Saturday, March 30, 2013

Geographic Fundamentalism


“Guns, Germs & Steel – the Fates of Human Societies,” by Jared Diamond, 1999

This is the book that really brought Diamond to world attention, and was followed up by “Collapse” which took the same themes and focused on social failures in history.  (“Collapse” is also reviewed below.)  It is probably one of the seminal geography books published in the last 15 years.  Diamond essentially wrote this book to oppose the theory that either genetic or cultural factors in certain populations doomed them to be social failures, and that the alleged superiority of European or north American genes, culture or economics made it possible for them to rule the world.

The book is clearly written and detailed, though not quite so dramatic or overtly political as ‘Collapse.’  It could be read as a geography textbook.  He pivots on the famous meeting of Pizarro and the Inca Emperor Atahuallaca in the Peruvian city of Cajamarca.  After inviting him to a meeting, Pizzaro ambushed Atahuallaca with horses, guns, armor and swords and captured him, while routing and killing thousands of Incas with a tiny force of 158 conquistadores.  How could something like this happen?

Diamond bases his theory on careful geographic and environmental analysis, avoiding any hints of social idealism or myth-making, and as such, gives a materialist view on the origins of human civilization.  This book bases itself on environmental conditions, but it only goes to a certain point in history.  It focuses on the development of class structures leading to technologies that gave one society an advantage over other societies.  According to Diamond, that class structure was originally based on the development of agriculture and the surpluses derived from agriculture, a point Marx and Engels also made.  In Diamond’s telling, agriculture ultimately originates from the specific physical environments each society or group of people found themselves in accidentally.  These environments were not general to all parts of the world, but were specific to certain continents, and parts of continents. 

Just as Darwin used the Galapagos islands as a laboratory to study evolution, so Diamond uses mostly isolated or island cultures to study the evolution of societies.  In this book he has separate sections on Australia and New Guinea; China; extended Polynesia; the collision of Eurasia and the Americas and Black Africa.

Diamond maps the origins of the key grains, legumes and domestic animals in history, locating the most important geographic areas in the world – the main one being the ‘fertile crescent’ arching from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria through Iran, Iraq and Turkey.  This area was one of the first sources of agriculture, based on the superior environmental conditions present at that time – wet winters, dry, warm summers, varieties of elevations, the presence of certain key, easily available wild plants containing much protein – wheat and barley; lentils, peas, chickpeas and vetch; flax, source of clothing, rope and fabric; and wild mammals that turned into 4 of the 5 key domestic animals to this day – pigs, sheep, cows and goats.  These domestic animals were sources of food and work.  The Fertile Crescent was a virtual cornucopia of valuable agriculture, ripe for the taking.  Other areas in the world where herding and agriculture development began independently – China, Mesoamerica, New Guinea and secondarily, the Mississippi Valley; Peru and perhaps the Sahel – did not have as many natural positives as this environment according to Diamond. 

The development of agriculture can lead to surpluses, which leads to people who do not grow food, but specialize in other skills.  It leads to hierarchies, to population growth, to new technologies developed by the specialists, to writing and eventually conquest.  A hunter-gatherer society cannot withstand an attack by such a society.  Hunter-gatherer societies, inherently equal and communistic, would only transition to agriculture if the land supported such a process - and if hunter-gathering had reached its limits.  And this was not true in all locations.

Another benefit the Fertile Crescent had as a locus for agriculture was it allowed its discoveries and technologies to spread east to west along latitude lines, from the Atlantic to India’s Indus Valley, and just north into Europe.  No natural barriers existed, according to Diamond, even given the Bosporus.  However, in East Asia, the ocean blocked agricultural development south into the islands and Australia and so did the jungles south of China.  In Africa, it was the Sahara.  In the Americas it was the tiny isthmus and the jungles of Central America and the north Mexican/south U.S. desert.  Diamond calls this east-west geographic orientation fundamental for the spread of technologies and disseminating agricultural knowledge.  North-south dissemination proceeded with great difficulty.

