Archive for the current events Category

Notes on Copenhagen, etc.

Posted in current events, Environmentalism, Political Theory, U.S. Politics with tags , , on December 26, 2009 by traxus4420

The cards on the table are these:

– An unprecedented number of world leaders met in Copenhagen to work out an international response to climate change. The West especially needed a deal, because a) it’s generally accepted among their populations that climate change is an existential threat and b) certain ‘developing’ nations are coming of age pollution-wise, making it in the West’s political and economic interest to set the terms of the deal.

– As a consequence of his campaign strategy and the historically obstructionist role of the U.S. in prior attempts at such treaties, Obama became the symbolic representative for the interests of the West at Copenhagen and the lightning rod for the first wave of criticism from the green Left. Concretely Obama needed a deal because without one it would be much more difficult to push even the most modest ‘green agenda’ through the circus of late imperial decadence that is Congress.

– But hold on, Obama only avoided being the unambiguous weak link of the Copenhagen debacle because of the ‘obstructionist’ role played by the U.S.’s chief emerging competitor, China (think of Obama and Wen Jiabao’s conference as an informal passing of the torch ceremony), the West’s agreed-upon villain. As the world’s top two carbon emitters, the U.S. and China were the least willing to make definite commitments (the U.S. came to the talks pledged to reduce emissions to 4% below 1990 levels, compared to a 20% commitment from the EU; China notoriously vetoed not only a proposed 50% reduction in emissions by 2050 but the even bigger commitments proposed for developed countries as well). But the country with vastly greater domestic limitations — China, where millions of households are still without access to electricity — has officially replaced the U.S. in the eyes of the ‘responsible left’ in propaganda pieces like this one, just as the good intentions of Obama replaced the bad intentions of Bush.

– The entirely speculative, ‘meaningful’ deal that was finally arrived was negotiated by a ‘coalition of the willing’ out of sight of most of the conference participants, while being widely praised for legitimizing the idea that poor countries should have to submit to emission limits just like the developed and upper-level developing countries (i.e. China, India, Brazil). Here’s a list by Johann Hari of the democratic proposals that this virtual deal has concretely succeeded in ruling out. These debates have seen the ‘responsible left’ take truly horrific attitudes toward the objections of Nicaragua, Bolivia, Sudan, and Venezuela to the proposed treaty that have even filtered down to progressives like David Roberts of Grist:

It was only by forging a non-UN side agreement that Obama and other national leaders averted disaster. The UNFCCC “took note” of the accord, but since Sudan, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba wouldn’t sign on, it couldn’t formally adopt it.

That’s right—a clutch of hostile Latin American kleptocracies practically derailed the entire process. This can’t help but raise serious questions about whether the UN is the proper venue to hash out emission reductions. Does it really make sense to give 192 nations veto power when the vast bulk of emissions come from under 20 of them?

It may be regrettable from an ‘idealistic’ standpoint, but the only way to get results is to ditch democracy, says Joe Romm of Climate Progress (who nevertheless allows facts to keep him from completely endorsing the anti-China rhetoric):

Ultimately, the point is not the friggin’ process, but the outcome, and if the UN could demonstrate its process could lead to a better outcome, I’d be all for it.  But I doubt it.

I think Obama showed the process that can work to get the best possible outcome:  High-level negotiations by the senior leaders of the big emitters.

Let me therefore end with the conclusion of an analysis by the Harvard economist Robert Stavins:

We may look back upon Copenhagen as an important moment – both because global leaders took the reins of the procedures and brought the negotiations to a fruitful conclusion, and because the foundation was laid for a broad-based coalition of the willing to address effectively the threat of global climate change.  Only time will tell.

This is an extreme example, but the resurgence of ideological pragmatism among the left, especially in the U.S., in the wake of unrelenting defeat, leads to a sort of theoretical agnosticism about politics combined with a blithe acceptance of the structurally weak position it (especially in the U.S.) currently holds. In practice this amounts to agnosticism over the real existence of ideological structures like neoliberalism, which no one could stop talking about when Bush was in charge, combined with prostrate submission to a priori limits on the potential of the progressive movement to change anything. As left economist Peter Dorman puts it in a critique of Waxman-Markey (the guiding framework for U.S. negotiations at Copenhagen):

Mainstream environmental groups are not blind to these problems, but they see them as second-order. Above all, they are soooooo happy that climate deniers are not in command of politics any more. They are fighting yesterday’s battle, to get general agreement on the principle that climate change is caused by people, and people need to do something about it. They like the nice feeling that comes from all of us raising our hands and pledging, scout’s honor, to achieve sustainability by 2050. But they are losing today’s battle to put into place a viable means to get from here to there, and judging from their public statements they don’t even know it.

