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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What Now? (Part 2) 

As if to confirm the futility of union members pooling their funds through their unions to assert their political interest, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO endorses Arlen Specter in his Democratic primary struggle against Joe Sestak, the same Arlen Specter who, back when he was a Republican in early 2009, killed the Employee Free Choice Act by saying that he would vote against cloture. Yes, you've got that right, the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO is supporting a man who played a central role in killing legislation that it publicly describes as its top priority.

Actions speak louder than words, they used to say, and, in this instance, the endorsement of Specter is more proof that the AFL-CIO doesn't consider the EFCA that important after all, public pronouncements to the contrary. Which raises the question: what does the AFL-CIO consider important? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Along these lines, I had a conversation with someone in my office the other day who was unhappy with being affiliated with SEIU. I told her that unions were important, and that even a bad one like SEIU provides protections and benefits that you don't get in the absence of one. But I also said that she should seriously consider withdrawing her contribution to the SEIU political action committee, and directing it somewhere more agreeable to her. Unfortunately, that's what it is going to take to get union leadership to start actually representing the interests of their members.

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The Angry Arab on the Iranian Revolution 

Here's an excerpt from an excellent article by As'ad Abukhalil, posted at The Angry Arab News Service:

The Iranian Revolution promised separation from a past from which it didn’t completely depart. Perhaps the deep crisis which the Iranian regime suffers today stems from the scenes of quelling peaceful protests: they remind us of the protests against the Shah, which accumulated to the point of rendering him helpless before the growing popular movement. The dilemma facing the regime lies in its need to defend its survival: every time it resorts to power to defend itself, it weakens its revolutionary legitimacy and its historic ability to continue in power. Of course, the regime can impose itself by excessive force and increasing bloodshed, but it can count on no other method of survival: it loses true authority whenever it relies on violence, as Hannah Arendt has theorized. Therefore, the regime is confused. It is not used to a popular protest of this size. Accusing the West of interference – and the West does interfere in all the Third World’s affairs, even in alliance formation – is not satisfactory. The regime cannot hide the opposition’s true nature and the contradiction with revolutionary legitimacy, for the revolution has entered a limp, calcified phase, which stems from the Revolution’s own slogans. . . . .

. . . the regime cannot easily impute Iran’s events to an outside conspiracy. Of course, the Iranian people, which have suffered intricate outside conspiracies throughout their history, are entitled to be on the alert for outside conspiracies. No doubt, Israel and its Arab and western aides have worked to cause trouble in Iran for years. All the Shah’s Men, which relies on documents published in American government archives, describes in detail how American intelligence planned a coup against Mosadeq and how it organized protests, wreaked havoc and made it look spontaneous. A writer on Al-Manar’s website may see a malicious conspiracy in Iran’s events, and the Supreme Leader may express outrage towards Britain (which deserves denunciation due to its colonial past and present, which hasn’t ceased even though both the sun and moon have set on it), but in reality the reasons behind Iran’s events are primarily internal while facing outside exploitation by governments, media outlets and the United Nations (the latter has been a tool in the United States’ hand since the end of the Cold War, especially during the current secretary’s leadership, who has about the same as Najib Miqati’s charisma). Treating these events as if they were the product of outside intermeddling will only expedite the Revolution’s aging process, because revolution dies when it loses vision and mimics the obsolete regime (the Shah saw in what happened to him the ultimate conspiracy although his oppressive regime enjoyed peerless western, Israeli and Gulf support). To say there was no external conspiracy against the Iranian regime is as ignorant as saying there were no internal reasons for the Iranian crisis.

In this article, which should be read in its entirety, Abukhalil displays a facility for dialetical reasoning that dispels many of the myths surrounding the Iranian regime and the eruption of protest against it. Here, he evaluates the regime in light of revolutionary psychology, it's inability to fully substitute its ideological values for the ones that it sought to replace and it's loss of purpose and direction. Unlike some other leftists, he recognizes that internal and external forces act upon the regime, but that the crisis is primarily an internal one. As a result, Iranians will continue to flail about for an Iranian solution to what is essentially an Iranian problem.

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

War Feminism (Part 2) 

From a CIA report posted on the wikileaks website:

Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.

• According to INR polling in the fall of 2009, French women are 8 percentage points less likely to support the mission than are men, and German women are 22 percentage points less likely to support the war than are men.

• Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences.

Presumably, there wouldn't be any testimonials by Afghan women about this episode:

The operation on Friday, February 12, was a botched pre-dawn assault on a policeman’s home a few miles outside Gardez, the capital of Paktia province, eastern Afghanistan. In a statement after the raid titled “Joint force operating in Gardez makes gruesome discovery”, Nato claimed that the force had found the women’s bodies “tied up, gagged and killed” in a room.

A Times investigation suggests that Nato’s claims are either willfully false or, at best, misleading. More than a dozen survivors, officials, police chiefs and a religious leader interviewed at and around the scene of the attack maintain that the perpetrators were US and Afghan gunmen. The identity and status of the soldiers is unknown.

The raid came more than a fortnight after the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan issued new guidelines designed to limit the use of night raids. Special forces and Western intelligence agencies that run covert operations in Afghanistan have been criticised for night raids based on dubious or false intelligence leading to civilian casualties.

The first person to die in the assault was Commander Dawood, 43, a long-serving, popular and highly-trained policeman who had recently been promoted to head of intelligence in one of Paktia’s most volatile districts. His brother, Saranwal Zahir, was a prosecutor in Ahmadabad district. He was killed while he stood in a doorway trying to protest their innocence.

Three women crouching in a hallway behind him were hit by the same volley of fire. Bibi Shirin, 22, had four children under the age of 5. Bibi Saleha, 37, had 11 children. Both of them, according to their relatives, were pregnant. They were killed instantly.

The men’s mother, Bibi Sabsparie, said that Shirin was four months pregnant and Saleha was five months. The other victim, Gulalai, 18, was engaged. She was wounded and later died. “We had already bought everything for the wedding,” her soon-to-be father-in-law, Sayed Mohammed Mal, the Vice-Chancellor of Gardez University, said.

And, of course, Malaya Joya need not apply.

Hat tip to The Angry Arab News Service and, more specifically, Mouin

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Film Notes: Le Gai Savoir 

At the 1969 Berlin Film Festival, there was a changing of the guard. An unknown German film director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, asserted the vitality of the New German Cinema, a cinema that would engage international audiences throughout the 1970s, with his first feature length film, Love is Colder than Death. Few seemed to recognize that Fassbinder had commenced a life long effort to delve into fundamental questions of human nature associated with the failure of people to perceive utopian alternatives. Throughout the 1970s, people would become more and more mesmerized by his enterprise, but audiences booed his first effort as they were unable to engage his studied, yet empathetic, portrayal on lumpen proleterian criminals living outside the consumerism and the political radicalism of the time.

Meanwhile, Jean Luc Godard, after a decade of crafting genre bending popular entertainments with radical social themes, aggressed his audience with Le Gai Savior. In Savior, he made a film for television that was rejected by the French national television network that co-produced it. Upon purchasing it, Godard entered it in the festival, where it received an equally chilly response. Many viewers walked out of it. It's not hard to understand why. Centered around the attempt of two young radicals, Emile Rousseau and Patricia Lumumba, to deconstruct sound and image in an abandoned television studio, people versed in the narrative conventions of what Godard described as Hollywood and Mosfilm were no doubt quickly bored and confused. But this was a festival audience, and doesn't fully explain the hostility.

No, there must have been something more to it. Just as Fassbinder suggested that the idealism of 68 was disassociated from the real life experiences of most people, Godard concluded that there was little prospect of transforming society through film. Rousseau and Lumumba discovered that the likelihood of understanding how the great mass of people were influenced by media images was slight, and the possibility of creating a new, engaging cinema that would inspire people to act upon their suppressed utopian aspirations even less so. It is hard to imagine a perspective that would be more outrageous to a 1969 festival audience than this, the equivalent of screening an unapologetic Zionist movie today.

