Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Come at me, bro

In a March 2010 address before the American Society of International Law, Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department's top legal rationalizer, explained why Barack Obama believes he is entitled to kill anyone in the world he chooses.

"[T]he United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, as well as the Taliban and associated forces, in response to the horrific 9/11 attacks, and may use force consistent with its inherent right to self-defense under international law," Koh patiently explained. And that right enables the U.S. government to carry out anywhere in the world “lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles.”

So drones, according to Koh, are essentially the U.S. government's industrial-strength pepper spray, the inhabitants of the rest of the world its swarthy would-be rapists. Yeah . . . about that, courtesy The Washington Post:
Somalia, where the militant group al-Shabab is based, is surrounded by American drone installations. And officials said that JSOC has repeatedly lobbied for authority to strike al-Shabab training camps that have attracted some Somali Americans. 
But the administration has allowed only a handful of strikes, out of concern that a broader campaign could turn al-Shabab from a regional menace into an adversary determined to carry out attacks on U.S. soil.
As it turns out, firing missiles at poor foreigners from unmanned killing machines has nothing to do with Defending America, U.S. officials readily conceding that al-Shabab is but a "regional menace." But firing missiles at poor foreigners from unmanned killing machines could cause said foreigners to strike back, meaning -- god this is good -- that in the future there may actually be something to the U.S.'s claims to be acting in self-defense, albeit only to counter a threat it created.

"Sweet," says every military contractor and general in Washington.

It's a good thing there isn't the same threat of blowback from the U.S. government's broad campaign of drone warfare in Pakistan or Afghanistan, otherwise we might be in trouble!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Institutional racism: The sine qua non of ethnic cleansing

"So, if the underlying sine qua non for any acceptable policy proposal is the long-term preservation of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people . . . ."

And if it isn't?

HOLIDAY BONUS: It sure takes a lot of chutzpah to include the following in a piece that calls for ethnically cleansing Palestinians from the West Bank:
This leads to the second element of the proposal: The grave ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians resident in the Arab world where, as I recently pointed out, severe restrictions are imposed on their freedom of movement, employment and property ownership.

But most significant, they – and they alone – are denied citizenship of the countries in which they have lived for decades.

Palestinians overwhelmingly want to acquire citizenship of the countries of their long-standing residence, opinion surveys indicate.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

'Israeli drones save lives'

A couple weeks ago the editors at The Washington Post did something rather out of character: they published a piece by reporter Scott Wilson on the impact Israeli drones have had on the residents of Gaza, noting the hundreds of civilians killed in the past few years and detailing the way it has impacted every aspect of daily life -- you may not want to go over to a friend's house if there's something hovering outside armed with missiles and programmed to eliminate anybody wearing a keffiyeh. Obviously, this is outrageous. Clearly. This is the Post we're talking about: its Pulitzer Prize-winning team of journalists is supposed to be focusing on the quiet, turgid courage of those pulling the trigger, not on the torments of the targeted.

Dan Arbell, deputy chief of mission for the Israeli embassy in Washington, agrees. In a letter to the editor, he writes:
Oddly, The Post devoted a massive front-page headline and two full pages of print not to the tens of thousands of terrorist rockets aimed at Israeli neighborhoods or to the rapidly nuclearizing Iranian regime that routinely threatens to wipe Israel off the map but to Israeli drones over the Gaza Strip.
More inexplicably still, most of the article deals with the drones’ impact on Gaza residents while mentioning only in passing the trauma and devastation wrought by the more than 13,000 rockets and mortars fired at millions of Israeli civilians since 2000. Not one of these Israeli victims was interviewed for the article — in contrast to the numerous quotes from Palestinians — nor was any Israeli government source cited. Rather, the article relies solely on the infamously biased Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
Israeli drones save lives. They protect Israelis from terrorist attacks and reduce the need for large-scale ground operations in Gaza. This fact, too, was overlooked in an article that failed to meet Post standards.
Dan Arbell, Washington
The writer is deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Israel.
Dude's right about the "standards" thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Bradley Manning and the American empire

My first of what I'm hoping will be a regular bi-weekly column is now up over at Al Jazeera. Read it. Tweet it. Love it.

So free yourself

I could keep you all for myself
I know you gotta be free
So free yourself
I could keep you all to myself
I know you gotta be free
To kill yourself

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Never forget

Never forget that the war in Iraq and the ensuing occupation, which isn't really ending no matter what the president says, were horrific crimes against humanity -- that hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children died horrific, violent deaths because the Washington establishment chose to exploit the horrific, violent deaths of 3,000 Americans in order to carry out a horrific, long-planned "shock and awe" invasion of a country that had nothing to do with it. Anyone who supported that war and hasn't spent the last eight years begging forgiveness should be treated as a pariah, their lives made miserable as every day they are loudly and impolitely reminded that they have the blood of countless innocents on their hands.

It's often said -- by assholes -- that other cultures not lucky enough to be considered a part of the enlightened "West" do not value human life as much as those of us who, through the accident of birth, ended up being raised in the land of hormone-infused milk and tainted honey. But, you know: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq again, Yemen, Somalia...

That's the macro level. Here's the micro version courtesy of the New York Times and one of its reporters who found a trove of U.S. military documents in an Iraqi garbage dump detailing an investigation into the 2005 Haditha massacre, in which more than 20 civilians -- including babies and grandmothers -- were coldly and calculatingly murdered by U.S. troops. One might be as struck as I at the, dare I say, almost oriental manner in which American soldiers and their commanders deal with human life. And, like me, one might tremble with rage at the regrettably startling fact that none of the top-level fucks responsible for the Iraq war has to worry about anything more than where their next six-digit speakers' fee will come from:
Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar Province, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.

The stress of combat left some soldiers paralyzed, the testimony shows. Troops, traumatized by the rising violence and feeling constantly under siege, grew increasingly twitchy, killing more and more civilians in accidental encounters. Others became so desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures, and were court-martialed. The bodies piled up at a time when the war had gone horribly wrong.


“When a car doesn’t stop, it crosses the trigger line, Marines engage and, yes, sir, there are people inside the car that are killed that have nothing to do with it,” Sgt Maj. Edward T. Sax, the battalion’s senior noncommissioned officer, testified.
He added: “I had Marines shoot children in cars and deal with the Marines individually one on one about it because they have a hard time dealing with that.”


