Breaking a window is violence?

Hitting someone with a club is violence. Funding projects that destroy local economies and ecosystems is violence. Displacing millions of people in order to ravage the countryside to extract resources and build useless consumer products is violence. Denying refugees right of return and bombing their villages when they defy the injustice is violence. Creating social structures that systematically stifle free expression and the ability to peacefully promote legitimate alternative points of view is violence. Maintaining an economic order in which the only way to hold off collapse is perpetual growth at the expense of a finite resource base, which cannibalizes itself in order to produce growth that is mostly based on the creation of new debt to finance paying off the old debt, while blaming people who bought into the system because they believed what it promised them for its failure is violence.

Breaking a window is a symbol of the shattered illusions of people who are sick and tired, and don’t want to take it anymore. Breaking a window is a message to the monsters whose livelihood depends on murder, displacement, and ecocide that the game is up and the ones who got us into this mess have forfeited their moral authority to be the ones who define a “new world order”. Breaking a window is liberation, a sign of life, not violence that destroys it.

Whether or not it’s tactically a good idea in circumstances such as the G-20 demonstrations is another matter entirely.

In response to this blog.

The Bush II and Obama administrations and the transition from American hegemony to the “Post-American world”

This past weekend the Common Root conference was held in Minneapolis. Tom and Christine Sine of Mustard Seed Associates led the first plenary session, and my friend Jordan Peacock wrote the following as a summary statement of one of their points:

The Pax Americana is not necessarily the strongest ’empire’. It stands together with global capitalism, which, while largely birthed from the Pax Americana, shares no allegiance to it, and will likely outlast it.

I think this is an excellent point, and one that bears fleshing out a bit by contrasting the approaches of the Bush II Administration and what we’ve seen from Obama so far. The neoconservative plan seemed to me to clearly be an “American empire” kind of strategy, with American military power as the trump card in the world political game. “Regime change” and militaristic power politics, whether through direct military intervention or the funding of “satellite” armies in places like Israel and Colombia, seem to me to be parts of a larger strategy for attempting to maintain a specifically American hegemony over world affairs. The purpose of the use of military and other overtly violent forces in this fashion seems to have been to make the world safe for “democracy”, by which is meant the interests of “American” corporate entities (often really more multi- and trans-national) who have exploited the twin Bush II tools of unilateral military intervention (or the threat thereof) and implementation of neo-colonial “free trade” policies, combined with other corporate-friendly measures, such as the widespread loosening of labor, safety, and environmental regulations at home and undercutting the social safety net (which was already quite sparse in the aftermath of Reaganomics).

The adventure in Iraq is a signal example and convergence of the combination of military and corporate objectives with the toppling of the Hussein government and the swift looting of the country through a forced rewriting of Iraq’s economic laws in an attempt to create a “free trade paradise”, causing a descent into chaos and insurgency that, contrary to what you hear from the corporate media propaganda machine, really only picked up steam as the effects of the combination of economic deregulation and the insistence on American corporations rebuilding the country (translation: looting Iraq and fleecing American taxpayers) destroyed the ability of the average Iraqi to obtain basic needs and services.

Indeed, Iraq-as-originally-conceived could be considered a case study for the Bush II approach to Pax Americana. Key to neoconservatism is the concept that the welfare of corporations is intrinsically linked to the welfare of the nation-state and its security interests and policies. This convergence of military, corporate, and political machinations is the engine that drives the neoconservative American empire project. The very name of the neoconservative thinktank, Project for a New American Century (PNAC), illustrates the imperial designs of the people who made up the backbone of the Bush II administration, as does their stated belief that “American leadership is both good for America and good for the world”.

I want to say, at the outset of my brief foray into what we’ve seen so far from Obama, along with his campaign rhetoric, that in some ways Obama substantially continues some of the Bush II tactics and underwriting assumptions unchanged. Glen Ford, editor of Black Agenda Report, cites no less a media authority than the New York Times calling Obama “center-right” and then goes on to say:

The ideological pillars of America’s first Black presidency have been planted wholly within the parameters of governance allowed by big capital and the imperial military. Obama’s “transition” is more accurately seen as a “continuity” of rule by the lords of finance capital and their protective screen of warriors and spies. The Obama regime, still incomplete, already wreaks [sic] of filthy rich thieves and gore-covered war criminals.