The narrative of Savior, if there can be said to be such a thing, holds up well. It was a visionary movie that audiences could not appreciate. Emile and Partricia spend numerous late night hours in the studio, purportedly over three years, if one relates to the story realistically, in their effort to understand how sounds and images serve the purpose of perverting human communication so as to render collective resistance to capitalism impossible. As such, the story is a a dialogue between two people about the nature of society and the potential for transforming it. Over forty years later, festival audiences have had more exposure to experimental techniques and elliptical plots (consider, for example, directors like Wong Kar-wai, Peter Greenaway, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Abbas Kiarostami, all of whom have had their work enthusiastically received), and audiences would have responded favorably to Savior as well if it had been released in the last 20 years.

As you would expect in a Godard film, the acting is first rate, as, in this instance, the roles of Rousseau and Lumumba are performed by Godard film veterans Jean Pierre Leaud and Juliet Berto. Both infuse their characters with a youthful mixture of naivete, intellectual curiosity, vulnerability and arrogance. One can even construe their performances as indicative of a repressed passion in which two people find themselves incapable of finding a common language in which to communicate their desire. Indeed, the inability to communicate is exposed as a primary social disability.

Rousseau and Lumumba are leftist intellectual activists. Both purport to act on behalf of the working class in France and around the world, especially the Third World, but neither is capable of relating to it as anything other than an abstraction. Separated from the working class by their education and social status, or, as Bourdieu might have said, their habitus, incapable of recognizing that their separation is an inescapable consequence of the division of physical and mental labor, they flail about in a sea of sounds and images generated by contemporary media, seaching for that organizing principle, that magic key, that will enable them to actually talk to workers and understand them. It is, of course, a futile task, given that they implicitly characterize them as passive recipients of subliminal messages. In this, Godard anticipates Baudrillard, who, not too many years later, derided the notion of a socialist media.

Beyond this, Rousseau and Lumumba are shackled by their investigatory method. Despite being professed radicals, they methodically go about their task, having subconsciously adopted the rigorous standards of French academia. They are, in effect, scientific socialists, quite an irony considering that both are representatives of a radical left movement that publicly repudiated the USSR and the PCF, the French Communist Party. Even as they listen to audio of a speaker maligning the reactionary nature of trade unions and the PCF, they adopt the same analytical approach. An episode in which Rousseau and Lumumba ponder the relationship of the word Stalin to another, seemingly unrelated, phonetically similar word, reveals the ghost that haunts their endeavor.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Angry Arab: Islamic Extremist? 

If you want an insight as to why US and UK forces have done so poorly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and why so many civilians have been killed, consider this from Britain:

Government names most influential 'pro-Islamic' bloggers was the headline on yesterday's story about a new report from the Home Office's counter-terrorism information unit, RICU. So, they've been rumbled at last, you might think.

But look more closely and you'll find that the man identified in the report as Britain's third most influential pro-Islamic blogger is actually an atheist based in the United States. As'ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University who blogs as The Angry Arab is furious about it. How ignorant are the researchers of the Home Office? he writes. How many times does one have to espouse atheist, anarchist, and secular principles before they realise that their categorisation is screwed up?

He suspects that his blog was included because of its name. He rarely talks about religion on his blog, except when mocking the fatwas issued by reactionary clerics.

In this instance, Abukhalil is being uncharacteristically naive. A more plausible explanation is that one of the primary reasons for the placement of a blog on the Home Office list is his vehement espousal of anti-Zionism. So, if the blog appears to be written by someone from the Middle East, and rejects Zionism, then it must be pro-Islamic. One wonders how Electronic Intifada evaded discovery.

Anyone who has read Abukhalil's blog over the years immediately recognizes the absurdity of this designation. For example, look at this post from 2005:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Angry Candidate? No way. I had made a cryptic reference to this. Peter Camejo of the Green Party asked me 2 weeks ago to consider running for the US Senate in 2006 against Sen. Diane Feinstein. Today, I sent him this letter:

"Dear Peter: I owed it to you, and to the progressive movement that you are a strong part of, to give the most serious consideration to a very flattering offer, although I never ever thought of running for any office, not even for the local district Commissioner of Potatoes. There were undeniable temptations, especially on a ticket of the party that is closest to my views and ideas. There would have been a great platform, and an opportunity to go against a demagogic and highly ambitious establishment senator, whose views on domestic and foreign policies are anathema to mine. I also would have liked to have contributed to the progressive movement in California that the Green Party, and you personally, has energized especially in recent years. But then there were the negatives: I have had an aversion, since childhood--if not before--to any signs of outside influences, control, and management of my person and my views--particularly in the way that I express them--even from a party that is as progressive as the Green Party. And this control and management are inevitable in a campaign--small or big. I also could not with a clear conscience go around the state asking people for their votes knowing that I myself would not vote for myself, or for anybody for that matter. I probably at some level also feared that appealing to people's support may change me, or moderate me. That would be scary, for me. Furthermore, I do not, as an anarchist, believe in the American political and electoral systems, and thus do not harbor hopes, or illusions, of change "from within" so to say, although I remain optimistic of the prospects for progressive change on a global scale, affecting us here in the US. For this reason, and others, I will kindly decline the offer but hope that we manage to maintain contact and dialogue, and to cooperate on future projects. Greetings to all, and I express my gratitude for thinking of my name. I shall continue to play my small and modest role, from the very outside of the system, as an angry contrarian and counter-contrarian and counter-counter-contrarian.

And, of course, there are the numerous posts ridiculing the Saudi royal family and various Islamic religious figures, especially those associated with Lebanon.

Humorously enough, turns out one blogger did acknowledge that his blog was, in fact, pro-Islamic, but didn't find the designation very useful:

So, this is not a very useful piece of research. Its main flaw is that it’s out of date, and blogs are usually individual efforts which come and go as the author sees fit. The most successful are the group blogs such as Muslim Matters, but that site (which has commented on British political and community matters on a number of occasions) isn’t mentioned on the report. While it’s nice to get recognition and to get my blog mentioned in the Guardian, the ranking really doesn’t mean anything given the lack of valid and current data to back it up.

Shoddy research displeases everyone, apparently.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Now? 

Today, the AFL-CIO is lobbying the Senate against any amendment of the health care reconciliation bill to include a public option. It is working, of course, is to prevent any Democrat from even introducing one so as to enable Senators from having to vote on the record. With labor unions, pro-choice groups and progressive organizations overwhelmingly acting at the behest of the White House, having abandoned any pretense of independently representing their constituencies, the inescapable question is: What Now?

With the House passage of the health care bill, the pattern of the remainder of the Obama presidency has been set in stone. We will see a progression of moderate to conservative policies, with the same groups that supported the health care bill cheerleading for them against the interests of those whom they purport to represent. They will distract attention from it through various faux mobilization campaigns, urging their members to call their congressional representatives and participate in rallies, frequently directed towards various Republican scapegoats.

What should people do as the progressive and non-profit infrastructure facilitates more war and more subsidization of the financial sector at the expense of working Americans? Generally, the answer is simple: stop paying for it. If you are a member of an AFL-CIO or Change to Win affiliated union, and oppose the obsequiousness of the union leadership, that means no longer paying that portion of your dues that go towards their political campaigns and lobbying efforts. For example, in California, most of my non-affiliated union dues go towards my representation in the workplace, but a smaller amount goes towards its political efforts. It is this contribution that union members should suspend.

By doing this, members can then donate to political activities of the union that they believe are worthy of support. Furthermore, the time may have come for progressive union members to aggregate their monies and volunteer efforts based upon a shared purpose and not upon their union affiliation. US Labor Against the War is a partial example of this approach, as it includes both AFL-CIO and Change to Win affiliated locals. But members should go farther, and solicit support at the level of individual members and not locals. The objectives of this approach are self-evident: it empowers union members to advocate for what they really want, and exposes the lack of credibility of the leadership of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win.

