Friday, April 30, 2010

Tea Partiers come full circle...or oblong

Turns out the major funders of the Tea Party movement got rich because of Soviet/Stalinist "socialism."

Why not? It just goes to show that the most prescient predictor of our current democracy is neither De Tocqueville nor Jefferson, but Lewis Carroll.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Unions: A Matter of Life and Death--Shared Sacrifice Nightly

I'll be podcasting tonight for Shared Sacrifice.

Another mine disaster kills workers at a non-union mine--a mine with 214 safety violations this year.

Also: The oil spill in the Gulf, and commentary on William Ayers' visit to Wyoming.

Unions: A Matter of Life and Death--Shared Sacrifice Nightly

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Season of Heartlessness

If the following reads like a speech rather than a textual essay, it's because it's my notes for last night's podcast.  It's just some food for thought, and I hope you enjoy it and think about it. 

For a long time it seems we have been in a season of heartlessness. The acts we see, and the omissions we see, are large and small: Invasions and occupations, corporate greed, but also individual acts of ignorance, cruelty, and indifference.
The images that stick out in my mind as iconic photographs of this heartless season include Tea Partiers spitting on people, mocking the suffering of their fellow human beings, and threatening people with implied or explicit acts of violence…But the manifestations are both institutional and individual.  The State of Arizona enacts totalitarian, unworkable, and inevitably racist legislation targeted towards people whose ancestors inhabited the land that is now the State of Arizona. The large is connected to the small. A judge in Texas unapologetically ignores a condemned death row inmate's final appeal because it's a few minutes late. Another man in Texas is put on death row after the prosecutor and judge carry on a secret affair during his trial, and the courts are unsympathetic--and certainly unnecessarily so.

Cruel entrepreneurs pay homeless people to fight, record the fights and sell the videos. Other entrepreneurs lure college girls into exposing themselves. Workers in non-union coal mines are expendable and their death is met with profound concern...about their employers' stock value.

Look at the comments section of almost any mainstream online newspaper where there's a socially, or racially, or gendered, or politically significant story, and you'll see layers upon layers of blind, unapologetic hatred. A Facebook group prays for the death of Barack Obama, Christian ministers pray for the death of Barack Obama, CNN hires a commentator who called Barack Obama an Affirmative Action President, mid-level managers circulate racist pictures of the Obamas via email, a Mormon political commentator calls Obama a racist, and as you know, I've barely scratched the surface.

Soldiers in Afghanistan shoot civilians and cover it up. Intelligent, if ethically blind scholars and statesmen defend torture, even though it doesn't work. They defend it because the part of it that works is the raw assertion of power it conveys, and they are convinced that is the key to victory in a war without end.  When the soldiers come home, they come home to a dishonest, stripped bureaucracy, instability and material deprivation. Some of them become the most militant anti-war activists you'll ever see, but others join right-wing militias and racist groups. Many join no group at all, and many others commit suicide--an unprecedented number, in fact, that competes with combat deaths for a body count based on lies and nondeliberative political processes.

This is the time of distrust. We do not see each other as human. We reduce one another to commodity values or metaphysical enmity and alien-ship.

Some people--some activists, scholars, sociologists, Marxists and other radical analysts, see the collapse of institutional confidence, and the resurgence of the far right, as a sign of the storm before the calm, if you will, the season of violence and chaos that is supposed to precede genuine revolutionary change. But I think that's too simplistic and too mechanistic, even for me, and I frequently find myself the determinist at the table.

It's true that conservatism is dying in the United States, but if there's nothing solid to take its place, we can't pull new ways of thinking out of thin air, and we can't just assume that small intellectual conversations will become mass social and cultural shifts. It's possible that the shrinking conservative movement, the dying and increasingly regionalized Republican Party, and the increasingly embittered and encircled upper classes will die and take the spirit of human love and the social contract down with them, like a gangster shooting as many people as he can before he succumbs to bullets himself. And what I see out there is a group of people determined to do this, and a fragmented, confused Left unable to articulate and defend the vision we want to carry into the tumultuous years ahead.

