Daily Archives: December 1, 2011

While you were Occupying: The nail in the coffin of Habeas Corpus

You know its not a good day with center liberals like Slate start seeing the writing on the wall for the US. Obama has objectively taken every precedent taken by Bush and upped it absurd levels now.  I would say the Democrats and Left-Liberals aren’t saying much, but to their credit they are.  But what options do they have electorally in the US?  A successful armed rebellion is statistically more likely than a third party on enough state ballots to matter now.

So now the military and arrest/detain without habeas corpus, and this will go to a conservative and executive power loving SCOTUS.   I hate to agree with libertarians in 2008, but they were right about what Obama would do and then some.   So here’s the article:  

Now, perhaps you suspect these thorny questions about the handling of terrorists are best left to the experts, and that the Senate was simply listening to them. Such suspicions would be unfounded. The secretary of defense, the director of national intelligence, the director of the FBI, theCIA director, and the head of theJustice Department’s national security division have all said that the indefinite detention provisions in the bill are a bad idea. And the White Housecontinues to say that the president will veto the bill if the detainee provisions are not removed. It sees the proposed language as limiting its flexibility.

There may be no good outcome here. It could be an unholy victory for both the prospect of unbridled executive power and for the collapse of any meaningful separation betweendomestic law enforcement and military authority. The law manages to expand the role of the military in domestic terror prosecutions and also limit the authority of the civilian justice system to thwart terrorism. These were legal principles to which even the Bush administration said they adhered.

As Adam Serwer explains: This new legislation will “overturn a precedent that was followed almost without exception by the Bush administration: Domestic terrorism arrests are the province of law enforcement, not the military.” Raha Wala of Human Rights Firstnotes that “authorizing the military to detain terror suspects apprehended within the United States clearly goes against the spirit of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that has prevented the military from taking on domestic law enforcement functions since the Civil War.” If you think the blurring of domestic policing and military authority is an Orwellian fantasy, you may want to consider the treatment of Occupy Wall Street protestors in recent weeks, or Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s claim that “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world.”

Make no mistake: this same week that drones were approved for US use.  Somebody is spooked, and they are bringing the lie to the myths about liberal democracy. Do you still see change you can believe in? I do, but it is far from what the average Obama voter thought.

Review: Pick Your Battles by Douglas Lain

If there ever was a guide out of lifestyle rebellion and into systematic critique by means of memoir, Douglas Lain has attempted it.  The supposed category errors in that description of Lain’s ambition are part of its appeal and its fugue-quality. While the book describes itself “Your Guide to Urban Foraging, Hollywood Movies, Late Capitalism, and the Communist Alternative,” it is more akin to Doug’s guide to how he went from an urban forager to some form of communist from moving from an inchoate leftist writer in a cubicle job at Comcast to a thinker wrestling with Althusser, Zizek, Debort, and Lefebvre.

Critical theory is often divorced from the core of our experience, yet it describes the experiences at the core. In my experience, often people study it as grist for the mill of academic population as merely a rubric for papers in the Ideological Academic Apparatus.  Lain does not do this: Instead we get his dealing with his future wife, his cubicle job, losing that job, and dealing with children to foreground the way ideology works.   Often Lain does with collage elements of theory cut in and of out the text.

There are some surprising human movements in which theory weaves in and out:  the way desire is defined by lack is seen through Lain’s interaction with his wife, the way ideological conceptions define space, the way many of us move through periods of conspiracy thinking and frustration, through thinking we can hack it through survivalism, and then to grappling with the theory many of us were exposed to tangentially in college.

Indeed, I feel a kinship to Lain in this book as many of the developments in his life and their reflections in theory. I have also covered conspiracy thinking, post-left anarchism, and all the surrounding dross.  It hits a nerve personally having to come to terms that the cube farm world was not remotely meritocratic and that everyone in it, including many of the managers, were playing a game designed to be lost.

As for what the communist alternative might be, the letter at the end of the encapsulates a hope but no means to get there.  Lain, however, has achieved something in getting us to travel through this fugue from an inchoate understanding to a more systemic one.  The question for Lain, and for myself, is where exactly do we go from here. Marty McFly may see communists in the future, but it’s still only a vague outline.

Feminism alone is not enough: Yes, feminism, but feminism with class analysis


I saw a somewhat reactionary post about male and female privilege that actually did make a point I rarely see addressed. Now, I actually think the numbers about certain types of male privilege are completely sound: the pay gap is real and explaining it away with structural arguments about children is one of the strangest biologically-driven cop-outs I have seen as children are required even from a capitalist standpoint as the literal grist of the means of production. There is also still a glass ceiling.  So I’ll take Engel’s point, even though it was based off anthropology we now know is not entirely true, that the first class war was gender war.

This post, however, isn’t about justifying the concept of male privilege, but addressing on the issues that I have seen out the “Left”-liberal victories for women.  The focus on superficial liberation for women has led to real structural issues for impoverished men. The blogger above has a point: the are structural loopholes which affect men that have been ignored by focusing on this issue as an identity issue and not a sign problem of impoverishment:

Men accounted for 63.7% of the adults who used emergency shelters or transitional housing over a 12-month period. View source table

  • Homeless men tend to access emergency and transitional shelters on their own, whereas homeless women often have children with them during their shelter stays.
  • Adults in families that are in emergency shelters or transitional housing are predominantly women (79.6%) whereas individual adults without children are predominantly men (72.7%).

