Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The function of banks in modern society, and why they're not the root cause of our problems

Short and simple: because banks make a great deal of their money through financing business. Banks function as intermediaries rather than things in themselves. To find out where the real cause are you have to look at what they're intermediaries for. The home loan scandal was sort of an offshoot of this. Businesses take out loans from banks to get started and to expand. The approval or non-approval of new business financing by banks directly effects the way the economy expands. Home loans are a way for them to make money off of consumers, because unlike businesses consumers can be persuaded to take out loans they don't need.

Banks are also heavily invested in the stock market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. government not three equal parts

A fallacy. Tom Paine was the one who pointed out that the notion rendered everything indeterminate. There's a fundamental lack of clear values in the concept. Is the legislature the most important, or the executive, or the supreme court? In my mind, the legislature is most the most important because it's where the representatives of the people sit. In an autocracy, the Executive would be the most important. In a democratic system the executive should be the second most important branch, and the Supreme Court should be its own thing. The Supreme Court is in no way equal in status to the legislature, and plays a passive role in relation to the other branches. Even though the legislature should have some sort of check on it from the Executive branch, the Executive branch does not have to be completely separate to check the legislature. There are shades of grey.

*on edit: the three equal positives of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches in American political life, with their mutual checks and balances, resemble the mystery of the Holy Trinity,both in the concept and in veneration. Supposedly equal, but in three mutually distinct parts...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Liberalism, something not commented on

It's often said that liberalism permits freedom and liberty of action as long as it doesn't negatively impact others. However, what happens if people, when granted a degree of freedom use it to hurt another person? In that case, the expectation of the other person not be hurt matters more than the first one's right to freely act on their liberties. In point of fact, the negative behavior would be a misapplication of liberty, an excuse masquerading as an application of legitimate rights. Disciplining people for breaking the law in this case does not violate liberty or freedom. In fact, if discipline in some form isn't done, the system falls apart, because the intent of some to mistreat of others is in effect being put above the freedom of others to live in peace. Liberation is wonderful, but people have a right to not be stepped on, and politeness shouldn't be an excuse to allow that to occur.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reading Joan Didion's essay "Slouching to Gomorrah", bringing up some memories

"Slouching to Gomorrah" is Joan Didion's essay on the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco during the peak of the hippy era, in 1967, and focuses on the disturbing aspects of the scene. Didion interviewed runaways, hippies that only knew drug use and slogans, and folks who thought that it was groovy to give acid to kids.

One of the most poignant paragraphs talks about how these folks can't be counter-culture, because they haven't known culture at all. They came from bad backgrounds and skipt out of town to join the Summer of Love. I agree, and can most definitely apply that judgement to my own experience of the neo-hippy lifestyle in middle school and, to a much lesser extent, in early high school.

What does a twelve year old person know about the hippy movement? What I saw was a sappy ideal. I looked to TV during the early '90s revival of interest and saw documentaries, movies, and bands like Blind Melon, and I thought it all looked much better than what was around me. I saw a notion of folks motivated by peace and love who wanted to pursue a compassionate utopia. Of course I had no actual contact with the culture.

I drifted from there into a group of friends concerned with another ideal, the masculine fantasy utopia of gangster rap that was marketed to white people in the mid '90s. It happened without too much of a shock to my system. The reason, strange as it may seem, is that both communities, the neo-hippies and that of adolescent gangster rap fans, where composed of people who were lost and looking for something, anything, and one ideal looked just as good as another.

I eventually put the gangster silliness behind and moved into Alternative culture, where I've stayed every since, albeit with hippy idealism added in.

Lost child, the Lost Highway, perhaps there's a connection there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The more things change, again. Israel-Palestine and the Right

Was reading back issues of the Seattle PI on microfilm recently and came across an article from '36 decrying Communist opposition to the colonization of Palestine taking place in Palestine. The PI, at the time, was a right wing newspaper owned by Hearst, and was anti-communist to the core. The arguments against this Communist subversion were similar to the ones used today, but with one crucial difference: I noticed several issues that the PI ran a quarter page ad for the Hamburg-American Line, a company that provided trans-atlantic travel via ship before airplanes became an affordable way to go. Reading it was quite chilling, because in '36, the Hamburg-American Line was very well integrated into the Nazi state.

So, while the PI Hearst was showing such sympathy to folks seeking to emigrate to Palestine, they had no problem accepting money from a virtual component of the Nazi state while Jews were being persecuted in the run up to the Holocaust.

Interesting morals there.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Search for Truth by Charles Peguy

I came across this short piece a while ago, and my interpretation of it has changed. Originally, I read it as being nihilistic, because he talks about leaving one opinion, going to another, and rejecting that one in turn, thinking that what he was getting at was being against all beliefs. Now, I see it as being about balance in what you do, what you think, what you believe. The solution isn't to go against everything but to go back to the start and integrate all of it into your belief system.

