2012 Election, Activism, Chief Justice John Roberts, Civil rights, Conservatism, Supreme Court

Voting Rights Under Siege

vote

What the GOP are trying at the state level and the conservatives on the Supreme Court by judicial fiat is an all out destruction of the Civil Rights Movement accomplishments and an institutionalization of Jim Crow election laws.

Pure and simple.

Justice Scalia today said that some parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 smacked of “racial entitlement”. You read that correctly. A supreme court justice in the 21st century just claimed that the enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution is an example of “reverse racism”, the insidious racist apology that legitimizes Jim Crow institutional racism. I have to say that I am honestly stunned by this. I cannot believe I am seeing a return to the sort of ignorance and stupidity that marked the legal decisions of the Supreme Court during the era of Dred Scott and Plessy. The congress updated and reconfirmed the Voting Rights act as recently as 2006 with near unanimous support. What has changed between then and now? The election and reelection of an African American President by an electorate that is made up of more minorities than ever before. This is the worst nightmare of the GOP and conservative whites in the south and midwest. They will do anything they can to stop states like Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and South Carolina becoming viable battleground states in future elections. They will do anything to keep the United States from becoming a pluralized racially diverse democracy. It will not stop there of course: they will try, and are already trying, to limit the voting rights of students, women, latinos, naturalized citizens and young people. They want the past, the Jim Crow nadir of the first half of the 20th century, to return with the full force of the Supreme Court behind it. This is racism, this is fear. If the court invalidates this law the United States will cease to be a democracy.

Pure and simple

I will write more on this it unfolds

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Activism, Capitalism, Communism, economy, Free Market, Socialism

Socialism, Capitalism, and Bill Moyers

Economist-Richard-Wolff-via-screencap-615x345

[Analysis of the Moyers and Company interview of Dr. Richard Wolff airing 22/2/13

All quotes from the show are in italics]

                Things just get more and more interesting. Today I had the pleasure of watching the show Moyers and Company on PBS during one of my many late night working sprees. I was surprised to find the doyen of left-wing media interviewing an economist from the ideological wilderness, at least when compared to most economists who are blessed with the status if media talking head. Richard Wolff is a graduate of Harvard, Stanford and Yale and currently teaches at the New School University in New York and at the Sorbonne in Paris. This is the sort of pedigree that produces your Larry Summers or your Alan Greenspan’s; loyal officers in the command of capitalist industry and the powers that be in their thrall. Not so Dr. Wolff. He is a proud critic of the capitalist institutions that the people of the US, or rather the proletariat, have come to depend on and all but worship. He made it known to Mr. Moyers that he makes special effort to go beyond his classical economics education, the realm of Smith and Keynes et al, and into the much maligned and feared realm of Marxist critiques of the traditional economic theories of capitalist orthodoxy.

He describes himself as a Marxian economist in the tradition of Etienne Balibar and other continental Marxist philosopher/theorists. He is a proponent of what he refers to as “worker self-directed enterprises”, a form of democratic economic worker organization that aims to defuse the authority from within a business or place of work back to the workers so that they may have a real and empowering stake in the mode of production and the allocation of excess capital. Dr. Wolff sees such a pursuit as a step in the direction of larger scale socio-economic reform that can in time facilitate “democratiz[ing] education”.1

Moyers knew he was dealing with a figure of immense energy and expressiveness and he kept his questions simple but to the point. The focus was mainly on the assumptions made about the American capitalist system and the benefits and drawbacks inherent to the system. Dr. Wolff discussed the impact of the Roosevelt New Deal policies on the modern perception of government action in the market system. Roosevelt struck what was then a grand bargain with a segment of the corporate class and capitalist barons of industry that allowed for the creation of the modern welfare state that preserved a semblance of order and comfort in a market that had gone haywire mostly on account of capitalist abuse (or I suppose proper use) of market mechanisms. Dr. Wolff made clear his belief that the robust minority of socialist, anarchist and communist parties and movements in the early 20th century pushed the greater civil society towards demanding just such a bargain that Roosevelt ended up making. This collaboration ended with the end of the boom caused by war spending during the global conflict of 1939-1945 as the newly coalescing middle classes separated from the proletariat roots of reform and gained a foothold in the rising market state bolstered by the funding of the welfare state. Dr. Wolff said “After the war the history of the US was the history of the dismantling of the communist and socialist parties and the unions.” This process, according to the good Doctor, continues to this day and has reached full expression in the populist hatred of organized labor and the welfare state itself. Such antagonism appears as a reactionary fear of losing the promise of “The American Dream”.

