Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 28, 2011

Breaking the Blackout: Hearing the More than 100,000 Voices from Saturday's Wisconsin Rally

More from Democracy Now

More Conviction

Again, updated and adapted from the Moot, from an ongoing exchange with Friend of Blog JimF:
I was simply noting that as a believer in "science within reason", I do not expect to be able to convince (or even to have a profitable conversation on certain subjects with) a person who believes in revealed truths about the "larger questions" of life

I guess I misunderstood the thrust of your point then. It seemed to me you were suggesting that for those who apply scientific standards where these are warranted or logical standards where these are warranted or more parochially situated moral or aesthetic or legal standards where these are warranted, that to have a "profitable conversation" with those who refuse to do the same -- even while they are demanding at least some of the time the recognition and status of people who do -- it is the responsibility of those of us who do to enable the false pretense to the contrary of those who do not, where it seems to me this is a functional abdication of reasonableness masquerading as an effort at reasonableness qua tolerance or charity (I mean that in its epistemological reference).

Part of what it means to affirm criteria of warrant as the warrants they are is to act like you mean it when you say they are, and even if we grant that these warrants are historical constructions and context-dependent they still have to be treated as what they are to do what they do. Of course, I happen to pluralize the domains of reasonable belief ascription and their concomitant criteria of warrant and so I find it quite easy to accommodate many positions that typically get straightforwardly dismissed as irrationality by many of the folks who sound like they are offering up intolerant defenses of reasonableness like the one I just offered (that's why I can sound like such a hard-ass and yet still get pilloried as an effete elite aesthete pomo relativist on the other hand in a worst of both worlds sort of way all too typical of the intellectual positions I tend to find my way to).

I certainly do agree with you that there are some people who cannot be reached argumentatively in ways that accord with the criteria of warrant associated with the domain of reasonable belief in play. And, fortunately, quite often it is perfectly right and reasonable to leave them be or ignore them (often these are matters of moral or aesthetic or commercial taste that are quite rightly parochial after all).

But if someone wants to pretend their imperializing moralism is ethically universalizable, or that their personal faith or madness is consensus scientific, or that their commercial interests trump the prior demands of political reconciliation and then not only says these foolish things but also acts on them in public places in ways that are a threat to people, then I'm afraid such people must be educated, marginalized, or fought (and possibly institutionalized) so long as they cannot be made to see sense or at any rate act in ways that accede to nonviolent adjudication of such disputes.

Abdications of reasonableness just amount to pre-emptive surrenders to unreasonableness in such matters and such misbegotten strategies should not be misconstrued as tolerant or nonviolent or relativist meta-reasonablenesses of all things. I guess I mis-read you as advocating such a viewpoint. I so regularly get mis-read as advocating such a viewpoint myself you can be sure you have my sympathies.

Krugthulu on Wisconsin

Krugman posts to his blog about the sudden striking media blackout of the ongoing urgently important pro-labor mass protests in Madison, Wisconsin, which are growing rather than shrinking all the while their media coverage is ominously shrinking. Nobody who remembers the triumphalist run-up to the illegal immoral Iraq war based on lies, and the hundreds of thousands of protestors in every city who knew better than their "betters" what was happening and likely to happen and yet were treated by the media at best as a minor irrelevance can feel particularly cheerful to find the voice of the decent sensible majority ignored by elite-incumbent forces the better to impose their disastrous anti-democratizing measures. In a recent column, Krugman also used Naomi Klein's "shock doctrine" (from her book of the same name, and referring, in a nutshell, to the opportunistic recourse by incumbent elites to a self-created or exacerbated crisis situation to impose authoritarianism and loot commonwealth) in his analysis of Walker's union-busting crony-capitalistic power grab in Wisconsin. Even if I personally believe that her earlier effort No Logo is the better of her books (I teach it in every critical theory survey course to this day, right there along with Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Fanon, Benjamin, Adorno, Barthes, Debord, Arendt, Foucault, Gilroy, Haraway, Butler), I am thrilled any time a large audience is directed to Klein's work.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Country Is Not A Company, A Country Is Not a Household

National governments have policy tools and resources that are unavailable to CEOs or folks sorting bills at kitchen tables. Every single person who appeals to intuitions from these domains is misleading you and you must be profoundly wary of them. Companies and households are nodes in national economies, not models of national economies.

It is easy, of course, to see why such appeals to everyday experience are attractive to pundits and politicians, especially to not very bright or to not particularly scrupulous pundits and politicians. But just as it is perfectly understandable but utterly misleading to say that the world is flat because it seems flat and that the Sun rises and falls because it seems to do so, it is also perfectly understandable but utterly misleading to say that we should be cutting spending as the first (or even only) recourse to balance our budget and "get our fiscal house in order" just as responsible firms and households would do.

With interests rates up against the zero lower bound as in fact they are, public investment to stimulate job growth and hence address the ongoing human crisis of historically high levels of long-term unemployment won't be offset by higher interest rates that would force a job contraction in the relevant time frame. That isn't an easy phenomenon to wrap your head around, I suppose, at least not until you give it a little thought. Certainly, it is initially counter-intuitive so long as you are drawing from the quotidian experience of a small company's or a household's budgeting priorities.

But, come what may, precisely at a time like this deficit spending can be stimulative in a national economy. We can indeed, if we are judicious and intelligent about it, "spend our way to prosperity" more quickly and effectively than not, even though in a company or a household spending at such a time might be profoundly reckless. Further, such public investment via deficit spending might be the only real stimulative tool at hand to circumvent the widespread long-term misery demanded by what pass for "market-based" corrections.

That such misery is morally unacceptable to any responsible person when there are alternatives available is what Keynes was pointing out when he replied to market ideologues recommending such "natural" but immiserating corrections (for majorities of their fellow citizens, from most of whose lives such economists were disconnected by personal wealth and station and the sociopathy that so often go with them) that "in the long run we are all dead."

Of course, Republican demands for tax cuts for the rich (curtailing revenue) while cutting spending (public investment for the maintenance of order and provision for tomorrow) make little fiscally responsible sense either in terms of the company and household analogies they so eagerly and falsely apply to Democrats. But, then again, the Republicans are a holy army of market and religious fundamentalists on the road to serfdom, channeling money and influence to would-be patron feudal lords while knocking out all the supports of would-be serf majorities at every opportunity, under every pretext, and it has been a long time since anybody demanded conceptual coherence or argumentative consistency from the likes of them: theirs is the only-apparent but apparently irresistible coherence and consistency of relentless insensate bulldozing momentum.

It is the job of pundits and politicians to explain such things to the people in whose names or for whose benefit they are administering the policy apparatus of government or commenting on the vicissitudes of its working. We need to stop paying those who fail in this responsibility. At the moment, too many of these flat-earth failures are running the operation to the ruin of all.

Government Shutdown Winners and Losers

The pathetic gossip columnists who pass for punditocrats breathlessly squealing on the Sunday shows about who will "win" and who will "lose," who will be "up" and who will be "down" if the GOP's newly elected crop of anti-government zealots manage, predictably enough, to break the government they despise so much (you get what Republicans vote for when you decide to sit elections out, Democrats), all seem to me to be failing tragically to pay attention to all the real protagonists in this sordid stupid drama. If the government is shut down by the Republicans everyday people who depend on actually functioning government by the millions will lose.

In A Surprise Move, John McCain Wants to Start Bombing Libya

The Hill:
Two senators urged the Obama administration to give "tangible" support to the opposition in Libya in terms of recognizing the opposition as the legitimate government, arming the opposition and establishing a no-fly zone over the North African country. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) spoke on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday morning from Egypt

Honestly, is there anything bombing isn't the answer to for these killer clowns?

Courses I'm Teaching This Summer in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley

Rhetoric 121: "Rhetoric of Narrative Selfhood in the Graphic Novel"
TWR 4.30-7 100 Wheeler May 23-July 1

In this course we will survey rhetorical gestures -- logical, topical, and tropological -- through which a selfhood whose substance is construed as narrative is variously conjured up and deployed in a host of (mostly) contemporary graphic serial textual forms from Trajan's great stone self-promotional column to the scattered photographs of the deceased Didier Lefevre organized and supplemented between the covers of "The Photographer." What passes for selfhood -- from the records of notorious historical figures to traces from anonymous everyday citizens, from the voices of reporters and storytellers, from politicians on a mass mediated campaign trail to the ethos of a whole socioeconomic class at a particular historical juncture, to a "living" political document, among many other subjects -- and what matters in and about these selves varies enormously across the range of these works of graphic biography and autobiography, imaginary memoir, advocacy journalism, adapted ethnography and media transcripts we are reading, as well as in a couple of film adaptations we'll watch together. We will devote attention to writings by artists Will Eisner, Scott McCloud, Alan Moore, and Art Spiegelman on both the theory and practice of storytelling and characterization in graphic novelization, but the center of gravity for our conversations will remain our shared and intensive engagements with these extraordinary works over our weeks together. By the end you'll have a story to tell about selves for yourselves.

Our reading list is long and, I fear, dauntingly expensive. I will put a copy of every piece we are reading together available on reserve in the Rhetoric library, and I hope that at least some of us can arrange to trade and share copies as a community to defray some of these costs. Those of you who buy all of the required texts may find you have accidentally embarked on a new and ruinously costly obsession (my apologies). These works will be supplemented by practical and theoretical essays collected in a brief reader.

Required Texts

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Michael Crowley and Dan Goldman, 08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail
Howard Cruse, Stuck Rubber Baby
Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, Frederic Lemercier, The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan With Doctors Without Borders
Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation
Sabrina Jones, Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography
Hayao Miyazaki, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (film adaptation of Miyazaki's own graphic series)
Keiji Nakazawa, Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima, vol. one
Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack, Our Cancer Year
Harvey Pekar, Paul Buhle, Studs Terkel, Working: A Graphic Adaptation
Joe Sacco, Palestine
Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud, writers and directors, Persepolis (film adaptation of Satrapi's Graphic Novels)
J.P. Stassen, Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda
Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Good-Bye
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese

Rhetoric R1B: "Argument Against Violence and As Violence"
TWR 3-5.30 79 Dwinelle July 5-August 12

This is a course in critical reading and argumentative writing. More specifically, this course will teach you how to write a research essay in the form of an argument based on textual close readings. We will work on the elements of such an argument early on in the term. But from the beginning of the course to the end our efforts will not be confined to the reading and writing of arguments from a rhetorical vantage, but also to an extended meditation on rhetoric conceived as a space for the nonviolent adjudication of disputes. We will think about persuasion not only as practices that would repudiate violence, but as practices haunted by violence, complicit in violence, responsive to violence, and responsible for violence as well. The texts with which we will be grappling provide us with exemplary arguments and incite us to generate arguments of our own. We will be examining texts that range widely in form -- a Platonic dialogue, a play, a manifesto, an open letter, essays and editorials, a novel, a graphic novel, a film. Over the course of our discussions and through a series of written assignments and workshop exercises you will slowly accumulate useful strategies for reading and writing arguments. By the end of the term you will have mastered the skills it takes to produce a first-rate research paper, and to prove it to me you'll produce one.

