Thursday, December 29, 2011

Democracy Now: In Exiting Iraq, U.S. Military Discards Trove of Found Documents on 2005 Haditha Massacre of Iraqis

In Exiting Iraq, U.S. Military Discards Trove of Found Documents on 2005 Haditha Massacre of Iraqis
Democracy Now

As the U.S. military leaves Iraq, the New York Times has recovered hundreds of pages of documents detailing internal interrogations of U.S. Marines over the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians. The documents, many marked "secret," were found among scores of other classified material at a junkyard outside Baghdad as an attendant used them as fuel to cook his dinner. The documents reveal testimony of Marines describing killing civilians on a regular basis. "In some ways, this is one of the most grotesque episodes of the entire war in Iraq. And I’m afraid to say, this is part of our legacy," says Time magazine contributor Tim McGirk, who first broke the story of Haditha in 2006. It was November 19, 2005, when a U.S. military convoy of four vehicles driving through Haditha was hit by a roadside bomb, killing Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas. The next night, Marines burst into several homes in the neighborhood, killing 24 Iraqis, including a 76-year-old man and women and children who were still in their night clothes when they died. "Nobody is behind bars for this," McGirk notes. Charges from the episode were dropped against six of the accused Marines, one was acquitted, and the final case is set to go to trial next year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Black Keys: Lonely Boy

Power: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Benton, Michael Dean. "Notes on Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophernia." Dialogic (February 20, 2014)

Burke, Barry. "Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education." Informal Encyclopedia of Education (2005)

Chomsky, Noam. "Activism, Anarchism and Power." Conversations with History (March 2002)

Mander, Jerry. "Privatization of Consciousness." Monthly Review (October 2012)

Ullman, Sharon and Gus Stadler. "ICPR H 290 Interdisciplinary Perspectives On Gender: Power, Performance, and Identity." (Fall 2008: Course Syllabus)

Wolff, Naomi. "How the US uses sexual humiliation as a political tool to control the masses." The Guardian (April 5, 2012)

Wu, Timothy. "America's First Lesson in the Power and Peril of Concentrated Control Over the Flow of Information." Excerpt from The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires. Alfred A. Knopf, 2010: 22-24.

Yates, Michael D. "The Great Inequality." The Monthly Review 63.10 (March 2012)

Žižek, Slavoj. “The Spectre of Ideology.” The Žižek Reader. ed. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999: excerpts.

Hegemony (Keywords)

Burke, Barry. "Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education." Informal Encyclopedia of Education (2005)

The Encyclopedia of Informal Education: Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education

Antonio Gramsci, Schooling and Education
The Encyclopedia of Informal Education

...

By hegemony, Gramsci meant the permeation throughout society of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs and morality that has the effect of supporting the status quo in power relations. Hegemony in this sense might be defined as an 'organising principle' that is diffused by the process of socialisation into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalised by the population it becomes part of what is generally called 'common sense' so that the philosophy, culture and morality of the ruling elite comes to appear as the natural order of things. [Boggs 1976 p39]

Marx’s basic division of society into a base represented by the economic structure and a superstructure represented by the institutions and beliefs prevalent in society was accepted by most Marxists familiar with the concepts. Gramsci took this a step further when he divided the superstructure into those institutions that were overtly coercive and those that were not. The coercive ones, which were basically the public institutions such as the government, police, armed forces and the legal system he regarded as the state or political society and the non-coercive ones were the others such as the churches, the schools, trade unions, political parties, cultural associations, clubs, the family etc. which he regarded as civil society. To some extent, schools could fit into both categories. Parts of school life are quite clearly coercive (compulsory education, the national curriculum, national standards and qualifications) whilst others are not (the hidden curriculum).

So for Gramsci, society was made up of the relations of production (capital v labour); the state or political society (coercive institutions) and civil society (all other non-coercive institutions).

Gramsci's analysis went much further than any previous Marxist theory to provide an understanding of why the European working class had on the whole failed to develop revolutionary consciousness after the First World War and had instead moved towards reformism ie tinkering with the system rather than working towards overthrowing it. It was a far more subtle theory of power than any of his contemporaries and went a long way to explain how the ruling class ruled.

Now, if Gramsci was correct that the ruling class maintained its domination by the consent of the mass of the people and only used its coercive apparatuses, the forces of law and order, as a last resort, what were the consequences for Marxists who wished to see the overthrow of that same ruling class? If the hegemony of the ruling capitalist class resulted from an ideological bond between the rulers and the ruled, what strategy needed to be employed? The answer to those questions was that those who wished to break that ideological bond had to build up a ‘counter hegemony’ to that of the ruling class. They had to see structural change and ideological change as part of the same struggle. The labour process was at the core of the class struggle but it was the ideological struggle that had to be addressed if the mass of the people were to come to a consciousness that allowed them to question their political and economic masters right to rule. It was popular consensus in civil society that had to be challenged and in this we can see a role for informal education.

Overcoming popular consensus, however, is not easy. Ideological hegemony meant that the majority of the population accepted what was happening in society as ‘common sense’ or as ‘the only way of running society’. There may have been complaints about the way things were run and people looked for improvements or reforms but the basic beliefs and value system underpinning society were seen as either neutral or of general applicability in relation to the class structure of society. Marxists would have seen people constantly asking for a bigger slice of the cake when the real issue was ownership of the bakery.
Organic Intellectuals

This brings me to my second theme. Gramsci saw the role of the intellectual as a crucial one in the context of creating a counter hegemony. He was clear that the transformation from capitalism to socialism required mass participation. There was no question that socialism could be brought about by an elite group of dedicated revolutionaries acting for the working class. It had to be the work of the majority of the population conscious of what they were doing and not an organised party leadership. The revolution led by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 was not the model suitable for Western Europe or indeed any advanced industrialised country. The Leninist model took place in a backward country with a huge peasantry and a tiny working class. The result was that the mass of the population were not involved. For Gramsci, mass consciousness was essential and the role of the intellectual was crucial.

It is important at this juncture to note that when Gramsci wrote about intellectuals, he was not referring solely to the boffins and academics that sat in ivory towers or wrote erudite pieces for academic journals only read by others of the same ilk. His definition went much further and he spread his net much wider.

Gramsci’s notebooks are quite clear on the matter. He writes that "all men are intellectuals" [and presumably women] "but not all men have in society the function of intellectuals". What he meant by that was that everyone has an intellect and uses it but not all are intellectuals by social function. He explains this by stating that "everyone at some time fries a couple of eggs or sews up a tear in a jacket, we do not necessarily say that everyone is a cook or a tailor". Each social group that comes into existence creates within itself one or more strata of intellectuals that gives it meaning, that helps to bind it together and helps it function. They can take the form of managers, civil servants, the clergy, professors and teachers, technicians and scientists, lawyers, doctors etc. Essentially, they have developed organically alongside the ruling class and function for the benefit of the ruling class. Gramsci maintained that the notion of intellectuals as being a distinct social category independent of class was a myth.

He identified two types of intellectuals - traditional and organic. Traditional intellectuals are those who do regard themselves as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group and are regarded as such by the population at large. They seem autonomous and independent. They give themselves an aura of historical continuity despite all the social upheavals that they might go through. The clergy are an example of that as are the men of letters, the philosophers and professors. These are what we tend to think of when we think of intellectuals. Although they like to think of themselves as independent of ruling groups, this is usually a myth and an illusion. They are essentially conservative allied to and assisting the ruling group in society.

The second type is the organic intellectual. This is the group mentioned earlier that grows organically with the dominant social group, the ruling class, and is their thinking and organising element. For Gramsci it was important to see them for what they were. They were produced by the educational system to perform a function for the dominant social group in society. It is through this group that the ruling class maintains its hegemony over the rest of society.

To Read the Entire Essay and Access More Resources

Films We Want to See: The Interrupters (USA: Steve James, 2011: 125 mins)

Democracy Now: "Worker-Owners of America, Unite" -- Will Cooperative Workplaces Democratize U.S. Economy?

"Worker-Owners of America, Unite": Will Cooperative Workplaces Democratize U.S. Economy?
Democracy Now

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to protest record levels of wealth and income inequality, we turn to an author who says the U.S. economy might be becoming more democratic. Gar Alperovitz argues in an op-ed in today’s New York Times that we may be in the midst of a profound transition toward an economy characterized by more democratic structures of ownership. Alperovitz finds that 130 million Americans are members of some kind of cooperative, and 13 million Americans work in an employee-owned company. He says the United States may be heading toward something very different from both corporate-dominated capitalism and from traditional socialism. "I think we’re seeing a change in attitude, both increasing doubts about what’s now going on in the economy, deep doubts, very deep doubts—thanks to Occupation, it’s crystallized—but this other trend of saying, 'What do you want? Where are we going?' in some ways to democratize the economy in a very American way," Alperovitz says.

