(October 23, 2006)
[Ed. As a reminder to Letter writers: If you want your letters to be published, you must include your first and last names and your city and state of residence. Also, please, enter in the subject line of your e-mail "letter to the editor," and specify the article or the subject on which you are commenting. Thank you.]
The Limits of Electoral Politics with Some Clarifications
Roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of "government":
(1) Unrestricted freedomThe present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e., between overt minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a facade of token democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3) . . . .
In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected officials. The candidates' stated policies are limited to a few vague generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their actual decisions on hundreds of issues -- apart from the feeble threat of changing one's vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival politician. Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers in "democratic" regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people don't even know who they are. . . .
In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the other (those who make a big deal about refusing to vote are only revealing their own fetishism). The problem is that it tends to lull people into relying on others to act for them, distracting them from more significant possibilities. A few people who take some creative initiative (think of the first civil rights sit-ins) may ultimately have a far greater effect than if they had put their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians. At best, legislators rarely do more than what they have been forced to do by popular movements. A conservative regime under pressure from independent radical movements often concedes more than a liberal regime that knows it can count on radical support. (The Vietnam War, for example, was not ended by electing antiwar politicians, but because there was so much pressure from so many different directions that the pro-war president Nixon was forced to withdraw.) If people invariably rally to lesser evils, all the rulers have to do in any situation that threatens their power is to conjure up a threat of some greater evil.
Even in the rare case when a "radical" politician has a realistic chance of winning an election, all the tedious campaign efforts of thousands of people may go down the drain in one day because of some trivial scandal discovered in his (or her) personal life, or because he inadvertently says something intelligent. If he manages to avoid these pitfalls and it looks like he might win, he tends to evade controversial issues for fear of antagonizing swing voters. If he actually gets elected he is almost never in a position to implement the reforms he has promised, except perhaps after years of wheeling and dealing with his new colleagues; which gives him a good excuse to see his first priority as making whatever compromises are necessary to keep himself in office indefinitely. Hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, he develops new interests and new tastes, which he justifies by telling himself that he deserves a few perks after all his years of working for good causes. Worst of all, if he does eventually manage to get a few "progressive" measures passed, this exceptional and usually trivial success is held up as evidence of the value of relying on electoral politics, luring many more people into wasting their energy on similar campaigns to come.
As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, "It's painful to submit to our bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them!"
--Excerpts from Ken Knabb's The Joy of Revolution.
The complete text is online at:
* * * * *
My intention in circulating these observations is not to discourage you from voting or campaigning, but to encourage you to go further.
Like many other people, I hope that the Democrats recover the majority in one or both houses of Congress, because I think this will tend to counteract or at least slow down some of the more insane policies of the current administration (some of which, such as climate change and ecological devastation, threaten to become irreversible).
Beyond that, I do not expect Democratic politicians to accomplish anything very significant. Most of them are just as corrupt and compromised as the Republicans. Even if a few of them are honest and well-intentioned, they are all loyal servants of the ruling economic system, and they all ultimately function as cogwheels in the murderous political machine that serves to defend that system.
I have considerable respect and sympathy for the people who are campaigning for the Democratic Party while simultaneously trying to reinvigorate it and democratize it. There are elements of a real grassroots movement there, developing in tandem with the remarkable growth of the liberal-radical blogosphere over the last few years.
But imagine if that same energy was put into more directly radical agitation, rather than (or in addition to) campaigning for rival millionaires. As a side effect, such agitation would put the reactionaries on the defensive and actually result in more "progressives" being elected. But more importantly, it would shift both the momentum and the terrain of the struggle.
If you put all your energy into trying to reassure swing voters that your candidate is "fully committed to fighting the War on Terror" but that he has regretfully concluded that we should withdraw from Iraq because "our efforts to promote democracy" there haven't been working, you may win a few votes but you have accomplished nothing in the way of political awareness.
In contrast, if you convince people that the war in Iraq is both evil and stupid, they will not only tend to vote for antiwar candidates, they are likely to start questioning other aspects of the social system. Which may lead to them to challenge that system in more concrete and participatory ways.
(If you want some examples, look at the rich variety of tactics used in France last spring -- http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/france2006.htm.)
The side that takes the initiative usually wins because it defines the terms of the struggle. If we accept the system's own terms and confine ourselves to defensively reacting to each new mess produced by it, we will never overcome it. We have to keep resisting particular evils, but we also have to recognize that the system will keep generating new ones until we put an end to it.
