A venerable voice addresses the Occupy Movement

Staughton Lynd wrote:

My fundamental concern is that the rhetoric of the Occupy Movement includes two propositions in tension with each other. We appear to say, on the one hand, that we must seek consensus, but on the other hand, that once a General Assembly is over individuals and grouplets are free to do their own thing.

Indeed, what purpose might a General Assembly have but to set policy for those present within or represented by the body? One need not have a principled commitment to democratic centralism to recognize that a General Assembly forms in order to make decisions that bind the members to some degree. Lynd addresses the ambiguity present therein:

A careful distinction is required. In general I endorse the idea of individuals or small groups carrying out actions that the group as a whole has not, or has not yet, endorsed. I believe that such actions are like experiments. Everyone involved, those who act and those who closely observe, learns from experiences of this kind. Indeed I have compared what happens in such episodes to the parable of the Sower in the New Testament. We are the seeds. We may be cast onto stony soil, on earth that lends itself only to thistles, or into fertile ground. Whatever our separate experiences, we must lay aside the impulse to defend our prowess as organizers and periodically pool our new knowledge, bad as well as good, so as to learn from each other and better shape a common strategy.

The danger I see is that rather than conceptualizing small group actions as a learning process, in the manner I have tried to describe, we might drift into the premature conclusion that nonviolence and consensus-seeking are for the General Assembly, but once we are out on the street sterner methods are required.

Lynd points here to the gist of one problem that addles the Occupy Movement. The Movement must remain animated by the spirit of an expansively democratic formation of a common will if it is to avoid sectarianism and purposeless violence. It must learn how to collectively learn in order to secure achievements which benefit the 99% which it wants to represent. But it will fail to achieve any goals worth having if it cannot endure as a public entity, one passionately committed to democracy and the common good. These commitments can bear fruit only when they are deeply rooted in the trust movement members have in common. Lynd concludes his essay by noting that:

A principal lesson of the 1960s is that maintenance and nurturing of that kind of trust becomes more difficult as a movement or organization grows larger. Here the Zapatistas have something to teach us. They do have a form of representative government in that delegates from different villages are elected to attend coordinating assemblies. But all governing is done within the cultural context of the ancient Mayan practice of “mandar obediciendo,” that is, governing in obedience to those who are represented. Thus, after the uprising of January 1, 1994 negotiations began with emissaries from the national government. If a question arose as to which the Zapatista delegates were not instructed, they informed their counterparts that they had to go back to the villages for direction

All this lies down the road. For the moment, let’s remind ourselves of the sentiment attributed by Charles Payne to residents working with SNCC in the Mississippi Delta half a century ago: they understood that “maintaining a sense of community was itself an act of resistance.”

Gasoline prices increase because of speculative investing

Some of the explanations for America’s current relatively high gas prices contain a kernel of truth. Countries have hoarded petroleum in order to have enough of it on hand if Israel and the United States attack Iran and thereby disrupt the flow of crude oil from the region. There have been incidental disruptions to the global production of gasoline that do account for local price increases. But the speculative trading of crude oil is the primary mechanism for the price increases seen by consumers at the pumps over the past year. Rentier capital now dominates the commodity market for crude oil, according to a McClatchy report:

Historically, financial speculators accounted for about 30 percent of oil trading in commodity markets, while producers and end users made up about 70 percent. Today it’s almost the reverse.

A McClatchy review of the latest Commitment of Traders report from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which regulates oil trading, shows that producers and merchants made up just 36 percent of all contracts traded in the week ending Feb. 14.

That same week, open interest, or the total outstanding oil contracts for next-month delivery of 1,000 barrels of oil (about 42,000 gallons), stood near an all-time high above 1.486 million. Speculators who’ll never take delivery of oil made up 64 percent of the market.

Speculators are motivated only by profit-taking. Thus:

Not surprisingly, big Wall Street traders on Tuesday projected oil will rise above $112 a barrel; some such as Swiss giant Vitol even suggested $150-a-barrel oil is coming soon. When they dominate the market, as they do, speculators’ bids can make their prophecies self-fulfilling.

