Thursday, May 24, 2007

reflections on the democrats "backing down" on iraq funding

"These hazards are compounded for those who are buffeted by the day-to-day swings and tactical divisions reflected in bourgeois public opinion." (Jack Barnes)

This is a big deal. Although many of us weren't surprised they would do it, the Democratic leadership's compromise on Iraq has provoked an outrage that has the potential to expose the duplicity of the so-called opposition party, perhaps the bankruptcy of the "twin parties of imperialist war," as Jack Barnes often calls them.

Olbermann says both parties have failed the American people. A letter-writer suggests to the New York Times that, the next time Democrats are pissed off that people are voting for third parties instead of them, they should remember that they backed down on Iraq. They didn't need to; in a legal sense they could have done what voters allegedly (in the cotton candy narrative of bourgeois politics) elected them to do. That they did not means that more people will die, with certainty in the immediate future, with likelihood further on.

This will surely cause at least a hard ripple against the Democrats, and at least a few people will rethink things...

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bush admin fires back at Carter

Yep, they called him "irrelevant." This from an administration that is routinely surrendering its key figures to federal authorities while erasing as many emails as possible. And this is where I get to clarify something I wrote yesterday. Yeah, it was funny when I wrote it, and subsequently I saw that great (?) minds think alike; others had written similar jokes comparing Carter's attack on Bush to, say, Bill O'Reilly accusing Bill Bennett of moral hypocrisy.

But Carter is right about one thing: "We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war...a radical departure from all previous administration policies," he says, in reference to the fact that, well, the U.S. now claims the right to attack any country it deems a threat, before said threat is even close to being realized. Following Bush, the U.S. can even do so on the flimsiest of evidence, using a perverse "magnitude massively outweighs actual risk" calculability that requires only that possible magnitude be increased in proportion to lack of evidence concerning risk.
That Bush the Younger was the President who did this is obviously not attributable to his unique identity as Bush the Younger. Political, social, material, economic, yes even "cultural" forces had to converge a certain way. But Carter is right: That policy has now been endorsed, even if subsequently (and nearly universally) condemned. That is unprecedented.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Too bad Gerald Ford isn't here to toss in his two cents...

Jimmy Carter called the Bush administration "the worst ever."

Now, this might very well be true. And it's always nice to see various sections of the ruling class tearing each other down.

But in other news, Charles Manson called John Wayne Gacy a murderer. Augusto Pinochet came back from the dead to condemn the human rights violations of Idi Amin. Peter Griffin called Eric Cartman a cartoon character. Snoop Dog accused Li'l Jon of smoking weed. Matt Harpring called out Steve Nash for being a caucasian player in the NBA. George Walker Bush called George Herbert Walker Bush filthy rich. The American Watersports Association accused the American BDSM Society of having weird sex fetishes. And Ann Coulter accused Michelle Malkin of being intellectually shallow and a poor writer.

"You'd disappear in the system."

If true, this story from Kansas Mutual Aid is disturbing, especially the part about being threatened with "disappearance." I'll update it as more information becomes available.

Tornado Ravaged Greensburg, Kansas:
Kansas Mutual Aid Relief Workers forced out of city by police

Saturday May 19, 2007
by Dave Strano

Infoshop News

On Saturday May 19, five members and volunteers affiliated with Kansas Mutual Aid, a Lawrence based class struggle anarchist collective, made the trek back to Greensburg to again help in relief efforts in the tornado ravaged city. A week earlier, four KMA members had traveled to Greensburg on a fact finding mission to assess the situation there. What KMA members found was a militarized, entirely destroyed city where relief efforts were moving tragically slow.

Today's trip back to Greensburg by KMA members and volunteers was intended to solidify the bonds we had created in the first trip, and establish a base of operations for future relief efforts. KMA spent the morning working on a house with members of AmeriCorps, and then proceeded to meet with contacts with the Mennonite Disaster Services.

We then headed out of town to a church just outside of city limits that we were told would be a place we could probably set up a base camp for our work. The church had been converted into a fire station by the state, so we continued down the road and met a farmer who was willing to work with us and let us use his land.

