Monday, March 31, 2008

Federal Reserve scam, or why the Federal Reserve system is not a good idea but a formal central bank is

Because although the Board of Governors is appointed by Congress and the Executive the twelve regional banks that implement the decisions are largely overseen by private bankers and CEOs, although civil servants do the day to day running of the banks.

There are nine members each of the regional boards of directors. The overwhelming majority of them are either CEOs of either large corporations or banks themselves. The rest are taken up by a few academics and, in a stunning display of egalitarianism, four union members--one whom was appointed deputy chair to the New York branch. Only three of the nine are appointed by the federal government itself, and these are invariably the three that have a possibility of being neither bankers nor CEOs, although some CEOs selected are from nominally independent companies like very large hospital companies. Three of the members are elected by the banks themselves that the Fed oversees to represent the public, and they're almost invariably CEOs, and the final three are elected again by the banks themselves to represent the banks. These, of course, are bankers.

So in a public institution you have the banks that are supposed to be overseen by the federal reserve selecting 6 out of 9 of the members of their individual boards of directors. The only thing giving it a patina of representativeness is that the chair and deputy chairman of the boards have to be selected out of the three that the government selected. But this doesn't always mean that the chairman will be a disinterested third party because the Board of Governors does sometimes select bankers as one or more of their three choice, with several districts having no non-CEO non-bankers appointed by the board of governors at all.


Let's look at a list of the people selected by the banks themselves to represent the public:

San Francisco:

KARLA S. CHAMBERS


Vice President and
Co-Owner
Stahlbush Island Farms, Inc.
Corvallis, Oregon

BLAKE W. NORDSTROM

President
Nordstrom, Inc.
Seattle, Washington


WILLIAM D. JONES

President and
Chief Executive Officer
CityLink Investment Corporation
San Diego, California

Dallas:

James B. Bexley
Professor, Finance
Sam Houston State University
Huntsville, Texas

Robert A. Estrada
Chairman
Estrada Hinojosa & Company, Inc.
Dallas, Texas

Margaret H. Jordan
President and CEO
Dallas Medical Resource
Dallas, Texas

The Kansas website doesn't indicate which directors were selected to represent the public.

Minneapolis:

William J. Shorma

President
Shur-Co
Yankton, South Dakota

Todd L. Johnson

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Reuben Johnson & Son, Inc. & Affiliated Companies
Superior, Wisconsin

Randy Peterson

Facility Director
Lake Superior State University
Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

St. Louis website doesn't indicate who the members selected to represent the public are

Unfortunately, the Chicago website doesn't indicate the members selected to represent the public

Neither does the Atlanta branch website

Nor the Richmond branch website

Cleveland:

Ann Hailey

Retired Executive Vice President, Corporate Development
Limited Brands
Columbus, OH

Les C. Vinney

Senior Advisor and Immediate Past President and CEO
STERIS Corporation
Mentor, OH

Third seat vacant

No info from Philadelphia branch about who their public representatives are

New York:

Richard S. Fuld, Jr.
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

Jeffrey R. Immelt
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
General Electric Company

Indra K. Nooyi
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
PepsiCo, Inc.

Boston:

Robert K. Kraft
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Kraft Group

Stuart H. Reese
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
MassMutual Life Insurance Company

Michael T. Wedge
President, Chief Executive Officer, and Director (former)
BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc.

All the directors of all of the branches are listed, but because the banks can select anyone to be a representative and the Board of Governors can decide on anyone to be a representative, including bankers (just not people actively managing banks), the fact that they haven't included a label of "Class B" (the representatives' class) next to their names means it's impossible to tell who exactly the representatives are.

Hats off to the Minneapolis branch though for being the most progressive of all of them, with not only a union member selected by the Board of Governors but a guy in charge of facilities at a state college also serving as a board member.


If you look through it all the directors you see banker banker banker, CEO CEO CEO, banker banker banker, CEO CEO CEO, college professor, banker banker baker.

I for one am glad that the CEO of Nordstrom's is acting as one of my public representatives here in the Northwest, although to be fair we do have an organic food company CEO and a builder of public housing developments as the other two reps.

Talk about a conflict of interests to end all conflicts of interests, these are the people responsible in large part for directing the central banking system of the United States, which in turn implements monetary policy for the entire country.

Paulson's speech about the economy

Which Krugman was completely right about. You can find it Here. The speech is an almost Soviet exercise at using a lot of oxygen while saying nothing. In terms of concrete suggestions for the mortgage crisis the list is laughable and a slap in the face for people whose homes have been foreclosed.

"Legislation should set forth or task this Commission to establish minimum standards which should include personal conduct and disciplinary history, minimum educational requirements, testing criteria and procedures, and appropriate licensing revocation standards."

That's it. Instead of forbidding subprime lending or predatory lending the all powerful Treasury Department has decided to offer harder tests for mortgage agents to get licenses and more schooling as a necessary requirement.

Other concrete innovations include an agency to oversea credit and debit card transactions to make sure that there isn't fraud, as well as deregulation of insurance agencies.

"Payment and Settlement Systems

Payment systems are critically important for overall market stability. On a typical business day, US payment and settlement systems settle transactions valued at over $13 trillion. Every American relies on a payment system in one way or another, everyday. Yet, our government is behind the curve in payment system oversight. "

Payment and settlement systems is a fancy way of saying credit, debit, and check transactions.

"Optional Federal Charter for Insurance

Insurance presents a clear need for regulatory modernization. States have been the primary regulator for insurance for over 135 years. While a completely state-based regulatory system for insurance may have been appropriate at one time, insurance market changes have put increasing strains on the system.

A state-based regulatory system is quite burdensome. It allows price controls to create market distortions. It can hinder development of national products and can directly impact the competitiveness of US insurers. There have been numerous attempts to modernize the regulatory structure for insurance. At this time, it seems clear that the way forward is to give insurers the ability to elect for federal regulation."

In other words, if the insurance company doesn't like that a state is making it offer affordable rates it will be able to get a federal charter and break the state law.

Turkey Supreme Court seeks to dissolve ruling party

"The 11-judge court, a bastion of the secularist establishment, decided unanimously to hear a case calling for the closure of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) as well as banning the prime minister and president from politics for five years on the grounds that they are trying to impose Islamic law in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 70 million.

The decision followed a failed attempt by the country's military leaders to mount a coup by stealth last year against the prime minister and to stop Abdullah Gul, the former foreign minister, from becoming president and head of state."

Turkey's a strange place in that the Progressives, many of them at least, are the people opposing the secularists. Turkey became officially secularist during the reign of Attaturk in the early 20th century, combining it with a move to westernize Turkish culture and with military dictatorship. Besides destroying large parts of the cultural heritage of Turkey, which was the center of the Ottoman Empire, you could see the move by the Turkish ruling class as willingly selling out Turkey to the West. Muslim democratic politics, and even things like modernized forms of hijab, represent resistance to all this. To give you an idea of how obsessed Turkey is in making itself attractive to the west through official secularism, female university students in Istanbul caused a controversy by starting to wear rain coats, long sleeved shirts and head scarves.

Emo suppression in Mexico

This is terrible. When I first heard about this I was going to write a post talking about how unfortunate it was and how people in the United States tend to underestimate the cultural cross fertilization between Mexico and the U.S. as well as the general awareness of people in Mexico of U.S. culture, but in reading the stories what's going on looks to be much more serious than that.

Time magazine article about it

"The trio of long-haired teenagers grasped the plaza wall to shield their bodies as hundreds of youths kicked and punched them while filming the beating on cell phone cameras. "Kill the emos," shouted the assailants, who had organized over the Internet to launch the attack in Mexico's central city of Queretaro. After police eventually steamed in and made arrests, the bloody victims lay sobbing on the concrete waiting for ambulances while the mob ran through the nearby streets laughing and cheering."




Daily Swarm article about it with links to other articles

"There are brand new developments to the Mexican Emo Witch Hunt story. The national government of Mexico stepped in to try and quell the violent attacks and riots erupting over the past several weeks in cities across the country. But the violence threatens to spread. Excelsior reports (English Google translation):"


"As David Hernandez noted earlier, many people in Mexico point to the on-air rant of Televisa television personality Krisoff as the tipping point that incited the violence.

The gravity of this should not be underestimated: The broadcaster, Televisa, is a massive entertainment conglomerate that’s the Mexican equivalent of Viacom and Clear Channel and Live Nation combined. Kristoff’s provocation was not just the equivalent of an MTV VJ stirring kids up, but more like Jay Leno calling for blood. While Kristoff did finally broadcast an anti-violence speech following last week’s incidents, some in Mexico are suggesting that he may take the fall if the government blames the company for stirring up trouble."

This is really shocking, and although I myself am much closer to Industrial and Goth culture than Emo culture the idea of kids being beaten up for belonging to a culture that's never hurt anyone is something that effects me personally.

*on edit: Here's a google translation of an article in "La Journada" linked to by the L.A. Daily
that provides an alternative to the analysis in Time magazine, which after saying that rock music and other U.S. subcultures have only recently come to Mexico attributes the anti-Emo violence to homophobia and macho culture.

The "La Journada" article makes the point, in a round about way, that these kids are attacked because they're middle class and belong to a subculture that's linked strongly to the United States. Lack of opportunity for kids in Mexico makes these folks a very visible target for victimization.

About Bear-Stearns: "The Dilbert Strategy" by Paul Krugman

Just a general good article by a non-insane mainstream economist:

"The rescue of Bear Stearns, in particular, was a paradigm-changing event.