When I see the Tea Partiers, I don't see coherent policy analysis.  They can't say what's really wrong with Obama's policies per se, they think he's raised taxes, and that, of course, is the least of their erroneous suspicions about him.  When I see the Tea Partiers, I don't see principled or consistent opposition to government spending. Nothing is said about the wars; instead Obama's budgetary transparency on the wars is used against him to make the argument that he has authorized or accommodated unprecedented budgets. Many of the Tea Partiers themselves are on some kind of government support (And there have been instances when rank-and-file Tea Partiers have presented honest answers to these inconsistencies--that they depend on that support, but wish they could make a world where it wasn't necessary. This is one of many points where these conservatives are closer to the truth than they could possibly know. What they miss is the way in which your liberation is necessary for my liberation, where, as the old labor saying goes, an injury to one is an injury to all. For we are not Robinson Crusoe, and even Robinson Crusoe was dependent on others--in sometimes violent ways.)

When I see the Tea Partiers, I don't see an articulated vision of a better world.  Some of this has to do with a philosophical multiple personality disorder. The embrace of Ayn Rand by a certain variety of libertarian or fiscally conservative Republican, but at the same time exploiting their political orientation's common ground with mystically committed Christians, or with neoconservatives who wish to use all the power of the state to remake the world in a particular U.S. image--a series of inconsistencies that give us Michele Bachmann making overtures to Ron Paul; that gives us Ron Paul himself forming alliances with white race warriors such as Lew Rockwell and the late Murray Rothbard; that longs for the return of George W. Bush, whom, if they were principled and consistent, the Tea Partiers would curse alongside Obama and perhaps even curse Bush worse, given the amount of "unfreedom" and wasted resources the Bush administration was objectively responsible for. And although these diverse brands of conservatism are often known to turn on each other, what unites them is hostility to any notion of a material social contract, a hostility to spiritual arguments in favor of equality, and a hostility to, if you will, the integration and pluralism of different cultures, ethnicities, and worldviews. In November, this united hostility will find focus at the ballot box and will push the Republicans forward electorally. In the beltway, it finds focus in reactionary policymaking and, when that's not possible, the obstruction of the modest Democratic reformist agenda. In the mass media, it finds unity on the airwaves.

Some of the Tea Partiers' lack of a coherent vision for a better world has to do with the artificial, engineered nature of the "Tea Party Movement." Now before you accuse me of categorically labeling Tea Partiers astroturfers, without exception, I do not believe that's the case. There is a conservative rank and file--an amalgam of modestly wealthy folks, retired folks, unemployed folks, working class folks, and they're organizing--somewhere between 67,000 and 300,000 of them, by various estimates. Their anger and energy gives them power beyond their numbers. In the 1960s, the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyist group with at most a few thousand members, played a huge part in organizing opposition to the Vietnam War, in the civil rights struggles, and other social issues. Small groups can do big things. But while we should never ignore the rank and file, we have to analyze their political direction by examining their material benefactors. In this case, we know --and this is not a matter of opinion-- that the Tea Party activities are funded by fabulously wealthy individuals and businesses, filtered through groups like Freedomworks and Americans For Prosperity, and even supported by Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship. But while the monied class can fund, mobilize, set a context for, and even physically assemble hundreds or thousands of rank-and-file protesters, they can't be held responsible for the intense emotional munitions of the people you see at these demonstrations. People aren't just programmed. We respond to our conditions, and although we do so with the tools and environment we inherit, we have free will, and can define ourselves. Those people wouldn't be there if they didn't want to define themselves.

I believe the real reason I don't see that articulated vision of a better world has to do with the heartlessness that has taken over politics. Oh, it's always been there, but in the past heartlessness competed with heartful politics and social optimism, even among many conservatives. The history happening now may bear a resemblance to histories of the past, but there is a unique anger, cruelty, and heartlessness in the air. It is as if all the divisive agitation of the past, and uniquely post-racial racism of the present, and a profound lack of faith not only in the government, but in the people, by the people, has settled in our midst.

The Left is also capable of heartlessness, though in ways more nuanced than we can often tell. A lot of us make fun of the Tea Partiers without understanding how incredibly close they are to us--there but for fortune, perhaps. Perhaps we do know how close they are to us, and that's what bothers us about them. There is heartlessness among progressive, college-educated liberal elites, in the form of condescension towards those who don't really know any better. We play political sparring games, too, instead of articulating consistent and careful counter-visions.