Longer term, the objective would be to substitute a politics by delegation, a politics that has failed so miserably, as here, with a politics in the first person, one in which people are not prevented from giving expression to their needs and desires through institutional structures that repress them. But this is a challenge that goes beyond the union movement. Many other pro-choice organizations and progressive groups have been captured by the neoliberal circle around Obama, and, as noted, will never escape their captors. Indeed, they have even less room for manuever that unions. Again, people should first withdraw their unconditional financial support, and demand that their contributions only go towards activities that they support. They should also consider, like union members, whether it is now time to create new organizations centered around an ideological program in which accountability is measured by the expression and fulfillment of the expectations of its participants.

firedoglake has been a good example of this sort of organization, but it is too dependent upon the financial resources and personal appeal of Jane Hamsher. In other words, it constitutes a laudable effort in the right direction, but it can be improved. It also relies upon the Internet, which can paradoxically engender both activity and passivity. To her credit, Hamsher is aware of these things, and firedoglake is an ongoing work in progress. But it is essential to recognize that we should not seek to create monolithic institutions that purportedly represent a coalition of large masses of people. Past efforts to do so, like the AFL-CIO, like Change to Win, like NOW, like MoveON.org, are partially responsible for our predicament, as they concentrated power in a small group of people who then spoke against the interests of the millions that they purportedly represent. Even worse, they have effectively alienated these people from the belief that they can collectively influence the governance of the country. As the CCP briefly said, before it understood the consequences, let a thousand flowers bloom.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Gaius Responds to Going Down with the Titanic 

Too busy taking care of my son last weekend to notice that Gaius posted a thoughtful response to my Going Down with the Titanic one on Thursday.

Here it is, in its entirety (assuming, of course, that Gaius isn't going to raise a copyright objection):

Richard, you might well be right that the bill is a net loss for union workers.

Many (most?) of them already have health insurance and some will pay taxes on that coverage to help pay the costs this plan.

Also, the individual mandate has essentially the same purpose and the same effect as the "cadillac plan" tax.

It puts a big part of the burden of finance on a population of young and healthy working people who will not, as a group, require services costing anyting like what they will pay in.

The purpose and effect of both these features is to make the less badly off sectors of the working class pay a portion of the costs of the whole program, both administrative and actually medical, that should be paid for by the wealthier classes of society.

Not that they are getting off, completely.

The plan includes increased taxes on those making better than a working class income to finance this large extension of care to tens of millions of those less well off.

But the whole burden should have been tossed on the top end, and none of it on the working class.

Even so, the question can be asked whether Americans making less than that $250K are, as a group, net winners in this.

And the answer, of course, is that they are.

Too, it helps to remember that every major piece of America's social democracy is riddled with ugly compromises and partially defeated by them.

Social Security is far too close to being the coerced individual savings plan conservatives pretend it is when they work to defund, subvert, and destroy it, advertising their project as the liberal one of making it at least in part voluntary.

Medicare is crappy coverage compared to the plans people get from their employers during their working years as to what is actually covered, as to individual premiums, and as to eventual copays and coinsurance in case of need.

The corrupt boondoggle that is Medicare D, though it does provide needed coverage, is a laughing stock.

Medicaid, even in comparatively generous states like Pennsylvania, in case of serious medical need requires people to lose almost everything before kicking in.

The coverage in red states is so limited and wretched there is a constant flow of desperately sick people of all ages from Florida to Pennsylvania or Alabama to Illinois, people hoping to live long enough to establish residency and qualify under the blue state rules for treatment absolutely necessary to save their lives.

Every piece of social legislation imposing burdens on employers from workplace safety to unemployment insurance is full of exceptions for small businesses whose workers are in consequence not protected by these laws and regulations.

And that is a very large slice of American businesses and workers.

Just as this health insurance reform, if it passes, will still leave millions and tens of millions of people in our country without coverage.

All of America’s social democracy is half-assed.

But half an ass is better than none.


The student loan program is a good example of a good idea, corrupted by built in buyoffs for corporations.

Of course, the best idea is totally tax-financed education from bottom to top, for all.

Government guaranteed and subsidized loans from private banks are maybe third or fourth best.

Cheap government loans directly to students with no sweetener for banks is a better idea.

This is the sort of progressive move the Democrats hope to make in the future in connection with the health care reforms to be passed – or not – this weekend.

Interestingly, Gaius is saying pretty much the same thing my co-host said on our KDVS public affairs program last Friday. At the risk of boring everyone with repetition, I see the following problems with this perspective. Unlike Medicare and Social Security, this health care plan relies upon the private sector with minimal regulatory controls, especially in the area of cost containment. The fact that Congress and the President rejected the expansion of Medicare as a way of assisting the uninsured is quite telling as to the long term viability of this approach, if one defines viability as the provision of affordable insurance coverage.

Medicare, for all of its flaws, has provided coverage for over 40 years. Indeed, this plan incorporates the worst features of contemporary neoliberalism, state coercion along with direct subsidies for the insurance industry. The coercion reveals itself through both the mandate and the excise tax, with the tax constituting governmental intervention to discourage the provison of quality health insurance coverage by employers. The delayed application of the excise tax to policies obtained through collective bargaining agreements, if approved through the reconciliation process, will only forestall this outcome.

In regard to the subsidy, there is the obvious allocation of revenue to help people purchase policies. But, they will be insufficent, and, over time, will become even more inadequate given the lack of cost containment. It is entirely possible that the plan will never be more successful than during its first year of implementation, as that will constitute the period in which the subsidies will have the most value in terms of paying for policies. After that, there will be a slow, but inexorable decrease in overall coverage of the populace as the increased costs of policies outpace the subsidies. And, this is the best case scenario. Under the worst one, a coalition of Republicans and Blue Dogs cut the subsidies as part of a broader effort to cut Medicare and Social Security as part of entitlement reform.

The peril is especially acute because the President and the Congress rejected cost containment measures, such as, among others, single payer, the public option and the importation of much less expensive drugs from Canada. Thus, people expecting coverage under the plan face the prospect of being required to purchase policies with limited cost controls while there is unrelenting political pressure to cut the subsidies that they will rely upon to cushion the burden of purchasing them. There is also the problem that the plan is also being subsidized by cuts in Medicare spending over the next 10 years.

As noted by Gaius, a lot of people around the country already have trouble finding doctors because the reimbursement rates are considered too low. It is tempting to dismiss this because it has become a distorted talking point for Republicans, but Medicare is already in the sights of people who want to independently cut it as a means of reducing the deficit. How long before we are confronted with industry funded economic studies that show that dismantling Medicare and folding it into this plan will drastically reduce the government expenditures required to fund health care? One wonders if there is a long term expectation that Medicare will eventually be disbanded and replaced by this approach.

Finally, as I mentioned on Friday, there are the broader macroeconomic questions. There was an opportunity to expand health care coverage for people in a way that was marginally redistributive. In other words, increased coverage would be financed through more revenue obtained from the wealthy than from the middle and lower middle classes, and, furthermore, the middle and lower middle class would be protected from expropriation through ongoing, rapacious rate increases. Such a plan would have increased economic growth and job creation, making easier for people to purchase policies and the government to maintain the program.

Instead, we will now experience the opposite, a moribund economy for the indefinite future, with the middle and lower middle class subsidizing the profit of the industries associated with health care. Both the ability of people to purchase policies, such as they are, and the ability of the government to finance the program, will be compromised. Medicare has survived because of the economic growth, as sporadic as it was, since its inception. The notion that this plan, caught between the pincers of public expectation, lack of sufficient regulation and financial constraints, will fulfill its goal of insuring the vast majority of Americans, strikes me as implausible. But I don't think that has ever been the intention.

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Return of the Phoenix Program: Indonesia 

It's global:

According to senior Indonesian officials and police and details from government files, the US-backed Indonesian armed forces (TNI), now due for fresh American aid, assassinated a series of civilian activists during 2009.

