Category Archives: news

Meta-Politics, Geo-Politics, and Foolishness

I have talked to everyone from die-hard Eurasian (read: Russian) Nationalists, who seem to the think Putin is the walking manifestation of a meritocratic Russian nationalism that will one day rule of Europe and Asia.  Frankly, given the massive capital flight out of Russia, this seems like dreaming for  a second coming of Stalin.   I suppose one knows the future by its wish fulfillment.  As I write this there is almost monarchical pomp over Putin’s reassumption of power, and protests in the streets.   RT, which I call Radio Free US, has some great programming, but it is a Putin-friendly arm of Russian state and it good not to forget that.   Sadly, the same is true for most of the UK, and so the recent debacle involving Assuange’s show is met with the liberal critique of tepid variety: 

US cables released by WikiLeaks in December 2010 paint a dismal picture of Putin’s Russia as a “virtual mafia state”. Has Assange read them? It seems extraordinary that Assange – described by RT as the world’s most famous whistleblower – should team up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics. Strange and obscene.

There is a long dishonourable tradition of western intellectuals who have been duped by Moscow. The list includes Bernard Shaw, the Webbs, HG Wells and André Gide. So Assange – whether for idealistic reasons, or simply out of necessity, given his legal bills and fight against extradition to Sweden – isn’t the first. But The World Tomorrow confirms he is no fearless revolutionary. Instead he is a useful idiot.

But like the the Eurasian nationalists and Putin apologists that Luke Harding cannot stomach, he ultimately sees things in same jilted hope for a Cold War area unipolar world.  So why do so many leftists take the enemy of my enemy is my friend approach to politics?  It’s hard to say, but it is a simpletons move.  Still, this is what shows you who is serious in politics: the left is not neither is the right, because you see simple platitudes and not facts being marshalled for decision making.   We live in a broadly liberal movement, but not liberal-left in the way American’s understand it.  Chomsky is right to point out that if you Foreign Policy, The Financial  Times, The Economist, the Wall Street Journal (prior to Murdock), you got honest news and detailed specifics because those who are in power need that in way those who merely dream of power don’t.

NPR is an example of this: It is liberal media in both senses: in the sense that it serves soft capitalist interests and that it placates the sensibilities of the center-to-center-left liberal.  It is mid-brow/mid-cult capriciousness consumption plus decent news with a milder (but still dangerous) US-tinged corporate slant. In coverage of the French elections and the Greek elections, one could hear defenses of Sarkozy passed off as impartial:  the American left always secretly wants to be the European center right–capitalism with a human face. Although if one actually knew the rhetoric of in Sarkozy in daily life, or if one took time to see how religious the rhetoric of David Cameron was, the vapidity of the American left is the European center-right meme would be apparent.

Still, an example of the good news “liberals”  give to themselves:   Take the Planet Money podcast In A Leaderless World, Who Wins?, which is based on Ian Bremmer and Nouriel Roubini‘s notion that “even is America is not declining, we aren’t a hegemon anymore, and despite word to contrary, it is unlikely that Russia or China will be it either as both have serious issues that largely unaddressed, and I’ll quote here instead of paraphrase:

This is not a G-20 world. Over the past several months, the expanded group of leading economies has gone from a would-be concert of nations to a cacophony of competing voices as the urgency of the financial crisis has waned and the diversity of political and economic values within the group has asserted itself. Nor is there a viable G-2 — a U.S.-Chinese solution for pressing transnational problems — because Beijing has no interest in accepting the burdens that come with international leadership. Nor is there a G-3 alternative, a grouping of the United States, Europe, and Japan that might ride to the rescue.

Today, the United States lacks the resources to continue as the primary provider of global public goods. Europe is fully occupied for the moment with saving the eurozone. Japan is likewise tied down with complex political and economic problems at home. None of these powers’ governments has the time, resources, or domestic political capital needed for a new bout of international heavy lifting. Meanwhile, there are no credible answers to transnational challenges without the direct involvement of emerging powers such as Brazil, China, and India. Yet these countries are far too focused on domestic development to welcome the burdens that come with new responsibilities abroad.

