Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The International Goyish Conspiracy

It is time to recognize the existence of a diabolical conspiracy whose tentacles cover the globe: the INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY!

Some may scoff and disbelieve, but its existence is clear to all those who EDUCATE themselves and pay attention to world events. Have you ever paid attention to votes in the United Nations' General Assembly? There you can find perhaps the STRONGEST evidence of the existence of the International Goyish Conspiracy. The General Assembly will regularly vote on the Israeli government's actions. These votes are set up in such a way as to offer only two options: the just and fair choice, and the anti-Semitic* choice.

Take, for instance, the 2004 General Assembly vote on the International Court of Justice's decision condemning Israel's construction of a HOLY FENCE OF SAFETY FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN AND PROTECTION AGAINST DEMONIC EVIL in the West Bank. The International Goyish Conspiracy saw to it that 150 countries made the anti-Semitic choice, by supporting the decision of the PATENTLY anti-Semitic International Court of Justice. The only countries to have eluded the grasp of the INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY in this instance were the United States, Israel, Australia, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands.

(The International Court of Justice, remember, is composed of judges from the fair and knowledgeable United States, half anti-Semitic Britain, Arab-loving Russia, Arab-loving Madagascar, anti-Semitic Morocco, anti-Semitic Jordan, Arab-loving China, Arab-loving Sierra Leone, Arab-loving Venezuela, Arab-loving Japan, and five other anti-Semitic and Arab-loving countries. Not a single judge is from the only country on earth that G-d loves and cherishes above all others!)

Another strong piece of EVIDENCE demonstrating the INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY is the world's reaction to Israeli's present mission of peace and love in Gaza. Already, most of the world has condemned the Israeli Defense Forces. The tentacles of this conspiracy have reached into Africa, South America and even China.

If this was not evidence enough, world public opinion delivers the knockout blow. There is no argument against the INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY in the face of evidence of the opinions of common people throughout the world. The graph to the right clearly shows the grey/tan tentacles of the International Goyish Conspiracy's handiwork: the poisoning of the minds of the world's people to think that G-d's holy state is somehow "negative". From the world's most moderate Muslim country, Turkey, to the east Asian tigers like South Korea, the world has clearly been duped into thinking that Israel's treatment of the "Palestinians" is somehow bad.

The goyish forces of anti-Semitic propaganda have encircled the globe, and turned a clear morality story of a good, whiter and richer people defending itself from a bad, darker and poorer people into something else. Somehow, it seems the entire world - minus, of course, the United States and Israel - has been HOODWINKED, BAMBOOZLED AND TRICKED. Without any evidence whatsoever, the world's peoples seem to think that Israel is a nation where a religious fundamentalist minority and a chauvinistic, racist and/or just ignorant bare majority dominate government policy, leading the state to trample upon the "Palestinians" (that is, the goys currently living on the land G-d permanently deeded to His Chosen People).

(Don't forget, the International Goyish Conspiracy has recruited many Jewish collaborators, both in the United States and in Israel itself.)

The International Goyish Conspiracy has clouded the issue in the minds of the world's people. The goyish conspirators have underhandedly highlighted facts. Yes, facts - the last refuge of SCOUNDRELS! Facts such as that since 2000, Israelis have killed about 5,000 Palestinians, while Palestinians have killed about 1,000 Israelis (5:1 ratio); Israelis have killed over 1,000 Palestinian kids, while Palestinians have killed about 100 Israeli kids (10:1 ratio); Israelis hold nearly 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners, while Palestinians hold 1 Israeli political prisoner (11,000:1 ratio). There are many more such facts. Irrelevant facts.

As the cartoon below makes crystal clear, facts do not matter. What matters are INTENTIONS. Israelis intend to kill only BAD guys, while Palestinians intend to kill only INNOCENT GOOD guys. Therefore, as everyone who has not been taken in by the INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY knows, everything Israel does is good, and everything the Palestinians do is bad.If there were no goyish conspiracy poisoning the world, people would clearly see that if an Israeli F-16 bombs a university and kills a bunch of students, that's OK, but if a Palestinian fighter shoots a brave IDF solider, that's evil. Why? Basic logic, of course. Basic logic that is covered up by the black clouds of INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY PROPAGANDA! The Israeli air force MEANT to kill some extremist terrorists planning to kill Israeli women and children, while the Palestinian fighter MEANT to kill the soldier only as an afterthought, while hoping that the bullet would ricochet and hit an Israeli baby in a neonatal intensive care unit, severing its oxygen tube and starting a fire that would burn the hospital, killing hundreds of babies and old people, and spreading to the nearby pet store where cute Israeli puppies would also perish in the blaze.

I know that some people will call this a conspiracy theory. But before you take out your favorite weapon, Occam's Razor, allow me to use it myself. So you say that the true explanation for any given phenomenon will be the simplest, eh? Well, we can dismiss out of hand the simplistic explanation that most of the world's 6 billion people have come to the conclusion, after examining the facts, that the Israeli government is unscrupulously and illegally using its greater power to crush Palestinians and steal more of their territory. Theory dismissed; Q.E.D. What is still unexplained is why, outside of the U.S. and Israel, the dominant view of Israel is negative. Clearly, goyish conspiracy is the simplest explanation. Why would South Korea, for instance, have a negative view of Israel, what with Israel's far more sophisticated public relations capabilities compared to the Palestinians? For Chrissakes, Israel has spokespeople with impeccable British accents speaking for it, while Palestinian spokespeople interrupt every fourth word to emit an interminable, deep-throated "uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuh"! Israel has the United States on its side, the country whose culture dominates the world in the form of its food, music, movies and videogames; yet we are to believe that the Palestinians' Libyan allies are carrying the day all alone? Ridiculous! The only rational explanation is that a vast INTERNATIONAL GOYISH CONSPIRACY is brainwashing the globe.

As the correct application of Occam's Razor demonstrates, if you want to see a conspiracy theory, LOOK ELSEWHERE. Here's a real tin-hat, crazy nutcase conspiracy theory: that public opinion in the United States and Israel are just two modern examples in a long line of countries and kingdoms, from Britain to Greece to Japan to Spain, whose violent depredations and mass-murders were viewed as justified by the domestic population - and whose justifications have since been discarded by the judgment of history as shameful rationalizations for revolting barbarism and inhumanity.

*"Anti-Semitic" in the modern propagandistic sense of course, defined as "taking any position with which the Likud Party would disagree."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The ant and the grasshopper, squished

Back during the campaign season, I received an email with a modified version of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. The original fable is about an industrious ant, and a lazy grasshopper; during the summer the grasshopper lives it up while the ant slaves away at storing food. When winter hits, the grasshopper starves and the ant survives. The moral, of course, is that you must defer pleasure indefinitely and live life like a Calvinist, or else you will die. And the hero of the story is the ant, a species that lives in a weird sort of feudal slave-type of social organization: something Calvinists could support.

The Unitedstatesian version
The Canadian version
The British version (with squirrels - what the fuck? - they are Brits, whatever)
The Indian version
The Nepali version
The Maltese version
The South African version
The Australian version (again, with squirrels!)
The Pakistani version
The Singaporean version (watch out, it's actually clever)
The New Zealand version

There are probably many, many more, probably even in countries that were never part of the British empire.

The basic gist of all of these stories is this: leftists in every country are like grasshoppers whose desire for pleasure (in this case, the pleasure of helping one's fellow man avoid suffering) leads them to destroy the foundations of society - laissez faire capitalism - which ultimately makes everyone worse off. The only way to avoid this dire outcome is to take the example of the rightist ant, who (with great, if subdued, consternation of course) is willing to leave some to slave, suffer and die; but only for the exalted goal of ensuring that all do not perish.

The thing about these modified ant-and-grasshopper stories that would be hilarious - had their writers intended to use absurdity for comedic effect - is the assumption that the poor are poor because they are lazy. Such is not the case, and incontestably so. But the idea is so soothing to the consciences of those doing well in any given society, that reality has a tough time intruding and displacing the fiction. Another laugh riot about these stories is the idea that tampering with the status quo would be disastrous for society. As if most currently constituted societies were not already disastrous for wide swaths of the population. Perhaps this cartoon does the best job at updating the ant and grasshopper fable for modern times:

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Where you and George W. Bush agree - and why you shouldn't

Back in November, walking in midtown Manhattan on my way to a conference on securities regulation (entitled "how to unspill milk", eh?), I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled "Bush Defends Capitalism Ahead of G-20 Summit" . Some hours later the article was renamed to be more blah: "Trade, Jobs Data Paint Gloomy Picture Before Bush's G-20 Economic Summit" (for proof see the link at the bottom of this page). But the original title was better, because Bush's speech was a defense of capitalism - at least its Unitedstatesian variant. And I thought it was interesting because most of the Unitedstatesians I know, informed by deficient Unitedstatesian media, would agree with Bush's overall defense.