Required Texts:

Plato, Apology
Euripides, Hecuba
Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence
Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
Jane Addams, Newer Ideals of Peace
Dorothy Day, Pacifism
Mohandes K. Gandhi, My Faith in Nonviolence
Walter Benjamin, Critique of Violence
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham City Jail
Hannah Arendt, Reflections on Violence
Frantz Fanon, Concerning Violence
Art Spiegelman, Maus
Octavia Butler, Kindred
David Cronenberg, dir., A History of Violence
Arundhati Roy, War Is Peace
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wisconsin Police Union Announces Solidarity With Occupiers of the State House

Futurological Brickbats

Evolution is not a design process, and no implemented design is more natural than any other. Futurologists attributing to their preferred designs the inspiration or force of the natural are always either peddling parochialisms with deceptive analogies or foolishly mistaking ornaments for instruments.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Don't Make Wisconsin and Libya About Obama

I hear a growing number of people on the left expressing anger at the Obama administration for refusing to indulge in amplified symbolic gestures of support for resistance movements in Wisconsin and Libya.

This makes me very nervous. It reminds me too much of those progressive voices whose megaphoning of disappointment with the first two years of the Obama administration (some more justified than others) played out primarily in Democratic low-enthusiasm rather than Democratic resolution and yielded primarily depressed voter turnout and crazytown Republican victories rather than resolved reformist pushes for more, and better, Democrats.

I cannot for the life of me see what the spectacle of an Obama declaration of Wisconsin's Walker an enemy of the people or of an Obama swinging-dick swagger about the unilateral imposition of no-fly zones over Libya could possibly do to provide actual material support for the righteous resisters in either of these urgent struggles. If the speeches were real barn burners, they might at best provide a momentary inspiration or comfort to the resisters, and drive a news cycle into a frenzy of briefly exhilarated lefties and hyperventilating wingnuts. But to what substantial benefit and at what substantial cost?

Given the ample evidence that the administration is indeed providing real and timely material support for the good guys via OFA in Wisconsin and the State Department and the UN in Libya, the calls for Obama to indulge in media spectacles "to show he cares" (beyond his explicit declarations to that effect already, of course) seem to me especially misplaced.

While I do not doubt that there is plenty to criticize in the administration's policies here and there in these crises -- that is always the case, obviously -- but I strongly disagree with anybody who wants to imply that the reluctance of the administration to throw tantrums in favor of resisters amounts of all things to stealthy declarations of administration support for Walker's union-busting or for Gaddafi crimes against his own people for pete's sake. Maybe nobody actually thinks such a palpably ridiculous thing in explicit terms, but it is hard for me to square some of the misdirected rage I am hearing at Obama's handling of these events with attributions to his "reticence" of attitudes more mild than such foolishness.

Were Obama to engage in the spectacular politics that growing numbers of left media figures are now demanding of him, I daresay his gestures would prove a lightning rod around which the reactionary thugs of the GOP and Libyan dictatorship would instantly and effectively mobilize in a manner that so far they have not been able to do. And should that happen Obama would surely -- and I think rightly -- be criticized as having commandeered resistance struggles of which he was not an integral part in the service of superficial and personal gains to the costs of the movements themselves.

Those on the left who are crying out for such actions seem to me at best to be demanding actions that are ill-considered (I'd propose that Ed Shultz may be one doing this), at worse in ways that are self-aggrandizing (I'd propose that Cenk Uygur may be one doing this).

Even if the Obama Administration could indeed do more, or do better (which is a safe bet even for the best administrations), the problem at hand in Wisconsin and in Libya is not that Obama Administration is not doing more or doing better. The focus in Wisconsin should remain forcefully on smug dead-eyed Scotty Walker and the shock-doctrinaire union-busting Movement Republicans and their corporate backers as well as on the dazzling grassgroots protests and the righteous Democratic Senatorial refuseniks. The focus in Libya should be the gangster Gaddafi and the ongoing mobilization of condemnations and sanctions arising out of global governance, which are fracturing and isolating the regime while protesters gain ever greater control over Libya.

Libya is not Egypt: Unlike the Youth Movement in Egypt the leaders of the resistance inside Libya were not organized and well-prepared by years of nonviolence training and democratic education, and the result is unspeakably horrific and profoundly uncertain (although, I remain desperately hopeful about its eventual prospects as a closed society reconnects with the creative resources of the Libyan diaspora). In no small part, Wisconsin is what happens when Democrats don't get out the vote, especially now that every layer of governance under the sway of Republicans -- including governors who used to have to have their feet on the ground at least some of the time and judges who used to be beholden to professional standards of reasonableness at least some of the time -- has been fatally radicalized by the extreme authoritarian nihilist Movement Republican wing of the GOP.

Let's just say, not to put too fine a point on it, that Twitter won't save Libya any more than a big Obama speech will save Wisconsin's unions. Politics isn't about media spectacles, substantial resistance isn't "viral," however much superficial punditocrats across the spectrum would like to think otherwise. Nor, I might add, is insurrection a "trend" for gossip-columnists to discuss like the latest fashion in handbags.

In my view the Obama administration hasn't done too badly through all of this in the main (usual qualifications and objections notwithstanding). That doesn't mean their politics are my politics. It means that I don't expect an American President and his Administration fully to reflect the politics of a secular democratic socialist feminist vegetarian queer aesthete, and judge administrations as better or worse, helpful or not, to my political ideals and desired eventual outcomes accordingly. This isn't a council of resignation in the name of pragmatism. To the extent that my ideals are more radical I know to look to education, agitation, and organization otherwise and elsewhere, and so should those who want Wisconsin to be a first step toward a revitalized labor movement and radical democratization of the United States or who want Libya to another step in a world-historical North African and Middle Eastern spring for democracy.

Don't make Wisconsin and Libya about Obama. It makes little sense, does no good, and risks doing real harm.

Futurological Brickbats

Futurological predictions are just prescriptions without the courage of convictions.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Can Queer Radicalisms Be Enabled by Gay Assimilationist Politics?

As a queer teacher and practitioner of nonviolence who thinks marriage is mostly an invitation to unhealthy co-dependence and a patriarchal vestige of human trafficking and who believes first of all that the derangements of desire are self-creative ends in themselves, even when they fail, I cannot help but re-iterate that I am far from enthused by the reduction of emancipatory queer politics to what amounts to celebration of and assimilation to the bourgeois project of endless shopping, patriotic murder to maintain attractive markets for endless shopping, and compulsory reprosexuality to provide the next generation of consumers and warriors for endless shopping (that is to say, gay politics as nothing but the struggle to legalize open military service, gay marriage, and gay parentage).

But I do recognize that legal legibility in these terms provides what for many really does seem to amount to the indispensable foundations for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let alone for any more capacious understanding of queer political projects. And this recognition suggests to me that queer radicalism demands at once that the assimilated queer subject be provided for, the better to be rejected or elaborated otherwise.

In other words, my own queer repudiation of militarist masculinity is all the more forceful now for its welcome after the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" of my participation, which I now reject on my own terms rather than in a lame recognition of the fact that I am always-already rejected come what may. My queer repudiation of marriage as a delusive and possessive organization of meaningful loving affinity is likewise all the more forceful for its welcome after the legalization of Gay Marriage and even robust Domestic Partnership statutes of my participation. So, too, my queer repudiation of the reprosexual reduction of the contingent disruptive provocative problematizing promising experimental field of embodied and desiring practices of sex-gender is all the more forceful once adoption and same-sex parental rights and protections welcome my participation on those reductive terms.

Sex-Gender-Sexuality are languages we speak and which speak us no less. We are all of us prosaic legal subjects (or at any rate, we hope to be: to fail to manage to be prosaic is to risk being rendered illegal in our substance, informal, incomparably precarious), and we are also all of us, in certain blessed moments of serendipity and grace at least, incarnated poems.

To strive to be free is at once to strive to be legible, literal, but also to resist reduction to the literal, to desire to be figurative, to turn and in turn provoke the profound turn of desire and change in others.

The competent speaker of a language, mind you, not only knows how to make meaning in that language through the proper deployment of its literal vocabulary and following its grammatical rules correctly, but also grasps and knows how to make meaning by violating the rules of that language while still, somehow, speaking it, deranging its literal usages and taking up its fallacious forms turning then into forceful rather than simply incorrect or nonsensical figurative ones.

To be illegible is to risk violation and abjection, even if for some lucky people this illegibility has provoked creative expressivities and lifeways that are wonderful, heroic. But while it may be radical to demand an impossible heroism of all people and in all moments of life, that radicalism too easily amounts to little more than a declaration of indifference and hostility for one's peers in the world and the terms in which they actually live the meaningful substance of their lives, it is too easily an ungenerous, inhumane radicalism: What is radical and also liberal, generous, humane is to grasp the beauty, the creativity, the meaning in lives that are not heroic, or in those parts of our lives that are not heroic, as well as in those few who or moments which do differ heroically in ways that render more capacious the space in which the everyday lives free.

A queer politics reduced to bourgeois assimilation is a queer politics shorn of its promise and provocation, no doubt, but a queer politics that rejects the assimilationist project altogether in its bid for radicalism (a gesture to which I am all too prone myself) is, I fear, a queer politics too readily shorn of its promise as well: Availability to gay assimilation is necessary to those queers who would refuse to avail themselves of it in their work to be queer otherwise. What is wanted, I think, are queernesses that welcome being welcomed into the world on its terms, and then welcome that world to come well elsewhere.

First DADT, Next DOMA, Next…?

President Obama has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act is indeed unconstitutional, and has ordered his Justice Department to stop defending it. This is another lgbtq civil rights milestone courtesy of the Obama Administration (of which the ongoing implementation of DADT repeal is the most conspicuous but not the only one), and it is unquestionably a testament to the ongoing pressure of lgbtq activists on just this issue over the last couple of years. I also hope, but despair of the hope, that this latest stance might undermine, if only just a smidge, the lazy chorus of Obama-as-stealth-or-little-better-than-Bush that plays out in low Democratic voter enthusiasm and hence substantially enables bigot batshit criminal crazytown Republican victories by default.