Gar Alperovitz, professor of political economy at the University of Maryland. His op-ed, "Worker-Owners of America, Unite!" is published today in the New York Times. A new edition of his book, America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy, has also just been published.

Democracy Now: Wave of Restrictive Voting Laws Prompts Federal Probes, Grassroots Activism Ahead of 2012 Elections

Wave of Restrictive Voting Laws Prompts Federal Probes, Grassroots Activism Ahead of 2012 Elections
Democracy Now

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is vowing to ensure the protection of voting rights in more than a dozen states that have recently enacted controversial laws. Supporters of the laws, backed largely by Republicans, say they are meant to stamp out voter fraud. "When people move on their fears, they make bad law," says NAACP CEO Ben Jealous, co-author of a new report that argues the new laws amount to a coordinated and comprehensive assault on minorities’ voting rights at a time when their numbers in the population and at the ballot box have increased. Students, former felons and elderly voters may also be impacted. On Saturday, the NAACP helped organize a voting rights march in New York, starting at the offices of Koch Industries in order to highlight how billionaire conservative financiers David and Charles Koch have financed the push for voter ID laws. We also speak with Bob Edgar, a former Pennsylvania congressman and the president and CEO of Common Cause. He supports pending legislation, the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, as a way to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to voting rights and free and open elections. "We’re the only nation in the world that has federal elections without federal rules for election," Edgar says.

Guests:

Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause and a former Pennsylvania congressman.

Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of NAACP. He’s the co-author of a new report, "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Robert Scheer: There Goes the Republic

There Goes the Republic
by Robert Scheer
TruthDig

Once again the gods of war have united our Congress like nothing else. Unable to agree on the minimal spending necessary to save our economy, schools, medical system or infrastructure, the cowards who mislead us have retreated to the irrationalities of what George Washington in his farewell address condemned as “pretended patriotism.”

The defense authorization bill that Congress passed and President Obama had threatened to veto will soon become law, a fact that should be met with public outrage. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, responding to Obama’s craven collapse on the bill’s most controversial provision, said, “By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.” On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed “the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country’s strength.”

What rubbish, coming from a president who taught constitutional law. The point is not to hock our civil liberty to the discretion of the president, but rather to guarantee our freedoms even if a Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich should attain the highest office.

Sadly, this flagrant subversion of the constitutionally guaranteed right to due process of law was opposed in the Senate by only seven senators, including libertarian Republican Rand Paul and progressive Independent Bernie Sanders.

That onerous provision of the defense budget bill, much discussed on the Internet but far less so in the mass media, assumes a permanent war against terrorism that extends the battlefield to our homeland. It reeks of a militarized state that threatens the foundations of our republican form of government.

This is not only a disaster in the making for civil liberty but a blow to effective anti-terrorist police work. Recall that it was the FBI that was most effective in interrogating al-Qaida suspects before the military let loose the torturers. Under the newly approved legislation, that bypassing of civilian experts will be codified as a routine option for a president.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Monday, December 26, 2011

Democracy Now: Ex-Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, Former Democrat, Launches Third Party Presidential Bid Against Obama, GOP

Ex-Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, Former Democrat, Launches Third Party Presidential Bid Against Obama, GOP
Democracy Now

A new political party has entered the fray as an alternative to Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2012 elections. On Monday, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson announced he will run for president with the newly formed Justice Party. Although hailing from a solidly red state, Anderson has been known as one of the most progressive mayors of any major U.S. city in recent years. During his two mayoral terms from 2000 to 2008, Anderson was an outspoken champion of LGBT rights, environmental sustainability, and the antiwar movement in opposition to the Iraq War. Vowing to fight the influence of money over politics, Anderson kicked off his campaign on Monday with a pledge to limit individual donations to $100 a person. Anderson and the Justice Party say they hope to build a grassroots movement heading into the November 2012 elections. "We launched the Justice Party because the entire system is so corrupt," Anderson says. "It’s so diseased. We know that the public interest is not being served by anyone in the system right now, particularly the two dominant parties who have sustained this corrupt system and who are sustained by it."

Matt Taibbi: A Christmas Message From America's Rich

A Christmas Message From America's Rich
by Matt Taibbi
Rolling Stone

...

Do you think Jamie Dimon would have done that deal if he lived in Jefferson County? Put it this way: if he was trying to support two kids on $30,000 a year, and lived in a Birmingham neighborhood full of people in the same boat, would he sign off on a deal that jacked up everyone’s sewer bills 400% for the next thirty years?

Doubtful. But then again, people like Jamie Dimon aren’t really citizens of any country. They live in their own gated archipelago, and the rest of the world is a dumping ground.

Just look at how banks like Chase behaved in Greece, for example.

Having seen how well interest-rate swaps worked for Jefferson County, Alabama, Chase “helped” countries like Greece and Italy mask their debt problems for years by selling a similar series of swaps to those governments. The bank then turned around and worked with banks like Goldman, Sachs (who were also major purveyors of those swap deals) to create a thing called the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which allowed investors to bet against Greek debt.

In other words, banks like Chase and Goldman knowingly larded up the nation of Greece with a crippling future debt burden, then turned around and helped the world bet against Greek debt.

Does a citizen of Greece do that deal? Forget that: does a human being do that deal?

Operations like the Greek swap/short index maneuver were easy money for banks like Goldman and Chase – hell, it’s a no-lose play, like cutting a car’s brake lines and then betting on the driver to crash – but they helped create the monstrous European debt problem that this very minute is threatening to send the entire world economy into collapse, which would result in who knows what horrors. At minimum, millions might lose their jobs and benefits and homes. Millions more will be ruined financially.

But why should Chase and Goldman care what happens to those people? Do they have any skin in that game?

Of course not. We’re talking about banks that not only didn’t warn the citizens of Greece about their future debt disaster, they actively traded on that information, to make money for themselves.

People like Dimon, and Schwarzman, and John Paulson, and all of the rest of them who think the “imbeciles” on the streets are simply full of reasonless class anger, they don’t get it. Nobody hates them for being successful. And not that this needs repeating, but nobody even minds that they are rich.

What makes people furious is that they have stopped being citizens.

Most of us 99-percenters couldn’t even let our dogs leave a dump on the sidewalk without feeling ashamed before our neighbors. It's called having a conscience: even though there are plenty of things most of us could get away with doing, we just don’t do them, because, well, we live here. Most of us wouldn’t take a million dollars to swindle the local school system, or put our next door neighbors out on the street with a robosigned foreclosure, or steal the life’s savings of some old pensioner down the block by selling him a bunch of worthless securities.

But our Too-Big-To-Fail banks unhesitatingly take billions in bailout money and then turn right around and finance the export of jobs to new locations in China and India. They defraud the pension funds of state workers into buying billions of their crap mortgage assets. They take zero-interest loans from the state and then lend that same money back to us at interest. Or, like Chase, they bribe the politicians serving countries and states and cities and even school boards to take on crippling debt deals.

Nobody with real skin in the game, who had any kind of stake in our collective future, would do any of those things. Or, if a person did do those things, you’d at least expect him to have enough shame not to whine to a Bloomberg reporter when the rest of us complained about it.

To Read the Entire Essay

Dispatches: Comitan, Mexico, Paris, New York, China

Dispatches (CBC)
From Comitan, Mexico - Paris - New York - China

The misplaced love of Marvin Pinto. A story of obsession with the culture of the cockfight

Stove Camp; the "hippie Manhattan Project" hoping to save millions of lives through cleaner cooking.

As China goes, so goes the world, according to an author who says Chinese consumers are transforming...everything.

And, conflict in the catacombs. Hard-core crypt crawlers, take exception to the teen tomb tourists partying in their playground under Paris.

To Listen to the Episode

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Will Potter: FBI Says Activists Who Investigate Factory Farms Can Be Prosecuted as Terrorists

FBI Says Activists Who Investigate Factory Farms Can Be Prosecuted as Terrorists
by Will Potter
Green is the New Red

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force has kept files on activists who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms and recommended prosecuting them as terrorists, according to a new document uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act.

This new information comes as the Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) as unconstitutional because its vague wording has had a chilling effect on political activism. This document adds to the evidence demonstrating that the AETA goes far beyond property destruction, as its supporters claim.

