Sunday, June 27, 2010

Authorized Media: "Banks Dodged Bullet"

Read the BusinessWeek article here. Here's an excerpt:

"A deal reached by members of a House and Senate conference early this morning diluted provisions from the tougher Senate bill, limiting rather than prohibiting the ability of federally insured banks to trade derivatives and invest in hedge funds or private equity funds.

Banks “dodged a bullet,” said Raj Date, executive director for Cambridge Winter Inc.’s center for financial institutions policy and a former Deutsche Bank AG executive. “This has to be a net positive.”

Before we know it, election season will be upon us and we will be aswim in calls to support Democrat incumbents. Presumably, the Dems won't try to sell their (basically conservative) politics as "change" this time around. They'll sell their ticket as a bulwark against Tea-bagger reactionaries.

But what happened during the two years of massive Democrat House majorities, a supermajority in the Senate, and an initially popular young president who was talking about fundamental change?

We saw the reactivation of the US's Latin American military strong arm in 2008, escalation in Afghanistan, complete continuity with the Bush years in terms of treasury policy, quick surrender on the already compromised "public option", failure to repeal anti-union laws that prevent organization of workplaces, increased drone attacks on Pakistan, severe cuts to public services, spending freezes for everything except the defense budget, refusal to enact progressive reform on the GLBT-rights front, a U-turn on off-shore drilling and an embrace by Obama of "drill baby drill", deference to a for-profit oil company that has devastated the Gulf of Mexico, etc. Now we have, basically, a failure to even secure adequate window-dressing to cover the fact that serious regulatory reform will not be passed.

It is more clear to me than ever that all progressive and left-minded people in the US need to organize independently of the Democratic machine, build existing social movements, and start new ones. We need to follow the example of the Black freedom movement of the 1950s and 60s- and, as Sherry Wolf has recently put it, "make them do the right thing". Of course, the ultimate aim must be to eliminate a social system in which there is a "them" who need to be made to do what's in the interest of the vast majority of people.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


"The top 225 individuals now possess wealth equal to the combined incomes of the bottom 47 percent of the world's population. (Roughly, the average wealth of each one of these individuals is equal to the combined incomes of ten million people earning the average income of the bottom half of humanity)... In the US, the upper 1 percent of the population owns more wealth than the bottom 95 percent". -from David Schweickart's After Capitalism.

Now, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. How did such inequalities come about?
  2. How is such a vastly unequal state of affairs reproduced and maintained?
  3. By what means are we (95% of the population of the US) made to tolerate such an arrangement?
  4. Why is the discussion of this matter absent from mainstream political discourse?
  5. What could we (collectively, as a society) do with the (socially produced) wealth held by the top 1% if it was put to uses other than the enrichment of a small elite?
  6. When so much human potential and talent is wasted by the destructive forces of poverty, oppression and exploitation, why should we allow such vast resources to be concentrated among a tiny clique of people for whom there is no such thing as enough wealth?
This is what animates the socialist thought that "another world is possible".


NLR Exchange on Zionism

In the most recent edition of New Left Review there was an exchange on the issue of zionism between Gabriel Piterberg and Zeev Sternhell. I must say that seeing Sternhell's piece, entitled "In Defenese of Israel", listed on the cover of the journal gave me a bit of a jolt (given that the journal has always been an excellent source of critical material on Israel and zionism). But I think the practice of inviting a non-critical scholar on some issue (e.g. Russian economic development (see Popov vs. Wood in an older edition), etc.) to exchange with an author of a more critical persuasion is a good one. It is smart for two reasons: first, it draws in more mainstream readership to Left-wing arguments and ideas, and secondly it makes a good case for critical ideas by juxtaposing them against (often less plausible) mainstream ones.

I found Sternhell's perspective interesting, given how little one hears from the Social Democratic or Labourite wing of zionism these days. Unlike most apologists for the regime, Sternhell is staunchly critical of the post-1967 occupation and the settlement projects in the Occupied Territories. (In 2008 an Israeli settler placed a bomb on his doorstep, which injured him considerably). Nonetheless, I didn't find his arguments compelling. At the end of the day, the main oversight of the Sternhell line is what Pitterberg makes so clear: zionism must be understood in terms of settler colonialism.

In his response to Sternhell, Pitterberg emphasizes a point he makes clear in his book, namely that there were alternative Jewish nationalisms in the late 19th and early 20th century that are often overlooked or forgotten today in the wake of a dominant Zionism. Importantly, many of these alternative forms of Jewish nationalism eschewed the religiously-charged Zionist project:

These modern Jewish nationalisms were truly secular, for they rejected the Old Testament as a religious text, in stark contrast to Zionism, whose secularity is limited to the rejection of rabbinical Judaism. As Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin has put it, the logic of Zionist Israeli secularity is, ‘There is no God, but He promised us the Land.’

