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

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Possible New Occupy Oakland Occupation/People Smash Windows at Oakland Obama Campaign Office 

Photograph attributed to David Colburn.

UPDATE (10:40 PM PST): CourtneyOccupy is ustreaming from Oakland. Others will probably soon be doing so as well. Find them through the Twitter hashtags mentioned below.

INITIAL POST: This is breaking news at 10:22 PM PST. People in Oakland have smashed the windows of the Obama 2012 campaign office, unknown as to whether people involved in Occupy Oakland were involved, although Chris Hedges is probably already certain that Black Bloc elements were responsible. Could have been participants in a large Fuck the Police march, could have been people out for the art walk, could have been a spontaneous action by an amorphous group on the scene. We can certain, though, that Obama supporters will be horrified about this after tolerating his wars, his drone strikes, his indefinite detentions, his refusal to help millions of people who have suffered severe economic distress during his first term. For more information as it emerges, follow the hashtags #OO, #OccupyOakland and #FTP, among others, on Twitter. The Oakland Police Department reports an occupation at 19th Street and Telegraph.

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Pam Spaulding Wets Her Pants Over a Kiss In at Chick-fil-A 

Just to show how bad things have gotten at firedoglake, Pam Spaulding had a panic attack over gays and lesbians having a kiss in at Chick-fil-A today. After another instance of firedoglake historical revisionism analogous to Southern Dragon's claim that Marx abandoned his activism and limited himself to the understanding of a capitalist economy after 1850, wherein Spaulding states that the kiss in is incompatible with the past activism of ACT-UP, she is joined by numerous others complaining about the adverse consequences of public displays of gay and lesbian affection. It was left to slobeck to correct the record and bring some rationality to the discussion. Just imagine if Spaulding went to an Occupy event in NYC or Oakland, she'd probably faint and require help from the street medics.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

A Brief Remark About the Death of Gore Vidal 

Born into privilege, Gore Vidal lived 5 lives simultaneously. I can barely get to work everyday, raise my son and emotionally participate in my family, while Vidal was a novelist, socialite and periodic politician with an acute sense of American history and culture. Vidal published numerous novels, nearly got punched out by William F. Buckley on national television during the 1968 Democratic convention, got head butted and punched by Norman Mailer after calling him out about his misogyny, ran for office twice and was unapologetic about his promiscuous homosexuality, claiming to have had over 1000 sexual encounters. In this, he was outdone by Wilt Chamberlain, the track star and basketball player, who said that he had 10000 straight ones, but then Wilt wasn't writing all those novels and going to all those parties.

Given all this and more, it is easy to get lost in the dense forestation of Vidal's life and miss some of the obvious things that were important about him. Most importantly, Vidal was a powerful, consistent voice about the violence inherent within American capitalism, popularizing the notion of an American empire long before it became fashionable. He opposed the Vietnam War, spoke out about nuclear proliferation (with, humorously enough, Norman Mailer) and highlighted the cowboy mentality of US covert operations around the world in places like Central and South America. Just as a billboard in Idaho has angered people by stating that President Obama has killed far more people than James Holmes did in Aurora, Vidal blandly observed that Timothy McVeigh was no more of a killer than Eisenhower. In this, Vidal implicitly touched upon our unwillingness to confront the extreme violence of the representatives of the state while condemning the relatively lesser violence of individuals. There was, over the course of his life, an anarchic thread in his thought even if he was no anarchist. As you would have expected, he was an incisive critic of the war on terror in the final years of his life.

Culturally, Vidal was a rebel in the right place at the right time. While refusing to characterize himself in terms of sexual orientation, he was, in the expanding horizons of the immediate post-war era, openly gay, without, oddly enough, drawing a great deal of attention to it. So much so that he polled more votes as a Democratic candidate in a conservative, upstate New York congressional district in 1960 than any other Democratic candidate had done in 50 years. He was matter of fact about his preference for men and his promiscuity, thus demonstrating that it was no longer possible to require people to conform to a public expectation of straight monogamy regardless of how they lived privately, personally foreshadowing the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the gay rights movement of the 1970s.

