Category Archives: Politics

Guest Post by Daniel Falcone: John Halle Discusses Electoral Politics, Noam Chomsky, and the Core Commitments of the Enlightenment

John Halle is the Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College Conservatory of Music, a position he assumed after serving for ten years in the music department at Yale University. As an active composer and theorist, his scholarship focuses on connections between the mental representation of language and music. Halle is also known for his political writings and collaboration with Noam Chomsky. Along with Chomsky, he co-authored, An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting), a widely read essay, in the summer of 2016.

In this interview, Halle explains the need to engage in electoral politics while maintaining a high level of skepticism for the paternalistic elites found in both dominant political parties. Further, Halle makes observations of how those on the left can more adequately reevaluate their relationship with activism, protest and revolution. Halle explains how this all can fit into creating a viable and workable policy agenda that can be moved forward until radical structural reform of the current system is achieved. Many of these ideas culminate from his discussions with Chomsky (a family friend).

Daniel Falcone: Should people be more engaged in electoral politics now with the Trump Administration in office? Many have been reluctant to do so in the past. Here, I’m basically expressing the need to strategically vote against Republicans. What are your thoughts?

John Halle: Yes, the prospect of a Trump Administration should have created the recognition of the necessity for people to engage in electoral politics even if they may have been reluctant to do so in the past. Consider the catastrophe we are dealing with now: 1) a resurgent, nativist, proto-fascist far right, 2) the EPA and departments of Interior and Energy under control of climate change denialists, 3) the chipping away of an already harshly austere safety net, 4) a budget which will still further tilt the balance of taxation in favor of the super-rich while imposing increased burdens on the poor, 5) the elimination of the CFPB increasing the likelihood of a financial crisis, 6) the crazed foreign policy saber rattling, possibly resulting in a nuclear confrontation and 7) a left reduced to complete political irrelevance, having virtually no influence on governance at any administrative level. All of this was predictable and predicted prior to the election.  Unfortunately, many of those who were in a position to head it off chose not to listen.

Of course, part of the reason why the lesser evil vote was required was due to particularly unsatisfactory choices during this election cycle. But obtaining candidates worth voting for and not merely against requires going beyond protest to designing and implementing strategies and tactics to achieve that end.  Significant elements of the left took for granted some variant of John Holloway’s formulation to “change the world without taking power.” Insofar as the Clinton/Trump forced choice was a consequence of above it all, anti-electoralist passivity, attitudes which the academic left is particularly susceptible to, my hope would be that this atmosphere has changed. I’m not convinced however, certain promising tendencies aside, that it has.

Daniel Falcone: Can you give me your take on the recent “controversy” whereby Noam Chomsky criticized antifa and then faced some pretty irrational critiques in the aftermath? What was exactly taking place here?

John Halle: Chomsky’s criticism of antifa is no more than a reassertion of core commitments which go back decades, in his case, to traditional enlightenment views on basic civil and human rights, non-violence, and free speech.  I agree with the characterization of the responses to him as “irrational” though even when superficially rational, they often demonstrate a profound unfamiliarity with the position they claim to be criticizing, or explicitly repudiating through their form of “activism.”

Why this is the case is a complex question.  I’d point to a couple of factors in attempting to answer it: first the support of civil liberties and pragmatic commitment to non-violence, while more influential then was not necessarily dominant during the sixties.  In particular, as Chomsky has noted, the Weather Underground and their many sympathizers adopted assumptions and rhetoric close, if not identical to, that of antifa. Chomsky argued against them back then and was denounced as a “liberal” and “sellout” for doing so.  Given that many of Weather’s leaders, e.g. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, remain in circulation, and are lionized as wise movement elders on programs like Democracy Now!, it stands to reason that their rejection of civil rights and non-violence have credibility among the left.  That they played a major role in destroying the anti-war movement is apparent to most movement veterans.  But this understanding has apparently not made it across the generational divide.

