Monday, December 31, 2012

Julia Leyda: "Something That Is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive" - An Interview with Todd Haynes

"Something That Is Dangerous and Arousing and Transgressive": An Interview with Todd Haynes
by Julia Leyda
Bright Lights Film Journal

JULIA LEYDA: You've done several movies that are very clearly woman's films, but the movie that I am most fascinated with in terms of gender is Velvet Goldmine, which is not usually interpreted in that context.

TODD HAYNES: No, except it's probably gotten the strongest female fan base of any of my films. And what's wonderful for me is to see new generations of young women, even as we think we progress as a society and there are new options available to each new generation that seem to be catering to that market more acutely, still Velvet Goldmine offers that market something that they're not getting elsewhere. I always love it when girls come up to me at festivals and that's the one, that's the movie that really turned them around.

JL: I'm interested in how you use the trope of playing with dolls in Superstar and Velvet Goldmine as a way to figure gender, embodiment, desire, identification. You said in an interview that playing with dolls is what you're doing in Velvet Goldmine, using it as a metaphor for the filmmaking process, to play with the characters of the idols more than making an actual biopic about bisexual pop stars. So what about the female characters in Velvet Goldmine? Fans, rock and roll girls like Mandy — talk a bit about them.

TH: Interesting question. The character of Mandy was probably one of the hardest roles I've ever had to cast. We did a really thorough, international search for who could play Mandy. When I look back on the experience, I'm amazed at how many actresses agreed to read for the role who don't often do so. I think what was difficult about Mandy was that she, and the Angela Bowie template for that character, harkened back to a kind of performative femininity of which there are very few contemporary examples anymore. I see it as the Patti Smith divide in terms of rock and roll and public depictions of femininity, whose image emerged finally, after so many variations on the codified mannerisms that were available to women in midcentury American film, for instance, and popular music (although there have always been interesting deviations from this). I think over time a lot of the affectations associated with performing femininity had fallen away, to the point where you came to this iconic figure of Patti Smith, whom I see as similar in a way to the Jude figure in I'm Not There, a very androgynous, more masculine-identified figure. For young actresses reading the role of Mandy it became clear that recent examples of that kind of almost camp presentation of an affected, theatrical persona were very hard to locate; I think of Liza Minnelli, and maybe Parker Posey was one of the later examples, of almost a gay male idea of femininity.

One thing that was very interesting about Angela Bowie is the way she navigated the English and American influences and her accent would come and go, and that was one of the things we wanted to incorporate into the performance, but that's very tough on an actor. We wanted to make it understood that it's a mutable way of fixing into each culture with some fluidity. I mean, there's no question that Angela Bowie was a central driving engine — her autobiography is amazing, and it's supported by most of the documentation and oral histories of those years — in the transformation of David Bowie, who was experimenting with different kinds of feminine representations but ultimately fixed on this Warhol-infused figure of the Ziggy Stardust character. It was really Angela Bowie who championed these kinds of characters, part of the second-generation Warhol clan, who made their way to the UK and appeared in this play Pork in 1971. They just loved her and she loved them, and in a weird way Bowie was sort of a spectator, an observer of this love and energy. And I think, based on what she wrote in her book and other documentation, she was very interested in the gay liberation movement that was burgeoning at the time and she wanted to appropriate it, take it on, and become the spokesperson in a rock and roll vernacular for those ideas.

I don't know if this relates directly to doll-playing except that it really might be the last time that you see an active female figure freely utilizing artificial terms of self-expression and persona in an unembarrassed, unabashed, almost radical way. That was in a way the fascinating counterpart to the more aloof, silent, objectified figure that Bowie assumed as Ziggy Stardust. Of course, there was also that hardcore influence from the American music that he loved — the Stooges, the MC5, and the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed — as the final ingredient to give it that kind of duality, the cross between English musical traditions and this American hardcore, a direct assault. He needed both of those, but there was still a kind of passivity and object-ness of that figure that seemed more quiet, and more comfortable being an image, an idealized beautiful façade that people could project onto; whereas Angela Bowie was active, pulling the strings and moving the levers — in that way, I think, making him up so that he was the doll that she was playing with. So a lot of that energy and that fire and fearlessness I think could be attributed to her.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

The Tings Tings: Guggenheim

Sun Kil Moon: That Bird Has a Broken Wing

Cat Power: Human Being

Bill Moyers Journal: Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI)

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI)
Bill Moyers Journal

"The only solution to any problem is to get to work on it."

That phrase is the motto of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) profiled on THE JOURNAL. In its 36 year history the CCI has addressed a number of issues through grassroots organizing — and political action.

Like the original populists of the 19th century south and west, the CCI began its organization around the battle between individual farmers and corporate farming interests. Today they are trying to battle a bill that would allow industrial-scale farms to spread liquid manure on top of frozen or snow-covered fields, a practice deemed hazardous to the environment and a potential health risk.

The CCI has also taken on the challenge of preserving a core aspect of the American dream — fighting abusive lending as well as offering financial classes and counseling to encourage and safeguard home ownership. And the CCI is embracing the changing demographics of their state by supporting the many Latino immigrants who are working the in meatpacking industry. The CCI has taken on labor, discrimination and immigration issues. And again hearkening back to those early populists — the group is a firm supporter of getting big money out of American politics through it's arm, Voter-Owned Iowa.

As member and farmer Larry Ginter puts it, the founding fathers liked a good fight — so should their heirs.

"There's a saying, 'Revolution begins in a peasant hut.' You got to fight for the justice. You got to fight for the fair wage. You got to fight for housing. You got to fight for healthcare. Fight for the elderly, fight for family farmers and workers. Fight for the environment. And that's what Iowa CCI does."

To Watch the Episode

Best of the Left: #600 It shouldn’t matter but it does (Racism)

#600 It shouldn’t matter but it does (Racism)
Best of the Left

Ch. 1: Intro – Theme: A Fond Farewell – From a Basement On the Hill

Ch. 2: Act 1: Racist Rant Gets John Derbyshire Fired From National Review – Young Turks

Ch. 3: Song 1: Enzymes – Enzymes – Single

Ch. 4: Act 2: If you’re black, put your hands in the air – Thom Hartmann

Ch. 5: Song 2: Teenage Dirtbag – Scala & Kolacny Brothers

Ch. 6: Act 3: Bill O’Reilly’s Race Relation Management – Jimmy Dore

Ch. 7: Song 3: We Are Young (feat. Janelle Monáe) – We Are Young ((feat. Janelle Monáe) – Single)

Ch. 8: Act 4: Racism Without Racists – Mumia Abu-Jamal

Ch. 9: Song 4: To Kill A Mockingbird Theme: Scout’s Song

Ch. 10: Act 5: Consumer brand racism – Blacking it up

Ch. 11: Song 5: Fix Yourself – The Innocent Bystanders

Ch. 12: Act 6: Landlord Posts Whites Only Sign at Pool, Won’t Apologize – David Pakman