I had planned to write about it, but thankfully I had a life that weekend so I passed on the opportunity. Henry C.K. Liu just took it on (China and the Global Crisis and Part 2), and so thanks to him I can vicariously follow through on what I had originally hoped to do.

(First of all, here's a transcript of Bush's speechwriter's speech.)

Liu: "President Bush [gave a] self-absolving explanation of the global financial crisis:
'The massive inflow of foreign capital, combined with low interest rates, produced a period of easy credit. And that easy credit especially affected the housing market. Flush with cash, many lenders issued mortgages and many borrowers could not afford them. Financial institutions then purchased these loans, packaged them together, and converted them into complex securities designed to yield large returns. These securities were then purchased by investors and financial institutions in the United States and Europe and elsewhere - often with little analysis of their true underlying value.

The financial crisis was ignited when booming housing markets began to decline. As home values dropped, many borrowers defaulted on their mortgages, and institutions holding securities backed by those mortgages suffered serious losses. Because of outdated regulatory structures and poor risk management practices, many financial institutions in America and Europe were too highly leveraged. When capital ran short, many faced severe financial jeopardy. This led to high-profile failures of financial institutions in America and Europe, led to contractions and widespread anxiety - all of which contributed to sharp declines in the equity markets.

These developments have placed a heavy burden on hardworking people around the world. Stock market drops have eroded the value of retirement accounts and pension funds. The tightening of credit has made it harder for families to borrow money for cars or home improvements or education of the children. Businesses have found it harder to get loans to expand their operations and create jobs. Many nations have suffered job losses, and have serious concerns about the worsening economy. Developing nations have been hit hard as nervous investors have withdrawn their capital.'"
First of all, note that even liberal Unitedstatesians would agree with this narrative. The disagreements between the left and right in the U.S. on the correct narrative to weave about the global financial crisis are minor enough to be entirely absent from Bush's account. Back to Liu:

"Notwithstanding Bush's attempt to blame the victims for the crime, the easy credit was not caused by massive inflow of foreign capital. It was the other way around.

The massive inflow of foreign-owned capital denominated in dollars was caused by easy credit that grew out of monetary indulgence on the part of the US central bank, which alone can issue dollars. This monetary indulgence enabled the US to sustain a current account deficit with a capital account surplus of recycled dollars.

The US has been consuming more that it produces through recurring trade and fiscal deficits made possible by dollar hegemony, sucking up wealth form its trade partners who are not in any position to increase domestic consumption because real wealth has been exported to the US in return for fiat dollars that cannot be used in the domestic economy without causing inflation. "

In other words, U.S. debt has been the nation's number one export. But foreign investors have not been buying it because they think it's the smartest investment to make - although now investors the world over are buying U.S. debt simply because it is seemingly the safest investment in a toxic environment. But the lion's share of U.S. debt has been "bought" by foreign governments whose banks receive dollars for all of their exports that are denominated in dollars - which is an awful lot, as despite the success of the euro, the dollar still dominates international trade. So foreign governments typically use these dollars to buy U.S. debt, which has allowed the U.S. alone in the world to run enormous deficits without facing - thus far - an Argentina or South Korea style meltdown. Foreign governments could sell these dollars for their domestic currency, rather than buying U.S. debt, so as to use this form of wealth (U.S. dollars) they receive for their exports to serve domestic development. However, this would raise the value of their own currencies, thereby making their products less competitive in the world's largest market: the United States'.

Liu goes on, noting that Bush's commitment to free markets has been compromised by the financial crisis, and he has made socialist interventions into the economy, e.g., wholly and partially nationalizing banks.

"President Bush said with a straight face about his ideological surrender:
'We are faced with the prospect of a global meltdown. And so we've responded with bold measures. I'm a market-oriented guy, but not when I'm faced with the prospect of a global meltdown. At Saturday's [November 15] summit, we're going to review the effectiveness of our actions.

Here in the United States, we have taken unprecedented steps to boost liquidity, recapitalize financial institutions, guarantee most new debt issued by insured banks, and prevent the disorderly collapse of large, interconnected enterprises. These were historic actions taken necessary to make - necessary so that the economy would not melt down and affect millions of our fellow citizens.'
The 'market-oriented guy' is forced to temporarily change his orientation toward massive government intervention in the market until the prospect of a global meltdown is averted. Since August 2007, the 'unprecedented steps' the US has taken have so far failed to stabilize market seizure, price volatility and loss of confidence. Equity market value has fallen over 50%. Major financial institutions had to be nationalized or allowed to go bankrupt. Financial sectors in all market economies are moving closer toward total collapse by the day. "

So Bush's socialist interventions into the economy have not been working so far. As Bush said, "[t]his crisis did not develop overnight, and it's not going to be solved overnight." Liu agrees, conceding that it "is true that the crisis took over two decades of flawed policy to develop." And the economic ideology forming the basis of "over two decades of flawed policy" will not be displaced overnight. Bush, along with most educated Unitedstatesians, believes that capitalism is still the best economic system available and that socialist interventions (that is, government regulation) inevitably muck things up. Liu writes:

"Showing his ideological conceit, Bush asserts that 'free market capitalism is far more than economic theory. It is the engine of social mobility - the highway to the American Dream.' He cites technological inventions as evidence of his ideological fixation. It is true that the US socio-economic system has produced much that benefited mankind, yet inventions are not unique to US capitalism. Historically, inventions also were made under feudalism, communism and even fascism. Bush concludes that 'today, the success of the world's largest economies comes from their embrace of free markets'.

By now, a case can be easily made with solid evidence that the failure of the world's market economies comes from their indiscriminate embrace of unregulated free markets."

A corollary point Liu could have made is that the success of the world's largest economies has only recently come from their embrace of free markets. As economist Ha-Joon Chang has convincingly demonstrated, the success of today's free market-embracing economies is due to their embrace of protectionism as they developed, and their subsequent embrace of and proselytizing for free markets once they had developed sufficient advantages in production. In other words, countries embraced free economic competition at the point at which they could compete successfully.

Bush gets to the heart of the matter later in his speech:
"Ultimately, the best evidence for free-market capitalism is its performance compared to other economic systems. Free markets allowed Japan, an island with few natural resources, to recover from war and grow into the world's second largest economy. Free markets allowed South Korea to make itself into one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world. Free markets turned small areas like Singapore and Hong Kong and Taiwan and into global economic players. Today, the success of the worlds largest economies comes from their embrace of free markets.

Meanwhile, nations who have pursued other models have experienced devastating results. Soviet Communism starved millions, bankrupt an empire, and collapsed as decisively as the Berlin Wall. Cuba, once known for its vast fields of cane, is now forced to ration sugar, and while Iran sits atop giant oil reserves, its people cannot put enough gasoline in their cars. The record is unmistakable. If you seek economic growth, if you seek opportunity, if you seek social justice and human dignity, the free-market system is the way to go.

(APPALUSE) [sic] "
This is an exposition of the conventional Unitedstatesian wisdom that only a small minority on the left-right spectrum of public debate in the U.S. would disagree with. Should you?