Now the VNC Center for Human Needs points that even in homeless the burden of children generally goes to women.  So its hardly a clear cut issue, but there structural issues on why this is the case for why so many men end up homeless and shelter-less:

Single men who are poor may be more vulnerable to homelessness because of large gaps in the Unemployment Insurance program and because the largest safety net programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Social Security, are for families or elderly people. The share of unemployed workers receiving unemployment insurance has declined in recent decades and the gap may be particularly perilous for men because poor women are likely to be accompanied by children and thus eligible for TANF. Adult poor men also have higher rates of substance abuse than women, but substance abuse has not been a categorical eligibility criterion for SSI since 1996. Thus, some women may fall through one social safety net but be caught by another; men may miss them all. See the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington D.C. 14 The share of individual sheltered homeless men reported in the HMIS may be artificially high. First, the HMIS data do not include adults served by domestic violence providers, most of whom are women, because domestic violence providers are prohibited by the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (reauthorized in 2000 and 2005) from participating in HMIS. Second, some shelters have policies prohibiting men over a certain age from sleeping in family shelters, requiring men and teenage boys to stay at men’s shelters alone.

This is an ugly fact that happens when only one structural power dynamic is addressed in a totality of modernity.

But in many ways, this indicates that there is also a failure in all this symbolic reading of culture and focus on patriarchy as the sole oppressor of women also seems to be missing something from women as well.  As Monique Dohls pointed out at an ISO conference: the raw numbers on violence against women have been steady since the 1970s despite the efforts of many liberal feminist legislative and policing efforts.  As Dohl’s points out that most of that violence has a direct correlation to poverty.

When I was discussing to Scott Sargent  on how we should address this issue, he said something I take as insightful:

I think discussions over rights for specific groups can be the catalyst for reactionary thinking on the part of majorities, and increases antagonisms, and is therefore frequently counterproductive. Embarking on a project whereby we locate the duties that we all have to each other tends to be more fruitful, or at least is less likely to provoke the digging in of heels. So, in the case of homeless males, we fix the problem by acting on the notion that all of us have a duty to ensure that all of us has access to meaningful work, food and shelter. It’s not “us” giving to “them.” It’s “us” giving to “us.”

I would disagree with him in part because I think certain kinds of antagonism are necessary in both class and gender struggles.   Power dynamics (what I call privileges because its more honest) should be fought and where issues affecting women are specifically affecting women and not men, it should be fought on feminist grounds.  However, this reductivist critique of oppression that ignores the role of exploitation is just as backwards the critique that ignores oppression in favor of everything being a function of exploitation.  The old vulgar Marxist reading was off and mis-diagnosed gender issues, but that was something pointed out by female communists such Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai  as well as men who opposed patriarchal relations like August Bebel and Daniel Deleon before the new left of 1960s reminded us of it.

So to quote George Orwell, we either all live in a decent world or we don’t.   I’ll end with a few quotes from a text that I think every socialist and communist should read as well as every feminist, Socialist Feminism: A Strategy for the Women’s Movement:

We share the socialist vision of a humanist world made possible through a redistribution of wealth and an end to the distinction between the ruling class and those who are ruled.

We have come to understand that only through an organized collective response can we fight such a system. Sisterhood thus also means to us a struggle for real power over our own lives and the lives of our sisters. Our personal relations and our political fight merge together and create our sense of feminism. Through the concept of sisterhood, women have tried to be responsive to the needs of all women rather than a selected few, and to support, criticize and encourage other women rather than competing with them.

And Barbara Ehrenreich’s What is Socialist Feminism?:

To get to that political consistency we have to differentiate ourselves, as feminists, from other kinds of feminists, and, as Marxists, from other kinds of Marxists. We have to stake out a (pardon the terminology here) socialist feminist kind of feminism and a socialist feminist kind of socialism. Only then is there a possibility that things will “add up” to something more than an uneasy juxtaposition.

I think that most radical feminists and socialist feminists would agree with my capsule characterization of feminism as far as it goes. The trouble with radical feminism, from a socialist feminist point of view, is that it doesn’t go any farther. It remains transfixed with the universality of male supremacy-things have never really changed; all social systems are patriarchies; imperialism, militarism, and capitalism are all simply expressions of innate male aggressiveness. And so on.

The problem with this, from a socialist feminist point of view, is not only that it leaves out men (and the possibility of reconciliation with them on a truly human and egalitarian basis) but that it leaves out an awful lot about women. For example, to discount a socialist country such as China as a “patriarchy” -as I have heard radical feminists do–is to ignore the real struggles and achievements of millions of women. Socialist feminists, while agreeing that there is something timeless and universal about women’s oppression, have insisted that it takes different forms in different settings, and that the differences are of vital importance. There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for.

One of the historical variations on the theme of sexism which ought to concern all feminists it the set of changes that came with the transition from an agrarian society to industrial capitalism. This is no academic issue. The social system which industrial capitalism replaced was in fact a patriarchal one, and I am using that term now in its original sense, to mean a system in which production is centered in the household and is presided over by the oldest male. The fact is that industrial capitalism came along and tore the rug out from under patriarchy. Production went into the factories and individuals broke off from the family to become “free” wage earners. To say that capitalism disrupted the patriarchal organization of production and family life is not, of course, to say that capitalism abolished male supremacy! But it is to say that the particular forms of sex oppression we experience today are, to a significant degree, recent developments. A huge historical discontinuity lies between us and true patriarchy. If we are to understand our experience as women today,we must move to a consideration of capitalism as a system.

There are obviously other ways I could have gotten to the same point. I could have simply said that, as feminists, we are most interested in the most oppressed women–poor and working class women, third world women, etc., and for that reason we are led to a need to comprehend and confront capitalism. I could have said that we need to address ourselves to the class system simply because women are members of classes. But I am trying to bring out something else about our perspective as feminists: there is no way to understand sexism as it acts on our lives without putting it in the historical context of capitalism.



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