The failure to go beyond the literal reading of the individual elements of reform bills to grasp their structural role is nowhere more apparent than in the health care debate. Anyone who objects to the Senate bill is an ‘obstructionist’ or ‘hostage taker’ out for self-interested political gain (or sociopathy, or excess of enthusiasm) over the ‘greater good’ moral objective that we all must accept. Progressives, both the weaker of the two opponents and the one liberal Democrats would like to secretly agree with, are expected to cave to the obstructionism of the centrists despite their efforts in getting public support for reform. But not before putting on an ineffectual performance of outrage that makes their opponents feel better about the inevitable.

[The ideological divide within the Democratic party is more succinctly analyzed here.]

Obama: “This notion I know among some on the left that somehow this bill is not everything that it should be … I think just ignores the real human reality that this will help millions of people and end up being the most significant piece of domestic legislation at least since Medicare and maybe since Social Security.”

Set aside for the moment the lies about the policies he campaigned on. First a bad faith moral imperative is employed: blame for the historical failure of the U.S., the the most powerful etc. country in the world, to put together anything more than a catastrophically shitty health care system is shifted away from the anti-democratic structure of the Senate, the power of health insurance lobbyists, and the failure and/or unwillingness of politicians to overcome these obstacles, to any individual on the left who threatens the passage of the textbook Third Way, neoliberal, government-corporate merger that is the Senate bill, and the one Obama apparently wanted from the start. As many have said, the early telegraphing of the Democratic majority and the White House’s unwillingness to reject any deal that can win cloture, and the consequent vilification of progressives who are so willing, kneecapped the left’s power to negotiate. Objections that seem reasonable are the intended casualties of this backlash. Finally the value of the health bill is put in terms of ‘significance’: it’s a big (“sweeping”) reform, and that’s what really matters. After all.

Of course, either the slightly more elitist Senate bill or the slightly more populist House bill would be “a historic first step,” “a foundation that can be improved on in the future” (as defenders like to say). Something that will help real people, etc. But what have we been watching if not the design of the new health bill’s architecture to make the much-publicized progressive improvements — single payer and compromise #1, the public option — all but impossible? Simply because the bill will contain contradictory elements does not mean it has no structuring logic. As the cost of regulation, any currently possible bill ensures that the grip of private health insurers on American lives will be more intransigent and more comprehensive. But these are precisely the sorts of concerns dismissed as ‘symbolic’ by enlightened commenters.

The ‘bill-killers’ chief political argument is/was that necessity combined with progressive pressure will push democrats to renegotiate even if the current bill is abandoned. This best-case scenario would be plausible if the progressive movement were as powerful as a major corporation. For many reasons, it is not. One of those reasons is how unusually stratified American society is as a whole, and how precarious, conformist, and alienated from the rest of the culture we tend to be, especially when educated. But the increasing implausibility of the bill’s defeat from the left (despite 11th-hour statements to the contrary) is only a convincing reason to stop fighting it if one’s subjective approach to politics is the consumerist model presumed by most news media: the independent, neutral observer, who wants “to see both sides of every issue” but is instead forced to decide between Two Bad Extremes. One who (unlike the others) is free to imagine ideal solutions to problems, but whose moral triumph is found in putting away childish things and learning to accept ‘reality.’ But working to improve the bill and threatening its passage aren’t mutually exclusive; defending it and improving it are.

In their ‘realist’ guise, apologists for bank bailouts, compromised health reform, Copenhagen, and the escalation in Afghanistan defer criticism of these policies and their authors to all those previously ignored ‘structural factors,’ now emptied of agency and presented as if laws of nature to be challenged only by the naive (liberal homilies about the sad realities of politics are the ‘soft’ side of this tactic). This brand of cynicism, which reduces all thought and perception to whatever shit is being shoved in your face right now, is worn as a sign of acumen, as it is indeed the gateway to professional status.

By the very gesture of having enabled thought (by excluding ’emotion’ and ‘partisanship’) that the intellectual class, the captured consumer/producers of news events and political decisions, encourages itself to react in place of thinking. From the laptop to the newspaper to the movie theater (and back to the laptop):

But if the term ‘progressive’ is to be taken seriously, a different political reality has to be embraced. All the feel-good talk about ‘getting somewhere’ or ‘good starts’ is so much living in the past. Everyone who calls the shots now knows, or has to pretend they know, that environmental catastrophe and financial crisis are real, and that health reform is necessary. We can be pleased or terrified about that. But from a practical standpoint the most important immediate goal is to move the center left. I always feel uncomfortable writing ‘calls to action’ like this, mostly because I always think that not only is it obvious what should be done, it is being done. And that is pushing back hard in whatever way we can against the future our political elites are building for us, so that, as much as possible, we can build it for ourselves. We can’t make decrees or issue five year plans, or make the kinds of promises campaigning politicians make. In the world we live in, where we are just extras whose consent is either manufactured or assumed, fighting back means refusing to take on ourselves the dreary weight of their responsibilities and the illusion of power that comes with them. Demanding at the same time that they live up to their professed responsibilities and killing their bills when they don’t may be irresponsible in this heavily leveraged political environment — a losing battle — but that’s asymmetric politics. Devoting our energies to help the political class make decisions as if we didn’t exist isn’t even a partial victory, it’s just martyrdom.