Ch. 13: Song 6: Mondo ’77 (feat. Francis MacDonald) – Vanilla Sky (Music from the Motion Picture)

Ch. 14: Act 7: Don’t Re-Nig 2012 Anti-Obama Bumper Sticker Seller Defends N-Word – Young Turks

Ch. 15: Song 7: Think About It – Flight of the Conchords

Ch. 16: Act 8: Race shouldn’t matter but it does – Blacking It Up

Ch. 17: Final comments: Part 3 of 3 on the blindness of exuberance: “Bully” and it’s producer’s distrust of his own audience

To Listen to the Episode

Beach House: Lover of Mine

Chris Calabrese: Vast New Spying Program Was Started in Secret on a Bogus Pretext

Vast New Spying Program Was Started in Secret on a Bogus Pretext
By Chris Calabrese

The Wall Street Journal today published (alternate link) an in-depth review of a new, relatively unknown program run by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). Although we have been warning about the dangers of the program for months, and I testified before Congress about the issue in July, the Journal’s story conveys how controversial the program was even inside the government. It also describes the broad scope of new authority the government is granting itself.

As the Journal reports, under new guidelines issued by the Attorney General back in March,

The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation.

Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited.

The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.

The program is striking in so many ways. Innocent people can be investigated and their data kept for years. It can be shared with foreign governments. All of this in service of not just terrorism investigations but also investigations of future crimes. In effect, the U.S. government is using information it gathers for its ordinary business to turn its own citizens into the subjects of terrorism investigations.

Meanwhile, all of this is supposed to be against the law. The Privacy Act of 1974 says that information collected by the federal government for one purpose is not supposed to be used for another. However, agencies are attempting to circumvent these rules by publishing boilerplate notices in the Federal Register. Sadly, that practice has become far too common.

To Read the Rest of the Report

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Glenn Greenwald: GOP and Feinstein join to fulfill Obama's demand for renewed warrantless eavesdropping

GOP and Feinstein join to fulfill Obama's demand for renewed warrantless eavesdropping
by Glenn Greenwald
The Guardian

The California Democrat's disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney while advancing Obama's agenda.

To this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obama unambiguously vowed that he would filibuster "any bill" that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.

But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that - the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 - and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise - actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote - caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.

Critically, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. Jointly written by Dick Cheney and then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, it also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping.

In doing so, the new 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had been enacted to prevent the decades of severe spying abuses discovered by the mid-1970s Church Committee: by simply barring the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized most of what Democrats had spent years pretending was such a scandal: the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. In other words, the warrantless eavesdropping "scandal" that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times reporters who revealed it ended not with investigations or prosecutions for those who illegally spied on Americans, but with the Congressional GOP joining with key Democrats (including Obama) to legalize most of what Bush and Cheney had done. Ever since, the Obama DOJ has invoked secrecy and standing doctrines to prevent any courts from ruling on whether the warrantless eavesdropping powers granted by the 2008 law violate the Constitution.

The 2008 FISA law provided that it would expire in four years unless renewed. Yesterday, the Senate debated its renewal. Several Senators - Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul - each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government's warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.

Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spent two years warning Americans that the government's eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.

As a result, Wyden yesterday had two amendments: one that would simply require the NSA to give a general estimate of how many Americans are having their communications intercepted under this law (information the NSA has steadfastly refused to provide), and another which would state that the NSA is barred from eavesdropping on Americans on US soil without a warrant. Merkley's amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that "secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance"; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, "on at least one occasion", found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.

But the Obama White House opposed all amendments, demanding a "clean" renewal of the law without any oversight or transparency reforms. Earlier this month, the GOP-led House complied by passing a reform-free version of the law's renewal, and sent the bill Obama wanted to the Senate, where it was debated yesterday afternoon.

The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Ingrid Fernandez: Visions of the Other - The Return of the Abject in Roman Polanski's The Tenant

Visions of the Other: The Return of the Abject in Roman Polanski's The Tenant
by Ingrid Fernandez
Bright Lights Film Journal

Perhaps one of the highest achievements — and casualties — of Western philosophy lies in its complete denial of the body as a conduit for knowledge and self-discovery. The body has been excluded from discourse, always positioned as a threat to the higher instincts of the intellect. It is an unwanted part of the self: the polluted, the irrational, the animalistic that mars the path to enlightenment. It has thus been sentenced to represent the space of the abject, that which is always pushing the socially constructed subject to the edge of the abyss and hence threatens the law. However, a higher truth can be sought in the order of Nature. If we embrace the corporeal, we no longer negate death, decay, sickness — the filth burgeoning inside the self and forever constituting its powerful force. I accept my frailty, the instability of my identity, and I mourn for what I have lost when I achieved the status of subject. For that part of myself always creeps back into my existence as a shadow, a hidden desire I can never satisfy, that of life and death merging into pure being. I mourn the Other. I carry it within me but can never access it in life, for it might destroy me, I have been told; or perhaps it might complete me once it undoes all I have learned to be. Julia Kristeva describes fully experiencing the body as causing a rupture within signification, unacceptable because it eradicates the socially constructed boundaries regulating identity. She states:

A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, does not signify death. In the presence of signified de'ath — a flat encephalograph, for instance — I would understand, react, or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live . . . My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border . . . It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. (Kristeva)

It is precisely in this foreign land, in this dark continent shunned by rational thought, that we might best find ourselves. The real truth of life is most acutely revealed at a corporeal level, where primal vulnerabilities such as the fear of illness and decay, the violated body, and the body in pain constitute the essence of being human, of being a part of a larger world where "the Other" is a reflection of the self. Moreover, our very physical existence and relation to others stem from a common bond of blood that predates the social apparatus. After all, social identity is easily stripped, uncovering a universal truth — the fact we are all mortal and subject to the violation of our physical space. At its most basic, the bond between humans is forged by the organic — sinews, muscle, bones, and the burden of the body. The instability of physical existence lies in its constant metamorphosis, its ability to simultaneously enrich and destroy intellectual activity, and the presence of elusive desire and the remnants of a fear that remain locked in the moment prior to our existence as social subjects. These concepts are best illustrated in cinema because of the power of the image to enter the viscera, elide intellectual resistance, and elicit an authentic and unmediated, sometimes even involuntary, reaction. The cinematic image penetrates the space of the abject and brings it to life. It is the return of the repressed and allows us to once again inhabit "uncomfortable spaces" we thought were closed off to our senses. Starting from these premises, I propose to revisit the concept of knowledge gained through the saturation of the body by outside stimuli, in this case film images, and how this experience results in a form of transcendence, a deeper understanding of our relation to ourselves and "the Other."