Moyers pressed the issue and asked some pointed questions probing this thesis. Would the American proletariat be perpetually stuck in this mode of reinforcing through belief and coerced participation their own exploitation by the forces behind market mechanisms? The story so far was verging close to fatalism. But Dr. Wolff was far from fatalistic. He confirmed that indeed “[Americans] thought that the American dream got better and better and got more available[and] They can’t quite believe it’s not there anymore”, but this was not to be taken as an excuse for perpetual pessimism. Just because the American proletariat had a longer way to fall did not mean that they would never reach rock bottom, a point where even the placated American worker would find his situation unbearable. Dr. Wolff says that what is needed to achieve the American Dream i.e. credit, debt, grueling work and an education that most people will not be able to pay-off until they have their first grandchild, is becoming ever more and more impossible. Dr. Wolff explains that this realization that the American dream that the proletariat was promised in exchange for their fealty to the capitalist system no longer really exists anymore and this realization

“[…] produces a kind of stasis, a kind of shock […] and then a boiling over.”

It is this “boiling over” that Dr. Wolff sees as the true reason for optimism in the face of a nihilistic capitalist system. Perhaps then the American proletariat can begin to see their future beyond this dream that has become a nightmare for so many and forge a new promise that can be sustained and passed from one generation to the next.

Moyers ended the interview on this positive note and I could not help but feeling a bit disappointed. The interview had lasted the better part of an hour but I really did want to hear more from a classically trained economist who nonetheless subscribed to Marxist theory and social democratic principles. It is rare enough to find such a point of view expressed in public media discourse. Marxism is still taboo in the capitalist wonderland (or rather dystopia) that is the United States and to see it talked about in an unbiased manner by a man who is both a critic and a proponent of the theories involved was refreshing indeed. Dr. Wolff explained that within the realm of business (a discipline he insists is entirely separate than the pursuit of pure economics)

“if you criticize capitalism then you do not understand it.” 2

Wolff puts the lie to this notion with this interview and I do hope that he will have chance to make this clear to a wider audience in the future.

 

 

  1. Democracy Realized, Wolff, Richard, retrieved from http://rdwolff.com/content/democracy-realized
  2. All quotes in italics from Interview with Dr. Richard Wolff,

http://www.rdwolff.com/content/moyers-company

 

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art, Fashion, Media, TV

Make it Work

Project-Runway_1_L

I love Project Runway!

My wife and I watch it together every Thursday and we are downright obsessed with it. When I tell some of my male friends this they give me a weird sort of look but then I just pity them…BECAUSE THIS SHOW FREAKING ROCKS!

I have watched since about season 4 and the show has actually increased my interest in fashion and made me realize the true art behind it all. No other show on TV shows artists in such a positive light and gives them the free reign to be totally creative. Art on TV is so often made into a tacky one-off stunt but Project Runway takes the fashion world seriously. Of course there is the product placement and the commercialism but that is to be expected from a major cable network show…the thing that works for it as well is that the show is about an industry dependent and connected with the media and product world. As a socialist it is my filthy capitalist scum guilty pleasure!

Another great thing about the show is it shows gay men, lesbians and LGBT-friendly men in a positive and sympathetic light. Too often we are shown straight men and women who are “afraid” of people from the LGBT community but this show depicts a world where people can get along and care about each other for who they are and support each other because of the content of their character and the substance of their talent. It is cliche to say but it is really inspiring to me. There are so many LGBT people in my own life who I love and care about and so often the media shows the LGBT community in a negative or exploitative light. This show shows members of this community, and their straight friends and family, in a position of power, authority, and pride. It is a good thing to see on TV, especially in the US.

Tim Gunn is perhaps the most likable man on TV, the man who I think everyone (myself included) wishes were their grandfather or uncle! Heidi Klum is the one model who is approachable and down to earth, and she is gorgeous and friendly. And the judges they have on always seem to genuinely enjoy their job on the show and taking part.

Some of my favorite designers have been the odd-balls: Christian Siriano, Kenley Collins, Mondo Guerra, and and Uli Herzner are my three all time favorites. I have an outright crush on Uli and Kenley…they are so beautiful and confident and artistic women always really appeal to me.

Even the “failures” on the show make an impact and show off the imagination and the skill of these artists. You can all but feel the passion of these artists radiating off of the screen. It really inspires me as an artist.

If you have not watched this show, get into it NOW! Go look up the old seasons and try and catch up! It is easily the best “reality TV” show. It is SO MUCH FUN!

