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

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Sub-Proletarianization of America (Part 1) 

With the exception of the late, lamented Steve Gilliard and Mike Whitney, my impression has been that few bloggers and mainstream media sources have examined the profound social consequences of the puncturing of the housing bubble. Typical of such stories, coverage has instead emphasized the impact upon the stock, bond and housing markets, treating it primarily as an issue for investors.

Hence, there has been no shortage of articles about the transformation of home mortgages into collateralized debt obligations, the impact of loan defaults upon the value of these instruments, the destruction of hedge funds that used incomprehensible amounts of leverage (otherwise known as loans to you and me) to purchase them and the chaos that is now erupting in the bond and equity markets as a result.

If you want to read all about it, go to thehousingbubbleblog.com or Calculated Risk. As for the people who purchased homes with all of these strange new mortgage products such as adjustible rate loans, interest only loans, and, my personal favorite, stated income loans (yes, as incredible as it sounds, your guess is correct, banks loaned money to people based solely upon what people said they earned), they are frequently maligned as either greedy or stupid. In other words, they got what they deserved.

At best, they are just another nameless, faceless population of people run through the system to be fleeced by sharp financial operators, while serving as a cautionary example to the rest of us. A classic instance of the creative destruction that perpetually transforms and preserves our capitalist society. But such a superficial analysis barely scratches the surface of some serious questions about the extent to which the lower middle class and middle class workforce of this country can afford to pay for its basic needs of survival.

We all know that health care is increasingly unaffordable to many Americans, and that the coverage that they receive, if they can afford it, is often mediocre. Sicko merely gave cinematic expression to the lived experiences of millions. We are now discovering, as a consequence of the housing bubble, that housing, as measured by home ownership, is also increasingly unaffordable to many people as well. This is true revelation of the proliferation of exotic credit instruments for home purchases in recent years.

People in places like Sacramento, where I live, could no longer afford to purchase homes as they had done for generations, with a payment of 20% of the purchase price and a 30 year fixed mortgage for the remaining 80% of the price of the home. Cities and regions like Sacramento, Las Vegas, Phoenix, the Inland Empire of Southern California and much of Florida, places where people had fled the cost of living on the coasts were now becoming more and more expensive, as speculators and foreign investors juiced demand to new extremes.

So, it became necessary to devise new financial instruments to enable people who actually wanted to live in the homes to purchase them. Lenders looked to the credit card industry as the model, using low introductory interest rates to close deals, letting the buyers sink or swim when these rates expired, replaced by much higher ones, requiring much higher monthly payments. For the lending industry and Wall Street, it was a great party while it lasted, as the loans were securitized and purchased by hedge funds, with lucrative fees pocketed by all.

Of course, they now have their own problems, as you can read on all over the web, but what about the people who are losing their homes? What is going to happen to them? The answer, as well all know, is that it is going to be brutal. Many of them are going to be pushed into the rental market for the rest of their lives, and many are going to have to leave the locations where they currently reside because even the cost of rent is going to be too much for them. So, we are looking at the prospect of two migrations, one from houses to rentals, and the other from expensive parts of the country to less expensive ones. Furthermore, quite a number of communities built for home owners will rapidly become rental ones. Some may even resemble ghost towns, as it becomes impossible to fill all of the homes with residents.

Left academics would say that the socioeconomic life of the US will subtlely display more and more features of sub proletarization, as more and more people in the lower middle class and even the middle class find themselves forced to migrate internally within the country (an economically generated group of internally displaced people?) and live under conditions of financial insecurity. Analogizing them to global migrants is a stretch, demeaning their struggle for survival, and, yet, many Americans face a future of insecurity in all aspects of their lives.

It is easy to blame them as being greedy, stupid and gullible, and no doubt many were, but the fact is, they wanted something that they have been induced to believe that they should be able to achieve as Americans, and they were afraid, during the peak of the speculative mania, that, if they didn't buy a house, that they would never be able to do so. Financial institutions ruthlessly exploited this combination of fear, greed and lack of knowledge to destroy their financial futures, just as mutual funds and brokerage houses did during the stock market bubble of the turn of the century.

At the heart of it all remains the reality that the standard of living for many Americans has declined since the last 1960s. It has been artificially preserved, temporarily, by the creation and marketing of exotic forms of credit, such as the infamous home equity loan, that enabled them to live in a manner consistent with societal expectations. For example, the Sacramento Bee recently reported that the length of the average car loan is now almost 6 years, and that car sales have fallen in the last two years because of, yes, the bursting of the housing bubble, and the lack of any trade in value for vehicles purchased with loans over such a long period of time.

In other words, consumption at all levels has been subsidized by access to readily available credit. This is the portentious social change encapulated within the seemingly bland term that is now ubiquitous, the credit crunch. Going forward, money must be lent according to the remorseless calculations of risk that were suspended during the stock market and housing bubbles. As a society, we will be forced out of the universe of liberalized access to credit into an alternative one with pay as your go features, and it will be an agonizing exodus for many.

Socially, it is impossible to know how people will respond to it, just as it is equally difficult to predict how people will respond to the Iraq catastrophe, the flip side of the bubble coin. It is likely, however, that whatever transpires will be turbulent. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that we are experiencing the end of neoliberal economics, a transformation of the American economy that will rival the industrialization of the 19th Century and the deindustrialization of the late 20th Century in terms of importance.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Support the Resistance? (Gaius versus lenin) 

Gaius' rejoinder to lenin (and myself) over at Democracy in America. See my original post on the subject from Friday, with extensive comments, here.