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Speculative Activism

Posted in Activism, Cultural Theory, current events, The Internet, U.S. Politics, Utopia on September 5, 2009 by traxus4420

This post is in response to a funny thing that happened a couple days ago on Facebook. Gerry Canavan comments on it here:  throughout the day, “thousands” of Facebook users posted a pro-health care-reform message as their ‘status update’ in  a sudden outbreak of ‘viral activism.’ The whole thing peaked when Obama himself joined in. Watch the virus spread here.

As Gerry puts it:

We saw the same phenomenon early in the summer during Iran’s so-called Twitter Revolution, which had two overlapping and sometimes conflicting modes: the use of Twitter by people within Iran as a organizing and news-distributing tool and the use by people *outside* Iran for the purposes of vicarious participation in political struggle. Then, as now, the important thing is to signal you’re on the right side of a fight in which you are otherwise just a spectactor — then by tinting your Twitter avatar green and now by posting a shared slogan as your status update and then leaving it altered for the rest of the day. We could go back to 2008 and 2004 elections, or to any number of other charged moments, and find similar memes at play.

The question posed by this sort of thing is clear enough: should it count as ‘real’ activism or is it just a mass twitch  in the general direction of utopia, a show put on for the official media and for ourselves.

Any answer has  to start by considering it as quite literally a form of consumerism. It’s a full step further in that direction than the email activism of organizations like MoveOn, which rely on the recipient to take some sort of minimal action, like making a phone call, writing a protest email, signing a petition, which MoveOn transfers directly to its prearranged target, usually a professional decision maker. These older forms are carried onto Facebook as well, but they’re weaker on this platform, easier to ignore, and require different techniques to get them to work. A ‘status update’ or a ‘tweet’ can superficially seem more democratic — after all, no institution is telling the user what to do. But in practice this ‘act’ is identical to the ‘choice’ of the market.

That our very existences on social networking sites are commodities is an often overlooked fact. Given an existence wholly circumscribed by a virtual marketplace, everything we do, everything we post, is potentially a commodity by virtue of its link to ‘us.’ In ‘viral activism,’ by reproducing a more or less homogeneous message (a ‘meme,’ one of the few instances where the word actually refers to something), a population makes itself available as a single commodity for use by others in exchange for  individual use of the same message as a ‘status update’: an advertisement that promotes a certain identity to their ‘friends’ (and to themselves). The only difference between this and any other Facebook content is that this ‘mega-meme’ is produced ‘from the ground up.’

These are not simply semantic distinctions — they have consequences.  Virtual activists do not organize themselves in the way real activists do, i.e. form permanent or temporary political units such as parties, mobs, parades, whatever, directed toward a specific set of goals. Even when activists remain law-abiding their actions are intended to stage a confrontation, to disrespect boundaries that may not be acknowledged by the law. A social division is made, exchange relations dependent on certain forms of equivalence are foreclosed (i.e. politeness, personal space, a traffic intersection, etc.). As long as it’s part of a larger strategy from the beginning, this is true even of petition-signing. Virtual activists on the other hand are always responding to/initiating various types of interpolation from within an institutional setting (the site’s apparatus) that automatically neutralizes all it touches,  like ‘interactive’ television. A Facebook group is just a passive ‘tag,’ another identity accessory for the individual user and a commodity that passively awaits outside use (a social ad). As long as their virtual existence  is immanent with that institution (they remain members), all actions are wholly included within it, with zero remainder.

What are social ads good for? By aggregating the many status updates into a single product, they provide something for the bigger blogs and journalists to ‘report’ on (really just an outgrowth of tagging), and  from which a political meaning can be derived or invented. First and foremost they generate conversation, and since most of it will refer to Facebook if not occur on its platform they also indirectly generate more Facebook use and more prestige, a ‘status update’ for Facebook itself. Whether or not any of this can ‘make a difference’ is dependent upon how these commodities are employed by others.

The effects of this latest capture of the social reflect how our tiny plots of spectacular real estate turn us into micro-celebrities, where even to contemplate ‘action’ forces us into a narcissistic obsession with our public image, no matter how inconsequential it may be. Celebreality shows and the higher profile of porn stars in recent years show us that has-beens and nobodies fighting for table scraps will play the game of recognition even more ferociously than Hollywood royalty. The public face of this private complex is when celebrities, politicians-as-celebrities, or now you-as-celebrity endorse certain causes, ultimately all responsibility rests on YOU to act, even as the possibilities for action of the relatively elite YOU being addressed (the YOU who can be expected to take Them seriously) are increasingly observed, micromanaged, routed into narrower and more regulated pathways.

person_of_the_year

A final comparison to opinion polling is helpful in getting at the ideological function of social activertising. Unlike polls, the opinions of users don’t appear as already existing truths, dependent on the work of experts on ‘real’ demographics, but those truths actively expressed. Where a poll is employed in speculation — what x group ‘really thinks’ at a given moment is valuable as evidence for what actions they might take in the future — a wave of status updates or green-tinted Twitter profiles appear to assert themselves as political facts. No research or fact-checking need be done to evaluate truth claims when the phenomena is just the free and unsolicited manifestation of truth, like votes or sales figures. These ‘actions’ thus merge the legitimacy of a poll with the immediacy of activism. Virtual activism is more real than statistics (which are ‘always’ rigged), more legitimate than protests (which are ‘always’ dangerous).