The 2003 FBI file details the work of several animal rights activists who used undercover investigation to document repeated animal welfare violations. The FBI special agent who authored the report said they “illegally entered buildings owned by [redacted] Farm… and videotaped conditions of animals.”

The animal activists caused “economic loss” to businesses, the FBI says. And they also openly rescued several animals from the abusive conditions. This was not done covertly in the style of underground groups like the Animal Liberation Front — it was an act of non-violent civil disobedience and, as the FBI agent notes, the activists distributed press releases and conducted media interviews taking responsibility for their actions.

Based on these acts — trespassing in order to photograph and videotape abuses on factory farms — the agent concludes there “is a reasonable indication” that the activists “have violated the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, 18 USC Section 43 (a).”

The file was uncovered through a FOIA request by Ryan Shapiro, who is one of the activists mentioned. The file is available for download here. [Please note that this document has additional redactions in order to protect the identities of the other activists, at their request.] Shapiro is now a doctoral candidate at MIT.

“It is deeply sobering to see one’s name in an FBI file proposing terrorism charges,” he said in an email. “It is even more sobering to realize the supposedly terroristic activities in question are merely exposing the horrific cruelty of factory farms, educating the public about what goes on behind those closed doors, and openly rescuing a few animals from one of those farms as an act of civil disobedience.”

When I testified before Congress against the AETA in 2006, one of the primary concerns I raised is that the law could be used to wrap up a wide range of activity that threatens corporate profits. Supporters of the AETA have repeatedly denied this, and said the law will only be used against people who do things like burn buildings.

So how do we explain that such a sweeping prosecution was being considered in 2003, under the law’s somewhat-narrower precursor?

One possibility is that FBI agents lack training, education, and oversight. They are spying on political activists without understanding or respecting the law.

Another explanation is that this document is no mistake, nor is it an isolated case. It is a reflection of a coordinated campaign to target animal rights activists who, as the FBI agent notes, cause “economic loss” to corporations.

To Read the Rest of the Report and to Access Hyperlinked Resources

Films We Want to See: Sound of Noise (Sweden: Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson, 2010)

Sound of Noise. This imaginative comedy follows a band of outlaw musicians who wreak havoc on an unsuspecting city. The sonic outlaws devise a plan to take their percussion-based, avant-garde music to the streets. The group’s opus is titled “Music for One City and Six Drummers.” The outlaws consist of the band’s leader—a spunky heroine named Sanna Persson—and five percussionists who invade four of the city’s civic or corporate institutions to make music with whatever tools, machines, or equipment they find.

An example of their musical activism is the first movement of their opus titled “Doctor, Doctor Gimme Gas (In My Ass).” They invade a hospital, kidnap a flabby patient with gastric issues, and then lock themselves in an operating room. There they proceed to play music using scalpels, the heart machine, ventilators, and other operating equipment as their instruments. They even “play” the patient, a well-known television personality whose problems with gas make him a good percussive instrument with just the right resonance as one of the drummers pounds on his rotund belly. There are four musical movements all together, each of them funny, awe-inspiring, and politically provocative. The group’s assaults on a hospital, bank, symphony hall, and power station amount to acts of anarchy against civic and corporate institutions that play a role in lulling the masses into lives filled with the unimaginative routines of the status quo.
[link]

Friday, December 23, 2011

Richard Wolff: Eurozone Woes Result from Mating of Our "Dysfunctional" Political, Economic Systems

Richard Wolff: Eurozone Woes Result from Mating of Our "Dysfunctional" Political, Economic Systems
Democracy Now

European leaders are preparing to unveil their plans for addressing the sovereign debt crisis that’s threatened to tear apart the eurozone. Both France and Germany are expected to push for changes to the eurozone treaty, including centralized oversight of national budgets and tighter reins on debt. In a speech on Thursday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said radical changes are needed in order to save the euro. Sarkozy’s address came after central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, took coordinated action to prevent a credit crunch among European banks. For more on the developing crisis in Europe and its implications worldwide, we are joined by economist and professor Richard Wolff. He is the author of several books, including "Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It." "The Fed is recognizing that another bailout is needed," Wolff says. "All the steps taken over the last few years to try to cope with this crisis of our capitalist system haven’t worked, and so we’re now again on the brink of a crisis, and again public money and public institutions are bailing out a private banking system and a private enterprise system that is not working and is not solving its own problems." Wolff continues, "The fundamental question is, you’ve got to deal with an economic system that isn’t working... You’ve got to take big steps that change the way this economic system works, or find a new system... It’s as though we have a dysfunctional economic system coupled to a now dysfunctional political system, and instead of fixing each other, these two systems are making each other in a kind of a spiral downturn."

Guest:

Richard D. Wolff, Emeritus Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and visiting professor at New School University. He is the author of several books, including Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It.

To Watch the Episode

Democracy Now: "Hancock 38" Defendants Found Guilty for Bold Army Base Protest Against U.S. Drone Attacks Abroad

"Hancock 38" Defendants Found Guilty for Bold Army Base Protest Against U.S. Drone Attacks Abroad
Democracy Now

Thirty-one of 38 accused activists were found guilty on Thursday for their role in a protest against U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The activists were arrested on April 22 at the New York Air National Guard base at Hancock Field near Syracuse, New York, after trespassing to protest the MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing of the Guard has remotely flown over Afghanistan since late 2009. The protesters draped themselves in white clothes splattered with blood-red pigment and then staged a "die-in" at the main entrance to the base. They said their act of nonviolent civil disobedience aimed to visualize the indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan by drones operated by personnel sitting in front of computers thousands of miles away. The group calls themselves the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters. Following the guilty verdict, four of the activists were sentenced to 15-day terms in prison while a number of others were given fines and community service. We speak to Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general turned outspoken human rights activist, who testified at the trial that the drones violate international law. We’re also joined by Harry Murray, one of the Hancock 38 and a co-defendant in the trial. "Having a drone control center established at Hancock Air Base has really brought the war home to central New York," Murray says. "Having people who are actually killing human beings in Afghanistan working right in Syracuse really makes Syracuse and upstate New York a war zone." Clark says drones are "a weapon of extreme provocation and extreme danger, extreme inaccuracy... International law, I believe, does prohibit the use of drones."

Guests:

Ramsey Clark, lawyer and former U.S. attorney general.

Harry Murray, one of the Hancock 38 Drone Resisters and a co-defendant in the trial. He is professor of sociology and anthropology at Nazareth College, where he also serves as director of the peace and justice studies major.

To Watch the Episode

David Cay Johnston: The corporations that occupy Congress

The corporations that occupy Congress
by David Cay Johnston
Reuters

Some of the biggest companies in the United States have been firing workers and in some cases lobbying for rules that depress wages at the very time that jobs are needed, pay is low, and the federal budget suffers from a lack of revenue.

Last month Citizens for Tax Justice and an affiliate issued “Corporate Taxpayers and Corporate Tax Dodgers 2008-10″. It showed that 30 brand-name companies paid a federal income tax rate of minus 6.7 percent on $160 billion of profit from 2008 through 2010 compared to a going corporate tax rate of 35 percent. All but one of those 30 companies reported lobbying expenses in Washington.

Another report, by Public Campaign, shows that 29 of those companies spent nearly half a billion dollars over those three years lobbying in Washington for laws and rules that favor their interests. Only Atmos Energy, the 30th company, reported no lobbying.

Public Campaign replaced Atmos with Federal Express, the package delivery company that paid a smidgen of tax — $37 million, or less than one percent of the $4.2 billion in profit it reported in 2008 through 2010.

For the amount spent lobbying, the companies could have hired 3,100 people at $50,000 for wages and benefits to do productive work.

The report – “For Hire: Lobbyists or the 99 percent” – says that while shedding jobs, the 30 companies are “spending millions of dollars on Washington lobbyists to stave off higher taxes or regulations.”

These and other companies have access to lawmakers and regulators that are unavailable to ordinary Americans.

CALL CONGRESS

Doubt that? Dial the Capitol switchboard at 1 (202) 224-3121, ask for your representative’s office and request a five-minute audience, in person, at the lawmaker’s convenience back in the home district.

In more than a decade of lectures recommending this, I have yet to have a single person email me (see address to the right) about having scored a private meeting with the representative called.

Corporations have vast resources to pour into ensuring access — resources that expand when little or no taxes are paid on profits thanks to rules they previously lobbied into law.

Companies form nonprofit trade associations, hire former lawmakers and agency staffers, and have jobs to dole out to lawmakers after they leave office and to friends and family while they’re in office. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations can now pour unlimited sums into influencing elections. So can unions, but they are financial pipsqueaks compared to companies.