The two biggest differences I see between Bush II and Obama-so-far are:

  1. a re-assertion of government playing a role in establishing some kind of common welfare through a kind of social democracy (NOT the same thing as “socialism”), albeit in a much-weakened state compared to LBJ’s “Great Society” and “war on poverty” programs, over and against the explicit undercutting of the social safety net that has occurred systematically since Reagan; and,
  2. while the desire to maintain America as the foremost world power, the notion of American hegemony seems to have given way somewhat to something perhaps more analogous to America as a “senior partner”. Obama was seen carrying a copy of Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, which argues for “not.. the decline of America, but the rise of everyone else”. Zakaria sees this story, that of “the rise of the rest”, as the defining narrative for the rest of the 21st century. Obama’s talk, at least, regarding initiatives such as strong diplomacy and sitting down to talk with people with whom Bush II would not, may reflect a similar understanding of America’s role in the coming years.

The basic thrust of these same-nesses and differences between Obama and Bush II seems to me to be that Obama seeks to implement policies that will create greater stability in the world, at least as it relates to America, both at home and abroad, by strengthening regulation of the economy at home that will prevent unrest and by allowing the “junior partner” nations of the world a greater role in determination of world political action. That contrasts strongly with Bush II’s neoconservative agenda focused around American hegemony which in practice led to more destabilized conditions both at home and abroad.

However, this “change we can believe in” is a “change” designed to fundamentally underwrite the corporate consumer capitalist status quo and the continued advancement of an “economic growth” agenda. In other words, it’s a “change” that is geared towards producing “more of the same”. With a decreased link between the welfare of corporate entities and the welfare of the United States, I believe we will indeed see the Sines’ prediction play itself out in world affairs over the coming years. William Cavanaugh (in Theopolitical Imagination and Being Consumed) argues that the universality claimed by the modern nation-state is giving way to the universalizing tendencies of the global market, and the global market almost entirely consists of action by corporations. Also, Brian Walsh argues (in Subversive Christianity) that capitalism is a necessarily expansionist, even imperial, economic system. If the empire of global corporate capitalism is unconstrained by national borders, as is largely (and increasingly) the case due to “trade liberalization”, then its expansion, by definition, must increase beyond the hegemony of the USAmerican political nation-state entity.

Not only that, but it is also the case that the one-and-only responsibility of a corporation is to increase its value for shareholders. Indeed, neoliberal architect Milton Friedman called ascribing any other purpose to the corporation “fundamentally subversive” (he was specifically referring to the idea of corporate social responsibility). A corporation-based economy must grow or it will collapse, and the same is true of the current global debt-based monetary system – new debt must constantly be created to generate money to pay the interest on old debt, according to an ever-increasing practically exponential growth curve.

The empire of global capitalism is highly complex. Whereas the nation-state depends on territory for its very existence, the corporation theoretically is a territory-less entity. While I would argue that this is not true, strictly-speaking, because no economic activity can truly take place without there being land and material products involved somewhere, somehow, according to the currently-accepted rules of the game a trans-national corporation does not depend on the territory of any one nation-state, nor is it accountable to any entity outside its shareholders except insofar as maintaining relations of accountability and corporate social responsibility allow it to maximize profits and therefore value to shareholders. In addition to the “territory-less” nature, though, there is not any one entity that can serve as an object of wrath for those who oppose this evolving empire. Corporations are legion, they are interconnected, they are buttressed by international organizations and agreements, and We the Consumers play a major role in keeping them in business.

This seems to be the world into which we are headed, a world where “change” occurs to ensure “more of the same”, with the locus of imperial activity increasingly translocating from nation-state entities (particularly the United States) to transnational corporations and the entities that ensure their preeminence (such as the WTO). This does not mean that the emerging empire will not favor certain nation-states (or at least certain people in them), as mentioned above, certain nation-states will enjoy “senior partner” status (hence the continuing neo-colonial nature of global capitalism), but the world is shifting from under the dominating shadow of the United States to global corporate consumer capitalism, as illustrated by a comparison of the Bush II administration and what we’ve seen so far from Obama.