The killings were part of a secret government program, authorized from Jakarta, and were coordinated in part by an active-duty, US-trained Kopassus special forces General who has just acknowledged on the record that his TNI men had a role in the killings.

The news comes as US President Barack Obama is reportedly due to announce that he is reversing longstanding US policy – imposed by Congress in response to grassroots pressure – of restricting categories of US assistance to TNI, a force which, during its years of US training, has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians.

The revelation could prove problematic for Obama since his rationale for restoring the aid has been the claim that TNI no longer murders civilians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the the issue is whether there is a "resumption" of atrocities, but, in fact, they have not stopped: TNI still practices political murder.

A senior Indonesian official who meets frequently with top commanders and with the President of Indonesia says that the assassinations were authorized by "higher ups in Jakarta." He provided detailed accounts of certain aspects of the program, including the names of victims, the methods, and the names of some perpetrators.

The senior official spoke because he said he disagreed with the assassinations. He declined to be quoted by name out of fear for his position and personal safety.

Verified details that are known so far concern a series of assassinations and bombings in Aceh -- on Indonesia's western tip -- where local elections were being contested by the historically pro-independence Partai Aceh (PA), a descendant of the old pro-independence GAM (Free Aceh) rebel movement.

At least eight PA activists were assassinated in the run-up to the April elections. The killings were, according to the officials with knowledge of the program an attempt to disorient PA supporters and pressure the party to not discuss independence -- an act regarded as proscribed speech, not just in Aceh but across Indonesia under edicts from the country's president, Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

This is an excerpt from an excellent article by Allen Nairn, and I encourage anyone interested in this subject to read it in its entirety. From Palestine to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Indonesia, US supported death squads go about their business.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Clip 'N Save 

The health care bill vote is supposed to go down later today in the House. My guess is that it will narrowly pass by the slimmest of margins. After all, controversial business friendly proposals like this usually do, no matter how unpopular with the general public. That's American democracy in action, designed from the inception to empower political leaders to make decisions contrary to public sentiment for the benefit of the capital class. But what happens then? Clip 'n save the link to the firedoglake legislative analysis provided by cutting and pasting it to a secure location on your computer, and then go back and check it out every two or three years. Naturally, my ingrained pessimism leads me to believe that Hamsher and Co. are not bearish enough about the consequences, primarily because they, and many others, have not paid enough attention to the deflationary impact it will have on the economy and job growth.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Going Down with the Titanic 

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win get behind the health care bill. This is a generational moment in US politics, a moment when a progressive infrastructure built over decades permanently loses what remains of its credibility. Unions, pro-choice groups, liberal advocacy organizations, desperately throwing overboard firmly held convictions developed over a quarter century or longer to retain a seat at the table, although I have to concede, MoveON.org has never conducted itself according to any principle other that expediency.

The decision of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win to support the bill is especially disheartening as they are among the only groups with sufficient membership and financial clout to chart a course independent of the White House. But no need to worry, they are going to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed, and ignite a new era of successful unionization in the workplace . . . you know, whenever they get around to actually putting resources into it instead of fighting with one another.

The sad fact is that the interests of unionized workers were better represented by tea party crazies than by their own unions, because the efforts of the tea party activists would have prevented an excise tax of employer based plans from going into effect, a tax that will, with the passage of time, either degrade the quality of their health coverage or cause them to pay substantially more for it. Having foregone salary increases for years in return for decent health care plans, the implementation of the health care bill will now take this away from them. It is all part of the new austerity, whereby workers are being forced by the government and transnational corporations to finance the reconstruction of the shattered financial system through a lower standard of living for years, and, possibly, decades. Marxists would probably call it a means by which the appropriation of surplus labor is increased.

It calls into the question the historic left commitment to trade unionism, as I observed in September 2009:

For those schooled in the traditions of the left, whether it be Social Democracy, Communism or anarchism, the reinvigoration of trade unionism is an essential precondition to any prospect of a progressive, not to mention revolutionary, social transformation. While there has been many points of disagreement between these leftist variations, there has been one constant. All three have emphasized the necessity of participating in unions as a means of educating and organizing workers in support of a radical, class based politics. None of them, with the exception of anarchists in the 1890s, believed that we could bring about a more just, more egalitarian society independent of the trade union movement. Furthermore, the unions served an essential purpose by providing a means whereby workers could learn how to manage their workplaces for themselves.

If the moribund trade union movement cannot be resuscitated, the consequences for the left are profound. An entirely new doctrinal approach will be required, one that reinterprets class and capitalism in such a way as to present the prospect of social change despite an immobilized union movement. It would require transcending nearly 200 years of modernist left thought that sanctifies the worker as given expression through trade unionism. It is hard to imagine, but it may be unavoidable.

For those of us who are not quite ready to fully confront this challenge, we must take hope in small victories.

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Goodbye, Dennis the Menace (Part 2) 

The born again Dennis Kucinich, team player par excellence:

A few hours after Rep. Dennis Kucinich switched his support to become a critical vote for the health care bill, he took to the House floor to ask wavering colleagues to join him. Astonished colleagues pointed to Kucinich (D-OH) darting from member to member on the House floor yesterday, saying privately they'd never seen him get so involved in whipping a vote.

It's not just progressives he's targeting to keep in the fold, it's everyone, a top Democratic aide told me. Members know that Kucinich - a staunch antiwar liberal long in favor of a single-payer system and often going out on a limb with his own agenda - is setting aside deep ideology to help get something passed. It's a totally new dynamic. People are realizing he's doing it for history, the aide said.

People with long memories know that this movie is a remake of a March 2007 release:

The supplemental funding bill has cleared the House with exactly the number of votes required for passage:

The House of Representatives voted today, by the narrowest possible margin and after an unusually emotional debate, to set a timetable for bringing American troops home from Iraq.

The bill received 218 votes in favor, the minimum needed for passage in the 435-seat chamber. There were 212 votes opposed. The Democratic leadership held the voting open for two additional minutes past the originally scheduled 15 to lock up the majority. Vote-counters had predicted beforehand that the outcome would be very close.

Who made this victory for the proponents of perpetual war in the Middle East possible? It's shocking, and should never be forgotten:

With Democrats holding 233 seats and Republicans with 201, Democrats were able to afford only 15 "no" votes. Accordingly, Pelosi, and her leadership team spent days trying to convince members that the bill was Congress' best chance of forcing Bush to change course—an argument that was aided when they added more than $20 billion in domestic spending in an effort to lure votes.

They got a breakthrough Thursday when four of the bill's most consistent critics said they would not stand in its way. California Democrats Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters said they would help round up support for the bill despite their intention to personally vote against it because it would not end the war immediately. "Despite my steadfast opposition, I have told the speaker that I will work with her to obtain the needed votes to pass the supplemental, but that in the end I must vote my conscience," said Rep. Diane Watson, D- Calif.

Woolsey, Watson, Lee and Waters, the Gang of Four that rescued funding for the President's wars in the Middle East, while keeping their own voting records scrupulously clean.

Careful readers have no doubt identified the one significant change in the narrative for the current sequel. In 2007, Woolsey, Watson, Lee and Waters were permitted to personally vote against supplemental war funding as long as they could round up enough support from others to get it passed. One suspects that one or more of them would have voted for it as required to get it passed if necessary. Here, there is no such margin, every last vote must be turned to assure victory, and, as emphasized yesterday, the President's socioeconomic vision generates so much public hostility that liberals must be compelled to support it to the greatest extent possible.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Goodbye, Dennis the Menace (Part 1) 

I've never thought much of Dennis Kucinich. Nice enough person who says, and often does, the right thing, or, at least, tries to push the political dialogue in the right direction. But I've never thought he was serious when he ran for President. He wasn't particularly effective at creating a grassroots organization, either for himself or the social issues that he espouses. In Congress, he has a safe seat, and therefore has the latitude to do what he does, as long as he doesn't cause discomfort for the leadership. He primarily serves the purpose of providing a a safety valve that keeps liberals and some leftists in the Democratic Party, perpetuating the illusion that the party remains a plausible vehicle for social change.