Then there are political action committees, or PACs, to finance campaigns as well as donations by executives and major shareholders.

Combine all this and you have a powerful formula for making rules that favor corporate interests over human interests, something that the framers of the U.S. Constitution understood more than two centuries ago.

James Madison wrote disapprovingly in 1792 of “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty” where eventually “the terror of the sword, may support a real domination of the few, under an apparent liberty of the many.”

FEARS COME TRUE

The late U.S. president’s fears have come to life. For swords, just substitute police with rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray at Occupy demonstrations, including perfectly peaceful ones.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

National Education Policy Center: What Are They Thnking? -- New Report on Corporate Commercialism in Schools Finds Sponsorships and Corporate Marketing Threaten Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

What Are They Thnking?: New Report on Corporate Commercialism in Schools Finds Sponsorships and Corporate Marketing Threaten Students’ Critical Thinking Skills
by Jamie Horwitz, Alex Molnar and Faith Boninger
National Education Policy Center

Partnerships between schools and for-profit companies are a growing trend in cash-strapped school districts but may cause harm to schoolchildren, according to new research by an international team of scholars.

The potential damage goes beyond the immediate health threat posed by the school-based marketing to children of soft drinks and other junk foods. Corporate commercializing activities in schools undermine the teaching of critical thinking skills essential to a good education, according to Alex Molnar and co-authors Faith Boninger and Joseph Fogarty.

The report, The Educational Cost of Schoolhouse Commercialism: The Fourteenth Annual Report on Schoolhouse Commercializing Trends: 2010-2011, was released today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Lead author Molnar, a research professor at CU Boulder and publishing director at the NEPC, has studied and written about commercialism in U.S. schools for nearly two decades and is one of the nation’s top experts on the subject. Faith Boninger is an NEPC research associate with an academic background in psychology, and has researched this topic over the past five years. Joseph Fogarty, a school principal in County Sligo, Ireland, also has written extensively on commercialization trends.

The new report on schoolhouse commercializing trends considers how commercializing activities in schools directly and indirectly undermine the quality of the education children receive. Molnar, Boninger, and Fogarty observe that corporate commercialism in schools directly harms children by, for example, marketing candy and soft drinks on school premises and thus effectively undermining the schools’ nutrition curriculum and children’s learning about healthy eating.

Another harm is due to the shifting of school time toward activities promoted by commercial sponsors. Such business-sponsored activities in recent years include product demonstrations and contestslike the “ASA School Tour.”The pretext for the tour is to show children that it’s cool to be tobacco-free, but when the Tour arrives at a local high school, classes aresuspended for a mandatory assembly that includes an action sports show and exposure to sponsors’ branding, with on-site promotions and sampling. When Microsoft sponsored the tour, for example, new Xbox games were a featured attraction.

Finally, a less obvious but significant educational harm associated with school commercialism involves the threat posed to critical thinking.Research shows, Molnar and colleagues write, that critical thinking skills are best fostered in an environment where students are encouraged “to ask questions, to think about their thought processes and thus develop habits of mind that enable them to transfer the critical thinking skills they learn in class to other, unrelated, situations.” Yet, as they point out, “…it is never in a sponsor’s interest for children to learn to identify and evaluate its points of view and biases, to consider alternative points of view, or to generate and consider alternative solutions to problems.”

“Corporate sponsors want their story to be accepted uncritically,” Molnar says.

The report references the coal industry’s collaboration with children’s book publisher Scholastic Inc.. Scholastic produced materials for the American Coal Foundation’s “The United States of Energy” 4th grade curriculum. Classroom materials in this program were written to emphasize many states’ use and production of coal.

This coal curriculum caught the attention of a coalition of advocacy groups in the spring of 2011 and led to a campaign that culminated in Scholastic’s July decision to halt distribution of the coal-related materials and to reduce its production and promotion of other sponsored content. Yet Scholastic Inschool, the publisher’s marketing arm for corporate clients, has launched numerous in-school marketing campaigns in recent years for companies such as Brita water filters, Disney and Nestlé.

Similarly, energy companies such as Chevron and Shell Oil (another Scholastic Inschool client) have spent heavily on classroom materials. Shell’s sponsored school curriculum describes the multi-national corporation as a leader in alternative energy rather than as chiefly a petroleum company.

“These materials are designed to place a halo over the sponsoring company, not to promote a critical understanding of complex issues,” said Molnar.

After reviewing these and other corporate-sponsored materials, the authors conclude that “Instead of promoting … higher-level thinking, sponsors promote their message and encourage activities” that may appear to forward children’s education, but never risk “touching on anything that might lead to thinking inconsistent with that message.”

Molnar, Boninger, and Fogarty point out: “This is the natural, unsurprising course of action for a corporation. It does not, however, promote the intellectual development of students or serve the broader interests of society.”

The authors argue that corporations’ interest is the profit motive, not educating children or promoting the general welfare. They conclude:

“Corporate involvement with schools necessarily bends what students learn, how they learn, and the nature of the school and classroom environment in a direction that favors the corporate bottom line. These corporations attempt to shape the habits of mind that children internalize and carry with them, to the detriment of us all.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tim Hjersted: The Top 10 Films that Explain Why Occupy Wall St. Exists

The Top 10 Films that Explain Why Occupy Wall St. Exists
by Tim Hjersted
Films for Action

One of the most entertaining yet unsurprising aspects of Occupy Wall St has been the response from traditional media. Whether intentionally playing dumb or genuinely clueless, the mainstream media has failed to inform the public and substantially address the key issues. But why are tens of thousands of people risking arrest all over the world, setting up encampments and protesting the status quo?

For everyone who has been following independent, alternative media, the answer is obvious. People who have been clued in to what's been going on in this country for the last decade are responding: Finally! A movement to match the scale of the problem is taking root here in America!

A new cultural zeitgeist is growing increasingly more visible in the shadow of the old - one that is steadily zeroing in on the root problems that are paralyzing the prosperity of our future: corporate personhood, an undemocratic system of government, a centralized fractional-reserve banking system, neoclassical economics and capitalism itself.

Seen in this light, it's understandable that the press would feign confusion. Unlike the now co-opted Tea Party movement, which has sadly only served to bolster the corporate welfare state and the interests of the 1%, the problems OWS are exposing are too threatening to the established powers to critically examine. Our demands are too big to be mentioned. And so from the media: We have no demands. We do not know what the problem is. We want handouts from government and simply want a free ride. However, as more people get tuned into alternative media and see the disparity between the reality and what the pundits have to say, the comical theater of the mass media only ingrains its own irrelevance.

Of course, for all the people who still get informed by the mass media, there is much work to do. To combat the misinformation, we need to become the media ourselves, and we have ample tools at our disposal. The biggest memes behind OWS - the ideas and analysis of the problem that gives the movement its inspiration - have been amply documented in several amazing documentaries that are freely available online.

So, following, are the top 10 films that capture the spirit and motivation of the movement. They are the heavy-weight truth bombs which provide the intellectual backing and substance to the slogans and chants. Watch these films. Share them with friends. By breaking the bottleneck the mass media holds on the flow of information and turning people on to alternative channels, we'll be able to build the collective understanding necessary to realize the ambitious goals of OWS.

To Read About the Films

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Marina Sitrin: Ruptures in imagination -- Horizontalism, autogestion and affective politics in Argentina

Ruptures in imagination: Horizontalism, autogestion and affective politics in Argentina
by Marina Sitrin
Policy & Practice

In this article, Marina Sitrin will explore a new social creation in Argentina, sparked by a popular rebellion which began in December, 2001. Different from so many social movements of the past, this rebellion rejected political programs, opting instead to create directly democratic spaces. This new social relationship has become commonly known as horizontalidad.

Introduction

A mass demonstration sings collectively ‘Oh, que se vayan todos, que no quedan, ni uno solo’ (oh, that they all must go, that not even one remains). Public art reads, ‘Ni Dios, Ni Patria’, ‘Autogestion’, ‘La Solución: Autogestion’, ‘Nuestro Suenos no Caben en Sus Urnas’, ‘La Verdadera Democracia Esta En Las Calles’, ‘Nunca Mas, No Te Metas’ and ‘Ocupar, Resistir, Producir’ (translated as ‘Neither God nor Country’, ‘Self Management’, ‘The Solution: Self Management’, ‘Our dreams do not fit in your Ballot Boxes’, ‘The True Democracy is in the Streets’, ‘Never Again will I not be Involved’, and ‘Occupy, Resist, Produce’).

