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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

When Your Deep Bench Is Off The Deep End It's Not Something to Brag About

I mean, what are these Republicans going to crow about when so many of their actually unpopular ineffectual "Governor Saviors" get booted out of office in 2014 and then the Republican Primary heats up with another killer clown posse making a spectacle of themselves? Republicans are profoundly out of touch with the real diversifying secularizing planetizing America, the majority of whom recognize they've been screwed by plutocratic promises. It doesn't matter how fervently the deluded lie to themselves or the pundits reassure them with phony equivalences, the reality remains the reality. As goes California, so goes the country: reactionary racist Republicans increasingly lost the power to have any impact in Sacramento but to obstruct, and for their obstruction they were eventually punished with absolute marginalization after which Democrats took everything over and started solving all the hitherto unsolvable problems of a generation. Presumably, a new more relevant GOP will arise from the ruins both here in California and nationally as well, hopefully in time to function as a check on the corruption and abuse that a partisan monopoly on government will inevitably attract all too soon.

Irritation Is My Muse


The Planetary Is Political

I am of course an enthusiastic advocate for vast public investment in renewable energy and transportation infrastructure, not least because it would stimulate the economy, but I am also well aware that renewable energy technologies (in which I do not include nuclear power, and neither should you) cannot in fact scale to replace our current fossil fuel energy and transportation infrastructure.

Thinking otherwise, thinking that we can preserve the essence of our suicidal genocidal extractive-industrial-petrochemical civilization by translating it directly into terms made available by existing solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal techniques is to indulge in a kind of climate catastrophe denialism less pernicious than outright anthropogenic climate change denialism only because fewer people, for now, are indulging in it. Loose talk that existing renewable techniques supplemented by "innovation" will do the trick -- and talk of magical geo-engineering sooper-technology is just more of this loose talk, with the difference that it tends to be accompanied by cartoon illustrations -- is another face this denialism takes.

That there are people who think of themselves as "green" in some construal who also believe in such techno-utopian daydreams -- whether putting their faith in existing or in fantasized technofixes -- is all the more worrying, since it suggests that once a political consensus finally does emerge to address the reality of change, that address can be channeled all too readily into (parochially profitable) distractions nearly as useless as our present paralysis. To the extent that this technofixation is not simply an ideologically plutocratic circumvention of the threat of the real demands of environmental politics to the position of incumbent elite actors, it amounts to subcultural lifestyle signalling among certain consumer fandoms indistinguishable in its negligible impact to the signalling happening through other marginal boutique green consumer niches. None of this is in any way serious, except to the extent that it can distract attention from the still absolutely necessary collective educational, agitational, organizational work to change party platforms and existing laws to respond to our shared environmental crises.

Because, face it: There is no way around the reality that our shared environmental problems are not technical but political. There is a real question whether the glacial pace of political reform (well known to anyone who struggles for progress toward greater equity-in-diversity) will be equal to the rapid pace at which global warming and resource descent and toxic waste imperil human civilization and so much life on earth. Those who don't have the patience or stamina for the fraught demands of stakeholder politics simply aren't serious about environmental politics whatever their protests to the contrary on this score. And those who are temperamentally disposed to anti-governmental cynicism or hostility are more or less not even playing on the game board where the real action is. Rage and despair at our environmental politics is not only a matter of the privileged disdain for the exactions of political change in history -- as it so often amounts to in other progressive struggles for social justice. But when it comes to it, that is neither here nor there. That our present politics are so dysfunctional does not alter the reality that it is to public investment, public regulation, public mandates that we must eventually turn to address our ongoing (not future, but very present and escalating) environmental crises. To entertain fantasies that there are adequate non-political alternatives to environmental education, agitation, organization, legislation is to engage in an anti-environmentalist anti-politics.

Those who despair of our politics need to grasp that the politics may indeed keep on not working... right up to the point when they do. And we must be ready most of all for that moment when they do.

We need serious regulations on carbon emissions, and we need to make international trade treaties contingent on preserving atmospheric and freshwater commons. We need to more or less regulate coal mining and oil pipelines out of existence. We need to subsidize solar rooftops in every public building and private residence. We need more penalties and subsidies to incentivize energy efficiency in every domain. We need to stop subsidizing the ruinous factory farming that enables cheap mass corpse consumption, and allow the price of meat-eating to rise to reflect its real environmental and healthcare costs. We need to subsidize the appearance of organic local farmers markets in urban food deserts. We need to change the principles guiding zoning rules to facilitate walkable, bikeable, liveable urban neighborhoods. We need to empower women in over-exploited regions of the world with money and education so that they have the position from which to make healthcare decisions for themselves, which will result in a declining global population.

