Monday, July 17, 2017

The Russia Con

 Two things you can be sure of in this lowbrow comedy that the Russian affair has become: everyone is motivated by something other than getting to the heart of the issue, and everyone is hopelessly addled about the whole affair in a very public way. Nothing close to the truth will be reached until the motives are stripped away and the narrative is cleaned up. Let's take a quick tour through the shitpile, shall we?

  • Until someone shows me concrete evidence that the Russians purged voter rolls or hacked voting machines, they did not "steal the election" for Twittler. In order to believe that Russia did interfere with the election, you have to believe that the information attributed to their hack was by itself able to swing enough voters over to the Republican side to win the election, and that idea is just not plausible. It's the same thing with Comey and the emails: no one actually bothered by Clinton and her emails had any intention of voting for her in the first place.
  • Calling the Russian hacks a "misinformation campaign" is a misnomer, because most of the damaging information leaked was accurate . . . i.e., the DNC really did collude against the Sanders campaign.
  • Most of the "misinformation/disinformation" came from Wikileaks. Julian Assange, who is less motivated by the siren call of truth than a hatred of the US*, is said to have gotten them from the Russians, though no one on his end has confirmed that. And what is our evidence of that? From Politico: "Analysts can see that the attackers operated during business hours in Moscow and St. Petersburg 98 percent of the time, and they speak Russian, said Kevin Mandia, CEO of security firm FireEye." Uhm, say what? From Yasha Levine in The Baffler:
"So, FireEye knows that these two APTs are run by the Russian government because a few language settings are in Russian and because of the telltale timestamps on the hackers’ activity? First off, what kind of hacker—especially a sophisticated Russian spy hacker—keeps to standard 9-to-5 working hours and observes official state holidays? Second, just what other locations are in Moscow’s time zone and full of Russians? Let’s see: Israel, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Romania, Lithuania, Ukraine. If non-Russian-speaking countries are included (after all, language settings could easily be switched as a decoy tactic), that list grows longer still: Greece, Finland, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Kenya—the countries go on and on."

  •  In spite of all this, it's still not unreasonable to assume the Russians are involved in the hack. Maybe they really are that stupid and incompetent; lord knows American policy toward Russia from 1945 to the fall of the Berlin Wall had the overestimation (& subsequent demonization) of the Soviet Union at its core.
  • Russian hack or no, there's really nothing that came out that wasn't already being discussed in some corners of the media, and the DNC misbehavior was going to be a story even without Wikileaks and/or the Russians.
  • Even if the Russians weren't involved, they certainly were trying to curry favor with the Republican nominee, as has been demonstrated over and over again, culminating most recently with Junior's own email scandal.
  So let's take a step back and take a look at where we stand: it is likely, though not definitive, that Russia tried to assert influence in the election by running a "disinformation/misinformation campaign". It is also clear that the information released, while embarrassing for the Democrats, didn't really have the weight to influence the entrenched positions in this severely polarizing election. That given, liberals really need to shut up about how Russia threw the election to their opponent. Clinton was a bad candidate who ran a shitty campaign; that's the totality of that story.

  Though the information did not really influence the election, it is becoming more and more clear that Russia expected quid pro quo for the favors done the Republican candidate. The conservatives need to shut up about how the Russian contacts are FAKE NEWS, because the administration is already neck deep in irrefutable evidence otherwise.

  The real issue at the core of the Russian episode is influence. There are plenty of people talking about this issue, yet it still tends to get lost with all the other hilarity that surrounds it. Now, again, the liberals are jumping up and down screaming about this influence; that is, after all, the very point of the laws that the administration was/is running roughshod over. So that's very bad, and worthy of all the hand wringing, right?