"I believe that in the history of the world one could easily find a very great number of examples of persons who, suddenly perceiving the truth, seize it. Or, having sought and found it, deliberately break with their interests, sacrifice their interests, break deliberately with their political friendships and even with their sentimental friendships. I do not believe that one find many examples of men who, having accomplished this first sacrifice, have had the second courage to sacrifice their second interests, their second friendships. For it commonly happens that they find their new friends are worth no more than the old ones, that their second friends are worth no more than the first. Woe to the lonely man, and what they fear most is solitude. They are most willing, for the sake of the truth, to fall out with half of the world. All the more so when, by thus falling out with half of the world--not without a little repercussion--they usually make partisans among the second half of the world; partisans who ask nothing better than to be the antagonists of the first half. But if, for the love of this same truth, they foolishly go about breaking with this second half, who will become their partisans?--

A brave man--and so far, there are not many--for the sake of the truth breaks with his friends and his interest. Thus a new party is formed, originally and supposedly the party of justice and truth, which in less than no time becomes absolutely identical with the other parties. A party like the others; like al the others; as vulgar; as gross; as unjust; as false. Then for this second time, a superbrave man would have to be found to make a second break: but of these, there are hardly any left.--

And yet, the life of an honest man must be an apostasy and a perpetual desertion. The honest man must be a perpetual renegade, the life of an honest man must be a perpetual infidelity. For the man who wishes to remain faithful to truth must make himself continually unfaithful to all the continual, successive, indefatigable renascent errors. And the man who wishes to remain faithful to justice must make himself continually unfaithful to inexhaustibly triumphant injustices."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One of the best arguments against strict construction of the Constitution: the existence of other constitutions around the globe

Because, really, what point is there to being a fundamentalist about original intent if you can go to France, Italy, Germany, and on and on and see plenty of Constitutions that work and function not based on the American political tradition? Not only that, but, horror of horrors, they have similar ideas and concepts. It's only in our myopia, our sense of ourselves as being the only country in the world, that we can think of our Constitution as something so special, so sacred, that it can only be interpreted by diviners who feel out what a bunch of folks in the late 18th century may have thought, a task that as the years go on has much in common with the counting of the number of grains of sand on the beach.

Original construction, strict construction? Do you mean the strict construction of the French constitution of 1789, or the Weimar constitution of post-war Germany? Perhaps you mean the Italian Constitution created after Italian Unification?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opposition to sales taxes as regressive from 136 years ago

Via the Gotha program of the German Social Democratic Party....the more things change, the more they stay the same, sometimes.

Gotha Program in English

"(8)[In addition to the demand for universal suffrage for all above twenty years of age, secret ballot, freedom of the press, free and compulsory education, etc.,] the socialist labor party of Germany demands the following reforms in the present social organization:[...] (2) a single progressive income tax, both state and local, instead of all the existing taxes, especially the indirect ones, which weigh heavily upon the people;[...]"

A sales tax is an indirect tax, because it's not paid directly on your income and has regressive components in that it takes more of a share of the income of poorer folks than it does of folks with money. It does this because while everyone has to eat, not everyone has to buy fancy stuff, meaning that as a tax it will absolutely effect people on the low end of the spectrum and only potentially impact people with higher incomes. When they're done buying the essentials they can save their money, or pick and choose in their purchases and what they pay sales tax on. The more money you make the less the sales tax you pay on essentials matters in your budget, and the less you make the more impact it has on your over all income.

Speaking of documentary history...The combined "No gods, no masters" edited by Daniel Guerin

Is the closest thing to an anarchist version of "Socialist Thought, a Documentary History" that's out there. If that's your political persuasion, I highly recommend you pick it up Here from AK Press.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Is To Be Done? by Lenin. One of the worst pamphlets I've read...

It's the basic Leninist presentation of Leninist party policy in relation to the working class.

Where to start? First of all, the pamphlet starts out by saying in response to challenges to Marxist orthodoxy that discussion and dissent shouldn't be permitted because it leads people to have opinions that aren't sufficiently 'Marxist' enough, at least as Lenin understands it.

Second, the rest of the pamphlet is devoted to dismissing workers' self activity and arguing that workers can only be liberated by bourgeois people coming to them and teaching them the pure socialist Marxist doctrine. Not only that, but in point of fact Lenin dismisses the self-activity of workers as somehow leading away from socialism itself.