Roman Polanski's 1976 film The Tenant can be seen as a meditation on the fate of the abject body and how it is marked, regulated, and finally obliterated by the social apparatus. However, it also emphasizes how the repressed eludes the symbolic law and allows us to encounter its terrifying shadow, the periphery of existence that always manages to break through. Additionally, Polanski brings in the concept of bare life as stipulated by critics like Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler, inquiring into the way a social subject is constituted and given a voice or utterly silenced and excluded from the circle of the human. The film's main focus remains on the body as undesirable, non-ideal, open to external aggression and pollution. In typical Polanski fashion, the audience is trapped in an "uncomfortable visual space" where the concept of a stable individual identity is never a matter of choice, but instead constituted by our surroundings and forces well beyond our grasp. The Tenant's crowning achievement is its use of the subjective camera, to the extent the audience is literally involved in the action through the vision of its main character, Trelkovsky. We see what he sees, fear what he fears, and eventually become him. Through this process, we experience the frailty of subjecthood and the ability of the cinematic image to rouse in us a dialogue with the innermost recesses of ourselves, the abject within us that, when we acknowledge it, sets us on the path to enlightenment and self-discovery.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chris Hedges: The Unsilenced Voice of a "Long-Distance Revolutionary"

The Unsilenced Voice of a "Long-Distance Revolutionary"
by Chris Hedges

I am sitting in the visiting area of the SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa., on a rainy, cold Friday morning with Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner and one of its few authentic revolutionaries. He is hunched forward on the gray plastic table, his dreadlocks cascading down the sides of his face, in a room that looks like a high school cafeteria. He is talking intently about the nature of empire, which he is currently reading voraciously about, and effective forms of resistance to tyranny throughout history. Small children, visiting their fathers or brothers, race around the floor, wail or clamber on the plastic chairs. Abu-Jamal, like the other prisoners in the room, is wearing a brown jumpsuit bearing the letters DOC—for Department of Corrections.

Abu-Jamal was transferred in January to the general prison population after nearly 30 years in solitary confinement on death row and was permitted physical contact with his wife, children and other visitors for the first time in three decades. He had been sentenced to death in 1982 for the Dec. 9, 1981, killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His sentence was recently amended to life without parole. The misconduct of the judge, flagrant irregularities in his trial and tainted evidence have been criticized by numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International.

Abu-Jamal, who was a young activist in the Black Panthers and later one of the most important radical journalists in Philadelphia, a city that a few decades earlier produced I.F. Stone, has long been the bête noire of the state. The FBI opened a file on him when he was 15, when he started working with the local chapter of the Black Panthers. He was suspended from his Philadelphia high school when he campaigned to rename the school for Malcolm X and distributed “black revolutionary student power” literature.

Stephen Vittoria’s new film documentary about Abu-Jamal, “Long Distance Revolutionary,” rather than revisit the case, chronicles his importance and life as an American journalist, radical and intellectual under the harsh realities of Pennsylvania’s death row. Abu-Jamal has published seven books in prison, including his searing and best-selling “Live From Death Row.” The film features the voices of Cornel West, James Cone, Dick Gregory, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and others. It opens in theaters Feb. 1, starting in New York City. In the film Gregory says that Abu-Jamal has single-handedly brought “dignity to the whole death row.”

The late historian Manning Marable says in the film: “The voice of black journalism in the struggle for the liberation of African-American people has always proved to be decisive throughout black history. When you listen to Mumia Abu-Jamal you hear the echoes of David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and the sisters and brothers who kept the faith with struggle, who kept the faith with resistance.”

The authorities, as they did before he was convicted, have attempted to silence him in prison. Pennsylvania banned all recorded interviews with Abu-Jamal after 1996. In response to protests over the singling out of one inmate in the Pennsylvania correction system, the state simply banned recorded access to all its inmates. The ban is nicknamed “the Mumia rule.”

“I was punished for communicating,” Abu-Jamal says.

Cornel West says in the film: “The state is very clever in terms of keeping track, especially [of] the courageous and visionary ones, the ones that are long-distance runners. You can keep track of them, absorb ’em, dilute ’em, or outright kill ’em—you don’t have to worry about opposition to ’em.”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Brett Easton Ellis: American Psycho (1991)

American PsychoAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Unfairly dismissed and condemned upon release. Yes, it is over-the-top, it is definitely offensive/disgusting (seriously), but this is a satirical book that is examining the greed and disdain of Wall St elites. In particular it demonstrates the distorted solipsistic reality of Bates who is cocooned in his narcissistic, incestuous world so deeply that the only thing he views as important is the consumer culture he is enamored with as a marker of his status -- and that is where things get literally fucked up! It is also a great meditation on truth/authenticity in a overly mediatized (mediated) world. It is all the more important now and should, perhaps, be viewed with the documentary Inside Job for some perspective.

View all my reviews

Sonic Youth: Massage the History

Michel Foucault: The Boomerang Effect

"It should never be forgotten that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself."
-- Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

Monday, December 10, 2012

Blake Page: Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate

Why I Don’t Want to Be a West Point Graduate
by Blake Page
Huffington Post

The title West Point Graduate carries a great deal of weight in this world. Those who earn it are given a "golden ticket" and wear a "ring of power" which will certainly carry them to successful careers with doors flung open in the military, in business, even in personal relationships; as so many are seduced by the historic prestige of the United States Military Academy. All of these things seem enticing, but for me personally they are not worth it. As I write this, I am five months from graduation. After nearly three and a half years here, there is no reason to suspect that I would be in any way incapable of completing the final requirements and walking across the stage in Michie Stadium with diploma in hand in another 174 days. Choosing to resign at this point also carries significant risk. The Army may seek recoupment in the form of about $200-300k which I will personally owe, or an additional term of up to 5 years of enlisted service. What could possibly compel me to pass over this incredible opportunity in exchange for such harsh penalties?