Traditional, deposit-taking banks have been regulated since the 1930s, because the experience of the Great Depression showed how bank failures can threaten the whole economy. Supposedly, however, “non-depository” institutions like Bear didn’t have to be regulated, because “market discipline” would ensure that they were run responsibly.

When push came to shove, however, the Federal Reserve didn’t dare let market discipline run its course. Instead, it rushed to Bear’s rescue, risking billions of taxpayer dollars, because it feared that the collapse of a major financial institution would endanger the financial system as a whole.

And if financial players like Bear are going to receive the kind of rescue previously limited to deposit-taking banks, the implication seems obvious: they should be regulated like banks, too.

The Bush administration, however, has spent the last seven years trying to do away with government oversight of the financial industry. In fact, the new plan was originally conceived of as “promoting a competitive financial services sector leading the world and supporting continued economic innovation.” That’s banker-speak for getting rid of regulations that annoy big financial operators.

To reverse course now, and seek expanded regulation, the administration would have to back down on its free-market ideology - and it would also have to face up to the fact that it was wrong. And this administration never, ever, admits that it made a mistake."

I'm wondering how we can sign a free trade agreement with a country in the midst of a civil war

Colombia, to be specific. The New York Times has a story about the proposed agreement that notes that

"All sides agree that trade-union murders in Colombia, like all violence, have declined drastically in recent years. The Colombian unions’ own research center says killings dropped to 39 last year from a high of 275 in 1996."

Only 39 trade union leader murders by the paramilitaries in 2007, glad to know that things are safe and normal in Colombia these days.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Acrimony between Republican and Democratic candidates for president weakens America

Party chiefs encourage the nominees of their respective parties to settle on a winner instead of weakening America by taking the contest all the way to the November election. "While John McCain and his Democratic opponent are bickering, Al Qaeda grows in strength, they should settle this so that we don't have the country tearing itself apart in November.".

This, of course, in reference to the amazing news that the Democratic Party has been urging Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race for President against her opponent Barack Obama. Because, you know, you two competing against one another for votes from people just makes McCain stronger, so, you know, you need to forfeit all the delegates from the future primaries, Hillary, because by wanting to win the nomination you're actually enabling McCain to win.

Memory in America is a dangerous thing, and I can remember the same sorts of arguments used against Al Gore in the 2000 election controversy. Gore was being a baby, he didn't want to accept defeat, everyone knew that he'd lost. In fact the Florida legislature had a bill submitted that would have unilaterally given all the electoral votes to Bush because, they said, (paraphrasing) everyone knew that Bush had really won.

I mean, it's not like it's the Presidency or anything. God Hillary, don't take it so seriously!

* on edit: as an added bonus there's this article from the Telegraph, a mainstream British paper, reporting that senior Democratic party officials are considering unilaterally nominating Al Gore as the Democratic Presidential candidate for November. Wow, talk about putting the "Democratic" back in the Democratic Party. Let me translate:

After primary after primary where people have registered their opinions about who should be the Democratic nominee the party bosses are considering over ruling them all and appointing a candidate to run against the Republicans who has been in no primaries, and has not said anything in the past year about running besides asking folks to not try to draft him into the race.

And they accuse Russia of having corrupt elections.

Looks like the Democratic Party Central Committee needs to start using less nose powder.

"Man, I know what we can do! We can like nominate fuckin' Gore for the nomination!" (snort). "Fuck yeah Patrick!"

Ministry in Seattle!

Great show, my first. Ministry has a special place in my heart. Most people have a sort of core band that's made a big impact on them, that's really important to them, and Ministry is definitely one of those for me. The way I first found out about Ministry was in '94 when a skater guy I knew, quite a bit older than me, talked about them, sang "Drinking the blood of Jesus! Drinking it straight from his veins!" from the song Psalm 69, and lent me the Psalm 69 album on cassette to listen to. Then, of course, there was the MTV airplay of the song "Just one fix", which has to be one of the best music videos of all time.

They rocked tonight. I knew they'd put out a political album in Rio Grande Blood but I hadn't heard much of it, and it came as a surprise when they started playing the pro-Chavez song "Señor Pelligro", which is what Chavez called Bush (translated as "Mr. Danger" in the press but maybe better translated as "Mr. Dangerous"). The Rio Grande Blood songs weren't just political, they rocked. Unlike most political songs, they didn't compromise their hardcore-ness in the sake of getting a message across.

Feeling like an old man, I came out of it thinking "Now that's real music".

I also had visions of Ministry fans coming out of the Showbox SoDo and storming Capitol Hill, massacring all the hipsters that live there. Heh heh. We can dream, can't we?

Intentionally missed half of the opening act because I didn't know them, didn't care about them, so don't really have an opinion of them.

*on edit: these folks, Ministry, live in El Paso Texas, which is quite frankly a very dangerous place. I spent the night there on the way to the northwest from the South East and you could almost smell that something was very wrong there. It's across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, which has experienced so much violence in the past few years that the Mexican Army is currently occupying it in order to insure safety. No exagerration, Google Chihuahua Juarez Army and you'll see.

Found out about Ministry from a skate punk who was originally from Chicago, where Ministry was originally from.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Considering totalitarianism

Totalitarianism and the tendency of society, maybe even the United States, to take a path leading towards something like that, has been a core concern of mine for about four years, maybe a few months shy of four years. But the problem with the term totalitarianism is that it cuts both to the left and the right, which brings up the question of radical social change that is not totalitarian, what makes social change totalitarian, and why. Taking the issue of fascism out of it, the definition that I kind of accept is that a dictatorship is something where political democracy is denied and the government can act arbitrarily without much of society being able to do anything about it, while in a totalitarian dictatorship precise ideological control over all aspects of life is added to the mix. Dictatorships by their very definition tend not to like ideas that are hostile to the ruling ideology; the dictatorships of South America for instance didn't exactly like Marxism and in fact made the specter of Marxist terrorism one of their key propaganda points, but that doesn't make a dictatorship totalitarian. We're talking about social control mixed with a positive statist ideology based on some sort of social and political movement. Fascist totalitarianism tended to be based on nationalist ideology combined with religious ideology and sometimes racist ideology. Stalinist totalitarianism made a new ideology out of the very tradition of the Revolution that they claimed to be a continuation of, making it into something static that could be used for manipulation of society and punishment of people who found themselves on the outs with the state for whatever reason.

But, what about revolutions against things like Capitalism that find that creating some sort of a fundamental change in the cultural sphere is necessary to complete the social change undertaken on the bottom? Considering that the media is constantly broadcasting pro-market, anti-radical, values (despite whatever 'cool' thing they may be praising in the current moment), as well as the educational system, taking power away from the capitalist captains of media and transforming media outlets into something that has a diversity of opinions from the socialist on out looks like a necessity.

But how to do it without exerting totalitarian control over things? Maybe by changing its structure to be more authentically popular and restraining the complete domination of content by corporate and capitalist values, while nationalizing much of the media or putting it into some sort of semi-nationalized popularly controlled form would be able to accomplish it without going over the line. Venezuela could be an example of this.

The Age of Aquarius?

It's funny what you find under the heading of Aquarius if you look into that mighty oracle known as Wikipedia.

Aquarius Wiki link.

The thing is that people have been predicting a New Age for quite some time, but only in the mid-20th century....I think....did people start to link a belief in a New Age coming to the precession of the equinox's and the movement of the rising sign at the spring equinox from Pisces to Aquarius. In any case the identification of an Age of Aquarius with a peace and love fest is sort of off the mark if the characteristics that astrologers ascribe to Aquarius are true.

It seems that Aquarius combines a sort of very rational thinking tendency with a kind of tolerant and humanitarian streak. Fierce independence as well. But my sense is that the tolerant and humanitarian streak is much different than that associated with Pisces, which astrologers identify with the Christian ethic. Tolerance of others and a sense of humanitarianism based on a rational understanding that these things are good.

Not quite group sex while high on pot and a little LSD, but ironically in line with the social ideals of the Kennedy years.

Here's a run down of the Aquarian qualities given verily by ye olde Wiki.

Notice on the bottom it says "unemotional/cold".

" * strong-willed / stubborn
* opinionated
* far-sighted / visionary
* innovative / inventive
* tolerant / unprejudiced / objective
* humane / humanitarian
* genial / friendly / sociable
* idealistic
* remote / detached / aloof
* intuitive
* devoted to their goals
* free-spirited / rebellious
* frank / outspoken
* independent / individualistic
* intelligent / intellectual
* leading / trend setting
* engaging
* unpredictable
* eccentric / unconventional
* temperamental
* resentful
* enigmatic / magnetic
* progressive
* unemotional / cold
"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Amy Goodman interviews Obama

I'm sure people out there are wondering why I keep hammering at Obama. Well, here's a prime example: a transcript of what happened when Amy Goodman tried to get some straight answers out of Obama on the war. (from www.Democracynow.org)

AMY GOODMAN: Obama was speaking at the Cooper Union. I had a chance to briefly interview him as he was shaking people’s hands after he left the stage. I asked Obama why he’s not calling for a total withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in accordance with the 70 percent of Iraqis who say they want the US out.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Obama, quick question: 70 percent of Iraqis say they want the US to withdraw completely; why don’t you call for a total withdrawal?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I do, except for our embassy. I call for amnesty and protecting our civilian contractors there.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said a residual force—

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Yeah, but—

AMY GOODMAN: —which means [inaudible] thousands [inaudible].