  • "Free markets allowed Japan, an island with few natural resources, to recover from war and grow into the world's second largest economy." Nope. Japan followed a protectionist, imperialist form of development ever since the Meiji restoration crushed feudalism in the country and set it on a path of modernization, which included following the most successful examples in the world in terms of the military and economics: Europe and the United States. The economic portion of the example was characterized by state intervention and protectionism; only Britain, with the most advanced economy and powerful empire, preached (if not practiced) free markets at the time.
  • "Free markets allowed South Korea to make itself into one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world." There is a grain of truth in this: the freedom South Korean corporations had to export to the United States' market certainly helped the former's economic development. But it was the freedom South Korea had, as a U.S.-allied dictatorship bordering North Korea and "Red" China, to develop its economy using judicious measures of state planning and protectionism that was the key factor driving its advance to become "one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world." Needless to say that Chile, as one of many examples, did not enjoy the same freedom.
  • Free markets turned small areas like Singapore and Hong Kong and Taiwan and into global economic players." No they did not. Singapore and Hong Kong were turned into global economic players when Britain established them as trading posts in its empire. Taiwan was turned into a global economic player through incorporation into another empire: the Unitedstatesian empire. (Empires, by the way, are not reconcilable with "free markets".)
  • "Soviet Communism starved millions, bankrupt an empire, and collapsed as decisively as the Berlin Wall." Indeed millions starved during the Soviet period; and yes, the empire was critically weakened by its military expenditures so it did face bankruptcy in a sense; and it is a trivial truth that it collapsed "as decisively as the Berlin Wall." Poorly-designed, overconfident policies, droughts, and paranoid, disconnected leadership led millions to starve. Facing the brunt of the Nazi war machine did not help either. But what is overlooked in our era - after the Cold War era of communists vs. capitalists, where nothing each side had to say was worth a penny to the other - is that the Soviet system resulted in unprecedented economic growth that turned Russia from a barely post-feudal, war-ravaged backwater into a global economic powerhouse. The Soviet system built an empire. Bush only notes that the empire "Soviet Communism" built eventually collapsed. It was stifled first by its own violent birth and the resulting, but also ever-deepening, sense of paranoia pervading its leadership. Always the capitalists were plotting to overthrow the Russian people's revolution - and often, they were. And it spent too much of its social product on military expenditures, though given its enemy one can understand the pressures that resulted in this allocation. Furthermore the Soviet leadership's fear of foreign propaganda led it to choke off information flows to a detrimental extent. But it is an unjustifiably long hop from these ideas to the idea that government intervention into the economy is universally doomed to failure.
  • "Cuba, once known for its vast fields of cane, is now forced to ration sugar" Vast fields of cane - get it? Sounds like "vast fields of grain." Kudos to Bush's speechwriter. How romantic, those vast fields of cane, worked by slaves. Cuba rations a lot of things for different reasons. The reason sugar is rationed is not that it is rare in this island, "once known for its vast fields of cane"; Cuba produced 1.5 million tons of sugar this year. Regardless, is economic success measured by a reliance on exporting agricultural products? No. The U.S. economy would not allow for our vast fields of grain if it weren't for billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies. When the market sends the signal that your competitive advantage does not lie in agricultural products, that is universally recognized to be a good thing. Besides, Cuba's sugar industry has historically been used for a colonial or neocolonial master's use: Spain and the United States, respectively. It is neither a mark of pride nor an indication of Cuba's overall economic vitality. Nor is its decline such an indication. What is important is that Cuba's economy does a lot better for its people, by objective measures, than the economies of nearby Haiti, Jamaica or the Dominican Republic do for their respective peoples.
  • "[W]hile Iran sits atop giant oil reserves, its people cannot put enough gasoline in their cars." This is a puzzling statement, if you take Bush's words seriously. Because to the extent to which Iranians cannot put enough gasoline in their cars, it is due to market forces and U.S. economic pressure. Could Bush have been so brazenly hypocritical if he was conscious of it? Not likely. The price of oil being high, Iran chooses to milk it for all it is worth, especially because powerful foreigners are constricting other parts of its economy. Milking for all its worth means refusing to subsidize domestic consumption. And Bush certainly would be aghast at subsidies - subsidies that foreigners use, that is.
And the final affront to reality: "If you seek economic growth, if you seek opportunity, if you seek social justice and human dignity, the free-market system is the way to go." How would Bush, his speechwriter, or anyone else know? Where is there a country with social justice and human dignity, opportunity and economic growth?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Book review: How to Be Idle

Book review: How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

This book is a broadside against the insanity of capitalism; in particular the exploitation of workers, and the lives it utterly wrecks.

Quoted in a chapter discussing the insanity of the work world is Bertrand Russell's "In Praise of Idleness":

"Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?"

Robert Luis Stevenson's "An Apology for Idlers" is included at the end of the book, and it illustrates the humanism which is at the book's core:

"Extreme BUSYNESS, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality... There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they CANNOT be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them... To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man's soul were not to small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another... now the pipe is smoked out, the snuff-box empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being a Success in Life. ... Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things... The ends for which they give away their priceless youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought."

Hodgkinson fills his writing with penetrating anecdotes. From a chapter on sleep: "I see ads on the London Underground for energy drinks and pills which claim to provide wakefulness to the user. One current ad runs the line: 'Drained? You needn't be.' It claims that such 'daily fatigue' can be 'beaten' by taking little capsules containing various vitamins. You don't get ads on the Underground saying 'Tired? Then Sleep More'."

The latter is the kind of shit you only see in Cuba.

From a chapter on partying, Hodgkinson quotes the philosopher Theodor Adorno writing the most sensible thing I have read from the latter's keyboard: "If the satisfaction of instinctual urges is denied or postponed, they are rarely kept under reliable control, but are most of the time ready to break through if they find a chance. This readiness to break through is enhanced by the problematic nature of the rationality that recommends postponement of immediate wish-fulfillment for the sake of later complete and permanent gratifications."

From a chapter on conversation: "Ideas emerge in conversation and are embellished, improved, contradicted or torn apart by the assembled company. Friends will come up with anecdotes that either affirm or disprove some notion. One's ideas are developed, modified. They are taken down from the museum shelf, dusted and put on view. And their true worth is revealed: the diamond turns out to be a piece of glass, the dusty stone a rare fossil." Conversation is incredibly important not only for the individual but for society as a whole. But good conversation is hard to come by in a society where leisure time is a luxury.

From a chapter on the pub: "Fashion took the drinking culture and made the licensed establishment a place to be seen rather than a place to talk and think. In fact, in most of these places it's actually impossible to talk or to think as the banging techno is at ear-splitting volume. What looks like a 'buzz' from the outside is in fact a collection of half-drunk, lonely, insecure people trying to make themselves heard above the din. One becomes hoarse with shouting, and the conversation, such as it is, is punctuated by long periods of staring at the clientele simply because one can no longer be bothered to shout. I was once told that they reason for the high volume levels was profit: 'if you're not talking, you're drinking' was the theory. Commerce killed the pub."

On "The Death of Lunch": "Observing 1930s New York, Lin Yutang also complained that the speed of life was destroying the pleasure of eating. 'The tempo of modern life is such that we are giving less and less time and thought to the matter of cooking and feeding ... it is a pretty crazy life when one eats to work and does not work in order to eat.'"


In summation, as "G.K. Chesterton [a writer beloved by conservative Roman Catholics] put it in What's Wrong with the World (1910):
'The rich did literally turn the poor out of the old guest house on to the road, briefly telling them that it was the road of progress. They did literally force them into factories and the modern wage-slavery assuring them all the time that this was the only way to wealth and civilization.'"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bedbugs in Bratz

Toys of Misery Made in Abusive Chinese Sweatshops - May also be carrying Bed Bugs by the National Labor Committee

"Young workers in China who make holiday toys for Disney, Hasbro and RC2—including Bratz dolls—are suffering from a serious infestation of bed bugs in their dorms. Workers report that their bodies are often covered with red welts from the bug bites, which can easily become infected if the wounds are scratched. A leading entomologist at a major university confirmed to the National Labor Committee that it would be very possible for bed bugs to hitch a ride to the U.S., especially if they hid the cardboard toy boxes."

You've got to wonder about the sense of justice God has. She/He/It/They (or S.H.I.T. for short) does have a sense of justice, it's just skewed.

Like in this case for instance. Here Unitedstatesian and European parents are buying these cheap toys for their precious little children. They can afford to buy so many of them because the Chinese workers who make them work 96-hour weeks, are paid peanuts and cheated out of 40% of their already low wages, and sleep in horrid, bedbug-infested dorms. (Also the environmental degradation caused by OUR toys happens in THEIR country. Those polluting bastards!) The justice part is that now the bedbugs that attack the workers are hitching a ride in the toys to infest little Tommy and Jane's beds.

I see what You're doing S.H.I.T., but to better serve justice why couldn't You just eliminate the exploitative conditions instead of spreading bedbugs to pay back the rabid consumers whose demand for lots of cheap shit - no offense - occasioned the exploitation?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bomb bay and Hindoofascism

Who knows who did it - no one yet. The attackers might have been Pakistani Muslims, they might have been Indian Muslims... Or something else. They might not have been Muslim at all; perhaps it was a false flag operation run by the Hindu right, or, my favorite monniker, the Vedic Taliban. (My apologies to the Taliban, who don't literally idolize Hitler and Mussolini.)