While there are certainly numerous problems with the developmental program at West Point and all service academies, the tipping point of my decision to resign was the realization that countless officers here and throughout the military are guilty of blatantly violating the oaths they swore to defend the Constitution. These men and women are criminals, complicit in light of day defiance of the Uniform Code of Military Justice through unconstitutional proselytism, discrimination against the non-religious and establishing formal policies to reward, encourage and even at times require sectarian religious participation. These transgressions are nearly always committed in the name of fundamentalist evangelical Christianity. The sparse leaders who object to these egregious violations are relegated to the position of silent bystanders, because they understand all too well the potential ramifications of publically expressing their loyalty to the laws of our country. These are strong words that I do not use lightly, but after years of clear personal observation I am certain that they are true.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary and To Watch a Video

Rage Against the Machine: The Ghost of Tom Joad

Disasters/Catastrophes/Crisis: Peace and Conflict Studies Archive

Allam, Beverly and Jeff Masters. "The Unimaginable Has Happened': Massive Tornado Kills Dozens, Flattens Suburb of Oklahoma City." Democracy Now (May 21, 2013)

Ayukawa, Yurika. "Japan Facing Biggest Catastrophe Since Dawn of Nuclear Age." Democracy Now (March 14, 2011)

"Chernobyl 25 Years On." Eurozine (April 22, 2011: Archive of Essays)

Edmondson, Jacqueline and Henry A. Giroux. "Losing Time or Doing Time: Drowning Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy." Truth Out (December 7, 2012)

Foster, John Bellamy. "Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The U.S. Case." Monthly Review (July 1, 2011)

Harvey, David. "Crises of Capitalism." RSA Animate (June 28, 2010: Video)

Klein, Naomi. "Sandy’s Devastation Opens Space for Action on Climate Change and Progressive Reform." (November 15, 2012)

Lakhani, Nina. "Cuban medics in Haiti put the world to shame: Castro's doctors and nurses are the backbone of the fight against cholera." The Independent (December 26, 2010)

Landman, Anne. "What Happened to Media Coverage of Fukushima?" Common Dreams (June 24, 2011)

Schulman, Sarah. "AIDs and Gentrification." Against the Grain (November 20, 2012)

Sharber, Dan. "World on Fire: Capitalism, the Environment, and Our Future." We Are Many (October 24, 2012)

Stryker, Deena. "Iceland's On-going Revolution." Daily Kos (August 1, 2011)

Turner, Lane. "Is weather becoming more extreme?" The Big Picture (June 20, 2011)

Against the Grain: Sarah Schulman - AIDs and Gentrification

AIDS and Gentrification
Against the Grain

It's only been a decade and a half since the height of the AIDS epidemic. Yet there's profound amnesia about what happened during those years, in which hundreds of thousands of people died in this country, ignored by a government that only helped those with the disease after being forced through direct action. Writer Sarah Schulman argues that AIDS paved the way for massive gentrification in cities like New York and San Francisco. She describes the erasure of a liberatory queer culture and its replacement with a conservative one.

To Listen to the Episode

Danny Mayer -- Let Them Eat Art!: The 21c Public/Private Partnership

Let Them Eat Art!: The 21c Public/Private Partnership
By Danny Mayer
North of Center

In April, marital partners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, founding owners of Louisville-based boutique hotel franchise 21c, held a press conference under the pavilion at Cheapside Park to announce their $36 million purchase and renovation plans for Lexington’s 15-story First National Building, the city’s first skyscraper. Along with a pair of smaller adjoining buildings, Wilson told a crowd of local leaders gathered for the occasion, the iconic downtown structure would become the fourth 21c Museum Hotels franchise location. “This is a combination hotel and a real art museum. It is not art for decoration,” Wilson said. “The 21c Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art by living artists.”

Local talk of the renovation has tracked city leader and 21c talking points, which have focused on aesthetics and downtown revitalization. But whatever its aesthetic value or ability to inspire a new urban “confidence,” 21c’s economic foundation comes straight out of the past two decades: a public/private partnership in finance in which the public assumes collateral and risk and the private owners reap the returns. Of the $36.5 million needed to purchase, renovate and open 21c as a boutique hotel with an attached modern public art museum, over 60 percent of it ($22.5 million) will come from tapping public funds at the city, state and federal levels, much of it through programs geared toward low- and moderate-income citizens.

If you want to see the democratic/economic policies pillaging the nation and globe writ devastatingly small, look no further than 21c. Here’s three themes that should be familiar to you.

To Read the Rest of the Article

On the Media: Peter Whoriskey - Private Funding, Medical Journals, and Bias

Private Funding, Medical Journals, and Bias
On the Media

Private funding of medical studies has eclipsed public funding on the order of billions of dollars a year. Peter Whoriskey, writer for The Washington Post talks to Bob about the potential for bias and misleading information in drug studies funded by the drug companies.

To Listen to the Episode and access the original article

Leoš Janáček - Sinfonietta (1926)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Maximilian Yoshioka: Technocratic Totalitarianism: One-Dimensional Thought in Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville

Technocratic Totalitarianism: One-Dimensional Thought in Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville
by Maximilian Yoshioka
Bright Lights Film Journal


These two mechanisms of symbolic coercion, the arrow and the equation, refer to a broader phenomenon of mindlessness in Alphaville, or what Herbert Marcuse calls "one-dimensional thought," meaning basically an inability to think critically or "negatively" about the conditions of one's own existence. For the person who thinks one-dimensionally, affirmative statements about what already exists (i.e., political institutions, class/wealth relations, dominant ideologies) are all that is possible; consequently, any thought or desire that transcends those existing structures is inconceivable. For Marcuse, the existence of this type of thinking is not so much intrinsic to human beings as it is a socially constructed mechanism built by those in power to reinforce the forms of domination particular to their existence. The dogmatic repetition of the commandment "One should never say why; but only because" by the inhabitants of Alphaville is the ultimate realization of such a system of thought control. Marcuse was writing about contemporary society in the 1960s, the same period in which Alphaville was released. While Marcuse tasked himself with describing the society he saw in front of him, Godard decided to imagine its logical consequence.

Signs of this mental indoctrination, of the subordination of critical thought and agency to rules, regulations, and ideology, are everywhere present in Caution's travels across Alphaville. When he first arrives at his hotel from the "Outlands," he is immediately hassled by staff offering to carry his luggage, direct him to the elevator, guide him to his room, all of which he bluntly refuses, thereby establishing an initial distinction for the viewer between the robotic behavior of the locals and Caution's brash individualism. He is escorted into his room by an attractive but lifeless woman who constantly asks him patronizingly if he is sleepy, if he needs to rest, and so on. Without even asking she begins to undress and offers to take a bath with him. Upon questioning, she reveals herself to be what is known in Alphaville as a "level three seductress," essentially a glamorized prostitute. The apotheosis of this type of mechanical conformism is the way that the locals say "I'm very well, thanks for asking" whenever they meet Caution, even though he never actually asks for such information. The traditional linguistic relationship between question and answer, where one waits until one is asked a question before responding, is replaced with preprogrammed utterances. What one observes here, in a form highly reminiscent of the brainless constant comfort of Huxley's Brave New World, is a society of total convenience and omnipresent guidance, where the strains of independent decision making are now relics of an unscientific past. As Caution himself aptly laments, "People have become slaves of probability."