These are expressions of grassroots mobilization and direct democracy from hundreds of thousands of middle class and recently declassed urban dwellers who have organized themselves into neighborhood assemblies in Argentina. This article will consider some of the stirring and enduring changes that have taken in place in Argentina in recent years, particularly in the period after December 2001 when a total economic collapse precipitated millions of people taking to the streets. Within two weeks, this popular response to macro-economic mismanagement resulted in the collapse of five consecutive governments, while simultaneously creating new horizontal assemblies designed to meet local community needs. The interview selections in this article are drawn from the oral history I published in Spanish and English (Horizontalidad: Voces de Poder Popular en Argentina, Chilavert 2005, and Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, AKPress 2006). The vast majority of interviews are based on relationships that I established, and maintain with participants in autonomous social movements and collectives throughout Argentina. Most interviews were conducted between 2002 and 2005.

These new assemblies rejected and reject hierarchical government and instead adopt forms of direct democracy and horizontalism. They enabled workers to take over and run hundreds of workplaces, from clinics and supermarkets, to print shops and daily newspapers. In addition, indigenous communities have been supported in reclaiming their land and unemployed workers have protested successfully in order to demand unemployment subsidies, while working together in their neighborhoods to feed the community through communal bakeries and kitchens, provide popular education and schools, and other essential services. These movements of resistance and solidarity relate to one another on a fundamental level, as they are not trying to take state power, but instead seek to create alternative ways of living.

Throughout history people have looked to one another when formal institutions are laid bare by reorganizing and reshaping their lives and communities. This is usually done in a way that is more caring and mutually respectful than was evident before. For example, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001 in New York, individuals looked to one another for help and solidarity rather than looking to institutions. Parks were transformed into spaces for public conversations, and this form of mutually supportive behavior has repeated itself frequently throughout history (Solnit, 2005).

I am sure that each person reading this can think of instances when we have looked to one another for mutual aid and support in the absence of formal institutions. This is not how we are taught to behave, but this break between the perception and reality of human interaction can shift people’s imaginations and ways of being so that they begin to organize differently as was the case in contemporary Argentina. For most people here it was not only the economic crisis that produced fundamental grassroots change, but a rupture in their relations with the state, and a period of reflection and understanding in which they viewed each other differently and helped to develop a new society. Severe economic troubles had affected the vast majority of Argentines for years before the period of total collapse. While the freezing of their bank accounts in January 2002 was a key moment for the middle class, workers in both the unemployed and indigenous communities had felt the effects of economic crisis for years, even lifetimes. The economic crisis served as a process of rejecting structures of power and antiquated ways of relating to one another. When people in Argentina spoke of what had so profoundly changed their society, most pointed to altered personal connections, or horizontalidad, rather than increased economic distress. Similar processes of societal change have taken effect in other parts of the world over the last decade and they are considered in the next section.

Contemporary rise of prefigurative politics

Over the past ten years the world has been witnessing an upsurge in prefigurative revolutionary movements: movements that create the future in the present. These new movements do not create party platforms or programs. They do not look to one leader, but make space for all to be leaders. They place more importance on asking the right questions than on providing the correct answers and resolutely reject dogma and hierarchy in favor of direct democracy and consensus.

Where are these new social movements located? They can be found in the autonomous Zapatista communities of Chiapas, Mexico, where indigenous communities organize autonomously from the state, working to meet their basic necessities while using consensus-based decision making to create themselves anew. They are also in the mass organizations in rural Brazil, where the landless movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra - MST) has been reclaiming the land and reconstructing their communities. They are in the shanty-towns of South Africa, where ‘poor’ women and men use direct action and direct democracy to take back electricity, housing, water, and other resources denied them by corporations and government. They are in India too, where thousands of people are coming together to protect the environment and prevent the construction of dams, using mass direct action and participatory decision making. They are the indigenous groups in Ecuador and Bolivia that are resisting privatization and helping to prevent environmental destruction through mass blockades and mass democracy. They are in the social centers in Italy, providing direct services and meeting spaces for those involved in direct democracy projects. They are in the many direct action groups in Eastern Europe, working to abolish borders on the principal that no person should be considered illegal. They are also in the autonomous groupings around the USA and Canada, groups that begin with the assumption of consensus decision-making, anti-hierarchy, and anti-capitalism. These new movements are part of an international trend toward popular democracy and direct participation and yet operate at community levels.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Greg Tate: Fight for rights, will to power -- The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Fight for rights, will to power: The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
by Greg Tate
Sight and Sound (British Film Institute)



...

The Black Power Mixtape Remixed 1967-1975 is an exotic document of this turbulent, extremely violent transitional moment in American race history. Exotic because it’s the culmination of the near-decade an intrepid Swedish TV news team spent interviewing prominent Black American radicals of the day – Stokley Carmichael, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge Cleaver, Elaine Brown and Angela Davis. All were dramatic, eloquent, charismatic figures of their time who, except for the still-active Davis, are today hardly household names to the average black American under 40.

Like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan, they all seem incredibly well-prepared in their mid 20s to set the world aflame intellectually and dominate the media – but far less prepared than the Viet Cong or Fidel Castro to withstand the withering, brute and constitutionally illegal attacks directed at them and theirs by the US government, especially the FBI’s fascistic overlord J Edgar Hoover.

Time has not diminished their critiques of American power or racism, nor their undeniable star power – any of them and their radical histories could easily sustain a documentary or narrative feature film of its own. Mixtape captures most of them in the short period before they would be tried, convicted or exiled by Hoover’s stated and manically implemented obsession with preventing the “rise of another black prophet” after King.

The footage of Carmichael and Davis is the most poignant and illuminating. Though the film doesn’t say so, it was Carmichael who brought the phrase ‘Black Power’ into vogue, famously goading King to give it airtime near the end of the two-week-long march to Selma, Alabama. The film demands that those who don’t know these figures investigate them afterwards for more background and context. On film the jocular Carmichael proves so at ease in his own skin that he could have given Sidney Poitier competition as a leading man, and challenged Bob Marley as a lyrical protest balladeer.

Carmichael invites himself to take over an interview the news crew had wrangled with his mother in the Chicago-projects apartment in which he was raised. He then patiently extracts from her the pained admission that his Trinidadian immigrant father, a skilled carpenter, was a lifelong victim of employment discrimination.

As noted by progressive hip-hop MC Talib Kweli in his voiceover, Carmichael emerges here as a “regular guy” who also happened to be a incendiary and mesmerising speaker – one still so provocative that Kweli recalls being accosted by FBI and TSA agents at an airport after 9/11 for merely listening to a 40-year-old Carmichael speech. Some may take Kweli’s intimation of wiretaps as conspiratorial and apocryphal, but no-one familiar with Hoover’s paranoia and surveillance of black progressives will be among them. (The biggest laugh in the film comes from Hoover’s claim that the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the United States was the Black Panther party’s free breakfast program. But Hoover was not joking.)

The progress of the film is also a tacit record of the Panther’s off-screen dismantling by Nixon and Hoover’s COINTELPRO conspiracy against black leadership. The Panther’s demise by exile, imprisonment and judicial malfeasance is presented at a glance, but the Panthers expended all their political capital on the campaigns to Free Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Angela Davis.

Davis’s prison interview here offers the most astute and moving rationale for extreme black retaliation to American racial extremists. When asked to justify the advocacy of black violence, Davis recalls her childhood experience of her Birmingham, Alabama community being routinely bombed by Klansmen at the behest of notorious county sheriff Bull Connor. Davis recalls this motherfucker using local radio to promote and direct such violence on a weekly basis. The extreme close-up of her angry, watering eyes when she speaks of the discovery of four classmates’ body parts after the infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing provides all the justification for retribution any rational person should need.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Mhairi Guild: The Skin We Live In -- The Mad, Bad World of Pedro Almodóvar

The skin we live in: the mad, bad world of Pedro Almodóvar

Remaining spooked and preoccupied, Mhairi Guild still appreciates density and creativity of Almodovar's latest grotesque fairytale of not-only-gender identity, desire and power

by Mhairi Guild
The F Word



We staggered out of Pedro Almodóvar's latest offering somewhat shell-shocked. There is a huge amount to get out of The Skin I Live In but goodness, is it profoundly dark. Generally well received, the film has nonetheless split critics, some seeing it as a fetishistic mess or empty stylistic exercise, others as a stunning horror of the mind. I think that your reception of the film is likely to depend on your prior relationship with Almodóvar and on how willing you are to go on this particular journey with him.

