Archive for the 'Bad Ideas' Category

19
Nov
11

OWS and the things we choose to do together

When I attended the University of Oregon, I was the editor of a libertarian-leaning opinion magazine. I argued forcefully — often vulgarly — against government power. If you’re not familiar with the political makeup of most public college campuses, this went over about as well as a plate of pickled pigs feet at a kosher potluck.

The liberal students I debated with often responded to my arguments with equal parts smug condescension and amusement. I obviously was too much of a whacko, knee-jerk anti-government nut, they concluded, to understand the finer points of the social contract and government authority. Government is just the collective will of the people, they sighed, not a leviathan.

Funny, then, how many of my generation suddenly discovered in the past week or so that state-sponsored violence exists. The most egregious example came yesterday at UC Davis, where a police officer pepper-sprayed a group of protesters who were sitting peacefully on the ground.

Surprising, I assume, because they weren’t paying attention or were not part of a minority group frequently targeted by police. Not surprising to me. I’ve been reading about this kind of thing — excessive force, no-knock drug raids, warrantless search and seizure, evidence suppression — for several years now.

I suppose one of the nice parts about being “knee-jerk anti-government” is I don’t have to deal with any surprise or cognitive dissonance in situations like UC Davis. Despite my disagreements with the Occupy movement’s rhetoric, tactics and goals — e.g. protesting for more of the same government that pepper sprays them in the face — I’ll never condone or apologize for police brutality. Excessive police force is wrong. Always.

Nor do I have to perform the mental gymnastics necessary to ask, “Where have our civil liberties gone?” while simultaneously supporting politicians and policies that expand the size of the very government suppressing those rights.

Shepard Fairey, creator of the iconic Obama “Hope” poster, released a new poster today in support of Occupy Wall Street. The poster reads, “Mister President, we HOPE you’re on our side.” In a statement, Fairey calls Obama “a potential ally of the Occupy movement.”

This, as Reason editor Nick Gillespie points out, is depressing.

That Fairey would consider Obama a potential ally shows either willful disregard or flat-out ignorance of what the president has actually done since taking office. This is the president who voted for the bank bailouts while in the Senate. This is the president who has continued, if not accelerated, the previous administration’s line on foreign policy, the drug war and state secrets. This is the president who ordered the assassination of two American citizens without due process via Predator Drone. This is the president who received the most Wall Street donations of any candidate in history in 2008. This is the president who continues to hold fundraisers with Wall Street executives, such as the head of bankrupt Wall Street firm MF Global, which is under investigation for misappropriating $600 million of its customers’ money.

It’s abundantly clear where Obama stands, and it’s not with Occupy Wall Street.

It’s alright, though. Every generation of idealists has to learn on its own that, when the chips are on the table, government is not “another word for the things we choose to do together” or a synonym for national greatness, as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow pseudo-fascistically suggests in her “Lean Forward” commercials.

One more quick trip down memory lane: Those same college friends who are now outraged and likely shouting about the “corporate police state”* also argued with me that there was no reason to own a handgun because we can just call the police for protection. When I suggested the Second Amendment was more than just protection against random criminals — in fact largely intended as a defense against threats to liberty both foreign and domestic — they laughed at me. Such fear of the government was incomprehensible to them.

I would say I’m the one laughing now, except I’m not.**

* “Corporate police state” is a term I find particularly amusing and illustrative of the OWS crowd’s misplaced ire. The corporations the protesters are railing against don’t care if they camp in public parks or march in the streets, insofar as they don’t disrupt those companies’ productivity. The government cares. Mayors, many of them Democrats, are the ones who ordered the evictions of the Occupy encampments. Putting aside the question of whether or not illegally camping in a public space is a First Amendment right, it was the the courts, not Wall Street fat cats, who upheld those orders. Police, vested with authority by the government, not K Street lobbyists, are the ones who enforced those orders.

** I’m not suggesting violence against police or armed revolution in any way here, merely that there is a very real reason the drafters of the Constitution did not leave the people’s security solely in the hands of the state.

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15
Aug
11

The road to hell is paved with half-baked activism

If you want a case study in how well-intentioned government actors and NGO activists can royally screw up the lives of those they claim to be helping, you’d be hard pressed to find a better example than this — an obscure provision in the Dodd-Frank act meant to ensure that minerals bought from Africa didn’t benefit warlords.