Jonathan Singer (see link above):

While the vast majority of the political organizing I see on Facebook tends to come from the same names — friends working in politics on a full time basis — what is remarkable here is that these status updates containing a strong and clear message in favor of healthcare reform are coming not only from the political community but also from those whose lives are not immersed in these fights. These are regular young people, all around the country, speaking out in favor of reform. This movement is impressive and surprising, and, at least from this vantage, quite newsworthy.

This is what everyone said about Iran, the rhetoric directing us to understand these movements as made up of “everyday” people, free of the supposed dangers and ‘biases’ of ‘professional’ activists. Of course there is a selection process for which ideas can ‘filter up’ from the social network ‘netroots’ and what kinds of users can do what that tends not to be acknowledged. This selection process is, broadly speaking, class-based.

Here is a great article on one example of how class manifests online, the great divide between Myspace and Facebook with some very illuminating (and horrifying) quotes from teenagers. Facebook has clearly won the PR battle, easy to do when the New York Times’ reporting staff and most of its readership is made up of Facebook users. Facebook is the appropriate platform for politics, just as Myspace is the appropriate platform for your ex’s rock band and various sex offenders. This doesn’t even count the selection process for who gets to be on the Internet to begin with. And yet, through the magic of social networking, it is the Facebook community which is quickly establishing itself in the 24-hour image universe as the new legal-utopian definition of ‘the people.’ The obvious impossibility of this fantasy doesn’t mean it won’t have certain effects.

For a demonstration, let’s put on some ruling class spectacles and look at some pictures. Isn’t this:

facebook-zoom

infinitely preferable to this?

Thefirstintifada

See? You didn’t even have to think about it.

I am confused

Posted in current events, Media with tags on June 19, 2009 by traxus4420

Either it is ‘left’ to provisionally accept that the people of Iran have chosen Ahmadinejad as their president, rejecting the claims of the western media, which because of its bourgeois pro-liberal democracy and/or Islamophobic bias, and intensified by its automatic enthusiasm for social networking technology, is supporting a tiny elite segment of the middle class against the rest of the population in a purely ideological operation that may even be a psyop of some kind — while nevertheless ‘wishing all the best‘ to the protesters (who may not all fit the stereotype), confident that if carefully parsed this position is not self-contradictory —

or it is ‘left’ to do the near opposite: unconditionally support the protesters as a 21st century revolutionary vanguard while ignoring the western media, which because of its bourgeois elitist bias has blindly conflated all of rural and working-class Iran with support for Ahmadinejad (just like it was said to be only dumb country folk who ‘voted’ for Chavez), an ideological move thinly disguised by its hyper-empirical posture of  awaiting absolute proof.

This is as good an argument as any against a cavalierly voluntarist attitude toward the post-Althusserian notion that “there is no outside of ideology.” Maybe that claim should be understood to mark a historical problem and not a simple statement of fact.

Just so I’m not accused of the ideological academic neutrality of free-floating petty bourgeois intellectuals, I grudgingly (there’s no serious way to do otherwise) favor option A.

UPDATES:

new real news:

the evil new york times is liveblogging the major protest happening right now. (Canavan‘s got that and other links elsewhere on the blog)

And 3arabawy, who I’ve been stealing a lot of links from, has lots more good ones, continually updated.

UPDATES AGAIN

Not that anyone needs me to link to this, but lenin’s latest on this is really good. Takeaway point:

The idea that the protests are just a flash mob for the crooked neoliberal sector of the elite is unsustainable. The question of whether, in practise, all these protests do is strengthen one faction of the ruling class will be decided to a large extent by the protesters themselves. There is a huge generational shift underlying these protests, and that means that even if the present wave were to fizzle out – which I don’t think is likely – it is likely to recur in even more militant forms.

OK, LAST ONE:

If legit, this is something:

Members of the Assembly of Experts are reported to be considering making changes to the Iranian system of government that would be the biggest since Ayatollah Khomeini set up the Islamic system in the revolution of 1979, by removing the position of the supreme leader.

Clerical leaders are also said to be considering forcing the resignation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following over a week of unrest since he was elected in what senior opposition leaders claim was a fraudulent election.

Fear and Trembling vs. Laughter and Forgetting

Posted in Capitalism, current events, U.S. Politics on April 1, 2009 by traxus4420

Recent outrages:

In yesterday’s news, Zero Hedge (via naked capitalism) with a report from “trader Lou”:

During Jan/Feb AIG would call up and just ask for complete unwind prices from the credit desk in the relevant jurisdiction. These were not single deal unwinds as are typically more price transparent – these were whole portfolio unwinds. The size of these unwinds were enormous, the quotes I have heard were “we have never done as big or as profitable trades – ever“.

