Saturday, December 26, 2009

Initial thoughts on the Iraq Debate Workshop and Mesopotamian Debating Tournament--with more to come

Here's the real foundational stuff about the opening up of debate in Iraq, and an attempt to articulate how it relates to the concerns and values I took with me to Duhok:

Call this a World Debate Party, call it replacing weapons with words, but this is the vision concerning the role of debate education in building peaceful societies.

There has to be a general orientation towards verbalizing disagreements, conflict resolution, adjudicated verbal conflict, a tradition of debate at every level of social and political interaction--and I would contend economic interaction as well. We must place one another in situations of reciprocal discourse and judgement and agree to abide by one another's transparent and honest norms. We must debate about the norms themselves.

This project is generally egalitarian, at least moderately redistributive, and requires thinking about how other people think, which means it requires a massive campaign of public participation whenever it's done. I have my own beliefs about the economy and, in the spirit of deliberation, I have elected to bracket them at least concerning whether some kind of market distribution is desirable. In this instance, I am concerned about the way we communicate our problems and objections to one another, although the ability to communicate in this way is inevitably limited and contextualized by economic relations. But we should talk about that too.

This project is culturally respectful, but unapologetically universal--we understand we all have differences, but every culture communicates, and every culture has a culture of debate--although it's sometimes hidden and sometimes exclusively controlled by elites. Our desire to be Prometheus, stealing the fire of debate and simply offering it (we offer debate far more than we teach it) is really our only form of cultural arrogance, and we think it's a forgivable one. We think everyone should have the ability and be afforded the respect to speak and participate in public discourse. Believe it or not, there are some academics who accuse us of trying to impose a "liberal" model of discourse on the world in order to grease the skids for U.S. and Eurocentric hegemony. Far better, they believe, to leave repressive hierarchical societies on their own...or, I guess, to simply invade them, since such an academic-political strategy of "leaving people alone" has never been able to articulate a theory of how we inevtably communicate with these cultures.

I think the fear of universalism can be taken too far, and usually is.  Fear of being imposing means we eventually fear looking for commonalities with other people. It also mistakingly identifies all members of a "culture" (eg all Americans) with the interests of their ruling classes. My interests in Iraq were not Dick Cheney's interests, and we need to be capable of articulating that when we talk about engaging other countries.

The profound experiences I had communicating with these Iraqi students about violence, death, war, and security made me realize --once again, and in a real way this time-- that we have cut off ordinary Iraqi or Afghani citizens from the discussion about the invasions and occupations of their countries. That they are the people we on the progressive side need to be listening to the most. And we can't be afraid to listen to the people who wanted America to invade--there weren't many of them, but they were not all greedy death merchants. We have to articulate an alternative foreign policy, and the first step in doing that is communication with those affected most by our foreign policy. That's a progressive project, and it will produce inevitably progressive conclusions.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Question

So... Santa Claus: socialist redistributor of wealth, or tyrannical, elf-exploiting boss?

In either case, happy holidays everyone.  Lots to come on the blog and other venues in the coming days.  For now, peace and solidarity!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

no public health insurance for you!

After days of secret talks, it looks as if the Democrats are giving in on a government-run public option. "In place of a government-run plan," Associated Press reports, "officials said the Democrats had tentatively settled on a private insurance arrangement to be supervised by the federal agency that oversees the system through which lawmakers purchase coverage. Additionally, the tentative deal calls for Medicare to be opened to uninsured Americans beginning at age 55..."

According to Reuters, "Democratic Senate sources said the substitute proposal would create a non-profit plan operated by private insurers but administered by the Office of Personnel Management, which supervises health coverage for federal workers."

Except that we've been down this road before. Non-profit cooperatives are to a "robust" public option as a handshake is to a passionate kiss. As McJoan at Daily Kos points out, (citing Politico) private emails among insurance company lobbysists are declaring victory based on this outcome. 
The bill without a public option is little more than a big ol' wet kiss to the insurance industry, a gift of some $600 billion and millions of new subscribers. Sure, they'll have a few more hoops to jump through to figure out how to dump people and deny their claims, but they'll still be able to do it. There are bits and pieces in the legislation that will help control costs, but without a program that expressly challenges the status quo of employer-based private insurance, it can't be called "reform."

If the insurance companies come out of this declaring victory, it's not reform.
60+ percent public support is not enough to overcome corporate opposition. We may have won a few table scraps, but it looks like we've lost the most significant part of the battle. This is a failure of democratic deliberation brought about by the intervention of corporate resources --nothing more and nothing less.

