Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Minnesota State Shutdown

File this one under "Recovery Strategies: Failed." How do you justify putting more people out of work? It can only take an ideological hatred of government that puts some anarchists to shame.

Not that I'm a big fan either, mind you, of the parliamentary form of capitalist democracy. I'm much more of a hands-on kinda guy myself.

But the hypocrisy is sickening. Why the tax-or-cut fetish? Republicans are so set on "not raising taxes (for their rich backers)" that they'll shut down the government entirely?

To prove what, exactly? That we don't need building codes approved, or children educated, or highways paved? Or perhaps just that their rich backers can be made even more wealthy by stepping into these roles themselves, and charging extravagantly for the services.

Don't piss on my back and tell me it's raining. The GOP consistently runs a strategy of deception, blame-shift, and obstruction. The DFL, on the other hand, is relatively good-natured, if still much too constrained by in-the-box thinking and totally inept at handling the sheer batshittery of the Repubs. This is their fault, and the fault of an electoral and representative system that cannot represent everyday people, but of course everyday people, who are honest and eager to "contribute to society," get fucked because that society barely even belongs to them.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grand Illusion

" I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high- class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street, and the bankers. In short I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism."- Major General Smedley Butler, U.S.M.C.

Memorial Day is here and time once again to be unceasingly reminded that this day is not just about beer, BBQ, and having a party. Without fail some pious jackass will somberly point out that this day is to honor those who gave the Ultimate Sacrifice for all those freedoms you enjoy.
O.K., before we really get rolling in rant mode, let me point something out, particularly to you Professional Patriots out there, who wait eagerly to pounce on anyone who you perceive as " disrespecting the troops." This little post is not attacking the soldiers, Marines, airmen, or sailors who are currently serving, have served in the past, or became casualties in the many wars this country has fought. So just sit back and cool your your ass down. I know, I know- you really want to prove what a big ass American ( more like a nationalistic, neofascist cur, but more on that next time )you are and really give in to a bout of More Patriotic Than Thou shit- flinging indignation- but settle. It ain't happening. In fact I will take special pleasure in deleting any comments made by red, white and blue flag waving jingoistic assholes make on this post. This blog isn't a democracy- so don't bother.
So let's get to the problem I have with our two holidays honoring our people in military service ( the other being Veteran's Day, which used to be Armistice Day, a commemoration of the day World War One ended- but somber reflection on the cruelty and wastefulness of modern war was for pussy Europeans so we renamed it Veteran's Day ). First of all, there is something dishonest about the whole thing. On these days you get your average American asshole pimping out himself in " patriotic" wear. You know, he is going to respect the fallen and the maimed by stretching an t- shirt with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned on it over his beer gut. Over burgers and brats he may take a few seconds and get a beer induced tear in his eye as he thanks the troops for preserving his freedom. And then goes back to stuffing his fat face.
All right, now let's examine an uncomfortable truth. If you study the military history of the United States you will quickly become aware of the fact that most of the wars our military has fought has been not in the name of freedom but for the purpose of taking shit away from other people- their land, their rights, and their lives. Ask Native Americans in what way were they such a threat to the American way of life that they had to be virtually exterminated. Or the Filipinos who in 1898 were freed from Spanish rule- only to be attacked by the American Army when they had the temerity to declare their independence. Four years and 200,000+ corpses later the Philippines became America's only true colony.