And we're selective in our outrage, at least some of us are, frequently ignoring the corporate ties to the Democratic establishment. Or we go to the other extreme, like certain anti-war and ultra-left activists have done, and reject all reformism, all traditional political fora, and even fall in with conspiracy theorists who speak of Barack Obama with the same racially-tinged metaphors as the garbage we see on the right. It's because sometimes we just follow the hate track, because we feel like it's the only thing that's there, the only think that's possible, the only thing that makes us feel politically relevant. Where there should be critical solidarity among everyone, reformist or revolutionary, Democrat, Green, Anarchist, Socialist, etc., a way of both criticizing and engaging political institutions and each other, there is divisiveness, because divisiveness gives us the temporary illusion of power and relevance.

The solutions to destructive political divisions, the economics of a spoil system, legalized and semi-legal con jobs, racist violence, sexism, heterosexism, environmental devastation and military adventurism certainly require intelligence, objectivity, expertise, democratic participation, community-building, a whole range of technical and political solutions. But without a massive, confident reassertion of love, an acknowledgement of our interconnectedness and mutual dependence, and a celebration of the beauty of our vision, our potential, our universality, we will lack the will to fight for better policies and better communities.

We must believe we are worth it. I must believe you are worth it and you must believe I am worth it. The white worker in rural Pennsylvania must believe the black worker in Atlanta is worth it. They must see their sameness, and the evidence of that sameness is not always found in a logical argument, or a policy paper. But love can be forged when people sit down together, or fight together on a picket line, or learn about each other in a variety of ways that we can promulgate using any means necessary, and any media we have at our disposal.

We need to assert this love and solidarity with an energy that eclipses the energy of the Tea Partiers. We need to out-perform them. When they enact separatism and alienation, we have to do a better job enacting solidarity and love. Of course, that also means we must love them, and listen to them. I have seen more than one instance of that interaction working, planting seeds that could eventually sprout to better mutual understanding, at least for some people, and right now, that's better than nothing.

We need to be more sure of humanity's ability to make and reform political institutions than they are of humanity's depraved nature.  We need to be more confident of the availability of collective solutions to our challenges than they are paranoid of different-looking people taking away their freedom.

None of this will eliminate all the rudiments of hatred, nor convince those ensconced in privilege that they should share their excess. Nevertheless, the consistency and power of this message--equality, solidarity and universality--is absolutely necessary if we are to get past this angry, unreasonable, heartless, drain-circling un-philosophy that currently dominates political and economic life.  At the very least, we need to articulate that shared vision to cling together through this season of heartlessness.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Death Programs

According to Reuters, the insurance company WellPoint had a computer program that alerted them whenever one of their clients developed breast cancer. The diagnosis triggered an automatic "fraud" investigation into the patient to look for ways to drop coverage.

HT to Christy Harvey for linking to this.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


From Democracy In Action, this report, and a re-print of this open letter from U.S. soldiers to the people of the neighborhood in Iraq depicted in the "Collateral Murder" video: "Two soldiers from Bravo Company 2-16, the company depicted in the video, have written an open letter of apology to the Iraqis who were injured or lost loved ones during the attack that, these former soldiers say, is a regular occurrence in this war."
We are both soldiers who occupied your neighborhood for 14 months. Ethan McCord pulled your daughter and son from the van, and when doing so, saw the faces of his own children back home. Josh Stieber was in the same company but was not there that day, though he contributed to the your pain, and the pain of your community on many other occasions.

Worth reading in its entirety. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

thought for the weekend

We should be ashamed that America is a nation where poor defendants can get thrown in jail for 20 to life on capriciously harsh sentencing laws, but people like Don Blankenship escape prosecution for calculated acts culminating in mass death. His smarmy privilege should make us sick. And commit us to new political action.

CIA Boss Agreed to Destroy Torture Tape - The Daily Beast

CIA Boss Agreed to Destroy Torture Tape - The Daily Beast

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oklahoma GOP sells out the tea partiers

From Okla. GOP rebukes tea party 'militia' - Andy Barr -
In a phone interview, state GOP Chairman Gary Jones said the tea party activists are only talking about forming a militia because “they are trying to make themselves out to be bigger than they are.” A lot of these people don’t care about being the majority, they just want a megaphone. They want a voice,” the state GOP chairman said. “Once they get a reporter to cover a story they have a megaphone, and they get pretty loud.” Jones insisted that Oklahoma
Republicans will not follow this “small faction within the party.”