The one-dimensionalization of thought in Alphaville is also implemented in a more direct fashion, in the control over language and concepts through ideology. As mentioned earlier, one of the main dogmas repeatedly uttered by the scientists and citizens of the city is that one must not ask why, only because. As one of the head scientists tells Caution, "All is linked, all is consequence." He describes the task of Alpha 60 as simply to calculate the consequences and chains of causality that Alphaville will then be bound to follow; in such a system of deterministic logic, there is no room for a "why" to emerge. When Caution responds that he is a "free man," the expression of utter confusion on the scientist's face is truly priceless. By forbidding the use of "why," the technocratic elite of Alphaville is able to insulate its self-contained ruling system from challenge or criticism. Along the same lines, one frequently hears, either from Alpha 60 or from equally robotized humans, the claim that "no one has lived in the past, and no one will live in the future. The present is the form of all life." It is instructive to return again to Marcuse, who in One Dimensional Thought describes the dehistoricization taking place in contemporary technological society, where an ahistorical attitude toward the past is slowly replacing a more holistic perspective that values and interprets the moral and intellectual contributions of historical individuals. Instead, an ideologically driven positivism suppresses the past in favor of a short-term, quantitatively driven measurement of neutral variables. Questions of where or how technological rationalism fits into a broader historical and political narrative are consequently ignored.

To Read the Entire Essay

Against the Grain: Jeremy Varon - Armed Struggle and the New Left

Armed Struggle and the New Left
Against the Grain

Armed struggle by militant groups in the 1970s, who hoped to topple unjust and racist governments and end imperial wars, may seem like the dark side of a tumultuous but increasingly distant era. Yet they posed questions still unanswered today. Historian and activist Jeremy Varon talks about the complex legacy of the Weather Underground and the Red Army Faction.

To Listen to the Episode

On the Media: In Defense of "Homophobia"

In Defense of "Homophobia"
On the Media

The next print edition of the Associated Press Stylebook will include a new note on the word "phobia," advising writers to avoid the word in "political or social contexts," such as "Islamophobia" or "homophobia." The AP's announcement comes as a disappointment to George Weinberg, the New York pychotherapist who coined the term "homophobia" in 1965. He defends his word to Brooke as both an accurate descriptor and a valuable tool for the LGBT movement.

To Listen to the Episode

Friday, December 07, 2012

Henry A. Giroux and Jacqueline Edmondson: Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy
by Henry A. Giroux and Jacqueline Edmondson
Truth Out

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the East Coast of the United States, the worst fears became reality for many residents of Maryland, New Jersey and New York. While some property damage and elimination of some services were expected, few anticipated the enormous impact the storm and its consequences would have on public school students and educators in the region hit hardest by the hurricane. As of December 4, 2012, 11 schools remained closed in New Jersey, and more than 100 were significantly damaged. [1] In New York City alone, 48 schools were closed due to storm damage. [2] Many students who returned to schools in the weeks after the hurricane found they needed to bundle up in winter clothing because their buildings remained unheated. [3]

There appeared to be a rush to get children back into schools even though buildings remained unheated and without electricity, portions of some buildings were unsafe and air quality was questionable. Some students were temporarily reassigned to different schools. This was no small matter as classrooms rosters needed to be changed, teachers reassigned, new transportation arranged and lunchtime and dismissal procedures altered.

Some school buildings served as emergency shelters weeks after the storm. At Brooklyn Tech High School in New York City, more than 250 evacuees were moved to the top two floors of the school so that students could resume classes. The principal, Elizabeth Johnson, reported that the school smelled of garbage and human waste because the evacuees, many of them psychiatric patients, were sleeping in classrooms. The school requested extra security. [4]

In an ironic twist of fate, many school and public officials publicly expressed concern about how to make up lost time, by which they meant corporate time - time dedicated to serving the interests of a market-driven culture and mode of learning. Schools in New Jersey and New York require public schools to meet for 180 days. Rather than use such time to connect what students learn to the pressures and issues that bear down on their lives, many school officials were more concerned about how to make up for lost time in in order meet the demands, if not the pressure, to demonstrate student performance on standardized tests. The stories that connect students and teachers to the outside world, even in the midst of a major crisis affecting the lives of students and their families, became irrelevant as the major concern that emerged in the aftermath of the storm was to speed up particular demands on teachers to deliver curriculum based on instruction geared to high-stakes testing. What boggles the mind and reveals how distorted priorities have become in many public schools is that while schools in New York City were overcrowded, unstaffed, and on lists of failing schools in advance of the storm, these issues were either downplayed or were absent in the post-Sandy discussions about the need to address the problems immediately posed by the tragic fury of Hurricane Sandy.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

A. Loudermilk: Last to Leave the Theater

Last to Leave the Theater: Sissy Spectatorship of Stalker Movies and the "Final Girls" Who Survive Them
by A. Loudermilk
Bright Lights Film Journal

She's a virgin who won't get stoned (Sleepaway Camp II). She does get stoned and plays strip Monopoly (Friday the 13th). She's not a virgin and wears a tie (April Fool's Day). She's a pregnant sorority sister holding tight to her little gold cross (Black Christmas). She's teacher's pet and basketball star (Slumber Party Massacre). She's prom queen, head of dance club and all-around athlete (Prom Night). Yet she wasn't invited to an important party (Happy Birthday to Me). She knows how to fix a car and disparages capitalism (Hell Night). She's majoring in psychology (Friday the 13th II). She's a divorcee who writes an advice column (Schizoid). She's a naval officer with a mysterious position overseas (Graduation Day). She's the one who says, "We're supposed to be mature adults" (House on Sorority Row). She's the one who says, "We should be prepared to fight" (Hide and Go Shriek). She's the one who says, "I'll put the gun down when the police get here" (Hard to Die). In order to protect herself, she pulls the Stalker's knife from a dead friend's back (Friday the 13th III). "I don't feel any safer here with you," she weighs her options: "I can run cross-country. I'll get to the highway and call for help" (Blood Sisters). She drags herself down corridors to save herself from the Stalker (Halloween II). She saves herself and her wounded boyfriend from the Stalker (Mutilator). She's not the Stalker though she seemed to be the Stalker (Curtains; Nail Gun Massacre). She is the Stalker (Night School) and not exactly a girl (Sleepaway Camp). She's upset about forgetting her chemistry book (Halloween).

Since Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), the survivor figure in horror has been female. "We belong in the end to the Final Girl," declares film theorist Carol Clover in her groundbreaking book Men, Women, and Chainsaws (1992). Clover refers to the Final Girl as a "victim-hero," a character who shifts between these traditionally gendered roles — increasingly toward the masculine (in her argument) as the story culminates. A smart and observant girl who either fights off the killer long enough to be rescued or kills the killer herself, the Final Girl is not typically feminine in her interests/skills, experiences an apartness from other girls, and possesses an active gaze that registers signs of danger others ignore (35, 39-40, 44, 48). For instance Halloween's Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), teased by her sex-obsessed peers as the bookish virgin1 who doesn't date, is first to see the blankly masked man watching from the hedges.