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GOP, Michelle Malkin, Politics, Republicans

Michelle Malkin Insults Women Everywhere

michellemalinfinger

Professional conservative apologist (for racism, capitalist exploitation, sexism and homophobia) Michelle Malkin is known for her inane and bigoted statements but I think she has crossed some sort of line with her latest post

The  University of Colorado- Colorado Springs has supposedly (according to her “source” at least) posted some information on how to prevent rape on campus. What she lists, if she is to be believed, is rather silly and paternalistic but it does not rise to the level of assault against the dignity of all who behold it…Malkin’s main problem seems to be that the advice and the advice offered by a Colorado state Rep. does not including purchasing a handgun and blasting away at any and all comers. She says that liberal gun safety advocates want women in danger..“Passive resistance” is what the gun-grabbers want to impose on all of us” she claims. Well…ok. That is a stupid, but nothing that raises above the bilge Malkin usually spews. What comes next is just pure misogyny and rape apology at its worst

Malkin claims that the University forgot one “surefire deterrent: Dress up as a Code Pink activist.” When I read this I literally thought my eyes had deceived me: had this woman just made the claim that being a Code Pink activist made you impervious to rape? I read it a few times before this really sunk in…this woman had just joked that Code Pink activists were…what? I honestly don’t know what she was trying to say with this horrible “joke”. I don’t want to know. It is the worst type of rape “humor”: belittling women both by claiming that their appearance or identity can prevent or cause rape while at the same time making sexual violence into something that can be laughed at and dismissed. Malkin, through her terrible sexism and attempt at “humor” insults all women, men, and victims of sexual violence. She has gone too far this time. She brings shame down on herself and on the entire conservative blogging community who supports her and laughs at her disgusting excuse for “humor”. This incident happens to coincide with a terrible trending topic on twitter relating to sexual violence and making jokes about it. If this is not a war on women I do not know what is.

Malkin should apologize to women and victims of sexual violence and she should do so publicly. 

Here is the link to the blog I have been referring to, and a screenshot of the offensive joke. I have a feeling it may be scrubbed soon so I am glad I was able to document it.

http://michellemalkin.com/2013/02/18/colorado-morons-want-to-leave-women-defenseless-vomiting-or-urinating-better-than-carrying-a-gun/

malkincatch

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Conservatism, Criticism, Philosophy, Politics

On Lenin’s “Word And Deed”

LeninWriting

We are constantly making the mistake in Russia of judging the slogans and tactics of a certain party or group, of judging its general trend, by the intentions or motives that the group claims for itself. Such judgement is worthless. The road to hell—as was said long ago—is paved with good intentions.”1

                        Lenin wrote these words at a time in history that would inevitably be seen to be nearly providential by those looking back from the contemporary vantage point. In 1913The crucible of revolution had yet to boil over into the true paradigm shift that was the fall of the Russian Monarchy and capitalist structure. Today the events of that moment in time were indeed the destination found at the end of a hellish road. But we forget today, or are made to ignore the fact that history is not preordained or inevitable. Lenin wrote in this letter, Word and Deed, of very immediate and relevant social upheaval. We cannot look at this letter as a piece of self-conscious dogma; instead we must realize that Lenin is expressing a realization of political reality that is made self-evident by the events taking place around him.

The workers strike was still seen as a violation of societal doxa, a rejection of the contract written and executed from above and based upon the premise that mass civic action was a form of terrorism. Lenin makes an especial case against the liberal members of the structural orthodoxy who viewed worker organization and proletarian action as a dangerous attack on their own pursuit of “reform” within the context of the existing system. The rejection of the liberal bourgeois conception that change within a flawed system is required or preferable to the dismantling of the system through class struggle was an important step for the socialist movement in Russia and an essential signpost on the road that we are still traveling towards a more sustainable and equitable system. By accepting the claims of liberal parties and movements that they are friendly towards the proletariat socialism is undermined and indeed made heterodox. A step forward on a crooked road is not progress made towards the destination; it is for all intents and purposes a step backwards to a state of affairs intolerable to the interests of the proletariat and its aims.

For example, look at the liberal Democratic party pledge of strengthening the middle class[es] through “hope” for “change” in the system of market capitalism. But what sort of “change” can be expected when there is no rejection of underlying conditions that lead to inequality or abuse? The classic capitalist class system is upheld and even celebrated by the acceptance of a reformation of processes and laws that can only see success as the increasing stratification and separation of workers from each other. The middle class becomes a destination away from the working classes, a realm apart and a vantage point from which the anointed can look back in shame and increasing disgust at the situation of the proletariat. Lenin says that there is nothing remarkable about the upper class, governmental or conservative reactionary dismissal of proletarian needs and struggles but that “Much “newer” is the amazing indifference of the bourgeoisie”.