A dark alpha male Antonio Banderas plays the brooding, obsessive surgeon Robert Ledgard, bunkered in a grand Toledo mansion which offers a lush set for his initially unexplained experimentation on the beautiful captive Vera, played by the porcelain doll-like Elena Anaya. The perfection of Vera's flawless, synthetic skin and the charged secret of her relationship with Ledgard is the central riddle of a plot that weaves back and forth between earlier stages of the narrative and gradually takes us down to depths scarcely imaginable at the outset.

Despite not being familiar with Almodóvar's whole canon, his 2002 Talk To Her has long been one of my favourite films. I have also enjoyed - in different ways - All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006) and some earlier works like 1990 Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (his last project with Banderas before the latter's defection to Hollywood).

One of the most striking things about The skin I live in is how it pulls together tropes and preoccupations from a number of the director's past films - being a sort of culmination of Almodóvar's body of work. A few of these themes were particularly resonant as the story developed.

Firstly, in Almodóvar's world there is normally an inherent brutality to the male sexual impulse, and it is present to such an extent that I was already squirming uncomfortably within the first half an hour of the film (little was I to know what Almodóvar had in store for me yet). The representation and frequent victory of this type of male sexuality, which is oft accompanied by casual violence, suggests that it is somehow a 'true' manifestation of male sexuality. Together with a forceful masculine possession of the female body, his male characters often exhibit an unreflective ignorance of the coercion present in their seductions. In the three central male figures in the film we get the full bleak spectrum: the boy (Vicente), the man (Ledgard) and the animal (Veco - the 'Tiger'). In this film Almodóvar more than insinuates the notion that heterosexual sex veers precipitously close to rape -, a particularly pessimistic and troubling theme.

More fundamentally, though, Almodóvar's work seems to suggest an impossibility of meaningful communication between the sexes within a certain society. This chasm between man and woman that can never be truly bridged lies at the centre of Talk To Her, where the one-sided relationship between the young coma patient Alicia and her besotted, delusional nurse Benigno is mirrored by the real relationship between Marco and injured bull-fighter Lydia. Almodóvar's men can only ever desire, fetishise and project onto their relations with women; women, in turn, in the male gaze are literally living dolls whose internal lives may be as real as theirs, but can never be truly apprehended. Women remain, as Simone de Beauvoir suggests, men's eternal 'others': an inherent mystery, in sharp distinction to the knowable Self of the male individual. This communication gap between the sexes - which after all has some undeniable, socialised roots - speaks in Almodóvar's work in dark and sometimes terrifying tones. It presents one of the most compelling and intriguing challenges posed by his films, seemingly portraying a gender dystopia we are prompted to remain ever-vigilant against.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Slavoj Zizek: Actual Politics

Actual Politics
by Slavoj Zizek
Theory and Event

Don't fall in love with yourselves, with the nice time we are having here. Carnivals come cheap - the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. Fall in love with hard and patient work - we are the beginning, not the end. Our basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not leave in the best possible world, we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives. There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions - questions not about what we do not want, but about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders we need? The twentieth-century alternatives obviously did not work.

So do not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not "Main Street, not Wall Street," but to change the system where main street cannot function without Wall street. Beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support us, but are already working hard to dilute our protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make us into a harmless moral protest. But the reason we are here is that we had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the Third World troubles is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after the marriage agencies started to outsource even our dating, we see that for a long time we were allowing our political engagements also to be outsourced - we want them back.

They will tell us we are un-American. But when conservative fundamentalists tell you that America is a Christian nation, remember what Christianity is: the Holy Spirit, the free egalitarian community of believers united by love.

We here are the Holy Spirit, while on Wall Street they are pagans worshipping false idols.

They will tell us we are violent, that our very language is violent: occupation, and so on. Yes we are violent, but only in the sense in which Mahatma Gandhi was violent. We are violent because we want to put a stop on the way things go - but what is this purely symbolic violence compared to the violence needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the global capitalist system?

We were called losers - but are the true losers not there on the Wall Street, and were they not bailed out by hundreds of billions of your money? You are called socialists - but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They will tell you that you don't respect private property - but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if we were to be destroying it here night and day - just think of thousands of homes foreclosed.

We are not Communists, if Communism means the system which deservedly collapsed in 1990 - and remember that Communists who are still in power run today the most ruthless capitalism (in China). The success of Chinese Communist-run capitalism is an ominous sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons - the commons of nature, of knowledge - which are threatened by the system.

They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely they way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not dreamers; we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything; we are merely witness how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What we are doing is just reminding those in power to look down.

So is the change really possible? Today, the possible and the impossible are distributed in a strange way. In the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, the impossible is becoming increasingly possible (or so we are told): "nothing is impossible," we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions; entire archives of music, films, and TV series are available for downloading; space travel is available to everyone (with the money); we can enhance our physical and psychic abilities through interventions into the genome, right up to the techno-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into a software program. On the other hand, in the domain of social and economic relations, we are bombarded all the time by a You cannot ... engage in collective political acts (which necessarily end in totalitarian terror), or cling to the old Welfare State (it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis), or isolate yourself from the global market, and so on. When austerity measures are imposed, we are repeatedly told that this is simply what has to be done. Maybe, the time has come to turn around these coordinates of what is possible and what is impossible; maybe, we cannot become immortal, but we can have more solidarity and healthcare?

In mid-April 2011, the media reported that Chinese government has prohibited showing on TV and in theatres films which deal with time travel and alternate history, with the argument that such stories introduce frivolity into serious historical matters - even the fictional escape into alternate reality is considered too dangerous. We in the liberal West do not need such an explicit prohibition: ideology exerts enough material power to prevent alternate history narratives being taken with a minimum of seriousness. It is easay for us to imagine the end of the world - see numerous apocalyptic films, but not end of capitalism.

In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: "Let's establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false." After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: "Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair - the only thing unavailable is red ink." And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants - the only thing missing is the "red ink": we "feel free" because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict - "war on terror," "democracy and freedom," "human rights," etc. etc. - are FALSE terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. You, here, you are giving to all of us red ink.

Link to the Essay

Spring 2012 Bluegrass Film Society Schedule

(in development)

Chocolat (France/West Germany/Cameroon: Claire Denis, 1988: 105 mins)

The Black Power Mixtapes 1967 – 1975 (Sweden: Göran Olsson, 2011: 100 mins)

The Wave (Germany: Dennis Gansel, 2008: 107 mins)

Trollhunter (Norway: André Øvredal, 2010: 103 mins)

Lebanon (Israel/France/Lebanon/Germany: Samuel Maoz, 2009: 93 mins)

The Navigators (UK/Germany/Spain: Ken Loach, 2001: 92 mins)

Barking Dogs Never Bite (South Korea: Joon-Ho Bong, 2000: 106 mins)

Sin Nombre (Mexico/USA: Cary Fukunaga, 2009: 96 mins)

The Virgin Spring (Sweden: Ingmar Bergman. 1960: 89 mins)

April's Captains (Portugal/Spain/Italy/France: Maria de Medeiros, 2000: 123 mins)

Strike (Poland/Germany: Volker Schlöndorff, 2006: 104 mins)

Land of the Blind (UK/USA: Robert Edwards, 2006: 110 mins)

Le quattro volte (Italy/Germany/Switzerland: Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010: 88 mins)

The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil: Manoel de Oliveira, 2010: 97 mins)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Leanne Bibby: Perfume: the Story of a Murderer: The film adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume is a stunning indictment of society's attitude towards women

Perfume: the Story of a Murderer: The film adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume is a stunning indictment of society's attitude towards women.
by Leanne Bibby
The F Word (United Kingdom)



A film about a killer on a mission to murder women and harvest their scents might seem like a rather obvious choice of subject for a feminist review. Nonetheless, there are two reasons why I decided to write this and why I'd like to encourage you to see Tom Tykwer's 2006 adaptation of Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume: the Story of a Murderer. First of all, it's one of the most unusual and inventive films to appear in some time, in cinemas and DVD retailers currently glutted with sequels, prequels, remakes and other somewhat unimaginative fare.

The second reason I think it deserves our attention is its graphic and unflinching yet sophisticated representation of violence towards women. This struck me as having appeared at an ideal time, as debates on this and related issues rage on. Having not read Süskind's original novel, I'm in no position to comment on it and so this review is concerned exclusively with the film.