We are now living in a G-Zero world, one in which no single country or bloc of countries has the political and economic leverage — or the will — to drive a truly international agenda. The result will be intensified conflict on the international stage over vitally important issues, such as international macroeconomic coordination, financial regulatory reform, trade policy, and climate change. This new order has far-reaching implications for the global economy, as companies around the world sit on enormous stockpiles of cash, waiting for the current era of political and economic uncertainty to pass. Many of them can expect an extended wait.

In the interview, Bremmer talks about how the Chinese growth model must change, not be based on 21th century mercentilism, and raise net-GDP which makes it far more unstable than it appears now.  He points the contradictions exposed in the Bo Xilai, which of course is painted in the liberal media as a story of ruthlessness (I saw this headline in HuffPo, NYTimes, etc) and fails to mention Bo’s popularity among the Chinese Left, the fact that Aei Wei and other luminaries praised him. But the  liberal reformers (in both the positive and negative sense) have used this to push for change in China, against both the Dengish middle and the Maoists left, or at least that is what is passed along in the media in South Korea.    Bremmer has a point: there is a fundamental problem to the paradoxes of PRC’s strange blend of New Confucianism, Legalism, and Maoism with mercentilism-esque State Capitalism. Although as the London Review of books point it, it also points out that there is a move to try re-centralize as Maoism is beginning to start on a public now see the benefits:

In Chongqing there was more emphasis than in some other places on redistribution, justice and equality, and because the province was already highly industrialised, state-owned enterprises were important to its model. Chongqing’s experiment with inexpensive rented housing, its experiment with land trading certificates, its strategy of encouraging enterprises to go global: all these, under the rubric ‘the state sector progresses, the private sector progresses,’ contributed to society’s debate. Chongqing may not have offered a perfect blueprint, and it’s hard to know whether Bo himself was corrupt, but its architects stressed the importance of equality and common prosperity, and tried to work towards them.

The Chongqing experiment, launched in 2007, coincided with the global financial crisis, which made a new generation feel less confident of the benefits of free-market ideology. The policies followed in Chongqing demonstrated a move away from neoliberalism at a time when the national leadership was finding it harder to continue with its neoliberal reforms. What the Chongqing incident now offers the authorities is an opportunity to resume its neoliberal programme. Just after Bo was sacked the State Council’s Development and Research Centre held a forum in Beijing at which the most prominent neoliberals in China, including the economists Wu Jinglian and Zhang Weiying, announced their programme: privatisation of state enterprises, privatisation of land and liberalisation of the financial sector. At almost the same time, on 18 March, the National Development and Reform Commission issued a report on ‘Important Points and Perspectives on the Deepening of Economic Structural Reform Priorities’. It contained plans for the privatisation of large sections of the railways, education, healthcare, communications, energy resources and so on. The tide of neoliberalism is rising again. But it won’t go unchallenged, even when left-wing websites have been closed down. In the past ten days both the People’s Daily and the Guangming Dailyhave devoted several pages to the achievements of state-owned enterprises and the argument against privatisation.

So there is a limit to liberal honesty in the news, and the comments at the NYTimes section prove it.   What is missed that many International News carriers didn’t was this:

According to several reports, Bo and Zhou had been plotting a smear campaign against future Chinese leader Xi Jinping, while planning to install Bo as a high-level official.

So who knows if all those liberals know they are spreading p.r. related to the PRC’s politoburo.  I guess one can say that Assuage is not the only useful idiot.   But there this big trouble in big China, and the signal to move investment into India and Brazil as well as Latin America is telling.  Canada’s turning to China is telling too, but perhaps short-sited ultimately.   The one thing is true:  The 1%, to use Occupy’s somewhat vapid term, thinks in global terms in ways Occupiers, despite all their rhetoric, don’t comprehend.

While I am endorsing “Liberal” media for news, let me point you to a serious liberal podcast that I have come to like for its honest wonkiness: Bruno and the Professor is good, honest liberal Keynesianism.  That has all the weaknesses that Keynesianism does: It ignores that stagflation, not just neo-liberalization, was part of why things were abandoned: Neo-liberalization was a political project empowered by stagflation, and as Bruno and Professor point out, was often  started by Carter, not Reagan.   Anyway, their analysis of the brain-drain in Southern Europe to Germany,  explains, for the first time, what the ECB could be doing, no order explanation of the sado-monetarism adopted by the Germans was really that coherent.