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, no. I mean, I don’t think that you’ve read exactly what I’ve said. What I said is that we do need to have a strike force in the region. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in Iraq; it could be in Kuwait or other places. But we do have to have some presence in order to not only protect them, but also potentially to protect their territorial integrity.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you call for a ban on the private military contractors like Blackwater?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I’ve actually—I’m the one who sponsored the bill that called for the investigation of Blackwater in [inaudible], so—

AMY GOODMAN: But would you support the Sanders one now?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Here’s the problem: we have 140,000 private contractors right there, so unless we want to replace all of or a big chunk of those with US troops, we can’t draw down the contractors faster than we can draw down our troops. So what I want to do is draw—I want them out in the same way that we make sure that we draw out our own combat troops. Alright? I mean, I—

AMY GOODMAN: Not a ban?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I don’t want to replace those contractors with more US troops, because we don’t have them, alright? But this was a speech about the economy.

AMY GOODMAN: The war is costing $3 trillion, according to Stiglitz.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: That’s what—I know, which I made a speech about last week. Thank you.


AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Barack Obama at the Cooper Union in New York.

Trans man pregnant

Awesome. More proof that after a certain point gender is a social construct.(title link)

'Being a pregnant man? It's incredible'

"After marrying, Beatie and his wife moved to the US mainland. They wanted to start a family but health problems meant Roberts could not conceive. So, according to the account Beatie gave the Advocate, a US gay and lesbian magazine, he stopped his twice-weekly hormone injections, allowed his periods to return, and tried for a baby.

A first attempt ended in a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. Now, following anonymous sperm donation and home insemination, Beatie says he is pregnant again and is due to give birth to a baby girl in July. "How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am," he writes. "To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child - I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter's father, and Nancy will be her mother."


*on edit: wow, you folks really are sick fucks. This post has gotten many more hits than most of my other ones and my suspicion is that it isn't people who care about trans rights or who believe that this is at least a neutral thing who are viewing the site but people who look at it like a freak show.

Six year blogiversary

and things are just heating up. The first post on this site was six years ago today in 2002, making it older than Atrios and Eschaton by about a week. Since then there's been a little over 4,000 posts, which averages out to about 666 posts per year, which is kind of cool.

La lotta continua

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pakistan will no longer be a push over

For American intervention. Title link story: "Pakistan’s New Leaders Tell US: We Are No Longer Your Killing Field"

"Since 2001 American officials have treasured their close relationship with Musharraf because he offered a “one-stop shop” for cooperation in hunting al-Qaida fugitives hiding in Pakistan.

But since the crushing electoral defeat of Musharraf’s party last month, and talk that the new parliament may hobble the president’s powers, that equation has changed. Now the US finds itself dealing with politicians it previously spurned.

The body language between Negroponte and Sharif during their meeting on Tuesday spoke volumes: the Pakistani greeted the American with a starched handshake, and sat at a distance .

In blunt remarks afterwards, Sharif said he told Negroponte that Pakistan was no longer a one-man show. “Since 9/11, all decisions were taken by one man,” he said. “Now we have a sovereign parliament and everything will be debated in the parliament.”

It was “unacceptable that while giving peace to the world we make our own country a killing field,” Sharif said, echoing widespread public anger at US-funded military operations in the tribal belt.

“If America wants to see itself clean of terrorism, we also want our villages and towns not to be bombed,” he said.

US officials have long paid tribute to the virtues of democracy in Pakistan. But, as happened in the Palestinian Authority after the 2006 Hamas victory, policymakers are racing to catch up with the consequences of a result that challenges American priorities."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pushing Obama to the Left: the Progressives for Obama letter

By Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Danny Glover.

Relevant paragraph:

"However, the fact that Barack Obama openly defines himself as a centrist invites the formation of this progressive force within his coalition. Anything less could allow his eventual drift towards the right as the general election approaches. It was the industrial strikes and radical organizers in the 1930s who pushed Roosevelt to support the New Deal. It was the civil rights and student movements that brought about voting rights legislation under Lyndon Johnson and propelled Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy’s anti-war campaigns. It was the original Earth Day that led Richard Nixon to sign environmental laws. And it will be the Obama movement that makes it necessary and possible to end the war in Iraq, renew our economy with a populist emphasis, and confront the challenge of global warming."

I think it's a laudable undertaking to try to force Obama to be more Progressive in his policies, and the fact that Bill Fletcher and Danny Glover signed it impresses me. Frankly, I respect them more at this point than Hayden and Ehrenreich, with Fletcher being the leader of Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Glover having come out as a true progressive socialist.

There's just one problem, which is fellow progressives. My impression is that most Obama supporters already feel that he's basically as perfect as perfect can be, and that if you question that you're a bad, bad, person who's the progressive version of unpatriotic. Obama will likely win the Presidential nomination, unless there's a last minute rally by Clinton, and there will then be months of time when all manner of things can happen with Obama's position. It can go further to the right, be pushed to the Left, stay the same, or be pushed to the right by a campaign unwilling to progressively defend itself against Republican red baiting. A push to the left could have a great impact, and it's something that once he wins the nomination, either virtually or in Denver, will be much more feasible since the charge that opponents are really just Clinton supporters will no longer be tenable.

But Progressive Obama supporters have so far seemed like push overs, leading me to feel that there's little chance that they'll actually come together to hold Obama's feet to the fire in order to either keep his positions from going further to the right or moving them further to the left. I'd like to be proved wrong on this because it would mean Progressives flexing their muscles and trying to influence things rather than passively sitting by and giving their golden candidate a rubber stamp.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Applause worthy Jonathan Schwartz post on "This Modern World"

(title leads to permalink) About the recent comments on Instapundit, a right wing blog of high readership, regarding black Americans.

"Recently Glenn Greenwald pointed to a post by “OldPunk” at an Instapundit-approved blurg. Here’s some of what the post said about Obama’s speech last week about race. The “you” to which OldPunk is addressing himself is black Americans generally:

You see, you’ve just given life to the suspicion that black people in America are, and have long been, a fifth column — unanimously hating the very country that has afforded the highest standard of living ever achieved by black people in human history. We’re teetering at the edge of believing that you’re a secret society, a massive collection of sleeper cells just waiting for your chance to do serious harm to the rest of us. You’ve made it possible for us to believe that."

I’d bet a lot of money that “OldPunk” was outraged in 2003 by Saddam’s massacres of Iraqi Kurds (though not when they were actually happening during the eighties, when he almost certainly didn’t know about them).

The funny part is, some Iraqi Kurds were more than just under “suspicion” of being “a fifth column” during that time. They were actually accepting arms and training from a country with which Iraq was at war, and which in fact had its armies on Iraqi soil."

More, with the punch line, at "This Modern World".

"Why is the Left So Boring?" by David Rovics

Shorter David Rovics: Left is boring, left is boring, dominated by sectarian groups, doesn't like music, the IWW was God, the Communist Party stole the IWW's cultural ideas, the left is boring, ANSWER sucks, you need music.

I always think that folk singers who would probably be despised and spat on by the actual folk are interesting.

But with this article by David Rovics there's an interesting subtext, which is to say that it's implied that most of the problems relating to cultural events or lack thereof on the left stem from sectarian groups. He never comes out and actually says this, but since he devotes paragraph after paragraph to the influence of sectarian groups on the left and only a few sentences at the end to pointing out that the problem is more widespread I think you can infer it pretty well. The problem is that that attitude is too easy an answer both to issues of not having a vibrant political culture and to political problems in general.

What I'm talking about is the belief that if something goes wrong in the planning of an event or something in the event comes out stilted, like Rovics' talking about a Portland protest renaming a "Festival" (even though it was one day) of music an "Action Camp", the fault is with sectarian thinking and could not be the result of anarchists and anti-authoritarians acting like sectarians.

Even if we got a time machine and transported all the IWW organizers from before World War I to the present day we'd still have both interpersonal conflict and people who want to do things that in retrospect seem to have been counterproductive.

There's no magic wand that you can wave, like making sure that more anarchists participate in the planning of these things, that'll make problems that recur all over the place suddenly disappear, and it's naive to think so.

Even if ANSWER suddenly disappears and is replaced by something stellar we'll still be dealing with human beings who have egos and who have interpersonal problems with each other, agendas, and every other flaw that makes us human and not super beings. Maybe, in my ex-cathedra way of saying things, it would be better to learn how to collectively work through that in order to make a more invigorated left culture.

*on edit: a big part of Rovics' post deals with the CP supposedly ripping off the IWW's culture, repeating the kind of lie that paints the CP as coming out of nowhere, suddenly becoming sectarian, and suddenly starting to fuck up the entire radical culture.

The truth is that the CP came out of the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs and Victor Berger, who was the first Socialist elected to the House of Representatives and who pioneered municipal socialism. What happened in the U.S. with the split in the Socialist Party was the exact thing that happened in parties all over Europe. There was one big difference, though, and that is that in the U.S. the majority of locals in the Socialist Party went over to the Communist Party, leading to the new CP getting the party printing press and newspaper among other things. This is recounted in the book "The Roots of American Communism" by Theodore Draper, a third party academic in all of this. Likewise, the IWW itself split, with a minority going over to the new Communist Party. This is documented in the memoir "Break Their Haughty Power" by Joe Murphy, long time IWW back in the day describing his entire association with it from beginning to end. The Socialist Party in the United States certainly had working class members and backing, particularly in poor immigrant communities like the one Emma Goldman came out of.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Samhain: I call it Sam-Hain, you may call it Sow-end

Another random rant. My spirituality has a lot to do with the Wiccan-pagan-occultism nexus of beliefs, and I am interested and concerned with the actual history of them instead of the fantastic history attributed to them. Case in point is Samhain, which is the Halloween festival and the traditional start of the new Wiccan year. People have called out those who pronounce it Sam-Hain instead of Sow-end as being just kind of groupies who don't know much, which indicates in a way some of what's wrong with attitudes inside of certain Wiccan circles.

