Thursday, September 16, 2004

Labor Law, American History, War, War, War

Howard Zinn was on target today in the article that appeared as the top headline on He said, about Kerry's campaign, and I agree:

"He [Kerry] should not be saying that he will wage the Iraq War better, that he will replace U.S. troops with soldiers from other countries. If it is immoral for our soldiers to be occupying Iraq and killing Iraqis every day, then it is immoral for foreign soldiers to do the same.... To those who say that we must not ''cut and run,'' Kerry can say, with some authority: We did cut and run in Vietnam, and it was the right thing to do."

Going on to argue that Kerry should focus on economic security, because this is what American people continue to identify as the most important issue to them, Zinn insists that this is not a Utopian or impossible platform for a winning campaign. (thanks to my fave librarian for the correction here) Even if he doesn't mean that Kerry can win on a straight-up Kucinich style platform, which is how I originally read this article, I don't share Zinn's confidence. Zinn mentions William Lloyd Garrison - a great example of a hugely successful visionary, but he didn't influence the world through election to the presidency or the holding of any elected office. He remained steadfastly outside politics.
However, Zinn's main point I do agree with. It's a cry for a political vision not dominated simply by what marketing hacks determine is "electable." Even if it's impossible, so-called impossible things do happen, as Zinn pointed out in another optimistic article in the Nation last week. I just seriously doubt that a presidential campaign is the place for these issues to get heard.

Kerry will probably fail to change his argument for tough, tough, tough USA, and for that reason, those people who are reluctantly (and not reluctantly) voting for him on the "Anybody but Bush" platform should heed Zinn's words. Don't forget US history! Don't forget the Vietnam war -- and especially, don't forget the war on Iraq and the every day deaths, maimings, kidnappings. Keep shouting about what really matters. Please don't get lost in the CBS memo spin cycle. (that doesn't mean I'm not going to read Kitty Kelley. I don't know if it's perverse pleasure, but I'm beginning to think that the Bush/Rove duo is akin in historical importance to Hitler/Goebbels.)

How does this relate to U.S. labor law? In my work on my book revisions, I've been reading a book that argues that the reason that the American labor activists never created successful legislation, and eventually gave up on even seeking to pass labor-friendly laws was that the Supreme Court overturned everything that labor passed in the 1890s. The author of the book finds this terrible but I see it as a confirmation of Marx's early arguments that the state under capitalism is a tool for managing class conflict, not a true vehicle for social transformation. From this, Big Bill Haywood was convinced that dwelling on the passage of laws was a waste of time and that it would be more fruitful to fight w/direct (economic) action, along the lines of the general strike. hear hear. Now will pro-choice and other activists take up the challenge, instead of desperately voting for anyone who promises to preserve Roe V. Wade? What a passive position! It's not our role to "shut up and support Kerry" but we can't count on Kerry to say what we believe -- we must argue with him and keep making the arguments ourselves.
Am I see-sawing back and forth here? My anarchist roots and my Bush hatred are in deep conflict.

Finally, Good ol' New Yorker, they posted an old article by good ol' Ronnie Dugger on voting machines from 1988!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Every day is a day for Durito!

Ten years ago, when the Zapatista army of National Liberation (EZLN)first opposed U.S. neoliberalism, NAFTA, etc. they created a way to resist and understand globalization and its long lasting efffects. My mind turns to this in the aftermath of my lecture on the Plains Indian Wars of the 1860s-1880s, which always affect my students with appropriate horror. I never know how to end the lecture myself, but at the end of today, all I could think of was to say, "well that's you know, genocide," or something like that.
The excitement that I get out of an effective performance, a successful lecture on something so horrible really freaks me out, but at the end of it, I'm just at a loss, especially when I see the students depressed and disgusted faces. The story for example, of the Great Sioux Uprising of 1862, or of the robbery of the Black Hills. When you hear it for the first time, it's so shocking, and their shock wakes me out of my numbness. Now,it is time to recall another time, recalling another time:
(from Subcommandante Marcos..........March 11, 1995 -- while hiding in the jungle.)