Now, before you critique me with “Why are you endorsing managerialism and the state?” Who says I am, but to change the world, you must see the world as it is.  The abstractions, hypotheses, and refusal to understand managerial logic and the flows of capital that under-grid it is a refusal to be able to offer a real counter-point. To have a theory of what politics should be, one must see what politics is.

Waking Up from Liberal Stockholm Syndrome: More on Obama and the NDAA

Regression on the American “progressive Democratic” liberal “left” has been a characteristic of the lack of memory most of the progressive liberals feel when they realize that another heroic stand against the Republicans was a move to the center, by which we mean right.  Now  liberals find themselves defending the indefensible, now take the case of PoliticUSA, “real liberal politics,” which I would say puts proof to the lie about what most Democratic liberals mean, which defends Obama’s signing of the NDAA  because of a signing statement that has no constitutional bounds.

Now never mind that these same liberals would NEVER shut up about Bush’s signing statements and their unconstitutionality, but that even if Obama intends this sincerely this is a gift to the next “Bush” or “Nixon” who decides to ignore Obama signing statement by their own “sovereign” decision making process and all the horrors in the NDAA are implemented. Liberals didn’t accept that from Bush, but they make an apologia for it in Obama.  In fact, another more or less liberal writer, Ed Brayton points out the problems:

That’s certainly a good thing and I applaud the principle. But by using a signing statement rather than a veto, he allows the authorization of the very thing he claims to oppose for future administrations. Signing statements are not binding on future administrations (actually, they aren’t binding on Obama either; he can rescind that policy at will). I know it would be politically inconvenient for him to have to veto the bill, but the fact is that the constitution requires it.

The constitution only gives him the authority to issue a veto of the entire bill. The line-item veto is unconstitutional, as the courts have rightly said. So whether it’s easier for Obama — or Bush — to do it this way, they simply don’t have that authority. To be clear, he does have the authority not to hold anyone indefinitely because the law does notrequire him to hold them indefinitely, it only gives him the power to do so if he chooses to use it; but he does not have the authority to say, as he does in this signing statement, to say that he will choose not to enforce provisions that are mandatory if he believes they are inconsistent with his executive authority. That is exactly the kind of statement Bush made repeatedly that was criticized by Obama and nearly all Democratic officials.

So even if we accept Obama’s claim in good faith, and we shouldn’t, we see the Stockholm syndrome of the “progressive” left’s relationship to Obama as a sign and the signified of a set of double standards. We see “liberalism'” illiberalism in the contradictions around Obama.

Bakunin, Marx, and authoritarianism

Anarcho-communists and Marxists, including Marxists of the anarchist variety, have had a long running dialogue that debates back to the First International. The Marxist perspective is that Bakunin did not rightfully recognize the universal nature of the Proletariat, that his involvement with Nechayev discredits him, that his international brotherhood was elitists, that propaganda by the deed by not a poor recourse, that one should not side with specific powers in international wars like Bakunin did with France, and that Bakunin lacked a coherent message due to a lack of methodology, dialectical or otherwise.  The Bakunin anarchists would say generall Marx’s myoptic Hegelianism limited him, that there is no need for a complete rupture with present conditions by a socialist state transition or “dictatorship of the proletariat,” that Marxian statism was dangerous, and that there was no need to posit a specific class against which all others above and below would have to rely on for communism.   One can see both of this play out in Louis Proyect’s critique of Bakunin as well as the anarchist response to it.

That is not what interests me particularly as I see validity in both critiques–even if I am ultimately a Marxian thinker on methodological grounds–the more interesting reading is to notice that both Marx and Bakunin accused on the other of authoritarianism.   In this sense, both were also right. The best writer on this is probably David Adam’s.  His exploration of this at lib-com is definitely worth a read:

Since Marx can be “united” with the Rothschild banking dynasty, Bakunin has no problem at all identifying Marx with someone like Lassalle, who had very different politics from Marx. For example, Bakunin writes, “Conforming strictly to the political program Marx and Engels had set forth in the Communist Manifesto, Lassalle demanded only one thing of Bismarck: that state credit be made available to the workers’ producer associations.”57 As it turns out, in Marx’s mind there was a clear distinction between what Bismarck could do for the workers, and what the workers could do for themselves. Marx was quite hostile to Lassalle’s socialism-from-above. As he wrote in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, criticizing Lassallean influence on the Gotha Programme,