The Vedic Taliban is an umbrella term for an alphabet soup of organizations sharing the common dream of a "Shining India" made rich and powerful by whatever economic ideology happens to be reigning and most politically advantageous at the moment. And, additionally, by ethnically cleansing the country of non-"Hindus" - a concept whose application is at least as stupid as the concept of "Aryan" is in application to Germans. My favorite organization in this alphabet soup is the unfortunately-named Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJ Party. Unfortunate, of course, for blowjobs, which do not deserve the association. (As in the cartoon, its logo is a lotus flower, and its favorite weapon for hoisting the fetuses cut out of pregnant Muslims post-gang rape is a trishul, or trident.) For a Unitedstatesian audience, perhaps the best name for the whole lot of them, from the BJ Party, to the RSS, to the VHP, is Hindoofascists. Unlike the "Islamofascists", for whom political philosophy ended when Allah sent the last page of the Quran floating down from heaven, Hindoofascists love them some newfangled thinkers like Mussolini. The Vedic Taliban also has a somewhat less than charming infatuation with Hitler. From a high school textbook in Hindoofascist state of Gujarat: "Hitler lent dignity and prestige to the German government within a short time by establishing a strong administrative set up. He created the vast state of Greater Germany. He adopted the policy of opposition towards the Jewish people and advocated the supremacy of the German race. He adopted a new economic policy and brought prosperity to Germany." And he had such nice things to say about Aryans - which the Hindoofascists consider themselves to be.

What with Hindoofascism such a strong force in India, you had better believe the Anti-Defamation League, with its mission to "secure justice and fair treatment to all" and to fight "all forms of bigotry", is all up in their Hindoofascist faces. Oops. Not so much. Guess when we say "Never Again!" we mean "never again will we allow Hitler in 1939 Germany to start a world war that resulted in... etc."

At any rate, if you look at who benefits most from this attack, it is clearly the Hindoofascists. They have an election coming up in a few months, and the BJ Party, with its troll-looking president LK Advani, is looking to win. I saw this troll on NDTV on the day of the attack; they had the feeble ghoul on for an eternity, yammering away like a crazy old patriarch on his deathbed, as if he were a Fox anchorman. An anchorman who will be milking the Bombay attack like a rBHT-enhanced cow udder for the next few months of the presidential campaign. Nothing like a little domestic terrorism to yolk the locals into voting for the right, and getting them to ignore the murderous poverty they'll continue to live... er, die... under during Hindoofascist BJ Party rule.

But bringing up the concept of "voting" might suggest to some that India is a democracy, as in, a functioning democracy, as in, a society where political power is shared equally by all. In reality, where the earth is round, India is a "democracy" only in the sense of a country where an uninformed, uneducated and overburdened electorate is swayed by political propaganda/advertising into voting for politicians whose only true loyalty is to the elite. Whose only true loyalty, in turn, is to enriching themselves at the expense of the poor and their land. Winston Churchill said that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. If he had taken a five-day trip through modern India, he might have changed his mind.

So the Indian government says, to no one's surprise, that the culprits were Pakistani Muslims. But when the Indian government speaks on responsibility for acts of terrorism, it speaks with all the credibility of Karl Rove giving an ethics seminar. Regardless, it seems that most Indians have bought this explanation. And it may well be true - it would certainly make some sense (Mumbai: Exporting Pakistan’s Resources by Gary Brecher). Besides, determining responsibility solely on the basis of who benefits most from an act is a misleadingly incomplete method of inquiry.

What is important at this point is not so much who did it - because we just do not know (As the Fires Die: The Terror of the Aftermath by Biju Mathew) - but what the response will be. And in a country where Viagra is accessible only to the rich, political commentators are urging the country to follow the example of an aroused penis, by engaging in a "hard" response, and avoiding being "soft". Where on the hard/soft spectrum the cushy-sounding "carpet bombing" falls I do not know, but it has been advocated as the proper treatment for Pakistan. As Mathew writes:

"The dead are on the floor. The vultures are moving in. The conjecture will try to unite the country into a series of unexamined positions. That POTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act - the Indian Patriot Act] must be recalled. That States must be allowed to pass even more draconian laws. That Hindu terror is not a big issue and must be forgotten for now - especially now that we may not find an honest policeman or woman to head the ATS [Anti-Terror Squad]. That the defense budget must go up. That the coastline must be secured.

None of the well educated masters of the media will write that the 7000 odd kilometer coastline cannot be protected - that all it will translate to is billions in contracts for all and sundry including Israeli and American consultants. Nobody will write that a hundred POTAs will not prevent a terror attack like this one; that Guantanamo Bay has not yielded a single break through. Nobody will write that higher defense budgets have been more often correlated with insecure and militarized lives for ordinary citizens. Nobody will write that almost without exception all of US post-9/11 policies have been disasters. Bin Laden is still around, I am told and so is the Al Qaeda. The number of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews have probably gone up over the last decade. So much for good policy. But the conjecture will go on.

The foreign hand and its internal partner will be floated without ever naming anything precise. But the country will read it just as it is meant to be read - Pakistan and the Indian Muslim. Everything will rest on the supposed confession of the one gunman who has been captured. A Pakistani from Faridkot, I am told. Why should we believe it? Didn't the same Indian State frame all the supposed accomplices in the Parliament attack case? Didn't the same Indian State claim that the assassins of Chattisinghpura were from across the border until that story fell apart? And more recently, didn't the same Indian State finally agree that all the accused in the Mecca Masjid bombings were actually innocent? And even if Mr. Assassin supposedly from Faridkot did say what he did say - why should we believe him? Why is it so difficult to believe that he has his lines ready and scripted? If he was willing to die for whatever cause he murdered for, then can he not lie? Oh the lie detector test - that completely discredited science that every militarized State trots out. And the media love the lie detector test because it is the best scientific garb you can give to conjecture.

I certainly don't know the truth. But I do know that there is more than enough reason for skepticism."


Most important to recognize amid all of this, is that the death toll of 195 in these attacks was small change for India. This is terrifyingly vulgar to say; but more relevantly, true. India grinds through 6,000 children's lives every day due just to hunger; and these are just kids. Adults, as you might imagine, needlessly die too. Fuck, if Bombay was following the annual average from 2002-2003, it would take just two weeks for the Bombay train system to kill as many people as died in these attacks. But what makes these attacks such a big deal is that these weren't just a bunch of Adivasis (also known as "tribals" in India) dying out in the countryside. A good number of the victims of this attack were rich enough to afford a night's stay at the Taj or Oberoi, which costs more than two years' wages for the vast majority of Indians. (Praise be to the Free Market!) This, and the fact that the attack can be used as a pretext for war against Pakistan or (more) pogroms against Indian Muslims, means that the victims were actually important. To a Hindoofascist, after all, to be that rich one must have been saintlier than Nathuram Godse, Ghandi's Hindoofascist assassin, in one's previous life.

So now, according to leading intellectuals in New Delhi and Bollywood, Pakistan and Muslims must pay. Which is why the tragedy of of "26/11" has yet to begin.

Sterling dumbfuck Fareed Zakaria recently wrote:

"I think India is showing remarkable resilience. They're trying to get back to business as usual. They were planning to open the stock market, which is not far from the Taj; they ultimately decided that that might have been a bridge too far, but they're encouraging people to go back to work. That's the best thing about an open society. They're trying to project an image of resilience."

To which an intelligent observer responded:

"Remember the Republocrat resilience rhetoric?

What else can you do? What else especially the subcontinent's working poor and middle class can do? From New York, I called my sister and nephew in Mumbai on the morning after the terror strike. Both of them work in the private sector, one as a receptionist, and other as a junior computer professional. Both of them told me that their companies had not called them yet not to come to work, even though it was extremely dangerous to go out and even in Mumbai where the subway is the lifeline of millions of commuters, it was all but shut down. Resilience? Of course, my sister and nephew must go back to work and 'show courage' to stand up against those ghastly cowardice forces. Or else, Zakaria must know, the private sector would show them the door.

Welcome to the globalized, neo-liberal, Wall Street-modeled world, India being at its forefront, along with its corrupt, criminals and crooks."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dear Barack,

A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal has it that your administration's foreign policy will be defined, at least initially, by U.S. policy towards Indonesia. The Journal goes on to recommend that you reject change and uphold the status quo U.S. foreign policy, which the Journal in its innocence of the lives (and deaths) of the world's poor thinks is wise counsel. It is not.

This country, to say nothing of the world, will swiftly take back all of the goodwill it has so generously lent you thus far, if you kick hope and change to the gutter and carry on the traditional U.S. foreign policy that has always been selfish, ignorant and malevolent (only in practice, rarely if ever in intent).

Send a clear message, via Indonesia, that the U.S. will no longer associate with thugs and goons in fancy military and business attire. Even when doing so will mean a loss of business activity or military influence.