Until today. After loudly condemning the Senate health care bill, criticizing it for its lack of a public option and the constraints that it places upon states that might be inclined to implement a single payer system, he crumbled like a cardboard box when Obama flew into his district and criticized him for refusing to vote for the bill. And, he did this after accepting thousands and thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from people who want a public option. To his credit, he, unlike many other purported progressives, has agreed to return the money, although, given that the filing deadline for a primary challenge has already passed, that's not nearly as much of a sacrifice as it appears.

Overnight, Dennis the Menace became Dennis Who?, just another congressional cipher who does what Pelosi and Obama tell him to do. He may not have had a huge following, but his supporters were committed. They appreciated the hearings that he called on a myriad of progressive issues that no one else would touch. They exhalted him as a truth teller in Congress, alone in a sea of corruption. So much for that. His press releases and e-mail announcements are now going to promptly find their way into garbage cans, both real and virtual.

But why was it so essential to destroy the public reputation of Dennis Kucinich? He did, after all, serve a very useful function, as noted at the beginning of this post. Radicalized liberals and progressives now understand that the Obama administration and its elite allies brook no dissent from the left, and that the political process in DC has no place for them, in marked contrast to the hospitality shown the right. Of course, the simple answer is that Democratic congressional leadership needed his vote to get the Senate health care bill onto Obama's desk. That's true. But I believe that there is more to it.

Obama and the congressional Democrats know that the bill is unpopular. They understand that many people will be forever outraged over the mandate they purchase insurance, the excise tax and the lack of any cost containment. Or, to put it more bluntly, they will remain angry about being forced to buy insurance provided on terms designed to preserve the maximum profitability of health insurance companies, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies. In such a situation, it is essential to not only get the bill passed, but eliminate any credible liberal opponents around whom people could coalesce. Hence, the hardball tactics used by the White House to coerce the AFL-CIO, MoveON and specific Democratic representatives into supporting the bill in the most embarrassing way that exposes their powerlessness. Now, the way is open for Obama, consistent with his Chicago School of Economics perspective, to even more aggressively restructure the US economy for the benefit of capital.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Return of the Phoenix Program 

From the London Times:

The two helicopters swooped low over a cluster of mud homes, whirling in the cold night sky before landing in a wheat field on the edge of the small Afghan village.

From his home nearby, 23-year-old Najibullah Omar strained his eyes in the darkness as he made out the faint shapes of armed men pouring from the helicopters’ bellies.

A third helicopter circled menacingly in the moonless sky above the village of Karakhil in Wardak province, southwest of Kabul.

Then a loud explosion shook the ground and a plume of smoke rose from his cousin Hamidullah’s house 20 yards away. Its guest room caught fire. Omar heard a burst of gunfire before all went quiet.

The body of his cousin, a 32-year-old construction engineer who had taken a break from his job in a far-off province to visit his family, lay sprawled next to those of his wife and their seven-year-old son. Blood ran in dark pools on the mud floor of the terrace outside their door.

The wife and son had been shot in the head, each with a single bullet. The engineer had died from a shot to the chest. The precision of the killings, coupled with his failure to find any bullet casings after the raid, led Omar to believe that his cousin was murdered either by US special forces or by an intelligence agency.

The sole survivor was the couple’s younger son, aged six, whose upper torso was riddled with puncture wounds from grenade shrapnel.

For years, we have been subjected to statements all across the political spectrum that, regardless of what we think about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and, now, Pakistan, that we should all respect the bravery of our troops, and the sacrifices that they make on our behalf.

It's nonsense, propaganda on the level of the old USSR or Nazi Germany, as this article demonstrates. Our troops come from one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. They are transported around combat zones by planes and helicopters, guided by satellite communications and provided with information as to what is transpiring on the ground from surveillance drones. They are equipped with the most modern weapons and protective gear, and able to call in air strikes within minutes if they should come under attack. If wounded, they are rescued by helicopter and evacuated half way across the world to Germany for treatment within hours.

Conversely, the people subjected to their violence are among the poorest in the world. They live in villages and practice subsistence agriculture and animal husbandry. Some grow poppies for the global heroin trade, and partake of little of the outsized profits generated from this illicit activity. Most children must forego their education to assist their parents, with a few fortunate enough to become educated as professionals, like one of the victims in this attack. Even so, such a professional still lives a difficult life, with a degree of deprivation unimaginable for similarly situated people in the US and Europe. Needless to say, life spans are short and child mortality rates high. Such are the people for whom our troops must act with such bravery, such ferocity of purpose, in order to prevail.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Escape from the Service Employees International Union 

Yesterday morning, I put my young son in the car seat, and traveled down to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco to go to the 15h Annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, purportedly one of the largest, if not the largest, in the United States. Fortunately, we missed the cayenne pepper pie assault upon an anti-vegan speaker on Saturday. My son decided that he didn't like the 2:00 p.m. Cafe panel discussion on Prospects for Winning in an Age of Crisis, and he eventually hit upon the successful strategy of playfully screaming to force me to take him out of the building and out into the adjacent arboretum. Perhaps, the panelists would have benefitted from contact with him, as he seems to be quite skilled at both winning and taking advantage of crises, many of which that he creates.

You have to give the anarchists credit for their commitment to the importance of propagandizing and education through book publishing and distribution at a time when both have been overwhelmed by television and the Internet. Anarchism has always been firmly rooted in the Enlightenment, and its proponents act upon their belief that people are capable of ruling themselves without hierarchy by ceaselessly seeking to persuade them of it. Given that anarchists are smaller in number than Marxist-Leninists and liberals, and that they, unlike the others, lack access to the resources of academia, their achievements in disseminating works of radical history and theory is all the more remarkable. Having always been outside the system, so to speak, they appear to have adapted to the current neoliberal environment more easily than Marxist-Leninists who indirectly relied upon substantial state support through universities and public media to reach the public.

But I digress. My son grew tired, and I was able to attend a 4:00 p.m. Cafe panel on the organizing efforts of the National Union of Healthcare Workers ("NUHW") while he slept. Having followed this effort closely, I was interested in hearing what the people involved had to say about it. The moderator of the panel was Cal Winslow, the author of a small, but compelling, book about the struggle of California health care workers to escape the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU") through the creation of their own union, Labor's Civil War in California: The NUHW Healthcare Workers' Rebellion (you may have to scroll the down the page for the description of it). The panelists were Angela Glasper, founder NUHW, Kaiser, Antioch, Maya Morris, NUHW, St. Francis Hospital and Peter Tappeiner, volunteer organizer, NUHW.

All three of them, but especially Glasper and Morris, related their frustration and the frustration of their co-workers as it became evident that SEIU no longer represented them, and collaborated with their employers to take away hard won rights in the workplace. For example, according to Glasper, seniority is no longer respected in regard to assignments, as SEIU and Kaiser allow managers to play favorites among their employees. Kaiser is also laying off workers despite having recently made substantial profits. SEIU undermines the collective bargaining agreements of members by perpetually entering into precedential side agreements without their knowledge, or, if the the issue does become known, despite member opposition. It is not uncommon for managers to disregard the concerns of employees by responding, All I need to do is take it to SEIU. Such actions, over the course of time, water down contract protections which can then be memorialized in the next collective bargaining agreement.

As the conflict erupted, SEIU and health care employers engaged in surveillance and intimidation of workers associated with the attempt to replace SEIU with NUHW. Glasper described how she is followed around her workplace daily by numerous people, some managers, some co-workers, as they search for any reason to write her up. She has also received threatening phone calls: You're dead. Morris was denied work for 16 months. All three panelists, Tappeiner, Glasper and Morris, emphasized that California health care workers want a union that operates democratically from the bottom up instead of from the top down.