(Neoliberalism seen from the Lacandon Jungle.)
It was the tenth day, with less pressure now. I went away a little to put up my tarp and move in. I was going along, looking up, searching for a good pair of trees that didn't have a dead hanging branch. So I was surprised when I heard, at my feet, a voice that shouted, "Hey, watch out!" I didn't see anything at first, but I stopped and waited. Almost immediately a little leaf began to move and, from under it, a beetle came out who began to demand: - Why don't you watch where you put your big boots? You were about to crush me! - he yelled.

This demand seemed familiar to me.

- Durito? [little hard guy] - I ventured.

- Nabucodonosor [Nebuchadnezzar] to you! Don't be a leveler! - answered the little beetle indignantly.

Now I had no room for doubt.

- Durito! Don't you remember me? Durito, I mean, Nabucodonosor, just kept looking thoughtfully at me. He took our a little pipe from within his wings, filled it with tobacco, lit it, and after a big puff which brought on a cough that wasn't at all healthy, he said: Mmmmh, mmmh.

And then he repeated: - Mmmmh, mmmh.

I knew that this was going to take a while, so I sat down. After several "mmmh, mmh," Nabucodonosor, or Durito, exclaimed: Captain? The same! - I said, satisfied to see myself recognized.

Durito (I believe that after recognizing him, I could call him that again) began a series of movements of his feet and wings that, in the body language of the beetles, is a kind of dance of joy and to me has always seemed like an attack of epilepsy. After repeating several times, with different emphases, "Captain!," Durito finally stopped and fired the question I so feared: - Got any tobacco? - Well, I...- I drew out the answer to give myself time to calculate my reserves.

At that, Camilo arrived and asked me: - Did you call me, Sup? - No, it's nothing... I was singing and.. and don't worry, you can go - I responded nervously.

- Oh, good - said Camilo, and retired.

- Sup? - asked Durito, surprised.

- Yes, - I told him. - Now I'm a subcommander.

- And is that better or worse than Captain? - Durito asked insistently.

- Worse - I told him and myself.

I changed the subject quickly and held the bag of tobacco out to him saying: - Here, I have a little.

To receive the tobacco, Durito performed his dance again, now repeating "thank you!" over and over.

The tobacco euphoria over, we started the complicated ceremony of lighting our pipes. I leaned back on my pack and just looked at Durito.

- You look the same as ever - I told him.

- You, on the other hand, look pretty beat up - he responded.

- It's life - I said, playing it down.

Durito started with his "mmmh, mmh." After a while he said to me: - And what brings you here after so many years? - Well, I was thinking, since I had nothing better to do, I said to myself, why not take a turn around the old places and get a chance to see old friends - I responded.

- Old mountains still get green! - Durito protested indignantly.

After that followed a long while of "mmmh, mmmh" and of his inquisitive looks.

I couldn't take it any longer and confessed to him: - The truth is that we are withdrawing because the government launched an offensive against us...

- You ran! - said Durito.

I tried to explain to him what a strategic withdrawal is, a tactical retreat, and whatever occurred to me in that moment.

- You ran - said Durito, this time with a sigh.

- Well, yes, I ran - and what about it? - I said, annoyed, more with myself than with him.

Durito didn't press. He stayed quiet a good while. Only the smoke of the two pipes formed a bridge. Minutes later he said: - It seems like there's something more that's bothering you, not just the "strategic retreat."

- "Withdrawal," "strategic withdrawal" - I corrected him. Durito waited for me to go on: - The truth is that it bothers me that we weren't prepared. And it was my fault we weren't prepared. I believed the government did want dialogue and so had given the order that the consultations for the delegates should begin. When they attacked us we were discussing the conditions of the dialogue. They surprised us. They surprised me... - I said with shame and anger.