As we know from AIDS and most other diseases, they originate from animals and then jump to humans.  The more pets and domestic animals a society has, eventually the population develops anti-bodies.  The less domestic animals, the fewer anti-bodies.  Far more Native Americans died from disease than warfare in the conquest of the Americas.  Why?  Because the Mississippians, the Maya and the Inca were more vulnerable to the crowd diseases of the conquistadores like De Soto, Pizarro and Cortez than their swords.  This happened because the Spanish and other societies in what Diamond calls the continent of Eurasia had adapted to domestic animal diseases.   The Inca only had llamas, and were more vulnerable.  Though this is not all just a one-way street - malaria and other tropical diseases have kept Europeans at bay too.

Diamond also traces the development of writing to the development of highly-organized agricultural societies.  The first writing was developed in Sumeria in the Fertile Crescent – used by officials to track purchases, debts and sales of the state.  Other independent developments of writing – in China and Mesoamerica for instance – did not spread as rapidly as in Eurasia, which eventually led to U.S. script – English via Rome and earlier, Greece.   He locates technological innovations not among individuals, but among societies with enough numbers and surpluses to come up with inventions.  He locates the amalgamation of bands, tribes and chiefdoms into states to either external military threats or military conquest, not to economic factors, and links the establishment of states to population density.

Diamond calls the bureaucracies in states ‘kleptocracies,’ but also reminds readers that the hunter-gatherer bands were devastated by individual murders.  He notes that patriotism, nationalism and religious fervor were useful in states as ideologies which allowed people to risk their lives and kill for the state.  As such, this might mark a ‘successful’ society, in the sense that it won in the Darwinian struggle for survival.  He does not mention Frans De Waal’s theories of cooperation, inequity aversion and food sharing as essential to group survival – as these might only operate within a society, and not between them. 

The obvious questions here are – A, if the original source of agriculture and domestic animals was in the Fertile Crescent, why did Europe become the source of colonialism and capitalism, not the Fertile Crescent itself?  As Diamond makes clear, these Islamic societies were more advanced than backward Catholic Europe during the dark ages.  B, why didn’t China develop along those very same lines as Europe, since it was an independent source of agriculture … instead of being subject to the Opium Wars of English colonialism?  And C, if Russia is in "Eurasia" what was the environmental disability that did not allow it to follow northern Europe so closely?  And D, since agriculture is not the end of economic society, how does Diamond explain capitalism in this environmental scenario, and its early development in northern Europe

Diamond takes on the issue of China by describing its early political unification in 221 B.C. – with a mainly unitary language, government, agriculture (millet, rice, dogs, pigs and chickens, water buffalo, bronze-making, silk worms, etc.), transport and writing system.  Descending from the north, the Qin Dynasty pushed out earlier language and social groups in southern China, who were forced to move further south to southern Asia - Vietnam, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia & Laos.  He points out that European diseases like the Bubonic plague, smallpox and influenza probably came from Chinese animals and populations.  Chinese merchants spread throughout southern Asia – its peninsulas, islands and lands – yet not as formal colonialists.  Ethnic south Chinese took over Taiwan, and Taiwan’s people incredibly then went on to settle all of Polynesia and nearly all the islands of South Asia.  But later, it was the French who seized Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; the Dutch, Indonesia; the Americans, the Philippines; the English, Australia, Burma and China itself.

In response to the issue of the “Fertile Crescent,” Diamond points out that climate change rendered this formerly wooded and fertile land a semi-desert and desert, removing the head start it once had.  The humans in this area cut down their own forests, thus leading to desertification.  The benefits it generated instead accrued to Greece, then Rome, then after a gap of centuries, colonial Spain, Holland and eventually England – which then became the location for the birth of industrial capitalism.