A history of the banana wars is also educational in the application of freedom by our military. Haiti, Nicaragua,and the Dominican Republic, were all visited by the United States Navy and Marine Corps when the profits of a few wealthy owners of American fruit and sugar companies were threatened. The rebels in those countries were hardly a threat to the rights and liberties of the American citizen.
And how can one stand before the monument to the miners, their wives and children who were gunned down by the Colorado National Guard at Ludlow in 1914 and talk of how the U.S. military's primary purpose is to protect our freedom? Again, an unflinching look at our history shows that along with the Pinkertons, Uncle Sam's favorite strike breaker was the National Guard.
And the military is not shy about turning its bayonets on veterans either, when they defy the Establishment. General MacArthur did not hesitate to use the Army to shoot at veterans of the First World War who marched on Washington D.C. in 1932 to protest the non- payment of promised bonuses for their service.
In fact I can think of only four wars out of the many fought by our country in which the result was the protection of, or the expansion of liberty- The War Of Independence, The Civil War, The Second World War, and The Korean War ( can any of you Reds seriously tell me the South would be better off if it had fallen to Kim Il Sung's army in 1950? ). The rest were either outright acts of conquest or conquest with a little sugar to make it more palatable for our gullible citizenry.
Notice too that those four wars were fought by citizen- soldiers: volunteers in the Revolution, volunteers and conscripts in the others. But citizen- soldiers are not the best material for conquest. Their cause for fighting is largely tied to home. Send them overseas to a far- away land to fight in someone else's war and they begin to resent it. Conquest is the province of the professional military. The British had their Redcoats, we have what one journalist has called " Imperial Grunts".
Professional soldiers are rotten representatives of freedom. They exist in a highly structured world where there is no debate, no questioning of authority. Civilian society is held in contempt, whether it is that of the country being occupied or that of their homeland. The usual answer to a problem is to annihilate it- using reason is for pussies.
One of our grand illusions in this country is to pretend that the troops are fighting for our freedom, that if Afghanistan or Iraq was not occupied then a horde of jihadi would somehow swim across the ocean, past our Navy, and invade California. The real truth is that there are relatively few people who actually defend our country from nations that could actually launch a serious attack on us. These are the Air Force technicians sitting underground in bunkers maintaining the nuclear tipped ICBMs in their silos or sailors in submarines prowling the oceans, ready to retaliate against any nation that seriously posed a threat to us.
What about terrorists? As we have recently seen, a handful of elite fighting men can take care of them ( not having our ruling class create the conditions that breed terrorists would help too- more on that next time ). Special Forces have done more to eliminate terrorist threats than the thousands of conventional forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.
Face the facts. The grunts in the infantry, artillery, and armored forces are used these days by our ruling class like they were one hundred years ago. They are the instruments of an imperial policy, not the defenders of your freedom.
The expansion of American liberty has most often been the work of civilians, by ordinary citizens who stood up against the injustice of the elite. Your rights as a worker were not given to you by the military. The Civil Rights Movement was not a movement of soldiers or won at the point of a bayonet. Indeed, if you look back on the struggles of ordinary Americans to win basic human rights and dignity more often than not you will find the rifles of U.S. soldiers pointing at them.
P.S. I may be a bitter old bastard, but I do acknowledge some of the good the military services provide. Here's a short list:
1)The Coast Guard for their rescue work during natural disasters, especially during Hurricane Katrina when every other Federal service had its head up its ass.
2) The Army Corps Of Engineers, without whom the Mississippi River valley would be one big fuckin' lake every spring.
3) Finally, the GI Bill that provides the means for people to get into college who otherwise could not afford to go ( since I benefited personally from this one I am a little biased).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How many Parliamentarians does it take to screw together an industrial restoration?