Here is the DoJ statement:
Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Statement of the Attorney General on Litigation Involving the Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON – The Attorney General made the following statement today about the Department’s course of action in two lawsuits, Pedersen v. OPM and Windsor v. United States, challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage for federal purposes as only between a man and a woman:

In the two years since this Administration took office, the Department of Justice has defended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act on several occasions in federal court. Each of those cases evaluating Section 3 was considered in jurisdictions in which binding circuit court precedents hold that laws singling out people based on sexual orientation, as DOMA does, are constitutional if there is a rational basis for their enactment. While the President opposes DOMA and believes it should be repealed, the Department has defended it in court because we were able to advance reasonable arguments under that rational basis standard.

Section 3 of DOMA has now been challenged in the Second Circuit, however, which has no established or binding standard for how laws concerning sexual orientation should be treated. In these cases, the Administration faces for the first time the question of whether laws regarding sexual orientation are subject to the more permissive standard of review or whether a more rigorous standard, under which laws targeting minority groups with a history of discrimination are viewed with suspicion by the courts, should apply.

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.

I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President’s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President's and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.
The Department has a longstanding practice of defending the constitutionality of duly-enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense. At the same time, the Department in the past has declined to defend statutes despite the availability of professionally responsible arguments, in part because – as here – the Department does not consider every such argument to be a “reasonable” one. Moreover, the Department has declined to defend a statute in cases, like this one, where the President has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional.

Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Several lower courts have ruled DOMA itself to be unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA will continue to remain in effect unless Congress repeals it or there is a final judicial finding that strikes it down, and the President has informed me that the Executive Branch will continue to enforce the law. But while both the wisdom and the legality of Section 3 of DOMA will continue to be the subject of both extensive litigation and public debate, this Administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Glee Observation

Coach Beiste looks like Bill Clinton.

Working America

Remember, if you're not in a union but want to express solidarity with organized labor politics, beyond, you know, just working within the Democratic Party to make it still more labor friendly than it already is (believe, there is room for improvement there), you might look into joining Working America, the community affiliate organization of the AFL-CIO.

Don't Be So Sure Democrats Are Going to Win This Thing

I wonder how many people raising righteous hell at Republican union-busting right about now also facilitated this predictable outcome by contributing to low Democratic voter turnout in November? I wonder how many people triumphantly declaring that overreach will bite Republicans in the ass will still remember their current outrage six months from now, let alone when these anti-government anti-tax anti-democratic union-busters are up for re-election and start tweeting their usual dumbass anti-government swinging dick slogans again?

I can't honestly say that I think our side is going to win the current stand-off in Wisconsin, in either the short term (Walker or legislative Republicans blinking on this reactionary bullshit) or the longer term (Democrats mobilizing a stronger electoral coalition more devoted to social justice outcomes). Losses like the ones we are confronting now were baked into the cake in November -- which is why my hair was on fire in the low-enthusiasm party-equivalence-thesis run-up to November.

I agree that Wisconsin has enabled a long overdue public discussion of the righteousness and indispensability of collective bargaining in our democracy. Whether or not this actually pays the dividends it obviously should in the long-term organizing of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party will entirely depend on the sustained energy and attention of activists, and will require a discipline and commitment to clear pro-government pro-labor arguments none of which is exactly anything we can simply assume will be on offer. Much the same is true of the coming government shut down that November also baked into the cake. Without organizational and messaging discipline all this can really be lose lose lose for us all.

Is Every Conviction a Cult?

I am so used to defending myself against charges concerning my presumed menacing effete elite aesthete postmodern relativism from robot cultists who fancy themselves enlightenment champions because they expect to upload their biological brains into cyberspatial immortality in virtual reality treasure porno caves under the care of benevolent superintelligent robot gods that I find myself quite surprised to be chided occasionally as well for being intolerantly absolutist and blinkered on other days. If I am not mistaken this is one of those days.

Last week I directed readers to a proposed South Dakota law that might legalize the murder of health care providers giving women access to constitutionally protected abortion services by describing killings intended to protect fetuses as "justifiable homicide," as it happens a commonplace rationalization in militant anti-abortion discourse. I declared that the tendency of a generation of pro-choice discourse to shy away from clear statements of the stakes at issue in this debate worked to facilitate anti-abortionists by leaving altogether unchallenged their enabling assumptions. Pro-choice advocates should have been pointing out loudly and often that early-term fetuses are simply not people, but that pregnant women (and health care providers) clearly ARE. Of course, pro-choice advocates overwhelmingly do believe this obviously true statement of fact -- as do many who lackadaisically support anti-abortion politics out of a general squeamishness about discussion of any private health care or sexual matters but who can't be brought to approve recommendations to jail those who undergo or provide abortion procedures thus giving the lie to their supposed belief that fetuses are people since that would make murder and abortion analogous -- a conviction that should be a great strength for pro-choice advocacy.

But institutional pro-choice arguments have tended for a generation (at any rate, so it seems to me) instead to favor technocratic appeals to grounds for compromise in facts such as that actual abortion procedures actually take place much less often whenever family-planning and health care services (including abortion procedures) so despised by anti-abortion militants are readily available to all citizens. All of that is true enough, of course, but scarcely to the point when one is arguing with people who fail to grasp the more elementary facts that pregnant women and abortion providers are fully-fledged people with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and all the rest, while early term fetuses quite obviously are not.

One of the first commenters in the Moot for the post, expressed agreement but also frustration: "I don't even know why this is even an issue."

To this sentiment I commiserated: "This is true of so many issues in the United States -- from evolution, drug policy, capital punishment, taxation, gun control, climate change, infrastructure, militarism, so much more -- almost always because of the lies of Republicans, it is frankly difficult to remain conscientious or even sane in this slaughterhouse.

"I can't help but think of Auden:

"Some think they're strong,
Some think they're smart,
Like butterflies they're torn apart.
America can break your heart."

To this comment long-time Friend of Blog (and also, I might add, personal friend) JimF, wrote this thoughtful demurral from the thrust of my response:
Of course we all know **why** these things are issues. We may not agree with the people who make them issues (I certainly don't), but it's naive (or worse, fatuous) to pretend that one can't see **why** they're issues.

It also does no good politically (IMHO) either actually not to understand "the other side" or to **pretend** not to understand them.

All it leads to is stereotyped shouting across the barricades. Something like what Orwell called "duckspeak" (in 1984's "Newspeak") -- just sloganeering that might as well be a recording; the words bounce off both sides.

What have we here? Quite unlooked-for, a thoughtful conversation seems to be afoot! Hurrah! I replied:

"I know what you're talking about, but I think you're overgeneralizing in this comment.

"Sure, there's always some determinable why in play, but with many of these issues on the right wing side that "why" really does just amount to straightforward ignorance or idiotic greed or incredibly ugly racism and there is no way to address the reality of the politics that is not vulnerable to the superficial ascription to the left of the accusation of "stereotypical shouting across the barricades" precisely because the reality is brutally stereotypical.

"In such circumstances, trying to propose fact-based harm-reduction policy prescriptions on drug policy, law enforcement, gun regulation, immigration reform, tax policy, addressing climate change, sex education and family planning, infrastructure investment, and so on actually puts you in a surreal position of disadvantage wherein you are not only struggling to advocate for outcomes and mechanisms that require effort and education to understand, which often depend on counter-intuitive insights and knowledges (national budgets aren't the same family budgets, abortions happen less often when abortions and other family planning services become more available, there are some public goods that governments demonstrably provide better than private enterprise does and vice versa, and so on).

"But in addition to this already difficult task you are required to pretend that your opponents are being reasonable when in fact they are just lying or fulminating or simply don't have the slightest idea what they are talking about and are flinging simplistic slogans and distraction around because to call them out on what they are doing exposes you to the charge that you are being unfair and unreasonable to describe the reality that they are being unfair and unreasonable.

"Frankly, it's bullshit, and only evil and stupidity ever benefit from the charade."

Let me point out, by the way, in case that isn't plainly evident from the context and in case a newcomer to the blog hasn't read him testify to his politics, JimF's and my own political commitments overlap quite a bit, and so it is important that readers not leap to dismiss his point out of sympathy for my political convictions here, which Jim largely shares. To my reply, then, Jim, then offered the following comment:
Yes. But:

1) You and I both know that mutual recognition of "facts" requires a shared frame of reference that often doesn't exist between ideologues of the left and right (on matters from abortion and homosexuality to public funding of health care to foreign policy).

2) It is nevertheless possible to recognize a coherent frame of reference which one does not inhabit oneself. Even folks on the right can do this, though they're liable to call their reconstruction of the foreign frame "evil". "decadent", "destructive", "effete" or just plain "stupid", while when the left-wing folks do it they'll use descriptions like "idiotic greed", "ugly racism", or "incredibly ignorant".

3) Both sides repackage what they're hearing from the other side according to their own model of the other side's frame of reference ("yes, of course that's what they'd say").

Actually switching frames of reference is a life-changing experience. It's like leaving a cult. Frequently (especially if it means abandoning a religion) it means cutting oneself off from parents and siblings, erstwhile friends, even spouse and children. How this sort of thing comes about seems to me to have little to do with ordinary "political discourse". Going to school, having unrestricted access to books, the Web (and YouTube) seems to catalyze the transition for some people once it's started, but the seeds of change seem to come from somewhere else.

Yes, **after** such a personality-shattering experience it's possible to "hear" heretofore unassimilable "facts".

It's a strange thing. There are some interesting stories on YouTube (from ex-Mormons, ex-Scientologists, and the like, or people from conservative religious backgrounds who have had to face their own, or a child's, homosexuality). There's one gay male couple (with two adopted children) on YouTube, one of whom is a cop (and he looks and talks like a cop, too!) -- a big, beefy guy from a conservative religious family who excelled at sports to please his father (who has had nothing to do with him since he came out), and who once denied his sexual orientation to the point of getting a girl pregnant in high school. In one video, this guy describes himself as a "recovering Republican". I had to smile at that. But that's the kind of crucible it takes to change people, it seems to me. Homosexuality (absolutely not being able to conform, no matter what) is one sort of crucible. Experience in war can be another. E.g., George Orwell's disillusionment with the Communist Party as a result of his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Or Gordon Livingston's ("Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart") disillusionment in American foreign policy as a result of serving in Viet Nam (after graduating from West Point).

But most folks, most of the time, are just comfortably singing along with the choir, well insulated from the discords coming from the band next door.

To which, I replied in turn:

"Doesn't the metaphor of "switching frames of reference" you mobilize here rely for its force on the implicit recognition of a world susceptible of actually warrantable descriptions, which you then disavow in analogizing all convictions, however warranted, as cult-like?

"You are right to point out that all conviction corrals the believer into communities of belief with a yield of both pleasures and pressures that are more addictive [eg, psychosomatic, conferring belonging, positional legibility, comfort, etc.] than strictly argumentative, and that respect for argument demands vigilance to these.