Regarding Russia and its partial lag behind Europe, it was the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 that transformed the former Czarist kingdom, and pushed it into the 20th century at a rapid pace.  This did not result in economic colonialism or imperialism, unlike Europe.  Diamond does not deal with Russia at all.  In a sense, it was not the bourgeoisie that led the way here, but the working class. 

Regarding China, Diamond asserts it was a conservative, isolationist bureaucracy that controlled the whole country, and at a certain point in the mid 1400s, forbade shipbuilding and other advances in technology.  Because China was a unitary state, their word became a law that lasted for a long time.  Stagnation set in from the top, which is one of the dangers of over-centralization.  This could not occur in Europe, as there were too many separate countries.  In this book, Diamond tracks other instances of societies turning their back on technology and science for mostly political reasons.  Of course, even in the U.S., global climate change and evolution, for instance, are somehow still 'controversial' science. He calls China a ‘gigantic island within a continent’ – easily cut off from strong outside influences for many years.  And that is what happened - until eventually British ships appeared off the Chinese coast.

And I bought it at Cheapo Books.
Red Frog
March 30, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

99 Channels and Nothin's On


“Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television” by Jerry Mander, 1978

Tired of your local cable provider?   Wondering why you change channels constantly?  Can’t find much to watch?  Shows you used to watch seem stupid?  Not loving commercials?  Crappy ‘genius’ cop shows finally too much?  (see review of cop shows, “Bad boys, bad boys” below.)  Perhaps you are experiencing the dreaded symptoms of … dung…television withdrawal!

Jerry Mander (yes, his real name) would understand.  This is a guy who used to work in advertising in San Francisco in the 1960s and early 70s, running his own firm, and ended up a proponent of Native American lifestyles and radical causes like environmentalism.  He is far from the stereotype of advertising executives as portrayed by those Mad Men mannequins swilling martinis during lunch.  Odds are Mad Men the TV show will never show his trajectory out of the industry, which only shows you the hidden meta-message of Mad Men's existence. 

Mander grabs every conceivable argument lying around in 1975 and 1978 to show that Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the wonders of the medium were doltish. 

Mander lays out his case for television as A, propaganda; B, brainwashing, brain-disabling and hypnotic; C, basically an advertising-delivery system; D, physically dangerous; E, anti-democratic; F, invisibly pervasive; G, addictive; H, profitable; I, un-reformable; J, isolating; K, an unreal experience; L, narrowly two-dimensional; M, shot through jump cuts to minimize the actual boredom contained within TV programs, and N, prone to creating geeks and geek trivia.  (Wait, that is not in his book…)

As you can see, there are more than 4 reasons, but Mander has grouped all these points into 4 separate sections, and goes into many aspects in detail.  His main point, which he argues against liberals who think television can be improved, is that television, as a medium, is not neutral, and can never be neutral.  It, by its very nature, works as a deadening eye in every household, no different than Orwell’s 1984.  This book was written before video and DVDs, the explosion in cable, and then the spread of TV onto the internet and shitty little screens on ostensible smart phones.   These seem to create a bit more control for the user, and break-down somewhat the centrality of control.  Yet behind nearly all the media in the U.S. is still 7 massive entertainment complexes – News Corp; Walt Disney; Viacom; Sony; Time-Warner; NBC-Universal and perhaps CBS comes in as the little brother.  So behind the riot of ostensible diversity?  Oligopoly, which should be the name of a board game. 

Mander at times extends his analysis to film and by association, long-form television, but does not really concentrate on that area.

The liberal argument about neutrality is that public networks like PBS or BBC and tiny local cable shows balance the 270 channels of dreck.  PBS itself is now a site for advertising by subtle corporate methods.  Its news programming is little different from corporate programming, just slightly less loud about saying the very same thing.  Occasionally there is a good show, but these cannot compete with the majority of stations.  HBO is the leader in quality long-form programming, but is too expensive for most of the population.  Cable stations that used to have promise, like the History channel and the National Geographic channel, far too frequently now fall into trivial sensationalism. 