It's pretty clear that Lenin had an understanding of radical socialist party functioning that was out of line with reality, and that his understanding of Marx and Marxism were based in large part on elements of fantasy, elements perhaps generated from surreptitiously and transgressively reading Marx in far away Russia without having any actual contact with the socialist movements of Western Europe. He seems to have had no awareness that Marx and Marxism came from the socialist movement itself, that life did not start with Marx and his writings, and that Marx's writings were incorporated piecemeal into the socialist parties instead of stamped into them in an inflexible way.

Marxism for Lenin, in this pamphlet, is just another revolutionary phase, another flavor of the month for bourgeois youth who want to engage in radical politics in Russia--no organic basis needed. Lenin wanted a socialist workers' state, but didn't want the reality of the proletarians to get in the way. Unfortunately, one of the legacies of What is to be Done is some anarchists and opponents to Leninism seeing in any attempt to talk to working folks about the ideas of socialism a bourgeois vanguard seeking to enlighten the poor benighted workers, who surely are regarded by them as only being capable of having 'trade union consciousness', right?

*on edit: if you want an alternative to this sort of thinking, the Bourse du Travail movement in French Syndicalism is a great counter-weight, sometimes associated with Fernand Pelloutier.

When voting isn't democracy--plebiscite, plus the American Presidency

I think that the pure existence of a vote does not mean that it's truly democratic. Case in point: Napoleon, dictator of France, put his policies as well as his status as ruler to a plebiscite referendum and when they passed he declared legitimacy and victory. The thing is that even though there was a vote, the overall structure of the system was anti-representative and a-democratic, and the vote was little more than bread and circuses. It's impossible to vote a dictator in, since representative government is fundamentally opposed to the idea of unaccountable dictatorship. A symbolic vote that over rules a representative system of government isn't legitimate or democratic, no matter how many people support it.

*on edit: in my opinion, for democracy to be real has to be transparency and effective representation. By effective representation I mean that the representatives in question, or the issues voted on, have to be linked to reasonably small units of voters. One representative for 300 million people is quite disproportional, while many legislators representing smaller blocks who then act in concert, is much more reasonable. The same can be said for initiative voting. Having an up down vote on a single issue is much less democratic than having groups of people tell their representatives what the spectrum of their concerns are about an issue, and then having the representatives work out and pass, or fail to pass, something that represents the nuanced sum of the voters'concerns.

Applying this criteria to the United States it's clear that there's absolutely no way the election of a single chief executive by hundreds of millions of people can be called authentically democratic, electoral college or not. Presidential elections might as well be Napoleonic plebiscites, even though real change can and does come through them.

A much more reasonable way for the Executive branch to be chosen is having the leader of the party in the House of Representatives be the Prime Minister, and other high ranking members serve in cabinet posts. The Representatives themselves would be elected in their own districts. Having the Executive, who's supposed to execute the will of the people, selected separately from the people's House, Congress, is anti-democratic in the extreme. They have to be linked.

If we in the United States are so big on not having kings, it's worthwhile to ask why we elect one every four years, and why we create and fawn over political dynasties reminiscent of monarchies such as those of the Kennedys and the Bushs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Periodizing the blog: from the start to January 2005, it was going strong

And then it hit a snag. The snag came from being in the Pacific Northwest and, after living there permanently for about seven months, coming across the reality that a) my living situation in Pacific Northwest paradise was terrible, my landlords being unresponsive liars, b) my fellow Evergreen students in my program were mostly microcephalic morons who didn't do any of their work, yet acted self righteous to the core when it came to their own causes, c) many of the teachers at Evergreen didn't really give a damn about having their students actually get anything out of the programs, instead letting the above mentioned folks rule the seminars and class rooms, in the interest of 'democracy', instead of reigning them in so that actual learning--and teaching--could happen.

My romanticized notion of the Northwest came under heavy fire, shaking my political faith and the sense of moral certainty that fueled my writing. The writing itself lost focus, then eventually declined in quality as well.

But, it wasn't all bad forever. It recovered somewhat in late 2005 and early 2006 before facing another crisis of faith via the flakiness of Northwest activists in Olympia, one that took a lot longer to overcome.

Perhaps my writing shouldn't be affected so much by the attitudes of the folks around me, yet the way I saw it was that the Northwest was supposed to be a Progressive's paradise, a place where the really awesome people lived. If the folks I actually encountered ran the gamut from interesting, yet flawed, to raging idiots destructive to all norms of a sane society, then what did that say about me? Was I somehow wrong? Were these folks were actually the cream of the crop of left politics? It took a long time to realize that I stand on my own, and that what happens in Olympia or in any town in the Northwest does not define the Ur-meaning of Progressive or Leftist culture as it really is.

*on edit* I should add that a lot of this all or nothing thinking was made possible because like Cortez in Mexico, I burned my ships, my passport home. There was no going back to Florida, or to Michigan. The reality of it is difficult to explain in a short space and quite personal, but getting out of Florida was an imperative. I did it to prevent going to rot.