Instead of the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the ‘socialist organization of the total labour’ ‘arises’ from the ‘state aid’ that the state gives to the producers’ co-operative societies and which the state, not the worker, ‘calls into being.’ This is worthy of Lassalle’s imagination that one can build a new society by state loans just as well as a new railway! . . . That the workers desire to establish the conditions of co-operative production on a social, and first of all on a national, scale in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned they are of value only in so far as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the government or of the bourgeoisie.58

While Marx’s critique of Bakunin’s autitarianism is often ignored, Bakunin’s critique of Marx is often praised for its prescience, despite its complete distortion of Marx’s ideas.

Some of Bakunin’s criticisms of Marx are truly bizarre. Bakunin believed that “doctrinaire revolutionaries” like Marx and Engels think “that thought precedes life, that abstract theory precedes social practice, that sociology must therefore be the point of departure for social upheavals and reconstructions,” and therefore come to the conclusion “that since thought, theory, and science, at least for the present, are the property of a very few individuals, those few must be the directors of social life.”59 After quoting at length Bakunin’s charges that Marx was using the First International to impose on the world a “government invested with dictatorial powers,” Daniel Guerin comments, “No doubt Bakunin was distorting the thoughts of Marx quite severely in attributing to him such a universally authoritarian concept, but the experience of the Third International has since shown that the danger of which he warned did eventually materialize.”60This is a curious justification for Bakunin’s criticism: because people have done authoritarian things in Marx’s name, Bakunin’s elaborate straw-man argument becomes retroactively vindicated. Another commentator writes, “Bakunin’s conception of the Marxist state he saw waiting in the wings of history was disturbing but correct. . . . history seems to have been on Bakunin’s, not Marx’s, side. . . .”61 Praise for Bakunin’s prophetic powers has served to gloss over the inaccuracy of his portrayal of Marx’s ideas.

Conclusion

Marx characterized the International as “a bond of union rather than a controlling force”62 and considered it “the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalize the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever.”63 On the basis of this vision, Marx opposed secret groupings in the International and held that this type of organization “is opposed to the development of the proletarian movement because, instead of instructing the workers, these societies subject them to authoritarian, mystical laws which cramp their independence and distort their powers of reason.”64 This perspective bears little in common with the caricature of Marxian authoritarianism that has become so widespread. Writing to Blos in 1877, Marx asserted that when he and Engels first joined the Communist League, they “did so only on condition that anything conducive to a superstitious belief in authority be eliminated from the Rules.”65 Marx’s opposition to authoritarian methods of organization reflects his long-standing belief in the importance of workers’ democracy. This was thus the basis for his rejection of Bakunin’s brand of vanguardism. As we have seen, Marx considered Bakunin’s emphasis on a tightly knit revolutionary general staff to be misguided. Far from being a consistent critic of authoritarianism, Bakunin mixed his elaborate praise for abstract liberty with an authoritarian organizational outlook.

Ironically much of the authoritarianism in the vanguardist ideology that most bothers anarchists was actually embodied in Bakunin’s organizational methods. Yet one does wonder if Marx’s faith in a transitional state was itself a problematic to which Bakunin was right. If one drops the historical polemics and looks at the actual events of the First International, the two bearded fore-bearers of different schools of communist both have egg on their faces historically.  We need to learn from both–a good Marxian thinker does not dismiss Bakunin for opposing Marx, but looks at the historical issues and decides the merit on each specific historical issue.

Furthermore, when it comes to organizing communists today–Marxist or otherwise–it is time to learn from the First International instead of parrot it.

On Kim Jong-Il:

There are often two reactions to Kim Jong-Il: one in support of the predominant US narrative on North Korea and the other on defending it as a socialist power against US Imperialism. While the US narrative predominates in capitalistic media, it is important to put North Korea in its context.   Kasama Project is right to say that it is both an oppressive state and in danger:

Kim Jong Il has long been head of the oppressive and isolated state ruling northern Korea — locked in a seemingly permanent state of war against the southern Korean state (which was occupied by the U.S. after world war 2). The North Korean regime,which calls itself the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK),  may well be weakened by Kim’s death and by long-brewing power struggles within the North Korean ruling circles.