Austerity is for the “have-nots,” Alan Simpson’s “little people.” Times are fat for the “haves,” who have the means and the will to profit well from the misery of others.

The Department of Homeland Security observed the Occupy Movement

English: Seal of the United States Department ...One may find among the Stratfor email cache just released by WikiLeaks a Department of Homeland Security Assessment Report which discussed the ‘threats posed by’ the Occupy Movement. The report begins with this passage:

Mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas. Large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.

It is clear that this report prejudges a movement that has never committed itself to using violence to achieve political goals. Its commitment to non-violent methods is so unlike the official commitment to using violent methods when confronting the Occupy Movement. It is a well-established fact that law enforcement departments in numerous cities have used violent techniques to suppress the legal exercise of a citizen’s First Amendment rights. There are also reasons to believe that the Department of Homeland Security along with similar federal agencies coordinated the suppression of the Occupy Movement that occurred late last year. It is both ironic and unsurprising that the disorder surrounding the Occupy Movement originated mostly from the actions of the police.

Environmental science — an ersatz religion

Humpty Dumpty

In a speech he recently made to the Ohio Christian Alliance, Rick Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania and a Republican candidate for President, recently accused President Obama of having a “phony theology,” one that does not derive from The Bible and which the President has imposed on the citizens of the United States.

Although Santorum later admitted that Obama is a Christian — Santorum: “I wasn’t suggesting the president was not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president’s a Christian….” — it remains the case that the President’s theology is a secular belief system.

Speaking for myself, I find it difficult to glean the mediating concepts Santorum needs to use in order to logically reconcile his claim that Obama is a Christian (as is Santorum and the citizens to which he directs his propaganda) and the claim that Obama believes and wishes to impose a phony theology on America? Amazingly enough, claims of this sort are shaky ground for a Catholic politician in the United States, the Catholic’s Church being the Whore of Babylon and the Pope the Antichrist for some of protestant America. One might wonder why Santorum makes these claims given the history of anti-Catholicism in the United States. Be that as it may, Santorum did eventually clarify his position on Obama’s theology. Santorum believes Obama is an environmentalist. That is Obama’s theology! Moreover, environmentalism is not only a theology, it is a belief system based on the misuse of scientific evidence. The abuse: Claims which assert the existence of anthropocentric global warming are a “hoax,” according to Santorum. The evidence does not support the anthropocentric global warming position. (The anthropocentric global warming thesis is the consensus opinion among the experts.) And Obama, for his part, has been an industry-friendly advocate of green energy proposals. Because he is such, Obama wants to impose his “phony theology,” environmentalism, on the United States.

The crux of the matter: Are climate science, ecology and biology theological belief systems? Is environmentalism, the practical use of these sciences, a theology? Not at all if by theology one means a discourse (logos) about the nature of the divine (theos being the Greek word for God). One can be an atheist, a practicing scientist and an environmentalist without contradiction. These are not mutually exclusive terms. Nor does scientific practice entail the enchantment of nature. A scientist can practice her craft believing the universe to be nothing more than a consciousless, intentionless, aimless set of mechanisms. But historical semantics does not concern an obscurantist thinker like Santorum. He only needs to label environmentalism a theology because it is a belief system, and it, like every belief system, allegedly has a theological core and even a theodicy. That modern science and the practical disciplines based on it lack a concept of the divine does not matter here. Nor does it matter that belief systems are not also theologies. What matters for individuals like Santorum is the conflation of the terms “theology” and “belief system” equips him with the tool needed to claim that Obama is oppressing Christians with a “phony theology.” Obama wants to impose both bad science (a “hoax”) and a “phony theology” (environmentalism) on Americans. Environmentalism raises First Amendment issues for Santorum and those who think like him, environmentalism being a religion! Obama’s support for such injures those who practice different religions.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. “It means just what I choose it to mean — neither more or less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Cynicism in politics?