This was first posted on the Common Root discussion forum, but I wanted to also open it up for a possibly wider discussion here. Shalom!

Glen Ford on Obama and MLK

Glen Ford is the executive editor of Black Agenda Report. This article hits on a number of points I’ve had swirling about in my head the past several days, which I hope to be able to collect coherently and post soon.

Yes, the article is from Al-Jazeera’s English site. If people can get over that fact and realize that Al-Jazeera is not a “terrorist news channel” (I have actually heard people call it that), they’ll find the quality of commentary and fact-gathering is consistently top-notch and often provides perspective we are SORELY lacking in our American media vacuum.

Excerpt:

When the New York Times describes the emerging Obama administration as “centre-right,” there is not much for an honest progressive to defend – and most African-Americans are progressive on economic issues and questions of war and peace.

Beyond a ritual counting of the president-elect’s African-American appointees, most African-Americans seem oblivious to the political nature of his cabinet, his policy pronouncements and shameful silences.

More likely, they pretend to be oblivious so as not to lose that once-in-a-lifetime feeling that happened when a black man won.

It is not simply that the Obama-ites failed to muster a defence in Harlem or Baltimore or other venues; admittedly, it is difficult to defend the indefensible.

What is most shocking – maddening – is their rejection of any political or moral standard for evaluating the black soon-to-be president.

All that remains is the fact of Obama’s power and the delusion that blacks somehow share in that power.

Ford goes on to say that Obama actually compares more to Lyndon Johnson than to Dr. King, if you must compare him to a political figure from the 1960’s. King realized that a movement for equality and economic uplift of those who are underprivileged cannot co-exist with war, a view most decidedly not shared by Obama.

Full text of the article

Obama and Ayers

Ok, I don’t really care all that much about the Presidential election, to be honest. I strongly believe that it makes very little difference which of the two major-party candidates ends up being awarded the office.

That being said, I can’t believe the ridiculous crap people will believe about Obama. He’s a Muslim. He’s a terrorist sympathizer. He’s not really American. Ok, so he is American, but he’s not “American” like YOU AND I are American. And so on, and so forth. The last one, by the way, is not-so-subtly racist. (and has anyone else noticed that those emails containing the ridiculous bullshit generally make it a point to mention his middle name, Hussein? As if people were stupid enough to connect him with Saddam? Oh, wait… I guess they are. Never mind that it’s one of the most common names in north/east Africa and the Middle East.)

Lately a big deal has been made about his supposed association with William Ayers, one of the former leaders of the Weathermen back in the early 1970’s. In other words, it’s the “terrorist sympathizer” charge all over again. People have even gone as far as to suggest that Obama’s whole political career has been orchestrated by Ayers as an attempt to bring down the United States as we know it. What ridiculous crap! The very New York Times article Sarah Palin has been referencing to try and connect Obama to Ayers itself concluded that there was no substantial connection between the two. But no less an “authority” than Sean Hannity of Faux News had an entire primetime episode of his show devoted to “experts” (whose credentials basically are their blogs) proclaiming the “evidence” they’ve found linking Obama to Ayers and suggesting all kinds of sinister conspiracies.

What a bunch of crap. John K. Wilson at the Huffington Post has written a fairly detailed refutation of 30 myths about Obama and Ayers, and it is well worth reading – if you really want to be informed about what’s going on with people, and not just believe the tripe you hear from such “fair and balanced” sources. If you’re happy being ignorant and maybe even tacitly bigoted, then there’s no reason for you to read the article.

Ellsworth replies

I stopped by for a quick check of my inbox today to see that Congressman Ellsworth did in fact send a reply to my email. Ok, so it was probably a staffer sending a canned response, but it’s something. Unfortunately, he did very little to address my actual concerns or engage my proposed action – which makes sense if it was a canned response. There is a lot of talk about how outraged he is about the situation and about the initial bailout plan, and how much better the one they want to pass now is. I’m not buying it. He might be outraged, but I’m not convinced the current plan is any better. I don’t believe it’s any substantially different in the base principles than the original plan over which he was so outraged.