The fact is that Gerald Brosseau Gardener, who wrote the rituals and started Wicca, liked to look up obscure Anglo-Saxon words and incorporate them into his new religion to give it a sense of ancientness, and Samhain is one of those words. Since most people don't speak Anglo-Saxon or Old English Samhain looks like it's pronounced Sam-Hane, and the derivation of Sow-End from it makes much less intuitive sense than the translation of Gaelic pronunciation into Irish spelling conventions, which is relatively mystifying. But how can people be pronouncing it wrong if in fact it was made up in the late '40s? That's the thing I don't understand, how people can make such a big deal about things that are demonstratively made up fairly recently as if you're dishonoring an age old tradition that goes back into the mists of time..........

And with regards to the word Wicca itself, Gardener intended it to be pronounced "Witcha", and claimed to have derived it from a spelling of Witch Craft as Wicca-craeft.


Read "The Triumph of the Moon" by Ronald Hutton, published by Oxford University Press, a real academic study of the origins of Wicca and modern paganism that's also sensitive to the people involved as well, if you want to see an in depth analysis of all of this.

Good Ted Rall cartoon



My take on this is that it's about the fact that contrary to what people say math and science have been pushed to the exclusion of nearly everything else in U.S. schools for the past two decades at least. English classes, by which is meant English language literature classes, are necessary because of the verbal portion of the SAT but beyond that you have stuff from music and art on out facing the chopping block because they're not perceived as essentials. And don't even talk about things like philosophy. We're one of the richest countries in the world but we're consciously looking to the educational systems of developing economies like Korea, with huge classes and authoritarian discipline, as models of what to emulate. You'd think that after a point it would be possible to spare enough money to give classes and knowledge that would actually enrich people's lives in a way not necessarily directly related to what they want to do as a career.

By the way, and this stat is several years out of date, my understanding was that although the engineering programs etc.. are having less enrollment it's business programs that are the boom industry in higher education, with almost a majority of kids coming into college planning on getting a business related degree. So it's not like we're frittering away education while Rome burns, but that kids want to be capitalists, which, well, do the math. Too many capitalists in training and not enough workers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Henry Rollins in Olympia

A little bit of truth in a field where there's much bullshit is how I'd describe the Olympia performance. Rollins didn't go for any cheap laughs or hit any of the typical buttons that are pretty much guaranteed to get certain responses in liberal/lefty college town, which Olympia no matter what you say is one of. Rollins had a progressive message about the war, America in general, but put it across in a way that wasn't looking over its shoulder every second to make sure that the language police weren't coming around. Instead, he described things in ways that actual human beings would, which unfairly or not is sort of the anti-thesis of Jello Biafra.

In fact, he made a point through the talk of mentioning the less-than-canonically-cool things he's interested in musically and sometimes otherwise: not only praised Slayer but mentions that he's friends with them, mentions Marilyn Manson and says he's a fan of his.

The biggest applause, more than any statement about war killing people or democracy being torn to shreds, was the reasonable idea that men should not dictate what women do with their ovaries. But. Later on he talked about visiting Iran and how nice it was over there without mentioning the idea that all Iranian women are oppressed, without mentioning the status of women in Iran at all, which no doubt disappointed or confused the audience members, used to eternally self-consistent sound bites that don't challenge people to actually think.

Ah, Jello Biafra, who I've seen speak as well. In many ways representative of typical west coast bullshit. Sanctimonious but without real content. Much like many Dead Kennedy songs. Where Biafra once sang that he'd "rather stay a child and keep my self respect if being an adult means being like you", Rollins clearly doesn't give a fuck.

Blyah. I'm still tired and worn out from celebration with friends afterwards. Don't drink much, certainly don't get hammered much, and when I do my body hates me afterwards.

Emo vs. Hipster

Maybe it's because I went down to Olympia last night to see Henry Rollins speak (which is what the next post will be about), but the ways and wheres of hipster and emo culture are bubbling up in my mind right now. I'm realizing that I prefer the emo culture, with its stereotypes, vastly over hipster culture.

Hipster mutated from indierock, which mutated from alternative music. Looking around Olympia I see the whole trend as totally played out. It's exhausted, run into the ground, used up, with not a lot of new material to bring to people. But emo, on the other hand is actually something new in that it's a mass fusion of elements of punk rock culture with the same indie culture that hipsters have in their heritage. After listening several years ago, in Olympia, to a roommate, describe how he wanted to create a story that looped back on itself a few times but that self admittedly had no point to it than just being clever and being cool, it started to dawn on me that maybe these folks are full of shit. The same pretentiousness that this person showed in literature carried over to music. It was all a game, nothing truly original, just a repetition of things that he'd heard were cool from someone who he looked up to. At least Emo culture, at least in my experience, doesn't do that.

*on edit: not only did he say that it intentionally had no point, but when I pressed him about what exactly he was trying to say with the story I was accused of being an dick because I believed that stories should have points. I'm not exaggerating.

One of this guy's beliefs was that in a post-modern world meaning is completely dead and so it is pointless to try to say something with a story. That means that he was aiming to write genre fiction of some kind, some variant on sci-fi that you'd find in a drug store for $6.99 in paperback. There's nothing inherently wrong with doing that, if it's what you're aiming for, but this guy was so very serious that what he was doing was Literature with a capital 'L'. In truth he was using post-modernism as an excuse to be mediocre, and to have his writing accepted. Being a hipster means never having to face the fact that you're a talentless lit and music groupie.

But I'm doing what I always do (hey! I'm being self-referential, commenting on the text I just wrote!) and mixing my own thoughts in with a little bit of the style of someone who has greatly impressed me lately, i.e. Rollins. So I'll make the big Rollins post next and maybe come back to this topic some time when I can write in a style that I can be sure is completely my own.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Ayn Rand and fascism

***Look, to people who are just finding this post: I am not going to comment on this anymore. If you want a full reckoning of my thoughts on the subject search for "Ayn Rand II" in the toolbar. I will not respond to anything that anyone posts here***

In the interest of finding out just what opponents say instead of just taking it on faith I went out about two months ago and bought a couple cheap Ayn Rand books, specifically "For the New Intellectuals" and "The Virtue of Selfishness", both of which are collections of essays plus extracts from her fiction work, with the much celebrated speeches given by her characters included.
I was prepared for her to be extraordinarily pro-capitalism, with some anti-Soviet stuff mixed in, but what shocked me was that her writings aren't for capitalism in a Libertarian sense but in a sense that goes into the territory of social darwinism and fascism. Libertarians, right libertarians , like those associated with the magazine "Liberty" can be interesting when they're talking about social issues that don't directly have to do with economics, and sometimes interesting in criticizing government waste. They usually don't veer into far right wing territory except in economic issues.

Ayn Rand's philosophy is based on creative people and their rights. She starts out "The Virtue of Selfishness" on a good note by suggesting that doing acts that people in society consider selfish in the sense of personal gratification and self advancement are actually positive. This can be very true in certain respects. But then she goes on to outline her theory of productive individuals, saying that people who do something to advance the world materially and culturally should be allowed to do whatever they want, should really be in charge of society, and should be able to keep whatever comes to them with no sense of greater societal obligation whatsoever. By productive people who contribute to material advancement she means people who do some sort of competitive innovation, in this case businessmen, bankers, inventors, engineers, her famous architects. Productive people and productive work conspicuously and explicitly excludes workers. Her societal ideal is based on the world being about individual survival, with the competitive capitalist business world being a modern incarnation of survival of the fittest. Since corporations make stuff and sell stuff in the market, and therefore have satisfaction of some sort theoretically as their standard of success and failure, this selfishness has positive social implications, meaning that forgetting about social responsibility in her view doesn't lead to absolutely nothing. Of course she's right, it leads to just a little bit above nothing.

The language of "Productive Work", which is the phrase she uses, combined with her characterization of workers as being lazy and stupid, with no initiative and ready to suck the life blood out of the worthwhile individuals of the community through strikes and legislation for social benefits recalls both fascist and racist theories about the same. According to the racist theorist the Count Gobineau white people are the creators of civilization, asians are uncreative and just capable of sustaining civilization, and blacks and others are the destroyers of civilization, people who are constitutionally inferior and will never be equal to white people in their capabilities. It's easy to see racial parallels with her theory of productive and unproductive work, and with the notion of the Slavic Soviets as taking property away from people because they were lazy, greedy, and incapable of creating that which they took. Gobineau was translated by Hitler into an anti-semitic form, with the caricature of the banker Jew getting fat off of society while contributing nothing creative or productive to it. Rand, for her part, included bankers as productive workers and seems only to have been racist to blacks in Africa, who she describes in "For the new intellectuals" as being exploited by "Witch doctors" and living in a world of superstition. Capitalists in her scheme don't necessarily belong to any race, which means she buys into something like the idea of a "natural aristocracy" that Thomas Jefferson, in one of his less equalitarian moments, described.

The creative people should be allowed to rise to the top and should prevent the Üntermenschen from instituting Statist programs and legislation that would restrain them, because these would sabotage the progress of society itself, leading to a sort of stagnation as the stupid, uncreative, workers take over. The collectivist ethic, as she calls it, must be resisted, as well as the influence of religious authority and, interestingly enough, pure warrior force. So she isn't a total social darwinist then, Genghis Khan wouldn't be welcome. But then racist apologists for Hitler contrasted his version of a strong man with that of Genghis Khan by saying that he represented civilization against degeneration. I'm thinking of Savitri Devi here. I digress though.