A second factor applies to antifa activists who either acted on or argued for the “Bernie or Bust” and “Never Hillary” position.  As referenced in the first question, this was based on what can only be called delusions, e.g. that Trump was the “Peace Candidate,” compared to the “warmonger” Clinton, and that he would “take on Wall Street;” or that, at worst, his policies would be “little different.” So it’s understandable that they want to obscure their own complicity through high dudgeon rhetoric and theatrical displays of cartoon violence (e.g. “Nazi punching”).

Of course, as Chomsky has argued, this reaction is likely to foment rather than inhibit the growth of the far right.  But it is not clear to me or to Chomsky that they have much concern with the consequences of their actions.  For them it seems rather that activism functions mainly as a form of personal self-expression for which the likely outcome is secondary, as it was for the Weather Underground. Some, most notably Mark Rudd, are now willing to admit this about Weather.

Daniel Falcone: It seems in many instances that since the two dominant parties have been close to identical in several ways for so long that activists are still holding onto this concept even when it appears that the current GOP doesn’t represent a political party. Can you comment on this?

John Halle: Even when the differences appear slight, as has sometimes been the case, small differences can often have a major impact on the quality of life of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population. On these grounds it’s hard to see the justification for not achieving the “least-worst outcome.”   That said, since the Bush II administration, the Republican Party has become “the most dangerous organization in human history.”  As such, the logic for preventing them from assuming power has been overwhelming, so it hardly seems necessary to make the lesser evil argument, though no doubt it will still be required.

It should be mentioned that the above assumes a particular view of electoral politics, namely as an act in which one engages, or not, with more or less predictable consequences. The position which Chomsky and I took was that on these grounds, it and we, should be judged on what these consequences are on others.

As mentioned above, much of the left takes a contrary view, regarding elections as a form of bearing moral witness. According to this logic, advocated by Chris Hedges and David Swanson among others, the lesser of two evils is still evil.  Making a choice between them thereby constitutes “complicity with evil.”

We believe this view is mistaken for reasons suggested in the piece and likely had disastrous consequences.

Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on the concepts of lesser than evil voting and strategic voting. I would personally like to engage in electoral politics and always keep activist type work primary. At the same time I realize it need not be a zero sum game. Do you consider the left having difficulty with the zero sum game?

John Halle: My experience as a local official was that electoral politics served as a positive sum game in several respects. One is that holding office carries with it the ability to communicate with constituents.  Doing so establishes connections with those outside of the normal activist networks which engage only a small fraction of the population. Mobilizing many of those who would not be otherwise inclined to do so enabled more people to participate in the “activist type work” necessary to advance a left agenda.

Related to this, winning office confers credibility not just on the candidate but on the candidate’s agenda.  Conversely, losing campaigns, particularly unserious “symbolic” candidacies are regarded (to some degree correctly) as a reflection of the lack of a constituency for the agenda.  For this reason, I’ve long held the view the left should invest in winning campaign, or, more precisely, what is required to make them competitive.  Fortunately, in the wake of the Sanders campaign and in the post Sanders mobilization I find I don’t have to make the argument anymore, or at least when I do I’m not talking to a wall.

Daniel Falcone: What are your thoughts on third parties? Is this a feasible option or can any party, become totally transformed from within? How important is it (if it is) to work within the system when it is so failed?

John Halle: Having won office twice as a third party local official, I’m favorable to them.  At the same time I agree with NNU’s Michael Lighty that parties should not be fetishized.  They should be seen as a tactic to achieve concrete political ends, not as an end in themselves. That the two can conflict should be apparent from the example of the European Greens who once in office, signed off on the bombing of Kosovo and later became junior partners in the imposition of neoliberal austerity.  Odd that many leftists here profess faith that Jill Stein would be better.  But on what grounds should she be believed more than any other lying politician?  Confronting Greens with this invariably elicits an embarrassed, silence or a stream of obscenities.

The proper role for political parties is as a tool to advance a broad policy agenda. Ideally, candidates should derive from movements having internal mechanisms to ensure that they are responsive to them.  Insofar as building a party is done at the expense of that, that’s a recipe for failure.

