Friday, December 19, 2008

Dismissing racial concerns on Feministing

Courtney Martin, one of Feministing's editors, recently posted this photo from a Feministing Happy Hour in NYC. The photo bears the caption: Don't worry. He knows them.

Reader hugh.c.mcbride responded:

WTF? Cuz if he didn't know them, the sight of a black guy walking past two white women at a party would be something to "worry" about?

Again -- WTF?

Courtney responded:
Wow, hugh.c.mcbride with the totally unwarranted attack. I wasn't commenting on his race. I was making fun of the teethy weird-ass look on his face. Jesus. And, while we're making racial claims, maybe you shouldn't assume the racial identity of the two women in the photo (one of whom is not white.)

Whiny defensive emphasis mine.

Okay, so I know feminist blogs deal with idiot readers all the time, and get pretty sick of treating people nicely when they ask an unpopular question. Maybe hugh.c.mcbride is a giant troll who has recently shit all over the site. And she's right, one of those women isn't white.

But anybody doing a drive-by of that photo, and its caption, could reasonably read it the way Hugh did. I know his comment is a little incendiary. But assuming he isn't a troll, doesn't he deserve a clarification instead of sarcasm?

Uh, in my experience, strong race/gender dynamics and fears are in play among black men and white women in public spaces. The black man lurking in the corner, waiting to prey on white women, is a very old trope. I certainly don't feel it's out of line to wonder whether this could be at play in her understanding of the photo. Sometimes even the quickest tossed-off caption, like Courtney's, can bear the mark of unexamined racial archetypes.

It's a small point, but small points matter. Of course Martin probably didn't intend to make any comment on this man's race and how scary it is. But how bloggers respond to challenging race questions from readers is important. You can convince readers that you are a committed anti-racist, or you can try to convince them that you aren't a racist! Not even one percent, you promise! You have lots of black friends and you were just commenting on his facial expression! Jesus!

Frankly, her sarcasm and defensiveness aren't promising. What I get from this very brief exchange is that she doesn't want her own racial views, conscious or unconscious, examined. I expect this kind of stuff from some of Feministing's "what's-so-racist-about-that?" readership, but would expect a bit more of the editors.


"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system"

US President George W. Bush said in an interview Tuesday he was forced to sacrifice free market principles to save the economy from "collapse."

"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system," Bush told CNN television, saying he had made the decision "to make sure the economy doesn't collapse."

Bush's comments reflect an extraordinary departure from his longtime advocacy for an unfettered free market, as his administration has orchestrated unprecedented government intervention in the face of a dire financial crisis.

Read the rest here.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Foucaultians could have a field day with this

A Crisis of Confidence for Masters of the Universe

See: Dana Becker's The Myth of Empowerment: Women and the Therapeutic Culture in America, Chapter 2, "The Empire of Self Esteem":

In America, individual fulfillment has come almost to represent a social responsibility. The discourse of self-esteem has been transformed into a way of governing or managing ourselves through expert knowledge. Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish employed Bentham’s design of the Panopticon, a model prison, as a metaphor for the way in which power is exerted over individuals in modern society. In this prison, inmates, each in his own cell, would be rendered continually visible, via backlighting, from a central tower. The effect of constant scrutiny on the inmates would be to induce in them “ state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.” This power, designated in Foucault’s writings as both “bio-power” and “disciplinary power,” is evidenced in the inmate’s ongoing self-observation. To Foucault the Panopticon is a metaphor for societal institutions, and self-scrutiny represents the manner in which institutions exert power over individuals through a sense of continual self-consciousness – what Foucault terms a “technology” of the self.
Sidenote re: the Times article--Why are contemporary psychiatrists so useless?


I wish I were more shocked about the Madoff scandal

But what's really all that shocking about the Ponzi scheme? Is it the greed? No, Madoff's greed isn't shocking. In fact, greed like his is what our economy needs to grow (I hate to be the one to say that, but I don't make the rules...). Is it the idea that he was paying investor A with the money of Investors B and C rather than through any real production? I can't see how that in itself is all that shocking. It's unsustainable, obviously. It only works if there's constant growth, and there's no such thing as constant growth. But unproductive tricks like this are not only common, they're the back bone of our economy. We spin gold from hay while 90% of the world starves. That's not a dirty secret. That's Wall Street. That's the financial sector.

The only thing I can even think should be deplorable in the Madoff scandal is the deceit involved...that the people who gave him the money didn't know what he was actually doing with it, and believed he was doing something else with it. It's fraud, sure. But done in more subtle ways, it's pretty common and pretty legal. Unsavvy consumers end up getting hosed all the time. And what's the free market's answer? Make it illegal? Give them their money back? No. It's 'buck up and make better decisions next time.' Free market for the poor, regulation and even subsidy for the rich.


Feministing readers can get so confused sometimes

Take this thread about a store that refused to write a 3 year old's name on a cake, because his name is Adolph Hitler (sisters JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell. I am not lying).

Commenters are filled with righteous indignation about how the PC police have really gone too far if a store refuses to do anything a customer wants. How is this okay but it's no okay for pharmacists to refuse to give birth control then?! (Because no one has the right to have their name written on a birthday cake, but in the context of liberal capitalism, we have to have the right to medication) Hypocrits! What would you be saying if the same store refused to write Hussein on a cake?! (I'd call it racist or islamophobic or just plain ignorant, and that would be the problem, not that a name didn't get written on a cake.)

Other commenters on the other side of the debate seem to be a little misguided as well. There are ways to defend the store's decision that have nothing to do with defending the imagined rights of a private company and everything to do with being a store that is able to discriminate between customers with ethics and customers without and the kind of money and business they want to take. Why do people think there's no place in politics (or life?) for talking about what's right and what's wrong and that we have to either condemn or defend every action (good or bad) because of some abstract belief in "rights."

p.s. If you're concerned about whether little Adolph got his cake, relax. Wal-Mart was up for the job.


Why cars suck.

The immediate impulse to write this post issues from the mind-numbing disturbance caused by some asshole's car alarm on my street, (its been going off steadily for 3 whole minutes now).

In no particular order, here is an elaboration of why cars suck:

1. Cars magnify the worst aspects of capitalist social relations and streamline the alienation of driver from actual, lived interaction with fellow human beings. Cut off from immediate contact and enclosed in a climate-controlled, steel/glass bubble... many drivers behave as though the world outside them is at best decoration, at worst a series of conspiring inconveniences plotting to sabotage their delusional mission to proceed unhampered by anything. Drivers treat other people in ways that they would never treat them were they walking next to them on the street.

2. In a closely related fashion: cars are selfish. It's all "me, me, me" with cars. Moving down a major thoroughfare in a massive city, a car with one passenger takes up roughly 1/4 of the space of a city bus, some disproportionate fraction of the fuel resources compared to their bus-riding counterparts, and on top of that adds to congestion which impedes the ability of buses to travel more smoothly and quickly. They also crowd streets that would otherwise be excellent bike routes. The reality is that city-life is a profound testament to the sense in which everyone is bound up in relations of dependency and made to cohabit a space on terms that no individual sets themselves. Yet, the logic of city-dwelling frequent car drivers seems to try to ignore (or even abjure) this reality in favor of a narrow individualism: I am free to the extent that I can drive my care where I want when I want however fast I want and not have to live by train schedules or interact with other city dwellers. This notion of heroic individualistic escape from social imperatives is a Romantic fantasy at best, pathological at worst.