Out of the "amorphous," "uncertain" Libyan rebellion rises a road-map towards parliamentary government. More opportunity to elucidate my own apocalyptic Marxist heresy.

Note how in the early days of the rebellion, the media was unable to articulate the "character" or "direction" of Gaddhafi's antagonists. It defied their paradigms. Some on "the left," including conventional Marxists, made a big deal of the early use of the pre-Gaddhafi monarchist flag (which has pretty much been adopted, it seems, now that the rebellion's leadership is developing into a "legitimate" institution). There are complaints that the leaders of the rebellion are too pro-Western, in bed with the imperialists, making deals with the devils, etc. etc. And clearly this is true. And clearly there are times when people's movements are all-to-eager to compromise, even when they have the upper hand (*cough*Wisconsin*cough*).

Other times, there just isn't the higher-level thinking prevalent enough to make and stick to reasoned, virtuous choices. (Funny, how in that photo, I can't make out a single black person, despite gathering outside a black President's home in a city that roughly half black.) You can argue all you want with people about the things they ought to know better about. It isn't that people are immutably evil. It's simply that sometimes they are just too engaged in the habit of ego to be good. Their capacity isn't any generally less.

Anyway, I digress; points about individual egoism is only circumstantial to Libyan "leaders" and their promise to make a conventional parliamentary government. In my experiences with "politicized" folks (approximately meaning in this context "folks who have become passionate about the socialization of enmity enough to 'do something' about it") most people gravitate towards (or rattle around between) one of three positions when it comes to leadership (perhaps more acutely "management" - so-called "leaders" whose function is to mystify through a process called "government"):

  1. High respect, and/or apologism for perceived bad policy. This is how liberals in the U.S. usually treat Democrats and how conservatives in the US treat Republicans.
  2. Moderate respect, and/or criticism or even hostility towards perceived bad policy. This is how liberals and conservatives in the U.S. generally feel towards their opposing parties; how conventional Marxists think of parliamentary politicians on the whole. This latter point is because, in my experience, conventional Marxists can't imagine an imminent reality that isn't governed by parliamentary procedure but they do want the formation of their own Party (a "working class" party) to take the helm of it (functionally restoring the industrialist paradigm).
  3. Nil respect and/or apathy and/or hostility towards leadership's existence and whatever institutions support them/enact their policies. Superficially, the whole gamut of anarchism fits in here - but I think there is room for something else, a creative anti-Parliamentarianism, an antagonistic philosophy that combs the social ruins of bureaucracy in decline and recombines the fluid constitution of what we once conceived of as concrete institutions.
The rebellion against Ghaddafi's eccentric, chaos-chronistic tyranny (unpacking it: this green-flagged government ostensibly linked "outdated" [the scare quotes of bourgeois perspective] tribal government with "advanced" [and the scare quotes of Vanguardist perspective! Look Ma, no hands!] people's council governments - by arbitrating past and future modes via cult of personality a la Stalinism or "third-world socialism") ... the rebellion against Ghaddafi's eccentric, chaos-chronistic tyranny ought to reveal to us the interstices between "forms" of "government."

The question that comes to mind: if a people can voluntarily enter into a war against a hated tyrant, "how much" government do they need? What is the purpose of "government" as we know it - "rule of law," as many Western politicians claim, or the negotiated slavery of populations, organized into classes, to an industrial mode of production? A mode of production whose harried, unresting, replicative logic extends beyond the control of any singular class or class alliance. A mode of production which blindly and mindlessly pillages the living and the dead and all the "useful" things of nature and leaves swaths of ruins and polluted wastelands in its wake?

an interim government would immediately take over to provide day-to-day governance and keep order, the Associated Press news agency reports.

It would comprise members from the NTC, technocrats from the Gaddafi regime, senior military and intelligence officers and a supreme court judge, he said.

A constitution would be drawn up and put to a referendum, followed a few months later by parliamentary and presidential elections.

What we see in Libya is a habitual surrender of the vital forces of rebellion to the industrial mode of government, which domesticates the human animal in order to turn the gears of the earth's mal-apportionment. Their instinct is to destroy that which oppresses them, but in doing so their only choices has been an alliance with the devil they don't know (yet).

But, precisely because of the unusual historic balance of powers that I described in my last post, more of that interstitial space has been revealed than might normally appear in "simple" (perhaps better explained as "previous") civil war scenarios. To glance a moment at our own Civil War (because I assume our readers are most familiar with that), the South adopted the old Articles of Confederation without batting an eye. Hell, it was a handful of property owners who went to the state governments to instigate secession - it wasn't a people's movement at all until the ruling powers capitalized on regional patriotism. It simply went from being states in the United States to being a Confederacy without a struggle for form in between. Those rulers had cohesion as an organized class.

These people, in a Libyan refugee camp across the border in Tunisia, are not represented by any "real" (parliamentary) government and might never be.

The Libyan rebels have slipped, however temporarily, through the cracks of the industrial mode, and these cracks are widening. There is very much a chance the "22-nation contact group" working with the transitional government can foster a parliamentary government and bring the rebellion under control, declare a revolution "complete," and integrate them all some way into the current world order. But as resources become scarce, as labor becomes redundant and what industrialization has deemed "work" becomes "scarce" and commodities, environments, modes of living become antagonistic to the survival of our species, more of these interstitial gaps will yawn open with less opportunity for "appropriate" re-incorporation.