By all means vote if you feel like it. But don't stop there. Real social change requires participation, not representation.
Bureau of Public Secrets
P.O. Box 1044, Berkeley CA 94701, USA - October 17, 2006
"Making petrified conditions dance by singing them their own tune."
Economic Priorities in the Age of Electric Politics: Interview with William J. Baumol
You've probably heard of William J. Baumol -- he's one of America's all-time great economists -- but you may not know that he's put forward, with Ralph E. Gomory, a mathematician, a reworking of the classic theory of trade that's fairly revolutionary. Baumol and Gomory show, beyond doubt, that in certain circumstances (not uncommon circumstances in today's world) free trade will not benefit one of the trading partners. Now, Professor Baumol's view is that the implications of this do not and should not include any consideration of restrictions on trade. He prefers that government help balance the economy by subsidizing research and other economic activity that's export competitive. To be honest, I don't think Professor Baumol is ready, yet, to contend with the implications of his work. Regardless, it's an extremely important development that moves theory, literally, from the early nineteenth century into the modern era.
I'm happy to report that Professor Baumol and I did manage to agree on a number of wider, critical issues, and I believe his perspective should be helpful in sorting out economic priorities.
He's quite a gentleman and a very, very smart fellow. I was delighted to be able to talk with him and I hope you can find time to listen. And if you find the conversation interesting please do pass the link along to your friends.
The podcast entry is here:
Bethesda, Maryland, USA - October 13, 2006
[Ed. George Kenney is a principled US citizen who resigned from the State Department in the early 1990s in opposition to the US policies in the former Yugoslavia.]
To the Editor:
"However, even congressional opponents of the Iraq occupation, with rare exception, are unwilling to speak out against attacking Iran, and progressive lapdogs, like MoveOn are equally cowardly."
--Aljazeera, October 8, 2006
From the article, "Israel's offensive in Lebanon -- Foreplay for the rape of Iran," by Dick Mazess
This rather violent language purports that MoveOn will not speak up against the possible attack on Iran by the U.S., as referenced in the same article as the US "crusade."
Which just irritates me to hell. How distorted is the average American citizen's sensitivity to the current events? It's a civilization of stupid narcotized citizens addicted to boob tube.
Thank you Swans for continuing.
Innkeeper, Old Sea Pines Inn
Brewster, Massachusetts, USA - October 9, 2006
Rebutting Dismissive Rebuttals! More of the Same, Old Same...
To the Editor:
In response to one of my two letters you wrote:
"[ed. AIPAC poured all its support and mucho greens on Joe Lieberman's campaign in the Connecticut Democratic primary. Ned Lamont won. See the power of the Jewish lobby? Actual political results? Where, on the moon? Israel controlling the U.S.? Come again?]"
I remind you that it is a matter of public record that the U.S. was dragged into WWI by Zionist power brokers. This quote, which I picked up by accident a few minutes after reading your rebuttal from President Wilson, who was the sap in question, is apropos:
I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.Note that this does not specifically mention Zionists or AIPAC, but more importantly it illustrates a general principle true in all societies in all times: there is always a smaller group "at the top" exerting far greater influence over general affairs than those "at the bottom," which is not necessarily either a bad or a good thing, but certainly is inevitable in any organisational structure from 10 to 10 billion. Perhaps there is no such thing as a powerful Jewish lobby or international Jewish influence as you suggest, but if so, why do they have/need such a powerful lobby? Surely this is so because they have an agenda they wish to push. Fair enough, and par for the course in human affairs; but unlike nearly all other political lobby organisations within the U.S., their agenda is that of a foreign nation (Israel) not domestic US special interests (tobacco, guns, Christian coalitions, etc.). Surely it would be better to ban such a literally "foreign" organisation from functioning officially within the US body politic? If they are not powerful as you suggest, then it's no big deal, right?
In any case, to pretend that they (along with whatever other foreign national and international corporate "cabals" of whatever sort) do not exert influence is simple denial, and characterising this generally as "controlling the U.S." is simply facetious. At the same time, it says very little itself and further indicates an unwillingness to engage in any substantive issue raised -- for example in the case of my letters: since the U.N. created this mess, they should fix it. But since the U.S. dominates the U.N. and takes Israel's side every time, the U.N. as such does not function as a genuine body of multipolar balance in world affairs. This was true with the very creation of the state of Israel that was determined against the expressed wishes of all the Arab League states at the U.N. My suggestion to decrease the Israeli influence on the US participation in the U.N. is not therefore, perhaps as irrelevant as your dismissive "Israel controlling the U.S." remark so successfully implies, albeit only on the rhetorical level.