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Good News 

Perhaps, the militarization of Japan at the behest of the US will be checked. Now, both the British and the Japanese governments will face increasing pressure to distance themselves from the imperial enterprise in Iraq.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Tedium of Hillary Clinton 

As frequent visitors to this blog know, I don't play the liberal blogosphere game of keeping score of the runs, hits and errors accumulated so far in the presidential campaign. My general belief is that presidential campaigns, at least for liberals, serve the enervating purpose of deemphasizing the importance of numerous social justice campaigns by inducing people to believe that, if we just elect the right person, then we will walk down Pennsylvania Avenue into the Garden of Eden.

Every now and then, though, something happens that brings the process, or, at least, some of its participants, into sharp relief. Last week, it happened with Hillary Clinton during the YouTube debate:

The rival camps of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama clashed today over the meaning of Obama's claim in a Democratic presidential debate that he'd be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations such as Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Clinton supporters characterized it as a gaffe that underscored the freshman senator's lack of foreign-policy savvy while Obama's team claimed his response displayed judgment and a repudiation of President Bush's diplomacy.

In a memo from Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton, the campaign contended that Obama's comments played well with focus groups that watched the debate and "showed his willingness to lead and ask tough questions on matters of war."

Obama "offered a dramatic change from the Bush administration's eight-year refusal to protect our security interests by using every tool of American power available — including diplomacy.

Clinton's campaign, meanwhile, portrayed Obama's response as naive — and scheduled a conference call for reporters with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to reinforce the contention.

In Monday's two-hour debate from Charleston, S.C., Obama was asked if he would be willing to meet — without precondition — in the first year of his presidency with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea.

"I would," he responded.

Clinton said she would not.

"I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes," she said. Her campaign quickly posted video of her answer online, trying to show she has a different understanding of foreign policy than her chief rival.

Obama adviser David Axelrod said today that Obama would not just meet blindly with such leaders but only after diplomatic spadework had been accomplished.

Americans "are sick of the Bush diplomacy and aren't interested in continuing it," said Axelrod.

In this brief exchange, Hillary revealed that, if she becomes President, her administration will develop and implement policy in reliance upon the most reactionary attitudes, the most fossilized notions associated with the arrogant display of power. Of course, there is no harm in engaging in diplomatic communications with the leaders of any country, unless, of course, you share the values of a leadership class that believes that the best way to deal with conflict is through ostracism.

And, you guessed it, the neoconservatives loved it:

Since when is Hillary Clinton the idol of conservative pundits?

After Clinton delivered a foreign-policy haymaker to Barack Obama's head during a Democratic presidential debate Tuesday:

• Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative weekly, wrote that she answered the now-famous "would-you-meet-with-despots" question "firmly and coolly."

• Rich Lowry of National Review, a conservative weekly, gushed: "She excels. ... Clinton has run a nearly flawless campaign and has done more than any other Democrat to show she's ready to be president."

• David Brooks, conservative columnist at The New York Times, wrote that Clinton "seems to offer the perfect combination of experience and change" and is changing perceptions in a way that may persuade voters to give her a second look.

• Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist at The Washington Post, summed up the Clinton-Obama smackdown: "The grizzled veteran showed up the clueless rookie."

All this from a crowd that has spent the better part of two decades demonizing Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton.

As a matter of political strategy, she is just subjecting us to more of the same triangulation nonsense that marked her husband's presidency. If she puts Obama to rout after this, it may be recalled as her Sister Souljah moment. MoveON.org will no doubt look the other way as she steps forward to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president.

But I think that there is something more to it. Engaging Venezuela would mean abandoning an emerging bipartisan consensus that Chavez should be removed. Engaging Iran is considered threatening to Israel, and there is even the implied prospect that Obama, through his own reasoning, might find himself, as President, opening a dialogue with Hamas (and, don't doubt that Hillary and her staff haven't pushed these themes strongly within the Jewish community after the debate).

Given this exchange with Obama, and its implications, the prospect that Hillary would break ranks with the foreign policy elite, and withdraw from Iraq, strikes me as improbable, especially given her public statements on the subject. Four years of Hillary would be dreary beyond all comprehension.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Support the Iraqi Resistance? (lenin Referees Pollitt versus Cockburn) 

Recently, Alexander Cockburn and Katha Pollitt, both columnists with The Nation magazine, engaged in a published dispute about the extent, if at all, the antiwar movement should support the Iraqi resistance. Cockburn initiated the debate, with a piece entitled Support Their Troops?, in which he advocated a clear recognition of the right of Iraqis to violently resist the occupation, while Pollitt subsequently responded in a column entitled, 2, 4, 6, 8, This Beheading is Really Great!

Leave it to lenin over at Lenin's Tomb to award Cockburn the clear victory, and quite rightly so:

. . . . A little humility would compel [Pollitt] to recognise that the Iraqi resistance is doing far more to frustrate American imperialism than then American left is. The resistance is supporting us. It is their courageous insistence on combatting an enemy with immense death-dealing power, confronting them in the streets despite years of savage murder, despite the prospect of incineration and shredding, that is causing Bush's unpopularity. This is what caused the House to pass a bill opposing permanent bases in Iraq. It is this which is causing the Pentagon to draw up contingency plans for withdrawal. It wouldn't matter what position American liberals took if the resistance could do it alone, but the antiwar movement is - no matter what the President says - the decider. The articulate antiwar liberals in the media have a unique responsibility to combat racist myths and Pentagon propaganda, not collude in it. Instead of energetically accomodating itself to the beheaders, kidnappers, torturers and murderers in the Democratic Party, the antiwar movement must maintain its political independence. It should stolidly insist that the resistance is largely a necessary response to occupation and not some inexplicable excrescence. Then it will not be caught in the trap of calling for an unprincipled withdrawal which will empower people whom they concede are nothing else but psychopaths, tyrants, theocrats and beheaders. It isn't even necessary for the Nation liberals to ra-ra the resistance: they simply have to stop colluding in lies, recognising old-fashioned colonial mystique for what it is, and let people draw their own conclusions.