Of course, Vidal's privileged background provided him with advantages in this regard, but he was still taking risks. He maintained that the New York Times nearly killed his literary career in the 1950s because of a novel that he wrote with an expressly gay protagonist, and Buckley no doubt thought that he was damaging Vidal greatly by calling him queer on national television in 1968. Buckley, perhaps confused by Vidal's evasions about his sexuality, thereafter characterized him as an evangelist for bisexuality and an advocate for the acceptability of homosexuality. Vidal was much better in taking the true measure of Buckley, as he did when asked about how he felt about Buckley's death: I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred. For people like Buckley, Vidal was a provocation in all aspects of his life, public and private. May he rest in peace.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Anaheim: Protest at the APD Today 

UPDATE 4 (1:05 PM PST): March of approximately 200 people through the working class neighborhoods of Anaheim to the police station in progress.

UPDATE 3 (12:55 PM PST): List of all streamers in Anaheim today.

UPDATE 2 (12:45 PM PST): Chant in front of the APD building, police represent the 1%.

UPDATE 1: crossxbones is back online here.

INITIAL POST: Protest march scheduled to start shortly (12:05 PM PST). Follow on Twitter at #Anaheim and numerous ustreams linked there, such as bella eiko and orangecrew and CourtneyOccupy. Interestingly, ustream has just shut down crossxbones for a purported violation of terms of service. The explanation is copyright infringement. This appears to be a new method for shutting down people by relying upon video of protesters singing a pop song or utilizing a pop culture icon in signage.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Anaheim: Protest Police Brutality at Disneyland on 7/28 and 7/29 

Disney is the power behind everything in Anaheim.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Monday, July 23, 2012

An Appreciation of Alexander Cockburn 

Alexander Cockburn liked pit barbeque. I know this, because, just prior to a planned road trip through Georgia and the Carolinas several years ago, he asked Counterpunch readers to recommend some good barbeque joints to visit. I e-mailed him the names of a couple, one in Ellijay, in north Georgia, the other in Jackson, just south of Atlanta. I explained that he would probably particularly enjoy the one in Ellijay, because the colorful owner, with a hill country gift for humorous self-promotion, enjoyed exaggerating his political association with people like Pat Buchanan with large photographs posted all around the restaurant. He thanked me for the referrals, saying that they were tempting, but that, unfortunately, his route was not taking him near them.

On Saturday, I was shocked to learn that Cockburn had died of cancer. Despite my disagreement with him on subjects like global warming and Occupy, I respected his intellectual independence. Cockburn rightly pilliored the emphasis that some on the the left place upon hostility towards religion, correctly observing that the US is one of the most Christian countries in the world. You aren't going to persuade many Americans to politically support you, he observed drily, by attacking Christianity. More importantly, he understood that both liberalism and the organized left had lost any political influence that they possessed long ago. Perhaps because of his close contact with direct action environmental protest movements on the West Coast, as personified through the efforts of people like Judi Bari, Darryl Cherney and Julia Butterfly, among others, he recognized the emergence of an anti-authoritarian left that integrated environmentalism with anti-capitalism. Living on the Lost Coast in Petrolia, he watched it happen right before his eyes.

Accordingly, Cockburn wasn't surprised at the eruption of confrontational protests against the WTO in Seattle on N30 in 1998, protests that he covered personally. And, because of his lack of surprise, he properly identified, in a compelling article entitled Seattle Diary, the flash points of contention that evolved out of it. He criticized the AFL-CIO for diverting a large march away from the downtown where locked down protesters were being tear gassed and pepper-sprayed by the Seattle police. Fearful of embarrassing President Clinton, who was scheduled to attend the meeting the following day, the AFL-CIO refused to come to the assistance of people in the streets who were fighting on its behalf against the neoliberal policies of the WTO. It was a classic instance of US labor unions serving in the role of mediating protest for the benefit of capital. In this, the AFL-CIO response to the street protests in Seattle prefigured the recent health care reform debacle where, after a similarly illusory campaign of opposition, it accepted a horrible program in return for a short-term carve out from a tax upon purported high cost health plans.