                Similarly the antagonism between the Democratic party and the vast and expanding ex post politico “working poor” (as the proletariat is referred to within the context of contemporary American politics) is, if not actually increasing, becoming more apparent and shocking to those who once labored under the delusion that at least one party represented a means of support for the worker. The liberal “solution” to the problems of the unequal division of wealth and exploitation of labor is simply a less violent entrance into a feedback loop that preserves the systems that create the need for such exploitation. Members of the proletariat need to come to terms with the fact that they were and are “making the mistake of […] judging the slogans and tactics of” the liberal Democratic party based on their own standards that reject the very idea that the capitalist system is something to be overcome. Indeed, Lenin goes on to say, “in many cases this indifference [on the part of the liberal factions] changes to a negative attitude” and eventually expresses itself as so much reactionary more violence against the rejection of the class constraints advocated by the Marxist philosophies and socialist parties. Lenin is correct that we must look beyond the word and to the deed when examining the intentions of those professing to be allies of the proletariat and its cause. Lenin makes it clear that in order to move the proletariat cause forward liberal conciliation with reactionary forces and capitalist institutions must  be combated as though the factions were one and the same.

 

  1. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/jul/16.htm
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Ancient History, Socialism, Violence, War, War Crimes

The Military Grunt as Moral Scapegoat

grunt_vietnam_375

In the mediocre Roman film yarn Centurion,  about the often lionized and mythologized imperial Roman state and its army, for a quote that makes a nonetheless  near perfect summation of the argument I endeavor to make about the attitudes that allow for the continued disrespect and disgust of the “grunt” i.e. worker class of the military:

 

In the chaos of battle, when the ground beneath your feet is a slurry of blood, puke, piss and the entrails of friends and enemies alike, it’s easy to turn to the gods for salvation. But it’s soldiers who do the fighting, and soldiers who do the dying, and the gods never get their feet wet.

               

Those left wing intellectuals and activists who shun the military and its members as a part of a capitalist power structure do so out of facile stupidity and a lack of perspective. Those who fight the wars and military actions undertaken by the United States and its corporate multi-national partners do so largely out of devotion to the ideal of a nation that would be admirable if actually extant; one devoted to individual liberty, communal safety and prosperity, democratic ideals and a respect for those aspects of our national political theory that serve to uphold the common good. There is nothing inherently inhumane or exploitative about this set of principles and the members of the military who fight and die for this ideal should not be ostracized or belittled. We must remember that 90% of our military is made up of those who if they did not live within the military system would be considered working class or even impoverished, though these categories are increasingly becoming one and the same. The military is a largely proletariat army fighting bourgeois wars. We should not punish those who do the fighting, dying and bleeding in national military actions for the crimes of the power structure that is made up of and beholden to the idea of capitalist imperial expansion.

Why do we as socialists treat the military as a part of the enemy structure? Well, because we have been conditioned to do so by our media and culture. In so many media and cultural depictions of the military there is a bias towards depicting the cataclysmic and orgiastic violence of war. This is not shown as a systemic aspect inherent to war, or the equally endemic corruption and cynicism of the management and leadership class, but as the unique failing of the “grunt”. The grunt is a macho, uneducated, uncouth and altogether lower class individual, a sort of hick army ant whose innate violent tendencies are revealed when he is unleashed upon the helpless hordes of the nation targeted for military punishment. When a massacre occurs in military context, be it a fictional depiction as in Full Metal Jacket or Platoon, or in the many media stories that proliferate during increasingly unpopular military endeavors, the focus is invariable and inevitably put on the individual soldier. This was one of the major failings of the Vietnam era protest movement. We focus on the torture-porn sensationalism of individual acts of depravity and fetishize the idea that the military grunt is inherently unstable and profane. Indeed why would we expect anything more from the poor, the uneducated and the un-bourgeois?

What goes unseen is the corrupting nature of the structures that govern the military and the civilian bureaucracies that govern its actions and activities. The officer class, the bureaucrat power structure and the management who represent capitalist business and power interests are largely to blame for the real evils of martial brutality. We seem to suffer under the delusion that our grunts appear where they are ‘needed’ almost by magical fiat, and once in theater they live within an anarchic society governed by the innate brutality of the lower classes. Mai Lai, Abu Gharaib, Gitmo, the excesses bombing of Axis occupied cities during the Second World War. All of these moral travesties are often looked at through the lens of “how could they?”, as though these actions were dreamed up by the depraved minds of individual grunts without any sort of input or tacit approval from the higer military/civilian command. Within the contemporary context when a grunt commits unacceptable military violence it is an “atrocity” and an example of “brutality”. However, when we do deign to look at the responsibility of the power structures and command figures we see the same incidents as “failures of policy” or “tactical blunders”. The soldier did the actual killing so we choose not to apportion blame to the command class or analyze their own culpability in the action committed. Do atrocities and crimes against humanity really only occur in a working class vacuum? Do the officers and the bureaucrats get to skate by without any blame at all?