  Well, yes it is. But when you are talking about influence at the highest levels of our government, there are already foreign entities at the table who have the influence that Russia seeks, headlined by paragons of moral value such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Asking "who is it that controls our government?" is an absolutely important question, perhaps the most important question we can ask; but at this point Russia is bush league compared to other countries, not to mention the Adelsons, Kochs, Gilberts, and other billionaire gangsters who really run this country (most of whom would happily be doing business with Clinton had she won instead of King Cheeto).

  All this is not to make light of the Russian problem. I will not, as some on the left have, write this off to "cold warrior mentality". Putin is an asshole who assassinates his enemies and rallies his supporters around the white male supremacist fear of the other. In other words, Putin is the leader the Orange Idiot wants to be, if only he had the brains, guts, and competence. You can already see how the alt-right has enshrined Putin as a hero; he is clearly someone to be resisted at every turn.

  At the end of the day, we give the Russian Con too much weight. We must respond accordingly, but we must also not be distracted from the much more dire problems that are being rained down on us by right wingers much more intelligent and competent than Twittler. We can't suck all the air out of the room over Russia just to see a thousand other things go wrong. We must focus not only on the misbehavior of this administration, but on the avarice and mean spiritedness of our nation's political culture as a whole.
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*  There are plenty of good reasons to hate the US. Assange's motivations are mostly self-centered and bad. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The New Atheist

  There are a lot of annoying things about the New Atheist, but perhaps the most annoying thing is the fact that they get so self-righteous about "not tolerating a fiction", when in fact they celebrate a whole bunch of fictions besides the one they ostensibly don't tolerate . . . including fictions such as the idea that science exists beyond metaphor.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Privilege

  Discussions of privilege seem to be unsatisfactory, if necessary. There's no question that privilege exists, but it is just as true that the discussions of privilege are more often dead end name calling than paths to truth.

  Perhaps the issue is that we tend to get sloppy about discussing exactly how privilege functions: privilege is only active in specific social contexts; otherwise, it is latent, it is potential.  So, I exist privileged in several different ways: I am white, male, cishet, come from upper middle class, American, educated, etc. But, identifying privilege is only the start: figuring out how privilege functions is the important part.

  When involved in a social context with white, male, cishet, working class fellows, I have class privilege even though, judged by my income and lifestyle, I am working class: even if I am currently working class, I have the privilege of my upbringing because, coming from an upper class family, I have access to privilege that my working class fellows do not (for example, coming from money, I will have more access to money should an emergency arise that I can not handle with my own money and/or credit). In a social context with upper class fellows, my current working class status elevates their privilege slightly over mine . . . though in the end, products of the same economic class end up having pretty much the same level of privilege, regardless of their current circumstances.

  We can also imagine another specific social context (in academia, say) where a fellow's specific privilege my give them advantage over me even though they generally have less latent privilege than I do - maybe they are transgender, of color, etc. This privilege is limited to very specific contexts that are generally isolated from the center of power. Here, there is another level of dynamic at work: for not only are we analyzing how privilege works in a specific context, we are examining how that specific context fits into a greater framework of the social.

tl:dr; The problem is that we tend to think of privilege in its latent form as PRIVILEGE, when in reality we need to understand privilege as a social dynamic, and try to understand not only how privilege works in a specific social context, but also how privilege in a specific social context fits into a larger social framework of power and control relationships. AND THEN, we have to look at how these discrete events push back against and reshape the larger context . . . all this to say that privilege is a dynamic, not a state of being.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Fret Not, Uncle Noam Sez it's OK to Vote for Hillary

The following essay was submitted to another website in October of 2016 for a "get out the vote" discussion, but was rejected for various reasons. I toyed with the idea of putting it up here, but I started to edit the piece after it was rejected, and ended up not finishing it in time for the election. As I ran across it in my drafts the other day, it seemed to me to be still worth posting. The essay has been edited post-election for clarity; I did not include any sort of insight that may have come to me after the election.