Durito went on smoking, waited for me to finish telling him everything that had happened in the last ten days. When I finished, Durito said: - Wait for me.

And he went under a little leaf. After a while he came out pushing his little desk. After that he went for a chair, sat down, took out some papers, and began to look through them with a worried air.

- Mmmh, mmh - he said with every few pages that he read. After a time he exclaimed: - Here it is!

- Here's what? - I asked, intrigued.

- Don't interrupt me! - Durito said seriously and solemnly. And added: - pay attention. Your problem is the same one many have. You refer to the economic and social doctrine known as "neoliberalism"...

"Just what I needed... now classes in political economy," I thought.

It seems like Durito heard what I was thinking because he chided me: - Ssshh! This isn't just any class! It is the Chair [as in university] par excellence.

That about the "Chair par excellence" seemed exaggerated to me, but I got ready to listen to it. Durito continued after some "mmmh, mmmh"s.

- It is a metatheoretical problem! Yes, you start from the idea that "neoliberalism" is a doctrine. And by "you," I am referring to those who insist on frameworks that are rigid and square like your head. You think that "neoliberalism" is a capitalist doctrine to confront the economic crises that capitalism itself attributes to "populism." Right? Durito didn't let me answer.

- Of course right! Well, it turns out that "neoliberalism" is not a theory to confront or explain the crisis. It is the crisis itself made theory and economic doctrine! That is, "neoliberalism" hasn't the least coherence; it has no plans nor historic perspective. In the end, pure theoretical shit.

- How strange... I've never heard or read that interpretation - I said with surprise.

- Of course! How, if it just occured to me in this moment! - says Durito with pride.

- And what has that got to do with our running away, excuse me, with our withdrawal? - I asked, doubting such a novel theory.

- Ah! Ah! Elementary, my dear Watson Sup! There are no plans, there are no perspectives, only i-m-p-r-o-v-i-s-a-t-i-o-n. The government has no consistency: one day we're rich, another day we're poor, one day they want peace, another day they want war, one day fasting, another day stuffed, and so on. Am I clear? - Durito inquires.

- Almost... - I hesitate, and scratch my head.

- And so? - I ask, seeing that Durito isn't continuing with his dissertation.

- It's going to explode. Boom! Like a balloon blown up too far. It has no future. We're going to win - says Durito as he puts his papers away.

- We? - I ask maliciously.

- Of course, "we"! It's clear that you won't be able to without my help. No, don't try to raise objections. You need a superadvisor. I'm already learning French, for continuity's sake.

I stayed quiet. I don't know what is worse: discovering that we're governed by improvisation, or imagining Durito as a supersecretary in the cabinet of an improbable transition government.

Durito attacks: - I surprised you, eh? Well, don't feel bad. As long as you don't crush me with your big boots I will always be able to clarify for you the road to follow in the course of history, which despite its ups and downs, will raise this country up, because united... because united... Now that I think of it, I haven't written to my old lady - Durito lets out the big laugh.

- I thought you were serious! - I pretend to be annoyed and throw a little branch at him. Durito dodges it and keeps laughing.

Now calmed down, I ask him: - And where did you get those conclusions that neoliberalism is the crisis made economic doctrine? - Ah! From this book that explains the 1988-1994 economic project of Carlos Salinas de Gortari - he answers and shows me a little book with the logo of Solidarity.

- But Salinas isn't president anymore.. it seems - I say with a doubt that shakes me.

- I know that, but look who drew up the plan - says Durito and points out a name. I read: - "Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon" - I say, surprised, and add: - So there isn't any break? - What there is is a cave of thieves - says Durito, implacable.

- And so? - I ask with real interest.

- Nothing, just that the Mexican political system is like that dead tree branch hanging over your head - says Durito and I jump and look up and see that, sure enough, there is a dead branch that is hanging threateningly over my hammock. I change places while Durito keeps talking: - The Mexican political system is just barely attached to reality with pieces of very fragile branches. It will only take one good wind for it to come down. Of course, when it falls, it's going to take other branches with it, and watch out, anyone who's under its shade when it collapses! - And if there isn't a wind? - I ask while I check whether the hammock is well tied.