"But this is hardly the only consideration that matters to those who would be reasonable, and in some conflicts -- such as one that arrays the environmentalist against the corporate-funded climate-change denialist, the harm-reduction family planning or drug policy maker against the Christianist moralist, the civil libertarian and antigay or white racist bigot -- the comparable force of their conviction and the emotional/moral support they get from their fellows is scarcely more important than the actual substance that distinguishes them, both in terms of the actual propositional content of their belief, and the matter of the demonstrable relation of their different beliefs to the demonstrable criteria that warrant scientific beliefs as best on offer or criteria that warrant ethical beliefs as equitable-in-diversity or political/policy beliefs as optimally efficacious as constrained by equitability-in-diversity.

"There are plenty of conflicts in which I am the first to insist -- as you are here, if I am reading you aright -- that we need to identify imaginatively with the point of view of interlocutors the better to learn from them and reconcile with them, but there are also times when one has to choose sides and when to refrain from so doing is no different from choosing the side with which one is substantially least sympathetic in fact."

There are a lot of people on the right who claim to want to cut spending but not to cut any services from which they or anybody they know actually benefit, which means they don't want to cut any services worth mentioning. There are a lot of people on the right who trust scientific experts when it comes to their own life-or-death surgical procedure but not when it comes to climate scientists declaring life-or-death consequences of pointlessly polluting industrial-extractive processes, but cannot account for just why expertise counts in the one case and not the other. There are a lot of people on the right who identify with the firefighting and emergency medical heroes of 9/11 right up until the moment they try to organize to protect benefits they received to the cost of salaries in free negotiations according to constitutional rights more clearly specified by the first amendment than the ones they themselves bark about in the second, just as their are a lot of people on the right who scream about the protection of children from suffering and harm right up until the day they are born at which point any question of protection and support for the actually living becomes despised parasitism and welfare coddling. There are folks on the right who despise the ACLU but depend on it to support their right to free expression in courts of law, who despise the United Nations and social justice organizations but who selectively quote their decisions and rely on their judgments whenever they support any of their own causes, who gorge at the public trough while railing against entitlements, who fulminate about the evils of planned economies and then declare defense the only justified government activity in a world in which Defense demands a fully-fledged planned economy and welfare state to support its activities. There are an awful lot of white-racist war-mongering greedheads who claim to worship above all a certain brown-skinned pacifist champion of the poor...

One cannot seriously claim that one fails to convince such people simply because in one's own contrary convictions -- even when they are as conscientiously warranted by scrupulously supported consistent clear public arguments as may be -- one has failed adequately to imaginatively inhabit the self-serving convolutions of greedy lying pathological right wing opponents at their worst. Sometimes what is wanted instead is to make one's own case on its strongest terms, educate, agitate, and organize on their behalf, and prevail over those who oppose you -- ideally in ways from which they too will benefit soon enough, so that in hindsight at any rate they will come to see the error of their ways.

Anybody else want to weigh in?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Only Single Payer Will Cover Your Ass! Paula Poundstone for the California OneCare Campaign

The Looters Want a "Spending" Conversation Because Democracy Needs an "Unemployment" Conversation

Every time you hear a politician or a pundit speaking about our current economic woes as a "spending" crisis rather than an "unemployment" crisis, what you must immediately recognize and pay close attention to is that you are not hearing a serious discussion of our economic problems at all, you are hearing the voice either of a scoundrel or a complete ignoramus. This is not to deny any relevance to questions of spending priorities (no sensible person can contemplate the illegal immoral wars of choice based on lies of the dreary last decade and doubt that spending priorities deserve attention as part of the mess we're in), but it seems to me we are hearing the word "spending" something like ten times for every time we hear the word "unemployment" at this point and at a time when unemployment is at catastrophically high levels with no end in sight. The focus should be exactly the reverse, and the only reason it is not is because Republicans use literally any crisis, any problem, any state of affairs at all as an excuse to hammer at the nail of cuts to entitlements that protect everyday citizens from the brutal volatility of markets and cuts to taxes to protect the profits of incumbent-elites, all in their ongoing effort to demolish the institutions of democratic governance, to drown government of, by, and for the people in the bathtub, the better, they fancy, to loot the ruins and exploit the demoralized in their dream of a post-democratic neo-feudal order.

Precedents Day

I'll admit I'm toggling obsessively between al Jazeera on the uprising in Libya and FreespeechTV on the resistance in Wisconsin... Just taking it in, rather dazed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wrecking Crew Populism

It would seem that the disenfranchised disorganized disinformed right wing working stiffs stiffed since before they can remember by the long Reagan generation of crapitalist greedheadism run amok now see that some few remaining public sector workers are slightly more secure than they are, and rather than it occurring to them that maybe they should re-organize themselves to push back against the universally immiserating greedhead tide would prefer to hoot and holler instead to tear their fellows down to their own level of idiot misery while the greedheads laugh their asses off and rake in the cash. The usual Republican mean dick dumbass bag of hairball.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Now Is the Perfect Timing to Push the Borders of Freedom Further": Egyptian Students Publish "El Gornal" Newspaper Without Government Permission

via Democracy Now!
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: [Y]outh here have been critical to this revolution. A lot of people called it the revolution of the youth. While they first took to the streets... they were joined by all Egyptians eventually. And they are taking some of the boldest steps in this uprising, going forward...

[W]hat I am holding in my hand here is the first edition of a newspaper, that’s called "El Gornal," which means newspaper in Egyptian-Arabic, it just means journal, kind of our word for it. And they have printed it and are [also] distributing it online... But the reason they are printing it in addition to putting it online is intentionally to break Egyptian law which bars the printing and distributing of newspapers without permission. So [this] is Sanaa Seif, she is a high school student and I spoke to her about this paper.

SANNA SEIF: My name is Sanaa and I am 17. I’m in my last high school year. We thought that right now is the perfect timing to push the borders of freedom further. So, we thought, why not lets make a newspaper and lets not get permission for that, let’s just sell it in the streets. Its a very symbolic thing, we are not counting on it, we don’t have a big budget, but we want to force this, we want to have the freedom of expression. We want to force it further.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So usually you have to have permission to print and newspaper in Egypt?

SANNA SEIF: Yes. That's the first time this will happen. So, we’ll see.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what kind of paper is it? Describe it.

SANNA SEIF: Okay, -- its called "Voices of Tahrir," which is "liberation." We thought that the first copy has to be like each one of us after the experience of the revolution, has having something to say. So we called everyone we know, we called people from Tahrir Square, Alexandria, people who have been there doing something in this revolution. And everybody wrote something.

She went on to say, "[I]t is like a blog."

I didn't want to let her powerful and inspiring words end on that statement, without contextualizing it at least, because that last claim, alone among all her words, might feed I fear into the ongoing facile techno-utopian narratives of the west that the substantial education, agitation, and organizing that actually made the Egyptian Revolution possible can be dismissed in favor of vapid marketing and promotional discourse about facebook and twitter and cellphones and so on.

I know I have been something of a broken record on this point the last couple of weeks here, but none of these useful media tools on the own are the least bit revolutionary, of course, and indeed the prevailing usages of all of them are, in my view, reactionary in fact: promoting the ongoing subversion of public discourse by hyperbolically fraudulent, deceptive, superficial, and sensationalist advertizing norms and enabling the ongoing intensification of elite-incumbent corporate-military surveillance and targeting practices.

It is easy, of course, to see the force of the analogy of blogging to journalism to a young person used to expression in the blog form. Blogging has been from the first, after all, a form drawing on the journalistic column and the diaristic journal in more or less equal measure, without ever stabilizing definitively into either form and therefore becoming something rather different from either one.

But I do think it is more important to grasp, beyond this obvious if superficial analogy to blogging, what is truly groundbreaking in what "El Gornal" is doing, as Sanna Seif does when she comments on the symbolic force of printing "El Gornal" and "sell[ing] it in the streets" in particular. Even if one can point to other important, scattered examples of comparable efforts over the last thirty years, the feeling of the students that this is "the first time this will happen," a fledgling expression of a free press incarnated in ink and pulp and blood and distributed face to face, a new beginning connected directly to the Revolutionary moment, an unleashing of democratizing forces into the new post-Mubarak Egyptian world, seems to me absolutely right and truly important and profoundly inspiring.


Wisconsin Labor History Society.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Endless School Related Activities This Week

Blogging? Not so much.

Design of a Crime

Hal Foster's Design and Crime is so good, how I wish I had written it. In fact, I may have to re-write it and pretend that's not what I'm doing. Possibly, more than once.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

John Nichols on Obama's Budget

Full transcript, audio, and video at Democracy Now!
[B]udgets are moral documents and… the unsettling thing to me about this budget is that a Democratic president is proposing an expansion of military spending -- a substantial expansion of military spending. He’s also proposing to dramatically increase the amount of U.S. government support for the building of nuclear power plants, for all sorts of initiatives that we thought had been settled, old issues.

At the same time, there are dramatic cuts in humanitarian programs and, well, in programs that we think of as basic social services. The LIHEAP program, which is Low Income Heating [Home Energy] Assistance, [a] really, really vital program for people in the northern tier of the United States, is going to take an absolutely dramatic cut. And that cut’s important, Amy, because that’s going to have to be made up someplace, and if the federal government is not funding it, that money is going to have to come from state, county and municipal governments that are already incredibly hard hit. So it’s a brutal attack….

And frankly, I think it’s hugely cynical, because I think the President and his people believe that this is one issue where the Congress will feel forced to find the money. So, instead of the White House making the tough choices, you see a situation where they’re punting it over. I find it very disappointing, as I do an awful... lot of the social service and education cuts in this budget. They seem to be designed to send symbolic messages about some notion that the President is willing to make cuts rather than doing the right thing, which is to say there are some programs that we simply will not cut, because they’re life-and-death programs, and they’re also essential programs to a civil society….

[Y]ou have President Obama saying that they’ve gotten down to the lowest level of domestic spending, domestic discretionary spending, since the Eisenhower era. That certainly sounds good as a sound bite, but understand what that means. It means that now Pentagon spending, defense spending, is a dramatically higher level of what our budget goes to. And I wish President Obama would remember what Dwight Eisenhower said about defense spending versus domestic spending. Dwight Eisenhower said, every time you buy a bomb, every time you pay for a bullet, that’s money that comes out of building a school or putting a roof on a house. I just think the President is making a lot of wrong choices here.

I agree with all this, and think Nichols' point about the cynicism of the symbolic moves in this budget is especially on target.