As these trades are unwound, the correlation desk needs to unwind the single name risk through the single name desks – effectively the AIG-FP unwinds caused massive single name protection buying. This caused single name credit to massively underperform equities – run a chart from say last September to current of say S&P 500 and Itraxx – credit has underperformed massively. This is largely due to AIG-FP unwinds.

I can only guess/extrapolate what sort of PnL this put into the major global banks (both correlation and single names desks) during this period. Allowing for significant reserve release and trade PnL, I think for the big correlation players this could have easily been US$1-2bn per bank in this period.

For those to whom this is merely a lot of mumbo-jumbo, let me explain in layman’s terms:

AIG, knowing it would need to ask for much more capital from the Treasury imminently, decided to throw in the towel, and gifted major bank counter-parties with trades which were egregiously profitable to the banks, and even more egregiously money losing to the U.S. taxpayers, who had to dump more and more cash into AIG, without having the U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner disclose the real extent of this, for lack of a better word, fraudulent scam.

In simple terms think of it as an auto dealer, which knows that U.S. taxpayers will provide for an infinite amount of money to fund its ongoing sales of horrendous vehicles (think Pontiac Azteks): the company decides to sell all the cars currently in contract, to lessors at far below the amortized market value, thereby generating huge profits for these lessors, as these turn around and sell the cars at a major profit, funded exclusively by U.S. taxpayers (readers should feel free to provide more gripping allegories).

What this all means is that the statements by major banks, i.e. JPM, Citi, and BofA, regarding abnormal profitability in January and February were true, however these profits were 1) one-time in nature due to wholesale unwinds of AIG portfolios, 2) entirely at the expense of AIG, and thus taxpayers, 3) executed with Tim Geithner’s (and thus the administration’s) full knowledge and intent, 4) were basically a transfer of money from taxpayers to banks (in yet another form) using AIG as an intermediary.

Further down the page, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA, the only real supervisor of the over-the-counter CDS market) is allowing fiction to rule once again.

That this and inevitable further ‘unwinds’ chased by taxpayer money can be explained away as ‘normal’ fluctuations in a turbulent market or the natural and obvious result of misguided government policy is a testament to the strength of recently outdated ideologies, the natural theology of the market and the atomization of choice. Their intellectual support is gone, but they linger as blinders, assumptions too well ingrained to be conscious. In the benighted universe they project, society becomes more of a wargame the further one travels from the site of middle class domesticity, more a bunch of pieces scattered arbitrarily around a board, unreadable to one another and bent on increasing their individual score, whatever the cost. One is too polite even to guess at what goes on behind closed doors.

In order to manage the first glimmerings of the awareness of teamwork, and its application to understanding social reality, official discourse must add a few enhancements.

MR. GREGORY:  I want to turn to the issue of anger on Wall Street and those AIG bonuses.  The president said a couple of weeks ago this:

(Videotape, March 18, 2009)

PRES. OBAMA:  I don’t want to quell anger.  I think people are right to be angry.  I’m angry.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY:  You shared–you said in a letter, you shared the president’s outrage, and yet the reality is that these bonuses first came to light back in October of 2008.  You were still at the New York Fed.  They were also the subject of hundreds of e-mails between Treasury and the Fed and AIG during the transition and when you came into office.  In fact, the Treasury Department even negotiated with Senator Dodd with regard to executive compensation when the Treasury Department said, “No, no, don’t have this deal with retroactive bonuses.  We can’t abrogate those contracts.” So if you were so outraged about all of this, why didn’t you deal with this back when these first came up?

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  David, how could people not be angry with this?  With the challenges we’re facing now as a country in part because of risks our financial sector took on, how could people not be angry?  But our obligation and our deep obligation responsibility is, again, to try to fix this problem so that the trauma in the financial system is not causing more damage to the lives and fortunes of Americans and businesses across the country.  That’s the most important thing we do.  Everything we do has to be judged by the test of whether we’re getting the economy going again and recover…

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and that’s all fair.  But if you were so outraged, why didn’t you say that then?  Instead, you said, “I was outraged and we should try to get this money back.” The government knew about these bonuses several months ago.

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  Look, we had no good choices in that context, David.  These were contracts written before the government got involved, before Ed Liddy became CEO of AIG.

MR. GREGORY:  Mm-hmm.

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  We’re a nation of laws.  We cannot get the economy going again if there’s an expectation the government’s going to come in and break contracts.  Just not a tenable thing to do.  But what we did is–and we had no good choices, David–was when, when I was informed about the details of those provisions, we moved very quickly to ask that they–those that could be renegotiated get renegotiated, the government get those–or reduce those payments going forward.  And we’re going to use the authority we have to go recoup those payments where we have a good legal basis for doing that.  And you’ve already–we’re seeing a lot of those payments returned.  But the important thing is going forward that we establish clear conditions, clear rules of the game, prevent this kind of compensation practice in the future from coming back and putting our system at risk.  And we want to make sure that where the government is putting up assistance for these, for these banks, that that assistance is going to get lending going again…

MR. GREGORY:  Right.