I have my own thoughts about this, and if I get some time, I might post about it next week, if not, lenin will have to speak for me.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

From the Mailbag: Sweatshops (Do We Ever Stop to Think About Who Makes the Products We Buy?) 

Yesterday, Hari Seldon was polite enough to draw our attention to the following YouTube video about the gruesome realities of sweatshop production in Bangladesh. See what Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times considers an appropriate development model:

Much appreciated, Hari, as this video excerpt is quite compelling, reminding us of things we should never forget, and never stop trying to overcome.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Alissa, Alissa, Didn't Anyone Tell You . . . 

. . . . that the Iraqi oil law is about more than what you described as national reconciliation?

The oil law, which would set up a system for managing and developing Iraq’s oil resources and would have a companion revenue-sharing law that would apportion oil income among the various groups, had been considered the most likely to be passed before the September report to Congress. But by the time the Iraqis return to Parliament in September, it is highly unlikely that they could meet the midmonth deadline in the United States.

“The fact is that the political blocs haven’t reached an agreement,” said Ayad al-Samarrai, one of the leaders of Tawafiq, the largest of the Sunni Arab blocs in Parliament. “What the government is doing can be described as dodging — the governmental bodies have not agreed among themselves,” he said, referring to differences within the Iraqi leadership, which includes Shiites, Sunni Arabs and Kurds, about aspects of the law.

However, there is a growing sense among a number of Iraqi leaders that all of the measures that constitute reconciliation should be handled as a package so that tradeoffs can be made among the political groups. “The Kurds want to approve a certain group of laws, like a national revenue-sharing law” and other provisions, said Haider al-Abadi, a Shiite member of Parliament.

The Sunni Arabs are also interested in addressing the laws as a package, Mr. Samarrai said. “Today we made a suggestion to invite the political blocs to discuss this with the presidency,” he said. They would discuss several laws as a political package and make a deal on all of them once. They include the oil and revenue sharing measure, a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party, which was dominated by Sunni Arabs, and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments so that Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds would be equitably represented.

Rather strangely, your article makes no reference to the fact that the law mandates the denationalization of the industry and the profitable, virtually unregulated, participation of transnationals through production sharing agreements. Nor does the article make mention of the opposition of the unions that represent the people who work within it.

Another rather peculiar omission, don't you think? Neglecting to mention the opinion of the people that actually work in the industry? Do you honestly not know these things, or did the editor back in New York slash it out? After all, Bill can be so prissy about these things.

I also couldn't understand why the Shia, the Sunnis and the Kurds are having such difficulty reaching an agreement if the bill is designed to promote reconciliation. Anyway, as you can tell, I am having a lot of difficulty making sense of out of your story. I know that you have dinner plans with Judith and Michael at eight, so maybe you can call or e-mail after you get home, and provide some much needed insight.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's My Birthday And I'll Post If I Want To 

Hey, it's my birthday and you know what that means ... It means if that it's the anniversary of the first post of the Bone's blog ... These are the things that the internets have taught me. (The internets have also taught me that the anniversary of the first post of this blog is the day after Chomsky's birthday, Pearl Harbor day.)

Speaking of Chomsky my birthday wish is that you all listen to this -- this is what I command. Then after that I command that ... I don't know maybe listen to Goodbye Girl by Squeeze.

Another thing I command is that you all leave a comment at A Tiny Revolution telling Jonathan Schwarz not to give up blogging...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Iraqi Resistance Fights to Protect America from al-Qaeda 

Seumas Milne has published an important article about the nature of the Iraqi resistance to the US occupation:

"We are the only resistance movement in modern history that has received no help or support from any other country," Omary declares. "The reason is that we are fighting America." The 1920 Revolution Brigades spokesman is an articulate and sophisticated operator, who - if he survives the counterinsurgency and sectarian onslaught - clearly has the potential to become an influential voice in a future Iraq. "Our position is that there are two kinds of people in Iraq: not Sunni and Shia, Kurdish and Arab, Muslim and Christian, but those who are with the occupation and those who are against it." Anyone who takes part in the institutions set up by the occupation, such as the government and parliament, army or police, are regarded as collaborators. "Our organisation began its operations in the first days after the invasion and wherever you find the occupation, you will find us: from Mosul, Baghdad and Samarra to Basra, Hillah and Kirkuk," continues Omary. "Our group has also carried out attacks on British forces in Basra." They are not a Sunni sectarian organisation, he insists: "The military leader of the Brigades is a Kurd. Iraq is for all Iraqis and we only distinguish between those who cooperate with the occupation and those who do not. If my brother cooperates with the occupation, I will kill him - but the innocent must not be touched."

What makes Iraqis join the resistance? "Many people come to the resistance because of their Islamic background, some because of what has happened to their relatives at the hands of the occupation armies," says Zubeidy. "American forces have committed very big crimes against the Iraqi people. All Iraqis hate the foreign forces and won't forget what they have done. Generally, British forces have acted as a helper to the US and the British government shares the blame for everything that happened to Iraq. But their actions are seen as having been less cruel than the Americans."

At the heart of the new insurgent alliance is a rejection of the murderous sectarianism that has come to grip Iraq - and the role of al-Qaida in particular. Most striking is the case of Zubeidy, whose hardline salafist (purist Islamic) group Ansar al-Sunna recently split in half over the issue (his faction is now called the Legitimate Committee of Ansar al-Sunna - Goure says such splits are endemic in the resistance movement). "We wanted to unite with other resistance forces, but the other group is moving closer to al-Qaida and refused. Al-Qaida has brought benefits and problems," Zubeidy says. "They attack the US occupiers. But every day the problems they bring become greater than the benefits.