Inherent in these modern expressions of Jewish nationalism was the resolution to change the societies within which the Jews existed and to challenge the exclusiveness of the European nation-state. Equally central was the willingness to work with Jews as they actually were, even if this was accompanied by a modernizing confidence in collective and individual improvement. Zionism, by contrast, shared the hegemonic view of both anti-Semites and progressives like George Eliot that national societies were organic and homogeneous, and therefore the Jews—an extrinsic element in the national body within this logic—should emigrate, and replicate the same exclusive type of national society in a piece of land deemed ‘empty’ in the East; this is what Daniel Deronda and Mirah Lapidoth were presumably planning at the end of Eliot’s novel. Zionism, moreover, accepted that there was something irremediably wrong with Jews as they actually were—so long as they remained ‘in exile’. They needed to be territorialized in order to be normalized.
The most important point of contention between Sternhell and Pitterberg is the "C word", but it is here that Pitterberg's argument is on much firmer ground. Pitterberg, and he is hardly alone in thinking this, holds that we must understand Zionism within a comparative framework in the context of settler-colonialism. As he puts it:
The achievements of the comparative study of settler colonialisms have been at once scholarly and political. Several of these colonies gave birth to powerful nation-states which have asserted their own hegemonic narratives, nationally and internationally. The comparative field not only questions these narratives, through countervailing evidence and interpretation; it also offers an alternative account of the social formations themselves. In the process, three fundamental features common to these hegemonic settler myths are undermined. The first of these is the putative uniqueness of each settler nation; the second, their privileging of the settlers’ intentions, as sovereign subjects, at the expense of the natives’ consciousness. Third, the supposed inconsequence of the natives to the form each settler society takes; in other words, the conflict with the natives is not denied, but the fundamental role that this conflict has played in shaping the identity of the settler nation is written out. It is within the typology of settler colonialisms that I place the Zionist colonization of Palestine and the state of Israel—a move which surely should have put to rest the tedious contention that Zionism could not be termed a colonial venture because it lacked the features of metropole colonialism; as if anyone were suggesting otherwise. What its apologists fail to confront is the settler-colonial paradigm.
This seems to me to be exactly right. And it's clear why apologists for the regime are so keen to avoid the "C word". Their primary mode of argumentation is to simply avoid discussions of this kind entirely (i.e. discussions which critically examine the very foundations of the Zionist project) and focus attention on narratives about self-defense and so on. But any sober examination of the project reveals that it rests on thin air.


Forrest Hylton on the Colombian Elections

Watch it here. (embed?) For excellent background on the political situation in Colombia, see Hylton's excellent piece in NLR from a couple of years back that focused on Medellín.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

"Seize BP", however, is OK with me

Read about the campaign here.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why "Boycott BP" is not a progressive slogan

Read about it here.

Many will recall the Enron scandal and the way that business media covered that event: "a couple of bad apples", a "rare event", a "lapse" in an otherwise streamlined economic system, etc, etc. Virtually nothing that was said about Enron in the consensus media indicated that it is perfectly rational to do what the Enron crooks did on the road to profit maximization. Nor did we read any mention of that fact that it is exactly this sort of instrumentalizing, rent-seeking behavior that our economic system encourages and cultivates.

The same is true, of course, of the massive environmental catastrophe in the Gulf.

This is not an anomaly. This is not a "rare event". This is not the fault of some particularly evil individuals working for just one firm. This is the truth of off shore drilling itself. This is the truth of for-profit resource exploitation.

It's easy to try to cover these truths in particularities about the present case by pointing fingers at BP, etc. But the problem is much deeper and systemic. Moreover- the problem also tracks the proliferation of built environments that force people to burn fossil fuels in order to leave their home.

To be clear: I'm not defending BP in the least. I think all of their assets should be seized and that the stock holders should be saddled with debt until this crisis is completely take care of. But let us not forget that the problem is with a system that ruthlessly exploits the natural environment and people for profit- not with a handful of "bad apples".

And let us not forget either that our wonderful "progressive" president still "strongly supports off-shore drilling". The only surprising thing about this is that some people on the left are surprised about Obama's position on this issue. There was an excellent Harper's piece on Obama a year before he ran for President detailing his close relationships with the Corn and Oil lobbies in IL. Is there any doubt that he played liberals for fools in the 2008 elections?


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Doug Henwood on Obama

The following is from his excellent letter to the editor in the Financial Times:

Financial Times – April 16, 2010

Republicans are in the White House

From Mr Doug Henwood.

Sir, Clive Crook’s call (April 12) for a revival of an old-style GOP opposition is a little strange, since Barack Obama himself is a liberal Republican. Or maybe not so liberal a Republican.

Consider the healthcare bill. The individual mandate has its origins in the Nixon administration’s response to Teddy Kennedy’s single-payer bill in the early 1970s. The insurance marketplace has its roots in the American Enterprise Institute’s response to Bill Clinton’s healthcare scheme. Speaking of Mr Clinton, wasn’t it he who said “we’re all Eisenhower Republicans here”? And he wasn’t too happy about it.

The not-so-liberal Republican part is most visible in education policy. President Obama has continued George W. Bush’s “No child left behind” emphasis on testing and charter schools, and has even taken up attacking teachers’ unions.

Arne Duncan, his education secretary, has declared in terms indistinguishable from Milton Friedman’s that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to the New Orleans school system because it furthered that quasi-privatisation agenda.

Who needs “moderate” Republicans in opposition when they’re already in power?

Doug Henwood,
Left Business Observer,
Brooklyn, NY, US


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Tariq Ali on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

Video here.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010 on Israel and the Gaza Freedom Floatilla

Read it here. It provides some important details of the attack and (as always at brings the political analysis.