We have better things to do than be amused by the war of the paper ballots. We have much more important business to be about. -- Peter Kropotkin, "Enemies of the People"
  Ugh, what a shitshow. I know that's been said running up to virtually every November for decades now*, but this one is special: it seems everyone is unhappy with these . . . people . . . that are running for office in this forsaken country. But, just when you think the marks are wising up, the equivocation starts creeping back in, fear takes over, everyone retreats to the old battle lines, and we're back to the same bipolar nonsense as before. Next election, everybody gets away with the same bullshit, just slightly attenuated for the times.

  And just so we're all on the same page, goofball Jill Stein and Bubba Libertarian aren't the answer either. All four of them make Obama look like a Roosevelt. Gerald Ford would have won this goddamn election in a landslide.

  As much as Republicans try to run away from Trump, he is the natural result of the Southern strategy, an evolution of the Lee Atwater ideal. The fact that he is a morally bankrupt dullard really animates this year's horror circus.

  As for Hillary, her candidacy is the culmination of a very simple strategy which has placed a Dem in the White House for 16 of the 24 years since hubby Bill first executed it in '92: as long as you are one tiny hair to the left of the nutball running for the Republicans, you can count on a lot of votes. From there, it's usually not too tough to turn the elephant into a monster, especially since the elephant usually seems more than happy to help the process along. It's actually a variation on the time-honored strategy of not getting eaten by the bear: that is, when you and your friend are trying to get away from the bear, you don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than your friend.

  Just once, I would like someone to be faster than the bear. That seems, however, too much to ask.  As we stand here, late October 2016, given the choices we have, anyone with any clarity of vision has to deeply and seriously question the efficacy of the vote.

*          *          *          *          *

  On November 8th, everyone will be running around wearing their silly little "I VOTED!" stickers like citizenship merit badges. Media personalities such as Louis C.K., who people inexplicably seem to think is a smart guy, say things like "if you don't vote for anybody, you are an asshole".  Everybody on your facebook feed is blaming non-voters for everything from the national debt to global warming. A non-voter would win the race to the bottom against a drug dealer, it would seem.

  From the liberal view, this vilification orbits around two poles: one, an abundance of evidence that the higher the percentage of voters that turn out, the more liberal the vote becomes; and two, the relentless campaign by the right to disenfranchise as many people as absolutely possible. Distilled, the liberal view is that an ideal election, with a 100% turnout of all eligible voters, would result in a truly just representative government that would almost perfectly serve the good of the people.

  The right wing, on the other hand, wants to control (read: limit) voting as much as possible. The leitmotif of right wing media during election seasons is voter fraud: the specter of Chicago-style Democrat voting haunts the imagination of almost every right winger. No, check that: the specter of hoards of brown-skinned voters haunts the imagination of almost every right winger. There is no point being delicate about it: fear of the takeover of America by non-whites informs all voting-related action by the right wing. And, make no mistake, they are very successful, with everything from gerrymandering to individual voting legalities and ID laws (read: brown people filters). Such is the obsession with voting fraud in the the right wing that a Trump voter was recently busted for voting multiple times, driven by the conviction that she had to do it to help counteract all the brown people she knew where doing it as well.

  And that, in typical bipolar American logic, delimits the whole conversation about voting:since the vote was hard won (it was), and since bad people are trying to take it away (they are), then voting is good and important (doesn't necessarily follow!). It's a horrific thought, but could the struggle for the vote be like Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault, a loud and furious fight for nothing?