When the initial reports arrived saying that more than 20 civilians had been killed in Haditha, the Marines receiving them said they were not surprised by the high civilian death toll.
Chief Warrant Officer K. R. Norwood, who received reports from the field on the day of the events at Haditha and briefed commanders on them, testified that 20 dead civilians was not unusual.
“I meant, it wasn’t remarkable, based off of the area I wouldn’t say remarkable, sir,” Mr. Norwood said. “And that is just my definition. Not that I think one life is not remarkable, it’s just —”
An investigator asked the officer: “I mean remarkable or noteworthy in terms of something that would have caught your attention where you would have immediately said, ‘Got to have more information on that. That is a lot of casualties.’ "
“Not at the time, sir,” the officer testified.
General Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar Province, said he did not feel compelled to go back and examine the events because they were part of a continuing pattern of civilian deaths.
“It happened all the time, not necessarily in MNF-West all the time, but throughout the whole country,” General Johnson testified, using a military acronym for coalition forces in western Iraq.
Given that the same establishment that backed the Iraq war remains in power today -- please, don't be fooled by nominal party affiliations -- chances are it will happen again. And again.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

K Street is scared

Someone forwarded me an email that is apparently being circulated to lobbying firms on K Street. It's long, so I've pasted it after the jump:

Friday, December 02, 2011

'The Democrats are not your friends' "Occupy DC distances from Democrats. Or does it?"
A young man named Charles Davis, 27, took to the floor and called out for the group’s attention. Davis told the occupiers he had ridden in an elevator with Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.

“And he joked that he is the 1 percent,” Davis hollered. Boos all around. “And he called us anarchists!”

“The Democrats are not your friends!”

The group cheered — but not as loudly as they had for Edwards. Davis’ message, meant to reinforce the theme of the night, seemed to fall flat in the excited aftermath of Edwards’ appearance.


Edwards had somehow knocked the group off its message.

“She’s turning this into a campaign stop,” Davis said, after he addressed the group.

Occupy DC’s Action Committee had been at odds lately, he said, deciding two nights earlier to reverse a previous decision to join former Obama green jobs czar Van Jones’ group Rebuild the Dream,, and SEIU in protests on the Mall. Occupy, the committee concluded, would run separate events.


Davis worries that Occupy DC could become a subsidiary of the Democratic Party, much like the Tea Party was for Republicans.

“It’s been kind of a problem, especially here in D.C.,” he said. “People think the Democrats are their friends, and they’re kind of willingly being co-opted. A lot of the people involved in the Action Committee, for instance, are paid to elect Democrats.”

Such may be the nature of protest in the political city, where most everyone falls into one of two categories. Of course, there aren’t many Republicans living in D.C.’s two Occupy Wall Street encampments.

“I think it’s just the culture,” Davis said. “It’s maybe a little bit more politician-friendly than other Occupies around the country.”
A clarification: I, of course, am an anarchist. But when Democratic politicians use the word, they're using it as a thoughtless slur -- like "nihilist" or "commie" -- not because they think occupiers are just inspired by the works of Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

We're being heard, but who's listening?

The concerns about co-option are being heard. But another concern still remains to be addressed: the fact that many of those hearing those concerns are the co-opters.

About two dozen people showed up at the Tuesday night meeting of the Occupy DC action committee, twice as many as were at the first one I attended a couple weeks ago, a sign that people are grasping how powerful the committee is -- it can still approve or reject actions without seeking any form of consensus at a general assembly -- and how important actions are in terms of defining the movement.

Overall, the meeting was positive: the same facilitator who announced at a general assembly earlier in the week that the committee had endorsed a series of actions sponsored and planned by the SEIU, and Van Jones' Rebuild the Dream -- adjuncts of the Democratic Party all -- at the meeting sought consensus on instead doing an Occupy DC action that would explicitly be separate from those groups.

Conscious of appearances, the de facto leadership of the committee clarified that they hadn't intended to endorse the week of actions those groups are busing people into town for, but rather a single day of action on December 7. Consensus was quickly reached on the idea of doing a separate set of actions that day, with many people talking about specifically targeting Democrats and their allies on K Street as a way of making clear Occupy DC does not endorse the partisan, anti-GOP-only agenda for the week of protests asserted by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

Score one for the rabble rousers.

There was, however, some passive-aggressive hostility. One woman angrily spoke of how she didn't like "outsiders" coming in and spreading discord by raising fears about co-option. "Occupy DC can't be co-opted," she said, launching into a diatribe against the folks at the rival camp in Freedom Plaza, which isn't really part of the Occupy movement. We're the real People's Front of Judea. Yawn.

The same woman also spoke out against the need to do an event separate from the SEIU and targeting the Democrats in particular. And when it came time to discuss an action targeting a $1,000-a-plate Democratic fundraiser this Thursday, she argued that it was unfair to hold the blue faction of the ruling establishment equally to blame as the red faction for the war and welfare for Wall Street status quo, going so far as to say "people will die" if the Democrats lose power.

*cough* Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia . . . *clears throat*

This being DC and all, you're bound to find people here who still believe in the comforting fairy tale of lesser evilism, who think that the problem isn't the institutions of power -- the authority a couple hundred folks in Washington have to start wars and imprison more than 2.3 million Americans -- but those who control them. However, this being DC and all, a higher percentage of these lesser evilers, as well as those who think the Democrats are actually doing Obama's god's work, have certain unique incentives to believe the things they do.

The woman who voiced concerns about protesting the Democratic fundraiser and criticized those damn dirty outsiders raising concerns about co-option? On Friday -- the day after that fundraiser -- she will be a featured "networking professional" at the Democratic GAIN Career Fair, "the place where progressive organizations, Democratic campaigns and consultants will be to collect resumes and talk about what they’ll be doing to help Democrats in 2012." That she would object to Occupy DC doing a day of action separate from the SEIU & Friends also makes a little more sense when you realize she works for the SEIU, a job she took after being a paid organizer for the Obama campaign.

This is a problem. Careerists with an incentive to pursue a Democratic agenda -- in addition to the aforementioned woman I saw the co-founder of the Democratic Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) -- are weighing in on how, or even whether, to target the Democrats. They are weighing in on questions of whether Occupy DC should participate in events being put on by the organizations that employ them. And they're not disclosing their conflicts of interest.

There's a simple solution: require that disclosure. That's not too much ask. Indeed, Occupy Wall Street already has such a requirement:
We acknowledge the existence of professional activists who work to make our world a better place. If you are representing, or being compensated by an independent source while participating in our process, please disclose your affiliation at the outset.
One man who worked for the SEIU did just that. When commenting on the series of SEIU-planned actions, he gave us all a heads up: "Hey guys, just so you know I work for the SEIU." Cool, man. People who work for less-than-perfect organizations have a right to participate in the Occupy movement -- lord knows it's tough trying to find a good anarcho-vegan feminist collective to work for -- but the rest of us have a right to know if they work for the very organizations they are trying to get us to protest with. Or the groups we're actually protesting.

What do they have to hide?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Occupy DC partners with the SEIU and

The Democrats and their allies in the liberal establishment are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement. This isn't paranoia: it's what they do (see: the antiwar movement).

Van Jones, who served as “green jobs” czar in the Obama White House and says he'd like to see his former boss serve an illegal third term, openly talks of exploiting the movement for electoral purposes, likening it to the Tea Party. The SEIU has straight up stolen Occupy's language, labeling the same president who told Wall Street bankers that “I'm protecting you” the candidate of the 99 percent. . . . well, is doing what always does: exploiting the movement to build its email list and pocket more money from idiot liberals who think evil Republicans are entirely to blame for the status quo.