Soon after meeting the farmer, we were approached by officers with the Dickinson County Sheriff's Department. After a brief exchange, the officers left, and we were told to report to the Kiowa County Emergency Response Command Post to receive official permission to set up our base of operations. We were notified that if we did not do so, we would risk having our operation ceased by the state.

Two of our delegation went to the Command Post, while the other three of us went to the County Courthouse to pick up some water and provisions being offered by the Red Cross. While we were picking up water and food, I was approached by an Olathe Police Officer named Ty Moeder who knew my face and identity. I was ordered to take my hands out of my pockets and follow the officer to a side street "to avoid making a scene".

I and the other people with me followed the officer, and were repeatedly ordered to keep our hands out of our pockets, where they could be seen by the officer. Soon more officers approached, as well as at least one member of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and some people from FEMA. Surrounded by agents of the state, we were ordered to produce our identification.

When I asked the police why we were being detained, Officer Moeder responded "We need to check to see if you are affiliated with the anarchists." At this moment, our remaining two comrades approached to see what was happening. They were detained as well, and made to produce their identification.

Officer Moeder asked how we had gotten in to the city. "We drove in," someone replied.

"They weren't supposed to let you in at the road block," responded Moeder, seemingly frustrated and perplexed by that answer.

"They even gave us a day pass to drive in and out," we shot back.

A waiting game ensued for the next several minutes, with more officers approaching, now numbering almost fifteen. A Lawrence police officer approached, and was ordered to take photos of the car we had driven that was parked down the street. Officer McNemee from the Lawrence Police Department took extensive photos of the car, even of the inside contents of the vehicle.

Officer Moeder ordered me to step away from the rest of the relief workers and speak with him. "You're being ordered to leave and not return. This is not negotiable, not appealable. You can't change it. If you return you'll be arrested on site. And believe me, you don't want to push that right now. This system is pretty messed up, and you wouldn't be issued bail. You'd disappear in the system."

I asked repeatedly what we had done and why we were being ordered to leave the city. "You're part of a dangerous anarchist group that will only drain our security resources," he responded. "We've been monitoring your website and e-mails, we know what kind of agenda you have." "So this is about our political beliefs?" I asked.

"No," he responded. "This is about you being federal security threats. Kansas Mutual Aid is not welcome in this city, end of story. I know you are going through legitimate means to work in the city, and you're story seems picture perfect, but we know who you are, and you're not allowed here."

We were ordered back into our car and escorted out of the city by several police vehicles with their lights flashing, and left just outside the city.

We returned to Lawrence just moments ago, unhindered in our resolve to provide support to the people in the disaster area. We will continue to work in whatever capacity we can in the areas around the city that we may still be allowed into, and provide support to those entering the city.

The area is a police state, to be certain. Police and Law Enforcement from across Kansas and the country are making the rules about everything. Relief workers were banned from Greensburg today because of their political beliefs and work against oppression and tyrannical state control.

A longer, more in depth update with an announcement for future action will come soon. Please spread this story far and wide.

In love and solidarity,
Dave Strano, on behalf of KMA

Kudos Utah Jazz

Kudos...from the Greek κύδος kydos (literally "that which is heard of") means fame and renown resulting from an act or achievement. Kudos to the Utah Jazz for making the Western Conference NBA Finals after two years of not even making the playoffs.

So I've been a hardcore Utah Jazz fan for twenty years now. In 1987-88, Utah took the then-dynastic Lakers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinal, and I was hooked. I'd been a fairweather fan before then, despite growing up in Salt Lake. I was an undergrad, and my roommates (and debate teammates) Jimmy, Tom, Tony, Howard and I, along with our constant stream of guests, sat and watched every game, transfixed at the transformation of this hitherto underachieving team.

From that time on, I have lived the agony and the ectasy; mostly, as you've already guessed I will say, the agony. It's the soft bigotry of high expectations; it's the serendipity and instability of what success really means. After watching them win most, but not all, then really, really most, but not all, I have concluded that true satisfaction in being the fan of a good (but not the best) team lies in watching them play. John Stockton faking left then going in for a layup, time after time. Jeff Hornacek goofily tossing up another three. Mark Eaton, like a mobile crane, mechanically rebounding, pivoting, and passing. And Karl Malone. Greatest. Power. Forward. Ever.