These are all indispensably political outcomes, and not all of the politics that matters most environmentally will be immediately recognizable as environmental per se. Environmental costs and risks are stratified by national, racial, sexual, class realities -- and the address of environmental problems will reflect these complexities. I should point out, as it happens, that even the most foolish technofixated imaginary of our greenwashing geo-engineers ultimately disavows the extent to which even its vision would depend in fact on the working of the politics it inevitably disdains: in order to fund or finance, educate the workers, regulate the risks, maintain the effort, distribute its effects. Hell, even personal consumer lifestyle environmentalism, ineffectual and distracting though it is, arises out of and expresses political conditions.

But my point here is to insist that it is not only the personal, but also the planetary that is political.

There is no getting around it: the personal virtue of eco-aware consumers will not overcome our shared environmental crisis, loose talk of entrepreneurial innovation (just another ugly variation on the personal virtue thesis) will not overcome our shared environmental crisis, neither god nor the god of technology will overcome our shared environmental crisis. The crisis is political, and it is only through politics that we will collectively meet its challenge or perish in failing.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sermon on Mont Pelerin: Or, Why It Is Better to Read Political Positions Rhetorically Not Philosophically

It is a commonplace for exasperated supporters of the Affordable Care Act to throw up their hands at the criticisms of Republican opponents of the Act and point out that the ACA is a conservative plan, key elements of which emerged from the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, and the practical model for which was a healthcare program implemented by a Republican governor who went on to win his party's nomination for President. All of this is true as far as it goes, but it is much more misleading than it is illuminating, and I personally think it is a fairly catastrophically self-defeating line of argument for Democrats to be making. When I say that these claims "are true as far as they go" what I mean to draw your attention to is that they do not go far enough to get at the actually relevant truths of the matter. What this dry recounting of facts in evidence misses is the context of political struggle in history which transforms every one of these facts into a fact of a different character altogether. It is crucial to recognize that the ideas borrowed by the ACA from The Heritage Foundation did not describe that conservative think-tank's ideal vision for the provision of health care and insurance coverage for Americans, but represented the best conservative response to the threat that seemed for a time to be represented by the Clinton Administration's push to implement a much more progressive public health care system. It is profoundly disingenuous to pretend that Republicans were ideologically wedded to the premise of the mandate prior to President Obama's advocacy of the notion. While it is true that Republicans could sell such a compromise with a rhetoric of "personal responsibility" the fact remains that for most Republicans the better implementation of that philosophy of "personal responsibility" would be a completely for-profit healthcare and insurance system optimizing profits of the already rich inasmuch as this could be squared with meeting the needs of worthy white people without providing support for unworthy brown people. This has always been the Republican vision, it drove their hostility to Social Security and to Medicare from their beginnings and drives their endlessly recurring schemes to voucherize and privatize these programs to this day. The ideas of the Heritage Foundation which found their way into the Affordable Care Act represented defensive positions in an ongoing skirmish with Democrats over the expansion of healthcare coverage the substance of which is the Democratic idea that the provision of some public goods (like basic healthcare, education, and income) is indispensable to the equitable rule of law and consensual participation in everyday commerce against the Republican idea that market orders (always but only incidentally backed by armies and police) distribute rewards and punishments both nonviolently and objectively and that it's not their fault that the objective justice spontaneously arising from such mechanisms preferentially benefits incumbent elites over majorities as a matter of course. To ignore the rhetorical context in which the Heritage Foundation's ideas were proposed is quite as nonsensical as ignoring the fact that the Republican Governor who implemented the "Romneycare" model for the ACA did so in a staunchly liberal state, Massachusetts, with substantial Democratic representation in every branch of its governance, and a long progressive commitment to the provision of equitable healthcare providing the setting for this "Republican" accomplishment.

I offer up that example as a prelude to making the point that inspired this post. I just read Timothy Shenk's review of Angus Burgin's The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression. The review proposes Burgin's book as a more neutrally scholarly rendition of the history told in right-wing books like Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw's The Commanding Heights and left-wing books like David Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism. The right-wingers like to tell a triumphalist tale of Friedrich Hayek and his band of Free Marketeers and Movement Conservatives setting upon a monumental Battle Of Ideas against collectivist forces that eventually won the Cold War, presided over the dismantlement of the Evil Empire, and broke down regulatory barriers to free enterprise in the free world. Meanwhile, the left-wingers tell a tale of anti-democratic reactionaries organizing big business plutocrats to demolish New Deal and Great Society programs to amplify their personal profit-taking to the economic and ecological ruin of the world, circumventing class solidarities by mobilizing racist resentments and patriarchal fears, circumventing economically-literate fact-based harm-reduction policy making by investing in the creation and maintenance of an anti-academy think-tank archipelago of fraudulent pseudo-intellectual experts disdaining facts for spin and PR. Shenk writes that "Angus Burgin’s The Great Persuasion asks us to attend more closely to this ["battle of ideas"] and the people who made it. When we do, he argues, it uncovers a history that fits poorly with both left and right variations on the ascent of neoliberalism."

