Monday, September 26, 2011

Roberto Michels on oligarchy in political parties--very relevant to today

Michels' classic book "Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy" is available for free via Google Books Here, and I would highly recommend it to people trying to figure out how the current Republican Party populism works....and how folks who put lots and lots of faith in Obama and then were disappointed were convinced to do it.

Michels' book is sociology, and it looks at how political party leaders co-opt organizations, disempower the membership, and aggrandize themselves while all the while speaking in the rhetoric of populism. My post below about Andrew Jackson and the Jacksonian Democracy drew on Michels' thought quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the man himself came to a rather unfortunate end, ideologically speaking. He appears to have been so convinced of the 'iron law of oligarchy', that it was inevitable that parties and other organizations would be co-opted by elites, that he figured the only way to create positive change with = a mass organization work was to accept the tendency and use it, for 'positive' goals of course. In other words, he believed that the idea of a strong, charismatic, leader could be something that wasn't bad if the leader was on the right side of things. Consequently, Michels became a strong supporter of Mussolini and a member of the Fascist party in Italy, a stance that he maintained until he passed away. Mussolini was someone who he obviously felt was on the 'right side' of things.

However, "Political Parties" is not an apology for Fascism. It was written in 1911, before the strands that would later become the Fascist movement had coalesced, and is more of a pessimistic look at organizational life than anything else. Highly recommended.

*I should add, though it might go without saying, that I don't share Michels' pessimism about the potential for Democracy

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Amanda Knox can't eat or sleep as appeal verdict nears....and Troy Davis is still dead.

Just sayin'.

Small 'd' democracy as being healthily conservative, in reference to the below post

About Andrew Jackson and the Imperial Presidency. One of the good points that Southern Democrats made, when they weren't defending slavery and segregation, was that having intermediate institutions between the Presidency and the people, meaning State and local government as well as Congress, could have a moderating effect on tendencies towards authoritarianism. Jackson appears to have used the fact that the Presidency was now directly elected as an excuse to organize a top down party machine, one that undermined local democracy and the intermediary levels of government themselves. But because the machine was lead by a man of the people, it was legit, right? Keeping multiple levels of democratic checks in place and revering them can be a healthy way to keep the top level of government from running away with power, as happened in the Bush Administration. It's extraordinarily ironic that top heavy power like that is what Obama's currently being accused of by the Tea Party, since his Presidency ended many (but certainly not all) of the outright authoritarian practices and rhetoric initiated under Bush.

If this type of small 'c' conservatism is done in a non-partisan manner, it can be a force for improving public life, and can put a lie to the idea that a conservative check on power can only mean something either undemocratic or reactionary.

Interesting, reading about Andrew Jackson

And the Jacksonian system. What seems to be evident is that during the Jacksonian "Democracy" period, we essentially had a strong man ruling in a way reminiscent of Napoleon, with the presidential election looked at as a plebiscite giving that gave the man and his cronies the legitimacy to do whatever they wanted. The Jacksonian period could be looked at one where elites started taking advantage of the new rules allowing for the direct election of the President by engaging in demagoguery and manipulation of the people in general, of talking in the language of populism while taking all the power for themselves. Graft was institutionalized, and patronage for most appointed offices the name of the game, and it was all covered up with appeals to the common man and workers based on opposition to elites. If Jackson and company were truly in favor of democracy, and against the elites, they would have promoted democracy at both the state and local levels, instead of initiating a concept of an imperial presidency, where a 'son of the people' and supposed regular guy acted would act as the charismatic leader of the nation.

In other words, with the rise of Jackson, our system of government had effectively collapsed and become extraordinarily dysfunctional. Government action was only restored to some sort of accountability with the rise of Lincoln.

I can't help but wonder how all of this would fit in with a Marxist analysis, based on the type of reasoning he used in his writings about Louis-Bonaparte in France.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Another take on the hikers and Iran from The Stranger

Just a short comment, but an important one, from Charles Mudede:

"If they are not CIA agents, if they were really hiking along the Iran/Iraq border for recreation, then they are nothing but self-centered bastards. And not because they put their own lives at risk, a risk that comes with the feeling that American individuals have the right to express their wonderful freedoms everywhere in the world, but because they put so many other lives (the lives of very poor people) at risk with this politically volatile adventure. This part of the world is not a fucking joke. The people do not need more tension, more stress, more fuel added to an already explosive situation. I hope they are spies."