3. Cars make cities less safe. Especially if you are biker or a pedestrian (god forbid). Some drivers get so caught up in their own quest to quickly make an unprotected left turn at an intersection, quickly sneak in front of pedestrians to make a right on red, etc. that they simply forget that they are inside a climate controlled, metal/glass bubble which moves at the touch of a button on the floor of the car cockpit. Meanwhile, the people they almost mow down or intimidate or whiz in front of are walking on their own two feet in conditions which are usually cold, icy, windy, etc. Or if you're biking hard, you're expending a great deal of energy. Nonetheless, the distorted relation that drivers stand with respect to the outside world enables them to take for granted all of these facts, thus they tend to focus intensely on whether they might have to wait 0.5 seconds or 7 seconds to turn left (as the case may be). The person trying to walk down the street is therefore the enemy. Must get home quickly, must get to Grocery Store, must get to TV, must get to work, must get... Its barbaric.

4. Cars are ugly. Sorry, but they are. Particularly in salty, snowy conditions where they are all covered with snowy/dirty crud. There are strong aesthetic grounds, it seems to me, to purge the heavy presence of cars from the urban landscape. At the very least, I think we can all agree that parking lots are the perfect exemplification of this thought, or at minimum, that parking lots are an atrocious eyesore in every instance. I advocate the immediate expropriation of all property holdings on which there are parking lots, in order that the public might re-develop the space for affordable housing, urban agricultural efforts and other activities that are the manifest opposite of parking lots.

5. Cars pollute city air and water. Set aside their role in climate change for the moment. From a more local perspective, the heavy use of cars by individuals in cities creates unnecessary smog and air pollution that is something you can smell, taste and sense on days when its particularly bad. Why should we put up with this when everything else about cars suck as well?

6. Cars are a misallocation of resources. This is true from the perspective of production as well as of consumption. In terms of consumption, cars are a terrible investment: they require maintence and upkeep costs, insurance costs, financing/payment costs, repair costs (when things inevitably break), parking costs, fuel costs, ticket-costs (for when you inevitably park in the wrong spot or get caught going 5 over). Moreover, cars do not hold their value. They are not necessary in the broad sense that there are tons of conveivable, more egalitarian, progressive, environmentally sustainable and practical ways for people to get around. Yet, it is a unfortunate fact of the infrastructural design of much of the USA that cars are in some sense all but required. But this is not so in a major city like Chicago. Cars are not necessary, anything but. So, this is a misallocation in the sense that consumer resources could be put into something more worthwhile. From the stand point of production, personal cars are a waste of labor power, capital and energy resources. They should never be built in the first place; there are, however, a lot of vehicles that society does need: A shit-ton more buses that we currently have, trucks and vans appropriate to certain tasks of building infrastructure, etc.

7. Car horns and alarms are noise pollution.

8. As a friend of mine points out in the comments, "cars make gyms make sense".

9. etc.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Failure to blog

Remember that book I was reviewing chapter by chapter? Yeah, I may have gotten slightly distracted and read a novel instead...
I blame graduate school applications for making me want to do anything but think about feminism and identity...and I think it may have something to do with my brain thinking mid-December means I go on vacation from trying to be an intellectual.
On the upside, it turns out the latest Rushdie novel was charming. Like any Rushdie book it's at once hilarious and captivating and yet really provocative in an unsettling way.
But I'll get back to being a disciplined blogger now...or I'll try anyway...


Sunday, December 14, 2008

American Pastoral

I've finished reading Philip Roth's novel American Pastoral (1998). I'm relieved in some ways that it's over. The novel is beautifully written, psychologically and emotionally complex, and filled with fascinating characters who are drawn with such sympathy that the reader cannot forget them. But the novel is also a dark, taxing trip through a family tragedy, at times plunging the reader into stream-of consciousness despair from which it seems we will never emerge.

The novel’s main event is a political one: the bombing of a small-town post office by a sixteen-year-old girl, in militant protest of the Vietnam war. One person is killed, and the young girl – who disappears into hiding - becomes known as the Rimrock Bomber.

American Pastoral is the story of her father. He is Swede Levov, the firstborn son of a Jewish glove-factory owner, whose athletic achievements, physical beauty, and austere personality made him a legend in his wartime high school days in Newark. Swede grows up to take over his father’s glove business, marry Dawn Dwyer (an Irish Catholic and a former Miss New Jersey), and move to a beautiful stone house in the New Jersey countryside. The birth and life of his daughter Merry is a source of idyllic joy for both Swede and Dawn.

But the Vietnam War seems to change everything, and Merry is quickly swept up in the radical anti-war, anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist movement. As Swede listens to his daughter rip his bourgeois lifestyle to shreds, their conversations seem like a typical father-daughter clash of generational values. He believes she’s an unthinking participant in some kind of youth culture; he believes it’s a phase that she’ll pass through. She believes he’s the one who’s not thinking. But because of the fatal bombing that follows, these conversations become an epic struggle for Merry’s heart and sanity.

The bombing – which explodes not only the local post office, but also Swede’s understanding of himself, his family, and everyone around him – seems like the novel’s apocalypse. But others follow. The Newark race riots destroy the city; Dawn is institutionalized for the shock and grief of what happened to her daughter; and Swede is terrorized by a woman claiming to be living with Merry. The novel is a portrait of a chaotic era, seen through the eyes of a man whose entire previous existence never prepared him for anything like this. Swede’s stream-of-consciousness often surfaces and goes on for pages, full of tragic questions: Where did this daughter come from? How did they produce her? What happened to her? Where is she? Is anything what it seems?

Roth treats issues of religion, class, and gender with such sensitivity that it’s hard to capture the scope of his work here. He does a nuanced job discussing Dawn’s experiences as Miss New Jersey: the way she feels forced to hide it, the way she must do something – anything – so that people will understand she is more than an ex-beauty queen. His treatment of the Newark race riots is quick but vivid, and includes the voices of Swede’s father, who angrily refuses to sympathize with black Newark residents he employs. In particular, Swede and Dawn’s experience of moving to Old Rimrock – where, as a Jew and a Catholic from working-class backgrounds, they face some Wasp scrutiny – is a sharp and important aspect of the novel. After all, the membership status they’ve struggled for is the very status that their daughter violently, vehemently rejects.

What happens to Merry after her disappearance – grotesque, violent, incomprehensible – seems explicitly designed to show Swede the darkest, ugliest side of the human experience. For the reader, it’s not easy to watch, but Swede’s struggle to understand is worth participating in.


Tariq Ali in the Guardian

Tariq Ali on Anglo-American intervention in Middle East and the role it has played in exacerbating the problem of terrorism.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

Zimbabwe: Mugabe in Context

I'm busy as hell right now, but when I get a free moment I'm going to take a better look at Mahmood Mamdani's recent piece on Zimbabwe in the London Review of Books. Lenin's Tomb has a long post on Zimbabwe that I've glanced over, and it looks interesting as well. More on this when time permits.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

PSUV leader Gonzalo Gomez on the elections and where Venezuela is heading

"To Stop the Advance of the Right, We Must Strengthen People’s Power”
Great interview at Venezuelanalysis here.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Venezuelan union organizers killed

Protests have shut down highways in Venezuela following the hired assassination of 3 labor leaders involved in a drive to organize workers owned by the Colombian milk company ALPINA. The protest is comprised of over 12 Venezuelan unions all of whom are demanding that an extensive investigation bring those behind the murder to justice.

Incidentally, its worth mentioning that Colombia is the most dangerous country in the entire world to be a trade unionist. ALPINA is probably just following company policy as its carried out in Colombia. The difference in Venezuela is that the leaders of its government will not let this stand, whereas in Bogota this sort of thing is probably applauded if not encouraged.

Hand's Off Venezuela has a statement here.

