Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley: Rich Racist Jerkoff, but So Articulate...

Epidictic rhetoric needn't only be praiseworthy. It's the rhetoric of "praise or blame," and in this case blame is precisely appropriate and cleansing to our collective soul. It is possible to "mourn" the dead by talking about what assholes they were. William F. Buckley made the world a considerably crappier place. We should celebrate his passage by acknowledging that.

Don't let the bowtie and cheeky humor fool you. Buckley was a hater, part of a long line of haters of his political (and class) orientation who delighted in covering the hate in humor. He made Ann Coulter possible. He called people "queers" and "fags" unironically. Guiding the editorial position of the National Review, he composed the following about segregation in 1957:

"The central question that emerges ... is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes -- the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists."

Much has been said about Buckley's "reformation" because he had a bunch of rich white friends who weren't racist. But in fact he continued to deeply distrust blacks all his life, pathetically lamenting about their voting patterns, opining that it was obvious whites' opinion that OJ Simpson was guilty was based on truth, while it was equally obvious that blacks' opinion of Simpson's innocence was based on race. I am still looking to track down an editorial he wrote on Somalia in the early 1990s, citing its breakdown as evidence that white colonialism was a good idea. Buckley invented and refined, out of necessity, the chuckling "innuendo racism" that characterizes great minds from Coulter to Michael Savage today. He deployed that innuendo boyishly because he could afford to never grow up, and he deployed it in the service of socioeconomic forces that really do kill people of color, every day (and a whole lot of poor white people too).

As one blogger put it, "There’s your 'refined, perspicacious mind' for you." As another put it in a headline: "Another racist asshole dead." One too few, to be sure, but well-put.

Monday, February 11, 2008

more on obama, corporatism, and the long-term struggle

How is reliance on corporate support a liability for progressive politics? Well, David Sirota describes at least one area where it at least distorts what would be better viewed with clarity:
Obama has let Clinton characterize the 1990s as a nirvana, rather than a time that sowed the seeds of our current troubles. He barely criticizes the Clinton administration for championing job-killing trade agreements. He does not question that same administration's role in deregulating the financial industry and thereby intensifying today's boom-bust catastrophes. And he rarely points out what McClatchy Newspapers reported this week: that Clinton spent most of her career at a law firm "where she represented big companies and served on corporate boards," including Wal-Mart's. Obama hasn't touched any of this for two reasons. First, his campaign relies on corporate donations. Though Obama certainly is less industry-owned than Clinton, the Washington Post noted last spring that he was the top recipient of Wall Street contributions. That cash is hush money, contingent on candidates silencing their populist rhetoric. But while this pressure to keep quiet affects all politicians, it is especially intense against black leaders. "If Obama started talking like John Edwards and tapped into working-class, blue-collar proletarian rage, suddenly all of those white voters who are viewing him within the lens of transcendence would start seeing him differently," says Charles Ellison of the University of Denver's Center for African American Policy. That's because once Obama parroted Edwards' attacks on greed and inequality, he would "be stigmatized as a candidate mobilizing race," says Manning Marable, a Columbia University history professor. That is, the media would immediately portray him as another Jesse Jackson -- a figure whose progressivism has been (unfairly) depicted as racial politics anathema to white swing voters. Remember, this is always how power-challenging African-Americans are marginalized. The establishment cites a black leader's race- and class-unifying populism as supposed proof of his or her radical, race-centric views. An extreme example of this came from the FBI, which labeled Martin Luther King Jr. "the most dangerous man in America" for talking about poverty. More typical is the attitude exemplified by Joe Klein's 2006 Time magazine column. He called progressive Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., "an African American of a certain age and ideology, easily stereotyped" and "one of the ancient band of left-liberals who grew up in the angry hothouse of inner-city, racial-preference politics."

But at the same time, I even think Sirota is kind of minimizing Obama's own orientation in all this; it almost sounds like he's saying "Obama wants to be a real lefty, he really does, but he's gotta be all stealth about it!" How do I know, then, what he really wants? In Obama's defense (sort of) I have heard him say "even though I'm a progressive, I will reach across the aisles," which seems to suggest just that: he's a progressive willing to compromise with centrists and conservatives. That would be much more of a coherent statement, though, if he were not so materially reliant on corporations, and didn't have some very troubling folks advising him on economics (thanks for the citation, Renegade Eye!).

If the response is that reliance on corporate support is the ONLY way for a candidate to be viable, that sounds equal parts defensive and a symptom of the disease. In light of all the conversation around here lately about the long-term implications of reform versus revolutionary politics, and their permutability, what I am beginning to see is the necessity of constantly keeping this conversation alive at every stage of the political process. Keep reminding ourselves, reminding the public, that the reason--the actual cause--of our political ideals being dashed time and again, the reason we have to "settle for less," is the corporate colonization of politics. Those whose political priorities favor fighting against corporatism specifically needn't be in conflict with those whose priorities favor getting the most progressive candidates elected in any given election. But for those two forces to work together, the critique, the conversation, must be kept alive.