Who will build the new infrastructure for millennial capitalism's catastrophic zones? Where will they get the resources? Who will pay for it? And who will benefit? Worse yet - how, in light of peak oil and capitalism's sociopathic waste of resources - how can it possibly be sustainable?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On Libya, ghosts, and the grinding balance of power.

The salvage and armament workshops of the Libyan Rebellion are not a conscious choice for "badassery," although that is certainly one easy (shallow) reading of it which a sympathetic audience informed by a particular kind of American ("Developed World"?) aesthetic could (will, does) make on first engagement. Something like this:

The theme of institutional collapse resonates with me. I see evidence of, I sympathize with, the post-industrial character of its teleology (christ, I hope I'm using that word right). I oppose dictatorships and blatant totalitarianism. Therefore, when these rebels whip a bunch of weapons together, I am inspired/entertained/thrilled.

Yet this isn't a case of life imitating art. It goes without saying that the rebels are not forging caltrops and cobbling armored trucks out of spare parts because they watched Mad Max or read any of Axler's Deathlands books and thought to themselves, "You know what would really take the wind out of Ghaddafi?..." It's proof of ... something resembling the converse, not "art imitating life" (certainly not "high art") but something along the lines of "tropes and memes and narrartives gaining recognition because of their realistic relationship with the characteristics of our time." It's about reflecting our attitude and understanding of what forces are in play, on the surface and underneath.

Libya might be seen as something like the first post-American war. While Iraq and Afghanistan were official operations of a desperate empire, and the mission creep conflicts in Pakistan and Yemen and elsewhere are a spreading transitional stain (culminating in bin Laden's capture, a hollow victory come much too late and at a high cost).... Libya has been a conflict for which the United States proper is much too busy and much too overstretched.

There were times when the U.S. would have been glad for an opportunity to swat Gaddfly, although he proved capable of playing his cards at opportune moments well enough to avoid too harsh conflict with The Cowboy and Co. But he and his country were never really priorities. The Superpowers of the Cold War could and did prop up the most necessary markets with dictators and take down the others through cold calculations. When America was a hyperpower it acted with still more impunity - hawks could argue this leverage was even wasted on "humanitarian" missions in countries like Iraq and Bosnia. 9/11 provided pretext to dispose the humanitarian approach that focused on crumbling countries and promote a more geopolitical strategy. Amidst these concerns Ghaddafi mattered very little.

A vortex of revolution.

Today one might think Libya would matter more to the United States, with the oil crisis and a Middle East more uproarious than any point in the last twenty years. There are interests to protect and promote. Yet the Obama administration is showing significant - and wise - constraint, electing to bust in the door but let NATO - France and Britain especially - sweep out the room and allowing the rebels to redecorate. That makes this an operation unlike any other in U.S. history. In its infancy, the U.S. was nearly at the mercy of the European powers, depending more on diplomacy to play one side off another while consolidating territory in the Americas. In the next period the United States openly pursued European-style imperialism, right down to owning colonies and conducting extra-territorial development projects, but differing in that after two World Wars the United States came out far ahead. At the beginning of the Cold War, post-imperial Europe depended on the United States to clean up its sloppy actions. After the USSR plummeted, the U.S. called on European powers to back it up or take on leading roles in volatile but less profitable crises.

Clearly one can read the current conflict in Libya as more of the latter. Or could - if it didn't happen within several broader historical contexts, of which I think three are decisive:

  • The "Arab Spring" and the failure of the Arabic dictators and terroristic jihadism to liberate and provide for the young generation or the populations in general.

  • Second, the inability and/or half-measures of neoliberalism (contemporary colonialism) to either a) incorporate these cultures and markets into the world economic order or b) continue to re-create/rejuvinate the existing oppressive orders and thus secure bargain-rate (globally competitive) exploitation from the native masses. Whereas b) is a trend that can be bypassed in the future by slaughter and destruction (resetting capital and labor), the self-determination of these markets in the global scene is not something neoliberalism wants nor encourages. Arabs beware: Western contractors have a hard-on for your wholesale catastrophes.