Why Faux Feminism Can’t Confront Real Sexual Predators

Image result for "rebecca traister" new republic

Rebecca Traister-among my least favorite bourgeois , faux feminists-concludes her recent column by arguing that the ultimate solution to men such as Harvey Weinstein abusing their power in the workplace is “not just them going to rehab.” Rather it’s to “Put women in power.” This quickly, and predictably, morphs into an apologia for what consumed most of Traister’s energies over the past year, namely, her strident advocacy for the Clinton candidacy-as if there is any positive connection.

That said, there is a connection: a negative one. Weinstein was a long time friend and supporter of the Clintons, and given Hillary’s own history of apologizing for her husband’s record of sexual misconduct, it is a safe bet that her administration would have done little to aid Weinstein’s accusers, or those confronting other powerful men, provided, of course, that the latter had been dues paying members of the club, which many were .

With that in mind, it’s worth returning to Traister’s question: what would have done the most to counteract the workplace climate of impunity which made predatory males such as Weinstein inevitable. The answer is, of course, well known albeit one which Traister and others of her neoliberal orientation can never suggest, namely, empowerment of workers through collective bargaining, or, in a word, unions.

Those who read it will recall this was point 5) of my piece A Moral Panic: Cui Bono. I should say that I have had some second thoughts about it, which require me to re-read what I wrote expecting to find something glaringly wrong about it. In fact, I can’t honestly say that there’s anything in it which requires revision or retraction. Further discussion, yes, but there is nothing in it, or the foundation of assumptions on which it is constructed, that I would apologize for.

I can’t imagine that Traister and others sharing her ideological orientation can honestly say the same thing.

A Moral Panic: Cui Bono

1) To recognize an incipient moral panic-as appears evident from the ten most forwarded New York Times stories displayed above- in no way denies the significance of sexual misconduct.  Nor does expressing concern about its dangers minimize the suffering of the victims. In fact, it constitutes the opposite: a climate of hysteria does nothing to advance the interests of those victimized since (by definition) it conflates victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment of varying degrees of seriousness with those whose claims are either frivolous or altogether baseless. The latter category includes those taking commercial advantage of the media publicity now accorded to those making accusations. Those denying the self-interested motives of at least a few are referred to the previous posting .

2) The widespread media spotlight on accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment does not constitute a) a “paradigm shift” in power relations in the workplace, as some commenters on social media and elsewhere have claimed. Nor is there any basis for believing b) the familiar catechism based on the assumption that since “capitalism and patriarchy breed each other”, victories against against the latter constitutes signficant steps forward for an anti-capitalist agenda.

3) A moment’s thought will bring with it the recognition that 2) a) is wishful thinking and 2 b) in many instances simply delusional. Whatever the outcome of the charges, up to and including the perpetrators serving stiff sentences, neoliberal capitalism will continue to define the most significant aspects of most of our lived experience. It will continue to produce grotesque, and highly gendered, levels of income and wealth inequality, mass homelessness, lower life expectancy, senseless wars, possible nuclear conflict and the near certainty of major environmental catastrophe within the next generation.

4) The focus on the moral turpitude of abusers rather than the systemic economic basis of their power and authority is misplaced. While usually not intended as such, doing so necessarily takes the focus off of unspeakable tragedies resulting from the system’s normal operation when it is managed by moral, upstanding and ostensibly decent individuals. In some cases, those focusing on the moral bankruptcy of individuals are doing so because they are incapable or unwilling to face up to the apparent or real moral rectitude of those who do great evil. That removing patriarchical hegemony will undermine the system of savage exploitation at the root of the living nightmare experienced by its victims is a comfortable fiction immediately revealed as such by reciting two words: Margaret Thatcher.

5) The moral panic surrounding sexual misconduct leaves entirely unmentioned the only mechanism which could have prevented many of the abuses now being aired publicly, namely, collective organizing by workers themselves. That is, it is union representation and only union representation which allow workers to seriously combat the dictatorial power of management and the abuses of individual managers. It is no coincidence that the successful predations of numerous corporate executives has taken place in a climate in which union representation is at an all time low and that many of the worst abuses are occurring in industries in which there ls little to no union presence.