While it's not good how they were being held etc..., quite honestly the progressive press has never really looked at how stupid it is for people from America to a) go for a hiking trip in Iraq, even while helping out in Kurdistan, and b) go for a hiking trip in Iraq near the Iran border. The hikers themselves have said that the border wasn't marked....but surely they knew they were near the border even though there wasn't a sign saying "This is the border with Iran" It's on maps and stuff.

I think that Iran took this as an opportunity to give a lesson to what it saw as arrogant Americans, a lesson saying that just because you're an American doesn't mean that you can go anywhere, do anything, and violate a hostile country's borders without consequences.

That out of the way, although it's good that they're out now, I can't help but wonder if they'd have gotten as much attention if the parents of two of them weren't Berkeley area progressives who are heavily tied into progressive culture there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The State, the Tea Party, and the Constitution

\I think that it's funny that Libertarians and Tea Party folks should be so set on folks obeying the Constitution, with the intent being to stymie the growth of the State. The reason is simple: the Constitution was written by people who wanted a stronger State in the first place, who wanted a stronger centralized government than they originally had. Before the Constitution, we had the Articles of the Confederation, under which there wasn't any strong central authority overseeing the new States, although there was a Confederal congress. Many people were fine with this. However, a group of folks who tended to be better off and were well organized, didn't like this situation, and were in fact afraid that popular democracy could lead to citizens in general imposing initiatives to redistribute wealth. So, they agitated for a good deal of power to be taken from the States and turned over to a centralized entity, now known as the Federal Government, which in turn was ruled by a President. The President wasn't directly elected by the people, and neither was the Senate . Only the House of Representatives in the original scheme was, and even then there were various poll taxes in some areas.

The Constitution, the foundation of the Federal Government, was and is a Statist document, created for the purpose of establishing a strong State above local state governments. The only reason why it's no longer seen as this is because when power shifted from the Federalist Party to the Jeffersonian Democrats they imposed a different interpretation of what the Constitution meant, one that biased the local States against the Federal Government. Instead of States having to justify their freedom to make policy to the Federal government, their reading of the Constitution changed that to argue that the opposite should happen. This, arguably, was a distortion of the original system, and was opposed pretty heavily both by folks associated with the Federalist Party and the later the Republican Party, both of whom favored a centralized Federal Government. It was only in the New Deal era, and in the post-war world, where Democrats came up with an interpretation of government that approved active intervention and yet did not rest on the principle of centralization. Only then did some Republicans, and conservatives in general, start to turn away from the notion of a centralized, active, Federal Government as a whole. In a way the original Neo-conservatives of the post-war world, those folks associated with William F. Buckley, who supported a strong State, albeit not an outright welfare state, were the true continuers of the Republican and Federalist tradition.

The Southern Strategy that Nixon wrought, and that Reagan helped to bring home, is the real source of the Tea Party's Republicanism, not the original Federalist Party or the original Constitutional thought. This, ironically, is a Democratic conception of what government should look like, inherited from the Old South. But there's a difference. The original Democratic reinterpretation of the Constitution was done in order to gum up the works and to promote stasis on the Federal level so that the States themselves could have more power. The problem these days is that while the works of the Federal government are gummed up pretty well, the States haven't had a corresponding rise in power, and issues exist which effect the States just as much as the country as whole that attention and nothing is being done about it. No one in government has the power, or the initiative, to do so, and the Tea Party folks are less than forthcoming about local solutions to things like unemployment. That is not how the strategy was originally intended to work. The founders of the Democratic Party were not so stupid as to think that society could get along without some form of government to help meet common needs and necessities.

If the Tea Party truly wants to see the Constitution being honored, they'd go back to a strategy like that of JFK, who skillfully blended Republican ideas with activist, Democratic, government and values. But that's unlikely to happen any time soon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The idea that Marx didn't believe in moral imperatives, but only in economic ones, is false

I've been coming across this idea a lot. The truth is that Marx saw the transformation of society as being profoundly moral, as being the liberation of humanity, itself an extremely moral undertaking. The idea that moral ideas don't figure into his strain of thought, and that somehow only a base materialism mattered, is laughable. Marx saw economic interest and overall societal morality as being interrelated in the case of socialism, with the interests of the working class being in line with the moral interest of humanity itself. It's just that the morality is implied rather than spelled out. It's assumed that folks will understand that people working for nothing in factories while the owners, who do little, make lots of money, is both morally wrong on a societal level and also against the immediate interest of the workers themselves. Conversely, the fight for the interest of workers is also a fight for the interest of humanity, morally and otherwise.