When Malone left for the Lakers, my wife (also a Utahn, also a fanatical Jazz fan) fell into the "screw him, he betrayed us" camp, while I fell into the "yeah, it's kind of selfish of him, but I can understand that he wants a ring" camp. These were really the only possible camps among Jazz fans. Neither of us were particularly upset about the trouncing the Lakers' took from Detroit that year in the NBA finals.

Nor was I, at least, particularly sad for Utah. Time to rebuild, and the miracle is not only that they have done it so quickly, but that they have made things better than they were. Granted, without the pressure created by the aging (albeit still brilliant and dominant) Stockton-Malone duo in the old Jazz's later years, the players naturally will be more free and energetic. But they have lifted the yoke of old Jazzdom while simultaneously hanging on to the Jazz philosophy of basic playmaking, selflessness and hard work. A couple of things about this philosophy: First, it seems to be primarily Jerry Sloan's philosophy, but he took some of it from Frank Layden, and obviously it's endorsed, if not shaped, by much maligned owner Larry Miller. It's really in the players, and Sloan, though. And second, and related to this, it's a real philosophy, not just a few catch-words. They really are selfless. This time around even moreso. There are leaders on the team but not "stars," and particularly not "star personalities. They run the same plays over and over again and mix it up just enough to make the defense more predictable than the offense. And their own defense is stifling, rough, intimidating, and energetic (Andre Kirelenko is an incredible, prolific shot-blocker, for example). They are the "new and improved" Jazz, and their numbers, if they stay this way, will rapidly be on par with their predecessors. Deron Williams is a John Stockton who can dunk; Carlos Boozer a young Malone who already possesses the outside shot it took Malone years to develop. I could go on. If they play well in this round, I probably will. But even if they lose now, my gosh--the conference finals. Most of the time, the old Jazz couldn't get there even when they were outplaying 99% of their opponents.

One more thing: Although I still hear announcers, from time to time, marginalize the Jazz, it's nowhere near as bad as they would even during the height of the Stockton-Malone years. There are still haters. Militant Jazz-haters are like those irritating militant atheists who raise the nonexistence of God whenever they meet someone new. But the tide of opinion is turning, another reason why losing the stars of the past also means emerging into a low-pressure, high-praise open field. The era of the superstar is over (Kobe, Yao, McGrady, Iverson, Shaq, and more, didn't even make it past the first round of the playoffs). Utah's defeat of Houston even disproves the "two stars theory."

Of the new Jazz, one columnist writes posit the Jazz as some makeshift foil, Aryan-centric, basic and defensive-minded. The Jazz possess style as well, though of a subtler form. Whereas the Warriors emit warmth and color, the Jazz players convey a chilly nihilism -- an indifferent isolation in which one draws the conclusion: I have no one else to live for except me.

I would simply amend this to read "We have no one else to live for except us," because the new Utah team reminds me of nothing if not a family that everyone resents but respects, and who fight for one another even if they don't always know why. It's a communal nihilism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What's their GOProblem?

A friend commented that the GOP debates are weak and weird, with only libertarian Ron Paul calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq. How, he asks, can they expect to win?

Is it possible that there is actually a coherent argument in the back rooms of the GOP for staying the proverbial course? In 2004, all rational public argument had long concluded against the war. But there was a lot of room for the GOP to gather the nonrational, faith-based ground, due to the large sections of the GOP base that believe in armageddon anyway, believe God annoints presidents, hate the brown religious enemy, are genuinely afraid of terrorism, etc. Combine that with some questionable voting irregularities and it was more than enough then. Do you think there's a school of thought that says it would be just enough now? What does Richard John Neuhouse say now? What about the dominionists and the rapture-believers or whatever they're called?

Remember, also...these people are handled very well...on both sides of the two-in-one party. The GOP handlers want their guys to keep repeating simple, sweeping, enthymematic platitudes. I'm reminded of a line from Xtal, a great band that's no longer around: "The overfed apes cavorting on the big stage spewing sanctimonious lines about good and evil. Then they make a big mess and gallop off into the sunset while middle management hands out the brooms and mops."