As a former advertising executive, Mander understands that advertising is not some accidental or idiotic by-product of capitalism, but essential to creating demands for goods that would not other wise be bought.  (see review of “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays, below)  If you have toured enough stores recently, you know that nearly every store, everywhere, is over-stocked with crap that no one is buying.  That is where advertising comes in, on TV, on the internet, everywhere.  Advertising is the real voice of our capitalist age, not the accidental gibberish of a strange relative. It is the capitalist solution to overproduction.  As J.B. Foster put it in “The Endless Crisis” (also reviewed below), capitalism uses advertising as a substitute for price competition in an oligarchic situation. 

Now we are forced to pay for cable, and then forced to watch ads too.  Remember the old days when TV was ‘free’?  No more.  Of course, according to Jerry Mander, it was never free – except for the people who controlled it. Perhaps one day television will be seen, like tobacco, children’s cereals and smoking, as an unhealthy addiction.  But that will not happen in this society. Capitalism actually needs television and its offshoots as its main form of political control.  It does, quite simply, push the ‘line’ into our heads on an hourly basis – either obvious political points or more subtle cultural points that are nevertheless political too. 

Read also, Neil Postman’s, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” and Huxley’s “Brave New World” for more on this subject.   The former centers on how the media becomes a narcotic, shaping our lives in the process.  Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. 

And I bought it in Mayday’s used book section.
Red Frog
March 24, 2013
Spring

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two Diaries - One View

The Diary of Che Guevara:  Bolivia – November 7, 1966 to October 7, 1967;
Diary of BergenBelsen – 1944-1945, Hanna Levy-Hass

Diaries capture a feeling of reality that fiction and even non-fiction do not.  They are not ‘crafted’ documents for the most part, but details of daily or monthly life that might slip through the fingers of memory.  Certainly, in the case of Hanna Levy-Hass, the conditions in the camp worked to destroy memory. Bergen-Belsen, while not an extermination camp but a ‘work’ camp, was, as she put it, ‘extermination by other means’ – hunger, fatigue, sickness, theft, brutality, crowding, pettiness.  Levy-Hass’s diary is more intermittent – some entries cover an entire month, while Che’s are almost daily.  Her entries are more an interior monologue – not so much specific events as generalizations, attempting to keep a humanist consciousness about her in conditions of total horror.  Che’s are a dispassionate description of each day’s trials and successes on the paths of the guerilla – a mostly military analysis.    

DIARY OF BERGEN-BELSEN:
Levy-Hass was also a communist.  She grew up in Belgrade, a ‘Yugoslav’ working-class Jew, speaking Serbo-Croatian ('Yugoslav"), and becoming part of the Yugoslavian Communist Party lead by Tito.  She worked with the partisans in her small area of Bosnia but made the fatal mistake of listening to the pleadings of reticent, petit-bourgeois Jews who urged her not to go into the mountains permanently, as their community would suffer reprisals.  Because she listened to them, she was swept up by the Gestapo along with the rest. 

The main mystery of the Holocaust is why there was not more widespread resistance.  It can only be laid at the feet of the rich and middle-class Jews who for the most part counseled patience, non-resistance and even collaboration. In Bergen-Belsen, this domination of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois Jews continued.  The political prisoners were isolated in a special area, so it seems they were unable to affect the rest of the camp.   Levy-Hass clearly points to one of the Jewish ‘leaders’ in the Bergen-Belsen camp, a ‘former representative of the Swedish match trust in Yugoslavia,’ who fought against her ultimately successful attempt to divide food equally and not to pay bribes for food.  Some Jews worked in privileged sections of the camp and completely forget about the conditions of the vast majority.  She points out that the men in the camp were the worst, while the women at least had to consider the children. Levy-Hass:  “For too long, personal pleasures and convenience have been at the center of these people’s lives, to the point where privations become unheard-of and tragic things, and self-denial is unthinkable.  As for self-discipline, it is an unpleasant novelty that they cannot grasp and that they only accept as necessary for other people.” 