*          *          *          *          *

Don’t sit this one out…we aren’t. Let’s act as citizens: stand up and take direct action by voting for leaders who support clean air, clean water and climate action.  Go #VoteOurPlanet.  -- Patagonia corporate voter PSA
The State organization, having always been [. . .] the instrument for establishing monopolies in favor of the ruling minorities, cannot be made to work for the destruction of these monopolies. [. . .] In virtue of [these] principles the anarchists refuse to be party to the present state organization and to support it by infusing fresh blood into it. They do not seek to constitute, and invite the working men not to constitute, political parties and parliaments. Accordingly, since the foundation of  the International Working Man's Association in 1864-1866, they have endeavored to promote their ideas directly amongst the labor organizations and to induce those unions to a direct struggle against capital, without placing their faith in parliamentary legislation.  -- Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism"
  The big question is, of course, precisely what does voting achieve? As noted above, a liberal would have you believe that a perfect democracy with 100% participation would bring about a truly just and benevolent society . . . and, to be clear, "just" in this case aligns with liberal values. A conservative perceives justice in his terms, and will construct a specific voting population to best execute conservative values. Both views (and the American system only allows two) assume that voting is what constitutes government. Both views are mistaken on this count.

  The government governs, or so everyone seems to assume. The government carries out the act of governance . . . and unquestionably it is a large factor in controlling (governing) our lives, but is it the only factor? Of course not - it may not even be the largest factor.

  For most of us, the person who controls our lives the most is our boss. Our boss quite frequently answers to other people, but unless you actually work for the government, our boss doesn't primarily answer to the government. Now, the person your boss ultimately answers to, the owner/CEO, may tell you they answer to the government, but that's not really accurate: they primarily answer to shareholders or, if the company is privately held, they answer to banks. Point is, the whole question of governance is not as simple as "the government governs"; and frankly, the poorer you are, the more people have a say in your life.

  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that voting is what constitutes the government (spoiler alert: it doesn't). Government, however, is only one factor that controls (governs) our lives; other factors require different actions. These actions take different forms, but generally when we want change, we expect the government to lead the change, because the belief (in this country, anyway) is that it is the government that controls everything. This kind of odd almost circular logic leads us to not only artificially limit our options for change, but also to place undue faith in the power of the vote to change things. Also, this illusion very conveniently serves the conservative establishment (not conservative in the narrow American political sense, but in the"deep state" political sense that also includes virtually all elected Democrats), which is of course run by the masters of capital; it is not an accident that the corporate exhortation quoted above urges the "citizen" to "stand up and take direct action by voting". Equating "voting" with "standing up" and "taking direct action" essentially neutralizes protest and direct action by bringing them under the purview of the governmental system. We need to be very clear on this point: voting is not protest, voting is not direct action. Voting is the act of perpetuating the government; and even if we believe that the government can work to the benefit of all (as our pal Kropotkin clearly does not), getting government square is only the start of solving the problem.

  Which leads us to our next question: is it truly possible to get the government square? That, friends, is something which should arouse your deepest skepticism. Even if the current state of governmental affairs leaves you undaunted, even if you believe you can make the government square, it's only part of the problem, and maybe not even the biggest part; and also not where one would start if one really wants to change the world for the better,

*          *          *          *          *

  Noam Chomsky, whose position can be essentially boiled down to "well, obviously Clinton is peak neoliberal, and a big part of the problem, maybe the biggest, but Donald Trump? For god's sake, you have to vote for Hillary in a swing state . . . ", speaks often of the necessity of voting. Unlike the "don't be an asshole, vote!" crowd, Chomsky understands the real import of the vote:
My feeling is that [voting is] a decision but it's the kind of decision that's kind of tenth order. I think it should be made in five minutes... Most of the time it's a very small decision, maybe if you can, you just have to compare the alternatives and see if there is on balance any difference but it doesn't seem to be a fundamental question.
Voting here is far from the much heralded "bloodless revolution" that US political supporters loudly proclaim it to be. Very far from revolutionary, voting is, at best, evolutionary. And given the principals in this election, it is not even particularly evolutionary**.

  It is this myth of "the bloodless revolution" that is the most destructive part of the American political landscape: whether you are a believer in the power of the government to change things, or whether you despair of the possibility of any true change because "the system is rigged", you are handcuffed by your faith in the government as the sole agent of change.