"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals," he continues. "Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. Suicide bombing is not the best way to fight because it kills innocent civilians. We are against indiscriminate killing - fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy. They [al-Qaida] believe that all Shia are kuffar [unbelievers] - and most of the Sunnis as well." They estimate that al-Qaida now carries out between a fifth and a third of all attacks in Iraq.

But they say that it is necessary for the Sunni-based groups to ally with the Shia. "Even though that is not easy," says Zubeidy. "A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that - as have the US and Iran. Most of al-Qaida's members are Iraqis but its leaders are mostly foreigners. The Americans magnify their role, even though they are responsible for a minority of resistance operations - remember that the Americans brought al-Qaida to Iraq."

If US troops remain in Iraq because of the threat of al-Qaeda, then the US can work with these people, and, according to some news accounts, has already done so. If the US also remains in Iraq in order to achieve the imperial aims of permanently stationing troops there, while exploiting the country's oil resources on terms favorable to transnationals, then, the violence will persist, if not intensify.

Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr continues to reach out to the Sunni resistance in order to create a coalition that will render the occupation untenable:

Nationalist Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bid to unite Sunnis and Shiites on the basis of a common demand for withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces, reported last weekend by the Washington Post's Sudarsan Raghavan, seems likely to get a positive response from Sunni armed resistance.

An account given Pentagon officials by a military officer recently returned from Iraq suggests that Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province, who have generally reflected the views of the Sunni armed resistance there, are open to working with Sadr.

A commander of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, Abu Aja Naemi, confirmed to Raghavan that his organization had been in discussions with Sadr's representatives.

According to Raghavan's report on May 20, talks between Sadr's representatives and Sunni leaders, including leaders of Sunni armed resistance factions, first began in April.

Sadr's aides say he was encouraged to launch the new cross-sectarian initiative by the increasingly violent opposition from nationalist Sunni insurgents to the jihadists aligned with al Qaeda. One of his top aides, Ahmed Shaibani, recalled that the George W. Bush administration was arguing that a timetable was unacceptable because of the danger of al Qaeda taking advantage of a withdrawal. Shaibani told Raghavan that sectarian peace could be advanced if both Sadr's Mahdi Army and Sunni insurgent groups could unite to weaken al Qaeda.

Let's sit down for a moment and allow our heads to clear, shall we? While American citizens receive vague warnings about the possibility of domestic terror attacks perpetrated by a purportedly reinvigorated al-Qaeda, it turns out that indigenous Shia and Sunni resistance groups are already independently engaged in armed conflict with it! Furthermore, they are initiating dialogue about how they can work together to become even more effective in eradicating the al-Qaeda presence.

Indeed, according to the National Intelligence Estimate, the Shia and Sunni resistance are striking al-Qaeda in one of its strongholds that could faciliate a domestic terror attack:

We assess that al-Qa’ida will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups. Of note, we assess that al-Qa’ida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the Homeland. In addition, we assess that its association with AQI helps al-Qa’ida to energize the broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources, and to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks.

No doubt, the leaders of the Shia and Sunni resistance will soon be receiving counterterrorism grants from the Department of Homeland Security. It will, however, be necessary for them to strictly account for the expenditures of all funds to ensure that the monies are not diverted to anti-occupation operations aimed at US forces. With some good legal and accounting advice, this should not be too difficult.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

MoveON.org: The Perpetual Precession of the Simulacra of Antiwar Activism 

Postmodernist philosophers are noted for their obsession with perceived differences between reality and socially generated representations of it. According to Jean Baudrillard, who died recently, we now live in an age marked by the substitution of the signs of the real, simulacra, for the real itself. He described this process as the precession of simulacra, a process that eliminates our capability to distinguish between nature and artifice.

MoveON.org is the classic manifestation of a liberal organization that sees the world in postmodernist terms, an organization that seeks to achieve the partisan goal of electing Democrats based upon the assumption that the precession of simulacra is an inescapable, established fact of our contemporary existence. I have previously described the efforts of MoveON.org to substitute the artifice of antiwar activism for the substantive kind (click on the label for MoveON.org below if you are interested), and barely a month goes by without discovering its participation in another initiative launched for the purpose of containing antiwar activism within the boundaries established by moderate Democrats.

For example, I discovered this one, while lurking over at DailyKos, the Americans Against Escalation in Iraq:

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is a national campaign comprised of a variety groups from across the political spectrum that are committed to opposing the Bush-McCain plan to escalate the war in Iraq and to work for the responsible redeployment of American forces. Americans Against Escalation in Iraq includes veterans, students, some of the nation’s leading anti-war voices, and progressive organizations which traditionally confine their activity to domestic issues. Many of the organizations coming together to lead Americans Against Escalation in Iraq include those which successfully mounted a national campaign in 2005 to defeat President Bush’s effort to privatize Social Security. Using that same campaign model, these organizations are joining with more traditional anti-war forces, veterans and students to mount this campaign because the stakes are so high and because the future of a generation of Americans is on the line.

Despite standing for virtually nothing, Americans Against Escalation in Iraq expropriates the language and methods of past social movements in the hope that the sprinkling of the magic dust of authenticity will infuse their efforts with a credibility that is absent. Quite predictably, it is now involved in a multi-million-dollar Iraq Summer project dedicated to pressuring Congresspersons and Senators to change their stance and stop supporting the Cheney-Bush Iraq policy. And, yes, you guessed it, Iraq Summer is only targeting Republican members of Congress, not Democrats, you know, those like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid who approved the continued financing of the war.