To kind of summarize I'll let Ms. Rand explain some of her thought via Atlas Shrugged. The idea behind Atlas Shrugged is that Rand's beloved creative and productive class goes on strike, these Atlases who are thought to hold up society, shrugging and letting society fall into disrepair, as the blacks take over. Whoops, she doesn't say that last part, that was Birth of a Nation, where the white slave masters are prohibited from exercising their authority over blacks anymore.

In any case, here she is on socialized medicine:

"That a doctor should have any right, desire or choice in the matter was regarded as irrelevant selfishness; his is not to choose, they said, only 'to serve.' That a man who's willing to work under compulsion is too dangerous a brute to entrust with a job in the stockyards--never occurred to those who proposed to help the sick by making life impossible for the healthy. I have often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind--yet what is it that they expect to depend on, when they lie on an operating table under my hands? Their moral code has taught them to believe that it is safe to rely on the virtue of their victims. Well, that is the virtue I have withdrawn. Let them discover the kind of doctors that their system will now produce. Let them discover, in their operating rooms and hospital wards, that it is not safe to place their lives in the hands of a man whose life they have throttled. It is not safe, if he is the sort of man who resents it--and still less safe, if he is the sort who doesn't."

The doctor in question has gone a strike with John Galt, but the meaning is clear: give us a six figure salary or we'll cut you in your sleep.

No more will the sickly victim class control the rights of doctors.

Heil bis die Sieg über die Sklaven! Hail the victory over the slaves.

The strategy of Tibet launching protests in the Olympic year is a good one

Because, like the title link reports the German foreign minister saying, ""You can't just host glamorous events for television while things are going topsy-turvy in your own backyard. The host has to allow thousands of journalists into the country - you won't be able to sweep anything under the rug." . It's actually very significant that the German foreign minister would say this because a similar thing happened when the Berlin Wall fell.

People usually don't realize it but the fall of the wall didn't just happen at a random time. It happened during the forty year anniversary celebration of East Germany. Gorbachev himself was in Berlin at the time, and he specifically warned Hönecker that if he cracked down on the protests there would be no support from the Soviet Union, in part no doubt because it would look so bad for the anniversary of a state claiming, in its very name, to be democratic to use deadly force against protesters.

The world's eyes are on China now, in part because China has put an enormous emphasis on the Olympics as showcasing China itself. What an opportunity to show how human rights are actually lived in China.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Israelis racist--the mainstream and alternative media is just finding this out?

(title link via Cursor.org) Israelis are some of the most racist people on the planet, no exaggeration. By racism I don't mean being upset about suicide bombings or rocket attacks, or being upset at Palestinians who condone these things, but a belief in the racial inferiority of Arabs and the belief in a cultural primitiveness on their part stemming from this. Ironically, Israelis have distanced themselves from Middle Eastern culture as it actually exists and instead identify more strongly as part of the West these days.

An anecdote: I was in Vienna almost five years ago. Although Austria as a whole has a reputation for ultra-conservatism I didn't see any overt signs of racism, apart from the graffiti saying "Neger Rauss!", which was crossed out and had "Nazi Rauss!" painted above it, besides one incident.

I was standing on a subway platform at night and there was a group of young people near me. They started speaking Hebrew and from what I gathered due to loan words I recognized were talking about the African street vendors, who are present in downtown Vienna. All of the sudden one of them broke into a literal Step'an Fetch It/ Jim Crow dance, much to the amusement of the rest of them, who laughed at it.

That's the sort of thing we associate Ku Klux Klan members with over here, but was a stunning commentary on the tolerant and respectful society that Israel has created.

Five Years On

Stupidity and lies leading to casualties and destruction. Stupidity, lies, death, invasion, pointless. Spineless daydream nation fucks unwilling to do anything to stop it from happening. People marching but most people believing illogical lies with no proof wholesale. And still believing them. And still fucking believing them, even to this day, even with shit loads of concrete proof gathered in Iraq saying that they were fucking wrong. Jesus Christ, I've talked to more people who want to get the fuck out of the U.S. than you would imagine, something that never happened before 9/11 and the Iraq War. Rats, sinking ship, partying hardy.

Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck them. Fuck them.

How exactly to explain it all? I'm not sure, but I do know that the real face of America has been revealed in these years after 9/11 and after the start of the Iraq War for the world to see. All of this stuff, the acquiescence with authoritarianism, the blatant acceptance and even encouragement of the violation of individual rights via PATRIOT-ACT, torture, revenge invasions, not giving a damn, everything that's come to the surface was there before but the U.S. had a wonderful P.R. machine that kept all of it under wraps. It was always in the background but the media put on a wonderful faux-neutral face that made us seem relatively normal.

The idea of a liberal media misrepresenting people was right in that more people supported crazy right-wing nutjobs than mainstream media outlets let on, preferring things like objectivity or at a minimum basic logic. Like, you have to have at least one fact that sort of supports what you're putting out there.

We're more of an empty hat than most people realized, witness our constant genuflection towards the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and figures like Lincoln, done without any real understanding of any of them. Sure, it's possible to really read all about them and come to the same conclusions that the mainstream media puts out there, but the point is that most people didn't and do not actually look into the actual origin of democracy in America or the lives of the big figures that they worship. We could have George Washington coming down out of the clouds riding a UFO and leading the Colonists against the British with light sabers and people would applaud it.

No wonder then, in retrospect, that they invoke the Constitution constantly while approving of the invasion of civil liberties and the more or less obvious suppression of dissent through mass media and somewhat governmental intimidation.

Yep, that Constitution all right, it's a document that has articles, and it don't say nothin' about torture. I thank.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Actual conversation with new hipster roommates in Olympia in 2004

Me:The Cramps [psychobilly punk rock band] are post modern, they cite Andre Breton [author of the Surrealist Manifesto] in their liner notes.

Them: I don't know, Breton wasn't really that radical.

*Because, of course, everyone knows that Andre Breton ran the Surrealist writers' group as a little dictator, right? It's common knowledge. Therefore, because this Punk rock band from the '70s on used Rockabilly culture in an ironic sense, and actually cited Breton as a source for their surreal aesthetic, they couldn't really be "post-modern".

They should have, like, cited Raymond Queneau, who writes poems where the first word of each line put together makes another poem.

Because all the world should be familiar with writers who are spawned, supported by, and can only exist within, the French Academic system.

Breton, like, so '50s, man.

Obama gave a great speech about race and about his pastor

That didn't address any of his remarks on U.S. foreign policy save one, and I'm quoting here:

" a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

...Which was a direct reference to his pastor's condemnation of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians.

Besides that, nothing. Even though the remarks about 9/11 were at the heart of the uproar.

The message: Obama is behind Israel 100%, and he won't make a concrete statement about the role of the U.S. in possibly provoking 9/11 through its actions. Which means he can't be held accountable for those views, so that in the future he can pull a Kyl-Lieberman if the pressure gets too much.

A Kyl-Lieberman refers to the amendment that Hillary voted for but that Obama mysteriously abstained from, then used to beat Clinton over the head with. Hey, he didn't vote for it! He didn't vote against it either, and in fact supported virtually the same bill earlier.

Difference between empirical method and rationalism

People often confuse the two and think that they automatically go together. The empirical method is based on testing hypotheses and drawing conclusions from them, rationalism in the sense I'm describing is tied to Enlightenment materialism and as such is a view of the world rather than a method. Rationalism is a positive philosophy, a particular system of thought about the world; empiricism is a method.

What pisses people off to no end is when the empirical method is used to verify things that the Rationalist mindset objects to on philosophical grounds. Alternative medicine is a great example of this. The success of things like Acupuncture challenge the kind of materialistic clock-work world that Enlightenment materialism describes, yet it can be scientifically proven to work.

Just because the scientific method came along with the emergence of Enlightenment rationalism doesn't mean that the two necessarily go together. In the end, which one you put your faith in in the face of challenges defines who you are: people who trust the facts put their faith in the scientific method, wherever it may lead, while people who stick to their guns about materialistic philosophy are really more concerned with validating their own world view than discovering verifiable proof of hypotheses.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Treasury Department seems to want to sacrifice the U.S. economy for the health of the capital markets

Or at least that's what This account of an interview between Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson and Fox News implies.


"On being asked if the government will step in to bail out any additional firms, Paulson refuses to "speculate" on what "might happen," but insists: "Our focus, our priority... No. 1 priority, is the stability of our financial systems."

"What we're working to do," he continues, "is to minimize the impact of what's going on in housing, what's going on in the capital markets, on the real economy."


"He concludes: "Anything we can do to enhance confidence in our marketplace; in our capital markets; in our economy; are--the policies that increase confidence in our economy over time.""


But the reason that the markets are in trouble is because of lack of regulation, which in turn points to deeper structural problems in the U.S. political system. There seems to be a lot of support for a bail out but little support for new regulations and laws that might prevent something like the housing bubble and the risky mortgages from happening again. Laws that would prohibit risky financial schemes would naturally get in the way of firms attempts to make as much money as they possibly could. Therefore, it would be seen as leading to a lack of confidence "in our marketplace; in our capital markets; in our economy".


But if quick fixes are not enough and the crisis grows to a point where no amount of government loans can help on their own the markets will be totally destroyed. Having confidence of investors in markets that are unregulated but have totally imploded isn't going to do the U.S. economy much good. However, in the short term the money will continue to come rolling in.

In the interest of ensuring friendly market environment we're selling the interest of the U.S. down the river, squeezing the last drop of cash out of it when we should be doing something to stop the large crisis that's looming.

Since I'm banned in China---when will the Chinese government do something about the exploitation of workers making products for export to the U.S?