Levy-Hass worked as a school teacher in the camp, trying to keep the children in touch with something humane.  This with scraps of paper and a few books.  However, the camp gets worse and worse as the war comes closer.  The Nazi head of Auschwitz, Kramer, is eventually transferred from Poland to Bergen-Belsen as the Soviet Red Army advances.  Any pretence at feeding the prisoners ended.  Eventually, they shipped the few remaining prisoners on a train, and Levy-Hass escaped while looking for potatoes at a stop.  She meets a Red Army officer and she finally gets some real food. 

Levy-Hass moved back to Belgrade, but no longer felt comfortable even in Tito’s Yugoslavia, which at that time did not concern itself with the Holocaust.  Her parents, other family members and most friends were all dead.  While not a Zionist, she eventually moves to Israel in 1948, though she could not find a teaching job there due to being a member of the Israeli Communist Party.  She stopping being an official Communist in the 1970s, and became a socialist feminist.  Yet, like many eastern Europeans, she and her husband retained a fondness for what the people of the USSR did by liberating them from the Nazis and their allies.  Levy-Hass leaves Israel for Europe and Paris in disgust after the 1982 Sabra-Shatila massacres, carried out with the cooperation of the Israeli military. While always hoping to return to Belgrade, Yugoslavia is torn apart by ethnic and imperialist civil war in the 1990s.  As she told her daughter, an activist who works for Palestinian rights, “All my worlds have been destroyed.” 

THE DIARY OF CHE GUEVARA:
This diary was first published by Ramparts magazine in 1968, with a fiery introduction by Fidel Castro.  It is missing a few days and there are certain illegible words, but the majority of the document survived destruction by the Bolivian Army and CIA when taken by the Bolivian Minister of the Interior and given to Castro.  This is an austere and grim book, tough to a fault, and, given what happened, full of foreboding.  Che traces the development of his guerilla band from a trans-national conglomeration of Bolivians, Argentinians, Cubans and Peruvians who never lost a fight - until they did.  The last entry does not show that Che really understood that they were surrounded or trapped. 

The betrayal of the Bolivian Communist Party under Mario Monje is here clearly laid-out.  While initially promising to help the insurrection, Monje cut ties and did not allow any aide or support. Monje did this with the backing of the bureaucrats of the USSR, though this is not in the diary.  (The book, “Killing Che,” a fictional account based on research, is one among many that clearly shows the Soviets sabotaging Guevara.)  Che’s guerilla force initially had about 40 members, but at the end, was down to 17 due to various reasons.  No reinforcements arrived, no recruiting was done from among the Bolivian peasants and the groups were split for a long period of time.     

The diary concerns everyday details like butchering animals to eat; paying peasants for services or goods; hacking trails through jungle or up cliffs; crossing rivers on rafts, setting ambushes; small battles, arranging the movements of the vanguard, the center guard and the rearguard; hiding weapons and food in caves, taking prisoners and stripping them to their underwear, getting lost, arguments, sickness, injuries and Che’s partially-treated asthma.

Through all this, Guevara never loses faith in what he’s doing.  Yet at the end of each month, he adds up the strengths and weaknesses of the guerilla and, while many positives are listed, the ominous negatives don’t change for the better.  There seems to be no plan other than wandering around the mountains and jungles and winning battles, hoping that the guerilla could destabilize the government of General Barrientos.  Barrientos, as was typical for many years in Latin America, came to power in 1964 through a CIA-engineered coup against a democratically-elected government.  Barrientos spoke Quechua, being of partial Quechua background, and thus had more support among peasants than would be normal.  There is unrest among the leftist miners at Siglo XX, and Barrientos massacres them, killing 30 on June 24, 1967 when they came out in support of the guerillas. Yet ultimately a contract is signed, and the miners go back to work.  So no mass support develops across Bolivia for the guerillas, unlike what happened in Cuba.