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  …not to enrich the people that helped get us in this mess.

MR. GREGORY:  But, but my question is, is this:  If you thought this was so outrageous at the time, why didn’t you put this on the agenda then?  And if you felt that you didn’t have any good choices, that you really couldn’t dissolve those contracts, then when it came to light, why didn’t you and the president stand up and say, “This populist anger is understandable, but you have to understand it has to be put in context and it has to stop”?

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  Well, that–but that’s what the president did say.  And again, we’re trying to make sure that people understand…

MR. GREGORY:  The president said, “We shouldn’t govern in anger,” and then he said, “Yes, I’m angry, too.  I don’t want to quell the anger.” You said this was outrageous.

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  But…

MR. GREGORY:  Did anybody stand up and say, “Let’s put this in context.  We didn’t have good choices.  This is not worth getting so upset about”?

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  But, but, as you’ve seen the president say over the course of the week, the most important thing is we recognize that of course we don’t want to reward failure and we don’t want the government assistance going to reward failure, but we need to make sure we get this economy on–back on track.  That’s going to require the financial system getting fixed and repaired.  Of course we’re going to put strong conditions on the compensation…(unintelligible).  Remember, the first–the second week in office, the president put out very, very broad, ambitious standards on compensation practice.  That was before the Congress acted.  He was a–took early initiative in this area because we knew this was going to be a significant problem.

We’re angry too. Because, again, the primary fault here is to be a moral one, to be directed at individuals who made bad choices, who retain unfair benefits like the AIG chiefs, at allegedly individual rackets like Madoff’s, and finally at a ‘system’ that is morally compromised as a whole because of it. Obama and Geithner understand the cleansing effect of punishment, but also the mature public’s capacity for realism. A realism born of forgiveness, born of the public acknowledgement of personal sin. Progressives also get mad. But we will watch the chastisement and humiliation of a powerful few, and the mature assurances of accountability by our newly elected officials, with the knowledge that our punishment will be quieter, better distributed, longer lasting. For progressives also live off credit. And on this basis we will come to a reconciliation. We can all be forgiven. We are a nation of laws.

Earlier:

(GEITHNER:) Now, just, just one more thing.  We’re not going to get through this unless we get a–willing to take risk again.  You know, the financials took too much risk.  The great danger for us now is they’re going to take too little risk, they’re not going to take a chance on a viable business or a family that wants to put their kids through college.  So we need to get them working with us in this context.  And of course, for them to take risk they’re going to need to have more confidence about what the rules of the game are going forward, that there’s clarity about conditions and they don’t face the risk of great uncertainty about those conditions going forward.

MR. GREGORY:  And to that point, are you this morning providing a guarantee to those investors that the rules of the games will not change?  If they make money in these transactions, that Congress won’t try to go get their gains and change the rules?

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  We have to do that or they won’t come.  And it’s a simple proposition.  Again, for these, all these programs to work, all these programs to work…

MR. GREGORY:  So the rules of this, of this program won’t change?

SEC’Y GEITHNER:  No, they cannot change.

Laws. And meanwhile the possibility that the rules could really change passes us by, until one day we’ll look back on it as a childhood dream, magically absorbed into the same dream that brought us a black president:

The problem with the Geithner plan, as with all other varieties of bailout largesse, is that it depletes our limited resources with no particular likelihood of success. I would ask everyone to consider what our situation will be if the dollar spigot is exhausted before the financial system is back in approximate working order. My candidate adjective: dire.

The alternative continues to be the same: invest public money in a good, new public bank. Make sure the economy has a working, well-capitalized, unencumbered financial infrastructure; then, if you want, sort through the legacy institutions and assets.

— Peter Dorman at EconoSpeak

The truth appears as if behind a television screen, a bit of untranslatable common sense. But this simple truth that politicians and wall street are in bed with one another, popular and on the tips of all tongues, has a real referent, and there’s no use pretending this isn’t it. When a former IMF chief economist describes the handling of the financial crisis as “late night, back-room dealing, pure and simple” and (in the final paragraph) all but calls for revolution, it’s clearer than clear our troubles have come home.

Special Guest Post From Rod Bogdanižinsky

Posted in current events, dialectics, Environmentalism, Ethics, Parody, U.S. Politics with tags , , , on January 21, 2009 by traxus4420

mainObamaniac Radmatism (With a Double Shot of Espresso)

Hi. The other day, while skimming the latest online edition of my favorite liberal newspaper in the organic free-trade coffee shop across the street from my apartment, I came across a news item that made me shoot cappuccino out my nose, drenching my laptop screen in hot, dark liquid. While wiping it off, I accidentally closed the browser. By the time I regained an unobstructed view of my desktop, I had no way of recovering the contents of the page, which by then I had of course forgotten. Is this not the perfect metaphor for the Obama inauguration, broadcast on the high-definition television directly to my left at top volume?