Not that it's especially hard to have a politics blog banned in China... From my superficial internet research it appears that the administration of Hu Jintao is somewhat more committed to social equality than that of his predecessor Jiang Zemin. If this is the case, and like the good old internet sources say his administration opposes the excesses of the '90s and early 2000's, then why allow people from the provinces to be exploited by working for next to nothing in factories? The easy answer, and not necessarily the wrong answer, would be to say that this exists because it's a dictatorship, but that may underestimate the power of capitalists themselves in China as well as the possibility for internal reform if backed by a population that makes it clear they don't want Revolutionary change, which is when China calls out the Army etc..

Potentially, there could be a movement for social justice within China itself based not only on basic concerns relating to economic equality but also to the fact that this inequality is being enacted for the benefit of a foreign power.

*on edit: it seems that reporting about China echoes the long standing American practice of treating Asian countries like they don't have actual populations that have wills of their own. Asians are supposed to be subservient to authority, right? So there couldn't possibly be public opinion, let alone a diversity of public opinion, in a country with over a billion people.

Are you your body?

That's the question that the very interesting book "Jung & Reich: the body as shadow" by John Conger asks at the beginning. The book is about the connections in thought between C.G. Jung, the psychiatrist who focused on the mythical aspects of the contents of the unconscious, and Wilhelm Reich, the psychiatrist who focussed on the role of the body in storing psychological traumas through muscular rigidity and physical sexual repression. Reichian therapy focusses on combining psychological analysis with body manipulations designed to break down muscular rigidities connected with the psychological issues being dealt with. Conger is a neo-Reichian therapist in the "Bioenergetic" tradition.

"Are you your body?". What the author means by asking that is if your personality and your psyche is also your body. Not in the sense of what society as a whole may think about your body and how it looks but in the sense of is it an integral part of who you are or is it kind of just an attachment to your psyche and mind. It's a really interesting question in part because when you meet another person, when you deal with most people in the course of life as well, the body is what you initially see more of and react to, with the sense of someone's personality being given through bodily cues and reactions before being revealed through their mental structure. When you see my face you don't see "me" as I necessarily think of myself, but you see something beyond just the physical mass of stuff that makes up my face. Is what you pick up from that all wrong, or is it in some way an intuition about who I am based on deep psychological, almost unconscious, processing based on my facial and bodily reactions? So am I that person, in a sense, and just as important, is my sense of who my body is the same sense that you get when you see my body but don't know me that well?

I think I am my body in the basic sense of the body being the fundamental frame that the psyche exists in. Even in really abstract forms like internet communication there have to be bodily intermediaries between mind to mind interchange. I can try to write my thoughts out as best I can, posting them with just a snap shot, a name, and a sentence or two of personal information next to them on this website, and they can be read by you, who are most of the time anonymous, but not only do our basic bodies mediate the experience but the associations and experiences connected with what that body has gone through serve in part as our interpretive frameworks, both in the writing and in the interpreting of the writing.

If I hurt my arm is that feeling not me? Is the feeling of pain in my arm not connected to who I am?

When I've exercised or worked in a physical way where I get a rush during it and a feeling of satisfaction is that not a part of me? Is the feeling of satisfaction, even though it's both psychological and physical, not completely there?

What about emotions linked to the outside world? If someone is saying something that makes me uncomfortable and I physically feel uncomfortable, feeling like climbing up the side of a wall someplace and getting out of there, is that physical feeling attached to it, that maybe makes my skin crawl on top of it all, not part of the psychological sense of feeling uncomfortable?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

19th century economy vs. the consumption economy, part 1.

Part one of a multipart series. The biggest change economically in the past century was the transition from an economy based primarily on production to one that combined productive activity with mass consumption. The expansion of purchasing power and therefore consumption to the working classes proved to be a stroke of economic genius, and powered the growth of industry in the United States and Europe.

But what existed before this? The picture before the rise of the consumer economy was basically the one that Marx outlined in the 19th century. Capitalists employed workers whose wages tended to go as low as they could while still physically supporting them. A roof over a person's head, maybe shared with seven other people, some clothes, food, and maybe a few precious items handed down through the family. Workers produced but someone had to buy the stuff in order to make it all work.

Workers didn't have the money to buy the goods they made and capitalists were such a small class of people that even if they wanted to buy a lot of stuff it still wouldn't have supported the industries that they owned. The gap was filled by the small proprietor class, shop owners, small businessmen, people who were involved in occupations that were everywhere. They formed the first middle class. Workers worked, the small bourgeois (as they were called) sold, sometimes worked, sometimes employed people who made things on a small scale, and consumed, the capitalists consumed luxury items and planned the production of big business.

The middle class was the new addition to the picture, and was the development that capitalist boosters in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries pointed to as being evidence of progress. The theory was that these small producers, operating not just stores but workshops as well, had the motivation and the ability to innovate and to therefore make goods cheaper as well as coming up with new goods that satisfied needs to a greater degree than before. Business in the form of big business existed both before and during the eighteenth century but was linked to the aristocracy, the richest merchants, and to the state itself, which sponsored it for the enrichment of the country and for managed international competition with other nation-states. Corporate charters established these businesses, granted from the crown in England, which controlled the state. This process was seen as corrupt and feudalistic, as well as inefficient. The coming into being of small proprietors was thought to solve those problems by giving an incentive to innovation, to less corrupt dealings, and to somewhat popular control all through the competitive market place. But all was not what it seemed.

What happened eventually was that the small proprietors who innovated eventually became big businessmen, with their businesses resembling the state sponsored, corporate chartered, high business of the past. They went from being small people participating in a competitive market to being capitalists, who face a much more limited form of competition. In England the new big capitalists were gradually assimilated into the upper classes, much like the big traders and merchants who participated in state sponsored economic activity were in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. So the system that they thought would somehow break up the class divisions ended up by reproducing them. And then there were the workers.

The other side of the equation was workers originally serving feudal lords farming, then for a minority of them participating in large industries like weaving. The promise of what would become known as capitalism to them rested on the notion of the worker-proprietor, someone who practiced craft or a job and could hopefully open up his own business, practicing his craft, eventually. According to Eric Hobsbawm in his book "Industry and Empire", which is an economic history of England, originally some of the capitalists were people who worked for small proprietors, got ideas for innovations in their particular specialty, and set up shop doing their job in a way that incorporated those innovations. But it's really doubtful if the idea of competitive small proprietors could have been extended to all workers.

In any case, the people doing the innovating found out that increasingly specializing labor so that several people did the job that one person might have done lead to more efficient production. Instead of one person doing a skilled trade like shoe making, for instance, people could now focus on one step of the process, then hand the shoe over to another person, who did the next step, who passed it onto a third person. It was an innovation not just in design, which is what we usually think of innovation as, but in working techniques, and it signaled the birth of the industrial worker, who got father and father away from the possibility of eventually setting up shop for himself as the production process got more complex. And with a reduction in skill necessary to do a job came a reduction in wages.

But the middle class wasn't totally eradicated. It still existed. Progress, although much faster than before, was still relatively slow because of the lack of a really large market to buy the goods that were produced. This was helped somewhat by the invention of the modern banking system, which gave capitalists the leeway to make expensive innovations on credit with the hope that they would lead to greater productivity and profits, and by the development of the stock market, which did the same thing in a way, but the problem persisted. Some of it was solved through formal imperialism, which we'll deal with later. No matter how much credit and investment made financing flexible, the basic slow progress of capital accumulation persisted, and the schemes created economic instability by becoming more and more precarious. Because of greatly increased efficiency in production some of the benefits of capitalism trickled down to the working classes in terms of somewhat more affordable goods, but it wasn't enough. Competition also fed instability in the form of busts and booms, where capitalists overinvested and overproduced and then found themselves unable to sell their wares, leaving them with both excess goods and excess capacity leading to unemployment.

There needed to be a way both to stabilize production and to create a base that would enable industry to grow on a large scale. After the Great Depression, or during the Great Depression, economists hit on the idea of using the working class as the anchor for the capitalist system through reversing the tendency towards complete proletarianization somewhat. Instead of wages being permanently pushed down some of the wealth would be shared with the workers themselves, raising their standard of living. With a raised standard of living would come the ability to buy more complex products beyond the basics, not just food, clothes, and maybe some precious luxury items but furniture and other goods that normally people in the proprietor class were able to afford. The working class was more stable than the proprietor class anyways, which saw itself shift around, be partially destroyed by increasingly large capitalist businesses, reinvent itself, and generally experience turbulent times. But workers were always there. According to Marx this class was doomed to die out, being replaced by capitalist enterprise and its minions on one side and workers on the other.

But it's important to note that Marx's idea of what things were tending to first of all wasn't a small group of people on one side and a large mass of workers on the other. Instead, there would be an increasingly intricate corporate system, meaning that there were buffers between the two groups. The idea of just a small group on top with a large, undifferentiated, group on the bottom was something that he labeled (in his 19th century way) "Oriental Despotism", and that he linked with the perceived stagnation of Middle Eastern and Asian societies.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Depressing thought

I realized today that starting in November the overwhelming majority of the time I've spent "On the Road" so to speak, the time that's passed since I definitively left Michigan for Florida and then the Northwest, will have been spent under the Bush administration. I left in late '99, and experienced the whole 2000 vote debacle while living in Florida itself. I even used a butterfly ballot when I cast my vote for Nader.

That's something that profoundly depresses me, mainly because like many, many other people I'd expected Americans to seriously revolt against Bush, nullifying his reign by public opposition. But that hasn't happened. A thousand potential scandals have been associated with the two terms of his administration but nothing has stuck, not even complete lies about the reasons for going to war with Iraq. It's sad that all of this will come to an end due to term limits that prohibit Bush from running again, basically just letting the clock run out with no serious justice being done.