Statements of support and solidarity can be sent to and, and copy to


Tariq Ali's thoughts on Mumbai

"Indian intelligence outfits are well aware of all this and they should not encourage the fantasies of their political leaders. Its best to come out and accept that there are severe problems inside the country. A billion Indians: 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. A very large minority that cannot be ethnically cleansed without provoking a wider conflict.

None of this justifies terrorism, but it should, at the very least, force India’s rulers to direct their gaze on their own country and the conditions that prevail. Economic disparities are profound. The absurd notion that the trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve most problems can now be seen for what it always was: a fig leaf to conceal new modes of exploitation."

Full article here.


Evo Morales on Climate Change and Capitalism

Read it in English translation here.


Thai elite stage coup via High Court

The Thai royalists, elites and urban middle classes have ousted the democratically-elected government of Somchai Wongsawat, dissolving his party (The People's Power Party) and banning the PM from politics. This time, the military wasn't involved directly; a high court ruling decided the matter following large protests against the government by the oddly-named "People's Alliance for Democracy", which will move to limit the franchise and remove voting rights from the country's majority (rural poor) in an attempt to halt the reemergence of a populist government.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I finally decided how I feel about "Her Body, My Baby."

(That's the title of a jaw-dropping, must-read article in the New York Times Magazine.)

The article is written by Alex Kuczynski, an infertile socialite/writer married to a billionaire, who hires a middle-class woman to bear her biological child. Her story, and the way she tells it, is heartbreaking and excruciatingly honest. Her inner monologue ain't pretty. It contains moments of unvarnished classism, elitism, and rich white privilege. The author is, as my mother put it, "not someone I'd like to get to know better."

But the comments page is a sociological bloodbath, and it's what I'd like to focus on.

The sexist, misogynist demands that some commenters make on Ms. Kuczynski's reproductive choices are just as bad as the author's mind-boggling privilege. Some readers are only capable of responding to her story with proscriptive statements: Jeez, she should have just adopted already! Jeez, she should have just accepted that she was meant to be childless! Can't she help us control the population problem and just adopt a kid that's already been born?

It's particularly ridiculous to demand that infertile women help us solve our "population problem" and just adopt a child who already exists. If this is ethically sound, then rich Americans must immediately stop reproducing, and adopt until every third-world baby has been placed in a home. Does any reasonable person propose this "solution" for fertile couples? No.

The claim that Kuczynski "wasted" countless thousands of dollars in her selfish pursuit of a biological child is questionable. Adoptions, whether domestic or international, are no cheaper than hiring a surrogate (around $25,000). In fact, if you want to talk about costs, how about the fact that an acquaintance of mine paid $15,000 in 2003 to give birth to her own, naturally conceived daughter in a hospital? Kuczynski's identity as the wife of a billionaire has certainly raised some hackles, but it is unfair to claim that her use of resources was somehow morally unsound. She spent $100,000 on a baby. Most of her peers have spent that much on a car. Yet her decision to use that money to become a mother outrages us. Why?

Because our culture largely teaches us that we have the right to judge, even to control, women's reproductive decisions. Because women do crazy, world-destroying things like

- have abortions, thus killing babies and making God cry
- go through expensive fertility treatments, thus wasting money they should have given to charity
- hire proletarian wombs, thus exploiting each other
- adopt a brown baby from abroad, thus becoming arrogant colonialist bastards
- remain childless, thus destroying femininity and The Family
- give birth to 12 children, thus destroying the environment, straining the welfare system, and disrupting restaurant dinners across the country.

See? Women just can't get it right.

As Jezebel put it in a different context, we need to GIVE OTHER LADIES A DAMN BREAK.

It took me a long time to decide how I felt about this piece. I can't believe I'm defending a millionaire socialite Times reporter who is personally responsible for a substantial percentage of the fluff in the Style section. I don't care. She's a self-absorbed, spoiled brat. She's also a woman who wants a child, like millions of women before her. So give her a damn break.


Monday, December 1, 2008

A totally underrated Whitney Houston song

Just because. I'm in a loving mood lately and this song is sweet and I think you should like it too.


40 Years since Mexico City Massacre

If you get a chance, read or listen to NPR's report on the 1968 Mexico City student massacre, which had its 40 year anniversary this year. Terrifying...


States of Injury by Wendy Brown, Chapter 2 Synopsis: Postmodern Exposures and Feminist Hesitations

See the Chapter 1 synopsis here, and a general overview of the book here.