Remember, too, that within the current system, the ability to deliver on progressive promises like health care is always contingent on capitalism's continued growth and expansion. To sign onto a progressive health plan is to sign onto the ship sailing smooth waters. When waters get rough, the owners will take away those extras, and if and when the ship goes down, so will progressive politics, so will the educational system, so will academic debate and the ability to reason through these dilemmas, so will the network of current institutions dedicated to fairly distributing those the very least, again, a reason to keep talking about the unpleasantries of capital. The economic overwhelms the political, and will until we decide not to let it anymore.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Alice In Wonderland World of Declining Capitalism

Just a quick note to say that ex-CEOs are now calling for financial regulation...much like retired generals criticizing Bush's Iraq policy. This article is typical:

Ex-Salomon CEO Gutfreund Calls for More Financial Regulation
By Rhonda Schaffler and Alex Lange
Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- John H. Gutfreund, chief executive officer of Salomon Brothers during the 1980s, called for greater regulation of the financial industry in the U.S. and abroad in the wake of a $7.2 billion loss a French bank blamed on a rogue trader. Gutfreund said writedowns at major banks because of poor risk management may be more frequent than most people think. He made the comments today in an interview with Bloomberg TV. Gutfreund resigned from Salomon in 1991 after regulators said traders at the firm had rigged U.S. Treasury bond auctions. Societe Generale SA last week reported a 4.9 billion-euro ($7.2 billion) loss it attributed to unauthorized bets on stock futures made by Jerome Kerviel.``I think the SocGen problem could be rather widespread,'' said Gutfreund, 78. ``I don't think that the management in the financial institutions understands all the other vehicles that are being created.'' The ex-banker, who is now president of Gutfreund & Co. Inc. and a senior adviser at Collins Stewart Co. in New York, bemoaned the rise of hedge funds. He called them ``the unregulated tip of the market,'' and said they could make for a ``treacherous and a horrible storm. ''Hedge funds globally lost an average 3 percent this month through Jan. 25, according to the HFRX Index, a daily estimate of fund performance voluntarily reported by managers and calculated by Chicago-based Hedge Fund Research Inc. ``There are global institutions that should be paying attention and probably do,'' Gutfreund said. ``The U.S. influence has been for `no regulation, do whatever you can get away with.'''

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Stupor Tuesday

One subscriber to the Left Business Observer listserve opines today:
C'mon everybody in the U.S. Go out and vote. For Obama, of course. Then keep doing whatever you're doing to advance socialism in the world.
But if Patrick Martin is right, voting for Obama is a step backward for a socialist movement; he describes the corporate-driven Obama campaign as a preemptive attack against such a movement. Even if Obama or his real supporters don't cast it that way, the long-term effects of the corporate support is tantamount to a buyout.
The Obama campaign is not the vehicle of a leftward movement in the United States—as proclaimed by liberal groups such as and publications like
The Nation. It is a preemptive attack by the ruling class against such a movement. Its function is to delude the American people and divert their growing opposition to war, economic crisis and attacks on democratic rights back into the dead-end of the Democratic Party.
So how about it, my friends (like ECram) who consider themselves socialists but are voting for Obama?

--Is it because, in this instance, the symbolic overwhelms the materiality of politics?
--Is it because the struggle for welfare capitalism IS a progressive cause, and is part of the overall struggle for socialism?
--Is it because you are afraid of a McCain or Romney presidency?
--All of the above? Am I missing something more nuanced?

And in the meantime, everyone think counterfactually with me for a moment: Imagine under what conditions a 40 year-old black steelworker could be a major party candidate for President...

"Shared Sacrifice"-- a soldier's contribution to the Iraq debate and more...

I first met Gary Barkley last summer, a good friend of a good friend, whom I knew had been in correspondence with some people while still in Mosul. When Gary returned, like so many thousands of other soldiers, he enthusiastically began speaking out against the war, as well as the U.S.'s "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy of drumming open homosexuals from the military. Gary gave an informative and passionate presentation at the Wyoming Debate Cooperative (needless to say, both Iraq and activism are hotly debated topics), and through that lecture and a couple of nights at the bar, I got to know his intellect, energy, and sense of humor.

From his web site:
Former First Lieutenant Gary Barkley returned from a year-long tour in Iraq where he served as a Civil Affairs officer with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion. Even though Gary had resigned his commission in the US Army in 2001, when he was recalled to active duty in 2005 for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he answered his Nation’s call without hesitation. During his tour, Gary served as Operations Officer of the Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq.

Now Gary's book is out: Shared Sacrifice is an enthusiastic and very critical treatment of the Iraq war and what I read to be the phenomena and motiff of conservativist militarism in general: A theocratic, superstitious, and rich-white-guy militarism that excludes gays, privileges theological and ideological whiteness and heteronormativity, and has made an utter mess of the world, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even before I review this book (which I hope to do in the next few weeks), you should buy it and read it. Gary's political and military perspective is unique and may not be yours or mine. What I find most compelling is his concern for the military itself, a community he clearly loves, although he laments its colonization and consolodation by the religious right. I predict we will hear more from this type of activist and it's important to have discussions with them: Like Obama, Gary doesn't want to smash the state or capital. He wants liberalism (in the classical and contemporary senses) to live up to its promises. This is a question worth asking and a conversation to be had. We could do much worse than listen to an intelligent and articulate Iraq war vet begin that discussion. Plus, DADT is just wrong and stupid, and Gary argues that better than I do.