It's the consumers that make the world go round, friend

Or why we may be headed for another depression. Unorthodox economic theory of the Keynesian Marxian variety says that one of the reasons that the Great Depression happened was that capital had accumulated to a great degree without giving workers the basic income to afford the goods that it produced. Because the tendency of capital was to push wages down this created a situation where the ability of capital to support itself became very precarious, and caused the whole thing to collapse when shaken.

In today's world we have the United States on one side and the third world on the other. Capital and business has moved its manufacturing capacity to China, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, where people make almost nothing compared to in the U.S. This creates a lot of cheap goods that are then bought by U.S. consumers, thereby giving the capitalists a good profit since the cheapness of the goods in the U.S. is still a significant markup from the actual costs of production in Asia and Mexico. Our cheap goods are even cheaper to produce than we think. So U.S. elites take home an enormous amount of money. But the goods that support them aren't bought by people in mansions. They're bought by working class and lower middle class folks in the U.S.

And there's the rub. Business wants to keep on slashing wages in the U.S., using things like increasing part time positions to get around having to give people benefits or, horror upon horrors, overtime. They don't want the good, high paying jobs, to stay in the U.S. But who exactly is going to buy all these cheap goods once the decent jobs are gone?

Even though it's a neo-colonial relationship, U.S. elites still need some sort of economic equality within the U.S. itself for their money making ventures in the Third World to work. Without that production and sales go down and they're left with overcapacity and no way to utilize it.

This is a structural issue that just pumping money into the economy won't solve. If the U.S. consumer base is still knocked out thanks to the flight of jobs and the downward pressure on wages that companies exert an economic stimulus package will run its course, leaving us back in the same position that we started in.

The solution for the U.S. is a social democratic, unionized, commonwealth, where there are comprehensive measures for social equality. This does not necessarily imply a full socialist state, but rather something more like what exists in Europe in the present day.

The solution for the rest of the world, particularly the countries that allow elites to prosper while subsidizing cheap goods for increasingly poorer working class consumption, is the same. The U.S. has to start building up its own manufacturing base once again so that it itself isn't dependent on other countries for economic stability and other countries aren't put in a position of being subordinate to the U.S. for their own economic development.

Quite honestly, with Ferraro

We've been programmed to be on the lookout for racism for so long that it's about impossible to criticize Obama or Obama's campaign in the national media without being called a racist, and Ferraro I think was in part trying to point this out and point out the ramifications of it, namely that someone who isn't qualified and who lies constantly about what his positions really are is being given a free ride because people are afraid that they'll be labeled racist if they point any of it out.

So Obama's race is effectively being used, by the Obama campaign and its sympathizers, to shut down the necessary discourse that we should be having about the Presidential Election, the most important type of election in the entire United States, something that has importance for the entire world.

If people start to be really critical on Obama like they were on Hillary Clinton when she was only first lady, not even an elected representative, no doubt the charge would go around that the press corps was secretly racist and was targeting poor Obama because they didn't like his race.

There's something out there called basic reporting, simple, fundamental questions about a public figure's past, their present record, what exactly is the relationship between what they say and what their behavior has been. So far I've seen little of it in the mainstream media, except in the Chicago Tribune online. Everything outside of Obama's home state seems to be overwhelmingly hagiography, with righteous indignation over anyone of importance in the public sphere who questions Obama. For instance the African American pastor and Clinton supporter who made the statement that Clinton was concerned with social justice while Obama was a teenager snorting blow. Obama talked about that very thing in his autobiography, but the indignation alarms went up and the poor guy was pressured to make a retraction. He cut a little too deeply in his comments, and besides, he's black, so he should automatically support Obama, right?

I think the lady doth protest too much.

Here's a little advice to prospective Obama voters: someone who plays you like a chump will never follow through on his promises.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Awesome: the Five Years Too Many Protests

Details available here. Taking place in DC with smaller protests across the country, these folks from United for Peace and Justice are doing non-violent Direct Action to protest the war on its anniversary. It looks pretty extensive. Thank god someone is doing something besides putting their faith in a Democratic Party candidate they regard as a savior.

Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Eastern Promises", a movie whose writing gets worse and worse by the minute

Starts out with a woman going into a pharmacy, declaring she needs help, then collapsing in a pool of blood. She's rushed to the emergency room (in London) where the baby she's carrying survives while she dies on the operating table. But wait, although she has no identification she has a diary on her, that the midwife pilfers. Skip forward a few scenes and we see Anna, the midwife, at home with her mother and her uncle. Turns out that although she's completely English through and through that, yes, her father was Russian, meaning that she miraculously has relatives who can translate the diary and hopefully find the identity of the new born baby's mother. So begins Eastern Promises.

It goes from there, and a not-convincing voice over of Tatiana the mother recording in her diary how she was offered a job in England "singing at a restaurant" with no hint at suspicion, to an end where "Kirill", the son of the mob boss who's obviously come from Moscow via Glasgow because of his thick Scottish accent and stereotypical Scottish features, holding the baby in his arms after being ordered to throw it into the Thames saying "She's just a little baby! Just a little baby!" to no one in particular.

Eastern Promises, while not quite as luridly Orientalizing a film as it could have been, nevertheless follows in the footsteps of many freak show type accounts of picturesque subcultures living within the midst of 'regular society', in this case the Russian emigre population of London.

I would think that in this day and age we could dispense with this sort of voyeurism, particularly because if you want to go to Russia today from England you just have to book a hotel and get a plane ticket and then you can stare at all the Russians you want (millions of them!), but I guess not.

Next movie: Swedish Designs, an account of the strange underworld of Swedish furniture designers living in London and in New York City, complete with looks at their intriguing folksongs, their weird Lutheran religion, and interesting culinary choices. A world you never thought existed,the wild, unbelievable, underbelly of Swedish culture in England and America, "Swedish Designs"!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

People calling on Spitzer to resign? Oh come on.

Eliot Spitzer, governor of New York State, was caught have spent four thousand dollars at a time on prostitutes. Although I can see why people would be mad over this the idea that we in our oh so moral America have to vent our outrage by calling on the governor to resign is a hysterical idea. What exactly to people who go beyond thinking that this was wrong to actually calling for the guy's resignation think that the world we live in is, a broadway musical? A cheesy melodrama where valiant and moral upholders of the dignity of women demand that the rascal be exiled from the country because of his transgression? I thought that going to see prostitutes was practically part of a male politician's job description.

I can picture the press conferences given by the (mostly) Protestant clergy.

'I think that it's an outrage what Governor Spitzer did, against moral law and god's law. Here at the West View Baptist Church we don't tolerate that sort of thing. Now, if you look to my left my beautiful personal assistant Sister Connie has some graphs about the sorry moral condition of the Empire State . Take it away Connie (in a whisper: "You nice little piece of ass")!'

*on edit: be careful what you wish for. Spitzer, who has just resigned, was a mainstream liberal but he was liberal nonetheless. Before Spitzer was in office New York state was ruled by George Pataki, who wasn't very liberal at all. Just make sure, as you're gloating over this victory, that your action doesn't lead to the installation of another person like Pataki, who though not exactly George Wallace was a decisive step back from Spitzer.

Your calls for Spitzer to resign may cause things to get worse, not better.

Can't understand why people object to Putin and Medvedev but act like the Communist Party isn't there

Because the Communist Party of the Russian Federation could be a positive force in Russia today. Objections that the party is descended from a line of dictators don't make much sense while Putin and company are in control of the country. The ideology of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is a little bit strange--it mixes traditional Communist style socialism with a belief in Russian cultural uniqueness as a bridge between East and West, but is in all probability much more progressive than Putin and company.

The other major opposition parties are the Liberal Democratic party lead by Vladimir Zhironovsky, an ultra-nationalist anti-semite, and Fair Russia, which unanimously voted to support Putin's chosen candidate Medvedev in the recent election.

So, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation seems like the only viable mass leftist party in Russia and is in fact the second most popular party, with regional support growing.

The irony is funny, though. Putin's characterized as being a wild card and threat to world security through his politics but there's never any discussion about who the alternatives are, because that would involve putting the Communist Party back on the table.

Obama wins Idaho

Because for some reason people are trumpeting his win in Wyoming as getting back in the winners seat after losses in Texas and Ohio, it's good to remember that on Feb. 5th, according to this Obama won Idaho with an overwhelming 80% of pasty white Idahoan votes. The large, thinly populated, state best known for attracting white supremacist immigrants to its northern region went to Obama. I mean, if you can make it in Idaho, you can make it anywhere, right? Oh, but they said that about New York, which went to Clinton.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reconstruction in American society post 9/11

American society is currently dominated by two competing world views. First is a sort of negative nihilism, as opposed the positive nihilism of just doing what you want and not believing in much. This negative nihilism discards any sort of belief and value that would challenge the pro-capitalist and corporate system as being either irrelevant or naive. This includes things like the liberal arts and ethical philosophy as well as more radical challenges. The idea that there are things valuable about society that capitalism should not be allowed to dominate over is laughed at. In this worldview it's better to just give up or join the system than to be a person belittled as concerning them selves with values labeled either as pretentious or deluded, like that advertising shouldn't be allowed to be absolutely everywhere and in any form whatsoever. Negative nihilism.