I’m going to attach his response to this post in Word format. I usually prefer to use .PDF or OpenDocument, but my computer is wonky right now and this is the only option I have. Fight the power, view this file in OpenOffice.org.

Congressman Ellsworth’s reply to my email

Letter to my Congressman on the bailout

I’m not usually a big believer in the governmental process as an agent of change, truth, justice, or whatever, and the current issue with the proposed Wall Street and bank bailout plans is no exception. I have very little expectation that my letter will actually in any way influence the decision of the representative for my district. I wrote this more as a way to get some of my thoughts down in one place. That being said, after I wrote it I figured hey, why not go ahead and send it? And now I’m posting it here. Feel free to pass it along or to debate the points presented therein, but realize that it is not a nuanced, technical policy position piece but rather a simplified, rhetorical one.

Dear Mr. Ellsworth,

I see that yesterday you voted in favor of the economic bailout plan that came to the House floor. I urge you to reconsider your position on the bailout. It seems quite disingenuous to provide billions of dollars in taxpayer money to bail out the institutions that have largely created this crisis through their own actions. It smacks of elite classism to allow corporate banking and finance executives to get off with their golden parachutes and allocate vast sums of what is supposed the people’s money to clean up their mess – moreso when it’s a clean up that is highly debatable with regards to its potential efficacy to actually do that which it purports to do.

I believe this so-called bailout plan is little more than an economic version of terrorism. For one, the Treasury and Fed say “give us the keys to the kingdom” of the economy. The proposed bailout as I understand it gives officials the power to essentially take over enormous swaths of the economic sector in an essentially arbitrary fashion, which would result in the economic directors having little-to-no accountability to the people the government and public officials are supposed to serve. The Bush Administration has excelled at taking advantage of crisis situations in order to consolidate power (particularly “emergency” power) under the umbrella of the Executive Branch, and this is just one more example of that tendency.

Furthermore, the bailout is in response to what could be essentially construed as a kind of terrorist threat on the part of the big banks. “Give us billions to fix our mess or we won’t give you house loans, car loans,” and so on. Without credit the economy fails, and those who hold the keys to credit have the ability to hold the people hostage.

The plan would involved the government basically buying assets from the bailed-out-companies above market value, thus providing the banks with a kick start in capital, which is a nonsensical proposition. If the bank owners are unwilling to utilize the market functions to raise the capital, which would ostensibly be both in their self-interest and in the public interest, then the government should only buy the assets at market value – or buy the banks at their market value, nationalize them, and nurse them back into healthy operation until such time as further action can be taken – either selling them to private interests or some other action that would not only return the banking activity to the private sector but also make up for some of the drain of public funds the whole financial crisis has engendered (and the public subsidies that have been involved in the operations of these banks throughout their history). Banks that will not submit to this process can be left to their own, and if they fail then they fail. As Adam Smith said, any business that does not operate within the public interest loses its legitimation.

In other words, if the government is going to intervene in the workings of these banks, as it appears it must, then do it in a way that makes sense and will actually work to making things better in the long run, and let those who are actually responsible for the mess be the ones who are punished, not the American taxpayers.

No capitalist system has ever existed for long without having to be regulated, modified, or bailed out by the government. No national economy that is strong today got to be so by utilizing “free market” principles; all of them, every single one, became prosperous through some form of government intervention/central planning. This case is no different – in voting for the bailout you vote to subsidize the foolishness of the robber barons who got us into this mess in the first place. I implore you to reconsider your position on the bailout and vote “nay” if it comes to the floor again.

Thank you,
Jason Barr
Evansville, Indiana

John Médaille has written quite a good piece at The Distributist Review on the bailout as a response to economic terrorism. TDR is consistently excellent and I highly recommend you read it regularly.

US Army unit to be deployed for domestic operations

From Democracy Now!:

Beginning in October, the Army plans to station an active unit inside the United States for the first time to serve as an on-call federal response in times of emergency. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent thirty-five of the last sixty months in Iraq, but now the unit is training for domestic operations. The unit will soon be under the day-to-day control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The Army Times reports this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The paper says the Army unit may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control. The soldiers are learning to use so-called nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals and crowds.

Any more questions about whether the US is becoming a police state?