicus than the insistent, terrible stories of gang rape by United States personnel in Abu Ghraib. You hear this repeatedly in Amman, and a very accurate source of mine in Washington – a man who deals with military personnel – tells me they are true. This, he says, is why Barack Obama changed his mind about releasing the photographs which George W Bush refused to make public. The pictures we saw – of the humiliation of men – were outrageous enough. But the ones we haven't seen show Americans raping Iraqi women.

Lima Nabil, a journalist who now runs a home for on-the-run girls, sips coffee as the boiling Jordanian sun frowns through the window at us. In Abu Ghraib, she says, women were tortured by the Americans much more than the men. One woman said she witnessed five girls being raped. Most of the women in the prison were raped – some of them left prison pregnant. Families killed some of these women – because of the shame.

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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 10) 

It pretty much speaks for itself:

Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret kill team that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.

Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.

In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

According to investigators and legal documents, discussion of killing Afghan civilians began after the arrival of Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs at forward operating base Ramrod last November. Other soldiers told the army's criminal investigation command that Gibbs boasted of the things he got away with while serving in Iraq and said how easy it would be to toss a grenade at someone and kill them.

Invariably, as an occupation faces more and more resistance, the more sadistic the occupying force becomes. Furthermore, it is also important to remember that US troops serve in one of the most technologically advanced militaries while brutalizing people in one of the poorest countries in the world. If anything, the conduct of these troops, if substantiated, brings to mind attacks upon homeless people by young males.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Post-Obama Era 

My, how things have changed in less than two years. In November 2008, the election of Barack Obama precipitated a crisis on the left. Recognizing that Obama was unlikely to bring about a fundamental shift is US domestic and foreign policy, leftists wondered about how they would be able to continue to reach liberal and progressive allies on issues of importance. How could they retain what marginal influence they had in the face of Obama's personal charisma and strong public support? Some subsequently perservered, while others unequivocally supported Obama as consistent with a long term, evolutionary strategy of change within the US. Meanwhile, liberals and progressives believed that 30 to 40 years of tireless political activity was about to be rewarded with the implementation of much of their agenda.

Now, just 19 months later, liberals, progressives and leftists find themselves entirely put to rout. The Obama administration has placed itself solely at the service of capital, and expanded US military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It remains deaf to the exhortations of those who advocate policies that have been historically proven to generate economic growth, persisting in the implementation of supply side measures that do little to generate demand. It manipulates contradictory concerns over the deficit and the stalled economic recovery to chart a clear course of corporate subsidy and worker austerity. Hence, the administration's support for a 200 billion dollar tax credit for equipment alongside a deficit reduction commission that will recommend cuts in Social Security, Medicare and the social safety net more generally. Similarly, while it remains a contentious subject, my personal view is that most of the Bush tax credits for the high income people will be renewed.

No doubt, administration appointees like Rahm Emanuel, Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers persuaded Obama that, through the implementation of such Machiavellian measures, a corporatized Democratic Party would retain power for a generation, assuming, of course, that he needed any persuasion at all. There's just one problem: the policies have failed miserably in the real world. Instead of generating a mild economic recovery, where capital interests could skim the cream off the top without resentment, as planned, they have done nothing to revive the economy, and the public knows it. Home foreclosures and 99ers (people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits without finding work) have become a seemingly permanent feature of everyday life.

With Obama in the White House, and Reid and Pelosi in control of the Congress, the Democrats cannot blame Bush for the country's economic stagnation. Academic liberals like Eric Alterman may write approximately 17,000 words seeking to buttress support for Obama by claiming that a progressive presidency is impossible, but outside the echo chambers of The Nation and The American Prospect, no one is listening, because they know that the Democrats failed to help them. They may or may not know that the Democrats have relied upon the arcane procedural rules of the Senate to justify their inaction, but that's irrelevant for people facing the loss of their home, the health care and their jobs. They didn't vote Obama into the White House in order to hear Professor Alterman lecture them that it is impossible for him to do anything for them. They have already tuned out the great communicator of this generation.