Many people within the Occupy movement have expressed fears about this attempted co-option. It's particularly a problem here in Washington, DC, where people paid to elect Democrats are some of the most active participants at the McPherson Square camp. While I was out of town this past weekend, I'm told concerns about co-option and Democratic infiltration were voiced by several folks at this past Saturday's meeting of the action committee – a committee that includes employees of the SEIU's Washington lobbying office as well as the co-founder of the Democratic Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

But were those voices heard? At the Monday general assembly, members of the action committee – which in the name of Occupy DC as a whole can approve or reject actions without seeking any form of consensus from the camp as a whole – announced that they had some news for us. Oh boy: they had agreed to back an upcoming “national day of action” sponsored by none other than the SEIU, and Van Jones' Rebuild the Dream. The last such "day of action" resulted in the SEIU/Occupy DC rally at the KeyBridge calling on "obstructionists in Congress" to boost infrastructure spending -- by passing Obama's jobs bill, of course.

Same shit, different day.

“Some people think these groups are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement,” acknowledged one member of the committee who I know agrees with that assessment but, for whatever reason, doesn't view that as a reason not to cooperate with them.

“I think we should be co-opting them,” said another member of the committee.

That the issue of co-option is even being acknowledged is, I suppose, progress. But more than anything necessarily nefarious, the decision to embrace the co-opters -- aided, one can assume, by the fact one of the SEIU organizers of the event is on the action committee -- suggests there is some serious naivete at the McPherson camp, or perhaps just on the committee. Just as with the Key Bridge protest, occupiers will not be co-opting a rally they have had no hand in planning. Rather, they will be helping these liberal groups further their preferred narratives about what the Occupy movement stands for. It is their press releases that lazy journalists and pundits across the country will be relying on when discussions "what this all means," not some occupier's clever sign. It is Van Jones who will be invited on CNN to talk about the movement's "next steps.

Participating with such openly partisan organizations can only taint the movement, seemingly confirming not entirely unfounded suspicions that Occupy Wall Street and the occupations around the country it has inspired are but patchouli-infused get-out-the-vote operations for the Democrats. And for what?

The last action with the SEIU at the Key Bridge was a flop. The only message most Washingtonians received was courtesy local news station WTOP: avoid the Key Bridge, commuters, traffic's going to be a mess out there. That and the implication that the Occupy movement is an arm of organized labor and the Democrats.

Groups like Rebuild the Dream and the SEIU need the Occupy movement much more than it needs them. These groups need the appearance of energy and grassroots authenticity th movement can lend them; the SEIU, after all, has to bus people in to chant "sí se puede" at its boring rallies. The Occupy movement, by contrast, has nothing to gain by working with these groups. Indeed, it only stands to lose by associating itself with adjuncts for the Democratic Party and their brand of establishment-friendly, wave-a-sign-from-the-sidewalk activism.

In the comments to my last piece about Occupy DC's action committee, someone from the camp downplayed my concerns about the liberal-heavy makeup of the committee and its infiltration by people paid to elect Democrats. "Since the Key Bridge action, Occupy has not done a horizontal action with SEIU," they wrote, "so I would suggest people get past that issue [co-option] until someone tries to partner Occupy DC with another SEIU action."

Can we admit there's a problem now? Enabling a small group of people on the action committee to endorse events in the name of Occupy DC as a whole isn't working; the best actions, such as the occupation of Franklin School, were carried out by activists who avoided it altogether, while the actions that have come out of it are at best a mixed bag. There's no reason a major action of this nature -- one that need not be shrouded in secrecy -- should not have been presented at a general assembly.

Maybe trying to reach 100 percent consensus is a bad idea -- I'd like to see a requirement that major actions be agreed to by 80 to 90 percent of those attending a general assembly -- but then so is outsourcing control over which actions are "official" Occupy DC events to a committee composed of but 1 percent of the movement.

UPDATE: From The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who spoke with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry about the planned protest:
One goal of the protests, Henry says, is to pressure Republicans to support Obama’s jobs creation proposals.
“The reason we’re targeting Republicans is because this is about jobs,” she said. “The Republicans’ insistence that no revenue can be put on the table is the reason we’re not creating jobs in this country. We want to draw a stark contrast between a party that wants to scapegoat immigrants, attack public workers, and protect the rich, versus a president who has been saying he wants America to get back to work and that everybody should pay their fair share.

Born free

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Occupy the action committee

I was confused. After standing around for three hours in solidarity during the occupation of Franklin School, here I was dining at the finest Indian buffet in the city surrounded by about a half-dozen comrades, all self-described socialists and anarchists whose disdain for the Democrats made me look like a closet Obamabot.

"What gives?" I wondered. After spending the last two weeks fairly disappointed with most of the major actions officially endorsed by Occupy DC -- protesting liberals' very boogeymen the Koch brothers, rallying with the pro-Obama SEIU at the Key Bridge -- I had figured the problem was the folks at McPherson Square as a whole. After all, consensus had to be reached before these big events could be proclaimed "official" Occupy events and the consensus was to focus on targets that fit the standard Democratic agenda. While I longed for a radical movement demanding systemic change, I was surrounded by meek liberals calling for incremental, establishment-friendly reform.


So what about the radicals I dined with -- were they just not attending the general assemblies? Or perhaps the action committee was approving the various rallies and protests without fully explaining them when presenting them to the camp as a whole; I could see many occupiers, for instance, endorsing a rally for "workers" alongside a labor union not knowing the politics behind the SEIU's decision to "call on Congress to create jobs" at the very site that Barack Obama chose just weeks before to call on Congress to pass his jobs bill.

I assumed wrong.

The problem, it turns out, is that the action committee is able to approve protests as "official" Occupy DC events without receiving consensus at any general assembly. That means a small group of people -- there were no more than 10 at the meeting I attended the other week -- have the power to decide what events will be endorsed in the name of the hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the movement here in Washington.

That's a problem. The occupation of Franklin School did not go through the consensus process either, yes, but then those carrying it out never claimed to be acting on behalf of "Occupy DC." Rather -- and I think this is a trend that will continue with respect to direct actions -- they acted unilaterally and essentially used those hanging out at McPherson Square as a feeder group, inviting those who agreed with their action to come two blocks over and show solidarity. Ten or so people claiming Occupy DC as a whole has endorsed an action is a very different thing.

Those doing the endorsing also aren't very radical, which is the bigger problem to my mind. Anyone can join the committee, but attending three meetings a week is a lot to ask of people who have other things to do in their lives, a fact that seems to have led it to be more or less captured by a small group of like-minded liberals.

Indeed, on the action committee listserv, I discovered that some of the most active people are in fact paid not just liberals, but paid to elect Democrats, which subconsciously or not is bound to affect the decisions they make. And we're not talking just low-level staffers just trying to make a buck. That rally with the SEIU? By golly, here we have a member of the SEIU, indeed the head of the very "OurDC" front group occupiers were told they were showing solidarity with in an official Occupy DC press release. And over here we have a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect "progressive" Democrats -- and only Democrats -- to the halls of Congress.