Unfortunately, the panel was not as well attended as it should have been, becauise the Book Fair scheduled it against an appearance by Ward Churchill in the adjacent auditorium. But one of the more interesting moments came when someone inquired about the potential for NUHW to lead the fight for single payer health care as well as more generally challenging the current neoliberal climate. He received a sincere, polite response, although I thought the question was unfair in its scope. After all, he seemed to implicitly suggest that it was responsibility of the workers within NUHW to lead this fight. Why?

Now, I understand the centrality of trade unionism within Marxism and anarchism, but to place such a burden upon workers stuggling to obtain their own union representation struck me as a little extreme. NUHW workers and organizers are fighting against SEIU and their employers to gain a voice in their workplace. That's a pretty tall order. Furthermore, if they succeed, they will have to build a union from the ground up by creating democratic structures that induce participation on the shop floor. They will have to negotiate new contracts, protect the rights obtained through them and defend their memberfs against grievances. Of course, many in the NUHW have a lot of experience doing this, but it still requires a great effort. The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that a movement towards the socialization of the US economy will require, as a precondition, the empowerment of workers within the workplace, and experience in making collective decisions. Assuming, of course, that external events don't force it upon us more rapidly.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Carreta 

Have the novels of B. Traven been relegated to the literary periphery? His Jungle Novel series is difficult to find on the shelf, even at chain stores like Borders and Barnes and Noble. I recalled, perhaps mistakenly, that smaller, lefty stores used to carry them, but I was surprised a few weeks ago when there were none available at Modern Times in San Francisco. I do remember, however, purchasing the first novel in the series, Government, at the anarchist bookstore in the Haight, Bound Together, several years ago.

Perhaps, this is because the man believed to have written under the pseudonym "B. Traven", Ret Marut, was an anarchist of the Stirnerite kind. Throughout the novels in the series, one encounters commentary that hints at Stirner's individualistic rejection of communal constraints. To the extent that it grounds Traven's hostility towards the role of the Mexican government and the Catholic Church in subjugating the indigenous people of southern Mexico, it enriches his work, although some may find it didactic. To the extent that it maligns the historical agency of these people, it doesn't, although, to be fair, the overall thrust of the series is the development of a social consciousness among the native peoples that lead them to rebel against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.

Upon first engagement, it is easy to dismiss the Jungle Novels as an anachronism. Traven calls the peoples of Chiapas Indians. He can't fully shake relating to them at times as noble savages, although his cynical practicality acts as a brake upon such sentimentality. He falls within a tradition of Europeans that emigrated to Mexico in the early 20th Century, and, like many of them, displayed a peculiar form of what Edward Said described as orientalism in the Middle Eastern context, a tendency to swing between romanticization and condescension of the culture as pre-modern.

But all of this is overcome by one thing: Traven's elevation of the experiences of his native protagonists to epic status. Despite their inability to read, write and perform basic mathematical calculations, he does not accept their relegation to a subordinate to non-existent one. He explains, with great empathy, how they are exploited by those who have these skills and, even more, how their communities often serve their needs quite well despite the lack of them.

More specifically, Traven profiles their dehumanization by Mexicans through debt peonage, a transaction whereby jefes lend out money at usurious rates to uncomprehending natives to buy goods at exponentially marked up prices resulting in debts that can never be repaid. Moreover, the debts are passed down through the generations because they are not discharged upon the death of the person who incurred them. Furthermore, he also recognized that it was the emergence of an embryonic consumer society in manufactured goods, however rudimentary, that expanded opportunities for debt peonage as a form of expropriation and social control. His Marxist recognition of debt peonage as a residue of a feudal society enables him to transcend romanticized notions of native peoples in the Americas.

Instead, the natives find themselves navigating their way through a semi-feudal society in which foreign capital is reorganizing Mexican production on a massive scale, with large logging operations as one of the most immediate manifestations of this process. Constraints of cost and transport in the global economy of this era require that local ruling elites squeeze every last dollar out of their native peons. It is to Traven's credit that he resists the demonization of his Mexican characters because of his awareness that they are acting in a manner consistent with their social conditioning as they seek to satisfy the demands of international capital.

Sounds pretty contemporary, doesn't it? In The Carreta, the second novel in the series, Traven interweaves these broader social themes through the story of Andres, a young boy who is sent away from his family to pay the debt of his father to the local jefe. Traven's description of his departure is one of the high points of the novel, as Traven relates his father's grief despite his outwardly stolid appearance. In other words, Traven does not mistake a failure to speak and display intense emotion as indicative of an absence of parental despair. Andres is fortunate enough to be sent to work for a family where he becomes educated, and then, after the merchant for whom he works loses him playing cards, he ends up as a carretero, a cart driver who transports goods for his new boss across the mountainous dirt roads of southern Mexico.

It is difficult, but rewarding work, marked by a degree of independence lacking for those who work on fincas, ranches, or monterias, logging camps where the survival rate compares, perhaps unfavorably, to the gulag. Traven was supposedly a former journalist, and his eye for what anthropologists call ethnographical detail is acute. For a typical example of his ability to utilize his eye for detail as part of a broader social analysis, see this quote within one of my posts a few weeks ago. His description of the work and lives of Andres and the other carreteros is rich yet precise, although one must remain wary for periodic trangressions of romanticization. He humanizes what he perceives as an emerging working class in the jungle, one that is developing a class consciousness day by day as they work. But, in this instance, Traven doesn't say it explicitly, he leaves it to the reader to recognize it through the accumulation of seemingly mundane detail that he provides.

In the concluding passages, Andres goes to a festival after making a delivery and finds a wife, a young native women who has been subjected to sexual abuse by previous employers while working as a domestic. While the middle and upper class men engage in their yearly Dionysian bacchanalia of gambling and sexual excess in honor of their patron saint, he encounters her cold and hungry against the wall of a home near the city square. Traven describes the courtship between two such vulnerable people in a matter of fact way that is all the more moving because of it. Andres takes her back to the carreta train soon to depart, and gives her the name Estrellita. Unlike many women, she adapts quite readily to the demanding life on the road required of carreteros, and travels with Andres around southern Mexico for four years, until, reminiscent of Greek tragedy, a chance encounter disrupts their rough, idyllic life together.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

How Not to Complain About March 4 

A good piece from studentactivism.net placing the protests of March 4th in a social and historical context. Liberal confrontational protest anxiety disorder appears to be untreatable. Yusef, in a comment to my post on Tuesday, asserts that the actions of the Obama administration mean that reformism is off the agenda. If so, liberal discomfort is going to get markedly worse, as protests, fueled by the proletarianization of the middle class and the sub-proletarianization of the working class, become more and more intense.

Even mildly reformist economic measures like reducing the costs of student loans and the creation of a public health insurance option to make such insurance marginally more affordable are difficult, if not impossible, to implement. It appears that the crisis currently engulfing global capitalism is such that not a dime can be spared for anything other than capital accumulation. So, past measures, such as those associated with the New Deal and Great Society, are off the table. Greece, here we come?

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Some Reflections Upon March 4 

As I live in Sacramento, and co-host a public affairs program on KDVS 90.3 FM, the UC Davis campus radio station, I am in a fairly good position to comment upon the eruption of student protest after the UC and CSU systems substantially increased fees and reduced class offerings. After the protests in the immediate aftermath of the fee increases in late November, and the subsequent ones that took place last week, I had the opportunity to interview students who participated in them.

My impression is that the protesters are disproportionately women and people of color, and that they have taken prominent roles in the movement, contributing significantly to its radicalization. This makes sense. Many of them have entered the UC and CSU system through admission preferences that favor people from lower middle class and lower class backgrounds, preferences put in place after Proposition 209 eliminated any consideration of race in admissions. They have a strong awareness of the consequences resulting from the evisceration of health, education and welfare programs in the communities from whence they came.

Many of them are also students in the liberal arts and social sciences, parts of the university that are no longer in favor because of their perceived lack of economic utility. Such students have developed the capability of placing their experience within a theoretical context, one that draws upon ethnic studies, women's studies and sociology. Beyond, this, one hears echoes of Guy Debord and Naomi Klein in their comments, especially in relation to the colonization of the university as part of a broader colonization of of everyday life and the urgency of challenging the depoliticalization and depersonalization associated with the capitalist spectacle.