There is both danger and opportunity in those possibilities of instability.

Certainly the people of northern Korea and their compatriots in the southern Korea’s peninsula have every interest in helping radical changes sweep their peninsula. They deserve the freedom to make their own difficult future choices freed from the interference and domination of great powers.

At the same time, any turmoil or instability in North Korea will signal intense and self-interested interference by the United States, and by those great powers (China, Russia and Japan) that border Korea.

Over and over Korea has been invaded, occupied, colonized, brutalized, exploited and threatened by outside powers — specifically Japan and the United States during the 20th century.

As I have pointed out, the name indicates quite a bit. In Korean, North Korea is 조선민주주의인민공화국.  In it you see the name of the Confucian Dynasty prior which one does not see in the name of South Korea in Korean, 대한민국.  As B.R. Meyers points out,  North Korean propaganda doesn’t resemble even Stalinist propaganda of socialism in one nation, but has a very similar character to the Confucian propaganda used by the Japanese fascists.  Yet it does inspire many North Koreans through appealing to a rather conservative ethnic nationalism that is concerned with purity.  Furthermore, the cult of personality around the Kim Jong-Il  has more in common with Hirohito’s cult than with Mao and Maoist personality ideology used by his father.  I have my critiques of that as well, but it is not what is going on in the current DPRK.  There is a continuity of the Confucian patriarchy and a deliberate inversion of Confucian male values.  DPRK propaganda is interesting in that sort of duel nature: a refutation of Confucianism and an acceptance of it by mere inversion. Furthermore, it is a refutation of Marxist-Leninism while claiming to have “further” developed it.  You don’t have to be a Trotskyists to see the problems there. Also, the racial propaganda in North Korea is anti-internationalist even against other socialist peoples, but the racial ideology is uniquely pulled from a Japanese colonial ideology which itself borrowed from Germans. Furthermore, Gary Leupp has been quite telling:

Still, those portraits of Marx and Lenin are there in Pyongyang. DPRK propaganda continues to describe the late Kim as “a thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninist.” Juche is described as a “creative application of Marxism-Leninism.” The Korean Workers’ Party continues to cultivate ties with more traditional, perhaps more “legitimate,” Marxist-Leninist parties including the (Maoist) Communist Party of the Philippines.

Some material by Marx, Engels and Lenin circulates in North Korea, and the Marxist dictum, “Religion is the opium of the masses” is universally known. But according to a Russian study in 1995, “the works by Marx, Engels, and Lenin are not only excluded from the standard [school] curriculum, but are generally forbidden for lay readers. Almost all the classical works of Marxism-Leninism, as well as foreign works on the Marxist (that is, other than [Juche]) philosophy are kept in special depositories, along with other kinds of subversive literature. Such works are accessible only to specialists with special permits.” (One thinks of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages restricting Bible reading to the trusted clergy, and discouraging it among the masses.)

I imagine some with those special permits are able to read Marx’s famous 1844 essay in which the “opium of the masses” phrase occurs:

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

Maybe the rare North Korean student of Marxism, acquiring some real understanding of the Marxist view of religion, can see all around him or her conditions which require mass illusions and delusions in order to continue. There are some signs of resistance here and there to the Kim cult, which would seem to be a good thing.

Having said that (and always trying to think dialectically), I don’t believe that life in the DPRK is quite the hell—another religious concept—that the mainstream media would have us believe it is. One should try to look at things in perspective. We hear much of the terrible famine that lasted from about 1995 to 2001, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions. But North Korea was not always a disaster. As of 1980, infant mortality in the north was lower than in the south, life expectancy was higher, and per capita energy usage was actually double that in the south (Boston Globe, Dec. 31, 2003). Even after the famine and accompanying problems, a visitor to Pyongyang in 2002 declared:

“Housing in Pyongyang is of surprising quality. In the past 30 years–and mostly in the past 20–hundreds of huge apartment houses have been built. Pyongyang is a city of high-rises, with probably the highest average building height of any city in the world. Although the quality is below that of the West, it is far above that found in the former Soviet Union. Buildings are finished and painted and there is at least a pretense of maintenance; even older buildings do not look neglected. Nothing looks as though it is on the verge of falling down. . .