Saint Augustine, the hell fire and brimstone pagan philosopher

Don't ask me why I'm reading "City of God", by Saint Augustine, it's too complicated to get into...suffice it to say that it's given me a new perspective on how some of the hellfire and brimstone associated with conservative Christianity came to be that way. Also, it's given me some insight into why, when you think about it, hellfire and brimstone is sort of, well, pagan.

I say that in non pagan-phobic way, being pagan myself, and with the coverage of the continual hostility of Republican presidential candidates towards helping the poor, justifying it by personal responsibility, you've got to wonder whether they're channeling some philosopher or harshness from the Roman Empire. Reading Saint Augustine gives me the confidence to answer why yes, they are.

The weird thing about Augustine is that despite being a Christian he is obviously a very well educated, assimilated, Roman, who is drenched in the Stoic ethos. It's obvious everywhere in his philosophy, so much in fact that parts of his Christianity look like Stoicism on steroids. Arguments abound about how folks who experience bad events need to tough it out and look at them as tests of strength, while folks who succumb are looked down at as being weak minded and not disciplined enough in their faith aound. Take the faith part of it out and you'd have an ethic that right wing Roman pagans of the time would probably have appreciated.

It seems to me that the Roman ethic of harshness, which, admittedly, is not all bad in itself if used in moderation, seems to be grafted onto the Christian tree almost intact by Augustine, with no real work done on the parts that conflict with the central message of Christianity. For all I know, he wasn't the only one doing this, there may have been others, but I can see his writing making waves and eventually contributing to the frankly anti-human rhetoric about sin, damnation, hellfire, and personal responsibility, about the evil bodily impulses, that we all know and love that comes from fundamentalist preachers. Because he's such an important figure, this isn't just conspiracy theory. Along with Aquinas, he was looked at as one of the fathers of the Catholic Church, and more than that he was looked back to by Reformation theologians as providing an alternative to Scholasticism and all of its Papal associations. In other words, it can be most definitely asserted that because he was so central, he's been studied by generations of Christian priests and pastors and continues to be studied by them, and an inference can be made about there being a cumulative effect.

In his theology, condemnation of personal weakness greatly outweighs the influence of love and compassion. Whether his theology is really Christian in any currently accepted sense is another matter entirely.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Secularism, a qualification of the below post

I'm posting this because I came out quite forcefully in support of Paganism in that one. I believe that for the U.S. and everywhere else secularism is the best thing, and that no religion should officially dominate the public sphere. Secularism, however, does not mean the denial of religions but the official neutrality of society to them. Militant Atheism, a spectre of the Right doesn't have a lot of power in the U.S., and is not the way to go. Pursuing it would essentially replace one dogma, the dominant Christian dogma, with another, and wouldn't benefit anyone except the Atheists themselves. Atheism of this sort, that wants to ban all discussion anywhere of religion or of the supernatural, the kind that Sam Harris advocates, is a religion in its own right just like any other, with creeds and blind beliefs. Instead, having a recognition of religious diversity, sort of on the lines of multi-culturalism, is in my opinion a much better way to go.

Multi-culturalism cut the Gordian knot of denying particular cultures altogether or submitting to the dominant one, which in the case of the U.S. in the pre-war world meant English/Anglo culture. One could argue that the 1950s move to conformity was a backhanded way of Anglo assimilation, but that's another post. Instead of denying or assimilating, honoring all cultures became a better way to represent what the United States actually is. The same process can happen with religions.

Instead of denying religions altogether or only praising the dominant one, Protestant Christianity in our case, or even worse giving into the rabid demands of Fundamentalist Christianity, we should honor all religions within our society as well as the choice by many people to be either agnostic or atheist, or just not particularly religious. Multiculturalism does not require a person to join or identify with a particular culture; people in our society are free to define themselves in whatever way they want regardless of their background. The same should be the case with religion.