Unfortunately, the provision simply stopped companies from buying minerals in conflict regions altogether — because no one wants to be accused of funding homicidal warlords. The provision devastated the economy of the eastern Congo and, in a sad twist, actually empowered local warlords even more.

From the New York Times:

For locals, however, the law has been a catastrophe. In South Kivu Province, I heard from scores of artisanal miners and small-scale purchasers, who used to make a few dollars a day digging ore out of mountainsides with hand tools. Paltry as it may seem, this income was a lifeline for people in a region that was devastated by 32 years of misrule under the kleptocracy of Mobutu Sese Seko (when the country was known as Zaire) and that is now just beginning to emerge from over a decade of brutal war and internal strife.

The pastor at one church told me that women were giving birth at home because they couldn’t afford the $20 or so for the maternity clinic. Children are dropping out of school because parents can’t pay the fees. Remote mining towns are virtually cut off from the outside world because the planes that once provisioned them no longer land. Most worrying, a crop disease periodically decimates the region’s staple, cassava. Villagers who relied on their mining income to buy food when harvests failed are beginning to go hungry.

Meanwhile, the law is benefiting some of the very people it was meant to single out. The chief beneficiary is Gen. Bosco Ntaganda, who is nicknamed The Terminator and is sought by the International Criminal Court. Ostensibly a member of the Congolese Army, he is in fact a freelance killer with his own ethnic Tutsi militia, which provides “security” to traders smuggling minerals across the border to neighboring Rwanda.

Well, that’s a real tragedy, but there’s no way the U.S. government and the advocacy groups pressing for the provision could have predicted this outcome, right?

The Rev. Didier de Failly, a Belgian priest who has lived in Congo for 45 years, insistently warned Western advocacy groups of the dangers posed by their campaign. He told them it was no defense for them to claim that they weren’t proposing an embargo, since what they were doing would inevitably lead to one.

But once the advocacy groups succeeded in framing the debate as a contest between themselves and greedy corporate interests, no one bothered to solicit the opinion of local Congolese.  As the leader of a civil-society group, Eric Kajemba, asked me, more in confusion than in anger, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, whom are they speaking for?”

Answer: their own smug little selves.

13
Aug
11

Certain ‘progressive’ authoritarian tendencies pt. 2

Reuters reports on things that wouldn’t need to be said, but for those tres chic leftists:

Berlin’s mayor said on Saturday he was appalled that some Germans were nostalgic for the Berlin Wall and supported a newly fashionable leftist view that there were legitimate reasons for building it in 1961.

At a somber ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, Mayor Klaus Wowereit, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Christian Wulff paid tribute to the 136 people killed trying to get over the Wall to West Berlin.

Wowereit said the Wall, toppled in 1989, should serve as a reminder of freedom and democracy around the world. Church bells peeled while trains and traffic came to a standstill at noon across Berlin for a moment of silence for the victims.

“We don’t have any tolerance for those who nostalgically distort the history of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s division,” Wowereit said at the ceremony in front of a small section of the Wall recently rebuilt for posterity.

“The Wall was part of a dictatorship,” he said. “And it’s alarming that even today some people argue there were good reasons to build the Wall. No! There’s no legitimate reason nor justification for violating human rights and for killings.”

08
Aug
11

I’m not saying certain ‘progressives’ harbor authoritarian tendencies, but …

Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere:

Many times I’ve riffed on a dark, delicious fantasy about rounding up Tea Bagger types and sentencing them to green re-education camps for minimum one-year terms. Not to punish per se but to expose these contemptible morons to facts, to truth, to the way things really are and how they’re being played by the rich, and the fact that Boomers have taken almost everything and that diminished lifestyles and economic security are being bequeathed to Genx and GenY for decades to come, and that the best is definitely over. The infra-structure that once provided decent, fair-minded quality of life to middle-class people in this country is disintegrating. The game is rigged. This is the fall of the Roman Empire.