In the opening scene of the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), one now might spot Barbara as Final Girl. Director George Romero positions us to identify with Barbara more so than her brother who jokes about the strange man in the cemetery who's "coming to get her." He is coming — to get both of them. While her paranoia saves her, her brother's flippancy gets him killed. After Barbara's initial ingenuity evading the zombie, alas, she goes catatonic and a male character assumes the hero role. For Tom Savini's 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, scriptwriter Romero, responding to feminist criticism of Barbara's hysterical passivity, revises her as Final Girl. She is now "an active, assertive character, not only within the diegesis but as a narrative agent as well." In other words, according to Barry Keith Grant's essay "Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead" (1992), she not only takes action to save herself in the story, those actions impact the direction, outcome, and meaning of the story (200).

At large in horror, a revision of the damsel as survivor marks a new era for the genre, and much has been written about it. What's yet to be addressed, though, is a specifically "sissy spectatorship" of the Final Girl during an era of intense homophobia and misogyny. I grew up with the Final Girl, or maybe I should say that I grew up with the genre fans who primarily witnessed the Final Girl. And I want to embrace fan subjectivity to help elucidate my own queer relationship with horror as framed by the straight audience I sat with. To come back, ultimately, to the very theater in which I sat — watching and being watched.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Melissa Bow Temple: It's Okay To Be Neither

It’s Okay to be Neither
by Melissa Bollow Tempel
Together for Jackson County Kids

Alie arrived at our 1st-grade classroom wearing a sweatshirt with a hood. I asked her to take off her hood, and she refused. I thought she was just being difficult and ignored it. After breakfast we got in line for art, and I noticed that she still had not removed her hood. When we arrived at the art room, I said: “Allie, I’m not playing. It’s time for art. The rule is no hoods or hats in school.”

She looked up with tears in her eyes and I realized there was something wrong. Her classmates went into the art room and we moved to the art storage area so her classmates wouldn’t hear our conversation. I softened my tone and asked her if she’d like to tell me what was wrong.

“My ponytail,” she cried.

“Can I see?” I asked.

She nodded and pulled down her hood. Allie’s braids had come undone overnight and there hadn’t been time to redo them in the morning, so they had to be put back in a ponytail. It was high up on the back of her head like those of many girls in our class, but I could see that to Allie it just felt wrong. With Allie’s permission, I took the elastic out and re-braided her hair so it could hang down.

“How’s that?” I asked.

She smiled. “Good,” she said and skipped off to join her friends in art.

‘Why Do You Look Like a Boy?’

Allison was biologically a girl but felt more comfortable wearing Tony Hawk long-sleeved T-shirts, baggy jeans, and black tennis shoes. Her parents were accepting and supportive. Her mother braided her hair in cornrows because Allie thought it made her look like Will Smith’s son, Trey, in the remake of The Karate Kid. She preferred to be called Allie. The first day of school, children who hadn’t been in Allie’s class in kindergarten referred to her as “he.”

I didn’t want to assume I knew how Allie wanted me to respond to the continual gender mistakes, so I made a phone call home and Allie’s mom put me on speakerphone.

“Allie,” she said, “Ms. Melissa is on the phone. She would like to know if you want her to correct your classmates when they say you are a boy, or if you would rather that she just doesn’t say anything.”

Allie was shy on the phone. “Um … tell them that I am a girl,” she whispered.

The next day when I corrected classmates and told them that Allie was a girl, they asked her a lot of questions that she wasn’t prepared for: “Why do you look like a boy?” “If you’re a girl, why do you always wear boys’ clothes?” Some even told her that she wasn’t supposed to wear boys’ clothes if she was a girl. It became evident that I would have to address gender directly in order to make the classroom environment more comfortable for Allie and to squash the gender stereotypes that my 1st graders had absorbed in their short lives.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Joy Division: Closer

[Keeping me sane during final essay grading]

Steve Crawshaw and John Jackson: The Świdnik Stroller Rebellion

Strollers and Tanks

The rise of Solidarity, a popular movement created in August 1980 by striking workers in the shipyards of Gdansk and across Poland, caused panic in the regime that had ruled the country since the Second World War. On December 13, 1981, the Communist authorities put tanks on the streets to stop Solidarity once and for all. Hundreds were arrested, dozens were killed.

Despite the tanks and arrests. Poles organized protests against the ban on Solidarity, including a boycott of the fiction-filled television news. But a boycott of the TV news could not by itself embarrass the government. After all, who could tell how many were obeying the boycott call?

In one small town they found a way. Every evening, beginning on February 5, 1982, the inhabitants of Świdnik in eastern Poland went on a walkabout. As the half-hour evening news began, the streets would fill with Świdnikians, who chatted, walked, and loafed. Before going out, some placed their switched-off television set in the window, facing uselessly onto the street. Others went a step further. They placed their disconnected set in a stroller or a builder's wheelbarrow, and took the television itself for a nightly outing.

"If resistance is done by underground activists, it's not you or me," one Solidarity supporter later noted. "But if you see your neighbors taking their TV for a walk, it makes you feel part of something. An aim of dictatorship is to make you feel isolated. Świdnik broke the isolation and built confidence."

The TV-goes-for-a-walk tactics, which spread to other towns and cities, infuriated the government. But the authorities felt powerless to retaliate. Going for a walk was not, after all, an official crime under the criminal code.

Eventually, the curfew was brought forward from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m., thus forcing Świdnikians to stay at home during the 7:30 news, or risk being arrested or shot.

The citizens of Świdnik responded by going for a walk during the earlier edition of the news at 5pm instead. (5-6)

Crawshaw, Steve and John Jackson. Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World. NY: Union Square Press, 2010.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Noam Chomsky: What the American Media Won't Tell You About Israel

What the American Media Won't Tell You About Israel
by Noam Chomsky

An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”

The old man’s message provides the proper context for the latest episode in the savage punishment of Gaza. The crimes trace back to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled from their homes in terror or were expelled to Gaza by conquering Israeli forces, who continued to truck Palestinians over the border for years after the official cease-fire.

The punishment took new forms when Israel conquered Gaza in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship (primarily Avi Raz’s “The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War”), we learn that the government’s goal was to drive the refugees into the Sinai Peninsula – and, if feasible, the rest of the population too.

Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish, commander of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command. Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of U.N. Security Council orders.

The reasons were made clear in internal discussions immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later prime minister, informed her Labor Party colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while “getting rid of its Arabs.” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and others agreed.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol explained that those expelled could not be allowed to return because “we cannot increase the Arab population in Israel” – referring to the newly occupied territories, already considered part of Israel.

In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders) – though publication of the maps was delayed to permit Abba Eban, an Israeli ambassador to the U.N., to attain what he called a “favorable impasse” at the General Assembly by concealing Israel’s intentions.