I, for one, doubt that very much.
[M]uch of the book, centers on the early years of the Mont Pèlerin Society, a group established in 1947 whose founders hoped to provide a refuge for opponents of collectivism. Yet close examination of this seemingly narrow frame scrambles the binaries separating right and left, uncovering a history where the supposed founders of the American chapter of neoliberalism at the University of Chicago reprimand Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom for overdoing its indictment of the state…
It hardly "scrambles the binaries separating right and left" to discover that institutional voices would hesitate to endorse wholeheartedly a market fundamentalist screed demanding the demolition of the post-New Deal welfare state and the post-war military-industrial-education complex in the epoch of its greatest hegemonic strength, especially when so many of these voices were or represented actors benefiting in non-negligible ways from the prevailing arrangements, however much they may have sympathized with Hayek's line of argument or identified with his ideal outcomes.

Nevertheless, Shenk goes on in the next sentence to document that "Keynes report[ed] himself 'in a deeply moved agreement' with the very same text." Of course, anybody who actually reads Keynes knows that his politics were profoundly bourgeois and not merely perfunctorily imperialist, and there was plenty for him to agree with in a deeply moved way with Hayek's arguments against highly planned economies, especially in the totalitarian mould. I daresay that if one's acquaintance with Keynes is derived from Hate Radio and Fox News where Keynes is more or less identified with Karl Marx (and with Islamofascist Obama) it might "scramble the binaries separating right and left" to discover that contemporary committed Marx-hating bourgeois academics in privileged academic perches found things to like in one another's writings whatever their disagreements, I can't say that this scrambles my own sense of the political field particularly. Shenk continues:
According to Burgin, Keynes was right to see much he could endorse in Hayek. The Road to Serfdom, Burgin notes, 'supported a role for the government in counteracting the business cycle, regulating a broad range of business activities, and administering extensive social insurance guarantees,' hardly the platform one would expect from a worshiper at the idol of laissez-faire.
You will notice that Hayek has gone from an advocate of state-demolition disagreement with the extremity of which demonstrated the institutional right to be more moderate than conventional left-wing narratives would have it, to being a champion of an activist-state holding hands with John Maynard Keynes agreement with whom demonstrates Hayek in turn to be more moderate than conventional left-wing narratives would have it. That doesn't make much sense on the face of it, but that isn't the only problem with Shenk's effort to rehabilitate a moderate Hayek via his review of Burgin's intellectual history (again, I haven't read the book yet, so I don't know if Burgin would sympathize or not with Shenk's efforts on this score). Actually, anyone who has read The Road to Serfdom and the General Theory -- I've taught both of these texts in undergraduate courses on popular postwar market rhetoric, by the way -- has absolutely no trouble at all distinguishing the views of these two theorists (even if their comparable ethnic and class positioning might still readily lead them to sympathize with certain bourgeois imperialist figurations of "civilizational politics" more generally), anyone who has read these writers knows that there is plenty more for Keynes to dislike than to like in Hayek's work when it comes to the substance and to the questions of what distinctively mattered in their work, all very much to the contrary of the implication in Shenk's review.

But to return for a moment to the spirit of the example with which I began, to the role of right-wing Republican ideas in the formulation of the Affordable Care Act, I want to emphasize that at the height of the stunning success and institutional prevalence of New Deal welfare programs and the World War II military-industrial complex in the aftermath of World War a moderate and defensive acceptance of a regulatory and social support role for the democratic state is indeed EXACTLY "the platform one would expect from a worshiper at the idol of laissez-faire." It is true that one could find market fundamentalist zealots like Hayek's mentor and long-time colleague Ludwig von Mises (and eventually the flying monkey armies unleashed by Ayn Rand) offering up unadulterated paeans to free markets that express this worship at the idol more frankly, but for serious reformers, like Hayek and like Milton Friedman after him, who shared the zealots' assumptions and aspirations and ideal outcomes but recognized the actually-existing normative and institutional terrain on which the "battle of ideas" was to be fought in a multi-generational skirmishing over changing legislation and investment and cultural iconography there was little point, whatever the satisfactions involved, in indulging their libertopian id so baldly but to such little result.