This diary, like Levy-Hass, is a unique historical document, written on a subject of deep interest to revolutionaries everywhere.  We can reflect that the U.S. treated Latin America as its backyard for a 100 years, intervening, overthrowing and undermining at will.  Today, almost the whole continent has rejected this neo-liberal economic and military platform. (See review of "Secret History of the American Empire," by John Perkins, below.) Yet the guerilla campaign in Bolivia in 1966-1967 was just part of a continent-wide war that still goes on.  Today, the U.S. Obama administration is once more preparing to undermine Venezuela, stationing thousands of troops in Columbia for a possible invasion of Venezuela.  Hillary Clinton’s “State Department” endorsed the recent military coups in Honduras and Paraguay against left-populists and spent much money trying to oust the Ecuadorian left-populist Rafael Correa, failing again.  The criminal boycott of Cuba continues.  The U.S. is still the main enemy of peasants and workers all over Latin America, non-withstanding the soothing dulcet tones of Obamaite ‘reasonableness,’ a song only a fool would believe.

And I bought both books at Mayday.
Red Frog
March 17, 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fire Holder - Don't Hold Your Fire

Eric Holder – The Obama Administration’s John Yoo

You got to hand it to this guy Holder – he’s put his foot in his mouth twice in two days – on serious issues.  And you thought the days of corrupt or incompetent legal counsel in the U.S. Attorney General’s office were over. 

It also goes to prove that the ‘ethnic’ or ‘gender’ litmus test sectoralist liberals like to put on high appointments is basically reactionary. Putting corporate women in office does not change corporatist government. Take three recent appointment by Obama of women.  One, Sylvia Burwell, is from the WalMart Foundation, now appointed as head of the OMB.  She used to be a Clintonite (from Arkansas, get it?) working with Wall Street’s Crown Snake, Robert Rubin.  Then there is Gina McCarthy, who was in Romney’s gubernatorial cabinet – I.E. a Republican - now selected to head the EPA. Former head of REI, an outdoor sporting supplies company, Sally Jewell, has been nominated for the Interior Department.  You know, sporting business women know the environment!   Oil-man Ken Salazar used to hold the Interior post, and was most notable here in Minnesota for removing wolves from the endangered species act, so that liberal millionaire Democrat Mark Dayton could get 500 shot.   (Commentary on the wolf hunt, “Crying Wolf,” below.)

I could go on, but the 2013 cabinet smells just like the 2008 cabinet. 

Back to the incompetence of Eric Holder.  He got his spurs, along with Obama Supreme Court appointee Elena Kagan, in winning a case in 2010 before the Supreme Court, “Holder v Humanitarian Law Project, 561 US.”  This case, based on the Bush Patriot Act, basically criminalizes speech about, to or for any organization on the U.S. government’s ‘terrorist watch list.’  (Maintained by Clinton’s, now Kerry’s State Department.)  In essence, it made talking to, interviewing, supporting in print, or otherwise verbally interacting with any group on the list possible ‘support of terrorism.’  Now, as you might be able to tell, this could apply to journalists, to political people, even to the well-meaning liberals at the Humanitarian Law Project.  The latter had talked to both the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Tigers of Tamil Eelam about using … non-violence instead of violence.  You got it.  This was branded ‘material support or assistance or expert advice’ to terrorism by a couple of lawyerly Democrats.

Now we won’t get into the names on this list, which of course are nearly all organizations that violently oppose U.S. interests.  We pick and choose our terrorists.  This ruling has now endangered members of the Freedom Socialist Party and anti-war activists, as they have been hauled before grand juries in attempts at prosecution.  (Commentary on the Grand Jury inquisition of the FSP, below, “Justice Department Brings Back Hoover.”)  Application of this act, of course, is optional, based on who the government wants to go after.  They did not put the Humanitarians in jail, they just ‘reserved the right’ to do so.  They ignored K-Street Beltway Republicans who campaigned for the anti-Iranian government MEK (‘Mujahideen e Khalq ) to be taken off the ‘terrorist watch list’ in 9/2012 after an expensive lobbying campaign. (Remember, expert advice…)  So one group of ‘terrorists’ supports U.S. interests, and that is OK.