- There will be... there will be - says Durito and looks thoughtful, as if he were looking at the future.

We were both left thoughtful. We lit our pipes again. The day began to get underway. Durito kept looking at my boots. Fearful, he asked: - and how many are with you? - Two more, so don't worry about being stomped - I said to calm him. Durito practices doubt methodically as a discipline, so he continued with his "mmmh, mmmh," until he let out: - But those coming after you, how many are they? - Ah! Those? Like some sixty...

Durito didn't let me finish: - Sixty! Sixty pairs of big boots on top of my head! 120 Sedena [Defense Dept.] boots trying to crush me! - he yelled hysterically.

- Wait, you didn't let me finish. They aren't sixty - I said.

Durito interrupted again: - Ah! I knew so much disaster wasn't possible. How many are they, then? Laconically, I answered: - Sixty thousand.

- Sixty thousand! - Durito managed to say before choking on the smoke of his pipe.

- Sixty thousand! - he repeated several times, crossing his little hands and feet together with anguish.

- Sixty thousand! - he said to himself desperately.

I tried to console him. I told him that they weren't all coming together, that it was an offensive in stages, that they were coming in from different directions, that they hadn't found us, that we had rubbed out our tracks so that they wouldn't follow us, in short, I told him everything that occurred to me.

After a while, Durito calmed down and started with his "mmmh, mmmh." He took out some little papers that, as I started to realize, looked like maps, and began questioning me about the location of enemy troops. I answered the best I could. With each answer Durito made marks and notes on his little maps. He went on a good while, after the questioning, saying "mmmh, mmmh." After some minutes, and after complicated calculations (I say this as he used all his little hands and feet to do the figuring) he sighed: - What's said: they're using "the anvil and hammer," the "sliding lasso," the "rabbit hunt," and the vertical maneuver. Elementary, it comes from the Rangers manual of the School of the Americas, - he says to himself and to me. And adds: - But we have one chance to come out well from this.

- Ah, yes? And how? - I ask with skepticism.

- With a miracle - says Durito as he puts his papers away and lies back down.

The silence settled down between us and we let the afternoon arrive between the branches and vines. Later, when night finished falling from the trees, and flying, covered the sky, Durito asked me: - Captain... Captain... Psst! Are you asleep? - No. - ...

What is it? - I answered.

Durito asks with pity, as if afraid to hurt me.

- And what do you intend to do? I keep smoking, I look at the silver curls of the moon hung from the branches. I let out a spiral of smoke and I answer him and answer myself: - Win.


On the little radio someone, to a blues rhythm, tears out the one that goes: "All its gonna right with a little help of my friends..." [sic]


So much rain and not a drop to sate the yearning...

Go on again.
Health, and be careful with that dry branch that hangs over your heads and that pretends, ingenuously, to shelter you with its shade.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

lefty movies and other stuff

The other night, I saw a film called "Hijacking Catastrophe." Here's a link to amazon's info on the book that the film
was based on.