All largely because of impediments to logical, intelligent governing put up by the knee-jerk, mule-like, corporate-kowtowing mentality of Tea-Bagger types and their 60 or so looney-tunes Congresspersons now in office. We’ve truly become a South American society of rightist oligarchs, angry lefties, disillusioned wage-earners, retirement-age fuddies and struggling, debt-smothered have-nots, and the rightist boobs will never understand that they’re primarily the problem. The deficit-reduction deal will almost certainly hurt growth and kill jobs, most analysts are saying. And the radical right will own this when it happens. This level of ideological denial is no longer appalling — it’s become lethal. Ignoramuses can no longer be tolerated. The right is killing this country, things have gotten really crazy, and Obama will never stand up to them.

A second Civil War would be an incredibly destructive thing, but it would feel so good.

Well then … re-education camps and civil war … I, uh … um … wow.

If you read the Reason post I culled this quote from, you can see quite a few other examples of liberals saying, basically, that the American public is too stupid to know what’s good for them, and we should just leave complicated things like the debt ceiling up to experts. “Planners,” I suppose you could call them.

22
Jul
11

I’m Sure This Was Just an Understandable Reaction

to Norwegian imperialism, or some such nonsense.

20110722-021438.jpg

19
Jul
11

Tuesday Misc.

Via The Agitator, we learn that the Koch Brothers are responsible for the Casey Anthony verdict. No, really:

But, more than an inability to understand complex legal theories, I think the reason the jury was unable to convict Anthony was that it just didn’t buy the prosecution premise that a woman who enters a hot-body contest while her child is lost has both the motive and propensity to kill her. In a society where people have the fundamental right to enjoy themselves – others be damned – an immature and self-obsessed mother is no more likely to murder an innocent baby than your run-of-the-mill reality-show hausfrau. And anyone who criticizes her for those acts of carefree self-expression is a judgmental prude.

That’s where individualism of the libertarian model has taken us. The idea that no one has the right to tell us how to live our lives (Legalize drugs! Ban motorcycle helmets! Don’t ban violent videos! Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!) has led us to a place where caring about No. 1 has become a secular religion, and turned all of those who preach restraint into heretics.


The Koch Brothers could not be reached for comment.

—–

Why does President Obama hate Mexicans?

Administration apologists claim that these tactics are meant to create the political space for comprehensive immigration reform. But the president has made literally no effort to advance that objective. What he has advanced is a labor agenda under the guise of immigration policy.

The great hope from President Obama when he took office was that, having spent his formative years abroad, he’d understand—and use his bully pulpit to help the American public understand, too—that immigration is not a zero-sum game: Immigrants seeking a better life make America better off, just as his family made the countries where they lived better off. Instead, he has pandered to Republicans’ parochialism and labor’s protectionism to advance his own political prospects.

—–

Remember that neo-Nazi group Prussian Blue (you know, the one with the Aryan Olsen Twins)? Sounds like Lamb and Lynx (these are their real names…) are still kicking around, though it sounds like their drug of choice these days is cannabis, rather than Zyklon-B:

In college, Lynx was diagnosed with cancer, and suffered from other serious health problems. Lamb suffers from chronic back pain. In connection with these two conditions, they have begun to smoke cannabis, which is permitted in parts of the USA for medicinal purposes…

““I’m not a white nationalist anymore,” Lamb told The Daily in an exclusive interview, the twins’ first in five years. “My sister and I are pretty liberal now.”

“Personally, I love diversity,” Lynx seconded. “I’m stoked that we have so many different cultures. I think it’s amazing and it makes me proud of humanity every day that we have so many different places and people.”

18
Jul
11

Kolakowski’s Ghost

Well then. I suppose it would be pointless to apologize for the long periods of silence that have characterized this blog for the last several months. One can only note, by way of explanation, that both of your humble hosts have been busy relocating themselves to far-flung corners of the country and embarking on new new endeavors, both professional and scholastic.

In any case, I, for one (and, given the fact that most of our readers have probably long since deserted us, I may be the only one), have not (yet) forgotten about the blog and, as I settle in to my new environs and routine, intend to start posting more. Unfortunately, I am for the time being largely deprived of Internet access, save through a 3g connection on my iPad, whose browser seems somewhat less than fully compatible with WordPress’s interface. So I’ll keep this brief.