“Although a bit dreary, the shops in Pyongyang are far from empty. Each apartment building has some sort of shop on the main floor, and food shops can usually be found within one or two buildings from any given home. Apart from these basic, Soviet-style shops, there are a few department stores carrying a wide range of goods. . . “While not snappy dressers, North Koreans are certainly clean and tidy, and exceptionally well dressed. . . There is no shortage of clothing, and clothing stores and fabric shops are open daily.”

There’s apparently one hotel disco and some karaoke bars in Pyongyang. No doubt Kim Il-songism can provide some with the “illusory happiness” about which Marx wrote, and it is possible that genuine popular feelings as well as feelings orchestrated from above have contributed to the production of the North Korean faith. The DPRK might not be all distress and oppression. But neither is it a socialist society in any sense Marx or Lenin would have recognized, to say nothing of a classless, communist society. It is among other things a religious society in a world where nations led by religious nuts are facing off, some seemingly hell-bent on producing a prophesized apocalypse. I find no cause for either comfort or particular alarm in the Dear Leader’s October 9 nuclear blast; if it deters a U.S. attack it’s achieved its purpose, and however bizarre Jong-il may be he’s probably not crazy enough to provoke his nation’s destruction by an attack on the U.S. or Japan. I’m more concerned that Bush will do something stupid in response to the test.

In any case, the confrontation here isn’t between “freedom” and “one of the world’s last communist regimes,” nor even between fundamentalist Christian Bush and Kim Il-songist Kim Jong-il. It’s between a weird hermetic regime under threat and determined to survive in its small space, using a cult to control its people, and a weird much more dangerous regime under the delusion that God wants it to smite His enemies and to control the whole world. Both are in the business of peddling “illusions of happiness.” Neither is much concerned about the “real happiness” of people. Both ought to be changed—by those they oppress, demanding an end to conditions requiring illusions.

Now, living in South Korea, I must say that the US influence here can be pretty distorting as can the dominance of several major corporations.  But one must be honest and say that this is not even a vulgar Stalinist version of Marxism, but a regression to something far more primitive. Still one cannot argue that this is sound grounds for any US action.  The fate of Korea is for those who live here to decide.  It is not for the US to toy with.

When a Marxist is quoting Sue Orman, you know things are getting bad.

Sometimes you wonder if congress wants a violent revolution to test out their security apparatus.  Take for example this problem: Orman is getting to the point. 

Make no mistake, we are still in crisis mode. The unemployment rate didn’t drop from 9 percent to 8.6 percent because there were a ton of new jobs for the unemployed to step into. Much of the decline in the rate is attributed to the fact that more than 300,000 of the unemployed have stopped looking for work, so they no longer get counted in the math of the unemployment rate. We in fact added only 120,000 new jobs in November. At that pace it would take more than four years for private-sector employment to get back to where it was in late 2007. That’s not exactly a rosy picture.

Now of course, what will probably happen — though with this Congress who knows — is that sometime between now and Congress’ Christmas recess we will get word that the bickering has subsided enough and that long-term benefits will in fact be extended for 2012. But every day that we don’t yet have a deal is another day of congressional failure to serve its constituency. I am not talking solely about the 5.7 million. This speaks to what we as a nation stand for. I refuse to believe we are a country that wants to abandon our unemployed, or use them as political leverage. Yet here we are.

Concerned at the cost? Well, keep in mind that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has previously noted that extending unemployment benefits packs the most stimulative bang for the buck. Give someone with a job some money (through a tax break, say) and they might save it, or they might spend it. Give an unemployed person assistance and odds are very high that money quickly gets poured right back into the economy. That’s something that benefits all of us, at a time when the economy remains perilously fragile. And most important, it provides some relief for those who are struggling most.

However, this also illustrates something else: the battle between Neo-liberal and Neo-Keynesian ideology and practice, both are ultimately unsustainable.  Why?  Well, quick stimulus can’t address long-term systemic failure. But then just hoping jobs manifest is not a way:  the idea the job shortages are a matter of lack demand in the labor market because people would rather just not work is frankly, objectively, insane.