  • Third, a historic crisis of millennial capitalism - a term I use with malignant facetiousness, purposefully mocking the "new golden age" promised to us in the 1990s - a capitalism not only grown on the bones of neoliberalism and directed by the delusions of Western political egoism, but fed by the growth of the Internets and now starved of fattening credit. What we commonly call "the recession" ushered in this crisis, but in reality it is a watershed in economic decay. This form of capitalism goes out with a wimper, not the bang of the 1920s ... so far.
Libya's ragtag army illustrates particularly what is happening globally: a sort of conjoined wearing down of major global forces, with nothing waiting in the wings - no relief and no expectation of relief. NATO has not yet proven strong enough to oust Gaddhafi, nor is the United States prepared or willing to boot him forcibly. Gaddhafi is too weak to stay and too strong to leave (but not too strong to leave civilian targets alone, of course). His oil legacy and his mercenaries prop him up as artificially as NATO missiles and jets artificially clear the air for the ground-bound rebels. What happens to a war deprived of its decisive victories? Unless by the grace of Allah Gaddhafi is torpedoed sometime soon, we're about to find out.

My argument is that all around the world, in every government and in every social struggle, the whole balance of powers is on life support. No side of the antagonism clearly holds the power. Not in the case of Scott Walker vs. Wisconsin unions, where legalism has detoured either justice or tyranny into marshland courtrooms. Not in US/China trade relations, where devaluing the yuan remains necessary and impossible. Not a single traditional actor can act, and no traditional opponent retains the strength or street cred to pose a threat. Everyone seems to be in a race against time yet no one can move forward.

Scuffles certainly lie ahead - and by no means will I declare "decisive" victories a thing of the past. Yet the "decisive victory" over bin Laden also proves a divisive victory with the already-teetering Pakistan. Bold actions become fewer and far between because, unlike pre-Hiroshima Earth, post-Hiroshima Earth is all but incapable of World War. The atom bomb and worse still haunt our memory. I lay that scenario of ultimate nuclear annihilation to the side, here and in the future, because I want to believe it unlikely (we know better, there is limited prospect for conventional victory) and there's very little we can do collectively in the case it approaches that. (Except maybe turning to your Republican friends and saying, "I told you so.") (Nuclear terrorism and limited exchange are still very, very much in the scope of my analyses; in fact I would describe them as "almost inevitable.")

Without the mass destruction of capital and manipulated reconstruction, capitalism has to walk a very fine line. Too much reset and the situation could spiral out of control (for the individual actors as much as the species, thank god). Too little reset and profits plummet - you begin to *gulp* break even. Because anything approaching sustainability threatens growth, you can believe that not only is "green capitalism" predominately a PR hoax, you can also pretty much count out significant jobs programs that consider labor before the needs of business.

How long is the "fine line" itself sustainable? Isn't a balance of forces a good thing, something we should be thankful for after the long and bloody 20th century? Couldn't we, say, let the giant firms greenwash the polluters a lot in exchange for just a little energy efficiency, and blow up and rebuild terrorist hideouts so contractors generate some cash, and let the markets cycle Joe Stiffs through - you know, all for the sake of some rather 2000-2010-style dependability? Just to avoid all that gosh-darn insecurity that comes with too much conflict or not enough growth?

I think not, and for one very good reason that I humbly take zero credit in discovering: climate change.

Whereas humanity is becoming increasingly slow to act, it seems as though La Madre is sort of coming around. And her timing, from an anthrocentric perspective, couldn't be any worse. How long has it taken to recover from Hurricane Katrina? How long will it take to recover from the 100+ tornados that just whipped through the Midwest? NYC can't even figure out a monument to replace the Twin Towers from a man-made disaster 10 years ago and we're being asked, not as a city or nation, but as a species, to try to persevere against unusual weather patterns, and the awful effects of unconsciousable agricultural and industrial practices, and on top of that the "usual" shit, like the earthquake in Japan, which because of our haughty spread across the globe now have increased opportunities to hit us in vulnerable places simply because we have more vulnerable places than ever before and more disastrous consequences of being hit in each.

Add to that the fact that we have less and less of an idea where our gas, not to mention our food and water, is going to come from over the next 15-20 years. Not only do we, as a nation and as a species, have less of an ability to resolve our current problems, but those problems are only going to snowball and we have less of an ability to keep up.