Ben Whishaw plays Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan born in 18th century Paris and possessed of a supernatural sense of smell. The film's early scenes, as sensuously fantastical as they are grim, follow him from a childhood of unimaginable poverty and social isolation up to the day his unique talent leads him to become apprentice to struggling perfumer Giuseppe Baldini, played to the hilt by a bewigged Dustin Hoffman. Having already suffocated to death a young woman with whose scent he'd become intoxicated, Grenouille embarks on a quest to create the ultimate perfume by infusing the essences of beautiful women - that is, their scents. To everyone outside his reclusive, amoral world, of course, this is a killing spree and nothing more.

Oblivious to this, Grenouille single-mindedly preys upon women for the "sublime beauty" of their scents. Their lives, personalities and, interestingly, their sexual attractions are inconsequential to him. By way of an omniscient narration, we are made privy to his thoughts and fixations as he commits his shocking acts, but I was intrigued to find that this is only one feature of a multi-layered film experience. The restrained and largely off-camera violence is at the tale's core, but ultimately secondary to our view of the women themselves.

Tykwer's dreamlike storytelling emphasises Grenouille's reveries of smell in the presence of doll-like women with uniformly porcelain skins and shining hair. In doing this, it also shows us a culture that holds women to be just that: dolls. Lovely, guileless and almost voiceless, they appear doomed to slip into the death-destiny planned for them and remain largely unchanged afterwards: their physical appeal - the only valued part of them - captured in scent.

To Read the Rest of the Review

Lindsay and Francesca Levy: On the harrowing Lilya-4-Ever, directed by Lukas Moodysson

The harrowing Lilya-4-Ever, directed by Lukas Moodysson.
by Lindsay and Francesca Levy
The F Word (United Kingdom)



This is the latest reproduction of email exchanges between two American friends living apart. This time they disagree on their topic of choice; the film Lilya 4-Ever by director Lukas Moodysson. Lindsay saw the film in London on Tuesday 29th April as part of the Women's Library film and debate at the Barbican Centre. Francesca Levy saw the film on 15th May, at Cinema Village, in New York City.

From Francesca

I saw Lilya 4-Ever last night and walked out before the last half-hour because it was so revoltingly violent, gratuitous, and one-dimensional. The fact is, there were redeeming things about it, points it was trying to make, but it all washed away behind the half-dozen rape scenes and at least a dozen other sexual exploitation scenes. I fail to see what the critics do: that the movie is not exploitative, but rather shames the victimizers in the film as well as the viewer. Sure it's an unflinching look at the child sex trade but really it isn't, because that aspect of it is swallowed up by the same recurring scene, and the whole movie occurs in one tone, without any need to add dimension to any characters besides the angelic protagonists. As far as I'm concerned it's only distinction from the billion other movies with horrible rape scenes is that in Lilya 4-Ever there are so damn many of them, and they're so graphically filmed.

From Lindsay

I'm afraid I completely disagree with you. I thought the film was really powerful and not gratuitous at all considering the way so many rape and exploitation scenes focus on nakedness and the sexual act. My perception was partly influenced by seeing the film as part of a debate put on by the Women's Library with a panel of people who work directly with women who have been trafficked into the sex industry saying it was absolutely true to the life experiences they have heard over and over again. I also don't see how the protagonists were unquestionably angelic. Lilya was disrespectful to adults, didn't go to school or work (until she started sex work), sniffed glue and hung around other kids who did the same. She is not a good kid in most people's eyes and a lot of adults would consider her to be deserving of some of the neglect she receives. She is the poster 'problem child' that our entire society deems in need of an adult to set her straight and make her contribute to the world.

The main thing I felt the film addressed was the absolute lack of responsibility adults take for young people who need their help or even those they think need 'sorting out'. Her parents and family didn't give a shit about her and social services, when blatantly informed that she had no other guardian, failed to provide her with even the most basic support. There were so many points at which an adult could have intervened and saved her from her fate. But they didn't. Day after day I deal with 16-year-olds whose parents are fed up with them and willing to make them homeless because they think they've done their part and that someone else will take care of them.

I think that was why the film really hit home with me and I was relieved that something that will be seen by a wide audience was able to express the desperation and fear young people feel when they are neglected and thrown out into the world before they are ready. Mostly I hope it will be a reality check for people as to how it is almost inevitable that someone will be there to exploit them when they are.

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Bruce E. Levine: How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation

How Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. Into a Selfish, Greedy Nation
by Bruce E. Levine
AlterNet

...

How Rand’s Philosophy Seduced Young Minds

When I was a kid, my reading included comic books and Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. There wasn’t much difference between the comic books and Rand’s novels in terms of the simplicity of the heroes. What was different was that unlike Superman or Batman, Rand made selfishness heroic, and she made caring about others weakness.

Rand said, “Capitalism and altruism are incompatible....The choice is clear-cut: either a new morality of rational self-interest, with its consequences of freedom, justice, progress and man’s happiness on earth—or the primordial morality of altruism, with its consequences of slavery, brute force, stagnant terror and sacrificial furnaces.” For many young people, hearing that it is “moral” to care only about oneself can be intoxicating, and some get addicted to this idea for life.

I have known several people, professionally and socially, whose lives have been changed by those close to them who became infatuated with Ayn Rand. A common theme is something like this: “My ex-husband wasn’t a bad guy until he started reading Ayn Rand. Then he became a completely selfish jerk who destroyed our family, and our children no longer even talk to him.”

To wow her young admirers, Rand would often tell a story of how a smart-aleck book salesman had once challenged her to explain her philosophy while standing on one leg. She replied: “Metaphysics—objective reality. Epistemology—reason. Ethics—self-interest. Politics—capitalism.” How did that philosophy capture young minds?

Metaphysics—objective reality. Rand offered a narcotic for confused young people: complete certainty and a relief from their anxiety. Rand believed that an “objective reality” existed, and she knew exactly what that objective reality was. It included skyscrapers, industries, railroads, and ideas—at least her ideas. Rand’s objective reality did not include anxiety or sadness. Nor did it include much humor, at least the kind where one pokes fun at oneself. Rand assured her Collective that objective reality did not include Beethoven’s, Rembrandt’s, and Shakespeare’s realities—they were too gloomy and too tragic, basically buzzkillers. Rand preferred Mickey Spillane and, towards the end of her life, “Charlie's Angels.”

Epistemology—reason. Rand’s kind of reason was a “cool-tool” to control the universe. Rand demonized Plato, and her youthful Collective members were taught to despise him. If Rand really believed that the Socratic Method described by Plato of discovering accurate definitions and clear thinking did not qualify as “reason,” why then did she regularly attempt it with her Collective? Also oddly, while Rand mocked dark moods and despair, her “reasoning” directed that Collective members should admire Dostoyevsky, whose novels are filled with dark moods and despair. A demagogue, in addition to hypnotic glibness, must also be intellectually inconsistent, sometimes boldly so. This eliminates challenges to authority by weeding out clear-thinking young people from the flock.

Ethics—self-interest. For Rand, all altruists were manipulators. What could be more seductive to kids who discerned the motives of martyr parents, Christian missionaries and U.S. foreign aiders? Her champions, Nathaniel Branden still among them, feel that Rand’s view of “self-interest” has been horribly misrepresented. For them, self-interest is her hero architect Howard Roark turning down a commission because he couldn’t do it exactly his way. Some of Rand’s novel heroes did have integrity, however, for Rand there is no struggle to discover the distinction between true integrity and childish vanity. Rand’s integrity was her vanity, and it consisted of getting as much money and control as possible, copulating with whomever she wanted regardless of who would get hurt, and her always being right. To equate one’s selfishness, vanity, and egotism with one’s integrity liberates young people from the struggle to distinguish integrity from selfishness, vanity, and egotism.

Politics—capitalism. While Rand often disparaged Soviet totalitarian collectivism, she had little to say about corporate totalitarian collectivism, as she conveniently neglected the reality that giant U.S. corporations, like the Soviet Union, do not exactly celebrate individualism, freedom, or courage. Rand was clever and hypocritical enough to know that you don’t get rich in the United States talking about compliance and conformity within corporate America. Rather, Rand gave lectures titled: “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.” So, young careerist corporatists could embrace Rand’s self-styled “radical capitalism” and feel radical — radical without risk.

Rand’s Legacy

In recent years, we have entered a phase where it is apparently okay for major political figures to publicly embrace Rand despite her contempt for Christianity. In contrast, during Ayn Rand’s life, her philosophy that celebrated self-interest was a private pleasure for the 1 percent but she was a public embarrassment for them. They used her books to congratulate themselves on the morality of their selfishness, but they publicly steered clear of Rand because of her views on religion and God. Rand, for example, had stated on national television, “I am against God. I don’t approve of religion. It is a sign of a psychological weakness. I regard it as an evil.”