Marx is therefore a feature of the movement more in terms of their experience than in theory and practice. The students are acutely aware of what Marxists would describe as the proletarianization of the middle class. They recognize that they are being required to pay huge sums of money for an education that will qualify them for jobs that pay less and less. Upon leaving school, they will be shackled by student loan debt for years. Some, as noted in a comment to one of my earlier posts on this subject, are being forced to choose between having enough food to eat and paying for the cost of their education. They are, in effect, in the forefront of this proletarianization process, and they are just beginning to resist it.

Of course, this is not true of all students. Protesters on March 4 encountered a class divide between themselves and students from wealthier backgrounds who objected to the disruption of school. There is a class conflict emerging in the university that mirrors the larger struggle occurring outside of it. Protesters have already established connections with unions and educators in the K-12 system. Not surprisingly, neither the faculty nor the administration within UC have been very helpful, although it may be different in CSU. Both are so bound to the university as an institution, and the neoliberal assumptions upon which it operates, that they are incapable of providing meaningful assistance.

If forced to characterize the movement, I would say that it is an ideologically liberal one increasingly relying upon anarchist practice. It is liberal, because the emphasis is upon increasing social mobility through the restoration of financial support for existing educational institutions, although the activists themselves have extensive backgrounds in past efforts in furtherance of women's rights, gay rights, immigration rights and anti-imperialism. They recognize the interrelationship of these issues with what is transpiring within the university and state government. Racial incidents at UC San Diego and UCLA confirmed their perspective and provided an unanticipated synergy for their efforts by interweaving themes of economic exclusion and racial intimidation. But it appears that most students participating in the protests are motivated primarily by the recognition of their proletarianization arising from the fee increases.

The movement finds itself compelled to adopt anarchist practice because of the inflexibility of decisionmakers that could, if they wanted, address their concerns. Anarchism has been the predominant organizational approach on the left on West Coast for nearly 20 years, as demonstrated through the direct action associated with radical environmentalists, the global justice movement that took over the streets of Seattle in 1999 and the shutdown of the financial district in San Francisco upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Student activists, well versed in this tradition, are utilizing horizontal methods of decisionmaking when undertaking actions and engaging in outreach. It is consistent with their belief that it is essential to provide a voice for people that have historically been denied an opportunity to shape their lives and the world around them.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sleeper Cells (Part 1) 

They're here:

Austin, Texas: February 18, 2010

Washington, D. C.: March 6, 2010

How many more before the end of the year?

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Chaotic Day of Protest in California 

For more information, consider the following links:

Students and Education Workers Gear Up for March 4th (an indybay summary of student protests around California this week)

March 4 (updates posted throughout today by occupy california)

CSU Fullerton Occupied (Reclaimed)! (a report on the occupation of the Humanities building at UC Fullerton and the students explanation for this action)

Freeway Closure in Oakland (an article from the SF Gate)

Protests Throughout Southern California (an article from the Los Angeles Times)

CHP Officers Prevent Freeway Closure in Davis with Batons and Pellet Guns (an article from the Sacramento Bee)

March, Walkout, Rally and Sit-In at California State University, Fresno

The extent of the protests will only become known in the coming days. Meanwhile, according to the Times, a potentially large rally and march was anticipated at UCLA around 5:30pm.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Second Reagan Revolution (Part 4) 

Teachers won't accept new duties without pay to improve school test scores? Fire them, fire ALL of them.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Fear of an Anarchist Planet 

Last November, I posted about the protests that erupted within the UC system over registration fee increases of 30%. Police struck students with batons and tasered them during protests during the regents meeting in Los Angeles where the fee increase was approved on a bipartisan basis. Students thereafter barricaded themselves within buildings at UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. As students occupied Wheeler Hall on the campus of UC Berkeley for approximately 15 hours, a large crowd of students, UC staff and the public generally rallied in their support, and prevented their forcible, potentially violent arrest, by UC police.

The protesters positioned themselves within the social framework of opposition to the imposition of neoliberal policies within California, policies that result in incomprehensible increases in salary and benefits for people like UC President Mark Yudof and the newly hired Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, while classes are cut, class sizes increased and students required to pay substantial increases in fees during one of the worst recessions in US history. Meanwhile, rank and file state workers experience 15% pay cuts, while judges complain about the closure of the courtrooms one day a week. In California, the more you make in the public sector, the more immune you are from participating in the sacrifice being imposed by the Governor and the Legislature.

Now, the students are back, as shown here and here and here and here, having performed significant outreach into the community, especially in the East Bay. Not surprisingly, the faculty at UC Berkeley, as it was during the occupation of Wheeler Hall, is scared the protesters will take control of the movement away from enlightened minds like them. UC Berkeley Academic Senate Chair Chris Kutz sent out the following e-mail in advance of the planned protests:

Dear all,

Like many of the readers of this list, I am very excited about the March on the 4th in Sacramento -- SAVE has done an incredible job organizing.

Perhaps like many of you, I am also getting pretty concerned by all the reports about plans for more occupations, actions, and more confrontational kinds of campus protests next week, including on the 4th. I know a lot of this is just smoke, an attempt deliberately to rattle the cages of those of us who think we need to make the public, political case for higher education. But Durant Hall is evidence that some things will happen -- things that have the potential to get students hurt, and to shift the focus from the insistent demand to restore educational funding, to violent internecine conflict on campus. I really don't want either of those.

The students bent on occupation and confrontation will do what they do, and will take the consequences. But I am especially concerned to avoid another Nov. 20th-like event, where the real chaos and danger lay outside, with large groups of protestors. My fear is that there may be many students, eager to support the inside protest or simply curious, who will not know how to protest safely, without putting themselves at risk of arrest, on campus discipline, or injury, especially when they hear voices of some activists urging them to rush the police lines.

So I thought the Senate might directly recruit some Casque bleu peacekeepers from among the faculty, who could be counted on to play the role some faculty particularly SAVE members) did in November, of trying to calm the crowd and instruct them, via bullhorn or leaflet, on Peaceful Protest 101. If you would be willing to play this role, or know someone who would, could you please write me directly to let me know? You won't be representing the administration, or any particular principle except informed consent on the part of students -- how to engage in protest without (unwittingly) risking injury or academic career.


Need I expend the time and effort deconstructing the arrogance and elitism on display in this e-mail by Kutz, the condescension, the assumption that they know best, and that the students should, as they are instructed to do in the classroom, take direction from them?

Clearly, there are some among the faculty at UC Berkeley that have learned nothing from the Wheeler occupation. As stated by the occupants of one of the students in the crowd outside the building that day:

In speaking with more than a dozen of the occupiers, one sentiment above all was expressed regarding the role of many faculty that day: a deep sense of betrayal. As one occupier told me: we asked the faculty to mediate and to negotiate with the administration as a way to get our demands out, but apparently they interpreted this as a call to negotiate with us so that we would leave the building. In fact, many of those mediating--be they faculty, ASUC officials, and leaders of student organizations--were self-appointed and drawn almost unanimously from the ranks of those who had opposed the tactic of occupation to begin with. And this would show: according to many of the occupiers, these mediators, in focusing their attention on calming the crowds outside and encouraging the occupiers to leave, had effectively performed a policing function that protected the administration from the protesters.

Ali Tonak, a UC Berkeley graduate student, summarizes the feeling that many expressed:

They have a warped understanding of how power works. They think that calming people outside was keeping the people inside safe, when it was really the opposite: the only thing that was keeping the folks inside safe was people being rowdy outside. In the end, the negotiators were doing the job of the state.

No doubt, the anxiety of people like Kutz, and George Lakoff, the pioneer of a liberal linguistics that has failed in its expressed intention to transform the American political discourse, have been intensified by the following statement by The College of Debtors in Defiance, evocative of Reclaim the Streets:

Architecture has, like other growing phenomena, to go to school before it can wisely be emancipated. It is a distinctly promising sign of future power, for a young people . . . to forget self for the time being in the quiet, assiduous acquisition of knowledge already established by others. The time for fresh personal expression will come later.