6) It is also, perhaps, no coincidence that the corporate media which is the mouthpiece for elite ranks of management has no problem circulating these accusations. As mentioned in 4), they recognize that the removal of bad apples will serve to shore up rather than undermine the moral foundations and legitimacy of major capitalist institutions. They also understand what businesses have for years, namely that moral panics are by their nature reactionary almost always either initiated or fomented by the right who recognize that a climate of fear and suspicion militates against the kind of solidarity which is a prerequisite for successful organizing in the workplace and outside of it.

That said, three points follow which to some extent mitigate the perspective advanced in 1) – 6).

7) Not every favorable social development is connected to the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

8) While they do not constitute a paradigm shift, the public shaming and likely criminal prosecution of the perpetrators will send a signal to prospective sexual predators taking advantage of their positions of social power and economic dominance. Many of those who would previously have thought nothing about engaging what was previously regarded as routine, acceptable social interactions will now understand them as unacceptable forms of sexual harassment and even sexual assault and consequently will be less inclined to act on their worst impulses.

9) The ultimate effect of these is likely to amount to a significant improvement in the working conditions of many-possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions-or women. The importance of this should not be minimized.

How Was it Rigged?

The bombshell revelations in the excerpts from Donna Brazile’s soon to be published book are, of course, important and should be given wide circulation,  But these should not obscure what was, as I have previously noted, the major, albeit universally unrecognized factor in Sanders’ defeat.  That is, in the words of Hamilton Nolan, one of the few journalists to get it right, “labor fucked up.”

This is the same conclusion reached by Bill Curry in an excellent Real News interview with Aaron Maté:

70% of labor, in almost every case, without consulting their membership, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Labor told the country, and told its members, that its highest priorities were defeating the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and obtaining a living wage. Hillary Clinton was on the opposite side of both issues. In the face of polling data, even the polling data they usually prize too much, they decided to swing all of their support to her. Without teachers in Massachusetts, Bernie would have won. Without the culinary workers working under the table for Clinton in Nevada, Bernie would have won here. He certainly would have won Iowa without AFSCME, and so on. You can just go right across the board.

There’s a half-dozen states. She’d have lost them all and her campaign probably would have ended, may well have ended. She opened with three defeats to Bernie Sanders. I think she was cooked, and so I do believe that our allies did more to nominate Hillary (than the DNC)”

In other words, our supposed movement “allies” in the unions sold us out. Not something which is easy to admit. It is, however, the fact of the matter.

Brazile’s disclosures immediately reinitiated the discussion of some months ago as to whether the primary was rigged, though now with new urgency.  The issue strikes me as a red herring in that it obscures how the Clinton machine operated to insure a victory. In a literal sense, at least, they did not rig the nomination, rather they exerted their influence. An example of how they did returns us to Curry’s remarks.   As Curry points out, the major unions immediately endorsed Clinton, this despite her offering them virtually nothing, not to mention having served in an administration which did much worse than nothing by ramming through jobs destroying trade agreements, failing to enforce NLRB decisions and harsh reductions in the public sector workforce.

Why did they endorse? While it will be hotly denied, the answer likely has to do with quid pro quo arrangements made with union leadership who, in addition to serving in positions within Democratic administrations, were also provided access to Clinton global initiative junkets, seats on corporate and foundation boards, positions at major “progressive” think tanks and other perks provided to respectable and “serious” insiders.  These favors were expected to be returned in the form of an immediate endorsement-dutifully provided, as we know, to the displeasure and disadvantage of rank and file membership which supported Sanders.  Did the Clintons calling in their chips constitute “rigging” of the election?  Again, not in a strict literal sense.  But at a certain point, the distinction becomes merely semantic: it is clear that in essence that’s exactly what it was.

****
The predominant left reaction to Brazile’s charges has been to engage in yet another round of ritualistic thrashing of the DP leadership.  But, while eminently deserved,  no one with a basic familiarity with the facts should have regarded them as anything other than servants of the corporate donor class, which is to say, enemies of everything we are trying to accomplish.  On the other hard, the labor unions are still, at least in some circles, seen as allies.  That they could have won the nomination for Sanders but chose not to do so is, as I just mentioned, too bitter a pill for most of us to swallow.