When prisoners are mistreated we do not attack the inherent morality of Generals and Defense Secretaries as we do the soldiers who do the “wet work”; at worst we scold them for failing to keep control over the little savages in their control and at the best we praise them for doing the nations “dirty work”. We expect our Generals and Secretaries to appear pure, noble, and competent. We see them as the stopgap keeping the brutality of the grunt class at bay. What we do not realize is that the true responsibility for the wars, atrocities, and violence we see on a day to day basis lies with the command structure. These grunts do not send themselves overseas! They do not choose where they go or why and they do not pick what the overall aim of a mission is! They are paid enough to maintain themselves, fed, clothed, trained with particular pre-ordained skills, told that their cause is just and that violence is a sign of patriotic potency.

There is a reason that the military recruits most actively in areas that are economically depressed (often by the same powers and interests that dictate military policy) and in working class, immigrant and minority communities. These are areas where the lore of escape from oppression is reason enough to want a paycheck, a gun, a uniform and a cause to die and kill for. Why should we be surprised when the violence inherent to these situations is displaced and projected onto foreign communities with even less power and opportunity than the areas from which the grunts themselves have emerged? The unacceptable side-effects of free market created poverty and oppression are made palatable or at least plausibly deniable when transported into a foreign realm. The pitiable and sympathetic underclass becomes the reprehensible and brutal warriors unfit for civilized consumption. The officers, bureaucrats, and secretaries become the true heroes, the real best and brightest, the true essence of American nobility, even if they half-heartedly insist that we give applause and laurels to the “brave” military grunts they have already tainted forever through the missions they have mandated and the atrocities they have set in motion. The grunts are heroes when they go off to war, heroes when they do the sort of killing that we are told is acceptable, and heroes when the sacrifice their own lives for a cause that becomes more opaque the closer you look at it, but they are untouchable when they commit deeds outside of the standards of acceptability. Of course these standards are set by the Generals and the secretaries and the grunts can only go where they are told. This makes it all the easier to discard these displaced proletarians when they are brought back from the foreign killing fields and all the easier to think that this is just what happens when you let the underclass take power into their own hands.

Military action serves not just to expand capitalist and bourgeois power overseas and to create new free markets and dependencies but also as a way to turn potential sympathy for oppressed proletariat victims into antipathy towards and fear of brutal militarized victimizers. We turn the working class heroes of everyday life into monsters in a never ending charnel carnival where acts of patriotic violence are exhibited for our amusement and self-validation. Those at the top are never monsters and they are never to be feared. At the most they are “failures” who should be “punished” by being expelled from the public realm into permanent exile in the private sector. Of course now that the private sector largely controls the public realm, how is this in any way exile?

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Existentialism, Mythology, Philosophy, Philosophy of Art, poetry

I Worship a Mirror

Narcissus Caravaggio

If we are to live as men without god

Then we must first realize that we are the deity

We are the invisible hand we revere

We are washed clean of sin with our own blood don’t you see?

Haven’t you always found it to be odd

That god always seemed to be free

From scruples and blame and the mere

Doubt that afflicts and affects humanity?

I never saw fit to spare the rod

When came to that child of folly

Called variously faith or fear

I spoiled the lie when I realized that I was God and God was me

Though I cannot help but applaud

The shear brilliance of the self-delusion and stupidity

Inherent in looking in the mirror

And seeing not a reflection but a deity

 

The Song of the Hedonist

Sing me a song of temptation

And I’ll dance like a Dionysian child

For if there’s a hint of elation

In your voice well then my spirit will go wild

Everything is partaken of freely

Though nothing is taken for granted

The aroma of salvation is deadly

But its dangerous reputation is vaunted

Tethered to the immortal credo

A tin-pot lie sold to us as the golden truth

Don’t the prophet’s realize what we do?

Theodicy is getting a bit long in the tooth

For once let us gain from our progress

Instead of fleeing from change in all forms

For faith is an infinite regress

That feeds upon long discredited norms

Religion is naught but a draught

Taken by the platonic to sooth their wavering consciences

Sobriety is what we have sought

So that we can finally enjoy our corporeal senses

We live for our dreams and our pleasures

We die when our bodies have been run down

We enjoy the earth’s Hedonistic treasures

And we waste not a moment on fear or penitent frowns

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