I also plan to publish some exerpts from my interview with Gary last year...all in good time...but read the book!

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Over at Science Blogs, GrrlScientist has posted what she calls the "top fifty atheist t-shirt and bumper sticker aphorisms," but I don't think they are exclusively "atheist." I can say with confidence that Unitarians, Universalists, and other nonfundamentalists can laugh at them too, and I daresay even a few more religious types, if they can truly laugh at themselves. Some of my favorites:

Abstinence Makes the Church Grow Fondlers

Honk If Your Religious Beliefs Make You An Asshole

Intelligent Design Makes My Monkey Cry

There's A REASON Why Atheists Don't Fly Planes Into Buildings

"Worship Me or I Will Torture You Forever. Have a Nice Day."­ God.

People Who Don't Want Their Beliefs Laughed at Shouldn't Have Such Funny Beliefs

Threatening Children With Hell Is FUN!


God Doesn't Exist. So, I Guess That Means No One Loves You.

Science: It Works, Bitches.

I Gave Up Superstitious Mumbo Jumbo For Lent

My Flying Monkey Can Beat Up Your Guardian Angel

Every Time You Play With Yourself, God Kills a Kitten

Praying Is Politically Correct Schizophrenia

I Was An Atheist Until The Hindus Convinced Me That I Was God

The Spanish Inquisition: The Original Faith-based Initiative

If we were made in his image, when why aren't humans invisible too?

JESUS SAVES....You From Thinking For Yourself

Every Time You See a Rainbow, God is Having Gay Sex

I Went to Public School in Kansas and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt and a Poor Understanding of the Scientific Method.

The Family That Prays Together is Brainwashing the Children

No Gods. No Mullets.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

got your surge right here

The news that the Worst President Ever just pulled another signing statement, this one concerning the permanence of U.S. bases in Iraq, coincides with widespread bursting of balloons in the "surge is working" mad tea party.

To continue the literary references: One needn’t wear a flag lapel to spot a naked emperor, nor does the Left’s resentment over years of dishonesty and narrow-mindedness on the part of the Bush administration render it somehow blind to obvious facts. For columnist Michael Shank, calling Iraq secure is not only inaccurate, but dishonest. He accuses the Pentagon and war apologists of manipulating numbers, for example the number of refugees returning to Iraq, without factoring in long-term trends, such as how those refugees will be absorbed. The entire “surge” rhetorical enterprise has emphasized largely meaningless numbers stripped of their context. Meanwhile, Bush's plan to negotiate a status of forces agreement before he leaves office, an agreement which will keep troops there permanently (or force his successor in the White House to break the agreement) has drawn protests and condemnations from across the Untied States.

There are several reasons to doubt the administration’s claims of increased stability in Iraq, and instead see a naked emperor, regardless of one’s political affiliation. First, the “stability” in question doesn’t even exist. The twin bombs that struck Baghdad at the end of the week (the worst attack in months) were not only symbols of order unrestored, but also of the chaotic hold on partisanship and division in Iraq: Their targets, the Ghazil pet market and the New Baghdad pet market, both on the east side of the Tigris River, were each popular with both Shiites and Sunnis.

So civilians continue to be targeted, and U.S. troops continue to die as well. The regularity of these deaths outpaces the small, localized improvements that war apologists continually and stubbornly cite as signs of improvement. Although the four-month drop in U.S. casualties may have seemed like an improvement, US casualties are up again, with 38 service members killed in January.

Moreover, whatever artificial “stability” the US can advertise is a desperately assembled house of cards and cash. That stability is partly --in a huge part, actually-- the result of the U.S. literally buying the loyalty of Sunni militias; the U.S. has paid out $120 million so far. However, "responsibility for paying these forces is supposed to pass to the Shia-dominated Iraqi regime this summer, and it is by no means certain that it will follow suit." As a result, Improvements in security are fragile at best. Recent rocket attacks in Basra--an area considered recently and relatively stable--prove that so-called improvements there are largely a matter of interpretation.

In order to pad claims of stability, Bush has authorized the drawdown (which he promptly delayed) of troops now that the “surge” is allegedly “working.” However, the Army and Marines say that there are no soldiers available to replace the ones who are withdrawing. Weapons flow is another fly in the ointment. Corruption and bribery, as well as outright theft, continues to put weapons meant for Iraq security in the hands of terrorists.

Third and finally, the long-term political situation has obviously not improved, not even a little. As Senator Bob Casey pointed out in a speech on the Senate floor the day after the President's State of the Union address, Bush promised the same things a year ago that he is promising now: "Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas." That hasn't happened.

The recent news of the alarming increase in military suicide rates associated with serving in Iraq suggests a slightly different interpretation of “stability,” and also that there might be a relationship between the futile effort to increase stability in Iraq at a cost of the personal stability of the Americans who are being asked to go there. Such human pain is always a sobering remedy for the illusions of naked emperors.