That includes, most conspicuously radicals in the unions some of whom have been actively advocating #Demexit, withdrawing support from all Democratic candidates-presumably with the intention of founding a new labor based party.   But that raises the question, why embark on the herculean task of doing so when all that would have been necessary for the most pro labor candidate in U.S. history to win a major party nomination was  your own union leadership doing the minimum required of them-acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the unions members.

And why are those union leaders, most conspicuously, teachers union head Randi Weingarten whose contempt for the rank and file seems to know no bounds, not being seriously challenged for leadership?

The answer seems to be it’s always easier to dream of tilting at windmills than to get your own house in order.  While the dirt Brazile has dished will, hopefully, serve as useful ammunition for the Sanders insurgency, and help to drive it forward, it won’t change the direction on which it has had it course set since the election: to replace the dominant corporate neoliberal leadership whose cynicism and corruption is now impossible to ignore.

Electoral “Meddling”-Theirs and Ours: A Critical View

 

1) That the USSR actively attempted to manipulate U.S. politics is a matter of historical record. That there was an eminently rational basis for their doing so should also be equally obvious: a primary objective of U.S. foreign policy during the McCarthy period was to “bomb them (and other members of the ‘international communist conspiracy) into the stone age.”   Our elected officials posed, on that basis, an eminent threat to our species’ survival as well as paving the way for a half century of bloated defense budgets now bankrupting the economy. It follows that it’s unfortunate that Soviet efforts then to “undermine our democracy” were not more successful rather than the near total failure they evidently were-or so it could be argued.

2) It seems likely that these survived through the post Soviet period possibly given a boost by Putin, a former KGB officer, wielding unchallenged, dictatorial power. The investment in them has been relatively small-almost certainly dwarfed by parallel programs on our side to subvert their political system via the “intelligence” services (see 7 below). To take the most conspicuous example now being discussed, the Facebook ad buys were in the low six to seven figure range. The material circulated within social media was apparently produced by a St. Petersberg troll farm having a staff of around 90 employees.

3) That they were small does not imply that they could not have been decisive in a close election. Furthermore that they were incompetent-their postings containing grammatical errors, embarrassing mistranslations of Russian idioms and factual howlers-also does not mean they could not have been effective. That’s because of the target constituency to which they were directed, namely to a left replete with anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers, chemtrail and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theorists. The pervasive guillibility, credulousness, and intellectual sloth therein would provide fertile soil for the seeds planted by trolls. This is particularly so as the pro Trump/anti-Clinton agenda being promoted was consonant with pre-existing left prejudices, the Bernie or Bust/Never Hillary tendency having already demonized Clinton while promoting a fantasy world of Trump as a peace candidate who would take on Wall Street. And so it was a reasonable to expect that a propaganda campaign targeting this constituency had a good chance of success.

4) Russian efforts to inflame hatred of Clinton complemented similar, if not identical efforts by the Trump campaign, particularly those of the shadowy Bannon/Mercer outfit Cambridge Analytica. The main intention of the latter was not to increase support for Trump but rather undermine the Clinton vote total through various voter suppression tactics. We know that CA specifically targeted African American communities where Clinton’s past association with welfare reform and denigrating black youth as “superpredators” could be used against her. Low turn out in key cities within the states which Clinton lost may have been a result of CA’s efforts along these lines. Within the broader left, the voter suppression mechanisms advanced by CA complemented existing tendencies by significant elements of the left to convince core constituencies that they were “under no obligation” to vote for Clinton. Again, depressed turnout and in some cases votes for third party candidates may have been indications of the success of CA’s methods.

5) There is absolutely no evidence of coordination among these separate campaigns. The sheer incompetence of the product churned out by Russian troll farms would have been an embarrassment to the seasoned professionals employed by Bannon and Mercer at Cambridge Analytica. Furthermore, the presence of Russian spooks among the left, while once a fact of life, is by now long since consigned to the dustbin of history. That said, the rhetoric deployed by the left during the campaign-wooden, stilted, hectoring, factually misinformed and logically bankrupt mirrored that which was emanating from St. Petersberg. That does not imply that it was produced by or in some way inspired by it. There is, however, some circumstantial basis for positing a distant albeit by no means necessary connection.