Obama could have used the budget to send altogether different signals, of course, making choices that set the stage for a public discussion that reflects fact-based and progressive understanding of the urgent issues at hand, of the proper role of government as such. And that would certainly have made the budget far less disgusting than it is.

But I would add that these choices would still have been merely symbolic: That is to say, fact-based and progressive political outcomes are not exactly reasonable expectations given the defeats to Republicans last November. And pretending this context does not exist undermines the force of too many such fact-based and progressive accounts, deranging them into what usually amount to delusional retro-active justifications for positions assumed in the skirmishes of the last two years, skirmishes that took place when the political terrain was radically different from the present one.

Obama's budget is hardly one I can even remotely endorse given my priorities and ideals and expectations, or even, frankly, on opportunistic pragmatic grounds of realpolitik. But it is clear to me that the budget reflects a political horizon tragically circumscribed to the outcome of regaining the White House for a second term.

I suspect that the ugly, irrational, regressive priorities reflected in it do chart a path that will likely eventuate in a second term for Obama (a better outcome than the alternative, but hardly an outcome equal to the urgencies of our historical moment). As much as anything else, these recognitions reflect just how debased our public discourse has come to be and also just how disastrous November truly was for the country.

Courting Disaster

Recently elected Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker -- revealing himself to have been a closeted fulminating anti-labor zealot and now threatening, flabbergastingly, to squash constitutionally protected nonviolent public organizing with the blazing guns of the National Guard -- is the latest Republican elected to office in the aftermath of a profoundly deceptive "feel good" campaign providing little clue of the sweeping repressive agenda he had in mind. Virginia's Robert McDonnell is another conspicuous example among many, including Ohio's John Kasich, Florida's Rick Scott, Maine's Scott LePage, of the phenomenon -- and the grandfatherly silences of Federalist Society appointees to the Supreme Court provide a notable variation on the theme -- and of course George W. Bush's whole "compassionate conservative" schtick provided something like the proximate blueprint for this soft-peddling electoral PR fraud.

It is crucial that we connect these dots clearly and often, to provide some kind of public immune system against these endlessly repeated marketing and promotional tactics of the marginal Culture Warriors and Market Fundamentalist zealots of the most extreme precincts of the Republican right wing. In the largest sense, this would demand a curtailment of the ongoing suffusion of all of public life with the deceptive and debasing norms and forms of marketing and promotional discourse, but I am calling for a more specific intervention in this case. Simply recalling to the attention of citizens the many recent instances across the country in which suave zealots skirted questions of their radical commitments while making moderate noises should make every American as profoundly skeptical in advance of every Republican campaigning as a moderate while his history and ties suggest immoderate aspirations.

The Republican Party has not been this dangerously crazy and authoritarian in years, there is simply no use denying it. And it is crucial that the GOP pay a real price in marginalization for its extremity before the irrational forces that suffuse it and which it is releasing into the world manage to destroy this country and possibly the world itself in a military or ecological catastrophe. That should have, but did not, happen in November, and people of the democratic left need to educate, agitate, and organize in the face of the consequences.

South Dakota May Legalize the Murder of Healthcare Providers in Part Because We Who Are Pro-Choice Aren't Fighting This Fight on Its Actual Terms

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:
A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus -- a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions.

Abortion isn't murder. Murdering abortion providers is murder. That's the fight.

We've wasted a lot of time pretending we could cozily split the difference with ignorant and hysterical authoritarian theocrats by pointing out that fewer abortions actually occur when women's healthcare and family planning sevices, including wanted abortion procedures, are readily available. Of course all that is true, but these facts seem to be relevant to few who do not also grasp that a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy is not a person while a pregnant woman is. That's the fight, and those are the terms in which it must be fought.

Monday, February 14, 2011

People's Communique Number 1 by the Egyptian Youth Movement

via Scoop:
Egypt's Protesters Communique Number 1
Monday, 14 February 2011, 3:19 pm
Press Release: Egyptian Protesters

Egypt: It’s Not Over Yet!
Egypt's protesters Communique Number 1

The removal of Hosni Mubarak from the Egyptian throne was not only the people’s demand, but also the desire of the Egyptian military and their employers in Washington in order to diffuse the uprising. The Obama administration and their corporate overlords do not really care who runs Egypt, as long as Egypt runs! Particularly, the Egyptian economy.

March in Tahrir Square to support the sit-ins after the army's attempt to disperse them

Ahmad Shafiq, the prime minister assigned by Mubarak before stepping down, is still the prime minister of the current so-called “interim” government. Basically, since the stepping down of Mubarak, the Egyptian government that Mubarak had put together is still running the country, with the military’s blessings nevertheless. Today, Shafiq said to Egypt TV last night that his government’s utmost priority right now is to resume security and normalcy in the country. This is not a conspiracy theory!

The Egyptian government, along with the High Council of Armed Forces, have been issuing clear and straight-forward statements, repeatedly, that their priority is the economy, which, in the corrupt Egyptian economy, means that their priority is their business establishments that they have invested billions in. The government’s priority is to resume their businesses and secure foreign investors’ confidence in the Egyptian market, not democracy. In fact, the Dow Jones and New York Stock Exchange went up a couple of points when news came out that Mubarak had stepped down.

Tens of protesters today clashed with the army in Tahrir Square, and thousands of demonstrators began to flood the Square again to support their revolution brothers and sisters. The High Council of Armed Forces, so far, had only met one of the revolution’s demands: the deposing of Mubarak. Well, Suleiman, Shafiq, and others are still running the government, with no time frame for elections or any democratic process put in place. In other words, Suleiman’s patronizing call for Egyptians, a couple of days ago, to “go back to your home and your jobs” have mostly been achieved by sending Mubarak on an extended vacation to Sharm Al-Sheikh.

For those who, in the euphoria of celebration, forgot what this revolution was all about, here is the list of demands from the Revolution Coalition:

The January 25 Revolutionary Youth Communique No. 1:

“We, the peoples of Egypt, the true rulers of its land, destiny, and fortunes, who have retrieved them in full since the outbreak of the January 25 populace, civil, democratic revolution, and the sacrifice of our righteous martyrs, and after the revolution’s success in the deposing of the corrupt regime and its leaders; we announce the continuation of this peaceful revolution until victory and the realization of all our demands in full:

1 -- The abolishing of the Emergency [martial law] conditions immediately.

2 -- The immediate release of all political prisoners.

3 -- The abolishing of the current constitution including all its amendments.

4 -- The abolishing of both arms of the parliament and local governments.

5 -- The creation of an interim presidential rule including five members, one military and four civilian, known for their patriotism and accepted by the people, and on the condition that none of them run for the first presidential elections.

6 -- The creation of an interim government including capable, independent, and patriotic individuals; and excluding individuals with ties to political parties, to assume command of the nation’s affairs and prepare for fair and free general elections at the end of the interim period which must not exceed nine months; and no member of this interim government can run for the first elections.

7 -- The formation of an original constituent assembly to write a new democratic constitution that concurs with the greatest democratic constitutions and international charters for human rights, put for public referendum within three months of the formation of this assembly.

8 -- The freedom to form any political party, on civil, democratic, and peaceful foundations, without any obstacle or condition, and [they become legal] by simply announcing [their creation].

9 -- The freedom of press [media] and the circulation of information.

10 -- The freedom for union organization and the creation of civil institutions.

11 -- The abolishing of all military and poll courts, and abolishing all verdicts produced by these courts against civilians.

12 -- And finally, we, the peoples of Egypt, call upon Egypt’s righteous, national army, who is the son of this nation, who safeguarded the people’s blood and secured the nation in this great revolution, to declare its full adoption to all of these decisions and people’s demands, and to completely align itself with the people.

The Peoples of the January 25 Revolution.

The success of the Egyptian revolution must be measured by how many of these demands have been met, in addition to the verdicts issued against Mubarak, Suleiman, Shafiq, and all other ex-government officials and business tycoons, even if they were members of the Egyptian so-called brave Military. All other measures that demand anything less are treasonous to the blood of the martyrs since January 25.


Democracy, Consent, Civility Are Not Spontaneous

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot occasioned by a recent post, The Egyptian Revoution Is Not Miraculous.

Friend of Blog "jollyspaniard" wrote (among other things):
Facebook and Twitter are a big help in getting the word out which is one of the biggest logistical challenges in organising protests. Traditionaly this had been done by distributing leaflets which can be a bit tricky in a totalitarian state. Now for a totalitarian state to stop people getting the word out they need to shut off the internet and the phone network which isn't viable. People who think this came from nowhere haven't been reading the news for the past few years. Egypt has been on the verge of boiling over for years according to a lot of reporting. What has happened recently is that Egypt suddenly became un-ignorable.

Needless to say, useful tools are useful, and ingenious humans (some of them tyrants) use them.

I don't agree that Egyptian discontent is the "somewhere" from which the Revolution has come, strictly speaking. Sufficient injustice and discontent to incubate resistance and revolution has existed in Egypt for over a generation, as elsewhere.

Organization met opportunity, discipline responded to distress -- what mattered indispensably was the organization and the awareness and the discipline.

This cannot be stressed enough: In the absence of the organizing, eruptions of perfectly righteous resistance would very likely have been squashed, diverted, assimilated in the usual manner.

Of course, distraction and reaction can still circumvent or domesticate the democratizing force of the ongoing Revolution if the youth movement loses its focus or fails to shift its organizational strategies to meet the rapidly and radically changed circumstances of the post-Mubarak political terrain. I will say that the First People's Communique and news of fledgling dialogue between youth leaders and representatives of the military as well as with El-Barade'i are encouraging in this regard.

Those pundits who now speak of an insurrectionary "trend" that autocratic regimes need to be worried about are no doubt right that sympathetic protests may spring up elsewhere, but in the absence of actual democratic organization those autocratic regimes likely have little to worry about.

Like most people who think "trend-spotting" is an argumentative or deliberative mode (my pet targets, the futurologists, provide the conspicuous illustration), rather than just another debased marketing and promotional mode in a "public realm" entirely reduced to advertising and self-advertising in the service of eating the present, are revealed as usual to be useful idiots in a blaze of flashbulbs.

And those who propose that democratic revolution will crystallize spontaneously wherever enough people have cellphones are exactly as dangerously deluded as those who pretended war could be ended by getting a McDonald's franchise in every nation. Democracy is not a spontaneous order, it is a consensual order, depending for its legitimacy on a scene of consent that must be instituted and maintained by political means in ethical terms not one of which is spontaneous.

On this, Anglo-American parochialism and privilege yields disastrously facile readings of both our histories and hopes -- whether right-wing libertopian fantasies of perfectly efficient perfectly ethical natural markets (markets are of course totally artificial and historical and as readily demand injustice as ameliorate it) or left-wing hippie or technocratic fantasies of post-political massified kindness or pre-political elite design (of course one can be a Nazi and yet kind in one's personal life, and all designers, however smart, however well-intentioned, are individually parochial in ways that no democracy can afford to be).