The movie was good, It was inspiring despite the excessive "talking head" visuals and lack of new really concrete information or fascinating footage. What really worked well was the analysis, the framing, the very eloquent comments from the people who talked: Chomsky, Norman Mailer, Norman Solomon, Vandana Shiva, etc.
The central themes: the history of PNAC, the rise of this particular wing of the Republican party of neocon uber-imperialists, the sadism of the media coverage and the actual program for the "shock and awe" methods of bombing, the marketing of Bush as the masculine leader non-pareil. It really makes you feel that these people are fascists who will stop at nothing. Honest to God, the film put me into a near panic.
It would work well in a classroom setting, as it is only 1 hour and 22 minutes long. Sut Jhally, who directed and produced it, is a very well-known media critic, who wrote major television criticism books that I recall well from grad school: "the ideological octopus," and "Enlightened Racism," an audience analysis of the Cosby show in Apartheid South Africa.
Since then: lots has gone on for me. I went to see an exhibition related to a book about Puerto Rican in-line skaters in Williamsburg, in the midst of the now-deeply gentrified Bedford ave., Today,I got a copy of a somewhat new book on the Triangle Fire, which I'm teaching in a coupla weeks. I went to my friend's fortieth birthday, a milestone celebrated by a group of truly cool people, most of whom work in the health and education professions. Many of them are seriously worried or even depressed, believing fully that Bush will win the election. I know that I too should seriously be considering that this is possible, but I have trouble believing that it will really happen. More likely to me is that somehow they will steal the election or even suspend it, after having cooked up some fear of terrorism to the 'nth degree. Why do I still believe that the American people are too smart to elect this asshole, or to buy the bullshit that is shoveled their way day in and day out? There's so much evidence to the contrary.
This brings me to the last thing I wanted to mention. The bizarre turn of Benny Morris. It's about people's need to believe in their own rightness and nothting else. Morris has collected more information on Israeli war crimes, and is noted for this by almost every serious scholar of Palestine/Israel in his book, "The Origin of the Palestinian Refugee Problem":

Instead of denying that this happened, however, Morris now argues that it was necessary. Early this year, he came out explicitly in support of "transfer," "ethnic cleansing," or, to put it bluntly, "genocide" when he was interviewed in Ha'aretz and The Guardian. There are two good commentaries on him on "the electronic intifada" web page.

This is depressing, but I find it easier to believe that people are actually working their way around information than I find it easy to believe that they are simply ignorant. To suggest that people are ignorant, seems to me almost patronizing. They are probably not ignorant, nor are they evil. They just don't want to believe the truth that suggests that they must act. If they are ignorant, they are willfully so, like the Poles who lived next to the trains that ran to Auschwitz. How can they not know that when the bombs drop on populated areas that they are killing people?

Friday, September 10, 2004

Letting William Rivers Pitt speak for me today

Hi peoples,
Last night, I was having dinner w/my favorite librarian, and I asked "how is it that people can still believe that Osama Bin Laden was somehow connected to Sadam Hussein?" and he said, "because we don't have a media." Too true. I forget the source of misinformation all too often.
William Rivers Pitt had a great commentary on this issue today. Check it out here:

If you didn't look at it yet, Jesse Jackson also had good comments on why it is that Kerry's campaign has failed to respond to the bullshit attacks on them. You can find it in Doug Ireland's column on "" or follow this link:

And now, I'm taking off to do the only thing that will stave off total media obsession: going to the gym where I will simultaneously sweat and listen to either Al Franken's radio show, which makes me feel perversely "in-tune and secure" because I can imagine that despite my workout time, I am not missing a minute of important "breaking news" should it happen,....or where I will blissfully ignore everything and instead listen to a medley of Metallica, Moby and other loud fast stuff while pumping my little legs as fast as they can go.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Will Scandals Never Cease? and other things

I'm simultaneously exhausted and exhilirated by the waves of scandals revealing the total mendacity and corruption of our boy president. Despite "Texans for Truth" and other revelations, it seems increasingly that the truth doesn't matter to many Americans. That's not what I wanted to write about though.
The other day, I was googling Chip Berlet, the researcher who did so much for the Anti-Racist Action network back in the 90s and found this article on the principled ways of dealing with sectarian leftists, etc. in mass organizations.