My hostility towards MoveON.org has primarily been because of its effort to prevent the emergence of a popular, mass based movement against the war in Iraq and, potentially, even US imperialism. Now, I have concluded that it serves an even more insidious purpose, the mobilization of people to participate in meaningless spectacles, based upon the assumption that radical political change is impossible. In other words, a perspective about US politics and social life that is irretrievably cynical and amoral, and allows the militarists to run free to plot new crimes.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Whither the United States? 

For nation states, there is always the question: what are the reasons for their existence? What social, cultural, ethnic, religous and economic values support them? Contrary to what the Zionists say, no country has a right to exist, and historical processes remorelessly act upon them, like water on rock, polishing some while fragmenting and destroying others.

Now, the United States isn't going anywhere anytime soon (although, I'm sure that many said the same thing about the Soviet Union in, say, 1980), but a number of stories last week prompted me to speculate about what purpose, if any, is currently served by the US, as well as the extent to which, if at all, the country's more odious aspects are capable of being reformed.

First, as discussed here last Wednesday, The Nation ran a pathbreaking article about the occupation of Iraq as it is enforced by US troops. The authors interviewed about 50 soldiers, and the responses shattered any plausibility to the notion that the troops remain in the Iraq for any beneficial purpose.

Along these lines, Nick Turso of TomDispatch also posted an article about the tremendous reach of the US military globally, an article entitled, The Pentagon as Global Landlord. The Pentagon has 766 bases in 39 countries, and stations troops in 140 ones:

Still, to begin to grasp the Pentagon's global immensity, it helps to look, again, at its land holdings -- all 120,191 square kilometers which are almost exactly the size of North Korea (120,538 square kilometers). These holdings are larger than any of the following nations: Liberia, Bulgaria, Guatemala, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Denmark, Georgia, or Austria. The 7,518 square kilometers of 20 micro-states -- the Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Maldives, Malta, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, Seychelles, Andorra, Bahrain, Saint Lucia, Singapore, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga -- combined pales in comparison to the 9,307 square kilometers of just one military base, White Sands Missile Range.

Predictably, the Pentagon has no intention of scaling back the immense scope of these facilities. It is instead investigating the means by which it can dominate the ocean and space as it currently does land. Of course, the Pentagon's global presence is objectionable, because it serves the purpose of facilitating global US imperial dominance, resulting in conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, and covert operations in Gaza, Lebanon, Iran (and, probably, Venezuela).

Some theorists, like Giovanni Arrighi, believe that the US is the means by which capitalism is attempting to consummate centuries of expansion from nation states (the Dutch) to continents (the British) to the entire world. Interestingly, Arrighi is dubious that the US possesses the resources to achieve it. But this question, while an important one, is not the one that interests me. Rather, I am curious as to whether it is impossible for the US to exist at all without engaging in the use of economic coercion and extreme militaristic violence, resulting in the loss of life on a scale just below the genocidal, to assert dominance over others.

To put it another way, can the US be reformed in such a way so as to substantially reduce the violence engendered by its interaction with many of the peoples of the world? Or, will it require the destruction of the American political system by means of international resistance, conceivably resulting in a global conflict involving both nation states and non-governmental groups? Liberalism no doubt opts for the reformist alternative, but it has been singularly incapable of achieving a single success in restraining American violence. With a news report today that Cheney is pressuring Bush to attack Iran before the end of his term, such questions are not idle ones.

Domestically, one might contend that the US is necessary to maintain social order, and provide assistance in the event of a catastrophe. Another important article published last week in the New York Times tragically revealed, however, the inability, if not the unwillingness, of the federal government to assist the evacuated victims of Hurricane Katrina so that they can return home to New Orleans. In a post on Thursday, I described them as The American Palestinians.

The poor, the elderly and the disabled have been spread across the country, living in trailer parks and monochromatic apartments, desperately trying to find jobs as they stretch their monthly income to the limit to meet their basic needs. Evacuees living in trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi face the prospect that they will be zoned out of their housing. Meanwhile, the federal government is destroying low income housing in New Orleans, not building more, making it impossible for them to return to a city where rents have increased substantially. The emphasis appears to be upon exploiting the hurricane so that New Orleans can be rebuild as a tourist theme park, sans those disquieting aspects of everyday life that would otherwise intrude.

As with the US global militarism, the inability of the federal government to assist these victims of Katrina provokes a profound question as well. If the federal government cannot provide assistance in a catastrophe, if it leaves many people to fend for themselves, if, ultimately, one's survival is dependent upon one's economic status, then why have the federal government at all? Money has always enabled people to navigate their way through natural disasters, through political turmoil, and it is noteworthy precisely because it works its magic in the absence of the state, except to the extent that the state validates the currency and establishes mechanisms for its use, monetarism, in other words.

While disinterested in the victims of Katrina, the US seems to work quite well for international lending institutions, for investors, for neoliberal policy makers who want to enforce a new social order on the rest of the world. It also, to be fair, provides a good standard of living (albeit below Western European and Japanese standards) for educated elites who thrive under such policies. But are they accurately described as policies or are they endemic to the US political system? Time will tell, and the answers will go a long way towards determining whether the US transforms itself relatively non-violently, as did the old USSR, or whether it finds itself embroiled in one of the most destructive conflicts in world history.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Try Looking Through the Other End of the Telescope, David 

Going through some of the links on the far left side of the page, and discovered an interesting post over at K Marx The Spot. Is there anything more embarassing than when a New York Times columnist speculates about the culture of people residing outside of Manhatten? In this instance, David Brooks believes that, after a courageous foray into the world of pop music, he has discovered a new phenomenon with significant social implications, women singing about failed relationships and no good men. Apparently, Brooks has never heard of The Supremes, Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette, much less Tanya Tucker. Do people really pay extra to access his column through TimesSelect?