In this chapter, Brown makes these three basic arguments:
  1. Postmodernity is a condition and postmodernism an attempt at describing the current conditions of our time, and it does not necessarily entail any particular political prescriptions with it.
  2. Feminists who claim postmodernism (the pointing out of the postmodern conditions we live in) will kill their feminist politics, reveal gaps and hesitations in their own feminism.
  3. Feminists do not need Truth (aka Reason, Morality), the Subject, or Identity to be feminists, and postmodernity merely forces us to open new political spaces.
I think it suffices to do two things in this summary: a) Summarize what Brown sees as the problems caused by postmodernity, and how feminists can forge a politics amid these problems, and b) Summarize and engage with some of the problems Brown sees feminism as having, some of which are exposed by postmodernism. 
First, Brown wants to redirect our attention from "the academically crumbled foundations of Truth, facticity, or the modernist subject," or from postmodernism, to the greatest impediments to oppositional politics which come from postmodernity:
The first condition she thinks is important is that of "technical reason." Now, she never defines what this means exactly, and google brings up nothing relevant and I must admit I don't have a Marcuse reader standing by, so I had to rely on researching something she says is a similar phenomenon, Weber's "instrumental rationality." (If you actually know something about technical reason, or Habermas' "means-end rationality," please let me know if I'm way off the mark here.) So here's my understanding. Technical reason is a false consciousness in which finding the most efficient way of achieving an ends is favored instinctively and focused on socially, at the expense of any justification or reasoning for the value of the ends itself.
You can see how this would apply to her arguments in the first chapter about identity politics and the failures of the state to empower injured parties (although Brown never spells it out for us this way). The most effective way of disciplining the people and systems that injure might be to go through the state, but nobody stops to ask why discipline for injury should be the end-goal of a politics, and what the consequences of such an ends might be.
The subject-disintegrating powers of technical reason, Brown argues,  are far more powerful than those of postmodernism, but technical reason's hegemony becomes even more noticeable and pervasive when "other legitimating discourses of a culture--political, religious, or scientific--are fractured or discredited, a process that is a defining feature of postmodernity." Technical reason in a context of postmodern power, which flows without the boundaries and rigidities of institutions or discrete spheres of power, makes critical articulations of domination, or oppositional politics, incredibly difficult.
Next, Brown looks at disorientation as a supposed threat to feminism, and she defines the problem of disorientation or "being lost," through Frederic Jameson:
This is bewildering, and I use existential bewilderment in this new postmodern space to make a final diagnosis of the loss of our ability to position ourselves within this space and cognitively map it. This is then projected back on the emergence of a global, multinational culture that is decentered and cannot be visualized, a culture in which one cannot position oneself.
In short, Brown goes on to argue that the postmodern loss of collective identity, has caused the clinging to individual identity, even by people who are generally quite critical of liberalism's individualism. 
Lastly, Brown details the problem of "reactionary foundationalism," or clinging to one representative feature of a modern movement to the extent that it is a fundamentalism. This too is a coping method for a loss of collective identity and disorientation general. Just like the Right clings to "the traditional family," and "the American flag," academics on the Left claim to "feminism" in its modern constructs, as if it is one of the "indispensible threads preserving indisputable good."
There is a hard-hitting section on feminist failures that I think is worth going into in more detail. Brown takes on feminists who say their endeavors are crushed by postmodernism's crumbling of "truth" of "morality" and of "the self." She thinks this is silly, first of all, since feminists themselves have argued that the self is constructed socially, that truth and reason have been used to masculine ends, and aren't really all that objective, and that discourse about morality operates as a power mechanism. Not only that, but she thinks the idea that feminism can't exist outside these modernist idioms is problematic and untrue. She looks at quotes like this one from Nancy Harstock's "Foucault on Power: A Theory for Women?":
We need to constitute ourselves as subjects as well as objects of history...We need to be assured that some systematic knwoledge about our world and ourselves is possible...We need a theory of power that recognizes that our practical daily activity contains an understanding of the world.
To which Brown responds: "Harstock does not concern herself with the defensibility or persuasiveness of the narrative out of which these items are torn. She is concerned only with the dubious necessity of rescuing them from the discredited narratives, a rescue waged in order to "preserve" feminism from what she takes to be the disorienting, deblitating, and depoliticizing characteristics of post-modern intellectual maneuvers." Brown calls feminist arguments like that both foundationalist and reactionary. It's like Linda Hirshman's infamous WaPo article about how feminism has become so sidetracked by all these interesectional interests, that feminism (whatever the hell that might be in the absence of intersectional concerns) itself is being lost. If that isn't both foundationalist and reactionary I don't know what is...not to mention another instance of the hegemony of instrumental rationality. 
Here's Brown's best summary of her gripes with feminism in her own words, which sort of proceed out of this critique of Harstock:
I will suggest that feminist wariness about postmodernism may ultimately be coterminous with a wariness about politics, when politics is grasped as a terrain of struggle without fixed or metaphysical referents and a terrain of power's irreducible and pervasive presence in human affairs. Contrary to its insistence that it speaks in the name of the political, much feminist anti-postmodernism betrays a preference for extrapolitical terms and practices: for Truth (unchanging, incontestable) over politics (flux, constest, instability); for certainty and security (safety, immutability, privacy) over freedom (vulnerability, publicity); for discoveries (science) over decisions (judgments); for separable subjects armed with established rights and identities over unwieldy and shifting pluralities adjudicating for themselves and their future on the basis of nothing more than their own habits and arguments.
Among her more specific arguments in this section (there really are too many to summarize, but there are a lot, and I agree with most), Brown is critical of feminists' insistence on treating the production and recognition of individual women's narratives as purveyors of truth, as if discourse when it comes from injured parties has nothing to do with power, as if it isn't rhetoric, like it is when it comes from dominant social positions. It isn't that Brown doesn't think it's important that marginalized voices are heard and that narratives are used in politics, that is, that we actively demonstrate the personal is political. It's simply that she realizes this isn't enough to affect change in a postmodern context, as it clings to naive, modernist notions of truth and of the subject. Producing academia based on women's perspectives is important, but they can't be treated as individual's accounts of truth, any more than we would treat the narratives of wealthy white men as signs of what reality is. Instead they should be taken as collective accounts of the world used to make political arguments. And we need new political spaces to make our feminist arguments political.
Now, this postmodern political space for feminists is not something she focuses on defining too specifically in the chapter, but this is what she tells us she's getting at:
"Postmodernity's dismantling of metaphysical foundations for justice renders us quite vulnerable to domination by technical reason unless we seize the opportunity this erosion also creates to develop democratic processes for formulating collective postepistemological and postontological judgments. Such judgments require learning how to have public conversations with each other, arguing from a vision about the common ("what I want for us") rather than from identity ("who I am"), and from explicitly postulated norms and potential common values rather than from false essentialism or unreconstructed private interest...I am suggesting that political conversation oriented toward diversity and the common, toward world rather than self, and involving conversion of one's knowledge of the world from a situated (subject) position into a public idiom, offers us the greatest possibility of countering postmodern social fragmentations and political disintegrations.
My final point in this very long summary, is just that I like the idea, as a way of getting away from the trap of identity politics discussed in the first chapter, but I just don't know how it would work in such a cynical political society. Vision and ideas for the collective are openly mocked in our political culture. Remember how almost half of the United States thought it was ok to vote for a political party that openly mocked something as rudimentary as community organizers? I guess I just question how politically salient her approach could be. But then again, I guess we won't begin by reaching out to conservative republicans who don't think helping the collective is admirable...we'll have to start with parties who are a little more sympathetic. 


Sunday, November 30, 2008

McSweeney's: Atlas Shrugged updated for the current financial crisis

Hilarious, especially to those of us who actually read the entire 1,000+ page disaster, including John Galt's 40 page speeches. I much prefer this version, and it seems like Dagny does as well.
Hat tip to Feministe.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rabid consumerist mobs trample worker to death




Really amazing documentary. The footage is unbelievable.

Just re-watched it here.

It makes me pretty sick to see what went on in Venezuela in 2002. But it's far worse to stomach the omission of these concrete facts about the coup-attempt in so many mainstream accounts of Venezuelan politics. Particularly all of the crap about RCTV and the 'suppression of free speech' that one so frequently hears about... nothing is said about this disgusting attempt to overthrow a popular government by force. Nothing is said about the fact that the coup plotters revealed on private television the day after the coup, how they had carried out their plan and how grateful they were to private media, RCTV in particular, for their crucial help in accomplishing the task. RCTV, it's also worth mentioning, blacked-out all of the events that led to the failure of the coup and suppressed the reemergence of Chavez's ministers in order to deceive the public into believing the lie that Chavez had resigned (he had not) and that the Opposition had total control of the Presidential Palace.

Watching this and thinking about the PBS documentary's treatment of the 2002 coup the whole time was eye-opening. Try watching "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and reading the NY Times's infamous pro-Coup editorial afterwords.

Purchase the DVD here.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Responding to the "The Hugo Chavez Show"

In case you haven't seen it, take a look at PBS's Frontline TV-documentary on Hugo Chavez. There is a lot of good footage, information and some of the interviews are interesting.

That said, I think the documentary is a case-study in what is typically wrong with characterizations of Venezuela (indeed, with almost all of the Left governments and movements in Latin America) in our domestic Media (one might as well include Britain also).

Let me preface all of this by directing your attention to the infamous NYTimes editorial that, in complicity with the lies of the opposition military coup plotters, praised the (actually false) 'departure' of Chavez and the installment of a
neoliberal military regime by force in which all of the democratically-elected officials and representatives of Chavez's party would be removed from office.

The title of the PBS show is instructive: "The Hugo Chavez Show". The mistake that the documentary makes over and over is to slip into conflations of large-scale economic and political forces with Chavez the person. Frequently, supporters of the government or of the
PSUV or the "Revolution" are characterized as people with nothing more than intense emotional investment in Chavez qua person. There is a lot of focus on Chavez's show "Alo Presidente", his antics, his speeches, etc. There seems to me to be no problem with this necessarily, however, its insidious precisely insofar as these looks at him (qua person, public figure) are used as arguments against the policies of his government and the anti-capitalist project. I'll say more on this in a bit.

The interviewees end up making up more or less a chorus. There is 'center-left'
neoliberal Teodoro Petkoff who is supposedly given legitimacy as a 'left critic' of Chavez since he used to be a Communist earlier in the 70s. No further context is given for how to situate him in relation to the Bolivarian Revolution. We also hear from "Journalists and Venezuelans who know Chavez well". Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker is interviewed, as is biographer Alberto Barrera, Phil Gunson of the Economist, and former VP Jimenez who has since broken with Chavez.... (one was left dissapointed that arch-hack Simon Romero and reps from the Financial Times and WSJ weren't present as well). We also hear from an opposition goon who was a former finance minister in the early 90s who, every single time he's put before the camera, insinuates with a wry smile that the US should stop purchasing Venezuelan oil since that would topple Chavez "in a matter of weeks". (hint, hint! americans!) He extols the virtues of PDVSA before Chavez and repeats the familiar capitalist dogma that removing elites is tantamount to removing the 'experts' who are the only ones who know how to run things. We can smell his hatred of participatory democracy a mile away: let the indigent masses do the drudge-work, they aren't capable of doing much else without the expertise of capitalists and managers.