You can bring the U.S. one step closer to having a foreign policy founded on justice, rather than narrow pecuniary interest. That step is your policy towards Indonesia.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Book review: The Dialectics of Globalization: Economic and Political Conflict in a Transnational World

The Dialectics of Globalization: Economic and Political Conflict in a Transnational World by Jerry Harris

This book is basically Tom Friedman's The World is Flat - just without the idiocy. Harris' main thrust is that the traditional view of political economy, that views nations and their industries in competition with each other for global dominance, is no longer valid. Globalization has created an international economic elite, or "transnational capitalist class" (TCC), whose interests differ from those of the capitalist class - really classes - of history, which were divided by national boundaries. In the past, capitalists in Britain and France and other countries sought to "'establish the largest possible economic territory[,] to close this territory to foreign competition by a wall of protective tariffs, and consequently ... to reserve it as an area of exploitation for the national monopolistic combinations'" (in the words of Austrian economist Rudolf Hilferding).

But not anymore. "The new character of world trade ... [is] transnationalization. Between one-third and two-thirds of world trade is now conducted as intra-firm trade, a clear commercial expression of globalized production." De jure imperialism is dead, and now it makes little sense to speak of economic elites who work towards expanding their nation's territory, so they can profit within the safety of protectionist barriers to foreign competition. Today there is an transnational economic elite whose opportunities for profit cross national boundaries - as do their loyalties. The tendency of businessmen Jacques Hébert wrote about in the 18th century is even more visible today: "Everywhere and at all times men of commerce have had neither heart nor soul; their cash-box is their God. ... They traffic in all things, even human flesh. ... Their country? Foutre! Business men have no country."

The problem with neoliberalism, the ideology championed and implemented by the TCC, is that it does not provide the bread and circuses for the poor saps at home. Back in the days of de jure imperialism, plundered wealth from abroad would pay for the bread and circuses that kept exploited classes at home from upsetting the power structure. As Cecil Rhodes wrote in 1895, "'I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for 'bread, bread,' and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism... in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands... The Empire, as I have always said is a bread and butter issue. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.'" Today's capitalism does not allow for the 'wild speeches' of the unemployed to be quieted by bread paid for through the exploitation of 'new lands'. "Neoliberal globalization is a different kind of project. It is a class-based project without a broad-based national strategy. Instead of an expanding middle class and improving conditions for the working class we see a shrinking middle class and growing unrest. Public schools are underfunded and falling apart, health care is expensive and being privatized, wages have fallen or stagnated for 80 percent of the working population, job insecurity is growing, the prison population is expanding, and large sections of the minority community are cast into deepening poverty with welfare harder to get. Globalization is not a project that enriches the nation, rather it limits the social contract to a shrinking base of highly skilled workers mainly situated in information technology. A world surplus of cheap labor and open markets has undercut the need for broader social entitlements. The result is the elimination of economic nationalism as the basis for social inclusion in the modern nation/state."

Hence, the dissent that erupts even in the first world today.

The transnational capitalist class (TCC) Harris writes about is not ideologically homogeneous (thank god); and his explanation of their differences is enlightening. In the U.S., it is easy to see how these differences play out. As Gore Vidal is fond of saying, the U.S. has a one party system; it features the property party with its two wings, Democratic and Republican. Harris would put it this way: there is one TCC, or globalist, party with two wings: Republicans correspond with the free-market conservative wing, and the Democrats correspond with the Third Way wing. Harris writes: "To better understand the politics of globalization we need to examine the tactical and strategic issues that generated divisions in the TCC. These started before Seattle and continue to plague the TCC as events change and develop. The globalist ruling bloc developed three main groups or factions: the free-market conservatives, the structuralists, and the regulationists. The debates at the summits of power in global society do not correspond to the familiar political categories of the pre-globalization era. The distinct positions of these factions have less to do with narrow economic-corporate interests than with strategic political issues of class rule. Foremost is the question of how best to structure the new global economy, achieve world order, and assure the long-term stability and reproduction of the system.
In a nutshell, the free-market conservatives call for the complete freedom of capital based on an undiluted version of the Washington Consensus. The structuralists want a global superstructure that can provide stability to the volatile world financial system, adjusting the Washington Consensus without interfering with the global economy; and the regulationists call for a broader global regulatory apparatus and institutional power that could stabilize the financial system as well as mediate some of the sharpest social contradictions of global capitalism in the interests of securing political stability. Eventually both the regulationists and structuralists positions merged to created [sic] a post-Washington Consensus known as the Third Way. This important faction held some neo-Keynesian concerns about education, health and the social well being of society. But they never questioned the basic prerogatives of transnational capital or free market ideology. A more fully developed neo-Keynesian globalism emerged only after some of the sharpest critics of the Washington Consensus began to understand the shallow character of Third Way reforms. In addition, a powerful bloc of Southern globalists arose with what has been called the Beijing Consensus..."

"[Battles within the World Bank between Joseph Stiglitz and Lawrence Summers] over Third Way direction led to a separate policy orientation by a neo-Keynesian wing. Stephen Roach, the chief economist of Morgan Stanley Dean Whitter became a consistent critic of 'slash-and-burn' neoliberalism and predicted an inevitable worker backlash as a by-product 'of an era that has squeezed labour and yet rewarded shareholders beyond their wildest dreams.' Ricardo Hausman, chief economist of the Inter-American Development Bank warned that, 'Emerging markets are not merely investment opportunities[;] they are entire nations with families, firms, and political systems" and that a rebellion against market-oriented reforms was sure to develop. MIT economist Paul Krugman declared, 'Why did I become a radical? I didn't want to be. But we are in a trap.'
Dani Rodrik ... writes, 'After more than two decades of application of neoliberal economic policies in the developing world, we are in a position to pass unequivocal judgment on their record. The picture is not pretty.' Rodrik criticizes the 'worsening income inequalities in most of the countries that have adopted the Washington Consensus,' higher poverty rates and the painful financial failures in a dozen countries. 'The few instances of success have taken place in countries that have marched to their own drummers...China, Viet-Nam, India...which have violated virtually all the rules in the neoliberal guidebook.'"

In summary, in the TCC there is a free-market conservative wing (whose ideological legitimacy is sure to be decimated by the financial crisis), and a Third Way wing split into neo-Keynesians like Stiglitz and structuralists like Summers.

So how is the transnational capitalist class doing at running the world economy? Well... it's not working out too well. But the blatantly obvious reasons for the troubles have not made it through many skulls, filled as they are with the fantasy world of neoclassical economics. Just as a witch doctor believes in angels and demons that influence and shape what happens in the world, neoclassical economists and their followers believe in invisible forces that underly the world economy, and like Alan Greenspan, are "shocked", shocked when they discover that the reality of these forces is actually quite a bit doubtful.

The situation is grim for global capitalism as currently constituted. Germany provides a good example of the problem all OECD countries face: a decline in economic growth and private sector investment. "Of course private investment has gone abroad, yet transnational capitalists continue to blame high wages and welfare for stagnation even as they worry about weakening consumer markets" - though today the Europeans and the Chinese seem to be beginning to recognize that this is not the problem. "The internal logic of transnational capitalism remains in force because of global competition. After all, why invest in Germany when low-age countries like Poland, China and Mexico are hungry for jobs? Their only answer is to destroy the economic model linked to the previous social structure of national accumulation. These changes are underlined by the expansion of the EU to Eastern Europe with their attractive low wage and tax structures. Even Austria has moved to cut their corporate tax rates and labor protection laws attracting high-profile defections from Germany. While workers continue to protest offshoring, Germany's six top economic institutes warned against political moves that would deprive businesses of tax advantages and 'reduce the productivity gains afforded by specialization within the international division of labour.' The global organization of labor expands low-wage manufacturing abroad creating greater unemployment and underconsumption at home resulting in a glut of overproduction on a world scale. In turn, this propels the demand for cheaper labor and longer hours to create a competitive labour market in Germany, and somehow all this is supposed to lead to a renewal of a vigorous consumer market."

In other words, the first world is being squeezed in a pincer action. Unless out of technical necessity, no one wants to build factories in a rich country where the cost of labor is high, so factories are built in poor countries where a larger profit can be made due to the differential in the cost of labor. But the cost of labor is also the strength of the market - one company's employee is all other companies' consumer. So the company that offshores production to poor countries still has to sell in the rich countries, and the cumulative effect of offshoring production is to reduce the ability of rich countries' markets to consume. Until recently, rich countries like the U.S. and Britain were consuming at full tilt thanks to the mercy of credit. But credit's hard to come by now, and its return is far on the horizon.