Betrayal: That’s what Democrats are good at

I know that my left liberal friends like to pass around lists about what Obama has done despite our protests, I will remind them to add to that Obama officially has given some truth the accusation by teapartiers that he does not believe in the constitution.  I am no longer of the constitutional cheerleader squad, but our “rights” cannot be trusted in this system:

Notice that Defense bIll has passed the Republican House.  Greenwald is right that much of this is not new, but not it is formalizes this into law. Obama will more than likely sign it according to White House sources. Change you can believe in, indeed.  

Sadly, the opposition is also hysterical: yelling things like “Ron Paul is the answer,” “Alex Jones was right about this all along,”  and various conspiracy theories.   While there are conspiracies in this world, the fact that most theorists know about them few minutes on the internet or from listening to a long discredited radio shock-jock should indicate how serious one would take it.  If the conspiracy these types of infantile reactionaries believed in where real, they would all be dead.  In a strange way, they are a refutation of their own conspiracy.

Honestly, this makes system from a structural standpoint: when cultural apparatuses already work, then go to Repressive apparatuses.  One does not have to be a hardliner Althusserian OR a conspiracy nut to see that.  Gramsci rolls in his grave: well, probably for what has happened in the EU, but it applies here as well

Occupy Houston: Why are the Police hiding behind a tent in the middle of the night?

Houston Police Department is not allowing the media or the Occupiers to see what they are doing when arresting protesters?  Why?  This is a key question.  What are they afraid of making to a live feed?

West Coast Ports and the coming debates

While I write this, the Port actions are still going on in Seattle, and I heard word of wildcat actions still going on in Vancouver and Portland.  So CNN reported this:

“What has this accomplished?” he asked. “This is disrupting the 99%”

Oakland has been a flashpoint of the Occupy movement since October, when police used tear gas to break up demonstrators who refused to leave downtown. One demonstrator, a Marine veteran of the war in Iraq, suffered a skull fracture after being hit with a police projectile, according to a veteran’s group; police said they acted after the crowd threw paint and other objects at officers.

The ILWU — which represents 15,000 dockworkers — has distanced itself from the protest movement. The union “shares the Occupy movement’s concerns about the future of the middle class and corporate abuses,” ILWU President Robert McEllrath wrote to locals last week — but he urged the movement to stay out of its dispute with the port of Longview, Washington, and warned against “outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda.”

Monday’s demonstrations also took place in Los Angeles, Seattle, Houston and Portland, Oregon. Organizers said the goal was to shut down ports in an effort to “disrupt the economic machine that benefits the wealthiest individuals and corporations.”

In Houston, police arrested 20 protesters after dozens of police on foot and on horseback confronted a somewhat larger group of Occupy protesters who blocked an interstate on-ramp, authorities said.

Groups of up to six protesters lay down on the pavement and interlocked arms and legs, while a larger group stood near them yelling protest slogans. Officers set up barricades to cordon off protesters in an attempt to free the ramp for traffic. The majority of the protesters could be seen moving behind the barricades, with a few exceptions, including those who had lain down.

Police handcuffed some protesters and led them to a police vehicle. Six face felony charges of using criminal instruments to block a public roadway, said Houston Police Department spokesman Victor Senties.

In Long Beach, California, protests caused isolated traffic delays but did not hinder port operations, according to Police Chief Jim McDonnell.

There is quite a bit to unpack in that: First, notice that labor leadership is moving away from a broader labor movement is only concerned about its specific workers. The leadership doesn’t want solidarity because then solidarity would be expected of it.  Second, we see other copy-cat disruption tactics without clear goals.  I don’t know how I feel about this except it is easy pickings for the cops. Third, the ILWU leadership is not the same thing as the ILWU rank-and-file, so it is very hard to say given that the rank-and-file didn’t vote, but they will held to the picket line in three cities, so CNN is obviously not giving you the whole story.  

Still, reading the articles, #Occupy had success at Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Longview, Washington,  But losses at Long Beach and Los Angeles. Symbolic victories can be listed to include Scott Olson leading the line at Oakland. 

So interesting, we’ll see how this is used over the next three days. Does this lead to more radical “strike” actions, will labor back it or more even more towards the Democrats. This article goes into the problems well and shows the mixed reactions just prior to today:

Rank and filers won’t get a chance to have their say. Local 8’s next membership meeting is December 14.