This outcome was made possible because Obama himself, and even many "liberal" democrats, fundamentally believe that a world where the rich get better care than the poor is an acceptable world--one not worth the effort and risk of a foundational attack.  Obama admitted such an outcome was inevitable long ago when he said the market culture of America rendered single payer inappropriate.  "Obama’s case against single-payer," writes Alan Nasser, "frames health-care priorities in the language of atomic individualism. Hence, the range of possible outcomes is determined for the worse before discussion begins." 

thought for the day

Relief from poverty, financial support, debt forgiveness, microloans, work programs, and the like are not "charity" or "handouts." Those terms connote that nothing was earned in exchange. Government-mediated material support is a return on the surplus value generated from generations of work --paid and unpaid-- from American workers: laborers, immigrants, the indentured, low-wage workers yesterday and today, all of whose labor generated trillions of dollars in uncompensated value to the success stories used as advertising for the American Dream. That's why we all deserve health coverage. It's why we deserve decent shelter, and a chance to keep houses we may be in danger of losing. It's why food, health care, shelter and education are human rights rather than crumbs of privilege. Ultimately, it will be our right to demand those social goods and acquire them by all available and ethical means. Because we're not talking about stealing or getting something for nothing. We're talking about getting what's rightfully ours.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

...because we really don't care about them

In some ways, Glenn Greenwald's column the day after Obama's Afghanistan speech refutes some of the unstated premises of my post below.  But it also highlights some of the conclusions, I think:
While Obama's speech last night largely comported to what his aides spent days anonymously previewing, there was one (pleasantly) unexpected aspect: he commendably dispensed with the propagandistic pretext that we are fighting in Afghanistan in order to deliver freedom and democracy to that country and to improve the plight of Afghan women. Many Democrats (the self-proclaimed "liberal hawks") love to support American wars on the self-righteous ground that we're going to drop enough Freedom Bombs to liberate millions and invade other countries in order to re-make other peoples' cultures for their own good. In order to maximize support for his escalation, Obama -- like Bush so often did -- could easily have relied on that appeal to our national narcissism and exploited justifiable disgust for the Taliban in order to manipulate "liberal hawks" into supporting this war on human rights grounds. During the build-up to the speech, it was predicted by several influential Obama advisers that he would do exactly that. Indeed, when announcing his prior Afghanistan escalation in March, Obama played up the humanitarian rationale for this war.

But there was almost none of that in last night's speech. As Ben Smith correctly notes, Obama did not even mention -- let alone hype -- the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan. There were no grandiose claims that the justness of the war derives from our desire to defeat evil, tyrannical extremists and replace them with more humane and democratic leaders. To the contrary, he was commendably blunt that our true goal is not to improve the lives of Afghan citizens but rather: "Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda." There were no promises to guarantee freedom and human rights to the Afghan people. To the contrary, he explicitly rejected a mission of broad nation-building "because it sets goals that are beyond what can be achieved at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests"; he said he "refuse[d] to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests"; and even vowed to incorporate the convertible factions of the Taliban into the government.
Not only did he refrain from those manipulative appeals, he made explicitly clear that we are in Afghanistan to serve our own interests (as he perceives them), not to build a better nation for Afghans. Nation-building, he said, goes "beyond ... what we need to achieve to secure our interests" and "go beyond our responsibility." We're there to serve our interests and do nothing else. That should throw cold water on all on the preening fantasies of all but the blindest and most naive "liberal war supporters" that we're there to help the Afghan people.
But Greenwald goes on to concisely point out that making Afghanistan and its people better off isn't even likely to be an unintended consequence of our occupation.  This, of course, means that the defeat of Al Qaeda will spur more enemies to eradicate in the future.  Business is business.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas Song for Teabaggers and Free Marketers

It's true: Christmas is just a bunch of socialist hooey.  It's time for the Randians, libertarians, traditional Republicans, and atomistic individualists among us to reclaim their true voice, and celebrate the anti-Christmas:


From "Scrooge"
(Leslie Bricusse)

Scavengers and sycophants and flatterers
and fools
Pharisees and parasites and hypocrites
and ghouls
Calculating swindlers, prevaricating frauds
Perpetrating evil as they roam the earth
in hordes
Feeding on their fellow men
Reaping rich rewards
Contaminating everything they see
Corrupting honest me like me
Humbug! Poppycock! Balderdash! Bah!
I hate people! I hate people!
People are despicable creatures
Loathesome inexplicable creatures
Good-for-nothing kickable creatures
I hate people! I abhor them!
When I see the indolent classes
Sitting on their indolent asses
Gulping ale from indolent glasses
I hate people! I detest them! I deplore them!
Fools who have no money spend it
Get in debt then try to end it
Beg me on their knees befriend them
Knowing I have cash to lend them
Soft-hearted me! Hard-working me!
Clean-living, thrifty and kind as can be!
Situations like this are of interest to me
I hate people! I loathe people! I despise and abominate people!
Life is full of cretinous wretches
Earning what their sweatiness fetches
Empty minds whose pettiness stretches

Further than I can see
Little wonder I hate people
And I don't care if they hate me!

Thanks to my friend Marina Gipps for reminding me that this song existed!  Happy Holidays!