I think that while religion shouldn't have a place in our official culture that the media should not be so squeamish about portraying religion. I can understand why they wouldn't want to, but if equal, or almost equal, time is given to minority beliefs then having religious subjects on air occasionally wouldn't necessarily be that big of a deal. . Neither would having coverage of it in the papers. What would have to happen is something along the lines of the sort of coverage that critics of multi-culturalism in the media have complained about: having more time being given to smaller sects than is proportional to their size, including sects that other sects don't like. However, such is the way you have do it if you don't want to just be providing propaganda for the dominant forces in society. The point of this is to show the world what our society really consists of, not just to rubber stamp organizations and churches that already have a great amount of publicity. Even so, the fact of the non-presence of stories about religious subjects, regardless of the massive amount of belief in them by the people of the U.S., is a bad statement in and of itself. It deprives us of a recognition of some of the richness of our culture, which is a strength that we could offer the world.

The hardcore materialism that is stereotypically associated with the Left by some right wing forces hasn't been there for decades and decades. The New Left basically killed it. If it's brought up in the media now, it's mostly as a paper tiger to scare people, along with Secular Humanism..that very, very, scary doctrine…..and not as a reflection of actual currents within society.

In other countries, particularly in places like France where the Old Left has had much greater success, that may not be the case, but for the U.S. it mostly is.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The fusion of the Archaic and the Futuristic, an interesting idea, with lots of caveats

Guillaume Faye, a French pseduo-Fascist, has a bookthat's just been translated into English called "Archeo-futurism". Being willing to look at anyone's work if it appears that they might have something provocative to say, I bought a copy. Unfortunately, I found myself disagreeing with almost every point he outlined. Very little of it seemed to have to do with the idea of an 'archeo-futurist' synthesis of pagan archaism with the futuristic. Instead, it's focus appeared to be on condemning immigration to Europe, particularly France, from the Middle East and elsewhere in the Third World, while promoting a return to medieval Catholicism as the preferred archaic ideology, condemning democracy in general and gay rights, and advocating an alliance with the U.S. against Muslim countries and other mostly non-European forces. On top of all that he advocated looking to the the Front National, the far right National Front in France, as a positive vehicle for change, because it's supposedly not that bad anymore. Shades of the British National Party being putatively reformed, kinder, and gentler, under the leadership of Nick Griffin come to mind. Also included is the belief that the West should establish a two tier world economy with itself as one of peoples on top. I suppose, in retrospect I should have seen something like this coming, but in any case, underneath the hysteria about brown people practicing Islam in Europe the basic idea of a fusion between the archaic mindset and a futuristic orientation survives as an interesting and possibly valuable idea.

The author isn't helped, however, by the fact that Faye never really defines what the term means satisfactorily or even devotes that much time to going into detail to explain by it. Instead, much like another favored term of his, "Euro-Siberia", he appears to think that repeating the neologism over and over that he'll somehow transmit to readers some notion of what he's thinking.

At this point I should make clear the division between my personal politics as an individual and what I think would be both practical and just for society as a whole. Personally, I'm a pagan and I like the pagan worldview very much. Practically, it would be insanely anti-democratic of me to expect the United States to suddenly adopt a pagan worldview. No matter how much I myself would like a resurgence of the archaic to take place, society is more than just one person typing at a computer.

With that out of the way, I think that the fusion of a pagan, archaic, premodern mindset with a futuristically oriented idealism would be a boon for society, provided that it was leavened with socialism, multi-culturalism, liberalism, and democracy. Putting emphasis on the archaic past on it's own while shutting off the possibilities of development that the present offers, is like cutting off the nose to spite the face. Instead of this, the idea put forward in the book about having a kind of archaism fused with futurism in a way that sees the future not as a fixed end point but as something to constantly struggle towards within a pagan mindset is a good one. Struggling towards a futuristic advancement doesn't necessarily mean society having a belief in a divinely ordained 'progress'. Before the growth of a constant mindset that also pursued the future, there would have to be a revolution in order to set things right socio-economically, as well a structure in place to ensure that the futuristic pursuit doesn't lead to our collective annihilation. If a 'return' to a constant mindset didn't include these things it would simply be a replication of unjust patterns of life with a pagan, and futuristic, veneer, cynical in the extreme, and no doubt manipulated by the powers that be. But I think it's possible.