Despite the cynicism of the above, I really believe that a lot of people are smarter, not dumber, than these handlers, and those apes tend to underestimate us insects. But these are confusing times, and I think there's a good chance that some factions of the GOP want to keep going, (like the Utah Jazz with the pick and roll, except that the pick and roll is cool) the same old strategy, because it's worked thus far. Jack up the terror and talk about values. Ain't saying it will work, but it may well come closer than we think.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Revisiting Definitions of War and Insurgency: To Those Who Can’t Afford to Define Themselves

As I write this, the U.S. military is in its fifth day of hearings concerning the Haditha Massacre. Several marines are charged with “unpremeditated murder” of civilians there. The courtroom squabbles concern who in the chain of command was responsible for reporting the allegations of murder, as well as whether soldiers can be charged with killing civilians in combat at all. The larger issues, of course, concern the punishment of the marines who (it is clear by now) slaughtered 24 Iraqis and tried to cover it up. It is that dynamic between the Iraqis, the U.S. marines who killed them, and the U.S. government who get to punish the killers, that has again sparked me thinking about the power to define legitimate and illegitimate enemies as well as fair and unfair violence. It's really a question of who gets to define identities. From Falluja to Haditha to the communities in America giving up their families for a war we did not choose, identity is sold to the highest bidder.

Since 2003, I have wrestled with myself and others over the issue of who enjoys “ownership” of the street struggles in Iraq. My position has always been that neither U.S. and coalition forces, nor “insurgents” or “terrorists,” ever received the opportunity to define themselves and define each other through the establishment of communicative understanding. They lost this ability by virtue of their material servitude to others—to the American and global ruling class that sanctioned this war, to practitioners of backward ideological wars from both the East and West, to a power structure that considers the life of workers (in or out of uniform) expendable. Since the initial invasion and occupation, through periodic revelations of particularly brutal behavior by various factions there (including “ours”), I have posited an admittedly unreasonable, utopian counterfactual: A world where the effort to discern the understanding and perspectives of those affected by a decision (eg, invading a country to remove a dictator) precedes the decision itself, and a world where the powerful would have to justify, really justify, their decisions to the powerless.

The late Robert Anton Wilson wrote “the power to define is the power to destroy” into his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell[1]—and I’ve spotted the occasional use of that phrase, without attribution to Wilson, throughout the blogosphere…including, ironically, on both a Canadian First Nations site and a “Vanguard” White Power site. Wilson writes the phrase coming from Dr. Reich himself, meaning that this discursive power is tied to a network of material and psychic power, in the pursuit of manufacturing more power, in the form of authority, predictability, and the deployment of “primal might” in the form of face-to-face killing.

To some degree, the management of that primal might, the ability to keep it from getting “out of control” and crossing unacceptable lines, is the razors’ edge of managing an occupation. The recent Mental Health Advisory Team report that created a ripple of concern for a few days a couple of weeks ago, confirms the suspicion that we are dealing with extremely an extremely raw human condition.
The study exposes the deteriorating behavioral health status of US troops—including depression, anxiety, alcoholism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), marital problems and suicide. These mental health and personal problems are shown to directly influence the attitudes US soldiers hold toward the Iraqi population—resulting in increasing levels of terror and brutality meted out to civilians.
Asked whether “all non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect,” less than half of soldiers agreed. Close to a third of all soldiers reported they had insulted or cursed at non-combatants in their presence. Twelve percent of marines and 9 percent of army soldiers said they had unnecessarily damaged or destroyed Iraqi property; 7 percent of marines and 9 percent of soldiers said they had physically hit or kicked civilians.[2]
Although the United States may be failing strategically in Iraq,(there are not enough coalition soldiers, nor would it be possible to send enough, to gain a strategic advantage), U.S. forces are holding their own tactically, insofar as face-to-face violence is a tactic, where the primacy of the enemy-other eludes definition. The indefinite nature of the occupation further exacerbates this looseness of identity. “We at home,” (the artificial "affected public"[3]), who know nothing about Iraq or Iraqis, know more about the ideologically-assigned identities of Iraqis than those of us who are there.