And oh, hey, over there is a person who works for a company, NGP VAN, that helps "all the national Democratic committees, [and] thousands of Democratic campaigns," fundraise and reach out to voters (and which, god damn it, is placing ads on this site). It was this particular person that, when a friend of mine at CodePink proposed an anti-war action, lashed out with the amazing claim that "Ending the war is a CodePink objective," prompting me to begin my research into those dominating the action committee conversation.

"The co-option of CodePink [sic] is really annoying and it's not cool that it is happening on this googlegroup," she added. "Please stop."

People paid to elect Democrats pushing a Democrat-friendly, war-ignoring agenda on the Occupy movement? Yeah, we're cool with that.

Even those on the committee who aren't paid to elect the nominally "left" faction of the political establishment come from essentially the same perspective, it having all the appearance of a clique that represents a range of opinion from liberal to center-left. When I linked to the above woman's public LinkedIn page, a "Senior Field Organizer" for the left-liberal group Public Citizen who appointed himself captain of the committee booted me off the list after I refused his unilaterally declared ultimatum to:
- Delete the tweet with the Linked In profile link

- Apologize over Twitter for taking a private conversation online and violating a fellow Occupier's personal boundaries

- Email the group promising to keep matters of internal discussion internal to this list? There are too many reasons to name why an action committee list should be kept private.

- Apologize to the group in person at an upcoming action committee.
 As I wrote in response to the above: Besides there never having been a stated rule that conversations on the list could not be taken off of it -- the very nature of many of the conversations would seem to demand they be discussed with others -- I never revealed anything about upcoming actions, sensitive details of which I was initially told to never share because the list is literally open to whoever wants to join it (if you're in DC, subscribe by sending a request to

Since the action committee has so much power to shape the Occupy DC agenda and its public perception, the broader movement beyond the professional Democrats and liberal think tankers on the list I believe has a right to know that actions are being approved and rejected based on the input of a small group of people, many of whom are paid to pursue a partisan agenda. No one, not even the Guardian of the Sanctity of the Listserv, I venture to say, would have objected had I tweeted about a member of the Koch-funded Club for Growth infiltrating the committee.

That's not to say paid partisans should be outright prohibited from participating in the Occupy movement, which would be hard to do in DC anyway -- although, frankly, if you're paid to elect Democrats and you want to help the movement, your best bet would be to stop helping elect Democrats. But if professional partisans have nothing to hide, there's no reason they should fear transparency, especially given the legitimate fears of many that Democrats are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement for electoral gain.

As it is now, those on the action committee aren't even informing the rest of those at Occupy DC of their decisions. Take the following email about one now-past event:
It has failed to go in front of GA due to facilitation not responding to my emails and no one from Action at the park during GA that is bringing it up. I told _______ to just go ahead and send it out. Its already on our website and being spread around. GA has been allowing us to just report actions during our committee reportbacks so that is what I hope will happen soon. How we are supposed to actually be getting things approved by GA is no longer really clear. If someone else wants to step up to help me figure this out, awesome, but I say we just go forward with this action.
I actually agreed with the action in question. But the problems with allowing the committee to instruct people to "just go ahead" and claim events are in Occupy DC's name without even announcing them should be obvious, particularly when said committee is stacked with numerous people paid to pursue an explicitly Democratic agenda.

Instead of banning me over a rule that was never stated, I replied to Mr. Ultimatum that maybe we ought to be considering, not just informing new members of the alleged rules of the list the moment they sign up, but a new rule requiring people to state up front whether they work to elect Democrats (or Republicans) so as to avoid conflicts of interests and the appearance of impropriety. And why not specifically ask people to state whether they're participating in the movement as part of their jobs?

This is the response I received.

Unhappy with the direction of the Occupy DC action committee? Attend one of their meetings, held every Saturday at 4pm and every Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm.

Baby, I'm an anarchist

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More of this, please

The Franklin School in downtown Washington, DC, has been sitting dormant for years now. A historic building situated right next to a park filled every night with homeless people that have nowhere else to go, the city-owned property could be put to a number of important uses that would benefit the community around it. But, alas, it sits empty.

Until this past weekend. In a break from the sort of timid, SEIU-backed protests that the folks at Occupy DC have had an irksome habit of embracing as of late, a group of 11 activists without -- oh no! -- the endorsement of the McPherson Square general assembly decided to occupy the building and declare it under "community control." Though they certainly couldn't have had much expectation of being allowed to stay -- they were removed within a matter of hours -- as a symbolic gesture it was poignant.

Local anarchist blogger BroadSnark, who snapped the photo above and who I finally met at Occupy DC after years of cyber-stalking, has more details:
The building was being used as a homeless shelter until 2008, when the city closed it down just before winter. The plan was to sell it to a developer who would turn it into a boutique hotel. Homeless advocates, including Eric Sheptock, fought like hell to stop the closure. You can read his story here.

It took about three hours for the police to pull the occupiers out of the building and haul them off. Until then, supporters did what they could to rally the crowd, document what was going down, and block the exits to make it a little more difficult for the police to get them out – at least not without witnesses.
A passerby, who asked us to explain what was going on, agreed. He was “one of the lucky ones” who was able to get a home voucher before they cut the local rent supplement program. He commented that, in other cities, people said occupiers were violent, inferring that was not the case tonight.
The move wasn't without controversy. One middle-aged man walking a dachshund hysterically yelled at those of standing outside the building in solidarity with the occupiers that we had "just fucked" the Occupy movement by embracing "vigilantism." At back at McPherson Square, dozens of people chose to hang out over joining their comrades two blocks away.

Judging by the media coverage, however, the occupiers succeeded in drawing attention to the controvery surrounding the closing of Franklin School and the broader issue of governments privatizing community space for corporate gain -- certainly more attention than any number of confined-to-the-sidewalk exercises in protesting self-gratification could have ever hoped to achieve.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Obama loves war and Wall Street

For days I bitched about Occupy DC's participation in a rally for infrastructure spending with the SEIU, a bitching that hit a fever pitch after the latter endorsed Barack Obama as the candidate of the 99 percent. But I'll tell you what: I can't give up a good opportunity to protest and a chance to open a few minds -- or at least piss a few off.

So, with pushing back against co-option on my mind, I decided I'd head down to Georgetown and the Key Bridge after all, but armed with a sign speaking for the 90 percent of the 99 percent who don't believe the president represents their interests. I tend to prefer signs calling out the institutional problems with the system, not the personnel, but the SEIU kind of forced my hand.

The response was interesting.

From actual occupiers, the people I recognized from camping out at McPherson Square this past week, the reactions were universally positive, which should assuage some fears that the Occupy movement will turn into a Democratic get-out-the-vote machine. I also got a few honks, in addition to some angry shouts, including the ever-so clever "get a job."