If high technology could be combined with a pagan worldview and social justice, with multiculturalism as well as liberty being honored, and democratic direction of society being in place, it would be possible to create an alternative modernity that is not as oppressive as what we've experienced so far. The great rift that has happened because of the Protestant Reformation, an event that I feel that has a lot of responsibility for setting us on this self destructive course into alienation and exploitation, would be healed. Of course, the Reformation did create some positive things, but that's another post. The archeo-futurist concept, redefined in the way I've outlined, should be looked at, worked over, mined, and developed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In reference to the below post about the end of American dominance...

I think that you can make the argument that the reason the Bolshevik Revolution was possible had little to with Russia being somehow prepared for socialism and everything to do with the form of government that Russia had. Tsarist Russia had become an irrelevant historical anachronism that was bound to go down. It was the Russian Empire that ended when the Bolshevik Revolution happend, the Russian imperial system. The Bolsheviks and the rest of the Socialist movement took advantage of the historical moment to push for their demands, using ideas from Western Europe that they'd adapted to their situation, partially through neo-philia, the pursuit of the latest, most 'avant garde', thing, and partially through sincerely looking at Socialism as the most developed solution out there. And they won.

The end of American globalization and the possibility for socialism, and a parallel with the end of British Imperialism

I was reading through David McClellan's excellent collection of Marx's writings and I came across a fascinating selection from the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the briefly existing newspaper Marx operated, about England. In it, Marx pointed out the contradictory nature of the country. On the one hand, in the 19th century it was the spot of the most developed, Dickensian, capitalism on the planet. On the other, compared to other countries it was a fount of reaction, and had acted as a frustrating and counterrevolutionary force in Europe since Napoleonic times.

This made me think of how it was that the British Empire protected the British upper class from internal pressure, and helped them to resist calls for reform, as well as the fact a Labor government only came to power after World War II. At that time, the British Empire was in the process of being dissolved. Something similar can be said to be the case in the U.S.

In the British Empire, the upper class could maintain its plantations overseas and make money without looking at the suffering of the people inside of the country, because the lives of the poor didn't have that much of an affect on their profits.
Here, in the United States, we don't have an Empire, and we don't have that many former colonies, so we can't be called neo-colonialist, but we do have a large U.S. defined globalized business sphere, one that exploits cheap foreign labor for the benefit of U.S. capitalism. In this sense, globalization can be classified as the United States' own, current, form of indirect imperialism.

As long as the profits from unequal relations with the Third World, maintained by globalization, continue the United States upper class is insulated from the wrath of the population as a whole, because the money of the rich doesn't depend on them either having or not having jobs. That's why the rich have no problem with so much of U.S. industry being offshored. In fact, it makes them even more money since they don't have to pay people normal wages. It's no skin off of their backs, and besides, what are people going to do about it? But like the British Empire eventually had to change, the U.S. globalized imperium is presently going downward.

U.S. imperium is going down for the simple reason that China and India, formerly economically dependent states, are coming up. Our economic crisis did help to show the world the real internal weakness of the U.S. economy, and the combination of crisis and competition spells out much more clearly the end of a U.S. dominated globalized world. China and India used to make all of our products, and they still make a lot of them, but now both of them have domestic companies with loyalty to their home countries instead of towards the United States, that are determined to make and sell their own products, eventually making us the customers. A few years down the road, because we've grown stupid and lazy through being glutted with money and luxury, their products will no doubt have exceeded ours in quality ingenuity, and will most likely be cheaper. At that point, all of our economic fantasies here in the U.S. will be over.

When that point is reached, the U.S. elite will have to do what they have wanted to avoid, what their English peers have already had to do, that is to say they'll deal with the needs and whims of the internal population of the country in order to create jobs and restore competitiveness. To do that, they won't be able to just treat American workers any way they want. The opportunity for socialism will have then arrived. If the rich want to make products in order to make money, they be dealing with kids fleeing rice fields hoping to make a few bucks through slave labor anymore, they'll be dealing with people with first world expectations. They're going to have to kiss a whole lot of ass, to put a crude spin on it. And at that stage it'll be a lot easier for us to win, and then to eventually taking over. With the U.S. as a non-globalized force that's no longer at the head of the global economy, it will be that much easier for us to both take over and to remake society, to have a real revolution that unseats it from the ground up. The poverty of the Third World will no longer protect the elite, the corporations, or the capitalist system as whole.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Labor as something other than a conventional commodity, or why profit sharing is good.