The moral superiority we draw from lawful punishment of our own soldiers for their brutalities serves to further strengthen our claim to superior brutality. Demarcations of violence exist, which intersect with the rhetorical demarcations of law (itself backed up with the promise of still more violence). We create a spectacle that would have been the envy of all the Caesars: A few of our soldiers slaughter civilians, which is wickedly, impressively brutal, but our legal apparatus is more impressively brutal still, and even has the power to kill our own slaughterers—an act we’re willing to commit in the name of a higher justice than violence, even as we are the masters of violence. Life becomes doubly expendable: those who are initially slaughtered get to have their deaths justified on multiple grounds: It was war, and look, we found out who did it and we’ll punish them; those who did the slaughtering can be trotted out, imprisoned, even executed, to provide closure to the moral questions posed by these relatively un-nuanced displays of violence.

One of the legal-rhetorical demarcations that intersect with the real levels of violence in Iraq is “the power to define.” It’s a question of words, but it has real consequences in the effort to manage perceptions of brutality. In 2004 Paul Craig Roberts wrote that

the US has largely destroyed Fallujah, once a city of 300,000. Hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians have been killed by the indiscriminate use of high explosives. To cover up the extensive civilian deaths, US authorities count all Iraqi dead as insurgents, delivering a high body count as claim of success for a bloody-minded operation.[4]
Now, think for a moment about the demarcations that erase each and every one of the noncombatants killed indiscriminately in the battles of Fallujah. The ethical differences (that is, the way we negotiate the meaning of each other, the treatment we stand to receive from each other, the struggle for identity in each others’ eyes) between those unfortunate civilians in Fallujah and those in Haditha is virtually nonexistent. Once we cross the line and decide that innocent, non-involved living beings are expendable in the service of geostrategic objectives, then all that’s left are legal demarcations, the occasional sacrifice of a few particularly brutal sacrificers, and inevitable cover-ups in a never-ending information management war that follows the real war around like Mother Courage.[5]

Of course, if U.S. forces leave Iraq, atrocities against innocents will continue. There may be other reasons for the U.S. and coalition forces to leave, but the overall level of brutality will remain constant, because the “causes” of that brutality are not found in the national identity of the perpetrators. Instead, brutality is the inevitable outcome of a system that entitles the commission of certain acceptable violence against certain acceptable others—all of those, and all of us, who lack the agency to define our status and identity.

The cry of the dispossessed, whatever their relative level of disposession, in contemporary society is a whispered: We can't afford to be. And yes, the low-level brutalizers now sitting in an air-conditioned American military court are crying it too.

[1] Robert Anton Wilson, Wilhelm Reich in Hell, see
[2] Kate Randall, “Pentagon survey exposes deep demoralization of US occupation troops,”
[3] See Dana Cloud, “Therapy, Silence, and War: Consolation and the End of Deliberation in the 'Affected' Public,” Poroi Online,
[4] Paul Craig Roberts, “There is no one left to stop them,” Counterpunch 19 November 2004,
[5] Bertold Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children, see

Sunday, May 06, 2007

the haters among us

Anyone who might ever be tempted to minimize the extent and severity of racism in contemporary America should feel free to answer me the following:

Why has Barack Obama's candidacy spurred so many racist emails, many with threats of physical violence, murder, etc., that servers and news networks are disabling reader and viewer comments about Obama?

Why have there been so many death threats that Obama uniquely merits Secret Service protection?

Why does Rush Limbaugh keep his job after saying things about Obama on par with the worst Imus said about anyone?

I won't vote for Obama, since I don't vote for Democrats or Republicans...and yeah, I try not to "overdetermine" "identity politics" and all that jazz, but I have seen enough garbage on message boards and in political chat rooms, enough openly racist shit about any and every political subject, that I am long past the illusion that there aren't, in our midst, straight-up white supremacist nazis. Potential stormtroopers (along with a whole lot of people willing to look the other way) for use by demagogues as politics in America continues to run its course. And not just a few of them. People who hate other races, plain and simple, and lots of 'em. He is in danger. What should we do about that?

(Sheez, I have a hard enough time figuring out why anyone from Wyoming, one of the northernmost states, would have a confederate flag on their truck...)

It's not enough just to say "well, I'm not a racist," anymore than, upon seeing a person getting assaulted next to you on the street, it would be enough to say "well, I'm not assaulting anybody."

What is to be done about those among us who tactictly or actively encourage, justify, excuse or execute violence against racial minorities? What are you personally going to do? What would you suggest others do?