That the Egyptian Revolution is another profound example of the power of nonviolent secular democratic education, agitation, and organizing but that even most of those who are inspired by Egypt fail to grasp the substance of hope this provides us all or to grasp how vulnerable this misconstrual makes the very achievement that presumably inspires them is, I have to admit, a bit demoralizing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ever More Signs of the Singularity!

There are some theoretical papers pondering what a "fifth generation" cellphone would properly consist of, but there are none that actually exist. Nevertheless, the salesmen forever peddling "The Future" to the bored and the scared for their joyless consumption in the present at the cost of ever more proximate planetary devastation can always be counted upon to evacuate any designation of even modest technical utility in their hunger for short-term profit-taking (whether on tee vees or in think-tanks), their fraudulent sales pitches taking on the cadences of evangelicals fleecing a flock in the name of white-racist muscular money-grubbing baby Jesus: And already they are fluffing the wizened white cock of our technodevelopmental stasis quo with hysterical promises of 5G, 6G, 7G, infiniG phones just over the crapitalist horizon. Does the "g" stand now for grift? for gullible? for garbage? for gr-e-e-e-a-at?

Futurological Brickbats

Whenever I hear the word "trend," I reach for my brain.

Other futurological brickbats here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Egyptian Revolution Is Not Miraculous:

Far From Leaderless, Spontaneous, Unplanned, Accidental, or Twitterific, Egypt Provides Resources of Hope for Activists Who Would Be As Resourceful As Egyptian Organizers Have Been

The Egyptian Revolution is not leaderless.

It is not spontaneous.

It did not arise like a spasm in unplanned sympathy with the uprising in Tunisia, or spurred by blind rage at the aged dictator Hosni Mubarak's declared hopes for the kingly succession of his son.

Although it is certainly true that thirty years of oppression have lead to a widespread discontent that proved an incubator for insurrectionary energy, such oppression could just as readily have provided the substance of deepening despair and further generations of oppression in the absence of an actually organized response.

And although it is true that cellphones and twitter feeds and facebook pages were key organizational tools for the Egyption Revolution, what matters is that organizers made use of organizational tools, not that these in particular were the tools they used (which is also true of the faxes, radio broadcasts, megaphones, wheatpaste posters, and pamphlets that were the definitive educational, agitational, and organizational tools of prior revolutionaries).

Cellphones, twitter, and facebook are not inherently or provocatively revolutionary artifacts. It is merely certain deployments of these tools that can be revolutionary. If anything, the default uses of these artifacts have been overwhelmingly reactionary so far, facilitating ubiquitous elite-incumbent surveillance, enabling the radical intensification of targeted corporate marketing harassment, evacuating public discourse of indispensable complexity, depth, deliberation, criticality in a mesmerizing froth of canned one-liners, promotional slogans, and interminable impressionistic, sensationalistic, superficial reportage.

Discussions of Egypt emphasizing social media in the United States may appear to foreground technical concerns about the ease of their use the scope of their reach, and their relative susceptibility or not to censorship, but the focus on such technicality functions in profoundly political ways.

Indeed, this techno-centrist discourse functions primarily to promote an anti-political technologically deterministic fantasy of spontaneism that -- taken together with endlessly repeated declarations about the leaderlessness of the movement and especially of the miraculousness of its nonviolence -- functions to distract countless millions of people from the lessons of the Revolution even while their eyes are fixed on the Revolution: Namely, that well-planned disciplined organized nonviolent resistance to the elite-incumbent authoritarian figures and structures that maintain the profoundly unjust unsustainable corporate-militarist neoliberal/neoconservative global order can indeed be as effective as ever.

It has been said over and over again that it is easier to imagine the end of the world in an environmental collapse or military catastrophe resulting from the greed and stupidity of the current capitalist order than it is to imagine the end of the current capitalist order itself. This is palpably ridiculous, especially when before our eyes we are greeted with literal evidence to the contrary.

I cannot recommend highly enough this informative short documentary from Al Jazeera about the leaders of the April 6th Youth Movement without which the Egyptian Revolution almost certainly would not have taken place or at any rate managed not to founder in the face of the brutal, all too typical and usually effective, counter-revolutionary violence of Mubarak's regime in the Revolution's early days.

The documentary speaks of the beginnings of the Revolution three years ago in the textile strike of April 6, 2008 from which the movement got its name, in the work of activist Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel. Another key figure in the April 6th Movement is, of course, Asmaa Mahfouz, whose work attracted the special attention of Democracy Now! and the New York Times. Coverage of Mahfouz's truly inspiring youtube videos regularly do not go on to point out her crucial connection with a profoundly well-trained well-disciplined well-organized nonviolent activist campaign years in the planning.

It is sometimes noted that the April 6th Movement took up iconography from the nonviolent Serbian Otpor Student Movement which successfully resisted Slobodan Milošević a decade ago (the extent of planning and organization -- with the conspicuous assistance of life-long activist and scholar of nonviolent social struggle Gene Sharp and his colleagues -- is likewise shunted to the side in too many popular accounts of Serbian resistance in my view, for familiar reasons). But it is important to grasp that the connection of the Egyptian April 6th Youth Movement and Serbian Otpor Student Movement was not a matter of superficial appreciation or just some cut-and-paste appropriation of Otpor's raised fist .gif by Egyptian students shopping for slick revolutionary graphics by way of google image search.

Ahmed Maher of April 6th consulted extensively with Serge Popovich of Otpor, and turned to the strategies of nonviolent struggle Popovich learned in turn from Gene Sharp (strategies many of which were gleaned by Sharp, who is sometimes wryly described as the "Machiavelli of Nonviolence," from his extensive research into the successes and failures of King, Gandhi, Thoreau and others). The leaders of the April 6th Movement are well versed in the techniques and, indispensably, the disciplines of a nonviolence well-attuned to the deceptive and distractive tactics of mass mediation and well-prepared for state violence and the difficulties of de-escalation in its face.

Also, young as they are, the leaders of the April 6th movement certainly seem to be very friendly and familiar with the tapestry of Egyptian experienced feminist and labor activists not to mention engaged artists and intellectuals both living quietly in Egypt and, often, less quietly, abroad.

Largely ignorant of far too much of this context myself, even as a highly interested and comparatively well-informed idiot American, I think too much of my own commentary on Egypt here and in the classroom these last couple of weeks has been shaped by my disdain for the ugly conflict-tourism and facile techno-utopianism of so much coverage here in the United States.

Nothing I am saying should be taken to imply that I regard the Egyptian revolution as accomplished rather than only just beginning, that I am blissed-out in celebration and insensible to the dangers ahead, not least because of the actions of my own country in my name. But People Power is real. Education, agitation, and organization is its substance. Egypt is providing still more evidence, in a world with a history brimming full of such evidence, of the real possibilities of nonviolent democratizing revolutionary struggles to defeat corporate-militarism before corporate-militarism destroys the world.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Reagan Scentennial

For a long time the dumb-dumb brigade were agitating to put a statue of Saint Ronnie in every county in America, the better no doubt to help the dumb-dumbs ignore the uncomfortable reality that, what with the tax increases reality forces on him and his genuflections to nuclear disarmament, awful and destructive and bonkers as he was, Reagan would no longer pass muster as a Republican according to the batshit crazy neo-feudal gun-nut warlordism purity standards of contemporary conservatism. But, come what may, that little cheerleading enterprise of theirs doesn't seem to have gotten anywhere, the very idea of public monuments apart from billboards and restaurant statuary logos being possibly too civic-minded in spirit for murcan patriots who know deep down that white muscular baby Jesus cries his baby blue eyes out whenever government is up to anything at all other than killing foreigners in wars and punishing women who have sex with preventable diseases and unwanted babies. Despite all that, I do not doubt that even to this day, so many long years later, there might still be found in every town, in every county across America a human being freshly dead or miserably dying as you read these very words, who would be alive and well and bringing instead a real measure of joy and aid to the world, were it not for the immiserating meanness of policies originating in the Reagan Administration, still ripening like sweet wet sparkling sulphurous farts into the air of the present for us to smell, a more fitting tribute by far than campy statuary could ever manage to be.

For perspective:

Larry Kramer on the Grim Gipper.

And, after all, how encouraging it is to realize that even the Reagan epoch had the stuff of a poem for the ages in it:

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Twitterific Egypt

Commenter "Eric K" (yes, my partner's name is Eric, yes his last name starts with "K," yes you guessed it) over at dKos
Tools like Twitter can also make us feel as if we are somehow a part of something, without actually doing anything. We can't be a part of the actual organizations and social/cultural/political groups driving a revolution in a distant land, but we sure can tweet about it and pat ourselves on the back for 'supporting freedom', even as our tax dollars stream into oppression machines the world over... but gods forbid we take to the streets like they are over there, that is unseemly and old-fashioned and out of style and might even get messy and violent. Can't have that, can we?

Cradle to Cradle as Conventional Right-Wing Anti-Government Ideology

To denigrate the "cradle to grave" tyranny of social democracy and public welfare has, of course, been a staple of reactionary right-wing political invective for generations. But I want to direct attention to a variation of this same polemic at the heart of what is often peddled as a progressive, environmentalist discourse -- the so-called "cradle to cradle" design ethos.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart has come to be a sort of bible (together with Janine Benyus' Biomimicry and Bruce Sterling's periodic papal-imperial declarations about blobjects and spimes and whatnot) for the so-called "Bright Greens" and the whole green design crowd more generally that more or less arose out of or together with Stewart Brand's California libertopian retro-futurology-qua-ecology.

In a characteristic passage (pp. 59-61) from Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart summarize a formulation from the great Jane Jacobs that they take up and divert to their own ends, describing "two syndromes of human civilzations: what [Jacobs] calls guardian and commerce":
The guardian is the government, the agency whose primary purpose is to preserve and protect the public. This syndrome is slow and serious. It reserves the right to kill -- that is, it will go to war. It represents the public interest, and it is meant to shun commerce (witness conflicts over campaign contributions from vested interests).

Commerce, on the other hand, is day-to-day, instant exchange of value. The name of its primary tool, currency, denotes its urgency. Commerce is quick, highly creative, inventive, constantly seeking short- and long-term advantage, and inherently honest: you can't do business with people if they aren't trustworthy.

Notice that the attribution of slowness and violence as definitive of government, and then of efficiency and creativity to commerce are very straightforward Anglo-American right-wing Movement Conservative pieties (an assimilation to neoliberal discourse I think Jacobs herself resists better herself, if not enough).