Paul Krugman noticed the cynic at work in a recent Romney gaffe and its aftermath:

Speaking in Michigan, Mr. Romney was asked about deficit reduction, and he absent-mindedly said something completely reasonable: “If you just cut, if all you’re thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you’ll slow down the economy.” A-ha. So he believes that cutting government spending hurts growth, other things equal.

Romney, it seems, is a closeted Keynesian, which is a sin against modern Republicanism far worse than being a closeted gay man!

Romney aide Ryan Williams quickly attempted to control the damage Romney’s lapse caused:

“The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around. However, he believes that budget cuts — especially in the context of President Obama’s unprecedented spending explosion — are a step in the right direction. As he made clear in his economic plan, he believes that spending cuts that reduce the size of government and balance the budget are crucial to economic growth and job creation.”

How might we reconcile Romney’s claim about government spending cuts and Ryan William’s ‘explanation’? It so happens that the two cannot be reconciled. Market fundamentalism demands that one makes a choice. One is either a fundamentalist or not. Krugman cheerfully concludes from this episode that Romney “…is running a campaign of almost pathological dishonesty.” Krugman continues to mine this political gold:

Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?

As I see it, it comes down to the cynicism underlying the whole enterprise. Once you’ve decided to hide your beliefs and say whatever you think will get you the nomination, to pretend to agree with people you privately believe are fools, why worry at all about truth?

Of course, I want to mention here that Barack Obama openly played to his party’s base in 2008. They believed him to be a left-of-center reformer and a defender of the rule of law while President Obama has been anything but such. That difference, namely, the gap between candidate Obama’s rhetoric and President Obama’s actions, reflects the cynicism which inheres in his political project. That project culminated with his winning the election, taking power and then serving the interests of the moneyed elite that paid for much of his campaign.

Cynics act as their wishes demand. Principles, truth, honesty, good faith, humanity — these are just tools the politician-cynic uses in her quest for power, as Machiavelli explained centuries back:

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated [see this chapter], but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it.

For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.

For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.

Berkeley Police Department scapegoats Occupy Oakland

An elderly couple in Berkeley, CA, the Cukors, called the Berkeley Police Department to report a trespasser near to their home. When the Berkeley PD failed to send a patrol car to investigate the matter, Peter Cukor left his home and went to the local fire station for help. The station was out on a call, however. When he returned home, the trespasser beat him to death with a flower pot.

The alleged assailant, Daniel Dewitt, was arrested near to the crime scene and has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Despite his illness, Dewitt failed to obtain the in-patient care he needed. Despite the Cukor’s calls to the Berkeley PD, they failed to get the assistance they needed to manage a situation that was more dangerous than they initially believed. Mr. Cukor is dead because of these failures.

The Berkeley PD’s explanation for its initial failure to respond to the Cukor’s call:

“At that time, available officers were being reconfigured in order to monitor a (Occupy Oakland) protest which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour,” Greenwood said. “Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service.”

So, the Berkeley Police Department blames Occupy Oakland for an event in which the movement was not involved. It is ironic that the march was peaceful, according to an Occupy Oakland activist interviewed by the Huffington Post.

Occupy Oakland has yet to release a statement on the incident and the blame placed on it by the Berkeley PD.

Neoliberalism is an ideology and a compulsion

The symbol of the Euro in front of the Europea...

Mike Whitney and Dean Baker argue that those leading the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund (The Troika) find it difficult to experience the world but through the lens of their idiotic economic theory. Baker had the recent opportunity to observe the Troika in action. He drew this conclusion:

There is no economic reasoning behind the troika’s positions. For practical purposes, Greece and the other debt-burdened countries are dealing with crazy people. The pain being imposed is not a route to economic health; rather it is a gruesome bleeding process that will only leave the patient worse off. The economic doctors at the troika are clueless when it comes to understanding a modern economy.