Standard contractual obligations apply

My university is paying Bill Ayers $5000 not to speak. I'd be happy not to speak for a cool $2000.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rightist Now Means Racist, from Intellectual Top to Bottom

National Review's John Derbyshire tells black law students they are biologically inferior.

This is important politically because the National Review is often seen as the "reasonable" organ of the intellectual right, its writers and editors held in higher esteem, more capable of participation in pluralist discourse than, say, Glenn Beck or Michael Savage. And here is a leading writer and editor for NR throwing down a racialist gauntlet at a time when we are hurling condemnation at lowbrow conservatism like racist Tea Partiers and armed right-wing, white militias.

Derbyshire's position represents the position of the conservative intelligentsia. So, you have the intelligentsia of the movement preaching biologically determined racial hierarchy, and you have the conservative lumpen preparing to engage in racist violence, and you have a whole lot of righties in between denying the racism of their positions, denying their personal racism, while using code words and catering to white supremacists through their defenses of Confederate History celebrations and other coded rituals and rhetorics.

Will anyone step forward to articulate and defend a non-racist conservatism? I might think the Libertarians would be so inclined, but unless their iconic representatives (Bob Barr, Ron Paul, those guys) were willing to issue even stronger mea culpas repudiating their past associations--really explaining why they went there, and why they're no longer there--the moral credibility of such distancing will seem weak and opportunistic.

The right really does have a race problem. Which conservative politicians and commentators will risk the circular firing squad to denounce it?

Dems' Image Drops to Record Low

Democratic Party Image Drops to Record Low

Some will say it's because they appear too radical (laughable considering their advancement of Nixon/Eisenhower-type centrist reforms, but the right has done a good job with its spin). Others will say it's because they aren't progressive enough to energize the base. I think both explanations might be correct.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Afghanistan and "our" foreign policy

Over at the Shared Sacrifice Facebook page, Gary posted an article detailing U.S. frustration with the Taliban's success in disrupting allied payoff schemes. 

I thought a lot about this, because in charting the course we've charted in the past two years, we independent, egalitarian progressives at Shared Sacrifice have been reserved in our recommendations, if not our judgments, concerning foreign policy, and even Afghanistan specifically.  But sometimes the "old left" conclusions are still the best ones. 

This is a situation where "we" the working people of the U.S. (and the world) have to separate ourselves, psychologically, politically, and rhetorically, from the ruling class. "Our" interests in Afghanistan must be made distinct from the interests of the ruling class. Some of those interests may converge and others will not. Most importantly, _we_ have to remember that we have more in common with the average citizens of Afghanistan than we have in common with our own ruling class. All of that thinking and remembering has to occur before we discuss what kind of policy options we should be pushing. For me, the conclusions point to military drawdown and massive development aid. I have zero sympathy for the fascistic elements in Afghanistan or elsewhere who use Islam as a tool of hatred, patriarchy and violence. I have zero sympathy for Karzai, the corrupt pointman in a network of drug dealing and gangsterism. But we need to remember that our ruling class is not above partnering murderous fundamentalists or drug-dealing gangsters if it suits them. All the more reason we have to chart an independent, egalitarian foreign policy vision that can inform our pragmatic political demands.

After thinking all that through, something else occurred to me.  It's typical of U.S. military policy to think that "winning hearts and minds" is equivalent to buying people off.  Not that resources are unimportant, obviously, but I am struck by the shallowness, the lack of real contextual thinking on the matter.  No wonder it's failing.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Islands tipping over and such

Regarding Representative Hank Johnson's speculation that Guam could capsize: 1. He's now saying it was either a metaphor or a joke but the clarification doesn't seem credible to me. 2. I want to back off ridiculing him because I didn't realize he was ill. 3. But he's running again and all joking aside, this kind of concerns me. Take some time off, sir.  4. It's not much worse than the argument made by right wing science-haters that CO2 is necessary for life. 

Bonus commentary:  Dumbest web site in the universe thus far: "Citizens Against Pro-Obama Media Bias."  Because there's just so much pro-Obama media bias.  It's overwhelming.  Dumbasses.