Now, back to Eric Holder.  You can see how this guy has had an influence behind the scenes in increasing government police powers, contiguous with John Yoo, though a little diminished on the torture road. Torture-friendly James Petraeus was recently outed as continuing El Salvadorean Death Squad-style torture in Iraq, using some of the same people.  And then lauded by the Obamaites, only to be brought down by his own dick - nothing substantial.  Of course, we cannot forget Bradley Manning’s treatment, which was called torture by everyone but the Obama administration.  Black sites still exist, where the U.S. government shuttles people to torture – although now that Gaddafi is gone, we’ll have to make new connections in Libya. And then there is Guantanamo.

Yesterday Holder prompted a grand filibuster by Rand Paul on the issue of drones, and I have to say, about time someone addressed this question in a big way. Holder, in a March 6 speech at Northwestern “Law” School, said he is of the ‘opinion’ (no court has ruled, mind you) that drones can be used to kill American citizens abroad and … in the U.S. itself, without any due process.   I.E. if you are labelled a ‘terrorist’ or an ‘enemy combatant’ by the chief executive, you can be killed.  Constitution be damned.  You know what King George called the American revolutionaries?  Terrorists, among other things.

OK, to top this off, Holder just told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that large banks and their executives are too big to prosecute.  This was the rationale the execrable Lanny Breuer of the U.S. DOJ used to justify not one prosecution in 4 years, just before resigning.   Breur was nailed by Frontline a few weeks ago, and also by Matt Taibbi (who’s book, “Griftopia”, is reviewed below) for saying this very same thing.  So its official - justice stops at the big banks' gates.  If we can’t prosecute banks and bankers because that would ‘bring down the world economy’ does that mean that the world economy is dominated by criminals? 

HSBC, a bank which was deeply involved in money laundering for Mexican and Latin American criminal cartels, the mafia, Russian gangsters and just about anyone else who needed money to hide in the world, was recently slapped with a fine, and told to go about its business – of ignoring SARS reports or AML rules at all.  Taibbi took HSBC and Breur apart in a recent Rolling Stone.  That is enforcement in the age of Wall Street government.

Eric Holder deserves to go.  Fire Holder.  Fire the whole Bushite ‘war on terror’ to boot.  

P.S. - March 16, the FBI (and by extension, the U.S. Justice Department) recently lost a lawsuit against Working Assets / Credo phone company over "National Security Letters' - which are basically secret subpoenas without any court or public oversight issued at the whim of the FBI.  Holder, of course, completely supports these Bushite letters.   

Red Frog
March 7, 2013


Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Hippies Were Right

Paul Krugman and the Class War

Krugman’s February 28th New York Times column on austerity brings back a funny analogy that the sober uber-liberals of our day rarely make.  Krugman points out that opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 made one a ‘foolish hippie’ to the elite pro-war consensus.  Of course, as Krugman intimates, the ‘hippies’ were right about that one.  Ben Bernanke recently gave testimony to Congress that, in Krugman’s estimation, counsels against austerity as a solution to joblessness, foreclosures and poverty.  Krugman asks, “Has Bernanke joined the ranks of the hippies?”  Krugman hopes that, when one of the Beltway class disagrees with the consensus, there might be a chance that the bi-partisan ‘elite obsession with deficits’ can be curtailed. 

Don’t count on it.   They’ve been hating on hippies since 1965, and before that, beats, and before that, bohemians.  Yet, the hippies of the '60s and '70s were right about nearly everything.  Hippiedom was a world-wide phenomenon, not just limited to the U.S.  The hippies were right on the Vietnam War, on marijuana, on rock music, on environmentalism, on women’s liberation, on black revolution, on Chicano rights, on sexual freedom, on organic food, on the early roots of the internet.  Hell, even clothing – they made blue jeans a mass phenomenon. 