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

I Guess She Didn't Like Retirement 

So Cindy Sheehan is threatening to run against Nancy Pelosi in 2008 if Pelosi doesn't move to impeach Bush by July 23rd? If one sits very still one can hear the beat of war drums in the distance and the far-off cries of lamentation emanating from DailyKos. Eric Alterman is probably already sharpening his knives...

The American Palestinians 

Expelled, ostracized, abandoned.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Get that Fucking Haji Out of Here! 

UPDATE 2: Another excerpt from the article:

Any stereotypes about Islam and Arabs that soldiers and marines arrived with tended to solidify rapidly in the close confines of the military and the risky streets of Iraqi cities into a crude racism.

As Spc. Josh Middleton, 23, of New York City, who served in Baghdad and Mosul with the Second Battalion, Eighty-Second Airborne Division, from December 2004 to March 2005, pointed out, 20-year-old soldiers went from the humiliation of training--"getting yelled at every day if you have a dirty weapon"--to the streets of Iraq, where "it's like life and death. And 40-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can--do you know what I mean?--we have this power that you can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level."

In Iraq, Specialist Middleton said, "a lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want."

The great insight here is not the candid admission of the ingrained racism that has characterized the war since its inception, but rather the extent to which military training serves the purpose of encouraging the troops to give uninhibited expression to it once they are out in the field as a means of intimidating the populace.

UPDATE 1: lenin over at Lenin's Tomb examines the revelations of the article in more detail.

ORIGINAL POST: Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian have published a lengthy, groundbreaking article in The Nation that mercilessly exposes the physical and emotional brutality of the occupation of Iraq. It is essential reading because the harshness of the occupation is revealed through the words of the soldiers themselves:

Several interviewees emphasized that the military did set up, for training purposes, mock Iraqi villages peopled with actors who played the parts of civilians and insurgents. But they said that the constant danger in Iraq, and the fear it engendered, swiftly overtook such training.

"They were the law," Specialist Harmon said of the soldiers in his unit in Al-Rashidiya, near Baghdad, which participated in raids and convoys. "They were very mean, very mean-spirited to them. A lot of cursing at them. And I'm like, Dude, these people don't understand what you're saying.... They used to say a lot, 'Oh, they'll understand when the gun is in their face.'"

Those few veterans who said they did try to reach out to Iraqis encountered fierce hostility from those in their units.

"I had the night shift one night at the aid station," said Specialist Resta, recounting one such incident. "We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall in our aid station, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die.... So these guys in the guard tower radio in, and they say they've got an Iraqi out there that's asking for a doctor.

"So it's really late at night, and I walk out there to the gate and I don't even see the guy at first, and they point out to him and he's standing there. Well, I mean he's sitting, leaned up against this concrete barrier--like the median of the highway--we had as you approached the gate. And he's sitting there leaned up against it and, uh, he's out there, if you want to go and check on him, he's out there. So I'm sitting there waiting for an interpreter, and the interpreter comes and I just walk out there in the open. And this guy, he has the shit kicked out of him. He was missing two teeth. He has a huge laceration on his head, he looked like he had broken his eye orbit and had some kind of injury to his knee."

The Iraqi, Specialist Resta said, pleaded with him in broken English for help. He told Specialist Resta that there were men near the base who were waiting to kill him.

"I open a bag and I'm trying to get bandages out and the guys in the guard tower are yelling at me, 'Get that fucking haji out of here,'" Specialist Resta said. "And I just look back at them and ignored them, and then they were saying, you know, 'He doesn't look like he's about to die to me,' 'Tell him to go cry back to the fuckin' IP [Iraqi police],' and, you know, a whole bunch of stuff like that. So, you know, I'm kind of ignoring them and trying to get the story from this guy, and our doctor rolls up in an ambulance and from thirty to forty meters away looks out and says, shakes his head and says, 'You know, he looks fine, he's gonna be all right,' and walks back to the passenger side of the ambulance, you know, kind of like, Get your ass over here and drive me back up to the clinic. So I'm standing there, and the whole time both this doctor and the guards are yelling at me, you know, to get rid of this guy, and at one point they're yelling at me, when I'm saying, 'No, let's at least keep this guy here overnight, until it's light out,' because they wanted me to send him back out into the city, where he told me that people were waiting for him to kill him.

"When I asked if he'd be allowed to stay there, at least until it was light out, the response was, 'Are you hearing this shit? I think Doc is part fucking haji,'" Specialist Resta said.

Specialist Resta gave in to the pressure and denied the man aid. The interpreter, he recalled, was furious, telling him that he had effectively condemned the man to death.

"So I walk inside the gate and the interpreter helps him up and the guy turns around to walk away and the guys in the guard tower go, say, 'Tell him that if he comes back tonight he's going to get fucking shot,'" Specialist Resta said. "And the interpreter just stared at them and looked at me and then looked back at them, and they nod their head, like, Yeah, we mean it. So he yells it to the Iraqi and the guy just flinches and turns back over his shoulder, and the interpreter says it again and he starts walking away again, you know, crying like a little kid. And that was that."

This is just one of many episodes described by Hedges and al-Arian. The experiences in Iraq related by US troops shatter the myth that they are serving any beneficial purpose there. It is yet another indication that one of the unmentionable reasons for this conflict, beyond oil, beyond Israel, beyond Saddam, beyond the creation of permanent military bases, beyond all those understandable efforts to understand it rationally, is the fulfillment of a perverse vindictive gratification in response to 9/11.

In the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, we hung African Americans from trees. In the early 21st Century, we kill, torture, rape and detain Iraqis. Despite living in a world with iPods and MacBooks, the bloodlust of the vigilante mob is now the daily practice of the US military.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

From the Sidelines 

Fortunately, I'm a secular leftist, enabling me to avoid having to rationalize, or otherwise engage, these sorts of embarassments:

Protestant churches yesterday reacted with dismay to a new declaration approved by Pope Benedict XVI insisting they were mere "ecclesial communities" and their ministers effectively phonies with no right to give communion.