The goals of expulsion may remain alive today, and might be a factor in contributing to Egypt’s reluctance to open the border to free passage of people and goods barred by the U.S.-backed Israeli siege.

The current upsurge of U.S.-Israeli violence dates to January 2006, when Palestinians voted “the wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world.

Israel and the U.S. reacted at once with harsh punishment of the miscreants, and preparation of a military coup to overthrow the elected government – the routine procedure. The punishment was radically intensified in 2007, when the coup attempt was beaten back and the elected Hamas government established full control over Gaza.

Ignoring immediate offers from Hamas for a truce after the 2006 election, Israel launched attacks that killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, most of whom were civilians (a third were minors). According to U.N. reports, 2,879 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire from April 2006 through July 2012, along with several dozen Israelis killed by fire from Gaza.

A short-lived truce in 2008 was honored by Hamas until Israel broke it in November. Ignoring further truce offers, Israel launched the murderous Cast Lead operation in December.

So matters have continued, while the U.S. and Israel also continue to reject Hamas calls for a long-term truce and a political settlement for a two-state solution in accord with the international consensus that the U.S. has blocked since 1976 when the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution to this effect, brought by the major Arab states.

This week, Washington devoted every effort to blocking a Palestinian initiative to upgrade its status at the U.N. but failed, in virtual international isolation as usual. The reasons were revealing: Palestine might approach the International Criminal Court about Israel’s U.S.-backed crimes.

One element of the unremitting torture of Gaza is Israel’s “buffer zone” within Gaza, from which Palestinians are barred entry to almost half of Gaza’s limited arable land.

From January 2012 to the launching of Israel’s latest killing spree on Nov. 14, Operation Pillar of Defense, one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Lifting the Veil: Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy (Metanoia Films: 2011)

Giovanna Borradori: The Illusion of Negative Freedom

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the liberalist tradition developed this sense of individual autonomy into a notion of negative freedom, according to which I am free when I am left alone, not interfered with, and able to choose as I please. Hegel's response to this position, as well as the response of those who followed Hegel, including Marx and Freud, was that this is an illusory conception, for it does not probe beneath the surface and ask why individuals make the choices they do. Since these choices are limited by one's access to all kinds of resources -- economic, cultural, educational, psychological, religious, technological -- the idea that people can be left alone to make their own choices without interference by others does not make them free; on the contrary, it leaves them at the mercy of the dominating forces of their time.

Believing that there is nothing more philosophical than history implies that freedom begins with the realization that individual choices are formed in permanent negotiation with external forces. Freedom is thus measured by the degree to which we become able to gain control over these forces, which otherwise would control us. (4)

Borradori, Giovanna. "Terrorism and the Legacy of the Enlightenment: Habermas and Derida." Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. University of Chicago Press, 2003: 1-24.

James C. Scott: On My Interest in the Anarchist Critique of the State

My interest in the anarchist critique of the state was born of disillusionment and dashed hopes in revolutionary change. This was a common enough experience for those who came to political consciousness in the 1960s in North America. For me and many others the 1960s were the high tide of what one might call a romance with peasant wars of national liberation. I was, for a time, fully swept up in this moment of utopian possibilities. I followed with some awe and, in retrospect, a great deal of naivete the referendum for independence in in Ahmed Sekou Toure's Guinea, the pan-African initiatives of Ghana's president, Kwame Nkrumah, the early elections in Indonesia, the independence and first elections in Burma, where I had spent a year, and, of course, the land reforms in revolutionary China and nationwide elections in India.

The disillusionment was propelled by two processes: historical inquiry and current events. It dawned on me, as it should have earlier, that virtually every major revolution ended by creating a state more powerful than the one it overthrew, a state that in turn was able to extract more resources from and exercise more control over the very population it was designed to serve. Here, the anarchist critique of Marx and, especially, of Lenin seemed prescient. The French Revolution led to the Thermidor Reaction, and then to the precocious and belligerent Napoleanic state. The October Revolution in Russia led to Lenin's dictatorship of the vanguard party and then to the repression of striking seamen and workers (the proletariat!) at Kronstadt, collectivization, and the gulag. If the ancien regime had presided over feudal inequality with brutality, the record of the revolutions made for similar melancholy reading. The popular aspirations that provided the energy and courage for the revolutionary victory were, in any long view, almost inevitably betrayed.

Current events were no less disquieting when it came to what contemporary revolutions meant for the largest class in world history, the peasantry. The Viet Minh, rulers in the northern half of Vietnam following the Geneva Accords of 1954, had ruthlessly suppressed a popular rebellion of smallholders and petty landlords in the very areas that were the historical hotbeds of peasant radicalism. In China, it had become clear that the Great Leap Forward, during which Mao, his critics silenced, forced millions of peasants into large agrarian communes and dining halls, was having catastrophic results. Scholars and statisticians still argue about the human toll between 1958 and 1962, but it is unlikely to be less than 35 million people. While the human toll of the Great Leap Forward was being recognized, ominous news of starvation and executions in Kampuchea under the Khemer Rouge completed the picture of peasant revolutions gone lethally awry.

It was not as if the Western bloc and its Cold War policies in poor nations offered an edifying alternative to "real existing socialism." Regimes and states that presided dictatorially over crushing inequalities were welcomed as allies in the struggle against communism. Those familiar with this period will recall that it also represented the early high tide of development studies and the new field of development economics. If revolutionary elites imagined vast projects of social engineering in a collectivist vein, development specialists were no less certain of their ability to deliver economic growth by hierarchically engineering property forms, investing physical infrastructure, and promoting cashcropping and markets for land, generally strengthening the state and amplifying inequalities. The "free world," especially in the Global South seemed vulnerable to both the socialist critique of capitalist inequality and the communist and anarchist critiques of the state as the guarantor of these inequalities.

The twin disillusionment seemed to me to bear out the adage of Mikhail Bakunin: "Freedom without socialism is privilege and in injustice; socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality." (ix - xii)

Scott, James C. Two Cheers for Anarchism. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks: Welcome to the Desert of Transistion

Welcome to the Desert of Transition!: Post-Socialism, the European Union, and a New Left in the Balkans
Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks
Monthly Review


The Spring of a New Left?

It started primarily as a “Facebook movement” which gathered the younger, politically confused generation that was unsatisfied with the new government policies. The starting point could be seen as the February 26, 2011 protest in Zagreb’s central square, when war veterans and right-wing groups gathered to oppose the extradition and trial of a former Croatian soldier in Serbia. This ended in a violent conflict between a crowd of mostly football hooligans and the police. However, only two days later a different protest emerged. The “Facebook protests” started to become more specific about the reasons for discontent—namely the disastrous social situation, the lack of confidence in institutions, and the political system which breeds corruption and deepened social inequalities. It was a big surprise to see independent protests uniting groups of various political stripes. Even more surprising were the banners denouncing the European Union and capitalism as such, questioning the party system and, taking everything a step further, demanding direct democracy.