One need not pretend that all representative politics and social administration are transparent, efficient, fleet-footed, and fair to feel hesitant about declaring governance as inevitably and exhaustively and quintessentially bloated and jackbooted as conservatives nowadays are so often keen to do, usually all the while singing arias to celebrity CEOs and commercial culture as though corporations and salesmen are gloriously immune to bureaucracy, dysfunction, conformism, cronyism, fraud, aggression, and waste.

Although it might seem the authors are somewhat evenhanded in a characterization noting the indispensability of government to the "public interest," they undermine this apparent balance when they go on thereupon to depict government action exclusively in terms of war-making and then stealthfully re-attribute public interestedness to the commercial sphere declaring commerce, astonishingly, as inherently concerned with long-term interests and trustworthiness.

Notice, by the way, the authors' rather typical handwaving away of the well-known critique that a focus on short-term profit-taking tends to happen at the expense of thinking about longer term consequences with their chirpy collapse of this conflict into a seamless "seeking [of] short- and long-term advantage," a phrasing that refuses to concede such a problem even exists. Also, notice that the authors seem to consider trustworthiness logically entailed by the structure of enterprise and that the endless empirical instances to the contrary anybody can effortlessly call upon are apparently irrelevant to their abstract celebratory point. It is also intriguing to say the least to note that fairly widespread concerns about the impact of corporate money in the United States' flabbergastingly corrupt and wasteful campaign finance system are regarded by the authors as straightforward expressions of hostility to free enterprise, as if innovation and fair trade somehow require a "democracy" controlled by millionaires instead of majorities.

McDonough and Braungart continue:
Any hybrid of these two syndromes Jacobs characterizes as so riddled with problems as to be "monstrous." Money, the tool of commerce, will corrupt the guardian. Regulation, the tool of the guardian will slow down commerce.

What we seem to need around here is the metaphor of hybrid vigor to enrich this bestiary of monsters! Of course, it is a commonplace in contemporary conservative polemic to decry public investment, social programs, regulations as a "mixed economy," however sensible and pragmatic and democratically responsive they may be on their face, as in some deeper sense presumably weighting down the "spontaneous order" of wholesome, natural, tidal forces of supply and demand and a human-defining propensity to barter and trade with eerie ineluctably creeping socialism. It pays to recall, however, that marketplaces and commercial practices have taken many forms historically, geographically, culturally, and that far from being hindered by regulation what passes for market outcomes in the world are always in fact enabled, constituted in their substance, by an articulating tissue of regulations, laws, treaties, ordinances, customs, enforced expectations, infrastructural affordances, and the like. My point is not to deny that a particular regulation might well be experienced as a particular frustration to a particular participant in trade as it is constituted in her own moment and place in the world, anymore than it would be to deny the equally obvious commonplace that the creation or enforcement of particular regulations are vulnerable to corruption by opportune flows of cash -- my point is that these instances do not justify the delineation of what is finally the profoundly obfuscatory, almost always reactionary right-wing, distinction of the government against the economy, when in fact government always activity shapes and enables what passes for the economic just as economic activity shapes and enables what passes for the governmental no less intimately and interminably. To propose the contrary proposition that some one particular configuration of economy is natural, rather than enabled by the normative artifice of government, is always simply to indulge in the politics of treating that particular configuration as beyond politics when it is not, always to the preferential political benefit of those incumbent elites who are beneficiaries of the status quo so protected.
An example: a manufacturer might spend more money to provide an improved product under regulations, but its commercial customers, who want products quickly and cheaply, may be unwilling to absorb the extra costs. They may then find what they need elsewhere, perhaps offshore, where regulations are less stringent. In an unfortunate turnaround, the unregulated and potentially dangerous product is given a competitive edge.

Although the book Cradle to Cradle -- like most right-wing paeans to the breathtaking "innovation" and "enterprise" of our presumably meritocratically-selected "creative class" or "investor class" or designer-elite -- endlessly celebrates the gorgeous creative and ferocious problem-solving genius unleashed by competition, it is intriguing to notice that it is presumably the lust of everyday consumers for quick cheap thrills above all else that drives a competitive race to the bottom toward a worldwide wasteland of unsafe, toxic, wasteful crap.

There is no need to dwell on instance after instance in which captains of industry would fund vast mis-information and elaborate public relations distractions to cling as long as possible to profit margins presumably threatened by regulations demanding life-saving seat-belts in their cars or accurate health warnings on the packaging of their "safe cigarettes," no need to recall the regularity with which apocalyptic industry predictions about economic devastation following from regulations demanding the production of electric cars or banning smoking in restaurants were proved completely unfounded, no need to contemplate just how often the safety and efficiency features about which manufacturers crow in their television commercials, testifying in nearly religious ecstasies of self-congratulation to their superior standards and commitment to excellence, were forced upon them by regulations fought tooth and nail every step of the way at enormous financial cost to themselves not to mention the cost of delayed health and safety measures in the human lives of the customers they claim above all else to serve with such dedication.

To say the least, the "paradox" of the more dangerous product competitively advantaged and prevailing precisely due to the foolish and clumsy efforts of no doubt well-meaning regulators to compel greater safety, about which the authors chuckle so superciliously here is a facile fantasy, however commonplace it may be among conservative pundits who have made a cottage industry out of peddling such parodies of consumer advocacy.
For regulators who are attempting to safeguard whole industries, the readiest solutions are often those that can be applied on a very large scale, such as so-called end-of-pipe solutions, in which regulations are applied to the waste and polluting streams of a process or system. Or regulators may try to dilute or distill emissions to a more acceptable level, requiring businesses to increase ventilation or to pump more fresh air into a building because of poor indoor air quality due to off-gassing materials or processes. But this "solution" to pollution -- dilution -- is an outdated and ineffective response that does not examine the design that caused the pollution in the first place. The essential flaw remains: badly designed materials and systems that are unsuitable for indoor use.

There is no question that regulation will sometimes (maybe even, as the authors insist, "often") direct its energies to the amelioration of problems at what turns out to be its superficial manifestation rather than to deeper, more structural causes. What is curious, however, is the authors' seeming suggestion that this is a tendency toward the superficial that inheres especially in the regulatory. Do we not regularly observe energetic debates among policymakers, and directed to policymakers by experts and interested members of the effected public, devoted to precisely such considerations, arguments to determine at what level and in what manner regulatory interventions will be most effective and least costly? Is it really the case that designers of commercial products are comparatively less likely to address problems in ways that also turn out to be superficial -- or comparatively less likely to introduce new problems or exacerbate them altogether unnecessarily -- in their pursuit of short-term profits or the aesthetic considerations of passing fashion?

My aim in so saying is not to endorse a contrary prejudice in favor of regulators over commercial designers as problem-solvers (although no doubt such a case could be made), but simply to propose that McDonough and Braungart are indeed airing a conspicuous prejudice here, a prejudice the intuitive force of which derives not from the environmentalist concerns in the name of which it is offered but reactionary anti-governmental Movement Conservative ideology.

McDonough and Braungart fail to justify their apparent assumption that designers are more likely than regulators to address problems in non-superficial ways just because government regulators can be shown to do so -- "often," the authors assure us, though not always and therefore not definitively, and without providing any actual comparison with presumably antithetical commercial designers who might do the same just as or even more "often," no more nor less definitively.

But notice as well that their own formulation seems to regard as a failure a regulatory solution (they scare-quote the word "solution" to highlight this failure) which presumably does indeed succeed in addressing an actual health problem in a way that might well improve health and save lives, even if it "fails" to address what they regard as the deeper "essential" problem of outgassing of toxic materials. Even if the authors happened to be right to insist that this particular problem might be better addressed at a different level which they identify with "design," it actually matters, surely, that the regulatory "failure" nonetheless accomplishes its desired end to the benefit of actual people even in their own example, while they leave open what are surely the key questions of why actual designers would presumably be motivated actually to solve better what the authors describe as the deeper design problem at hand (presumably designers designed the toxic environment under discussion in the first place after all) or why regulators might not address this deeper level just as well, or, even more to the point, why regulators might not provide incentives for or even enable better design in ways that suggest an indispensable inter-dependency of regulators and designers as problem-solvers rather than an irreconcilable difference between the two driven by a prior invidious, ideological prejudice against government (imagined as the site of regulation) and for commerce (imagined as the site of design).
Jacobs sees other problems with "monstrous hybrids." Regulations force companies to comply under threat of punishment, but they seldom reward commerce for taking initiatives. Since regulations often require one-size-fits-all end-of-pipe solutions rather than a deeper design response, they do not directly encourage creative problem-solving.

By now the nonsense is quite obvious I daresay. That regulatory policy very regularly consists of incentives and subsidies for desired outcomes is factually undeniable, however eager the authors are, for whatever reasons, to paint instead the fanciful cartoon of a regulatory jackboot on the throat of poor put-upon poetical and public-spirited entrepreneurs.

And, as we have seen, there is no reason to deny regulators their measure of creativity and intelligence nor to deny commerce its record of plentiful insipidity and stupidity, however commonplace such prejudicial constructions have become among Movement Conservatives advocating for their pet elite-incumbent interests. While it is easy to agree with the authors that solutions to problems lodged in their specificity and directed to their root causes are often preferable to solutions that are over-general and superficial, they provide little evidence or justification to support their prejudice that regulatory rationality is more likely than commercial design rationality, on their terms, to prefer such over-general and superficial solutions.

No reader of Arendt, Fanon, or Foucault would find uncongenial the suggestion that modern social and post-colonial administrative rationalities tended throughout the post-war epoch to enforce a stifling conformity and devastating precarity in the name of "general welfare" or "development" while in the service in fact of short-term benefits for incumbent elites at the expense of majorities. But it is hard to take the least bit seriously the proposal that commercial rationality of all things might provide a check on such disciplinary social administration when its public justification turns so incessantly on precisely the assumptions and aspirations of national and economic competitiveness, in the context of a social and cultural world shaped almost exclusively by the commercial urgencies of extractive-industrial-petrochemical mass-reproduction, mass-mediation, mass-consumption at every level.
And regulation can pit environmentalists and industries against each other.

Needless to say, environmentalists concerned with protecting the biosphere and sustaining indispensable resources are already pitted against industries that threaten the biosphere and deplete indispensable resources. Environmental regulation is one way to protect the biosphere and sustain indispensable resources, and no doubt better design of consumer products and manufacturing methods is another way. And as I have said, regulation is a likely spur to such design as often as not, and so there is no reason to treat these domains as antithetical in the first place unless prior anti-governmental ideological commitments prompt the distinction. Indeed, setting such ideological blinders aside, there is little reason not to treat regulation as a modality of design itself.
Because regulations seem like a chastisement, industrialists find them annoying and burdensome.