Benedict issued this pronouncement just days after removing restrictions on the use of the traditional Catholic mass:

Jewish leaders and community groups criticised Pope Benedict XVI strongly yesterday after the head of the Roman Catholic Church formally removed restrictions on celebrating an old form of the Latin mass which includes prayers calling for the Jews to 'be delivered from their darkness' and converted to Catholicism.

All in a week's work for a Pope that has already denied the history of the Church's brutalities in the Americas, and sought to conceal the Church's practice of using violence to convert people in the Middle Ages by attributing it solely to Islam.

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The Mysterious Death of Sergeant Mitchell 

Funny what you discover when you read an article out of curiosity. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle published this article with the headline Monterey Soldier Dies in Mali. What was the soldier doing in Mali? Here's the explanation:

A 35-year-old Army soldier from Monterey was killed Saturday while serving a non-combat mission in Kidal, Mali.

Sgt. 1st Class Sean K. Mitchell was serving in a cooperative program between American and African troops which is meant to improve border security and bolster counter-terrorism efforts in the western African nation, said Major John Dorrian, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command.

Mitchell was killed when the tent he was working in was thrown during high winds, said Dorrian. Four other soldiers were injured, and are now being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, he said.

Mitchell was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Stuttgart, Germany. He was part of the Special Operations Command Europe's Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, a joint program between the departments of State and Defense.

The program is a cooperative effort that centers on training African troops and "building their capacity and capability," to fight terrorism, Dorrian said.

Apparently, Mitchell was participating in the newly created United States Africa Command as part of the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative. According to Marine Corps General James L. Jones, willing partners in the program include Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria and Tunisia.

Wikipedia blandly informs us that: Discussion over the need for a new continental command has been ongoing since 2003–2004 with the rise of tensions in the oil rich Niger Delta region (see Nigerian Oil Crisis), which supplies a large amount of oil to the United States.

Indeed. Things are not going well in Nigeria these days, especially if you are a foreigner involved in the oil industry. One wonders, how long before the US gets imbroiled in this counflict? After all, the unrest in Nigeria has contributed to recent increases in the price of oil to a near record high. Or, are we involved there already?

As someone with a sociological bent, influenced by postmodernism, and its repudiation of grand historical narratives, I try to be wary of broad, reductionist explanations of events. Even so, I think that we can safely say that, under the Bush Administration especially, the consequences of covert American intervention tends to invariably escalate the level of violence.

Let's hope, against the historical record, that increasing US involvement in Africa will not involve the sort of violent covert operations, such as paramilitary death squad activity, that the US encouraged in Central America and Iraq. As for Sergeant Mitchell, the article rather oddly describes his death as a non-combat one. Possibly, but, given the nature of the mission, openly acknowledged in the article, it seems a little deceptive to describe it this way.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 2) 

From yesterday's New York Times:

Amid a continuing flurry of reports about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the leader of a tribal council in Farah Province said Saturday that 108 noncombatants had been killed Friday in a NATO airstrike.

The report was denied by a NATO spokesman and could not immediately be confirmed from other sources.

“NATO soldiers, along with the Afghan National Army and people from the national police, came to Shewan Village and told us they needed to search three or four houses,” the tribal chief, Hajji Khudai Rahm, said in a telephone interview. “As we talked, a firefight began and 20 houses were destroyed when the planes dropped bombs.

“We counted 108 bodies, including women and children,” he said. “Fourteen local policemen were among the dead. Right now, things are calm, but people are digging through the rubble to find more bodies.”

Also, Reuters reported that residents and officials in Kunar Province said 36 civilians had been killed in recent airstrikes, 11 of them on Thursday during a bombardment, and 25 more on Friday as they attended a funeral for the deceased.

Beyond the obvious humanitarian concerns that we should have about such atrocities, we must ask, how long before the blowback reaches the continental US?

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Summer Blogroll Cleaning 

Over the weekend I'm going to prune the American Leftist blogroll. I'm going to axe blogs that didn't post in June and haven't posted in July. Anyway, people often ask to be on the blogroll and I try to oblige, but sometimes I forget ... If this applies to you, now would be a good a time to send me an email as I'm going to be fooling around with the template. An email address to me is on the left sidebar under the blogroll, above the archives.

American Anglophiles 

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, as the philosophers of the past have said. In this instance, the farce reveals itself in the efforts of American politicians and scholars to adopt the methods of British imperialism in the Middle East:

With President Bush's war strategy clouded by limited results and mounting casualties, two scholars are proposing a partition plan that would divide Iraq into three main regions.

The authors, Edward P. Joseph of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, are hoping to draw the attention of Bush administration policymakers.

They are circulating their suggestions within the Bush administration.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, who is a Democratic presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sought for months to attract support for a partition plan he formulated with Leslie Gelb, former head of the private Council on Foreign Relations. It would establish a federal system of government in Iraq.

As with most things that originate with Joe Biden, the proposal makes no logical sense. He, and Leslie Gelb, want to partition Iraq, while retaining a federal system of government. Come again? Do Pennsylvania and California consider themselves partitioned from the US?

Of course not, it is absurd. Furthermore, the notion that partitioning Iraq will bring stability to the country is, at best, an unproven one, at worst, a concept that has failed to work in actual practice, as demonstrated by the violence that erupted in the nearby Caucasus and the republics of the former Yugoslavia.

But the most obvious, farcical aspect of the proposal is the assumption that Americans thousands of miles away know what is best for the people of Iraq. No Iraqis are quoted in support of the proposal, indeed, it appears obvious that the reporter, Barry Schweid, saw no reason to contact any of them. People like Biden, Joseph, O'Hanlon and Schweid would no more consider the views of Iraqis as important than would the antebellum owner of cotton plantation believe that his slaves have anything to say about running his farm.