Occupiers leafleted the dispatch hall but members say they might have succeeded in convincing more of the Portland rank and file if outreach had started before the action was set.

Levens expressed support for the Occupy movement’s goal—to confront corporate power—but not its approach in this action.

“The lack of communication with the members and union officials leaves the Occupy activists and union members without the benefit of sharing our [earlier] Oakland experience with shutting down the port and community pickets,” said Levens, who has been active in Oakland general assemblies.

Parker said the constraints on unions are too great to expect a better process.

“Even if Occupy Oakland were the best, most democratic it could be, there is no way that they could consult with elected leaders of the ILWU,” he said. “Unions are faced with a choice of gambling everything [by openly supporting a strike] or of protecting themselves by disclaiming responsibility and honoring lines by using loopholes.”

It doesn’t help that the institutions assessing liability—right-wing courts—are not on labor’s side.

Parker says the occupiers may have to look for new ways to hit the 1%.

“The continued focus on the docks, because it is easy and takes advantage of the solidarity traditions of the dock workers, makes the dock workers themselves the targets and the targets start resenting it,” Parker said.

Obviously the Longshoremen respected the picket lines in Oakland, Portland, and Seattle and violence has been minimal.   This, at current, can be rated a success in the short-term, and it changes things for Occupy and the Left as a whole.  In that sense, it is a net good.  But it also exposes further intractable areas for the left and for Occupy: these contradictions and complications have yet to be resolved, but I suspect they will start pushing things in the forefront.

Updated: According one of my online sources, the attacks in Houston were not a “confrontation” because “demonstrators were mostly asleep at the time, since the attack was unanounced and in the dead of night.” So keep your skeptical eyes up on the articles describing police actions.

West Coast Tweet Samples and News: Occupy Ports as 03:00 Seoul Standard Time

RT @GarreTop: RT @OccupyLA: LBPD threatening tear gas, rubber bullets and dog bites ~PM #ola #d12

RT @noebie: something really odd going on – police backing off from confrontations almost simultaneously in long beach and oakland #ows #d12

 @OccupyLAHarbor scenic Drive and Windsor drive The port is shut down! KTLA 5 reports ktla.com/videogallery/6…#D12#ola

@OakFoSho Twitter will not trend any Occupy movements, pls RT, spread the word – WHO OWNS TWITTER?

So it’s confirmed arrests are being made but the Port of Los Angles is closed.  The Oakland live feed is clearly showing the port of Oakland closed.

Just in from the West Coast Port Shut Down Twitter:

If there is ANY police violence on #D12 we will extend the port shutdown. #occupyoakland #occupyla #occupyseattle#occupyportland #ows

The live feed I was watching died as of 03:01 Seoul Time. But

Organizer: Local 21 text message “Longview is officially shutdown by Ocuppy, thank you, we love you!”

 

Occupy West Coast Ports

So as of right now, I have this update from the front lines:

Occupy Oakland confirms Port of Oakland SHUT DOWN
Occupy Portland confirms Port of Portland SHUT DOWN
Occupy San Diego blockading Port of San Diego, police giving orders to disperse
Occupy Long Beach blockading Port of Long Beach, police in riot gear with guns

Noted: I am watching the livestream and can’t tell in all locations nor can I found outside media confirmation.

I stand in solidarity with these actions, although it is easy to do so from South Korea where I have little influence. I also have some reservations about the way this action has been handled; however, critique will come later in reflection and as we learn.  My critique is that this was being pushed without the support of a lot of labor: I don’t mean that in the sense that the official Unions aren’t backing it–they can’t because of the Taft Hartley act–and given most of the larger Union leadership adherence to Democratic Party, I doubt they would anyway.

Still one cannot help but feel excited for Oakland leading a second mass action.  Excited, but cautious.The Longshoreman are expected to respect the picket lines despite controversies regarding this action according to the Guardian.  Cautious because I am wondering why real reprisals are going to begin.  These actions have been relatively peaceful compared to smaller actions in the 1960s.  I suspect as Occupy starts do more powerful mass action, we’ll see a lot of real repression.

Go here for more info.  If you are in the area and can, go out help if only to be a witnessed in case of police reprisals.  Keep safe all involved.

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