Reading a bunch of left Marxist stuff prompts me to write a little bit about ideas of what labor is and is not.

It's said that a big part of the inequality of capitalism is the inability of workers to get a share of the benefits of capital itself, that is of the built up structure of business over time. While this is a very large part of it, I think there's a more direct defect in the compensation of workers, and that it comes from labor being treated as just another commodity, as a raw material opposed to something in and of itself. If labor is a pure commodity, it's not entitled to a share in any of the profits it makes over and above the market price of its work.

Look at it this way: if you had a garden, and paid a gardener to come in and tend it what you're doing is getting a direct personal service. But if you pay a gardener to come to a lot and garden,but it turns out that the garden they're working on is someone else's, and you're marking up the price, and making money off of it, it's a different story. If you were a gardener in that situation, wouldn't you first be upset, and second, want to raise your price a so that you'd get paid in line with what's being demanded from the customer?

Labor isn't a traditional commodity because it doesn't just passively work for itself, but in a very real way produces the profit the business makes. Admittedly, some of the profit that businesses make is produced by the folks who coordinate the business, who make a production and sales plan, but in the end they don't do the work itself. The value of a service, or a job includes what sort of value it can add to the finished product. And labor should be compensated with a share of that value. Instead, marketplace dynamics cause labor to be priced at a lower value. The tendency of the market is to reflect a high degree of downward pressure because of the control of that environment by the capitalists themselves. For sure, it's good that there's competition and the folks have to prove that they’re skilled and can work efficiently, but outside of unions there's no organization on the part of workers that can counter the institutional power of capitalists to influence the market and to cause the commodified definition of labor to be accepted as normal and natural.

In some areas, there's recognition of a difference between labor done for purely personal gain, as in the gardening in the first example, and labor done for the purpose of making money for other people. Software manufactures recognize it, for instance. A personal license for graphic design software is much less expensive than a business license, even though they're often the same product, and the reason is that the software makers know that the business who uses their software is going to use it to make money for itself. The same goes for licensing photographs, with non-commercial licenses being much less than commercial ones, and for music samples as well. No one really cares if DJs mix some records spontaneously during a live show, but if they make a CD using those songs it's a different matter entirely. It's acknowledged that the reason is that the songs are the product of someone else's labor, that now a person is making money off of them.

Why shouldn't general labor be treated any differently? If a company makes a good profit, the CEOs and executives will get bonuses, but the workers who produce the products won't. The difference is attributed to the great skill in coordination done by the executives, but in the end they're not the ones who actually make the products. The products themselves are what embody the basic value of the company, and if the executives in a particular year are responsible for the selling of more products, aren't they really responsible for the value that's already present in the products being recognized and bought by more people?

Surely, if a company has a good year, then some of that money should go back to the workers. Better yet, why not include it in regular wages as an addition to the normal price of labor? This could easily be negotiated through union contracts.

Looking at labor as simply an input ignores the profitability of the output, and the share of labor's responsibility for that profit over and above the market price of the skills involved.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Think Ron Paul is great? Clip supporting letting people die, with an audience member cheering 'YEAH!'

And he looks really ticked off by Wolf Blitzer's question.

The question is what happens if a healthy person who has no insurance has a tragic accident, is in a coma, and needs intensive care for months. Who pays for it? Paul says that the person should take responsibility for their own actions, but then, seemingly realizing that the person in question would not be conscious, he backtracks and says that the person in question should have bought insurance.

It brings up the question of what should happen to people born with disabilities who need medical care? Is Paul supportive of letting them die because they'd be a burden on society? It reminds me of this Nazi propaganda poster:

The translation, according to Wiki, is this: "This person suffering from hereditary defects costs the community 60,000 Reichsmark during his lifetime. Fellow German, that is your money, too."