At one point as I held the sign out to traffic crossing the bridge, a Circulator bus full of commuters stopped, the driver opening his door to tell me "that's not true, he doesn't love war," as he shook his head. I then explained that he had in fact doubled the troops in Afghanistan, killing thousands of civilians and -- knowing my audience, this being America and all -- more U.S. soldiers than in the eight years George W. Bush oversaw the occupation. I also mentioned the drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

A funny thing then happened. "Is that true?" the driver asked. A fellow occupier interjected: "Yeah, it is." With a look of having genuinely learned something, the driver nodded his head.

Wait, I thought, did I just have a successful political conversation with someone who started by hollering at me from his vehicle? Weird.

The conversation I had earlier with a suit-wearing, self-described private contractor for the State Department was a bit more . . . tense. Demanding to know what my sign "meant," which I thought was pretty clear, said contractor proceeded to reaffirm every caricature of a mindless, subservient supporter of state I ever held. What follows are, I swear to the gods, verbatim excerpts from of our conversation:
Me: Obama's foreign policy is the same as Bush's. He has just expanded the war on terror.

Dude: That's not true.

He doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan.

No, he surged the troops in Afghanistan. Just like Bush.


He has authorized more drone strikes in Pakistan than Bush did in eight years, killing thousands of innocent civilians.

You're wrong. He killed Osama bin Laden.
He's also killed U.S. citizens with drone strikes.
They were traitors.
Well, under the Constitution even traitors are supposed to have trials to determine they are traitors. Should we really trust one man to decide who lives or dies?
I trust my government.

So what would you have us do?

I would have us pull all our troops out of every country and bring them home. Something like 95 percent of suicide attacks are the result of foreign occupations. You don't see terrorists going after Switzerland.

Well, that's because they don't have a military.

As Upton Sinclair said, it's difficult to get someone to understand something when their salary depends on their not understanding it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Declaring what Occupy DC stands for

I was prepared to be disappointed. I was prepared to escalate from a simple downward twinkle fingers to an outright block, you “progressive” Democrat, willing-being-co-opted mother fuckers. But, gosh darn it, I was pleasantly surprised.

After being disappointed in some of Occupy DC's choice of actions, including a rally for more infrastructure spending sponsored by the same SEIU that just endorsed Barack Obama as the candidate of the 99 percent, I was expecting the worst when the time came at Wednesday's general assembly to read the McPherson Square chapter of the occupy movement's long-awaited draft declaration of grievances. Perhaps a line about the Koch brothers “corrupting” our long corrupt democracy. Maybe something about a certain someone failing to deliver the change he purportedly promised.

To my chagrin, even my black anarchist heart was rather impressed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy everywhere, but maybe not the Key Bridge

Shaking from the cold at 3 in the morning on a park bench a few blocks from the White House, warmed only by a paper-thin prison blanket an empathetic passer-by had gifted me, I couldn't help but think: man, am I a bad ass or what?

Well, not really. Mostly I thought about being cold and whether my overwhelmingly witty sign – American Dream = Park Place, American Reality = Park Bench – made it all worth it. And then I thought about how this is what homeless people in the imperial capital go through every night. And how no one cares. And then I was kind of sad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some Veterans Day reading

One thing you learn after living outside the United States for awhile is that other countries do not fetishize soldiers and military service quite like Americans do, their cultures being nowhere near as militarized. Televised sporting events, for instance, do not begin by saluting the brave men and women abroad helping kill poor foreigners for Our Freedom. Uniformed military personnel aren't used to sell shitty beer at half time. The armed forces aren't billed to potential recruits as a more glamorous version of ITT Tech.

In the land of the free, by golly, we sure do love The Troops, don't we? We Americans salute their service even as a solid majority of us concede that the war in Iraq was, if not a grave crime, at least a mistake -- oops! we just killed a couple hundred thousand A-rabs -- and agree that the occupation of Afghanistan is a waste of (American) lives and money.

This love is curious for a nation that likes to bend over and blow itself for being the world's most free and ruggedly individualistic. And it's dangerous: how many people have chosen to become the American empires hired guns because they were led to believe it was a just and honorable profession?

It's not, mind you, that I think we ought to shout "baby killer!" and hock a loogie at anyone in uniform -- generals and recruiters, sure -- but neither should we heap praise on those who have chosen a profession that just in the last couple decades has asked them to kill people in at least a half-dozen unjust wars from Panama to Pakistan. That decent, upstanding men and women sometimes join the military and become part of the evil enterprise of empire should be lamented, not lauded, lest other impressionable young people come to the conclusion that there's any honor in mass murder.

But I've said this before. Humor me this holy Veterans Day and check out some of my past writings on the topic of America's wars and the saluting of the rank-and-file soldiers who make them possible:
 -- "That anti-patriotic feeling": It is said that soldiers don't decide the policy, they just follow orders. Fair enough. But is suspending one's conscience in the service of an immoral act a praiseworthy move?

-- "On 'supporting the troops'": The U.S. women's soccer team took time during a recent match to, literally and rather creepily, the American troops in attendance for their "service." But their service isn't an abstraction, so shouldn't the decision to salute them be based on the reality of what it actually entails?

-- "'Unconditional' allegiance is for machines, not people": Liberal blogger Adam Serwer says we "should support servicemembers unconditionally because their service is unconditional." I call bullshit.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

From no occupation to occupying K Street

A week earlier I was in Nicaragua soaking up sun and generally doing things that would make my mother cry. Now I was marching down K Street in downtown Washington, DC, during evening rush hour traffic, surrounded by a crowd of hundreds of protesters and dozens of cop cars, the sirens and flashing red-and-blue lights of the police filling the brisk, autumn air around me as the dim light of the falling dusk sun lit up the shimmering yellow and green leaves above.

I was also tripping pretty hard on acid, so there was that.

politicians and bankers
liars and thieves
we're taking these streets
and we're not saying please

Mr. Fish

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Dueling occupations

In appearance, it was like every other protest in Washington I have ever attended. And it had all the vibrancy of an assisted-living facility.

After spending significant time over the last week at the Occupy K Street camp in McPherson Square, the crowd at Freedom Plaza – where the other Occupy camp in the nation's capital is based – was jarringly older. Geriatric, even. This is where all the old-time activists conspicuously absent from the other camp were, I thought. Now it makes sense.

“There's no energy here,” a young guy named Alejandro wearing large pink sunglasses told me as I stood toward the back of the general assembly. “It's like a funeral home.”

Presumably confiding in me as I was one of the few other dudes under 30 – or 50 – he explained that he used to camp at Freedom Plaza back when the occupation started in October but soon left for the greener pastures of McPherson Square.

“They wouldn't let any of us young people have a say on things here,” he explained. “We used to have music. We used to have fun. Now it's a just bunch of pagans and Wiccans.”

No offense to pagans and Wiccans, but I could see why he left. In contrast to the larger Occupy DC camp on K Street, the camp at Freedom Plaza had no drum circles, no hula hoopers and, most noticeably, no life, the general assembly I witnessed having all the energy of a bible study in the basement of a Presbyterian church.