Harris also provides an antidote to the kind of know-nothing drivel Tom Friedman likes to spout about India, noting that India's much-trumpeted IT sector employs only one million out of 1.1 billion people. The majority of India's population hasn't met with the friendly side of globalization; farmers especially. "[R]eforming the agricultural sector to fit the global economy will cause widespread displacement of small farmers that dominate the countryside. India has subsidized local food production to insure supplies for their population, and about 58 percent of the national workforce is still on the land. Only 40 percent of India's farmland is irrigated with little mechanization and few large-scale farms, and the World Bank estimates that India accounts for 40 percent of the world's poor living on less than a dollar a day. Increasing agricultural productivity eventually means larger farms, more machines and diversification of crops to serve the international food market. Such reforms would throw millions off the land and into the cities. But the industrial sector and infrastructure simply don't have the ability to absorb such a massive structural shift. Unless the Congress Party and its left allies can devise a different strategy it is doubtful they will be able to avoid future political upheavals from the mass of poor peasants. Unlike China's radical rural revolution that swept away old feudal relations, India's countryside is still dominated by landlords who stand in the way of development. Mao's revolution actually cleared the path for modernization, a huge task still faced by India's rural population. In India there are 250 million peasants making less than $1 a day, the world's largest child labor force, and an armed Maoist insurgency that covers 25 percent of the national territory." Remember reading those facts in Tom Friedman's book? No? Don't worry, there's no problem with your memory.

But if global capitalism has been harsh on third world countries, it is starting to cast its chill on the first world as well - even in countries whose implementation of capitalism tended to be a lot easier on their people. "Europe, Japan, and the US have developed three models of Northern capitalism. But unlike the US, the European and Japanese models developed through historic compromise with non-capitalist forces. The social-democratic model in Europe was forced upon the capitalists by socialist political parties and a class conscious trade union movement. The resulting European welfare state was a temporary historic compromise forced on capitalism by its industrial age opposition. Japanese style capitalism developed out of the Asian statist form of agrarian society in which there was collective responsibilities within the social hierarchy. These patterns carried over to state-sponsored capitalism and translated into corporate commitments to job security and other social benefits. The historic compromise was with pre-capitalist social obligations.

In the US agrarian statism never existed and the socialist opposition was never as strong as in Europe. US capitalism was able to develop more rapidly with less social restraints towards a pure market culture. As globalization develops it allows the European and Japanese capitalist to jettison their historic compromises and move towards a more fundamental and pure form of capitalism. A capitalism freed from historic restraints and free to exhibit all of its natural tendencies towards naked materialism and competition at all levels of society. But these are not particularly American values, rather this is the culture of capitalism that is being universalized through globalization."

And this culture of capitalism has always been hard on the majority of people within the system: those on the bottom, or more accurately, those not on the top. It's just that in the past, the majority of those "not at the top" were in far off colonial possessions, whereas now more than ever, this category comprises a majority of people within first world countries. The culture of capitalism is not changing, it is just that its dark side is being experienced more and more in the first world. "After all, where was the social democratic nature of European capital in the Third World or Japanese social obligations in its Asian empire? Think of the British in India, French in Algeria, or Japanese in Korea. How rapidly the human face of capital disappeared revealing its truer spirit once it left its home shores. Now globalization frees European and Japanese capital to follow their natural impulses and logic at home. Does the character of Shell Oil in Nigeria somehow magically change when it operates in Britain? With globalization the specter of capitalism in the Third World can now haunt the developed countries."

This, along with the fact that nationalist economic polices are nearly impossible to implement in a transnationalized economy, is the silver lining in the cloud that is the global economy di merda. Nationalist trade wars make a lot less sense when corporations don't have much of a national identity. After all, what is the appropriate protectionist policy when the corporations listed in your country have the majority of their holdings and sales overseas? And although Einstein warned against underestimating the power of human stupidity, one would think that the ecological and economic ruin currently-constituted capitalism is wreaking upon the world would spur humanity to devise a better system. Unfortunately, for the time being, the world economy is run by the merchant class - not a class of scholars by any means. In the philosophy of Confucius, this makes our present world system an absolute, upside-down nightmare. Time will tell if we manage to wake up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dear Barack,

Stand true to your campaign promises for a expedited withdrawal from Iraq. Give Bob Gates the boot. Explaining your decision is easy as pie: "We preach democracy, and we practice it too. The majority of Americans want an end to the war, and to bring our troops home. I will follow their will. The Iraqi people want an end to the war, and the withdrawal of foreign troops. They too will see their democratic will implemented."

Also, support the Fair Elections Now Act. Lessen campaigns' reliance on political propaganda - television and radio ads - that they must shake down wealthy interests to fund. This goes hand in hand with media reform: the populace desperately needs a media whose function is not profitmaking, but to disseminate knowledge upon which decisions can be made. James Madison wrote that "a popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both." We live in both a farce and a tragedy; now, let us write the postscript.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Help wanted

Dear Barack,

What is going on with your appointment of advisers and subordinates - or at least the rumors about whom you will appoint?

Supporter of the Israeli rightwing fringe Rahm Emauel!?

Supporter of the Hindu fascist movement, or "Vedic Taliban", Sonal Shah!?

Eviscerator of civil liberties Jane Harman!?

Ideologue of a patently and proven-to-be false economic theory Robert Ruben, and implementer of that theory (leading to great destruction in Eastern Europe and Russia) Lawrence Summers!?

War criminal (as history will view him; remember, history will not be written by an American proponent of today's conventional wisdom) Robert Gates!?

Pro-Middle East destabilization, anti-Palestinian (hence anti-the-views-on-the-conflict-held-by-95%-of-the-world) Dennis Ross!?

Change and hope, eh? Say it ain't so, Barack, please say it ain't so.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rough Draft of My Speech at Nuremberg - Why I Supported Obama

I'm supporting Barack Obama, if only because he's younger and has been in Unitedstatesian politics for less time, and so has not been doing Satan's work for quite as long as McCain. It also helps soothe my conscience that he isn't a war criminal, guilty of gruesomely murdering a minimum of dozens of men, women and children in Vietnam. Maybe, just maybe, if Obama is elected, he'll be ideologically unmoored enough to be pushed by popular pressure (should that ever materialize) away from the fellatio he's been vigorously performing on Satan, for just long enough to do some good - before the assassin's bullet cuts him down, of course.

But let me first tackle the primary non-reason why I am supporting Obama: race. Many of his supporters are ecstatic at the thought that a Black man (in the Unitedstatesian idea of "race," one of two parents of African ancestry makes one "Black" - one of six parents and grandparents being of African ancestry might make one "Black" or "mixed") has a serious chance of winning the presidency. This they like because it makes the United States look better in their eyes. And yes, no doubt, the country has come a long way in its treatment of ethnic minorities.

It used to be, in New York as in many other places in the country, that Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews were known as 'white niggers' and occupied the lowest rung on the societal ladder, along with Blacks. Yeah, it's kind of nice in a way when JFK showed that even a 'papist' 'mick' could become president, but I doubt that there were too many Vietnamese thinking at the time: "Gee, sure is nice that a member of an ethnic minority that used to be oppressed by the WASP ruling class in the United States is now President. That makes me feel better about the napalm burning alive the members of my village and the American soldiers raping the women in my family." I don't think too many Mozambicans ever said "you know what takes the sting out of having our children kidnapped and turned into child soldiers by a CIA-supported army, is the fact that Jews and Italians have overcome institutional barriers in U.S. society to occupy some of its leading positions." Nor does it seem likely that the dying thought of an Iraqi/Lebanese/Palestinian child, after being slowly suffocated under the weight of what used to be his/her house after being hit by a Unitedstatesian bomb, was ever "there is at least some consolation in the fact that senior members of the U.S. administration are members of long-oppressed minorities: Blacks, women, LGBT people and Latinos." Or, to take a more distant example from a century ago: while hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were being killed during the U.S. invasion and occupation, which Filipino thought to himself, that "the massacre of my neighbors and family would almost be bearable if only it weren't for the fact that blacks, Chinese, Latinos, Native Americans, Eastern and Southern Europeans, Jews, etc., are being oppressed right now in the U.S.A.; it would be a great comfort in the face of my people's genocide if that weren't so"? Likewise, if Obama ever follows through on his anti-Iranian tough talk, I wager that we won't find many dead Iranian bodies with smiles on (what's left) of their faces, evidently relieved at the thought that the U.S. President who ordered their murder has a Black father.