6) Related to the above is the matter of Democratic Party loyalists accusing the Republicans of treason based on their party having received financial assistance from a foreign power. Many of those making this charge celebrate candidates receiving massive donations from multinational corporations which are often as large and powerful as sovereign governments Furthermore, as Steve Coll pointed in his recent history of ExxonMobil, multinationals should be seen as having, to some extent, similar interests to those of states and having a foreign policy, as the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State personifies. It’s hard to see how the charge of treason and the normal financing of political campaigns is by this point anything more than a distinction without a difference.

7) Finally, an important number to be aware of in connection with this discussion is 187. That’s how many were killed by the U.S. puppet Boris Yeltsin in his assault on the democratically elected Russian Duma during the so called constitutional crisis of 1993. That is the official estimate from the Russian armed forces.  Unofficial estimates put the number much higher-as many as 2000.  Those insufficiently impressed by accusations of Russian “meddling” in our elections likely have this and other similar atrocities in mind.  When they are dismissed with varying degrees of contempt, as they routinely are, those doing so would do well to evince some awareness of these numbers as well.

 

The Big Club Which You Ain’t In

An Intercept piece from last year by Zaid Jilani contains the useful observation that now disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein was not only one of the chief bankrollers of the Clinton campaign, he was an informal campaign advisor. In frequent contact with Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook, Weinstein was particularly concerned with Sanders’ inroads into Clinton’s support among women and African American voters.

One component of the strategy to head this off involved tarring Sanders male supporters as “Bernie Bros“. Those on the receiving end of the smear will recall that it consisted of raising doubts about Sanders supporters’ commitment to civil rights while accusing them of opposing Clinton based on their inability to accept female leadership. Some of them, it was claimed, went farther in directing obscene misogynist attacks on Clinton’s supporters on social media platforms.

Having participated, along with many others, in the small industry required to rebut many of these charges, I’m not going to rehash them here,

What is worth mentioning are not the smears themselves but those who were circulating them. Among them were New York pundits Rebecca Traister, Joan Walsh and others who were quick to point to Sanders’s supporters “reminding their feminist peers that misogyny and bitter gender resentments are not — as they have never been — the sole province of the American right,” thereby doing their part to foment the myth that they were comparable to and in some cases little better than the benighted “deplorables” on the other side of the aisle.

This was dishonest and plenty reprehensible then. What makes it in retrospect even more so is that, as we now know, Weinstein’s predations were common knowledge to Traister, Walsh and others in the elite media circles they inhabit.

Indeed, Traister herself now admits that she had a front row seat, Weinstein having called her a “cunt” after she confronted him with an “impertinent question.”

But she “never really thought of trying to write the story” about Weinstein’s predations, even though she was aware of many incidents similar to those which have now come to light. She is only speaking out now that others have taken the risk-and not incidentally only after Weinstein’s checks were banked by the Clinton campaign and cashed by many of Traister’s friends working within it.

How do Traister and others justify giving Weinstein a pass on his all too real assaults while circulating smears against those whose only crime was supporting a candidate disapproved of by the Democratic Party Wall Street wing?

No doubt they will not deign to answer “impertinent” questions from media unknowns like myself.

But the main conclusion is unescapable: when they emanate from the purveyors of respectable conventional wisdom, charges of sexism, racism and anti-semitism have nothing to do with achieving justice for the victims. Rather they often function as a weapon against those attempting challenges to Weinstein and similar plutocrats who have owned and operated the Democratic Party for decades.

None of this, of course, is meant to deny the existence of institutional white supremacy, misogyny and even anti-semtism.

But compromised sources such as Traister should be viewed with extreme suspicion: their accusations along these lines invariably have an agenda-one which involves protecting those in the club. Which is, as George Carlin famously noted, the same club that they use to beat over the head those of us who aren’t in it, and never will be.

Disaster Capitalism: Is Whiteness a Safe Space?


I believe it was Juan Gonzalez who made the comment that if Puerto Rico were a state, it would be 23rd in population following it up by the suggestion that if there were an equivalent natural disaster in Iowa, torrents of federal aid would be flooding into it right now.