However, what they lacked in youth and energy was made up for sevenfold in condescension and sectarianism. At McPherson Square, I never heard a bad word about their fellow occupiers at Freedom Plaza, their free newspaper, The Occupied Washington Times, even going so far as to explicitly call them allies. At Freedom Plaza, by contrast, I heard people seemingly gleeful about the fact that “Code Pink people” are no longer there. Yay! We're alienating our few allies!

At the general assembly, meanwhile, I a number of speakers took pains to bad mouth their much counterparts at McPherson, seemingly still bitter over having their occupation – which was planned months ago under the title “Stop the Machine” to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan – shown up by a bunch of upstart youngsters.

And boy were they patronizing. One woman, for instance, spoke of having to step between the cops and the ragtag “kids” at McPherson when the latter got a little too hot under the collar at a recent protest outside the Washington Convention Center. These kids were confrontational, she said, and didn't appreciate the moral and pragmatic virtues of peaceful protest. A gray-haired likewise said the folks at the McPherson occupation professed a commitment to non-violence, but that the commitment to the ways of Gandhi and MLK was deeper at Freedom Plaza.

Cool, activist infighting! Zzzzzzz. *Drools on shirt, begins snoring* Huh, what?

To be fair, not every person who spoke was so condescending. Indeed, one older woman got up and explicitly denounced the more-non-violent-than-thou condescenders, saying she didn't like the suggestion that the McPherson kids were any less committed to non-violence. And the criticisms that were aired came in the context of a discussion about creating a joint legal defense fund for the two occupations, so there are attempts to better coordinate between the two groups, which is encouraging.

Before arriving in DC, I thought I would have greater affinity for the Freedom Plaza occupation, despite its more traditional reliance on a core of more or less professional activists; it was, after all, planned with an explicit focus on opposition to war and empire, which is kind of my thing. Accordingly, when I first arrived in the city I stopped by the plaza for a couple hours to freeze my ass off and hold a sign declaring “War = Crime / Obama = Criminal.”

What does that sign say, mommy?” a young girl asked as she walked by. “Don't read it!” the mother snapped back – for my benefit, obviously.

At the same time, I was intrigued by the consensus model used at McPherson Square, which seemed a bit closer to my own decentralist prejudices. Having now spent time at both occupations, I think I can fairly say that, while the models used by both camps can be complementary and each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages, one of them has proven decidedly more inclusive and conducive to growing a movement than the other.

It's not the one being used by all the old people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Preach it, Peter

Anarchist Communism maintains that most valuable of all conquests
—individual liberty—and moreover extends it and gives it a solid basis—
economic liberty—without which political liberty is delusive; it does not ask
the individual who has rejected god, the universal tyrant, god the king, and
god the parliament, to give unto himself a god more terrible than any of
the preceding—god the Community, or to abdicate upon its altar his
independence, his will, his tastes, and to renew the vow of asceticism which
he formerly made before the crucified god. It says to him, on the contrary,
"No society is free so long as the individual is not so! Do not seek to modify
society by imposing upon it an authority which shall make everything right;
if you do, you will fail as popes and emperors have failed. Modify society so
that your fellows may not be any longer your enemies by the force of
circumstances: abolish the conditions which allow some to monopolise the
fruit of the labour of others; and instead of attempting to construct society
from top to bottom, or from the centre to the circumference, let it develop
itself freely from the simple to the composite, by the free union of free
groups. This course, which is so much obstructed at present, is the true
forward march of society: do not seek to hinder it, do not turn your back on
progress, but march along with it! Then the sentiment of sociability which is
common to human beings, as it is to all animals living in society, will be able
to develop itself freely, because our fellows will no longer be our enemies,
and we shall thus arrive at a state of things in which each individual will be
able to give free rein to his inclinations, and even to his passions, without
any other restraint than the love and respect of those who surround him."


We do not advocate Communism and Anarchy because we imagine men to
be better than they really are; if we had angels among us we might be
tempted to entrust to them the task of organising us, though doubtless
even they would show the cloven foot very soon. But it is just because we
take men as they are that we say: "Do not entrust them with the governing
of you. This or that despicable minister might have been an excellent man if
power had not been given to him. The only way of arriving at harmony of
interests is by a society without exploiters and without rulers." It is
precisely because men are not angels that we say, "Let us arrange matters
so that each man may see his interest bound up with the interests of
others, then you will no longer have to fear his evil passions."
-- Peter Kropotkin, The Place of Anarchism in Socialistic Evolution

So gracious

Our old friend Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine, last seen 'round these parts wondering why more Americans weren't blaming "deadbeat" Americans for costing poor 'ol Wall Street so much money, is willing to concede not every member of the Occupy movement is the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler:
"While the history of anti-capitalism is infused root and branch with racism, I do believe that at least a minority of participants in the Occupy movement are not racists or anti-Semites."
And I'm willing to believe "at least a minority" of Reason writers aren't such craven shills for the wealthy that they would stoop to suggesting a few nuts blaming The Jews for the status quo are representative of a mass movement that enjoys the support of a majority of Americans.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Noam Chomsky, anarchist, on the impossibility of anarchism

After my last typically tedious post about Noam Chomsky, a blogger friend who took issue with my taking issue with the professor -- meaning he's of course now dead to me -- sent along another interview with the Chomster on what anarchism means to him. To clear up any misconceptions: I realize Chomsky is well aware of the corporate-state nexus. My issue is not his analysis of the status quo, but his solution to it, which he reiterates yet again in this excerpt:
Q: As far as we favor a stateless society in the long run, it would be a mistake to work for the elimination -- I've said that it would be a mistake to work for the elimination of the state in the short run, and we should be trying to strengthen the state, 'cause it's needed on the check of power of large corporations. Yet the tendency of a lot of anarchist research -- my own, too -- is to show that the power of large corporations derives from state privilege, and governments tend to get captured by concentrated private interests. That would seem to imply that the likely beneficiaries of a more powerful state is going to be the same corporate elite we're trying to oppose. So if business both derives from the state and is so good at capturing the state, why isn't abolishing the state a better strategy for defeating business power than enhancing the state's power would be?
Chomsky: Well, there's a very simple answer to that: it's not a strategy, and since it's not a strategy at all, there can't be a better strategy. The strategy of "eliminating the state" is back on the level of "let's have peace and justice". How do you proceed to eliminate the state? Okay? Can you think of a way of doing it? I mean, if there were a way of doing it in the existing world, everything would collapse and be destroyed. You just can't do it. I mean, there is nothing to replace it. If there was a rich, powerful network of, you know, cooperatives, community organizations, worker-controlled industry, you know, extending over the whole country, and the whole world, in fact, yeah, then you can talk about eliminating states. But to talk about eliminating the state in the world as it exists is simply to keep yourself in some remote academic seminar or small group, you know, saying, "Gee, this would be nice." It's not a strategy, so there can't be a better strategy. We are faced with realities. What is described here, and in fact it's true (I've written plenty about it, too), is that we have a number of systems of power, closely interlinked. One of them's corporate power, business power. That's by far the most dangerous of all. That means, effectively, unaccountable private tyrannies. A second, pretty closely linked to them, is state power. And the comment is correct (as the commentator says, I've written about it, too, a lot) that state power tends to be overwhelmingly influenced by concentrated private power.
Hey, Noam: You're an anarchist, bro! So why are you so condescendingly dismissive of strategies to eliminate the state? Peace and justice are also long-term, elusive goals, and yet we strive for them anyway -- and, importantly, we do so not by advocating more conflicts and instances of injustice, politicians and professional pundits excepted. Fighting wars to end war hasn't turned out so well and, mock though you may the smash-the-state crowd, Noam, increasing the power of the institution with a legal monopoly on the use of violence, the state, as part of a strategy to eventually abolish it -- which, if Chomsky's anarchism is anything more than intellectual pose, we can only assume is his goal as well -- is fraught with the same error in logic.