Actually, again inconsistent, Rand did have a God. It was herself. She said:

I am done with the monster of “we,” the word of serfdom, of plunder, of misery, falsehood and shame. And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: “I.”

While Harriet Beecher Stowe shamed Americans about the United State’s dehumanization of African Americans and slavery, Ayn Rand removed Americans’ guilt for being selfish and uncaring about anyone except themselves. Not only did Rand make it “moral” for the wealthy not to pay their fair share of taxes, she “liberated” millions of other Americans from caring about the suffering of others, even the suffering of their own children.

The good news is that I’ve seen ex-Rand fans grasp the damage that Rand’s philosophy has done to their lives and to then exorcize it from their psyche. Can the United States as a nation do the same thing?

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Hardcore History: The Death Throes of the Roman Republic, pts 1 - 6

Show 34 - Death Throes of the Republic I

The wars which elevate Rome to superpower status also sow the seed for the downfall of its political system. Money, slaves, ambition, political stalemate and class warfare prove to be a toxic, bloody mix.

Show 35 - Death Throes of the Republic II

Disaster threatens the Republic, but the cure might be worse than the disease. "The Dan Carlin version" of this story continues with ambition-addict Marius dominating the story and Plutarch dominating the sources.

Show 36 - Death Throes of the Republic III

Rome's political violence expands in intensity from riots and assassinations to outright war as the hyper-ambitious generals Marius and Sulla tear the Republic and its constitution apart vying for power and glory.

Show 37 - Death Throes of the Republic IV

Sulla returns to Rome to show the Republic what REAL political violence looks like. Civil war and deadly partisan payback will pave the way for reforms pushed at sword point. Lots of heads will roll...literally.

Show 38 - Death Throes of the Republic V

The last great generation of the Roman Republic emerges from the historical mists. The dynamic between Caesar, Cato, Cicero, Crassus and Pompey forms the axis around which the rest of this tale revolves.

Show 39 - Death Throes of the Republic VI

In a massive finish to the "Dan Carlin version" of the fall of the Roman Republic, conspiracies, civil wars, beatniks of antiquity and a guy named Caesar figure prominently. Virtually everyone dies.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

David Graeber: Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots: The 'Occupy' movement is one of several in American history to be based on anarchist principles.

Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots: The 'Occupy' movement is one of several in American history to be based on anarchist principles.
by David Graeber
Al Jazeera

Almost every time I'm interviewed by a mainstream journalist about Occupy Wall Street I get some variation of the same lecture:

"How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what's with all this anarchist nonsense - the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don't you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You're never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!"

If one were compiling a scrapbook of worst advice ever given, this sort of thing might well merit an honourable place. After all, since the financial crash of 2007, there have been dozens of attempts to kick-off a national movement against the depredations of the United States' financial elites taking the approach such journalists recommended. All failed. It was only on August 2, when a small group of anarchists and other anti-authoritarians showed up at a meeting called by one such group and effectively wooed everyone away from the planned march and rally to create a genuine democratic assembly, on basically anarchist principles, that the stage was set for a movement that Americans from Portland to Tuscaloosa were willing to embrace.

I should be clear here what I mean by "anarchist principles". The easiest way to explain anarchism is to say that it is a political movement that aims to bring about a genuinely free society - that is, one where humans only enter those kinds of relations with one another that would not have to be enforced by the constant threat of violence. History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Anarchists wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. Anarchism envisions a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

Anarchism versus Marxism

Traditional Marxism, of course, aspired to the same ultimate goal but there was a key difference. Most Marxists insisted that it was necessary first to seize state power, and all the mechanisms of bureaucratic violence that come with it, and use them to transform society - to the point where, they argued such mechanisms would, ultimately, become redundant and fade away. Even back in the 19th century, anarchists argued that this was a pipe dream. One cannot, they argued, create peace by training for war, equality by creating top-down chains of command, or, for that matter, human happiness by becoming grim joyless revolutionaries who sacrifice all personal self-realisation or self-fulfillment to the cause.

It's not just that the ends do not justify the means (though they don't), you will never achieve the ends at all unless the means are themselves a model for the world you wish to create. Hence the famous anarchist call to begin "building the new society in the shell of the old" with egalitarian experiments ranging from free schools to radical labour unions to rural communes.

Anarchism was also a revolutionary ideology, and its emphasis on individual conscience and individual initiative meant that during the first heyday of revolutionary anarchism between roughly 1875 and 1914, many took the fight directly to heads of state and capitalists, with bombings and assassinations. Hence the popular image of the anarchist bomb-thrower. It's worthy of note that anarchists were perhaps the first political movement to realise that terrorism, even if not directed at innocents, doesn't work. For nearly a century now, in fact, anarchism has been one of the very few political philosophies whose exponents never blow anyone up (indeed, the 20th-century political leader who drew most from the anarchist tradition was Mohandas K Gandhi.)

Yet for the period of roughly 1914 to 1989, a period during which the world was continually either fighting or preparing for world wars, anarchism went into something of an eclipse for precisely that reason: To seem "realistic", in such violent times, a political movement had to be capable of organising armies, navies and ballistic missile systems, and that was one thing at which Marxists could often excel. But everyone recognised that anarchists - rather to their credit - would never be able to pull it off. It was only after 1989, when the age of great war mobilisations seemed to have ended, that a global revolutionary movement based on anarchist principles - the global justice movement - promptly reappeared.

How, then, did OWS embody anarchist principles? It might be helpful to go over this point by point:

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Mike Adams: Collecting rainwater now illegal in many states as Big Government claims ownership over our water

Collecting rainwater now illegal in many states as Big Government claims ownership over our water
by Mike Adams
Natural News

Many of the freedoms we enjoy here in the U.S. are quickly eroding as the nation transforms from the land of the free into the land of the enslaved, but what I'm about to share with you takes the assault on our freedoms to a whole new level. You may not be aware of this, but many Western states, including Utah, Washington and Colorado, have long outlawed individuals from collecting rainwater on their own properties because, according to officials, that rain belongs to someone else.

As bizarre as it sounds, laws restricting property owners from "diverting" water that falls on their own homes and land have been on the books for quite some time in many Western states. Only recently, as droughts and renewed interest in water conservation methods have become more common, have individuals and business owners started butting heads with law enforcement over the practice of collecting rainwater for personal use.

Check out this YouTube video of a news report out of Salt Lake City, Utah, about the issue. It's illegal in Utah to divert rainwater without a valid water right, and Mark Miller of Mark Miller Toyota, found this out the hard way.

After constructing a large rainwater collection system at his new dealership to use for washing new cars, Miller found out that the project was actually an "unlawful diversion of rainwater." Even though it makes logical conservation sense to collect rainwater for this type of use since rain is scarce in Utah, it's still considered a violation of water rights which apparently belong exclusively to Utah's various government bodies.

"Utah's the second driest state in the nation. Our laws probably ought to catch up with that," explained Miller in response to the state's ridiculous rainwater collection ban.

Salt Lake City officials worked out a compromise with Miller and are now permitting him to use "their" rainwater, but the fact that individuals like Miller don't actually own the rainwater that falls on their property is a true indicator of what little freedom we actually have here in the U.S. (Access to the rainwater that falls on your own property seems to be a basic right, wouldn't you agree?)


Outlawing rainwater collection in other states
Utah isn't the only state with rainwater collection bans, either. Colorado and Washington also have rainwater collection restrictions that limit the free use of rainwater, but these restrictions vary among different areas of the states and legislators have passed some laws to help ease the restrictions.

In Colorado, two new laws were recently passed that exempt certain small-scale rainwater collection systems, like the kind people might install on their homes, from collection restrictions.

Prior to the passage of these laws, Douglas County, Colorado, conducted a study on how rainwater collection affects aquifer and groundwater supplies. The study revealed that letting people collect rainwater on their properties actually reduces demand from water facilities and improves conservation.

Personally, I don't think a study was even necessary to come to this obvious conclusion. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that using rainwater instead of tap water is a smart and useful way to conserve this valuable resource, especially in areas like the West where drought is a major concern.

Additionally, the study revealed that only about three percent of Douglas County's precipitation ended up in the streams and rivers that are supposedly being robbed from by rainwater collectors. The other 97 percent either evaporated or seeped into the ground to be used by plants.

This hints at why bureaucrats can't really use the argument that collecting rainwater prevents that water from getting to where it was intended to go. So little of it actually makes it to the final destination that virtually every household could collect many rain barrels worth of rainwater and it would have practically no effect on the amount that ends up in streams and rivers.

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