Thus, a terrible reckoning awaits the Democrats in November. Poll numbers are looking worse and worse, so much so that they may lose control of both houses of Congress, while Obama's popularity drains away by the day. Out here in California, there is amazing prospect that the Republicans may win both the governorship and a seat in the Senate. Among Obama critics in the liberal blogosphere, some still express the hope that he can turn it around by taking it to the Republicans with a daring economic stimulus plan that will capture the public imagination. Surely, with a humiliating defeat staring him in the face, he must seize this last opportunity. But it is too late for that now, and he is not so inclined. Although no one will say it, he has passed the point of no return, and absent a dramatic turn of events, he will be even more reviled upon his departure from the White House than Carter. Republicans will run against him for decades.

But Obama will be remembered for more than just the damage that he has inflicted upon the Democratic Party. He has seriously undermined public confidence in the political process, and the consequences, while still speculative, will be profound. After vaguely campaigning on the prospects for progressive change that would reach much of the populace, he has exposed the reality that we face a choice between a merciless, social Darwinist party, the Republicans, and a inclusive, neoliberal one, the Democrats. No one is ever going to believe that a future Democratic candidate for President will be the next Bobby Kennedy, the next FDR or the next LBJ. Instead, they will be perceived as either the next Clinton or, with Republican assistance, the next Obama. Most Americans are disenfranchised by this choice, alienated by a political system in which capital interests dictate the outcome of all major political decisions behind the scenes. The tentative steps towards social democracy in the 20th Century are being consigned to the history books, with the current targets being Social Security and Medicare. Within 10 years, they are likely to be a shadow of what they are today.

Meanwhile, the wars will go on and on. Of course, the great unanswered question is whether Obama will attack Iran. Certainly, a Republican victory in November would increase the pressure upon him to do so. Such a conflict would initiate an open ended war that, much like the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, would last several years, and intensify violence all around the world. Domestically, it would accelerate the transformation of the US economy from manufacturing to services to one centered around military operations, weapons procurement and social control. It is hard to know how the populace will respond to these changes, but, given that liberals, progressives and even some on the left, will be tarred with the failings of the Obama presidency, there is no visible left alternative to the ascension of the radical right. The right will never become dominant, as it will always remained contained within the boundaries of its natural constituency, but it will increasingly dominate the public discourse, even more so than today, because all other ideological possibilities will have been either discredited or invisible.

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 11) 

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Journey: The Twitter Version (Part 2) 

More from Chris Brooke (again, best read from the bottom up):

Blair, p. 653: I met a very bouncy Sarkozy at the start of his Presidential campaign and told him that he sounded like Napoleon.

Blair, p. 645: And on social exclusion, you shd concentrate on dysfunctional families, not on poor people or young people in general.

Blair, p.644: in these speeches I gave lessons to my successors, eg that to deal with the criminal underclass you need draconian powers.

Blair, p. 634: Twice I thanked God for the independence of the British judiciary, over cash for honours and the Hutton inquiry.

Blair, p. 607: Putting campaign donors in the Lords is a murky business, but it is the system as it has operated for a long, long time.

Blair, p. 602: But it wasn't that I didn't get public opinion on Lebanon, nor that I cdn't have articulated it... I didn't agree with it.

Blair, p.600: If I condemned Israel, it wd be more than dishonest; it wd have undermined the worldview I had come to hold passionately.

Blair, p. 598: In Sept 2006 I visited Beirut... Unsurprisingly, I was not popular with many Lebanese people.

Blair, p.597: The occupation of Palestinian land may be an injustice, depending on yr viewpt, but this is a region w plenty of injustices.

Blair, p. 596: Israel is a government with a well-armed & well-trained army & air force. They do not target civilians.

Blair, p. 594, on the Israel / Lebanon war in 2006: That event, & my reaction to it, prob. did me more damage than anything since Iraq.

Blair throws around stupid metaphors, p. 592: the bazooka of outrage, the blowpipe of ridicule.

Blair, p. 591: Politicians shag around bc of the supreme self-control you have to exercise to be at the top.

Blair, p.585, thinks abt pensions, wanting a framework that over time wd...tilt the responsibility for provision from state to individual.

Blair, p. 577: Academies were great, because they were freed from extraordinarily debilitating & often politically correct interference.

After wading through these tweets, I have a number of observations. First, Blair's reflexive support for Israel, and, by extension, state violence generally, as expressed in similar remarks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is remarkable. One gets the sense that there is no act of state violence that he would condemn, including the use of nuclear weapons. Although he apparently does not address it, Blair's perspective on the wars in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan suggest he believes that the US use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was appropriate, and would probably support their use again, such as, for example, in an attempt to destroy Iran's nuclear research and power program.