What we don't hear in the documentary, is the voice of one single intellectual who actually believes that what is happening on the ground in Venezuela is worth defending. Nothing. We could have heard from Tariq Ali, Eva Golinger, Greg Wilpert, Forrest Hylton, or any number of prominent Left intellectuals and journalists who would dare to defend the project unapollogetically (yet, not therefore uncritically). The tone of the entire piece is one of suspicion and one in which we are encouraged to presuppose that everything about what's going on there is misguided. Therefore, when things are pointed out about the situation that aren't all bad, they can be safely let out in the open without having to worry about sounding, *gasp* fair or worse, sympathetic. The point I'm making about the tone is that it seems crafted to always leave a large amount of outs whenever it presents something that looks appealing about Venezuela. This usually takes the form of presenting 'good' elements of the Revolution as ones with good intentions, but practically useless or failing.

There are no broad strokes to contextualize the movement, facile imperialist buzzwords like 'anti-American' are thrown around copiously without qualification, and everything about the Revolution is characterized in terms of a top-down decree from Chavez to 'subsidize' something. We are told that he 'subsidizes anti-American governments' like Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, which reeks of Heritage-Foundation-
esque propaganda. Moreover, the presentation of Chavez's relation to Castro is played up and used to hint at his authoritarian fantasies that have yet to fully manifest themselves. We shouldn't forget that the opposition has used this line as a talking point for quite some time: "Chavez wants Venezuela to be exactly like Cuba!" PBS seems to have cribbed it right from the headlines of opposition outlets.

One thing I found disturbing was that the documentary rarely mentioned figures about turnout, margins of victory, or democratic mandate for the Revolution. During talk of Chavez's loss during the push for Constitutional reform in 2007, we hear almost nothing about the statistical dynamics of the result. The "por ahora" slogan is spun as a "threat" that the government will "punish democratic decision-makers who buck their will", rather than an injunction to continue fighting for the reforms and social transformation for which the government stands. We heard nothing of the turnout figures which clearly showed that the opposition picked up virtually no more votes in absolute terms than they garnered in 2006, but merely benefited from lower turnout.

The entire discussion of is one-sided. The bullshit about it being a 'free speech issue' is gobbled up, since it so neatly fits in with what we are encouraged to think prior to hearing any facts about Venezuela: in the words of our media, Venezuela is ruled by "a thug", "paranoiac", "dictatorial", a "ruinous and radical leftist demagogue", who is "autocratic." The Economist probably has the rights to this smash-hit tune among the Anglo-American business press.

We hear nothing about RCTV's direct involvement with the 2002 coup.

And on the topic of the coup, the most critical thing that the documentary offers us is a quote by a Chavista official that the US Government might, potentially, have given the coup its blessing, or possibly even helped. That insinuation was left at that. This isn't being 'objective', this is deception. There is absolutely no way to maintain that the US govt did not give the coup its 'blessing'... look at its public statements before and after. They were unambiguously anti-Chavez and pro-opposition and they immediately recognized the illegitimate government the second it went on private television and proclaimed that it had taken power. Moreover, US involvement with the opposition in terms of giving aid and support to the coup-plotters is well documented. This isn't some crazy, out-of-the-blue anomaly to US foreign policy in Latin America, but a continuation of a time honored tradition wherein the US participates in violent overthrows of democratically elected Left governments. A little historical context might have been helpful here, but none was in the offering. The US foreign policy aparatus, let us not forget, is a shinging beacon of freedom that inspires the whole world. And we betray this Absolute Truth only at our own peril, and on pain of succumbing to 'anti-Americanism'. (For a far more extensive and sober documentary look at the 2002 coup, check this video out).

After the coverage of the coup in the documentary, one is left puzzled how Chavez came back to power. They don't really give you enough information to understand the dynamics that forced the coup to fail, other than insinuating that the slum-dwellers from the shacks of Caracas came down from their perch to protest. This is atrocious coverage of the event. Nothing is said about the rank-and-file loyalty of soldiers in the military who refused to go along with the plot. Nothing is said about the conduct of the opposition leaders during the coup, the RCTV involvement with the coup, etc. There is no moralistic condemnation of the coup in the way that there is throughout the entire documentary about how Chavez silences dissent, etc. This is bullshit.

The only ardent pro-Chavez interviewees are slum-dwellers who are made to look as though they are nothing more than uneducated adorers of a man whose policies they cannot comprehend. Leave the commentary to the learned light-skinned men who know better.

The last quarter of the documentary is devoted to showing the failure of all of Chavez's policies. We are given various examples, all very specific. We are given no wider economic/political backdrop against which to judge these developments, but nonetheless encouraged to draw broad conclusions from these examples. We are given no data about how much social spending has increased, how the programs have fared in terms of what existed before them, what the shortcoming might be attributed to, how they might be addressed, etc. We get none of that. But we get insinuations that bottom-up cooperatives are a bad idea because workers cannot self-govern themselves (silly socialists... you're supposed to leave that to the experts, the capitalists and managers!), we get insinuations that the uneducated poor are the only ones propping up a 'failed government' because they 'fear things could be worse'. We also get a spiel about "law and order" in which the problems of crime in Venezuela are really bad (dare I say we are encouraged to draw conclusions between Chavez's urban poor constituents and the 'law and order' hoopla?). No explanations, no comparative figures, no context... just the insinuation that rising crime has something to do with the Chavez regime. It doesn't really matter if they intended for this line of argument to coalesce with the racist and conservative opposition's rhetoric, to be purveyors of this sort of narrative in ignorance of what is frequently said and insinuated is already to be give a nod to the reactionaries.

Amid all of these complaints, not one example of how programs have worked is given. Not one figure about increased social spending, education programs, etc. Not one example of a program that has worked, against the expectations and wishes of the editorial boards of the NYTimes and the Economist and the Western capitalist press. Nothing.

Even the documentary's assessment of the most recent election results, which in many ways represented a small victory for the US-backed opposition, was billed as a case of increasing authoritarianism. We are told, ominously without any further backing that opposition leaders were 'banned' from running for election (the elections were observed by hundreds of international bodies and they all deemed them fair and free). Then we are told that 17 of 22 PSUV governors won, as though this was a bogus victory given the collusion mentioned in the previous sentence. Yet despite the opposition victories, the procedural fairness of the election, the high turnout, etc. The folks at PBS thought nothing of mentioning the US-government's involvement with the opposition and the recent elections. Pathetic, uncritical analysis.
I just read, according to Eva Gollinger, that the U.S. Agency for International Development poured $4.7 million into opposition groups for the electoral campaign. This is hardly surprising. Washington is backing the reactionary oligarchic opposition leaders in Bolivia as well. Why would we expect anything less? PBS says nothing about US invovlement or where their sympathies lie with respect to Latin American political and social movements on the Left.

Concerning Chavez's government, there's plenty to be critical of, especially from the perspective of the Left. But regarding this documentary, the entire conclusion you seem encouraged to arrive at is that Chavez is everything the mainstream Anglophone media says about him (he's dictatorial, a caudillo, a strongman, a demagogue, etc.). The viewer is almost led to assume that what the country perhaps needs instead, is a return of the rule of 'educated', light-skinned, enlightened elites who have the know-how, expertise and faith in neoliberal capitalism to make things run right. The film includes a few moralizing moments where the inequality and squalor that many Venezolanos live in is mentioned, yet we are given no evidence that there is a political solution to this social injustice. We get nothing critical of neoliberalism, of the previous regime's policies, or any mention of North American imperialism in Latin America and its long history. We aren't offered any explanations about how this unequal state of affairs in Venezuela came about.