  Noam will tell you that it's ok to vote for Hillary, but he will also tell you that real change happens out in the street. We're not talking about charity work here; we're talking about active resistance, direct action to solve problems. We need to stand up, we need to strike, we need to march, we need to actively resist the bad that happens in our country, the bad that happens everywhere because of our country. You want to see everyone get a living wage? Then sure, vote for the politician who at least pays lip service to fighting poverty, maybe even practice your "ethical consumerism", but don't be under the illusion that change will come about that way: if you really want to change things, join them in the streets. Stand up for a living wage; make sure everyone knows this is a moral imperative.

  Ethical, compassionate politicians can only come from an ethical, compassionate culture. A good government is an end product, not a beginning. All the voting enthusiasts who do nothing more than cast ballots and bitch on public media are a much bigger part of the problem than the politically active folk who don't vote. At the end of the day, voting is no more than passive consumption of what the political establishment is selling you. It is rarely ever change, and it is never revolution.

*          *          *          *          *

  So here we are. If you need a reason to vote for Hillary, you've got it. Vote against a completely morally bankrupt administration in favor of a slightly less morally bankrupt administration; but don't pretend that solves any problems. If you really believe in the moral power of your politics, then go out and fight for them. Relegate voting to where it belongs, way down the list of your political priorities.
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*  “How many more of these stinking, double-downer sideshows will we have to go through before we can get ourselves straight enough to put together some kind of national election that will give me and the at least 20 million people I tend to agree with a chance to vote FOR something, instead of always being faced with that old familiar choice between the lesser of two evils?"  - Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
** It is important to, at long last, elect a woman president. But if being a woman president is evolutionary in and of itself, and if that is a reason in and of itself to vote for a candidate, then Carly Fiorina would do as well as Hillary Clinton, just as electing Ben Carson would have been as good as electing Barack Obama.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Condi Sez "Leave 'em Up"

. . . and I'm not sure I disagree. Leave up the Confederate statues; make sure they are tagged with a scarlet "R" and cloaked in shame, so that all know the horror which spawned this country.

The first thing that happened when W's posse seized Baghdad was that the statues of Saddam came down . . . we all saw it on TV, and I'm sure more than a few ran through the streets of their town waving American flags and crying "wooo-hooo" in celebration. For its part, Russia has been a veritable parade of statues going up and down in the twentieth century . . . and so it goes, and so it has gone pretty much all the way through history.

Here it is 2017, and we are still arguing about goddamn statues that should have been down by May of 1865. Robert E. Lee should have been carted away from Appomattox to prison, or at least forced to trudge home without sword and steed. The stars -n- bars should have been trampled underfoot from coast to coast, and relegated to the back shelves of obscure museums, instead of the bumpers of jacked up pickups and rusted Saturns nationwide.

But they were allowed to stand, and where they are, they should remain, spray painted red as blood. They remain as the ashes on the forehead of our nation, the outward sign of our inward doom: remember, from racism you came, in racism you live, from racism you shall die.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Revisionism on the Fly

Did you ever wonder, when you were young & sitting in history class listening to lectures about thirties Germany, how you would have reacted had you been there?

Well, keep a diary, 'cause now you know.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unlike fascism, capitalist totalitarian machines endeavor to divide, particularize, and molecularize the workers, meanwhile tapping their potentiality for desire. These machines infiltrate the ranks of the workers, their families, their couples, their childhood; they install themselves at the very heart of the workers' subjectivity and vision of the world. Capitalism fears large-scale movements of crowds. Its goal is to have automatic systems of regulation at its command. This regulatory role is given to the State and to the mechanisms of contractualization between the "social partners." And when a conflict breaks out of the pre-established frameworks, capitalism seeks to confine it to economic or local wars. From this standpoint, it must be acknowledged that the Western totalitarian machine has now completely surpassed its Stalinist counterpart.  -- Felix Guattari, "Everybody Wants to be a Facist", from Semiotext(e) "Anti-Oedipus" issue, vol. 2, no. 2, 1977 (added emphasis mine)