The other competing worldview started after 9/11 and consists of a vague and vulgar sort of nationalism combined with a commitment to extreme Christianity added to a pro-war philosophy expounded most loudly by people who have never experienced war themselves. Ironically, this worldview markets itself as being against the previous one on the cultural level, declaring that the lack of values are the work of mean liberal elites who don't care about the U.S. or have any sort of fealty to religious values, which they see as essential for society to function. Capitalism doesn't come under fire, usually, and even if it did the critique would probably resemble Fascist criticisms of capitalism rather than anything remotely progressive.

A third option is needed, a coherent but not totalizing worldview based on a reorientation of society to basic human values and to a civilization built on social justice and the fulfillment of basic human needs. Also on the value of human self realization and effective participation in self determining one's life and the life of one's society on all levels. In short, a Socialist worldview presenting an alternative to both the implicitly pro-capitalist and anti-human negative nihilism of mainstream society and the pseudo-Fascist revisionism that has appeared on the fringes in the wake of 9/11.

Answers to basic human questions about what's valuable for society and for a decent life must be arrived at through dialogue and a movement to implement those answers in the real world must take shape and press its case.

A shift in consciousness needs to happen.

But this movement should not present itself as having all the answers, as having exhausted the material for dissent and other opinions through its collective search for and finding of basic parameters for the meeting of collective social needs.

Socialist civilization should present itself as a third, viable, option in American society to what exists at the present moment.

Unbelievable story of a Guantanamo detainee: Murat Kurnaz's story

A great, long, Mother Jones article via title link. Kurnaz is a Turkish German, someone born and raised in Germany but who because of their archaic laws is somehow not a citizen (because his parents were from Turkey). Here are some excerpts:

"MURAT KURNAZ, the son of Turkish immigrants, was born and raised in Bremen, a rainy north German port city, where he lived with his family in a simple brick row house. His father, Metin, worked the assembly line at a Mercedes Benz plant, while his mother, Rabiye, stayed home with him and his two younger brothers. On Fridays he and his father attended the neighborhood Kuba Mosque, a storefront sanctuary with a barbershop, bookstore, and cavernous teahouse where old men in crocheted skullcaps huddle around plastic tables.

Mosque-goers remember Kurnaz as a shy, quiet boy who didn't take much interest in religion. "He was a normal Muslim Turk, who prayed once in a while, but was not very observant," says Nurtekin Tepe, a local bus driver, who has known Kurnaz since he was a child. Instead, Kurnaz spent his time watching Bruce Lee movies, dreaming about motorbikes (he hoped to get one and drive it 110 miles per hour on the autobahn), and lifting weights, often with his neighbor, Selcuk Bilgin, who had many of the same interests, though he was six years older.

This began to change in the fall of 2000. Kurnaz, then 18, was working as a nightclub bouncer; Bilgin had a dead-end job at a supermarket. Some of their friends had started getting in trouble with the law. Feeling there must be something more to life, both men began to take a deeper interest in Islam. Before long, they had cut pork from their diets, grown their beards long, and started attending a new mosque, Abu Bakr, which was located in a dingy, fluorescent-lit office building near Bremen's main train station and preached a strict brand of Sunni Islam.

Around this time, Kurnaz also started searching for a Muslim bride, and in the summer of 2001 he married Fatima, a young woman who hails from a rural Turkish village. The union was arranged by relatives, and the couple met only once before the ceremony. The idea was to bring her to Germany as soon as her paperwork was sorted out. Meanwhile, Kurnaz and Bilgin made plans to travel to Pakistan. The reason for the trip has been a matter of much debate, but Kurnaz claims he was worried that he didn't know enough about Islam to be a good Muslim husband and wanted to study the Koran before Fatima's arrival. "


...

"ON DECEMBER 1, 2001, Kurnaz boarded a bus to the airport in Peshawar, a smoggy city on the country's northwest border, where he says he planned to catch a plane back to Germany. Along the way, the vehicle was stopped at a routine checkpoint. One of the officers manning it knocked on the window and asked Kurnaz something in Urdu, then ordered him to step off the bus.

Kurnaz expected to show his passport and answer a few questions before being sent on his way. Instead, he was thrown in jail. A few days later, Pakistani police turned him over to U.S. forces, who transported him to Kandahar Air Base, a military installation in the southern reaches of Afghanistan. The Taliban had recently been driven from the region, and the base, built on the rubble of a bombed-out airport, was little more than a cluster of bullet-pocked hangars and decrepit runways. Despite the subzero temperatures, prisoners were kept in large outdoor pens, and a number of them later claimed they were subjected to harsh interrogation tactics. Kurnaz says he was routinely beaten, chained up for days in painful positions, and given electric shocks on the soles of his feet. He also says he was subjected to a crude form of waterboarding, which involved having his head plunged into a water-filled plastic bucket. (The Pentagon, contacted more than a dozen times by email and telephone, would not comment on Kurnaz's treatment or any other aspect of his case.) "


...

"IN LATE SEPTEMBER 2002, the three German agents arrived at Guantanamo to interrogate detainee 061. During the trip, they were assigned a CIA liaison, identified only as Steve H., who briefed them on their mission and kept tabs on the interrogations.

Much of the questioning the first day focused on why Kurnaz would choose to travel to Pakistan when war was brewing in the region. The detainee explained that a group of Muslim missionaries had visited his mosque and told him about a school in Lahore where he could study the Koran. But when he arrived there, he found people were suspicious of him because of his light skin and the fact that he spoke no Arabic. Taking him for a foreign journalist, the school turned him away. So he wandered around, staying in mosques and guesthouses, until he was detained near Peshawar (something he also attributed to his light skin and the fact that he spoke German but carried a Turkish passport).

The German agents came away with mixed opinions, according to testimony they later gave before a closed session of German Parliament. (Many other details of their trip were also revealed through that hearing, transcripts of which were obtained by Mother Jones.) The leader of the delegation, who worked for the foreign intelligence service, the BND, saw Kurnaz as a harmless and somewhat naive young man who simply picked a bad time to travel. One of his colleagues, a domestic intelligence specialist, argued it was possible that Kurnaz was on the path to radicalization. But everyone agreed it was highly improbable that he had links to terrorist networks or was involved in any kind of terrorist plot, and none of the agents voiced any objections to letting him go. "

Seeking the opposites in everything

In order to facilitate self expansion and growth. Talk about surreal, maybe five and a half years ago I was getting the weekly paper put out by the Communist Party USA while also receiving the catalogs of books put out by the John Birch Society. That was interesting. A man eventually called me, mangling my last name probably intentionally, and I told him that yes I like the catalog but I'm not interested in participating.

Have to be careful pursuing things like that. Thank goodness it was mostly via mail.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Liberty, Democracy, Socialism

I see these three things as interrelated but not totally and immediately connected to each other. Rather, I see a society that's fundamentally socialist as one that's built on a foundation of social justice so that the values of a just society take precedence over individual claims to wealth based on an extension of liberalism to include freedom to make whatever profit you want and keep it all. From there this socialism is most closely linked to democracy, which the principal of popular possession of resources entails in a certain aspect. Then, democracy and socialism are linked to liberalism in that they both are linked to increased freedom for the individual as a member of a society that augments general freedom, and it follows that personal, individual, freedom should follow as a consequence to the impulse behind both socialism and radical democracy.


But these three terms aren't necessarily strongly linked in that there have been socialist societies that have been actively anti-liberal, such as Stalinist ones that linked every aspect of personal freedom to bourgeois illusions. There have also been socialist societies that have been comparatively more democratic, such as some anarchist experiments in Spain during the civil war and perhaps the Bolshevik revolution and the early Soviet state, but have in many respects been anti-liberal in terms of respecting freedom of the individual to be an individual as well.

There have also been states that have been very democratic but that have been only somewhat socialist and have been actively anti-liberal, the French Revolutionary state under Robespierre being the classical example. Robespierre, who oversaw the Terror, where scores of people were executed because of either their former position in society or their perceived attitude to the revolutionary state, made the statement that the Terror was democracy realized in that to truly push through pure democratic reforms you need to step on the rights of individuals somewhat.

And of course there have been liberal societies that have been democratic to some degree but utterly contemptuous to social justice or a sense of social ownership of resources. The U.S. in many respects,for example.

Finally, we have examples of states that have individual freedom but have no or little democracy or concern for social justice. The theologian Paul Tillich, who was a religious socialist, remarked that he considered the Prussian state of the late 19th century to be an example of this, where individual freedom of thought an action were pretty much wide open as long as you didn't use your freedom to try to influence the decisions of the government. I think that this state is what the U.S. is approaching today.

The point is that these three things, democracy, liberalism, and socialism, can be seen as three clusters of ideas that can be plotted on a three dimensional diagram, with different positions being able to be formed for virtually any permutation.

Liberalism does not automatically imply socialism as its logical conclusion, although some people would like to think so.

According to the current head of the House of Habsburg, constitutional monarchy in principle is perfectly compatible with Socialism as defined as non-Communist social democracy.

It's an exercise to find out where you yourself are located on the graph.

Personally, I'm a Socialist, I believe very strongly in democracy, but when it comes to liberalism I take what's come to be known as a post-liberal stance on things, which means supporting individual freedom but chucking the discourse of classical liberalism overboard for a more complex definition of how things work in reality. In this I draw heavily on the Romantic tradition of Continental Europe and on the general 19th century continental European thought about politics and society as well. My position vis-a-vis liberalism is also informed by the conservative critique of liberalism brought about by the French Revolution, so that it's sort of a response to the people who responded to liberalism in the first place.

*on edit: freedom and liberty, then, aren't the same things in that freedom is a much broader term than liberty. Democracy and socialism contribute to the amount of general freedom in a society, so that a truly free society could be seen as exemplifying all three values. Liberty, Democracy and Socialism.