I found this documentary disappointing.


Protests in Thailand

Protests led by Thailand's strangely-named "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PDA) are making headlines. Al-Jazeera offers a succinct picture of the group:

"Founded in 2005 by Sondhi Limthongkul, a former media magnate, the PAD is a disparate collection of liberal democrats denouncing corruption and authoritarianism, and right-wing royalists who would welcome military rule with royal patronage.The group's supporters are mainly urban, middle- to upper-class who are relatively rich compared to the majority of Thailand's rural population and are regarded as Thailand's traditional elite.

"Sondhi and the PAD advocate the scrapping of the one-man-one-vote system in Thailand and say only 30 per cent of parliament's members should be directly elected by the people.

"[The government's empowerment of the poor rural majority by implementing welfare programmes such as a universal healthcare scheme and cheap credit sparked fears in the country's elite that the wealth gap that gave them their lives of privilege could evaporate. So his elitist, royalist opponents exploited Thaksin's weaknesses: corruption, heavy-handedness in dealing with alleged drug lords, accusations of manipulating the media and rumours of plans to turn Thailand into a republic."

BBC had the following:

"The protests are led by the avowedly royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which claims the government is corrupt and hostile to the country's much-revered monarchy."

"The PAD is a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class opposed to Thaksin, who was ousted from power in 2006."

"While in office, Thaksin's populist policies attracted enormous support from rural areas, and the old elite felt threatened. His power base was too wide, they believed, and they accused him of corruption and nepotism.Detractors also accused him of competing with Thailand's much-revered monarch, King Bhumibol, for the heart of the nation..."

The only context the NYTimes appeared to give in its headline story was on the second page of the article on the protests:

"The protesters, a loose coalition of royalists, academics and members of the urban elite, say they are frustrated with years of vote-buying and corruption. Many are also skeptical of Thai democracy in its current form and propose a voting system that would lessen the representation of lower-income Thais, whom they say are particularly susceptible to vote-buying."

No critique of the 'vote-buying' charge was offered, nor was there any critical engagement with the fact that Royalists are spearheading an organization called "People's Alliance for Democracy" when they are in fact trying to limit the franchise. The NYTimes is pretty terrible on foreign affairs.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Christina Romer

In a recent article in TNR, John Judis deconstructs the fiscal and economic theories underlying Romer's (Obama's new cabinet appointee) approach to the Great Depression. Admitedly, the critique does not focus on what she is saying should be done now, but if her approach to the Great Slump is any indication, its Right of even most mainstream Democratic thinking on the matter. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"In a paper delivered in September 2007, Romer addresses more directly recent government fiscal and monetary policy--but with the same implications. She contends that after World War II, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations developed a "modern" fiscal and monetary policy that was remarkably successful. It stressed a commitment to budget surpluses to prevent inflation and the use of deficits only in the extremity of a recession. During the Kennedy and Johnson years, Romer argues, the U.S. abandoned this approach for one that sought to maintain low unemployment (a four-percent target) through, if necessary, persistent budget deficits. Romer contends that the '60s model led to the high inflation and unemployment of the '70s."
This is seems to accord with the standard conservative reading of the economic history of the 20th century, which we should contrast with:
"The standard account has been that the U.S. economy began to revive from 1934 to 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt's government hiked public investment and ran budget deficits; that the recovery stalled in 1938 after Roosevelt erroneously put the breaks on the economy and tried to run a surplus; and that the country only recovered from the depression after that because the U.S. began running deficits again and because of growing war orders from abroad; and that the final recovery awaited the massive public defense investment in 1941 and 1942. Gross public investment increased 150 percent from 1940 to 1941, and that's when unemployment began to plummet."
She emphasizes monetary over fiscal fixes which seems to be precisely the wrong view about how to fix the current situation (given that monetary fixes via interest rate cuts by the Fed have proven to be a total failure in reversing the slump). Of course, this is not what the Obama transition team has been pushing for, so her mere appointment is certainly no indication of radical change in course. Nonetheless:
"If Romer's views of September 2007 are applied to November 2008, what do we get? Deficits, but with an eye toward surpluses, and an emphasis--going back to her article on the Depression--on monetary rather than fiscal expansion as the solution. If that is, indeed, what Romer advocates, that's probably not the change we need--or that Obama has promised."


Monday, November 24, 2008

States of Injury by Wendy Brown, Chapter 1 synopsis: Freedom and the Plastic Cage

I am attempting to summarize and analyze the book chapter by chapter here, as much for your sake as for mine (so I can make sure I actually comprehend and engage with what I've read). However, I do so knowing it will reveal to you how slowly I make it through academic books at this current stage of my life. Please don't judge.
Is it not precisely this form of power that "applies itself to immediate everyday life [to] categorize the individual, mark him by his own individuality, attach him to his own identity, impose a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him?"
Brown, quoting Foucault, p. 29
Brown let's us know in the preface that she's writing a critique and history of the contemporary academic left. So, opening in the first chapter, she gives us just that. In the first chapter Brown makes a point to point argument about the ways in which "freedom" has been conceptualized and sometimes ignored, and how or why this may have happened, by the contemporary left. 