It is interesting that Jacob Amir on Sept. 18th characterised the one-state type solution offered on my part as "racist," saying I "want to establish one state and dismantle the Jewish state. Therefore he denies the right of the Jewish people to political self determination and independence, while saying nothing about the many nation-states existing in the world today. That is a racist proposition." This is a very reasonable objection on the surface, but it does beg the question: how many "nation-states existing in the world today" are based on establishing the dominance of one religion-race? Isn't our objection to the rise of fundamentalist Islamic states that they are based on a similar "totalitarian" credo? For example, if the US government were to insist that only white Christians controlled most of the country, how would Jewish Americans (not to mention others) feel about that? I think they would rightly criticise the undertaking as a form of "racism." And yet, is this not essentially what Amir is proposing? For all of Palestine to become one state with both Jewish and Muslim/Arab citizens participating equally does not deny the current Jewish population -- after sixty years of immigration therein -- the right or ability to remain although it does require re-drawing the map legally speaking. It also, moreover, precludes Israel's ability to keep ethnically cleansing the indigenous population whilst simultaneously importing non-Semitic Eastern Europeans into an area with which, racially and historically speaking, they have no connection except through the agency of a shared belief, aka Talmudism (even though most of such individuals are non-religious secularists!). To expect the indigenous population to accept such a rationale is not only unrealistic but indecent -- and clearly after 60 years it has not worked. It seems to me that Mr. Amir is arguing that his people have the right to set up a racist state and that anyone who disputes this is a racist. This is the sort of logic that makes perfect sense to a partisan or fundamentalist, but is logically vacuous and certainly unconvincing to anyone who does not share the same (essentially racist) prejudice.
By the way, despite its current exclusively negative usage, I happen to believe in terms of "racism" that there is a such a thing as "positive racism" or "positive tribalism" and that one could argue convincingly for setting up a state on such a basis versus the current multi-cultural secular paradigm now in vogue and which is highly questionable on many levels. But even so, and assuming Israel is such a "tribal" or "religious" or "racist" entity in the positive sense (which I happen to feel, by the way), they used the mandate of the U.N. to be granted a certain particular territory on which to establish this state, and have proven unwilling since the beginning to stick to that agreement and have meanwhile terrorised hundreds of thousands of people continuously in so doing. Yes, the neighbouring Arab peoples have not proved cooperative, but since they were against the entire enterprise from the beginning this is hardly surprising. Even if such a state has the "right to exist," because they have legally broken the terms of the original agreement/mandate set up by the international community, the same international agency that provided the legitimacy for such an undertaking should rescind it or at the very least enforce the cessation of Israeli occupation practices and furthermore restrict Israel governance/control to within their own borders whilst giving the Palestinians a continuous solid block of territory that includes both Jerusalem and Gaza and forbids Israel the right to unilaterally apply sea blockades, forbid fishermen to fish, merchants to trade etc.. Without some higher authority, in other words, the situation will never be resolved without at some point genocidal wars. This also is the lesson of history throughout all times and cultures. Furthermore, the probability that five million Jews (plus their Diaspora in the West) can successfully conquer most of the well-over-a-billion Islamic region into the foreseeable future for many centuries is slim to say the least, so they had better learn how to live within that cultural Diaspora and not as a ghetto nation that maintains a unique, separate modus. They have to become a part of the Middle East, not apart from it. Any other approach will merely perpetuate the ongoing cycle of aggression in which nobody ever wins and everyone involved continues to suffer needlessly.
Also, ethnic cleansing does not necessarily imply genocide (both terms are vague in any case): it can also simply mean the cleansing of a particular territory of a particular ethnicity. Not a drop of blood need be shed in this, but that doesn't necessarily make it legal, right, or effective in the long run without the willing participation of those who are being evacuated. To expect families who have lived in the same area for generations -- and some for millennia -- to simply up and leave in order to expiate the crimes of the Europeans against the Jewish people is surely one of the most ridiculous -- and unjust -- notions in modern times.