Let em die, gas em, save money, don't let them be a burden on society.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The 9/11 commemorative post

I honor all those who died on 9/11, at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. I also honor the soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, for no reason, as a consequence of 9/11. I honor as well the civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan because of 9/11, who had nothing to do with what Al-Qaida was up to, in either country, and who at most made the mistake of locating their millennia old home in a place that the Taliban eventually took over.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Benito Mussolini and the Corporate State, some insights beyond the throw away phrase

The usual insights consist of Fascism defined as the intersection of state and corporate power, with not  lot  else being added. What the constant repetition of the slogan misses are the ideological justifications that Mussolini gave for selling out the working class. The justifications Mussolini used can tell us a lot about what's going on today.

I spent some hours today reading a book called "The Corporate State", consisting of speeches by Mussolini  as well as excerpts from the Fascist legal code dealing with the Corporate State. The book was issued during Mussolini's reign by an Italian publishing house as an official publication. I found it while sitting in a local University Library. I mean, I've spent days reading large sections of Joseph Stalin's collected works in order to get a better perspective on  what was going on during his rise to power, so why not go to the primary sources on Mussolini?

What comes through his speeches, propaganda, and codes is the idea that business people constitute  a national, vital, productive bourgeois force whose energy is capable of leading Italy to a more industrially advanced future full of national glory. The business people are looked at as being Nietzschean Overmen as well as true patriots in sympathy with basic Italian values and the Italian national interest. When they're directly talked about, they're framed as people who have endured a kill or be killed world, albeit in the realm of business, and have proven their strength through rising to the top. The struggle of the fittest theme is linked to a kind of inverse syndicalism. Mussolini seems to think that a nationwide alliance of business-labor partnerships that are organized from the top down can lead to a brighter world, where productive businessmen and workers will work hand in hand in the spirit of the artisan and merchant guilds. The productive businessmen lead, the workers they employ will work hard, and everyone will sing the praises of national virtues and prosper. Everyone would be united by a desire to do good for their profession, business, and country, with the understanding that their business is helping to improve the productive forces of the Nation. No doubt, there are quite a lot of Tea Party folks who would agree with this.

I mean, isn't the entrepreneurial spirit what Mussolini is talking about? There have been have lots and lots of books that promote the idea of business being like war, about how business people need to study military theory in order to become better executives. Entrepreneurial spirit and survival of the fittest coexist within that particular ideology. Isn't the ideal of management-labor cooperation always on the table as well? Then there's the type of 'party spirit' that goes on in corporations, especially in the white collar sections, where people are arranged in a hierarchical fashion under a Leader and are inspired to work as a harmonious whole for a common purpose,  a common vision, and a common goal. The idea of a leader who struggles to the top, who then commands the obedience of the masses of men towards a common goal advancing  the best interests of the country is a theme that could be taken both from many books on business, from business biographies, and from mainstream Republican ideology.

On top of that there are also assurances throughout Mussolini's speeches, over and over, that he does not want the State to take over business, because that would interfere with the free vital force generated by its leaders. Instead,  the role of the State was to function as a subsidiary force directing the institutionalized business-labor partnerships when necessary and making sure that the whole economy was oriented towards the National interest. Contracts and other labor issues would be handled internally, and the State would only step in when the internal negotiations broke down. In fact, not only is there support for a hands off attitude on the part of the State in Mussolini's speeches, but one part of the Fascist code of Corporations explicitly states that "Property is the completion of the human personality". Surely, the Tea Party would agree with that sentiment.

This hand's off attitude is emphasized even while the State is declared to be totalitarian. It's not that the State couldn't do anything about the power of business—of course they could—but that they choose not to because they feel that society would be better with the State not as involved in the control of economic activity as it was in the Soviet Union and other countries. Roosevelt's New Deal is cited as being too bureaucratic and implementing too much State control.

And so the businessmen in Mussolini's scheme replace the proletariat as the economic motor of history.
Enthusiastic workers, of course can jump ship to the other side, and rise to the top, proving themselves in the struggle for survival, thereby getting permission to become motors of history themselves, while the toasting with champagne goes on.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Good article from The Guardian: "Can the United States move beyond the narcissism of 9/11?"

By Gary Younge, Here.

I hope that more stories like this come out. No doubt they'll mostly be in the European press. It touches on an essential part of what happened, and what has continued to happen, ever since.

"But beyond mourning of the immediate victims' friends and families, there was an element of narcissism to this national grief that would play out in policy and remains evident in the tone of many of today's retrospectives. The problem, for some, was not that such a tragedy had happened but that it could have happened in America and to Americans. The ability to empathise with others who had suffered similar tragedies and the desire to prevent further such suffering proved elusive when set against the need to avenge the attacks. It was as though Americans were unique in their ability to feel pain and the deaths of civilians of other nations were worth less.