She notes that the Left has pretty much conceded control of the word "freedom" to libertarians and conservatives (which for them means little more than consumer choice and free markets). She also notes that they have abandoned the critiques of the state which were so important among early Marxists. All of these movements away from freedom and critiques of the state have been driven by a simultaneous abandonment of critiques of capital as a source of oppression and increased belief that the state can litigate away inequalities caused primarily by identity category.
So what's the problem with these shifts? Brown looks at it like this: If injured parties look to the state to codify disciplinary actions and to explicitly ban discriminatory behaviors, or to explicitly validate their existence and importance, they have codified the injured party's status as a vulnerable person, and embedded that injured identity in the fabric of the State. She isn't unsympathetic to a desire for protection for injured parties. But she believes looking to the State to make this happen is a flawed strategy. The identity of injury is permanently attached to the injured party, if it is remedied in this way. If the state must be relied on to serve this function, what sort of permanent freedom or "empowerment" is actually achieved for the injured party, especially if, like Michael Hardt and me, you see identity formation as the primary problem-process of capitalism and sexism and racism and most discrimination. 
The state, Brown argues, cannot address identity and its consequences without reproducing its formation. Instead of "protecting" injured parties, or defining freedom in a solely negative way based on whatever is identified as "unfreedom" in a given society, Brown wants to stop legitimating the state.
Just how did the interests of progressives become so transformed in the past half century? Many academics contributed in this welfare statist shift, but Brown isn't shy to note Foucault's enormous influence. He explicitly refocused critiques of power from the State and capital to critiques and accounts of "domination." No, they aren't mutually exclusive, but because Foucault explicitly distinguishes between them, it's easy to assume that he at least thought they were mutually exclusive:
We must escape from the limited field of juridical sovereignty and State institutions, and instead base our analysis of power on the study of the techniques and tactics of domination.
Here's how she characterizes the liberal state and responds to Foucault, and I think it's one of the most spot-on things I've read in a long time:
(The state's) primary function has never been sovereignty--its own or that of the people. Rather, the state rises in importance with liberalism precisely through its provision of essential social repairs, economic problem solving, and the management of a mass population: in short, through those very functions that standard ideologies of liberalism and capitalism cast as self-generating in civil society and thus obscure as crucial state activities. As the social body is stressed and torn by the secularizing and atomizing effects of capitalism and its attendant political culture of inviduating rights and liberties, economic, administrative, and legislative forms of repair are required. Through a variety of agencies and regulations, the liberal state provides webbing for the social body dismembered by liberal individualism and also administers the increasing number of subjects disenfranchised and deracinated by capital's destruction of social and geographic bonds. If this kind of administration and regulation is not innocent of particular state interests, neither is it to one side of "techniques and tactics of domination."
The liberal state is made fatter and more legitimate by juridical protections against injury, and the liberal state is little more than a reproducer of capital and its destruction. That's a problem. But couple the Foucaultian view of the state as unimportant with a defensive reaction to libertarian attacks on welfare brought on by the rise of conservatism in the 1980s, and you have a lot of leftists not so interested critiques of the state any more. 
Foucault isn't the only academic she credits for creating this problematic shift in leftist focus. She also talks briefly about the feminist role in this, led by Catharine Mackinnon, who openly disregards freedom and opts for equality (as if one could exist without the other). I'd get into it now, but the second chapter seems to be much more dedicated to feminism's role, so I'll hold off on that until the next synopsis.
One last thing I felt was really important in this chapter, was Brown's critique of some of the stock language used by progressive academics now that they've decided freedom is for libertarians. Instead of talking about freedom, many academics have let the words "empowerment" and "resistance" take its place. Brown isn't so much afraid these are insufficient for revolution because of their dictionary definitions, but is concerned about the way they are used. First of all, she thinks resistance has the same problem liberalism's conception of freedom has. It's always a reaction. It makes the end goal about reacting to power, which sort of presupposes the power will always be there. It doesn't get to anything outside its own historical context, just like freedom (she notes that Marx attempted to come up with a definition of "true essential freedom" that could be universal, but points out that through the course of a century, it has proven to not be so universal after all). Sure, let's "resist" (what exactly?), but what's the light at the end of the tunnel?
And as for "empowerment" (I love this part):
Empowerment registers the possibility of generating one's capacities, one's "self-esteem," one's life course, but without capitulating to constraints by particular regimes of power. But in so doing, contemporary discourses of empowerment too often signal an oddly adaptive and harmonious relationship with domination insofar as they locate an individual's sense of worth and capacity in the register of individual feelings, a register implicitly located on something of an otherworldly plane vis-a-vis social and political power. In this regard, despite its apparent locution of resistance to subjection, contemporary discourses of empowerment partake strongly of liberal solipsism--the radical decontextualization of the subject characteristic of liberal discourse that iskey to the fictional sovereign individualism of liberalism. Moreover, in its almost exclusive focus on subjects' emotional bearing and self-regard, empowerment is a formulation that converges with a regime's own legitimacy needs in masking the power of the regime.
This is not to suggest that talk of empowerment is always only illusion or delusion. It is to argue, rather, that while the notion of empowerment articulates that feature of freedom concerned with action, with being more than the consumer subject figured in discourses of rights and economic democracy, contemporary deployments of this notion also draw so heavily on an undeconstructed subjectivity that they risk establishing a wide chasm between the (experience of) empowerment and an actual capacity to shape the terms of political, social, or economic life. 
Ah! Love it. That's exactly why those cries for Girl Power annoy me so much! Claiming to have girl power is one thing, but actually having it would have to include actually influencing and controlling something. 
In the next chapter: Brown takes on "Postmodern Exposures, Feminist Hesitations"


Venezuelan regional elections wrapup

"Chávez Supporters Win 17 out of 23 Venezuelan States, but Lose 3 Most Populous."

This is, generally speaking, an encouraging development for the newly-formed PSUV. Disappointing, though that opposition-candidate Antonio Ledezma defeated Aristóbulo Istúriz in a close race for the Mayorship of the Capital District of Caracas. The victory was somewhat of an upset, and the old-guard Ledezma took 52.45% to his opponent's 44.92%.

Incidentally, turnout was at record levels for a regional election, with 65.45% of potential voters participating. Compare this with our 2006 midterm elections in which 37.1% of potential voters turned out in what was a relatively decisive midterm election in changing tides for the Democrats.


The Threat of Deflation

Lee Sustar has a sharp article at that is a pretty helpful crash-course on the turbulence and what the threat of deflation entails. If you're anything like me, you might not have known too much about deflation before reading it, but it leaves you with a fairly clear overview.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jewels of the blogosphere?: The Anarchist Submissive

This weekend, at my suggestion, T and I watched Secretary. I'd been meaning to check out the film since its release a few years ago. After all, it's indie-actress Maggie Gyllenhaal's breakout role, and a rare critic-pleasing cinematic foray into BDSM (er, that's bondage, domination, and sado-masochism ... right?).

I was a little apprehensive about watching the film. Y'know. Because it features a submissive young woman with a self-mutilation problem who becomes meek secretary/sexual partner to her dominant, ass hole boss (James Spader).

The film raises giant, screaming red flags for feminists concerned about everything from workplace sexual harassment to pay equity, from violent pornography to domestic violence. Some of the scenes of eroticized verbal abuse could certainly be triggering for those who've lived in homes with a nonconsensual brand of abuse. Indeed, I suspect some of the more humorless (!) among us just won't enjoy the film. (Interestingly, Gyllenhaal said in an interview that she expected she would have to fight "old-school feminists" about the movie's content.)

Secretary was truly thought-provoking. It left me craving some feminist response to the film itself, and BDSM culture in general. So I googled "dominant-submissive feminism" and, of course, struck gold.

Meet Subversive Submissive
. Her tagline is "just another vegan, anarchist, feminism BDSM weblog." She seems like an intelligent, articulate voice, interested in creating alternative communities and creating understanding of what BDSM is. It's interesting, because her discussions of anarchism and BDSM (and how those identifications sometimes come into conflict) read a LOT like discussions of being both a socialist and a feminist, or a feminist and an anti-racist, or an anti-racist and an environmentalist. But the biggest head-spinner in the blog so far: "Currently, I’m stuck on the idea of my partner strapping a dildo to his boot and fucking me with it."

Just to be clear, I don't know what the hell to think about it all. But my interest is officially piqued, so I'll keep Pink Scare posted as I gingerly explore this world.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Your president wants you to join a union?

Obama on unionization and EFCA:

"It's time we had a president who didn't choke when he said the word union,"
Obama said at the CTW convention in Chicago on September 25, 2007. "It's not that hard. Union. Union. Nothing happens when you say it--other than give people some inspiration and some sense that maybe they've got a fighting chance...

"That's why I was one of the leaders fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That's why I'm fighting for it in the Senate, and that's why I will sign that bill when I become president of the United States of America."

"I've walked picket lines before," Obama added. "I've got some comfortable shoes at home. If it's hot outside, then I've got a hat. If it's cold outside, I've got a jacket. But if you are being denied your rights, I don't care whether I'm in the United States Senate, or in the White House, I will make sure I am marching with you on the picket lines, because that's what I believe in--making sure that workers have rights."

In response to a question about EFCA from a worker, Obama replied, "I won't just wait for the bill to reach my desk. I will work actively as part of my agenda to make sure that it reaches my desk...

"Everybody talks a lot about unions when they're trying to get the union endorsements. And then the general election comes, and then there's not much mention of unions. And then you win the presidency, and then you just stop talking about unions at all.

"And as a consequence, you've got a lot of people all across America who could use a union, but they're never hearing about it, they're never encouraged to join, they're never given a sense that being part of a union--that's as American as apple pie.

"That's the reason we've got the minimum wage. That's the reason we've got the 40-hour workweek. That's the reason we've got overtime. That's the reason workers are treated fairly and safely on the job. Our children have to hear that. Everybody's got to hear it.