The Occupy movement as an insurrection within the machine

One way to look at it. An eruption of the repressed into the field of bourgeois consciousness, a necessary beachhead made in the Daydream Nation consciousness of American society, opening the door to further action for social change. What's the agenda? Besides lots of things, part of it is simply to be there, to be present, to keep making noise, and to keep interrupting business as usual, so that the mass media can't deny that people are upset, that people disapprove of the way things are, and that they want change.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Globalization, was never what it said it was anyways

The whole premise of globalization and neo-liberalism as a relevant political ideology, as opposed to an economic doctrine, in the '90s, was based on the idea that the Soviet model and with it all of socialism had failed, leaving unregulated capitalism as the only viable alternative. Social democracy was also seen as decrepit and failing. Behind the hype of total victory of the western capitalist model lied some ugly facts. First, the collapse of the Soviet model, as opposed to its liberalization, was aided and abetted, created some would say, by the United States. Yeltsin served the U.S., and did a good job of it, liquidating socialism in the Soviet Union instead of preserving the messy partial capitalism, partial socialism, with reformed planning mechanisms, that Gorbachev and the advocates of Perestroika were putting forward. If the Yeltsin coup, what I call his election, hadn't happened, the Soviet Union could have continued on the evolutionary approach to fixing its economic and social system. It would have preserved socialism as at least a semi-viable doctrine. It would have put lie the notion that globalization was the only road, and hastened the call to economic justice going on right now.

Berlusconi stepping down

Entertaining. Berlusconi proves the quip of Marx that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, the tragedy in this case being Mussolini. Berlusconi presented himself as a man's man, a semi-authoritarian tough guy, who was simultaneously vapid.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

...and CostCo wins it's corporate financed populist plebiscite

Initiative 1183, designed to privatize liquor sales in Washington, showing how the initiative process is flawed for things besides the ever popular legalization of marijuana. This Seattle Times article is amazingly candid about the company's influence on the campaign:

"Beginning June 1, grocery stores in Washington will begin selling liquor.

That's the result of a $22.7 million voter campaign that Costco Wholesale led to kick the state out of the liquor business and allow private retailers to sell spirits instead.

...

The campaign was a battle of corporate interests, with Costco contributing the vast majority of the money for the pro-1183 campaign.

"We are very pleased and grateful to all of the coalition members across the state," said Joel Benoliel, Costco's chief legal officer.

The coalition against I-1183 was financed mostly by wine and liquor distributors, who fear that liquor and wine deregulation in the measure will spread to other states."

One of my friends, who works at Amazon, has said that one of the reasons Jeff Bezos choose to locate Amazon in Washington State is because it has a low population that can be swayed by campaigns if it ever decides to raise taxes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The serpent is biting its tail

I've decided that this blog has reached a good, positive, cross roads. I think of the present nine and some years of writing as forming a sort of coherent whole, even though the subject matter covered is diverse. Now, I feel it's time to go back to the beginning and reorient myself in line with the whole thing, with the whole trend of where I've gone with my ideas, where I've come from, in order to get some perspective on where to go next. The clear and present danger of Bushism has passed, and the Occupy Wall Street protests are doing the very thing that I've wanted to happen for years: they're talking about internal economic inequality in the U.S., bringing the discussion back home, beyond global inequality.

*on edit: not just talking about economic inequality but advocating socialist solutions to it.

It looks like a propitious time.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Viktor Bout: correct me if I'm wrong...

But my understanding is that he's been convicted in the U.S. of conspiring to sell arms to a Columbian political organization, one designated by the U.S. as being terrorist, and is not a U.S. citizen. Why exactly does the U.S. have jurisdiction over him? And why exactly was the DEA, in Thailand, involved?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Lenin Cat sings "The Song of Stalin"

Too absurd/funny not to post:

Qualification of Nietzsche, in reference to the below post

I should say that the whole business about moral sentiments not mattering is perhaps better phrased by saying that Nietzsche believes a) that the idea of morality itself is a historical product, and b) that the morality that we say we have is not what we believe but a false consciousness. Combining the two, you get the idea that morality is an optional concept evolved over time that legitimizes the brutal power politics, which means that, essentially, morality is meaningless. Good and bad can't be real because they're all lies. This is the whine of the person who is too jacked up on testosterone and alcohol, and who drunkenly exclaims against anything he or she sees. Simply amplifying your attack on what you consider to be hypocritical morality to the point of discarding it altogether is hardly an argument. In the process, Nietzsche somehow ignores thousands of years of evidence that his scenario is not real. Even the harsh peoples that he praises did not operate in a moral-free zone: they simply had different morals, but morals nonetheless. In any case, perhaps he shouldn't have let third stage syphilis do so much of his writing.