He writes particularly about the bad practice of block voting by cadre organizations. When I left L&R during the split in 1998, I remember thinking (and telling people) that I thought that it had been very difficult to be a participant in good faith in mass organizations while also beholden to the idea that one must find the correct revolutionary position and argue it vociferously, always putting L&R first. I voted strongly against making L&R a cadre organization back then, as people debated our future, and I lost. So, I left the organization, which I thought was becoming increasingly irrelevant to other movements and incapable of doing the least bit of productive work, much less bringing on the revolution. This article on sectarians and mass orgs was useful and a little less personally charged.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Fall Feels Good

I've finally recovered from the Republican National Convention, and I'm ready to write about something new. Oh really?
Today's topic: The Democratic Party is not the sum of all opposition to right wing politics. Over the past few years, I've been flummoxed by right-wing students whose response to criticism of right-wing policies is to point out the flaws of the Clinton administration or the Democrats. More than once, I've seen a student criticize the war in Iraq, only to have a right-wing student criticize that student for having (presumably) supported the Kosovo invasion. (AS IF!, I would silently think, and hope that student under the verbal gun would respond with something similar).
The right-wing student's assumption is that all people who opposed the war in Iraq must have that view for simple partisan reasons, as if their political beliefs were determined only by a party line. Therefore, they must have also supported the ("left wing") Kosovo invasion.
We all know that most leftists didn't support Kosovo, and at that time, most of us weren't confused about that, since we didn't support Bill Clinton. During that bombing campaign, I recall protesting Madeline Allbright, who spoke at Minnesota's commencement in 1999. I also "did" Bill Clinton in the Minneapolis May Day parade with my Critical Resistance buddies, who were dressed as the "smart bombs" that were hitting hospitals, schools and other targets in Kosovo. (My job was to hit on women in the parade audience and apologize for bad bomb strikes repeatedly. More than ever, with Bill Clinton recovering in the hospital, I think "Our President, Gargantua.")
I used to blame just the ignorant right-wingers for the "if you're not with us, you must be a Democrat" type reasoning, but after days and days of listening to Air America, it's easy to see how the Dems' appropriation of the left works.
Today's anti-Bush talking-points have created a situation of straight-up appropriation, and it's insidious, as "anybody but Bush" frenzy gets to the point that Michael Moore, whose Bowling For Columbine exposed the horrors of Kosovo and other American "wars of choice" starts to argue that people on the Left don't like Bush because he didn't spend enough time and effort bombing Afghanistan in Farenheit 9/11, or as you will hear almost the entire Air America staff harping on every show about how Bush's focus on Iraq is losing the "war on terror."
We've got to, especially now, keep arguing for a real left agenda so that we can put real pressure on whoever is elected in November.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Feels like '68? Schwarzenegger praises Nixon, calls Humphrey a "socialist"

What were the headlines on Schwarzenegger's speech last night, let's see...
CNN says "Schwarzenegger's Star Power Dazzles Delegates" The New York Times "Upbeat Republicans Revive Theme of Compassion" and the Washington Post "Bush's Leadership Against Terror Hailed"
My headline: "Schwarzenegger on Nixon in '68 'A Breath of Fresh Air"
That's the news story, people, the one thing of substance that the man said. He said, Hubert
Humphrey was a socialist and Nixon supported "free enterprise" and that's when he became a Republican, 1968. He went on to try to convince immigrants from Guatemala that they should be Republicans if they believe that their families can manage their money better than the Republicans can. If he's talking about the California state government, he may be right, since they're the ones that handed the cash and the rights over to Arnold's buddies at Enron.
Meanwhile, an activist from the Ruckus Society says "we seek a safer world."

Protest Today

Hey Folks,
Today's one of the most important days to be out in the street. Even relatively mainstream
news sources are reporting 1000 arrests yesterday - most of these because people were protesting without permits near the convention areas.

10:00 am If you have time, show up at Pier 57 (West Side Highway and 15th street) at 10:00 am to protest the "appalling conditions" that convention arrestees face in the temporary cages set up for them there.

at 4pm the Central Labor Council's march begins at 8th ave. and 30th street (enter at 23rd). Especially if you're a union member, today is a big day.

7pm 52nd street and 6th avenue: March on the Corporate Media. Begins at CBS, ends at Fox HQ.

UFPJ has a silent candlelight vigil tonight.