"And that's what the president can do is use the bully pulpit: 'Join the union--there's nothing wrong with it.' That's number one, because that sets the context for the debate in Washington."

It will be interesting to see if he follows through on all of this. Working class voters swung to Obama in droves and labor enthusiastically backed him. If the Democrats cannot pass the EFCA in its current form (which is already somewhat compromised), then they will have betrayed all of the support they receieved from labor and workers this election.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Radical opposition to Gay Marriage and Prop 8

Sherry Wolf weighs in on radical critiques of corporate-backed, establishment gay-rights organizations, and the question of Prop 8.

Also -one quick response to those who would argue that pro-Gay Marriage movements are merely succumbing to the hetero-normative, traditionalist institution of marriage: wouldn't stripping the institution of its privileged heterosexual status (i.e. legalizing gay marriage) represent a huge step toward destabilizing that which these anti-marriage types purportedly want to see destabilized?


It's like a "staff reunion of Clinton's White House"

Jeremy Scahill has a good article at Alternet which details the cabinet choices of President-elect Barack Obama thus far. It walks you through member by member, and its not looking so pretty thus far. Its worth taking a look at, also, just to get a refresher on what went on in the Clinton administration.

But you can bet this won't bother liberals. Perhaps there will be a few critical responses out there. But be sure to count on them to self-censor the moment that the Democrats are up for reelection. Let me be frank about these developments: they piss me off.

As intimated to me by a liberal colleague, the trick is to lower one's expectations now that the election is over. I can't imagine a more honest account of what the left-liberal strategy seems to be with respect to the electoral mechanism: get all psyched-up about imagined progressive changes that Democrats will bring once in office, then passively watch by as this fails to materialize... and when the next election-cycle rolls around do it all over again. Because when everything else about the Democrats sucks, they like to say, they're still better than the Republicans.

Right. The assholes at the DLC couldn't have put it better. This is why they don't give a shit about the Left in this country, to the extent that it exists. They don't have to. They know they can do almost whatever they want, and that every last mainstream liberal will vote for them. Liberals will even do it happily, in fact, they will even fight tooth and nail against any electoral challenge to the Democrats from the Left in the name of keeping the GOP out of office. Now they are willingly lowering they're own expectations after the election-hysteria is over, as though to acknowledge that they knew all the hype about 'change' and 'hope' that they blathered about was crap all along. But any criticism of this fantasy is usually met with charges of 'cynicism', as though their own entrenched defeatism and hatred for critical thought were anything other than indications of cynicism of the purest sort.

That said, the cabinet choices are totally awful. To give one example that Scahill doesn't mention: while reading Robert Wade's most recent NLR piece on the financial turbulence, I noticed this bit about Robert Rubin's past:

Another key area to watch in terms of gauging the robustness of governmental responses is the market for Over the Counter (otc) derivative contracts—which Warren Buffet famously described in 2003 as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. Buffet went on to say that, while the Federal Reserve system was created in part to prevent financial contagion, ‘there is no central bank assigned to the job of preventing the dominoes toppling in insurance or derivatives’. In the event that more regulation of the otc market is implemented—even in the minimal form of requiring the use of a standard contract format and registration of the details of each contract with a regulatory body—Brooksley Born will have some satisfaction. She was head of the Chicago Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990s, and proposed in a discussion paper that the otc market should come under some form of regulation. Alan Greenspan, sec Chairman Arthur Levitt and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were so angry at her for even raising such an idea that they sought Clinton’s permission to have her fired; in January 1999 she duly resigned for ‘family reasons’.
What a lovely guy. Real indication of change in the making, hope over fear, etc. Progressive values incarnate.

How much before left-liberals say 'enough'? Is the only defense to be given merely a rant about how Republicans are worse?

Here's an inspiring comparative example of what a more representative situation might look like: in Germany the last polls I saw put Die Linke (the Left Party) as the third most popular party behind the conservative Christian Democrats and the 'centre-left' Social Democrats. The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) took 37%, the Social Democrats (SPD) 21%, the Left Party 14%, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) 11% and the Greens 10%. Due to the rightward drift of the SPD (which has ebbed somewhat lately compared to the neoliberal zeal of the party under Schroeder), they are hemorrhaging support from the left-wing of the party. The SPD, essentially the German equivalent of the Democratic Party (to the extent that there is an equivalent), cannot simply rest assured that supporters of The Left Party will cave in and vote SPD because the CDU is a worse alternative. The SPD cannot simply ban The Left from the ballot the way the Democrats have done to the Greens (although there are plenty of instances of slander and dirty tricks being launched at Die Linke as their support grows). The SPD is actually threatened with losing votes to the Left, something the Democrats never have to worry about. Of course, coalition building could force The Left Party into making compromises once in office, but at least there exists an electoral arm with which to force concessions out of the SPD and force them to consider voices to their Left. You cannot force an unwilling electoral representative to listen to you unless you are capable of proving to them that they could lose your vote. The Democrats face no such worries from Left-wing voters.

I know the conjuncture in Germany is vastly different. I know that most of Die Linke's strong support comes from former East Germany, and that Germany has a history of a strong labor movement as well as a tradition of Left radicalism for which there is no suitable US comparison. I know that the electoral procedures themselves in Germany are far more amenable to the existence of multiparty democracy. Perhaps it's escapist for me to even indulge in the comparison, given these crucial divergences.

Nonetheless, I dont want to accept that the Democratic Party is the best we can hope for in terms of electoral representation. I don't know what needs to be done, I'm agnostic at best and doubtful at worst that the 'social movement pressure strategy' could effectively push the Democrats Leftward. At the very least, acquiescing is not tantamount to parading around ecstatically about 'hope' and 'change'. If stopping Republicans is the bottom line fine. But I fail to see that this admission licenses the positive enthusiasm, apologetics and unwavering support that the Democrats garner from much of the liberal Left.

With the election over, there should be no holds on criticism. I can at least understand their apprehension during the election, but now that he's in office with sizable majorities in Congress... I simply cannot bring myself to tolerate any more groveling apologetics.


What the mailman delivered today:

Tuesday's conversation about identity and revolution pushed me over the edge on ordering this book. I've been hearing about it from academics I respect for awhile now, and I decided it was time to find out what the hubbub is about. So far I've read the back of the book and the first page of the preface.

Have you read it? Thoughts? Anything I should be looking for in particular?
Here's the back of the book blurb, if you haven't heard anything about it before:
How has injury become the basis for political identity in contemporary life? How have law and other state institutions come to be seen as redressing such injuries rather than as perpetrating them? These questions guide Wendy Brown's critical engagement with modern political theorists, feminist and cultural theorists, and the political effects of late twentieth-century capitalism. Transposing Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power as well as his account of ressentiment onto the contemporary political field, Brown shows how the regulatory demands of the state encourage the formation of political identities not only founded on injury but invested in maintaining an injured status. In the place of a nation of freedom characterized as collective and transformative, contemporary political formations offer versions of "resistance" prefigured and contained by the very power they purport to oppose. The result is a politics in which the desire for freedom devolves into moralizing, and ressentiment takes the place of freedom as a collective project.
Brown weaves this thesis through a series of essays that consider such topics as Catharine MacKinnon's antipornography politics, the recent resurgence of rights discourse on the Left, academic antipathy toward "postmodernism," and the gendered sexuality of classical liberalism, as well as the centrality of the state in feminist politics. Along the way, she suggests how freedom might be rethought and reclaimed for a progressive political vision appropriate to the conditions of late modernity. 
Now please excuse me while I get back to my reading...but not before googling the word "ressentiment."