The plain message of Obama’s heroic rhetoric during the inauguration speech reveals a fundamental shift in American political discourse; rather than offer the all-encompassing promise of Hope and Change (reminding us in fact of the opposite, politics as usual), he delivered a series of moral imperatives: ‘Work!’ ‘Green!’ ‘Service!’ ‘Responsibility!’ Hear that, America? See it? It’s coming. It’s here! We’re finally getting a glimpse of what Change looks like ‘on the ground.’ It’s a new way of doing business.

The temptation for the left is to dismiss Obama’s call to action as yet another empty liberal platitude. But are we not already drowning in hot, dark liquid? And when immersed in the collective struggle for breath, does not every brick resemble a life preserver?

When every paper in the country reinforces Obama’s message of service, comparing him again and again to FDR, and so on, we should forget our cynicism and radically accept these slogans as the truths of this historic event (in the Badiouian sense). George W. Bush is now being classed as a ‘radical,’ as a totalitarian ruler who ‘bent the facts to fit his ideology.’ Liberal enthusiasm for Obama, meanwhile, is usually attributed to his non-ideological, ‘pragmatic’ attitude regarding our economic and ecological crises, that he will ‘restore science to its place of honor’ and so on. But is this not precisely the reverse of the authentic situation? Obama has told us nothing about the facts of global warming (which after all are still challenged in the world of science) or the financial system (which his cabinet was involved in creating), he’s hotwired himself directly into the cockpit of America’s political soul. Let’s call it: Radmatic!

4 Noble Truths of Radmatism:

1) Get organized

2) Stay cool

3) Don’t tell it like it is, tell it like you mean it

4) Waiting kills

What this means is a new America. The old America, scared, distrustful, apathetic, is literally [the day before — Ed.] yesterday’s news. And don’t even start with how it’s because Obama’s been canonized or whatever. Such statements are merely an establishment ploy to tie his hands in advance! What he’s done is he’s gone rogue. He’s not Superman, he’s Batman. Though he looks like Bruce Wayne. He’s not David Palmer, he’s Jack Bauer. Though he looks like Kiefer Sutherland.

Obama’s war for America has climaxed in a dialectical reversal worthy of that great master of political jiu-jutsu, Vladimir Lenin (historians can say what they want about him, the man got things done). For does not this equally unlikely leader, also reviled by opponents as a ‘populist’ and a ‘totalitarian dictator,’ also abandon his throne, ‘sleeves rolled up,’ not to hear our petitions, but to petition us, from beyond the grave? To “reorganize our machinery of state,”  to “drastically reorganize,” to enact “educational work among the peasants” — precisely to stage a “cultural revolution?”  You bet your parachute he does.

Yes, Obama’s a president with an unprecedented ‘mandate for change,’ but it’s true: we did it. Let’s think carefully about what this means. If he creates green jobs, then we did it first. If he screws things up with Israel, we screwed them first. If he gives the banking system another bailout and then stops paying attention, that’s our monetized desire flowing from where he was. And if he forgets things sometimes, well, fill in the blank. We’re the change we wanted to see in the world. And no one else.

No, for the first time in a long time, we are the ones in charge. For too long, the world was strapped to the hood of a spaceship no one was driving. But you know what? The steering wheel’s been jammed into our hands. And we can’t let go! In Obama’s words: “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Welcome to Supercapitalism, America. If you do it hard enough, no one’s gonna ask to see your license.

Shit

Posted in current events, U.S. Politics, War Zones with tags , , , , on June 7, 2008 by traxus4420

I don’t normally blog like this, but.

via Alternet, via The Independent

A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November.

President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the U.S. presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw U.S. troops if he is elected president in November.

America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military “surge” began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the U.S. to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

The U.S. is adamantly against the new security agreement being put to a referendum in Iraq, suspecting that it would be voted down. The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.

Here’s the follow-up:

The US is holding hostage some $50bn (£25bn) of Iraq’s money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to pressure the Iraqi government into signing an agreement seen by many Iraqis as prolonging the US occupation indefinitely, according to information leaked to The Independent.

US negotiators are using the existence of $20bn in outstanding court judgments against Iraq in the US, to pressure their Iraqi counterparts into accepting the terms of the military deal, details of which were reported for the first time in this newspaper yesterday.

The fact that Iraq’s financial reserves, increasing rapidly because of the high price of oil, continue to be held in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is another legacy of international sanctions against Saddam Hussein. Under the UN mandate, oil revenues must be placed in the Development Fund for Iraq which is in the bank.

The funds are under the control of the Iraqi government, though the US Treasury has strong influence on the form in which the reserves are held.

Iraqi officials say that, last year, they wanted to diversify their holdings out of the dollar, as it depreciated, into other assets, such as the euro, more likely to hold their value. This was vetoed by the US Treasury because American officials feared it would show lack of confidence in the dollar.