It's a narcissism best exemplified by former vice-president Dick Cheney's answer when asked just last week on what grounds he would object to Iran waterboarding Americans when he maintained his support for America's right to use waterboarding. "We have obligations towards our citizens," he said. "And we do everything to protect our citizens."

However perverse that seems now such views had great currency at the moment, following the attacks, when many of the mistakes that would shape US foreign policy for the next 10 years were made. Terrorism will do that. "Terror is first of all the terror of the next attack," writes Arjun Appadurai in Fear of Small Numbers. If nothing else the Bush administration had fear on its side. "The next time the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud," said Rice. "They only have to be right once. We have to be right every time."

The trouble is they got very little right. Broad sweeps of people from predominantly Muslim countries resulted in the "preventive detention" of 1,200 people; voluntary interviews of 19,000; and a program of special registration for more than 82,000 – but not a single terrorism conviction. A decade on the US ability to crush al-Qaida still depends almost entirely on its ability to negotiate with Pakistan and doing a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where last month there was the highest US military death toll since the war began. And that's before we get to Iraq.

An effective response to 9/11 that would have truly satisfied the American public in that moment probably did not exist. A combination of diplomatic pressure, targeted intelligence-led operations and a more enlightened foreign policy was what would have been and has proved to be most successful. But following the attacks, when declarative sentences were the only ones heard and those who urged caution and restraint were compared to Neville Chamberlain, something more urgent, punitive and impressive was insisted upon."

Monday, September 05, 2011

Tea Party complaining about Trumka, saying that the AFL-CIO leader was inciting violence....pot calling the kettle fucking black, anyone?

I mean, geeze, Trumka was talking about rallying people to support Obama, and was not addressing a group of people who had members openly carry handguns and hold sign advocating "Watering the tree of liberty", with blood. Obama should (in a non-expletive laden way) tell them to fuck off. Or, as an alternative, ask that before he considers their proposal, the folks calling for it will have to successfully pass a quiz that includes questions like "How old is the Earth?" and "Is climate change real?". If they fail, well, he can't help ya.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Socialism or Barbarism, or, the coming showdown between Progressive politics and Christian atavisms.

This is what I see the 2012 election cycle as increasingly turning into. The Republicans have jettisoned whatever hold on reality they have, and we're now being forced to choose between progressive culture and a cultural void resembling nihilism with a Christian face. The thing is that at this point even the Rockefeller Republicans would be preferable, much more preferable, to what's being offered by the Right. The Rockefeller Republicans were moderate Republicans who made peace with the liberal welfare state, at least to a limited extent. Instead, we're facing the possibility of Rick Perry running with a platform that implicitly declares 2013 to be 'America, year zero', for the coming Tea Party Christian Cambodiazation of America. Perhaps that a little strong, but still, I think that as long as Perry's opponent is Obama, and Obama has a pulse, there's really no choice. I mean, Obama doesn't even have to have regular periods of consciousness. As long as he just has a pulse, and folks under him are taking care of things, the state of affairs will be better than under Perry. Unless we want our country to resemble a kind of, shit, how can I describe it, place where an anti-cultural revolution has happened that has stripped out all literacy, book stores, art, theater, cinema, exchange of ideas, sexual freedom, non-conformity, free thought, in exchange for a grinning Christian ignorance. Perry represents the kind of ignorance that doesn't know what it missed since it never got it in the first. In any case, I don’t want to see this country turned into a place where we sing the Horst Wessel song to Christ the Savior and march on into oblivion, while the rest of the world acts like adults and wonders why we let the cave dwellers take over our country.

Perhaps we can establish a national reserve for the members of the Tea Party in the middle of the country, where they can safely live out their fantasies in their own little fucked up Republic (not a Democracy) while leaving everyone else alone. The People's Republic of Jesus. Obviously, they're not suited for contact with the outside world, and like other uncontacted peoples, like those who live in the Amazon and in remote areas of the Philippines, care should be taken not to disturb their worldview too much. Let them understand what exists outside of their bubble through assimilation with their own cultural context, perhaps as a revelation from Christ.