Point being, it is undeniably a good thing that some members of some oppressed ethnic minority groups in the U.S. have improved their lot somewhat. But it fades into absolute insignificance next to the horrific barbarity the U.S. government may very well continue to engage in an Obama presidency.

Speaking of horrific barbarity, the guy who will win if Obama loses has some first-hand, active rather than passive, experience in this department. John McCain, in his own words, is "guilty of war crimes against the Vietnamese people. I intentionally bombed women and children." Lest this confession be mistaken for a first step towards repenting for his war crimes (the second step being committing seppukku, without an agony-ending swordsman at the ready), it should be noted that these words, according to McCain, are what his Vietnamese torturers forced out of him, not what he admitted to be true.

Yes, his Vietnamese captors ordered McCain to confess to bombing women and children - and all because he did bomb women and children. While McCain would probably consider it evidence of martial valor if he did, he of course did not bring all of the estimated 3-4 million Vietnamese noncombatants (as if the murder of combatants defending their country is any less odious) to their violent deaths: deaths assortedly instant, mercifully short, slow by suffocation due to rubble or blood, slow by loss of blood, slow by shrapnel-penetrated organ failure, and slow by serious burn wounds. Yet over the course of his twenty-three bombing runs in Vietnam, he certainly killed many. It doesn't tax the imagination to think that a president McCain would almost certainly be more likely than Obama to send Unitedstatesians around the world to meet many exotic people, and kill them.

So one reason to support Obama is that a win for him is a loss for McCain. However, there is one nearly convincing argument that a McCain win would be a good thing for the world.

The U.S. government under Bush has finally been realized to be a great force for violence and theft in the world by the majority of its inhabitants, except perhaps in seriously benighted parts of the globe, like Albania, (formerly) Georgia (state and country), and India. Even Unitedstatesians and Israelis, while not comprehending the violence and theft part, at least look upon the Bush-led Unitedstatesian government with dissatisfaction. This is a major accomplishment. Add to that, of course, the overstretching of the Unitedstatesian military to the point that even a newly-nuclear DPRK - or the old standby, democratically-elected Latin American leftists - can't provoke its use to kill a bunch of Koreans and Central and South Americans.

Bush has also overseen the near-destruction of the U.S.-dominated international economic system, and the possible unseating of the U.S. and its dollar from the throne of international economic hegemony. These are relatively large steps towards a world free of the mass murder and exploitation that have been the means by which the U.S. government has successfully achieved its ends. Hey: destroying trillions of dollars of wealth, which is property - which is theft - is a goal any true leftist should aspire to. Bush did it, and McCain is likely to carry on his legacy.

As the argument goes, a McCain win would hasten the downfall of the U.S., thereby making the world a better place. Perhaps. But I'd want to ask permission from some Iranians, Russians, Koreans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Cubans, Zimbabweans, etc., first before supporting McCain, or even not working to make him lose.

Unfortunately, the only person who can make McCain lose the election is Obama.

I fear that Paul Street is accurate in calling Obama an "authoritarian corporate-imperial insider ... a relentless ideological triangulator, a clever racial accommodator and political opportunist." And while I fervently hope it to be true, I suspect the pseudonymous Spengler, writing in Asia Times Online, is a bit too fantastic in writing:

"Obama profiles Americans the way anthropologists interact with primitive peoples. He holds his own view in reserve and emphatically draws out the feelings of others; that is how friends and colleagues describe his modus operandi since his days at the Harvard Law Review, through his years as a community activist in Chicago, and in national politics. Anthropologists, though, proceed from resentment against the devouring culture of America and sympathy with the endangered cultures of the primitive world. Obama inverts the anthropological model: he applies the tools of cultural manipulation out of resentment against America. The probable next president of the United States is a mother's revenge against the America she despised. ... [A mother who] brought the six-year-old Barack into the kitchen of anti-colonialist outrage [in post-'67 Indonesia], immediate [sic] following one of the worst episodes of civil violence in post-war history."

One-upping Spengler, many right-leaning Unitedstatesians are actually fearful that, despite his campaign-trail rhetoric and published books, Obama plans to introduce (or reintroduce, after a horrific first impression called the Red Scare) socialism to the United States. (See, for instance, BARACK OBAMA HID HIS FATHER'S SOCIALIST AND ANTI-WESTERN CONVICTIONS FROM HIS READERS) If only that were the case.

Spengler inadvertently makes a good point, however. A resurrected Karl Marx would not be able to win a Unitedstatesian presidential election - and neither would any unabashed leftist. Rather than unabashed, to win a Unitedstatesian election (in any other place besides perhaps a condominium in a few urban neighborhoods) a leftist must be extremely circumspect. The intellectual environment of the United States mirrors its physical environment: religiously, it is to a disturbing extent like the swamps of Louisiana and Florida; in terms of knowledge about foreign countries and their intellectual currents it is like the deserts of the West and the Great Plains of the Midwest; its susceptibility to nationalist propaganda replicates the Mississippi's weakness for industrial and agricultural chemical runoff; its hostility to new and challenging ideas does honor to the interplay between the Pacific's waves and the magnificently imposing cliffs of California's coast. And it is in this intellectual environment that ideas, and the politicians who espouse them, must survive and propagate.

This is why the electoral struggle in the U.S. is so close to complete meaninglessness. To move the country down a healthy evolutionary path, one can only attempt to elect the candidate who would at most (at least?) moderate the variously parasitic effect of the minority economic elite's desired policies upon the majority economic non-elite. From the start of every election there is no chance whatsoever that any candidate advocating a major evolutionary shift in policy will win. Within this electoral realm, the only promising strategy available mimics the Chinese proverb: each election is just a single step on a thousand-mile journey.

An analogy to marketing is actually more than just an analogy: it's a close cousin. Besides religious believers, what organized group of humans is routinely successful at winning an intellectual struggle by convincing people of things they hadn't believed before? Marketers. (Madmen, and ad men.) They start with the goal of convincing millions of people who have never heard of Brand X product that Brand X product is the best product of its kind; and they often succeed. Sometimes they can even convince people to believe they have a previously unknown (and usually sexual attractiveness-impairing) defect that Brand X product can correct. How do they succeed? Not by explaining the chemical constitution of Brand X product or the methodology of the tests that tended to show that Brand X product performs its task better than Brand Y product with 90% confidence that the correct percentage difference lies within plus or minus 2.5 percentage points of 15%. That's too accurate and informational. Instead, the teams of psychologists hired by marketing firms will identify which subconscious desires can be manipulated to convince the target audience to buy Brand X product. Then the creative team will, under the guidance of other psychologists, come up with a mixture of sights and sounds to manipulate the identified subconscious desires to get the target audience to perform the target behavior: buying Brand X product like it's going out of style. And why do they forsake the path of knowledge dissemination and rational argumentation? Because it doesn't work. If it did, it would be used. That's one gold standard litmus test our kind of economy excels at.

Another example. It is probably economically efficient, factoring externalities, for the country to produce its energy in a manner that can be continued indefinitely: sustainably. However to get the kind of revenue needed to recoup some significant start-up costs, the target audience - the whole country - would need to be made willing to pay a premium price. And unless they are aimed at the leisure class for whom a premium price can be desirable in itself, they are devilishly hard to sell. To sell a few hundred million of a target audience on paying a premium price for sustainable energy, they would first need to be educated about climatology, economics, and technology - for starters. No 30-second commercial, or succession thereof, can possibly hope to accomplish this. After all, despite their enormity, the benefits of sustainable energy production are less apparent than the benefits of an expensive car (status, sex, comfort). Therefore, the constraints of marketing shape what can possibly be successfully introduced into the marketplace - or the polity, which has pretty much become a synonym for it.

Backing someone like Brian Moore, Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader in a Unitedstatesian presidential election is an instance of futility. It's like trying to break into the high-speed computer processing industry as a start-up company. Even as Microsoft it would be difficult to accomplish; as winning a presidential election has proved even for capably self-financed Ross Perot.

The ideological and political affinities of an unabashedly leftist candidate are foreign to the target audience/electorate they need to reach. One's ideology is one aspect of the story one tells about the world (and why it is the way it is, and how it should be). One's story about the world is largely based on facts - things we know or think we know to be true. The facts we know and believe to be true form the skeleton of our story about the world - our ideology - and so the scope for our respective ideologies is limited by the facts we know. Therefore, the ideologies that can possibly exist within a given target audience (population, electorate) are limited by the facts that are known by them. The facts that enable one to take up a leftist ideology - for instance, the facts that comprise world economic history - are absent in any appreciable number from the Unitedstatesian population. In order to successfully back a Moore, McKinney or Nader the population would have to be taught a large body of facts, and then convinced to change their narratives to account for these facts. Only then would a majority of the population vote for an unabashed leftist.