Second, Blair reveals himself to be an autocratic figure in the tradition of late 19th Century and early 20th Century progressives as it relates to the working class and lower income people. He believes that workers should pay their own pensions with no state assistance, placing him squarely among those in the US who want to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits, and consistently describes the lives of many low income people in pathological terms. Recall his comment, posted here yesterday: The right-wing phrase, underclass, was ugly, but it was accurate. People at the bottom had dysfunctional lives, full stop. Today, we get more elaboration: to deal with the criminal underclass you need draconian powers.

In this, Blair brings to mind the perpetual urban renewal efforts of the last century, most prominent in the 1930s and 1960s. Such efforts were usually justified by reference to the purported urgency of eliminating blight, an antiseptic term that identified lower middle income and low income communities as disease infested, crime ridden areas that must be destroyed so that they could be replaced by modern middle class neighborhoods. As a result, many vibrant lower middle income and lower income communities were forever lost, with their residents cast to the winds. Most recently, as noted by Yusef, the same sad transformation has taken place in post-Katrina New Orleans.

But Blair is more aggressive in his approach as he approved the installation of public surveillance equipment, greater police power and increased criminal penalties. In this, he again acted upon his adoration of the US, which has pioneered such measures as a solution to social disorder. Hence, he perceives the state as beset by threats from within and without, an international Islamic insurgency that will take decades to overcome, and an internal class of lumpenproletarians that invariably threaten to disrupt the lives of its citizens if not strictly controlled. While not explicit, he seems to perceive immigration as something that intensifies both threats, as he elsewhere states that the post-Holocaust asylum policy was no longer tenable. In effect, Blair possesses an extreme vision of a utopian, middle class consumer society, perhaps even more extreme than the one promoted by Thatcher and Reagan, as Blair lacks the residue of libertarian values, however slight, that motivated them. Of course, it can only be implemented by recourse to coercion and violence, which he readily embraces.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Journey: The Twitter Version (Part 1) 

An amazing accomplishment by Chris Brooke, a page by page Twitter summarization of Blair's memoirs. The banality of Blair would be truly hysterical, if it hadn't contributed to the deaths of so many people.

Some excerpts (please note that they are best read from the bottom up):

Blair, p. 516: If Condi Rice has a fault, it is that she is probably too decent for the world of politics.

Yes, Blair really does call Ariel Sharon, p. 515, a big man in every sense.

Blair, p.513: Even Gitmo, a policy that was both understandable &, done in a different way, justifiable was seen as anti- the rule of law.

Blair, p, 501: Gerhard Schroeder was a really tough cookie.

Blair, p, 482: Top US universities were the best in the world plainly & inescapably due to their system of fees.

Blair, p. 467: on the pics from Abu Ghraib, no doubt they were exceptional incidents, and the offenders were prosecuted.

Blair, p. 458: The reception was ecstatic. They got up and applauded throughout, a total of thirty-five times.

Blair, pp.457-8, quotes at length from his speech to the US Congress, one of the most important and, in my judgement, best speeches I made"

Blair, p. 410: Even people who didn't like me or agree with me still admired the fact I counted, was a big player, was a world... leader.

Blair, p. 409: But Cheney's manner of doing it was incomplete. We needed to win the war at the level of ideas, by engaging Muslims.

Blair, p. 408: Cheney is the object of so much conspiracy theory that it's virtually impossible to have a rational discussion about him.

Blair visits Crawford, TX, April 2002, p. 399. It is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Blair, p. 394: George had immense simplicity in how he saw the world.

Blair, p. 387: the Middle East was urgently in need of modernisation.

Pre-9/11 terrorism, Blair calls, p. 343, the price that America paid for being America.

Blair, p.204: The right-wing phrase, underclass, was ugly, but it was accurate. People at the bottom had dysfunctional lives, full stop.

Blair, p. 116: I wanted to preserve, in terms of competitive tax rates, the essential Thatcher/Howe/Lawson legacy.

Blair says, p. 88, that it wd have been wickedly irresponsible to send his kids to an average state school.

For the full, rich experience, you have to read Brooke's dissection in its entirety. It has the riveting quality of a compelling work of experimental fiction. He has about 170 pages to go before completing the task that he has set for himself.