The unexpected emergence of what we could call a new, organized, and indeed original left in Croatia that is actively involved in, and even shaping, the current protest movement must be traced back to 2009. Then an independent student movement articulated a strong resistance to the privatization and commercialization of higher education. In a sort of Hegelian “concrete universality,” their protest against neoliberal reforms in education turned into what was probably the first strong political opposition to not only the government, but the general political and social regime. During thirty-five days in spring and two weeks in autumn that year, more than twenty Croatian universities were occupied by students, who were practically running them.11 In itself, this was nothing new under the sun, but the way the students occupied and ran the universities deserves attention for its originality in a much larger context than the one of the Balkans or Eastern Europe.

The students set up citizens’ plenary assemblies—called “plenum”—in which not only students but all citizens were invited; they did not just debate issues of public importance such as education, but also decided upon the course of their rebellious actions. The most active plenum at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb each evening gathered up to a thousand people who would deliberate on the course of action.12 This event gave rise to the movement for direct democracy as a necessary corrective (and possibly a true alternative) to electoral democracy and partitocracy. The new Croatian left, whose ideas quickly spread around the post-Yugoslav space, does not see direct democracy limited to the referendum practice, but rather as a means of political organization for people from local communes to the national level. The proof that it was not only an idea of marginal groups came very soon after the students’ occupations. Between 2009 and 2011 Croatia witnessed a massive movement (under the name “The Right to the City”) for the preservation of urban space in downtown Zagreb which had been sold by the city government to big investors. This happened in conjunction with a wave of workers’ strikes involving the textile industry, shipyards, and farmers’ protests. Some of these collective actions used the “plenum” model developed at the universities, or a similar sort of directly democratic structure, and this came as a huge surprise to the political elite and the mainstream media.

This Is Not A Color Revolution!

Although the new left was pivotal in shifting the nature of the protests, they did not turn into clearly marked leftist demonstrations, but instead remained a genuine people’s movement. In February, March, and April 2011 up to ten thousand people assembled every other evening in Zagreb, and up to a couple thousand assembled in other cities.13 Besides a rhetorical shift (a strong anti-capitalist discourse unheard of either in independent Croatia or elsewhere in the Balkans), the crucial point was the rejection of leaders, which gave citizens an opportunity to decide on the direction and the form of their protests. The “Indian revolution,” previously limited to public squares, soon turned into long marches through Zagreb. It was a clear example of how “invited spaces of citizenship,” designed as such by state structures and police for “kettled” expression of discontent, were superseded by “invented spaces of citizenship,” in which citizens themselves opened new ways and venues for their subversive actions, and questioned legality in the name of the legitimacy of their demands.14 This was not a classic, static protest anymore and, unlike the famous Belgrade walks in 1996–97, the Zagreb ones were neither aimed only at the government as such, nor only at the ruling party and its boss(es). They acquired a strong anti-systemic critique, exemplified by the fact that protesters were regularly “visiting” the nodal political, social, and economic points of contemporary Croatia (political parties, banks, government offices, unions, privatization fund, television and media outlets, etc.). The flags of the ruling conservative Croatian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party (seen as not opposing the neoliberal reforms), and even the European Union (seen as complicit in the elite’s wrongdoings) were burned. The protesters even “visited” the residences of the ruling party politicians, which signalled a widespread belief that their newly acquired wealth was nothing more than legalized robbery.

And this is precisely the novelty of these protests. It is not yet another “color revolution” of the kind the Western media and academia are usually so enthusiastic about (but who are otherwise not interested in following how the “waves of democratization” often do little more than replace one autocrat with another, more cooperative one). The U.S.-sponsored color revolutions never put into question the political or economic system as such, although they did respond to a genuine demand in these societies to get rid of the authoritarian and corrupt elites that had mostly formed in the 1990s. The Croatian example shows that for the first time protests are not driven by anti-government rhetoric per se, but instead are based on true anti-regime sentiment. Not only the state but the whole apparatus on which the current oligarchy is based is put into question by (albeit chaotically) self-organized citizens. No color is needed to mark this kind of revolution which obviously cannot hope for any external help or international media coverage. It did the only thing the dispossessed can do: marched through their cities signalling the topoi of the Regime, which had almost cemented over the last two decades but is susceptible to cracking under the weight of its own contradictions and products, such as expanding poverty. The emergence and nature of these Croatian protests invites us also to rethink the categories used to explain the social, political, and economic situation in the Balkans and elsewhere in post-socialist Eastern Europe.

To read the entire essay

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Unwelcome Guests #625 - Jettisoning Accustomed Categories of Thought (Marxian Class Analysis 2)

[MB: This lecture by Richard (Rick) Wolff is probably one of the best explanations/introductions to American political and economic history from the 1970s to the present - brilliant, accessible and engaging.]

Episode #625 - Jettisoning Accustomed Categories of Thought (Marxian Class Analysis 2)
Unwelcome Guests

The one thing that is clear is that new ideas won't emerge without jettisoning much of our accustomed categories of thought, which have become mostly shear deadweight if not intrinsic parts of the very apparatus of hopelessness, and formulating new categories of thought.

— David Graeber, Debt, The First 5000 Years

To prepare ... for David Graeber, ... the show [starts] with the soundtrack of a short video of Charles Eisenstein speaking about the nature of greed. Is [it] innate, or is it a function of a money system which produces artificial scarcity?

Next Richard Wolff develops the Marxian class analysis he introduced last week, and uses it to give an overview of the last few decades of American economics and politics. He notes that a combination of factors meant that labor was in great excess in US in 1970s, giving capitalists the chance to hold down wages while pocketing the increased surplus value. In the face of increasing social disengagement of the 80s and 90s, big business increased their control of the levers of power and managed to hold down wages, effectively changing the terms of the social contract as described recently by David Graeber. The working [class] maintained their consumption levels ... first by [reducing] their savings rate and then by borrowing ever increasing amounts. Meanwhile the increased disposable wealth of the capitalists birthed the 'Financial Services Industry' which used a variety of innovative 'financial products' to lend this money back to the working class, to substitute for their shortfall of wages. This is a 'bigger picture' talk which does not dwell on the economics but uses them as a backdrop to help explain changes in US politics and society since the 1970s.

[The episode ends with a continued reading of] David Graeber's [Debt: The First 5,000 Years, [with] his 'bigger picture' summary of the book's main message. Do we want to contribute an escalating proportion of the surplus to maintain the apparatus of hopelessness? This week Graeber reminds us of the bloody and violent origins of markets, something which economists seem determined to try and avoid.

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