But can we be so sure? My sense is the YOYO/tough love philosophy being imposed on Puerto Rico is best seen less as an expression of racialized contempt (which it surely is) than as a premonition of what the rest of us can expect in not so long. After all, the (non)-response to hurricanes Sandy and Irene-which affected areas not so far from where I live and which have yet to recover-was not so different from that which Ward 9 in New Orleans experienced in the wake of Katrina. 

The charge of racism, while accurate, proved to be a diversion from what should have been recognized then: it wasn’t just that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” as Kanye West famously claimed, it’s that he doesn’t care about anyone (black or white or hispanic) outside of the oil industry execs, hedge funders and Goldman Sachs felons who make up his base.

That’s the lesson, in my opinion. There are signs that it is finally being learned, but they are slow in coming.

Chomsky Responds to Ken Burns

While I have no intention of watching the PBS Ken Burns Vietnam documentary, it is hard to avoid.  One indication is my school sponsoring viewings for our community, each segment introduced by faculty and guests who, it is assumed, will instruct today’s youth on the profound “ambiguities” and “complexities” of the conflict.  The unstated implication is that the oversimplified views of those  such as myself who regard our attack on Indochina as one of the great atrocities of the 20th century need to be challenged.

Along these lines, it was also hard to avoid Burns’s statement reported by the New York Times that the war “was begun in good faith, by decent people.”

Those of us familiar with the subject will recognize Burns’s phrase as a recapitulation of a familiar theme introduced by former Times’ columnist Anthony Lewis some decades ago.  For Lewis, our intervention was best seen not as a crime against humanity but as “blundering efforts to do good.

One might have thought that Noam Chomsky’s numerous books on the subject might have dispensed Lewis’s views to the trash heap of pith helmets, Gatling guns, Kipling’s White Man’s Burden and other relics of imperial overreach.  But no.  The same myths which were reflexively circulated to manufacture consent then are still in circulation now.

And so it will come as no surprise that a request for comment finds Chomsky registering something like despair:

“Have written book after book about it, going through the details.  Not sure I can face it again.”

Burns’s invocation of the “decency” of those having committed a near genocide makes it necessary for Chomsky to reassert a well worn analogy:

“Just like the German invasion of Poland, in defense against the ‘wild terror’ of the Poles.”

This type of comparison was common enough, even reflexively appealed to,  when the war was within living memory.   It is unfortunate that it apparently has not crossed into the current century .

Concealing their crimes behind a veil of sanctimony is, of course, a longstanding gambit of political elites.

Let’s hope that students here at Bard will be as capable as their predecessors were in seeing through it.

Chomsky: What are the Lessons from Weimar?

Though there is disagreement on what these are, pretty much everyone agrees that lessons can be learned from comparing the conditions which brought about so-called “classical” fascism in Germany and Italy and what we are confronting now.

Among those is Noam Chomsky who has recently argued that there is a indeed a Weimar analogy to be made.

But, according to Chomsky, before making it, it is first necessary to understand certain basic facts. Among these is that

“Allowing free speech to Nazis had nothing to do with their rise to power, legally.”

Indeed, preventing them from exercising free speech is seen by some historians as having played into the Nazi sense of victimization at the hands of lawless radicals which was crucial to their growth. As such, violent suppression of free speech was then (and is now), as Chomsky put it, “a gift to the right.”

For Chomsky, the main analogy to be drawn is based on the fact that the Nazis

“received less than 3% of the vote in the 1928 election, and Weimar democracy remained in force.”

Given these tiny numbers, what led to the Nazis success was not their own strength but rather the failure of opposition parties to unite against the far-right.

Specifically

“What led to the rise of Hitler was the decision of the huge Communist Party to condemn the labor-based Socialists as ‘social fascists,’ not different from the Nazis, and to refuse to join with them in barring the Nazis from political power.”

It is at this point we can draw the real lesson from Weimar. This has to do with

“the behavior of some of the left in the ’16 election, including many of those now advocating breaking up meetings and punching Nazis.”

Having failed to take action to oppose Trump and attacking those, including Chomsky himself, who pleaded with them to do so, they now seek to obscure their own complicity by appointing themselves the vanguard of the opposition to Trumpism’s most malignant, albeit predictable (and predicted) fascistic manifestations.