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A Journey 

UPDATE: lenin reminds us of everything that was horrible about Blair, but who knew that one of his role models was . . . Princess Diana? Rarely has someone so openly exposed the vacuity of their thought and their relationships with others:

Blair's fat little compendium of pseudo-revelations, attacks on personal acquaintances and colleagues, self-justifying circumlocutions, political polemic, and narcissistic reflections, comes with its own self-destruct button. Comparing himself to the people's princess, he says: We were both in our ways manipulative people, perceiving quickly the emotions of others and able instinctively to play with them. Elsewhere, he informs astonished readers that sometimes politicians must conceal the full truth ... bend it and even distort it. This being the case, you might suspect that he is not always being honest with his readers, and that the impression he tries to give of opening up and being fully frank is as counterfeit as his intelligence on Iraq. You might wonder what is the point of your parting with a portion of your spending power even for one of the thousands of half price copies that your local WH Smith will be shoving in your direction, if all that's going to happen is that Tony Blair lies to you. Again. When all he's ever done is lie to you, at taxpayers' expense. Will there come a time, you might wonder, when we will stop paying Tony Blair to lie to us?

INITIAL POST: Today, the memoirs of Tony Blair went on sale in the United Kingdom. Needless to say, there has been a media frenzy. Given Blair's return to the spotlight, if only for a few days, I thought it appropriate to repost my film review of the 2007 movie, The Queen, in so far as it addresses Blair.

Please note that the reference to Frears is shorthand for the director, Stephen Frears, while the reference to Morgan alludes to the scriptwriter, Peter Morgan. Both of them fulfilled their responsibilities in stellar fashion in regard to the film generally and most particularly in their characterization of Blair, along with the actor who played the role, Michael Sheen:

. . . Another pleasant suprise was Michael Sheen's performance as Tony Blair. Indeed, the film is actually as much about Blair and his abandonment of his Labour idealism as it is about the crisis within the royal family after Diana's death. Blair had just been installed as Prime Minister when Diana died, and his closest advisors are startled by his increasing identification with the conservative royals as the media circus intensifies. Sheen, again assisted by Morgan's top drawer script, portrays Blair sympathetically, but accurately, as a middle class man who aspires to political power so that he can attain social acceptance by the elite. Through such a well rounded, empathetic presentation, Sheen (and Morgan) indict Blair as a cogenial little man who would cheerfully sell out anyone or anything for his self-aggrandizement, and it is an indictment far more compelling than any issued by the left.

In a telling scene near the end, a scene that highlights the allegorical aspect of this part of the story, the Queen, after having been subjected to the most brutal personal insults by her subjects, finds herself, to her dismay, being consoled by Blair. Never mind, he says, the bond between you and your subjects is now stronger than ever. The Queen, not so sure, demurs, and warns, someday, Mr. Blair, you may also find yourself equally reviled by the public. Blair, of course, ever supremely confident of his hold over the populace (and, at times, even the royals), expresses his disagreement through his body language. Frears and Morgan, with benefit of hindsight, recognized that such arrogance lead inevitably to the catastrophe in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, consistent with his attainment of his petty aspirations, he supports the ruthless budget cutting of the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition, and urges an attack upon Iran if it continues to develop nuclear weapons.

For someone born and raised in the United Kingdom, it is rather odd to realize that Blair most closely resembles a small town social climber out of a Sinclair Lewis novel, like Babbitt or Elmer Gantry, with the absence of any capacity for self-reflection. Accordingly, he is more akin to the self-serving evangelist Gantry than the emotionally adrift real estate agent George Babbitt. Like Gantry, Blair exploited religion, but in the related field of politics, where there is also a demand for messiahs:

The strongest support for Bush's war came from Tony Blair, Britain's most religious leader since Gladstone. Like Bush, Blair prays. He keeps a Bible by his bed and says he will only answer to my maker for British deaths in Iraq. When David Frost asked if he and Bush prayed together on Iraq, Blair declined to answer.

Blair has been notoriously described by many as Bush's poodle, but, in fact, the relationship was the other way round, as recognized years ago by Richard Gott. Just as Joseph Lieberman can be accurately described as the person most responsible for the current orientation of the Democratic Party, Blair is the person who most effectively proselytized the neoconservative values of the war on terror, introducing them into the mainstream discourse, as it were, commencing his effort, as did the participants of the Project for a New American Century, before 9/11.

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