All in all, though, it is very curious. To the west of Iraq, there is a country, Israel, that Biden and all other American politicians uniformly say has a right to exist. Conversely, Iraq does not possess this right, and Biden is proposing that it be dismantled. Wonder why that is?

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Beyond the Green Zone 

Dahr Jamail has a book coming out. There's going to be a national book tour in the fall. I think he toured once before didn't he? -- because I think I remember missing him speak.

Hat tip: Toteota ... (check out the clip linked to from the toteota post)...

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Things That Aren't Surprising 

Wolfowitz gets hired by the AEI. Job title: "visiting scholar" -- make up your own joke... (How long until Scooter gets a position like this?)

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Monday, July 02, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Price of Fire (Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia) 

As noted last December, AK Press is a remarkably inventive publisher of radical books. Known for its anarchism, it emphasizes the release of works by people with first hand experience of social movements, resulting in a relatively unmediated and refreshingly non-academic presentation. It aspires to the ambition of relating the histories of the present day that the corporate, globalized media ignores, while simultaneously excavating the buried experiences of marginalized peoples of the past.

In February, it published Benjamin Dangl's, The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia. The book is a triumph in every respect. Technically, Dangl is one of those rarities, a writer blessed with the gift of the economical use of language, capable of skillfully interweaving abstract theory, political and social history and the personal experiences of the people who have lived and transcended it. He is thorough, but not boring, colorful, without reducing his subjects to the level of vicarious objects for the benefit of literary tourism.

For Dangl, The Price of Fire describes the cost of access to the basic elements of human survival, which in Bolivia means gas, water, land, coca, employment and other resources, and it is this struggle, a struggle that has persisted for centuries, that explains what has recently transpired in Bolivia. Ruthlessly abused by the feudal Spanish, neglected by the liberal nationalism of the late 19th and 20th Centuries, and, finally, relegated to the shadows as irrelevant and dispensable because of their inability to participate in the credit and consumer economy of neoliberalism, the indigenous majority of Bolivia faced cultural extinction.

But something quite incredible occurred, truly incredible, given the small size of Bolivia in terms of territory and population. Instead of allowing themselves to be atomized, separated from one another in a Hobbesian world of subsistence, they fought back, drawing upon a tradition of collective action and creative social organization. Faced with the prospect of perpetual repression by the US financed paramilitary War on Drugs, the loss of communal water supplies to multinational corporations, grinding poverty as consequence of the implementation of IMF structural adjustment plans and the extraction of their hydrocarbon wealth, such as natural gas, without little, if any tangible benefit, they rebelled.

Dangl has spent a lot of time in Bolivia, often during many of the protests against these policies imposed by the US for the benefit of transnationals, the Pentagon and private military contractors, and his experiences, and especially those of the people that he interviewed, infuse the book with an intimacy normally associated with oral history. His subjects, coca farmers, shantytown residents, urban police officers, students and the deindustrialized proletariat describe the inhumanity of neoliberalism in terms of their day to day life, explaining how resistance became the only means of survival available to them.

Readers therefore understand seminal events like the Cochambamba Water War in 2000 and the Gas War of 2003 through the voices of the participants themselves. Along with the burgeoning movement in support of coca production, they brought down a succession of neoliberal governments, paving the way for the political victory of Evo Morales in 2005.

For Americans, Dangl's examination of the culturally essential role of coca in the lives of the people of Bolivia is especially enlightening. Beyond its medicinal value and the ability of indigenous people to make a subsistence living from its harvest and sale, it provided a refuge for people who lost jobs in more conventional agriculture and the mining sector. As one woman told Dangl: I produce coca for my children, because if I die tomorrow they will be able to continue to eat thanks to this bit of coca.

If there is a thread that runs throughout, it is the ability of Bolivians to organize communally. Coca growers formed unions, and participated in numerous road blockades and protests to defend themselves against the US mandated paramilitary eradication effort. Migrants to the high altitude, impoverished city of El Alto, many of them miners and farmers, like their brethren who survived by growing coca, brought their methods of social organization with them, creating a sense of solidarity through unions and neighborhood councils that enabled them to construct their communities and govern themselves.

As one miner who lost his job in the 1980s explained: When we came to El Alto from Potosi, all the miners put their money together to buy land . . We knew how to demand things and how to organize. We knew how to work together. That's how we got things like water quickly. We had to use our own tools, buy our own cement, everything. The state wasn't around at that time. I had the luck to have 25 companeros from the mines there with me. It's our neighborhood, we made it . . Even today we don't have help from the state.

Inevitably, the participants in such forms of communal organization, which evoke the mutual aid philosophy of anarchism, were going to come into conflict with the state. They prevailed, it seems, because, while they were being victimized by neoliberal social policies, these very same policies were simultaneously eroding the effectiveness of the state's instruments of social control. Such policies also rendered them literally expendable, as there was no role for them in the Bolivian economy other than on the margins within the informal sector as vendors or as coca growers and sellers. They were not being subjected to the workplace oppression of 19th Century capitalism, but rather, treated as the refuse of a credit oriented consumer society from which they were necessarily excluded for insufficient funds.

It is hard not to contrast the communal life of many Bolivians with the atomized individuality of the US. How would we respond if confronted with the hardship suffered by Bolivians in recent decades? Would we recover our history of collective direct action and save ourselves, or would we be overwhelmed by the forces of international finance capital? Would we join together, or turn upon one another? So far, the apparent answers are not encouraging, but then, people have a way of surprising you when they recognize that the struggle can no longer be avoided.

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