Which brings us back to Krugman.  The February 2013 Monthly Review quotes another Krugman column where Krugman the New-Born Hippie muses:  “Are we really back to talking about capital versus labor?  Isn’t that an old-fashioned, almost Marxist sort of discussion, out of date in our modern information economy?”  (Don't you love people who talk about the 'information economy" like we materially survive in an ethereal form by reading the internet!) In another blog entry he writes, “if you want to understand what’s happening to income distribution in the 21st century economy, you need to stop talking so much about ‘skills’ and start talking much more about profits and who owns capital. Mea culpa: I myself didn’t grasp this until recently. But it is really crucial.”  In another column he writes, “If income inequality continues to soar, we are looking at a ‘class-warfare future.’"

Welcome to the Hippie Club, Paul.  It might be noted that, in that day, tens of thousands of ‘hippies’ in the U.S., both western and formally 'Communist" eastern Europe, Mexico, Japan, Australia and other countries also supported Marxism in various forms.  So perhaps we were right about that, too.

If you want to look at the ‘class-war’ future, it is actually not in the future, it is now.  Across Europe, especially in the continuation of the revolution in Egypt, or in India and China, the working-class is stirring.  In Greece, Spain and soon perhaps Italy, mass demonstrations and strikes have been constant.  Attempts at an occupation of the Spanish parliament by the left was defeated by the police a few months ago.  Iberia Air workers recently seized the air terminal in Madrid.  However, no matter how many general strikes, massive demonstrations and anti-austerity parliamentary votes happen, unless the working class escalates, these tactics alone cannot win.  As Rosa Luxembourg pointed out (see review of “All Power to the Councils,” below) the parliamentary form of representative government is particularly suited to capitalism at its most efficient.  This form of government allows the capitalists to control the process through money, law, media and timing. It is what they used against feudalism. 

The working class has to develop its own form of government, which ultimately can be a form of dual power.  And that form of government is workers and popular councils, in worksites and in communities. That is ultimately how the working-classes can really control society.  This is what has happened in every single situation where capital is actually threatened.  Is it time now in Greece, in Spain, perhaps later in Italy or Latvia, that councils start forming as a form of political power over and against the discredited, unrepresentative and bankrupt parliamentary forms?

I think so.  If you see this happening, we will know that that ‘class-war future’ Krugman talked about has escalated another notch.  Of course, here in the U.S. there is a developing class consciousness, but no mass organizations capable of turning this into political gains.  The AFL-CIO and “Change to Win” federations sold their souls to the Democrats once again, and will not advance beyond what the Democrats decree.  The Democrats are a party of capital – nothing new here – so real progress cannot come through them.  The best thing that could happen is a split in that party, to form a left-populist labor-oriented party not allied with large capital. (See review of “The Democrats – A Critical History,” reviewed below.)  But that is unlikely in the near future.

Who is involved now?  It is the children of the original hippies who are now coming of age, in their 20s and early 30s.  It is the children especially, of the younger cohort of that group - the younger brothers and sisters of the 60s and 70s - who were always more radical than their older siblings.  These are the young activists all over Europe, the U.S. and in other parts of the world who see that the economic ruling class is not their friend. And is leading to a rebirth of political class consciousness and Marxism.

Krugman thinks that appealing to the Democratic Party is an effective strategy – it is the basis of almost every column he writes.  However, an educated NYT columnist and ‘economist,’ no matter how many Nobels he has, or how ‘respected’ he is, is not going to sway a machine that sees ‘fighting the deficit’ as a way to ‘fight the class war.’  Every fiscal emergency dreamed up by the two bankrupt political parties that dominate the political terrain, working the deficit like a ‘hard cop/soft cop’ routine, ultimately will cut ‘something’ to benefit the wealthy.  Which is why the elite, the Beltway, the Parties, will never listen to Paul Krugman. It is not in their financial interest to do so.

Red Frog
March 2, 2013