That is not to say corporate power is not a great evil. It undoubtedly is. But it is an evil enabled by the institution of the state; when I rail against the latter, I am railing against the former. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that the target of my blogging wrath is the corporate-state nexus Chomsky identifies, for without the coercion and legal cover government currently provides in the form of everything from the police and military to intellectual property and the tax code, corporations as we know them could not exist.

Argue all you want about which is the greater evil, but it's about as useful as debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. Atomic weapons, for example, may be built by nominally private companies, but it's the U.S. government that provides the tax money that makes them possible -- and the only institution that has actually used them. Private prisons may be evil, but it is the state that fills them with prisoners. Rather than adversarial, the corporate-state relationship is symbiotic.

Chomsky's own work shows this, which is why I find it all the more irksome he chooses to argue against what seems to me an anarchist strawman. There may be a few anarchists who would like to smash the state tomorrow, but most that I've come across believe an anarchist society can only come about after the long-term process of creating a society of anarchists and the building up of institutions, like cooperatives and mutual aid associations, built on consensus, not coercion. We talk about eliminating the state because that is a long-term goal to strive for, like peace and justice, not because it's something we think can or should happen overnight.

Yet all Chomsky seems to have is disdain for the mere talk of a stateless society as he argues against an anarchist caricature, falsely suggesting those anarchists who do not share his opinion on the wisdom of increasing state power would like to keep intact all the corporate privileges it provides; as if their enemy is corporate taxes, not corporate personhood.

And while Chomksy casts himself as wisely pragmatic, the more I read about his solutions the more I find them naive and indistinguishable from those offered by a standard-issue liberal. Indeed, later in the interview excerpted above he even bemoans the loss of the loathsome Martha Coakley in the Massachussets Senate race a few years back, complaining that the electorate yet again voted against its own self-interest -- as if the Democrats, and former prosecutor no less, favor anything more than a marginally more subtle assault on those interests.

If one wants to be pragmatic, there are many ways a philosophical anarchist can act that don't depend on the dubious notion of short-term increases in state power. Economist Dean Baker details this in his new book, from patent reform to removing tax loopholes, and I'd argue they're at least as politically viable as instituting a the type of national health care system Chomsky favors. Indeed, when Democrats took back the White House and both chambers of Congress and had the opportunity to implement that very health care reform, which Chomsky accurately notes enjoys broad public support, they instead turned around and only increased the power of pharmaceutical giants and corporate insurance providers, even mandating the purchase of the latter's products.

And that illustrates a key point: increasing the power of the state, as the individual insurance mandate indisputably does, has historically been accompanied not by a decrease in corporate power, but an expansion of it. Just as wars for peace have only led to more wars, expansions of state power often enable only greater economic exploitation. While the state may be subject to influence as Chomsky contends, it's those with the most money who tend to do most of the influencing -- and who in turn use the state to ensure their power is not subject to the nuisance of labor unions and general strikes.

So who's really naive: the person who wants to limit corporate power by decreasing the power of the state, historically its chief enabler, or the one who believes that this time around the power of the state can be harnessed for good -- and that the road to a less coercive society depends on increasing the power of an institution whose unique feature is its legal monopoly on coercion?

Monday, October 17, 2011

About that assassination plot

For  years, U.S. hawks have insisted that Iran and its alleged proxy force Hezbollah are nefariously building up ties with governments and criminal organizations across Latin America, including drug cartels.

If the official story about the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington is true, and the Iranian government indeed reached out to a used car salesman in Texas to get in touch with these cartels, then obviously its ties to said cartels are, well, a bit overblown. And as I write for Inter Press Service, if the official story is false, then the dire threat purportedly posed by Iran's dealings in Latin America has not materialized like promised.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama 2016!

This, from a man currently attempting to refashion himself as a leader of The Resistance:

I don't know about you, but it certainly seems to me that Jones is more in the business of giving blows than taking them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Somalia: 'libertarian paradise'

I'm not sure in what context this remark was made, but I think it's worth pointing out that this critique is no different than a conservative or right-wing libertarian responding to a criticism of modern state capitalism by snorting, "oh yeah, and how did the Soviet Union turn out, ya Marxist?" It's intellectually dishonest. It's lame. It's -- perhaps most damningly -- just plain unoriginal, returning "About 210,000 results" on Google. And it's a damn weak attempt to hang around the necks of those who would dare imagine a world where people are free to organize and live in communities not subject to the coercive interference of an outside, centralized power, a failed state -- Somalia -- that has been torn apart by decades of Western state intervention, as noted by libertarian socialist Noam Chomsky and none other than Jeremy Scahill.

From a U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion and brutal military occupation that left more than 16,000 civilians dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, destroying the first semblance of normalcy the country had experienced in nearly two decades, to an ongoing U.S. war involving CIA torture chambers and drone strikes, Somalia has been ravaged by powerful nation-states, not anarchy.

But hey, let's put that all aside and just concede for a moment that Somalia is in fact some anarchist's wet dream, "a libertarian's paradise." Let's just ignore the fact Somalia was ruled by a military dictator for decades and not make the cheap point that the period preceding its current "anarchist" stage therefore indicts anyone who believes in the justness and necessity of centralized power.

We can say this for the little 'ol anarcho-paradise that is Somalia: At least it hasn't, like some other countries in the region, murdered tens of thousands of its neighbors. At least, like another government I know whose legitimacy has never been questioned by any respectable liberal writers, dropped nukes on any Japanese cities or killed upwards of one million Iraqis or put one out of every 100 of its own citizens in steel cages.

Up next: Is North Korea, with its socialized health care and strict regulation of business, a "liberal paradise"?

Update: Scahill says the comment "was a joke." Okay. But what's the punchline?

I wonder why?

"The idea that Wall Street criminals are getting away with a criminal conspiracy against the American people is a popular one. Nobody ever asks how the seemingly victimized American people managed to make so much of Wall Street’s money disappear through their own deadbeat behavior."
--Tim Cavanaugh, Reason, 14 October 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

Picking on Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is great. Manufacturing Consent is a masterful look at how the mainstream media in America subtly and not so subtly serves the interests of the state and its corporate puppeteers. He has long been one of the most trenchant critics of the U.S. empire, a fact that's led to him to be ostracized from respectable political discourse – good riddance – and to be ridiculed by Weekly Standard neocons and Mother Jones liberals alike.