Mike Whitney’s analysis affirms Baker’s assessment. Whitney notes that, “If Greece’s €130 billion loan was going to be used for fiscal stimulus, then it might be worth the commitment. Because that kind of money could put a lot people back to work and kick-start the economy fast.” Yet…he continues by observing:

But the loan isn’t going to be used for stimulus. It’s going to be used to recapitalize the banks and pay off creditors, neither of which will do anything to boost activity or create jobs. So, why bother? Why dig an even deeper hole if it achieves nothing? If that’s the case, then Greece should just default now and start rebuilding the economy ASAP. There’s no point in putting it off any longer.

Indeed, why would Greece accept the bitter medicine dispensed by the European Union?

The troika (the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund) is demanding another €3 billion in spending cuts even though unemployment is tipping 20 percent and the economy shrank 7 percent in the last quarter. What sense does that make? You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Greece won’t reach its budget targets if tax revenues continue to fall because everyone’s either been laid off or taking a pay-cut. It will just make a bad situation even worse. But the troika doesn’t worry about these type of things. They don’t care that their lamebrain economic theories have failed miserably so far, or that their austerity measures have been a complete flop. They just keep plugging along making the same mistakes over and over again, impervious to the criticism of reputable economists, oblivious to the abysmal results, they remain steadfast in their commitment to belt tightening, sure that a strict diet of breadcrumbs and water is the best way to nurse an ailing economy back to health. It doesn’t bother them that the facts prove otherwise.

An austerity politics entails personal suffering for many people. It immiserates them by design. This effect is considered a feature of an austerity regime. And the Greeks have already suffered, as we know. But an austerity politics also makes little sense during a recession. It is a policy regime a crazy person recommends.

The upshot: The government of Greece, if it were rational, would take the Argentinean path to recovery. Country debt and risk are not perpetual prison sentences. If Greece were to take this path, it would default on its obligations and exit the European Union (advocated here). It ought to do so because its current predicament and the proposed — or imposed — ‘remedy’ for it will only serve to transfer wealth to the financial institutions holding Greece’s debt and, of course, to plunder the country of those assets worth owning (discussed by Michael Hudson here). Greek “have-nots” have and continue to protest this imperial imposition on their country. It is rational for them to do this just as it is rational for the Greek government default on its financial obligations and jettison the Euro.

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Quote of the day

Andrew Leonard wrote:

There’s no getting around the hard truth: right now, there is no such thing as an “ethical smartphone.” Or, for that matter, an ethical flat-screen TV, digital camera, or any kind of personal computer.

Labor abuse offshore is hardly a new phenomenon. It is not strongly correlated to the production of digital technology in the Far East. Nor, for that matter, is labor abuse unknown onshore (see, for instance, this, this, this, etc.). Worker’s suffer abuse because they are exploitable
commodities and because some employers seek to extract well-above average value from the worker’s they use. The abuse often enables these super-exploiters to take this above-average value from their workers.

If Leonard or anyone else wants to purchase ethically defensible goods, they might find during their research that their lives are thoroughly compromised by the objects they consume. And, as I have already pointed out, this is not a new problem. It is a feature specific to capitalist and imperialist economic systems.

Frank VanderSloot responds to his critics

Surprise! It’s the liberal media!

VanderSloot’s response can be read here.

Originally posted on The Idaho Agenda:

Frank VanderSloot has released his response to Glenn Greenwald’s Salon.com articleYou can read VanderSloot’s statement in its entirety HERE.

As one of the blogs mentioned in the Greenwald piece, I would like to offer my own perspective on a few of his points, as well as issue Mr. VanderSloot a challenge of sorts.

The first time I had ever heard of Frank VanderSloot was during the “It’s Elementary” controversy. I had only recently come out of the closet and was still trying to figure out what exactly it meant to be a gay man living in Idaho.

I remember watching the film, hope filling up inside me, thinking, if only my own teachers had taken the time to explain that it was okay to be who I was and that it was okay to have respect for others regardless of our differences, I could have been…

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