Cockburn also recognized the same tendency among NGOs that claim to oppose the reorganization of the global economy for the benefit of capital. He rightly criticized Global Exchange, and one of its founders, Medea Benjamin, for intervening on behalf of the police to protect Niketown, the Gap and McDonald's, from attack by angry crowds. Benjamin even went so far as to say that the people involved should have been arrested. Cockburn, upon being challenged by Benjamin's husband, Kevin Danaher, exposed them, like the leadership of the AFL-CIO, as being noteworthy for wanting a dialogue with the WTO while the protesters wanted to shut it down. Hence, Global Exchange was willing to assist the police in stopping the attacks because it impaired its prospects of serving as a self-selected intermediary between the anti-globalization movement, the WTO and the Clinton White House. It is one thing to argue that the left is not well served by instances of property destruction, as many in Occupy have done, and quite another to publicly state that those involved should be arrested. Just as the AFL-CIO was willing to serve in the role of ensuring that its members did not participate in unsanctioned protest that threatened its political and corporate relationships, Global Exchange attempted to fulfill a similar function in relation those involved in direct action.

For me, Cockburn's coverage of the N30 protests in Seattle was a seminal event, because it revealed a world of activism that I didn't know existed, or, if I did, seemed remote. At that time, I lived in a UC college town, Davis, California, where the boundaries of acceptable activism where dictated by the local Democratic Party apparatus, which was, of course, Clintonophile through and through. Cockburn intellectually legitimized the increasing centrality of anti-authoritarian activism, an activism that would be in the forefront of resistance to the so-called war on terror post-9/11, as most brutally manifested by the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, more recently, in the Occupy movement. Like Tariq Ali, he insisted, despite criticism, upon the urgency of the creation of a broad based anti-imperialist effort that included the libertarian right. For both, saving the lives of people in the Middle East and Central Asia took precedence over the primacy of ideological consistency. The libertarian site antiwar.com periodically reposted his articles, and Justin Raimondo, the founder of the site, posted a heartfelt obituary. Cockburn understood that while, in the long term, the interests of anti-authoritarians and libertarians were at odds, they were congruent on the essential, contemporary question of US imperialism. Not surprisingly, liberals have taken the opposite stance, with the result that the interminable war on terror proceeds with little restraint.

Curiously, in one of his last articles, Cockburn posted a valedictory for Occupy. In it, he seems to have implicitly undergone a last minute conversion to an orthodox Leninism. For this, and other reasons, Louis Proyect found it objectionable, and while many of his criticisms are legitimate, he fails to recognize that Cockburn was saying a lot of the same things that sympathetic Marxists like Pham Binh have already said, especially in relation to the distortions created by the primacy of 24/7 activists and its opaque decisionmaking processes. Cockburn was especially sharp in his critique of the fetishization of social networking technology among some in Occupy, something that I had already expressed ambivalence about this in a post on my blog several months ago. My sense is that Cockburn may have again said the unmentionable, that Occupy is dead as we know it. He will not, however, live to discover whether the social conditions that gave rise to it will persist, if not intensify, resulting in future variations of like-minded anti-capitalist resistance.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Farewell, Alex, My Friend 

Jeffrey St. Clair informs us that Alexander Cockburn is dead at 71:

Our friend and comrade Alexander Cockburn died last night in Germany, after a fierce two-year long battle against cancer. His daughter Daisy was at his bedside.

Alex kept his illness a tightly guarded secret. Only a handful of us knew how terribly sick he truly was. He didn’t want the disease to define him. He didn’t want his friends and readers to shower him with sympathy. He didn’t want to blog his own death as Christopher Hitchens had done. Alex wanted to keep living his life right to the end. He wanted to live on his terms. And he wanted to continue writing through it all, just as his brilliant father, the novelist and journalist Claud Cockburn had done. And so he did. His body was deteriorating, but his prose remained as sharp, lucid and deadly as ever.

Cockburn, St. Clair and their online publication, Counterpunch, have played a prominent role in my social and political development. Cockburn's death is a great loss, and I will elaborate on my personal perspective sometime in the next few days.

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