But – and with effusive praise like that, you just had to know there'd be a “but” – because I think he's generally on the side of Truth and Justice, like a relative or loved one (not always the same thing) he's thus open to more withering criticism from yours truly than your average tenured professor, Melissa Harris-Perry excepted.

My chief issue with Uncle Noam comes down to the fact that, while his analysis of the state often charms this anarchist's black heart, his professed allegiance to anarchism as a philosophy often appears like a lot of folks' professed Catholicism: something one claims allegiance to in order to keep up appearances – be it to before one's radical readers or just dear mother – but which one doesn't think twice about on weekdays, outside of May Day or Christmas.

By that I mean, while Chomsky professes anarchy to be his end-goal, his strategy on how to get there doesn't strike me as substantively different than the Marxist-Leninists he mocks. That is, he views the state as a necessary bulwark against the privations of corporate capitalism; a necessary evil that ought to be maintained and even strengthened in order to prevent private tyranny. But, like the communist he derides for believing the dictatorship of the proletariat – or rather, the dictatorship of the Party – will voluntary wither away and cede power to a society of anarchists, Chomsky never really elaborates on how to get from a system of centralized power and coercion to a decentralized world of consensus.

"What, is the state just going to give up that power all on its own?" Chomsky might witheringly ask.

Take the good professor's response when asked about “the prospects for realizing anarchism in our society”:
Prospects for freedom and justice are limitless. The steps we should take depend on what we are trying to achieve. There are, and can be, no general answers. The questions are wrongly put. I am reminded of a nice slogan of the rural workers' movement in Brazil (from which I have just returned): they say that they must expand the floor of the cage, until the point when they can break the bars. At times, that even requires defense of the cage against even worse predators outside: defense of illegitimate state power against predatory private tyranny in the United States today, for example, a point that should be obvious to any person committed to justice and freedom -- anyone, for example, who thinks that children should have food to eat -- but that seems difficult for many people who regard themselves as libertarians and anarchists to comprehend. That is one of the self-destructive and irrational impulses of decent people who consider themselves to be on the left, in my opinion, separating them in practice from the lives and legitimate aspirations of suffering people.
Insofar as Chomsky asserts that there is no one easy, “right” answer to this question, I agree. While I think it's important to lay out a vision for the world you would to build, I personally see anarchism as a process: I would like to minimize the centralization of power and use of coercion in society, as I believe both lead to great evils in the hands of flawed, fallible human beings. In that sense, I see the use of co-ops in Nicaragua's Ometepe, for instance, as an example of anarchism in actiom. a significant step toward a world based on consensus, no coercion, where people can be free and self-reliant, dependent on neither politicians nor capitalists.

At the same time, though, I take issue with Chomsky answering a question on how to realize anarchism almost entirely with an attack on his fellow anarchists. And I find particularly irksome his seeming acceptance of the left-liberal framing of the state as the common person's last best defense against corporate power. I believe Chomsky himself would admit – and the much less radical, left-liberal economist Dean Baker details in his latest book – that it is the state which is in fact the chief enabler of that power, from “intellectual property” laws that guarantee monopoly profits to drug companies to the doctrine of “corporate personhood” that enables those very companies to skirt full financial and legal responsibility for their actions.

As an anarchist, Chomsky ought to have detailed why the divide between “public” and “private” power is less than meet the eye; that, in fact, the state and corporation collude to screw the public and to redistribute wealth from the lower classes to the wealthy; that, in fact, there is no real distinction between the two at all. The Federal Reserve is a perfect example of this: a government-chartered institution that is almost entirely run by the quasi-private banking industry to -- surprise! -- the benefit of bankers.

While those who would remove limits on corporate power while keeping in place the privileges are worth criticizing, Chomsky attacks “libertarians and anarchists” with far too wide a brush, most irksomely by deploying a red-flag raising phrase like “a point that should be obvious” and a groan-inducing appeal to those who “think children should have food to eat.” Really, Noam?

My other point of contention is Chomsky's contribution to the sort of political in-fighting he often decries, namely his denunciation of anarcho-capitalism, a system that he says, “if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history.”

First things first: I'm no anarcho-capitalist. I think those who adopt that label often have an almost self-parodying view of the role markets and the profit motive play in society, every potential problem that might arise discussed by pointing to how a private company could meet Social Demand X or Y, complete with the appropriate citation of some book by Murray Rothbard. Many, though not all, seem to leave no room for other forms of social cooperation, anything that doesn't involve a profit appearing suspiciously commie. And many do not seem to have ever questioned the moral basis for private property and the role the state has played in upholding that particular institution – and in determining who has come to hold property – and whether it could truly be maintained in a world free of coercion and the subsidy of state protection.

I also recognize that it's just a label; that some anarcho-capitalists or market anarchists could very well read the preceding paragraph while nodding their heads. I also recognize that, differences aside, I have a lot in common with these people. Indeed, Chomsky himself admits – when not suggesting anarcho-capitalism would be on par with the evils of Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia – that he finds himself “in substantial agreement with people who consider themselves anarcho-capitalists on a whole range of issues,” and that for awhile they were the only ones he would publish his work. He also concedes that there may very well be a role for markets in his ideal anarchist world.

So why the over-the-top, tyranny “with few counterparts in human history” denunciation? While I'm no stranger to hyperbole, and I too have my qualms with anarcho-capitalists, I find it hard to believe that, at its worst, an an-cap world would be any more tyrannical than the one we have now, what with its state-privileged corporate monopolies and standing armies and massive prison complexes. Chomsky's critique, then – and the mirror image attack on anarcho-syndicalism from the clowns at the Mises Institute – strikes me as not unlike the bickering between Monty Python's Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea, where radicals that agree on 90 percent of the issues hate each other more than their shared enemy: the corporate state. Or was it the Romans?

Anarchists should be free to criticize other anarchists. Debate is good and keeps people honest. But let's not lose sight of the common foe: coercion, be it perpetrated by state or corporation, recognizing, I would add, that you can't have the latter without the former. Sure, we can and should debate the merits of syndicalism and the wisdom of municipal versus privatized police forces. But guys! We're a long way from there. We have a lot of coercion to remove from society before we get to the point where those debates will have real world consequences. We can discuss the workability of everyone's desired dream anarchist world as soon as we, say, live in a world where U.S. military bases are only to be found in the United States, okay?

And Noam, buddy: let's not forget, because I know you're aware of this, that right now at this moment the state is the chief deployer of coercion and, far from its foe, the chief enabler of corporate power. No, let's not do away with the social safety net or regulations that, however feebly, restrict corporate excess, at least not without first doing away with corporate privilege. But let's also not forget that, historically, increasing the power of the state as you would like to do has not been found conducive with minimizing coercion or corporate power in society. And as for reducing that power once you've increased it: ask your Marxist-Leninist friends how that worked out.