I’ve just finished reading David Priestland’s The Red Flag: A History of Communism. The book started out promisingly enough, as a history of Communism as an idea and as an ideology. By the end, alas, it had transformed itself into a fairly standard narrative of the political histories of the Soviet Bloc, China, and, to a much lesser extent, Communist states in Africa and Latin America. The book was explicitly framed around the idea that, in the wake of 9/11 and the 2008 financial collapse, Marxist ideas are beginning to enjoy a sort of rennaisance. “Whilst nobody is calling for the return of the rigid Soviet economic model,” Priestland writes,

Marx’s critique of the inequality and instability brought by unfettered global capital has seemed prescient; sales of Capital, his masterwork, have soured in his German homeland.

“The history of Communism,” he goes on to write, “therefore seems to be more relevant to today’s concerns than it was in the early 1990s.”

Well, perhaps.

Having read his book, however, one cannot help but recall that nagging retort that one is inevitably confronted with when discussing the crimes of Communism with those who still hew to one brand of Marxism or another: “Well, that’s not real Marxism!” This old hobby horse comes packaged in a number of different forms, from the “Stalin corrupted everything” line to the argument that “Marx himself would never have called himself a Marxist.”

As Priestland notes in the conclusion to his book:

Everyday repression… highlighted the link between Marxism and inhumanity. This sparked an ongoing debate about Marx’s own responsibility for the apparently inherent tendency to violence his ideas provoked. Some of Marx’s ideas — especially his rejection of liberal rights and his assumption of complete popular consensus in the future — were used to justify projects of total state control and mobilization, even if that was not what he envisaged. Marx’s and Engels’ praise of revolutionary tactics at times in their careers was also used to legitimize violence. Even so, as his defenders argued, Marx himself opposed the elitist politics pursued by Marxist-Leninist parties, and would not have approved of the regimes that Communism created.

By happy circumstance, I chanced upon a book at the local used bookstore entitled Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, published in 1977. One of the contributors is the famous Leszek Kolakowski, who died two years ago yesterday. Kolakowski’s contribution is entitled “Marxist Roots of Stalinism,” and, as one can probably glean from the title, it seeks to highlight the very real connections between a supposedly “pure” Marxism and its corrupted cousin, “Stalinism.”

I won’t try to reproduce the whole of his argument, which is, perhaps, nicely distilled by Kolakowski himself, when he writes that “the dry skeleton of Marxism, deprived of its complexity, was taken up by Soviet ideology as a strongly simplified, yet not falsified, guide to building a new society”; I simply wish to leave you with the following quote, which, I think, serves as a fair retort to the “false Marxism” argument that I have been thinking about over the last couple of days:

An example of a question that is both unanswerable and pointless is “What would Marx say had he survied and seen his ideas embodied in the Soviet system?” If he had survived, he would have inevitably changed. If by miracle he was resurrected now, his opinion about which is the best practical interpretation of his philosophy would be just an opinion among others and could be easily shrugged off on the assumption that a philosopher is not necessarily infallible in seeing the implication of his own ideas.

In short, what Kolakowski is saying, is that what Marx “would have thought” is almost wholly irrelevant. In terms of evaluating the historical legacy of Marxism, all we have to go by are the numerous example of “real existing socialism,” to steal a phrase, and the promises of those who carry on Marx’s tradition (they’re relatively easy to identify, since they tend to fancy the label “critical”) that next time really will be better.

In any case, if all of this seems a bit out of the blue, I suppose it is, prompted as it was only by my finishing Priestland’s book, the discovery of Kolakowski’s essay, and the realization that we’ve just marked the anniversary of his death.

Still, at least there’s some new content on the blog. Also, apologies for any weird formatting issues here. As I said, the iPad isn’t really the ideal platform for using Wordpad’s web interface. Maybe there’s an app for that…

* I find it interesting, at a time when scholars are busily investigating the deleterious effects of capital on African societies, that we hear little of the attempts, beginning in the 1960s, of various African leaders, specifically drawing on a rather modernist version of Marx, to forcibly industrialize and urbanize their countries. The radical social transformations wrought by Marxian leaders in Africa seems to go rather unremarked upon, at least in comparison to the deluge of scholarship treating the question of neo-liberalism and its effects in Africa.