Cape Breton, Canada - October 9, 2006
[ed. On the Lobby and such, much has been said here and needs not repetition ad nauseam. One may want to spend a couple of hours and watch the London Review of Books debate that took place at Cooper Union in New York City on or about September 28, 2006. Moderated by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs), one can watch and listen to the panelists go back and forth on the issues of the Israel Lobby, AIPAC, anti-Semitism, etc. The panelists were: John Mearsheimer (the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago), Shlomo Ben-Ami (former Israeli foreign and security minister), Martin Indyk (Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution), Tony Judt (the Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies and Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University), Rashid Khalidi (the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University), and Dennis Ross (Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy). Not much to add to the discussion from this editor's desk.
Regarding Woodrow Wilson's citation, wherever it comes from and whenever it was delivered, there is nothing that had not been said before him or after him. To wit: 1) "I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." (Thomas Jefferson, 1916). 2) "The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson." (FDR in a November 21, 1933 letter to Colonel E. Mandell House). Did these two presidents have the Zionists (or the Jews) in mind when they uttered those words? I doubt it, but please do not hesitate to substantiate your assertion. As to the claim that the U.S. was dragged into WWI by the Zionists is a matter of public record, please, kindly show the record.]
Italian Fascists Fighting Among Themselves: Peter Byrne's Oriana Fallaci, 1929-2006
To the Editor:
Readers of my piece on Oriana Fallaci in Swans, Sept. 25, might like to know that the movie mentioned there, inspired by Fallaci, has had repercussions in Italian politics. Maurizio Gasparri, ex Minister of Communications under Berlusconi, and contender for leadership of the Neo-Fascist Party (Alleanza Nazionale or AN) was unhappy that The Stone Merchant/Il Mercante di pietre had been laughed off Italian screens. Gasparri organized an afternoon showing in Rome, Oct. 18, and invited the faithful, including his party's leader, Gianfranco Fini. Now the only cheering thing about the AN is that for the present they are more concerned with fighting among themselves than in promoting Fascism. Fini sat through the movie and then got up brusquely and left in a huff, refusing to take part in the planned discussion. Back on the steps of parliament, he summed up director Renzo Martinelli's movie as "spazzatura" or garbage (Repubblica, Oct. 19). He said the crude stereotypes could only increase Islamophobia. Former foreign minister under Berlusconi, Fini has been trying for years to shed the village ranters' tag that -- quite rightly -- attaches to the Neo-Fascists. His wife's gushing in the press not long ago about her tête-à-tête with the Queen of England signaled (hilariously) that the Finis have got half-way to international respectability. Still, whether only a career move or simply another blow struck in party infighting, Fini's one-word film review was on target.
Lecce, Italy - October 19, 2006
Ah, Peace, Freedom & Democracy, from Israel to the USA!
Hey Monsieur d'Aymery,
Le petit chou [ed. that would be Jacob Amir] has lost his poisonous voice, has he not? He's superlative at attacking all the baddies who dare criticize the policies of the Israeli government. From his panoramic window we are all anti-Semites or racists. He, of course, is on god's side (would that be George W.?). Strangely enough, he who is so quick to answer his critics has remained quite mum on your approach to resolve the conflict -- a very sensible response to his inhumane stand.
How does it feel to have lost your "body"? Hopefully, it'll take some time before the new Military Commissions Act of 2006 gets implemented, enough for you to fill a couple of suitcases and move to Canada.
Allez, bon vent. Give 'em hell...though you may wish to soften your tune...
Paris, France - October 20, 2006
Habeas Corpus, R.I.P. -- Podcast with Col. Will Gunn, USAF (Ret.)
It's always interesting to get the story from those on the front lines. In this case, I talked with Will Gunn, who was in charge of setting up the first defense teams of military lawyers for Guantánamo detainees. It's Gunn who hired the staff and supervised the strategy that resulted in Hamdan being won and provoked the administration's counterattack with the recent Military Commissions Act.
Will thinks the Supreme Court will rise above these administration challenges to the Constitution. I hope he's right and I take his judgment seriously -- he's a tough customer who knows what he's talking about.
If you have time, I hope you find this conversation interesting and thought provoking.
The podcast entry is here:
Bethesda, Maryland, USA - October 20, 2006
[Ed. George Kenney is a principled US citizen who resigned from the State Department in the early 1990s in opposition to the US policies in the former Yugoslavia.]
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