--John Galen Howard, 1913

Accelerate: we are here to help architecture make the leap to emancipation. The architect John Galen Howard, who designed and oversaw the construction of what is now called Durant Hall at the beginning of the last century, was a hesitant man. We say: the time for fresh personal expression is now! There is no question that we are already the product of other people's assiduously accumulated knowledges, so many that they become impossible to catalog exhaustively. The accumulation of knowledge is a library, perhaps, but it is also a struggle, a movement, a tactic. Likewise, the acquisition of knowledge does not have to be quiet -- next to the sound system, self is forgotten and the commune emerges. The dance party: a distinctly promising sign of present power.

Future power too. On March 4, UC Berkeley students, workers, and faculty will march in solidarity with those from other UCs, CSUs, community colleges, and K-12 schools across California and the country as a whole. Like this building, reclaimed from the graveyard of financial speculation, we will reclaim the streets of Oakland in conjunction with an international day of action for public education to be free and democratic.

For the last two years, Durant Hall has been little more than a shell, surrounded by piles of rubble and heavy machinery, themselves surrounded by uneven rows of chain-link fencing. No longer is there any trace of the library it once was -- the East Asian Library, now moved across campus to a new building named after an insurance mogul who founded the notorious AIG. Language has been uprooted, pruned, and replanted as well. The Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures went with the library, and in the process lost half its Japanese, Korean, and Chinese classes as well as the faculty that taught them -- over 1,500 curious students will be turned away this year. Subtracted from the flow of campus life, Durant Hall has existed only as a barrier, an inconvenience, a silent witness to the frustration of the thousands of students, workers, and faculty protesters who surrounded the neighboring Wheeler Hall and clashed with police last November.

But apparent emptiness conceals the movement beneath the surface, behind its fenced-off walls: capital flows through its veins. Capital Projects, the administration of the University of California calls them. As we now know, the UC administration has used not only students' tuition, but also the promise of future tuition increases, to secure the bonds and bond ratings necessary to channel ever increasing resources into construction projects. They will always need more money, and it will always be our money. A general concern that changes the way we see the campus that surrounds us. But if there is one building in particular that exemplifies this process, it is Durant Hall: its renovation was halted in 2008 for lack of funds, and only started up again after the administration sold $1.3 billion in construction bonds last May backed by our fee hike as collateral. Its melancholy fate is to become yet another administration building. Durant Hall will be inhabited by deans and staff of the College of Letters and Science, but it has already been occupied by a bloated administration with private capital on its mind.

Capital, like architecture, is a growing phenomenon, but one that never matures. It pushes outward continuously in all directions, always presupposing an endless, spiraling expansion. New endpoints replace old ones in smooth succession, projecting themselves onto the grid of the future, erasing languages, knowledges, and histories that do not fit easily into the right angles of its blueprints. But we will not let their future bulldoze our present. We have our own bulldozers: dance parties to reclaim dead buildings, marches to reclaim the streets. On March 4, fight back!



The College of Debtors in Defiance.

If liberals like Kutz and Lakoff wanted to play a constructive role in the March 4th protests, they would adopt the following principles of unity with protesters across the political spectrum, as many groups who opposed the the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver did:

ORN Solidarity and Unity Statement

Statement circulated and endorsed in February, 2009
by Olympics Resistance Network

We are aware that there is wide-spread opposition to the 2010 Winter Olympics. This ranges from those who are opposing the negative impacts of the Games to those who seek to boycott the Games; from those who desire to raise public awareness about the Games to those who choose to engage in direct action against the Games and its sponsors; from those who are concerned about single issues surrounding the Games to those who are concerned about the overall impact of the Games.

Despite our differences in analysis and strategies we believe we have a significant opportunity to come together and voice our opposition to the 2010 Olympic Games, and to find ways to support each other in our complementary efforts to expose this two-week circus and the oppression it represents to many communities and sectors.

This is especially true since police and security forces already have and will continue to surveil, target, infiltrate, repress, and attempt to divide our movement. We realize that we may have many differences in analysis and tactics and such disagreements are healthy. However we believe such debates should remain internal and we should refrain from publicly denouncing or marginalizing one another especially to mainstream media and law enforcement. In particular, we should avoid characterizations such as bad or violent protestors. We respectfully request that all those in opposition to the 2010 Olympics maintain our collective and unified commitment to social justice and popular mobilization efforts in the face of massive attempts to divide us.

Therefore we are calling for endorsements on the following basis of unity:

We express our collective critique of and opposition to the negative impacts of the 2010 Olympics.

We do not need to fully agree or stand by each other’s tactics or ideas, although we may have much to learn and understand from one another.

We will refrain from publically denouncing or marginalizing other groups to mainstream media and law enforcement.

Please share this statement with others.

Instead, the UC Berkeley faculty members who follow the lead of Kutz continue to insist, as they did during the Wheeler occupation on November 20th, upon doing the job of the state, and sowing confusion as to whether they will be present during protests on behalf of the participants, the UC Berkeley administration or the police.

Perhaps, even they don't know what they want to accomplish, or, even worse, this is their expressed intention, to dissuade people from engaging in what Kutz pejoratively describes as occupations, actions, and more confrontational kinds of campus protests by deliberating manipulating such uncertainty. Because, don't you know, the worse thing that people can do is engage in confrontational kinds of campus protest, and if the protests get out of hand, well, they just might have to begrudingly pull out their cell phone and call the police to tell them what is happening. Personally, my sense is that protesters should stay as far away from the Casque bleu as possible on Thursday.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

SEIU: Cracks in the Foundation? 

Finally, some members of SEIU are rebelling against the autocratic trade unionism of Andrew Stern:

In a striking blow to SEIU’s national leadership, the reform “Change 1021” slate defeated Stern appointees and won all of the major offices and near total control of the Executive Board. It was the first election since SEIU’s International Executive Board merged ten California locals into one three years ago, creating one of the union’s largest primarily public employee locals. Longtime SEIU reformer Roxanne Sanchez won the top position of President in a landslide (3054-1458), Sin Yee Poon defeated Stern appointee Damita Davis-Howard 2141 to 1445 for the key position of Chief Elected Officer (akin to Executive Director), and controversial incumbent James Bryant was defeated by Alysabeth Alexander for Political Action Chair.

The one-sided outcome follows staggering SEIU defeats at Santa Rosa Memorial and Kaiser Sunset Hospitals, and reflects growing worker opposition to SEIU’s increasingly top-down, undemocratic approach. SEIU 1021 will now become part of the growing movement toward more democratic unionism in California, joining UNITE HERE, NUHW and other unions in promoting this trend. As Sanchez put it after the victory, “workers will now have real power in this organization that they did not have before.”

While SEIU 1021’s reform slate was expected to do well, few anticipated an electoral tidal wave that would sweep out of office the entire team SEIU President Andy Stern appointed to leadership over three years ago. Campaign reports indicated widespread member hostility toward SEIU’s leadership, with many members not voting in the election – only 5360 ballots were cast out of 42,000 eligible – because they lacked hope in the prospect for change.

Well, the times are about to be changing at SEIU 1021. The winning slate will not be content rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; this is a veteran group that knows that SEIU 1021’s success requires bottom-up, democratic unionism, and it will not deviate from its mission to empower workers. (Disclosure: Both newly-elected President Sanchez and Political Action Chair Alexander are employees of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head and is the publisher of Beyond Chron.)

It is hard to overstate the importance of this. SEIU is the largest union in the US, with a top down, corporatized model of unionism that operates not only to the detriment of its members, but to the interests of workers generally. A revitalized SEIU could serve as a center of resistance to the predations of capital within the US economy, and shatter the political duopoly in Washington, D. C. But, while we are from from that today, we have some cause for optimism, an optimism that had no factual basis six months ago.

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