Libya not only illustrates and hints at these trends, but it also shows the hope. It provides a snapshot of not, as Lenin once said, what is to be done, but instead what someday we will all have to do, in one fashion or another. Instead of bringing "new" products into production, which requires raw materials and fresh resources (preferably from a poorer neighbor), we can, should, and someday (if we're survivors) will - cannibalize, salvage, retool, repurpose. To illustrate another way, this process of reclaiming industry's product is to capitalism what necromancy would be to magic. To reinvest life into what has already been discarded. To find purpose in all the pointless doggerel of capitalism by rearranging it, now at no cost because, especially under duress, it has no exchange value.

And because, as capitalism insists is not true but as we know in our hearts, there is no real price on material things, and we enter into a contract with the earth as well as with our peers when we agree to use nature's bounty. All sociable nature, all rational humanity, detests the dictator, too, and the ghosts of labor that still abide in commodities can be cajoled into rising up and destroying such fiends, if we're willing to pay the price. This has been a long entry, but I want to end by saying that I hope that the Libyan rebels win their freedom against the tyrant who is equal or worse than bin Laden. And I hope in doing so they can point the way forward to all of us who yearn for the freedom to build our own lives out of the haunted scraps provided us.

Monday, May 2, 2011

No such victory exists.

With ter'rist mastermind Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden (formerly of the Saudi bin Laden family), founder of jihadist organization al-Qaeda and all-around reprehensible character, dead at last, nothing fundamentally changes.

The war in Afghanistan simmers on. The jerryrigged Iraqi government still sways like a house of cards. End of operations in Pakistan? Not bloody likely. The quagmire of conflict yawns ever wider and deeper. It will not end just because this one ghost has been dragged out and exorcised.

And it looks like cowboy justice. Special operatives descend - not into a cave on the AfPak border as the Bush Admin led us to believe, but a compound in a city north of Islamabad. There was no tribunal, no Gitmo, just a firefight and what we can only assume was an inconspicuous burial at sea. Even Nazis, considered history's worst, got the Nuremberg trials.

Bin Laden fought like a dog and got put down like a dog. But, like a diseased animal - and what is an evil human but a diseased animal? - I have only pity - but not contempt. Contempt for anyone is a hypocritical emotion: it ignores our common condition.

You see, this was never about justice: justice calls for a rule of law, for methodical investigation ... in short, those trappings of civilizedness the United States government increasingly treats as a luxury and not just abroad but at home, as well.

And this was never about closure for the most wounded people of New York, those who lost loved ones. Not only does more death fail to resurrect those who have been lost, nor sooth the greatest sort of pain we're capable of feeling, but it co-opts that tragedy into the very cycle of international violence that perpetuates precisely that suffering on people everywhere. Those people can or could only find their own closure, and God help them if they feel it in this sad old man's death.

Nor is this about closure for that other East Coast pain: the wounded pride of New Yorkers (and sadly many other American residents as well), the terror giving way to self-righteousness and indignation. Truly as if the personal members of the American beast, with their diffusion of responsibility for the animal's sins, should by the rules of karma always escape inevitable reprisal made manifest. And what, exactly, should absolve these unwitting citizens from the same coincidental shackles of every other victim of birthplace who lives in the shadow of violence all across the globe? Innocent populations are mowed down all the time, but only the United States Government has the power and pull to wreak vengeance no matter who has wronged it or where the guilty parties hide ... and bust down every door it pleases along the way.

Just because the privilege is unique to this government, does that mean it should not persecute these rabid animals? Who else is going to hold them accountable? No one else has the resources, or is willing to destabilize nuclear-empowered regimes like that of Pakistan in singleminded determination to neutralize rogue actors and create new bogeymen.

The grave of one threat, and/or the cradle of the next?

Power eats its own foundations. Action sows the seeds of entropy and failure. Osama bin Laden is not the first nor will he be the last to be quashed under the weight of a collapsing empire, a slow landslide that buries friend and foe alike.

Anyone who rejoices in the destruction of even one fiend would be wise to note you, too, stand within range of this fallout, and you will not be judged by innocent nor guilt - if you will be judged at all.