Well, I guess now everyone‘s conspiracy theories are vindicated (as if they weren’t already).

PLEASE tell me someone in Washington is fighting this, PLEASE.

Though, wait, who WOULDN’T want another Palestine?

As If This Were A Very Long-Winded Link Blog

Posted in culturemonkey, current events, Education, Manifestos, self promotion, U.S. Politics, Utopia on January 11, 2008 by traxus4420

First things first: I’m going to be posting here regularly, and probably much less regularly here (but then anyone who reads this is used to that). It will be a series on cultural representations (read: books and movies) of the future in the 20th century, dealing with things like utopia, dystopia, projection, extrapolation, prediction, etc. and also some half-assed attempts to contextualize them historically and even (gasp) economically and politically. The first few posts are on Thomas More’s Utopia, as a warm-up.

*

This article and this post give a sort of remedial reminder that all the talk we’re hearing about ‘change’ in the U.S. elections is so far just that: talk. The Republicans are a joke at this point, as even Rick “Santorum” Santorum is willing to admit. We’ll come back to them when they’ve picked a candidate. The Democrats are the real focus. They have three choices that The Media tells me is really two choices. Each one seems specially designed to catch people like me with our pants down. The one who says the things I want to hear is losing, and in a bizarre twist of fate, is the wrong race and sex by virtue of being a white man from the South. Such things do matter in presidential elections after all, perhaps as much as policy promises, most of which will not pan out (and which, if one does one’s homework, are not terribly different from each other). The one who says the things I wish I wanted to hear is my default favorite in order to prevent another Clinton from becoming president. Domestically the big issues are the recession and health care — no one’s going to end America’s credit addiction, while the health care is something even Republicans claim to want, and in any case we will have to slog through years of debate before anything concrete emerges. Despite the persistence of Al Gore, the environment seems to be a minor issue so far. Not hopeful enough, I guess.

But in terms of foreign policy, one thing the president really does affect strongly, the two frontrunners draw their advisers from the same pool, leading me to believe that the only major difference between them is that one hates Pakistan and the other hates Iran. The balkanization of Pakistan will undoubtedly move forward under both, something similar will probably be attempted in Afghanistan, and we will all be sentenced to many more years of saber-rattling against Iran. There will be differences in the distribution of severity, but either way we are looking at Clinton Redux. Anyway, one picks a personality and a set of thematics when one picks a president, not a list of proposals, and mediatized Americans everywhere are choosing ‘hope’ and ‘change’ over ‘revolution’ or ‘experience.’ Barring some unforeseen gaffe, whoever can properly channel those desires — or scare them away — has the best shot at being the big toothy grin on America’s face.

*

A lot of people have been linking to this old rerun by Stanley Fish. The same old anxieties about the humanities, what is their ‘value.’ But the more pressing questions involve economic value, such as this here, and especially this discussion about the corporatization of the university. Related to the crisis this is causing for the humanities is the equally ‘precarious’ future of media-related jobs in the U.S. As some may know, both the Ivory Tower and media Big and small rely more and more on labor that is free or nearly so, i.e. interns, grad students, adjunct lecturers, and freelancers. Those with ‘outside funding’ experience this as the extended nomad childhood you read about in the papers, those without experience it as extended humiliation, and those who are actually poor don’t even bother trying. And people discuss ‘Everything Studies‘ as if the dispersal of the disciplines (which are the sole justification for the doctoral degree) was good for the future of humanistic science and not simply the next logical step in the corporate restructuring of Higher Ed. Why bother with tenured faculty and grad students at all after that? Wouldn’t those designations quickly become redundant? Classes could be taught by limited-contract ‘public intellectuals’ competent in one or two minor subjects, just as easily (and more cheaply) as by a single retained expert. Wouldn’t be much of a change from how things are done already.

I support grad student and adjunct unions, but the fact that they are becoming necessary is a sign that the humanities can’t expect to continue the way they have. They operate off the university’s dwindling largesse, not by serving any specific consumer demand. While it won’t solve any structural problems, what might at least put the humanities on life support is this: first, everyone who can get out should get out — history, for example, can with a little tweaking pass itself off as a social science. For everyone who’s left, link up with the professional writing, film, or fine art programs. A lot of people complain about creative writing MFA programs churning out cookie-cutter writers only capable of writing about what happened to them yesterday. A lot of English programs complain about low enrollment and consequently low resources. Put them together, problem solved. The humanities now teach writing and criticism as a single (‘interdisciplinary’) skill set. A lot of people will get fired, probably, but as long as creative fields remain glamorous enough that people are still willing to shell out large sums of cash for training they are not likely to make much money from, the future of the humanities will be assured.

It’s all about buying time.

*

Finally, there’s the series of posts starting with this one, detailing a situation that everyone should be asking questions about. This from the Times Online piece:

A WHISTLEBLOWER has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets.

Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office.

She approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.

Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.