Thorstein Veblen offers a good summary of the difficulties of changing people's minds:
"[t]he process of readjustment of the accepted theory of life involves a degree of mental effort - a more or less protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires a certain expenditure of energy, and so presumes, for its successful accomplishment, some surplus of energy beyond that absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence. ... The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands today."

In the United States today, the conservative class of "those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance," or debt repayment, is broad indeed; and the conservative class of highly prosperous persons with "small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands" control the means of disseminating ideas.

And so far I've only addressed one aspect of the intellectual battlefield: how to convince people whose ears you have. But how to even get to them? How do you do logistics? How to supply an entire country with regular deliveries of facts for the foundation and ideas for the edifice? This logistical realm is fraught with even greater difficulties for leftists; and as the saying goes, soldiers win battles but logistics win wars. The means of production and dissemination of ideas - television and radio stations; book, magazine and newspaper presses; schools, universities and think tanks - are effectively controlled by an economic elite who benefit most from the economic system as-is. And following the trend in other means of production like assembly lines, media technology is far more powerful today than its 19th or early 20th century counterpart. While a small independent newspaper could put up some appreciable resistance in the 19th century struggle for men's minds, today it simply could not compete with the idea machine par excellence, television, which Unitedstatesians subject their brains to an average of four hours a day. Little wonder then that the public sphere, home to the arena in which political ideas compete, is utterly dominated by ideas that support the status quo. Today's public sphere is soaked with the most psychologically and technologically advanced economic propaganda (commercials) the world has ever seen, along with an analysis of world affairs provided in political "news" coverage whose left extreme is not far beyond what Mussolini would have been prepared to contemplate. Meanwhile, most of the people comprising the public sphere are exhaustively concerned with keeping their jobs, credit scores, families and lives together: and this is the arena in which leftists would attempt to engage people in an exhaustive discussion of the social order, and why it needs changing through electing an unfamiliar candidate with unfamiliar ideas.

The only thing one can hope to achieve during a Unitedstatesian presidential election is to defeat the candidate furthest to the right by working to elect the other elite-approved candidate to his left. Hopefully over the next four to eight years organized lobbying and outreach efforts will open new opportunities to shift the population to the left, so that during the next election, the next elite-approved, furthest-right candidate will be further to the left than his predecessor was; and likewise with the candidate to his left.

This may seem to some a strategy that can only unfold at a glacial pace; by that I mean the pace a glacier moves at, not the pace at which they are currently melting. This is true - but so much the worse for reality, not for the strategy with the most promise of changing it. This is the extent of hope in the United States. Any other source of hope can only be located without. The country, and perhaps the planet.

This is troubling for some. There are those around the world who know certain facts of vanishingly uncommon occurrence in the population of Unitedstatesian brains: such as the precise number of thousands of people who die daily from hunger, preventable diseases and political violence; the sources and causes of such violence; and how these results emanate from a world economic system (that has, as George W. recently discovered, "interlinks").

Add to this list facts and ideas about how the relationship of this economic system to any given country is the result of historical developments; and the facts of the historical development of the world's countries, most of which experienced what is called a "colonial period" - and not like the United States'. Knowledge of these facts tends to facilitate, in the brain's narrative realm, a connection between the economic system and the needless, painful deaths of millions each year, for no other motivation than that which is the currency of the system: self-interest or greed, for Smith and Marx respectively. The story that emerges from the putting together of these facts is a story that places the status quo, the present international economic system with the U.S. at its head, as the actor responsible for the most perverse outcomes and contrasts imaginable. Like the deaths of nearly 10 million children, annually, due to diseases prevented and cured by inexpensive interventions, while hundreds of billions of dollars worth of human labor and capital are used to produce killing machines, and to research and develop deadlier ones. Or the 218 million child laborers, over half of whom work in dangerous conditions: conditions the children of the very same world's ten million millionaires will be strangers to, to put it mildly.

Like the recently much-publicized Bill Ayers, there are many throughout the world whose grasp of facts such as the ones just mentioned lead them to desire the destruction of such a system by any means necessary. In countries on the periphery of this system, organized violence has succeeded in overthrowing its local representatives. In Haiti, Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam and other countries, most recently Nepal, organized violence has extricated the population to a great extent from the global economic system responsible for horrifying atrocities the provenance of which the vast majority of Unitedstatesians fail to accurately identify. In each of these countries, guerrillas waged a successful military campaign and, in different ways, won control of the country. Mao wrote that guerrillas are like fish, and the population is the water in which they swim; in China, the communists were able to rely upon the population for recruitment and material support as they fought asymmetric war against two much better supplied armies. In other countries with ultimately unsuccessful guerrilla struggles, like Peru, anti-guerrilla forces have taken Mao's words to heart, and have drained the water, so to speak, by massacring entire villages suspected of sympathizing with the guerrillas. Or they have poisoned the water with propaganda and fear spread by the murder of public figures suspected of even a trace of leftist affinity.

In the United States, there would be no need for an anti-guerrilla force to drain or poison the water a prospective guerrilla army would need to survive. The water has been pre-treated to be inhospitable to guerrillas. The most powerful idea-spreading technologies in history have been almost exclusively devoted to spreading resistance to the idea of radical change of any sort, least of all by violent means. On top of this, the trappings of formal democracy serve to convince Unitedstatesians that the system of power ruling their lives can be changed simply by pushing a few buttons every couple of years. Perhaps most importantly, class lines are damn near invisible to Unitedstatesian eyes; meanwhile "race" certainly is visible, and is a potent concept piggybacking on the universal human tendency to think in terms of in-groups and out-groups.

Class-consciousness is a rarity in the United States, coming to the fore only in rare instances, like when the mere millionaire (who considers herself "rich") realizes that she cannot live like those with a net worth greater than $100 million. A guerrilla movement supported by the masses needs a broad-based class consciousness like a fish needs oxygen in water; and in the United States, the fish would have no oxygen.

The only potential guerrilla force with a shred of a chance of success of winning power in the United States would be a nationalistic, reactionary, religious and very likely racist group of well-armed fanatics. And even they would have to contend with a PR war in which the status quo forces control all the high ground (in terms of controlling television, newspapers, radio and, should the need arise, the internet). Guerrillas could be fighting to establish a government and economy under direct democratic control, and yet every household in the nation down to the remotest log cabin in Alaska would be delivered the message that the guerrillas are power-hungry despots intent on enslaving the population and selling their daughters into United Nations' brothels. How would a guerrilla force deliver their competing message to 300 million people spread across thousands of miles?

Despite these difficulties, it is impossible to predict with total accuracy the eventual outcome of something as complex as an organized, armed struggle that could last many years. Yet such a struggle is farthest from the minds of those leftists who deplore Obama because, based on his public record and some of his writings and rhetoric, he seems to be a center-right politician. (As if successful politicians in the United States even have essences so much as degrees of stubbornness with which they partially resist organized political pressure.) The same people who (rightly) consider there to be only one political party in the U.S., with Republican and Democratic factions, who cannot as a matter of principle vote for any candidate of the Party, including Obama - these people almost down to a man renounce violence as a political tactic, and instead exhaust the implementation of their political strategy with tactics such as loosely organized protest rallies featuring Halloween costumes and less-than-clever rhyming chants. Their goal is to pressure the government into adopting their principles of non-violence and a peaceful, nonexploitative foreign and domestic policy; and so following the example of no successful organized political minority group in history, wage their struggle through public displays of political carnival mixed with civil obedience.

In thinking about these people, I now understand what god was talking about when he wrote in his last Christian, and most snazzily-titled book, Revelation: "Since you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of my mouth." If their goal is to build a mass movement by spreading their ideology, then they can at least begin with an organized program of mass education. At least they could do what the Jehovah's Witnesses do. And if they instead are earnest in their desire to end a monstrous international economic system, if necessary using violence to stop violence, they could begin military training and attempt to spread their beliefs at the same time. But what are the Unitedstatesians who don't support Obama actually doing?

Whether you as a matter of principle renounce violence, or if you do not, but simply think that present conditions make violence a losing tactic, the only remaining option in the United States is to work to get Obama elected, making friends and contacts, and learning about political organization in the process. After he is elected, keeping the movement's political activity alive by lobbying the government, this time following tactics successful lobbies use. Of course, not all lobbying tactics will be within reach financially, and new ones will have to be developed. Above all, what is necessary is organization, and unity of purpose.

Is there an alternative?