To grasp just how flabbergasting, how farcically ideological this protest is, imagine if you will the proposal that we turn our attention to the hurt feelings of rapists, thieves, and murderers castigated by laws against rape, theft, and murder rather than to the objective harms these laws work to police.
Since environmental goals are typically forced upon business by the guardian -- or are simply perceived as an added dimension outside crucial operating methods and goals -- industrialists see environmental initiatives as inherently uneconomic.

Since businessmen are also human beings who depend for their survival and flourishing on the protection of the biosphere and the sustenance of indispensable resources, and since businessmen are also citizens with a stake in the legitimacy and justice of the polities of which they are members, they would be quite simply straightforwardly wrong to believe or to pretend that environmental concerns or questions of social justice are somehow "added" or "outside" their sphere of operation or concern. Since economic activities take place on earth and could scarcely proceed were the earth no longer a fit habitation for the commerce of humanity it would again be quite simply straightforwardly wrong for businessmen to believe or pretend that environmental initiatives to maintain in existence the setting in which all economic activity takes place are somehow "uneconomic." I find it curious that McDonough and Braungart seem to fancy they are defending and celebrating entrepreneurs by proposing that all entrepreneurs are apparently dangerously stupid and criminally insane.
We do not mean to lambaste those who are working with good intentions to create and enforce laws meant to protect the public good.

It is a familiar conservative conceit to paint advocates of demonstrably useful regulation in the service of public welfare and public investment as well-intentioned but in fact sentimental, infantile, or foolish. The smiles with which such compliments are offered up rarely fail to hide their fangs. In saying this, of course, I do not mean to lambaste all those who are working with good intentions to celebrate the work of commercial designers who are usually quite happy when their profit-making efforts also happen to co-incide accidentally with the public good.
In a world where designs are unintelligent and destructive, regulations can reduce immediate deleterious effects.

And when this happens, even when the result is the demonstrable amelioration of human harm, we do well to remember that McDonough and Braungart regard this result not as a solution, but as a, you know, "solution."
But ultimately a regulation is a signal of design failure.

This may well be the single most revealing sentence in the entire book, Cradle to Cradle. In this line stands revealed the ethos of an already influential still-emerging techno-utopian design discourse and subculture that seeks to prevail over all alternate conceptions and practices of environmentalist activism and concern.

Do think carefully if you will about what it means to declare any regulation to be nothing but a signal (to whom exactly?) of design failure? Consider just what such an identification of regulation with design failure implies about the guiding ideal of a techno-fixated design subculture whose utopia would be one in which the collective intelligence and effort of everyday citizens that is reflected in the legislative and regulative acts of a state of, by, and for the people is effaced, replaced with the vision of a "successfully" designed world provided by the better-intelligence of that privileged coterie of elite designers, elected by no-one, whose parochial, positional assumptions about utility and beauty and whose aspirations to profit, celebrity, and competitive advantage are, so it would seem, all that really matters to these "Bright Greens."
In fact, it [every regulation] is what we call a license to harm: a permit issued by a government to an industry so that it may dispense sickness, destruction, and death at an "acceptable" rate.

On McDonough and Braungart's assumptions it would appear that only those who would decry health and safety regulations can improve health, only those who would reject laws to limit destruction can "in fact" limit it, only those who oppose legislation to save lives truly find avoidable deaths "unacceptable." The perverse implausibility of these acts of defiance against sense is far from a testament to the maverick insights of thinkers full of the holy spirit of entrepreneurial innovation, but seems to me fairly typical of the logical circumlocutions of Movement Conservative ideologues.

In the final sentence of the passage I am reading here, the authors make a promise:
But as we shall see, good design can require no regulation at all.

This promise is a familiar one. The libertopian dream of a well-ordered but de-regulated world inspired a neoliberal/neoconservative generation of corporate-militarist bright boys with bright toys to cheerlead the fall of the Berlin Wall as the End of History and the triumph of capitalism, to prophesy the unleashing of "efficient" "innovative" market forces across the former Soviet Republics and the arising out of their gray sclerotic authoritarian ashes of spontaneous emancipatory market orders.

And as the market fundamentalists and technno-boosters began to sense that the hands of the liberated post-historical millions were not waving but drowning at a creative destruction that seemed to yield little but destruction, dislocation, triumphal organized criminality, environmental disaster, catastrophic wealth concentration, and general misery, they turned undaunted and rededicated to the laboratory of US occupied Iraq to re-write yet another precarious population in the image of their libertopian pieties to general ruin. One might be forgiven the cynical belief that at least some of those who declare to be motivated to these acts of serial recklessness by market fundamentalist idealism are more proximately inspired by the prospects of incredible profit inevitably to be had for a lucky small few in the midst of the general chaos, catastrophe, looting, and destruction of these militarized orgies of market deregulation. But among the cynical opportunists and war profiteers, true market idealists do indeed persist, in defiance of the evidence, usually far removed from the ruins, in armchairs, in online chatrooms thronged with fans of Ayn Rand and pop futurology, in anti-government anti-tax protest demonstrations thronged with white retired beneficiaries of Medicare and Social Security...

In his important book Code, Lawrence Lessig recounted this very story a couple of years before the deceptive salesmen of the second Bush Administration began to peddle the fraudulent case for its re-enactment in a new war and occupation:
[I]n the spring of 1989, communism in Europe died... Eastern and Central Europe were filled with Americans telling former Communists how they should govern. The advice was endless. And silly... Those first moments after communism’s collapse were filled with antigovernmental passion -- a surge of anger directed against the state and against state regulation. Leave us alone, the people seemed to say. Let the market and nongovernmental organizations -- a new society -- take government’s place. After generations of communism, this reaction was completely understandable. Government was the oppressor. What compromise could there be with the instrument of your repression?

A certain kind of libertarianism seemed to many to support much in this reaction. If the market were to reign, and the government were kept out of the way, freedom and prosperity would inevitably grow. Things would take care of themselves. There was no need, and could be no place, for extensive regulation by the state.

But things didn’t take care of themselves. Markets didn’t flourish. Governments were crippled, and crippled governments are no elixir of freedom. Power didn’t disappear -- it shifted from the state to mafiosi, themselves often created by the state. The need for traditional state functions -- police, courts, schools, health care -- didn’t go away, and private interests didn’t emerge to fill that need. Instead, the needs were simply unmet. Security evaporated. A modern if plodding anarchy replaced the bland communism of the previous three generations: neon lights flashed advertisements for Nike; pensioners were swindled out of their life savings by fraudulent stock deals; bankers were murdered in broad daylight on Moscow streets. One system of control had been replaced by another. Neither was what Western libertarians would call “freedom.”

But what is especially interesting in Lessig's account -- and relevant to the specific libertopian anti-governmentality of McDonough and Braungart's Cradle to Cradle environmentalist qua elite-design ethos -- is that Lessig's account proposes a different sequel than "Baghdad Year Zero" for the market fundamentalist ideologues in the dawning realization amidst neoliberalized corporate-military ruins of post-Soviet republics of the End of the "End of History":
[I]n the mid-1990s, just about the time when this post-communist euphoria was beginning to wane, there emerged in the West another “new society,” to many just as exciting as the new societies promised in post-communist Europe. This was the Internet, or as I ’ll define a bit later, “cyberspace.” First in universities and centers of research, and then throughout society in general, cyberspace became a new target for libertarian utopianism. Here freedom from the state would reign. If not in Moscow or Tblisi, then in cyberspace would we find the ideal libertarian society.

It is to this conspicuously techno-utopian variation of libertopian market fundamentalist ideology that I would connect the techno-fixated anti-governmental design ethos of "Bright Green" environmentalist discourses and the fandoms of Stewart Brand, Janine Benyus, William McDonough, Michael Braungart, Bruce Sterling, and the like. It is easy to deride (and Lessig does) the facile immaterialism of libertopian techno-utopian John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," purporting to "come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind," and in so doing condensing into a now all too familiar digital-utopian frame the disavowal all at once of the incarnation of all information on a material carrier, the disavowal of the residence of all internet-surfers in the material geography and legality and history of nation-states wherein their asses access "cyberspace," the disavowal of the incarnation of intelligence in the materiality of both biological brains and material cultures scarcely reducible to the terms of mind qua "spirit" or "computation" or some "spiritualized computation."

No less conspicuous in this assertive techno-utopian immaterialism in the digital fetish is the specific disavowal of the materiality proper to environmental concern: it is well to consider the spirit-realm of the digital and the cyberspatial as fueled by the death-dealing smoke of mountains of burning coal and accessed via desktop and hand-held devices built of unspeakably toxic materials consigned after an eye-blink of use to poisonous eternity as landfill.

The Bright Green disdain of environmentalist education, agitation, and organization for an embrace of for-profit elite-incumbent design norms and forms is perfectly continuous with the insistent immaterialism of prevailing corporate-military neoliberal/neoconservative "progressive" developmentalism more generally, as well as with the more extreme techno-utopian futurological discourses and subcultures from which that developmentalism derives so much of its justificatory rationality and activist energy, from digital utopianism, liberal eugenicism, to the greenwashing geo-engineering fantasias of futurologists presenting TED talks and GBN pep-rallies at corporate retreats.

From the political alienation of crypto-anarchists and cypherpunks who expected spontaneous market orders to arise from networks coded by elite-designers with utopian maths to smash the state... To the bodily alienation of the post-humanist eugenicists pining after the arrival via medical "enhancement" and robotic or digital immortalism of a homo superior with which they already identify in the present at the cost of dis-identification with the living diversity of their peers on earth... To the profound earth alienation of geo-engineers whose pseudo-environmentalism hopes to "terraform the earth" as though we are literally alienated, visitors on an alien world rather than earthlings evolved for fitness in this world...:

In variation after variation, techno-utopian futurisms disdain and disavow the bodies-socialities-historicities in which materiality as anything more than minerality, as a stage for meaning-making and freedom-making, are substantiated in open-ing presents, peer-to-peer.

In a bid for transcendence clothed, paradoxically enough, as an amplification beyond the bounds of sense of the terms of the vulgar materialism of commercial acquisition, consumption, and competition, and the marketing and promotional norms of commercial culture in the service of elite-incumbency, at once reductive and hyperbolic techno-utopian discourses peddle future as the retro-future of amplified status quo, emancipation as the brute-force amplification of given-capacity, liberty as universal reductive roboticization, and as environmentalist concern for saving the earth the final machine alienation in which the difference between our earthly home and any lifeless extraterrestrial hunk of planetary rock is a matter of ultimate indifference as compared to their identity as blank canvasses ripe for exploitation and techno-transformation in the service of parochial profit-taking and fashionable satisfactions.