What they missed then was the obvious fact that the institutions necessary to oppose Trump were in place, most notably the ballot box.

The tragedy of a far right victory, here now and in Germany then, resulted from those who simply failed to make use of it.

Furthermore, the same institutional mechanisms exist to oppose the far right now that they are emboldened. Indeed, while it is rarely mentioned, the protests in Charlottesville were provoked not by radicals but by the majority of a relatively conservative city council having voted to remove a symbol of its white supremacist past. Other cities such as New Orleans had already done so and others were proceeding along similar lines.

Efforts to thwart them are being met with the entire institutional weight of government on all relevant levels. The perpetrators of the Charlottesville violence are actively being sought for prosecution by the Charlottesville police department under an African American chief. State officials including the Democratic governor who sees as an opportunity to inflict wounds on a Republican administration are enthusiastically aiding in tracking down those responsible for initiating violence.

It is only in the fantasy world of the left that white supremacists and neo Nazis have any significant influence on the institutional mechanisms of government.

And it is only in the fantasy world inhabited by self-described “antifas” that the growth of the far fight will be prevented by the initiation of violence against them.

Update 9/3/17: the sentence which previously read:

Indeed, preventing them from exercising free speech is seen by almost all historians as having played into the Nazi sense of victimization at the hands of lawless radicals which was crucial to their growth.

was altered to

Indeed, preventing them from exercising free speech is seen by some historians as having played into the Nazi sense of victimization at the hands of lawless radicals which was crucial to their growth.

Thanks to commenters for the correction.

Free Google!

A satirical piece by me from 2009 proposing the nationalization of Google. Will the backlash from l’affaire New America be sufficient to make it happen? Doubtful, though I can see a wave of nationalizations following on the heels of a successful fight for Single Payer-now looking increasingly possible with the Kamala Harris’s endorsement. The fossil fuel industries should be next, and then the digital information monopolies after that.  
 
****
Google to Sell Digital Archive for One Dollar
 
Montainview, CA: Google Inc. reported today that it would abandon its attempt to acquire rights allowing it to disseminate out-of-print materials through its “Google Books” online resource.
 
The announcement concerns primarily Google’s decade long initiative to digitize the entire contents of several major academic libraries. In a surprise move, this archive will, according to company sources, be sold for one dollar to the U.S. Department of Education with those works under public domain made available at the newly established website www.allinfo.gov.
 
A staff of former Google employees will administer the database as federal employees, in consultation with a staff librarians drawn from a consortium of the nation’s major research universities.
 
The decision shocked investors who had been anticipating the finalization of negotiations with the U.S. Copyright Office, Justice Department and major publishing houses. The agreement would have guaranteed Google a new source of annual revenue estimated by experts in the billions of dollars, according to some experts.
 
The news triggered a massive sell off of Google shares, which bottomed out at $35, less than a quarter of their value at the beginning of the trading day.
 
Bewildered investment professionals complained of being “blind sided” by management’s unilateral action, but company insiders were unsurprised noting an anti-authoritarian corporate culture at Google uncomfortable with charging for access to public domain materials, either on a fee per service basis or in the form of increasingly obtrusive on line advertisements.
 
“Wall Street cynics evidently assumed that our our company motto ‘Don’t be evil’ was nothing more than P.R. boilerplate. It should be clear now that we meant business” an unidentified senior project manager commented, alluding to the role which company employees played in forcing management’s hand.
 
The news comes on the heels of widely circulated rumors of the unveiling of a new free search engine designed to compete with to the core Google product. Dubbed “Froogle” by beta testers, it is said to be the product of current and former Google employees concerned about the increasing degradation of digital information resulting from the purchasing of high priority search rankings by commercial interests.
 
An anonymous statement from the developers referred to access to high-quality information as a basic civil right and calls for existing information retrieval systems to be consolidated and operated as a public utility.
 
Free information advocates are hopeful that anti-trust proceedings currently under consideration by the administration and Congress will result in a government takeover similar to that imposed on the oil and banking industries in late 2010.