Lack of consultation with Afghan local leaders continues cycle of war and waste

The solvency deficit incurred by a military surge in Afghanistan is, above all, material. Obama's commitment to continue to prioritize firepower and bloodletting is an embrace of excess, designed to demonstrate the will to be wasteful. This, Team Obama hopes, will placate several layers of the polis.  Whatever their motivations, the surge probably will not work, and whatever does get spun as eventual success or stability in the long run will end up being far more wasteful than alternatives would have been.

Nicholas Kristof has a pretty effective piece in today's NYT comparing Obama to both LBJ, who inherited and escalated in Vietnam, and Gorbachev, who did the same in Afghanistan (the connotation of the latter being uncomfortable for both Obama and the history of U.S. policy in Afghanistan). By ignoring the opportunity to deliberate with the people of Afghanistan, Obama perpetuates the role of ignorant conqueror, and at a huge material cost.
“To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders,” said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in “Three Cups of Tea” and his new book, “From Stones to Schools.” “It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders’ messages is we don’t need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops.”
For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools.
Kristof lists several more development projects which could have served as more effective anti-insurgent tools than boots on the ground. Notable among them is the National Solidarity Programme, which builds up things like drinking water infrastructure, weaving and other small production projects, and schools. When people are educated (by their standards--yes, emancipation can be both universal and local), they tend to stop believing in reactionary ideologies. When they're occupied--saturated, as they are about to be--with foreign troops, their lives and economies and intellectual histories don't develop, and hatred grows. Even if there's some argument for the need to defend these projects, the United States and other nations could do so effectively, and a case for such defense-oriented guardianship would be more palatable to a war-weary public than a poorly defined dump of troops. But that would fail to satisfy this urgency for destructive excess Team Obama feels the need to demonstrate, to prove a kind of toughness, placate the political id, and keep defense contractors happy.

Meanwhile, Kristof reports, George Rupp says that, for the cost of supporting one U.S. soldier, you can build National Solidarity Programme projects in 20 villages. Think.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dear Liars:

Despite your best efforts, the millions of dollars you've wasted on PR campaigns and shout-down-zombie-shock-troops, as of today, "60 percent of Americans believe a public option should be included in final healthcare legislation."  

So even though the public might not get one, it won't be because you've successfully brainwashed the country.  It might be because you've shoved large amounts of cash down the open throats of a few of our elected representatives.  In that case, when you claim that "the people have spoken," you're talking out your ass. 


If Michelle Malkin has seen this by now, undoubtedly she's somewhere furiously typing a screed blaming the administration for it.  

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Don’t know what the big deal is about the imposters who crashed the White House for one night. What about the imposters who crashed the White House for 8 years?"

~Will Durst, via Facebook.  Quick, to the point, and you wonder why you didn't think of it. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Honduran "Elections" Not Even Clean Enough to Qualify for Int'l Monitoring...

Upside Down World, an independent, reader-supported press site covering Latin America, reports that the Honduran elections have been marred by "a climate of harassment, violence, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly". Groups such as Amnesty International are decrying police shootings and restrictions on assembly, including "a decree prohibiting gatherings of more than four people." Police are refusing to provide names or details of arrests. Allegations include
...a crackdown on a peaceful march in San Pedro Sula where marchers were tear-gassed, beaten, and detained. Authorities also shot a man in the head at a checkpoint on the eve of the elections, and raided the offices and homes of various civil society groups, including a Quaker agricultural cooperative. Opposition broadcasters had their signals jammed, and the authorities threatened criminal charges for anyone advocating a boycott of the election.
Because going after the Quakers is always a good touch.  Thus, it is no surprise that "all of the major organizations that observe international elections, including the Organization of American States, European Union, and the Carter Center, had refused to send observer delegations to this election." When Carter won't even monitor your elections, son, you're in some trouble.

Belén Fernández reports live from Honduras:
The Virtual Observer section did not include an option to watch oral cellular phone transmission of electoral data, which was the process that had been hyped by the TSE and the Honduran media as enabling rapid determination of the next president and that was based on the distribution of 20,000 specially-purchased phones to electoral tables around the country. Rapidity was less of a priority among other organs of the Honduran state such as the National Congress, which had postponed consideration of Zelaya’s restitution until December and thus underscored the illegitimacy of the elections; as for the effectiveness of cellular transmissions of critical data, this was called into question by the frequency with which Honduran cell phone communications were reduced to such phrases as: “Can you hear me?” ... As for TSE magistrate [Enrique] Ortez’ proclamation that the countries of the world had the moral obligation to recognize the Honduran electoral process, it would seem that moral obligations might also be assigned to electoral magistrates claiming to speak for 7 million Hondurans.
 The U.S. State Department "welcomed Honduras' presidential election as a necessary and 'important step forward' for the country, but said that more needs to be done to achieve reconciliation." 

quote of the week

"People in France live longer than Americans and dress like really cool hipsters in their old age. If that's Socialism...I'm there..." - Marina Gipps