One encounters a variation on this point when liberals roll their eyes at the worship by Tea Party Republicans of Saint Ronald Reagan, snipping that Reagan's record of raising taxes and providing amnesty for undocumented immigrants and compromising with democrats to support social security would make him altogether unelectable to the very Tea Party Republicans who claim to worship him. Needless to say, these Tea Party zealots believe that Ronald Reagan put America on the road that eventuates in the Tea Party, and it is for this that they sanctify his name. They regard the "record" liberals point to as little more than a set of fraught compromises attesting to the vicissitudes of the larger struggle defined more essentially by assumptions and aspirations with which they continue to identify. And, I must say, I think it is the Tea Party and not the liberal scolds who are right on this score. Ronald Reagan talked about "welfare queens." Ronald Reagan said that "government isn't the solution to our problems, government is the problem." The Tea Party knows its Own. We should take their word on it. Ronald Reagan was an asshole, and it is high time liberals stopped trying quixotically to score cleverness points by declaring him a better asshole than the assholes the Republicans are now.

But quite apart from the fact that right wing market libertarians and Republicans whose eyes were on the plutocratic prize even as they proposed compromises in the belly of the beast of the New Deal and Great Society as they prepared the way for its demolition, I think there is another important point being obfuscated in this "neutral" re-writing of the history of this "battle of ideas." Shenk supplements his point that these libertopian partisans were willing in the heat of the battle to compromise with their foes when it looked like they would lose completely otherwise (as if anybody is supposed to find this surprising), by also making the point that there was from a beginning a role for the state among most of these anti-statists: "Nor was Hayek the only avowed proponent of markets willing to cede broad powers to the state. Even on the right, a multitude of priorities -- safeguarding Christianity, preserving empire, winning the Cold War, finessing the relationship between capitalism and democracy -- vied for precedence with defending the market."

What is utterly bizarre to me in all this is that this recognition is phrased in the review as if it demands a revision of left-partisan accounts of neoliberal movement: As if the repeated appearance among libertopians of an apparently paradoxical defense of the police power of states in the service of elite-incumbency is some kind of surprise to the left-partisan account that only the neutral revisionism of Burgin's account illuminates? Perhaps Shenk forgets that David Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism (a text he disdains, remember, to recommend Burgin's more "careful" and scholarly non-partisan one) already assumes that neoconservative militarism is always inextricably connected to and enabling of neoliberal corporatism. In my own formulation of the point, neoliberalism/neoconservatism is in fact a discursive-institutional corporate-military circuit seeking to re-write the living political contest of left-democratization against right-antidemocratization in the image of clashes in emphases/constituencies within anti-democracy. It is, of course, a commonplace of democratic left critiques of neoliberal/market fundamentalist accounts of free market spontaneism that they smuggle a whole heavy-handed authoritarian state apparatus invisibly into their anarcho-capitalistic arias, stealthing vast amounts of economic planning they otherwise disdain under the sign of "Defense," disavowing the role of majorities in the creation and maintenance of commonwealth by defending the violent control of wealth by minorities with the police power of states as an application of "self-defense," declaring contractual relations as "nonviolent" by fiat whatever the circumstances of mis-information and duress that stratify them in reality, and so on. There is nothing in the examples Shenk highlights that "scrambles the binaries separating left from right" in any sensible accounting of this distinction, nothing that "fits poorly with… [at any rate] left… variations on the ascent of neoliberalism" as this narrative is coming to be understood in the main.

It will come as no surprise that I would endorse the left-wing versions of such tales, but I suspect that I would find the right-wing versions more instructive than the "even-handed" treatment recommended in the review of Burgin's book. "An intellectual historian by training," Shenk glowingly intones, "Burgin has a gift for integrating careful textual exegeses with panoramic surveys of the political scene, using a wide-angle lens to highlight what matters in specific texts while deploying close readings to revise the big picture." I fear that Shenk's rhapsodizing over "panoramic surveys" with a "wide-angle lens" to "revise the big picture" reveals his own preference for philosophical over rhetorical readings of the programmatic texts through which intellectual movements seek to implement their ideals in the long, fraught stakeholder struggles of history. An emphasis on the propositional content of these texts from which conclusions can be reconstructed and deduced syllogistically to tell this tale of historical struggles differently is almost never as clarifying as it appears to be. However moderate the Heritage Foundation advocacy of a health insurance mandate may seem as compared logically in its published propositions to the positions of members of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives against "the Obamacare socialist takeover of the American economy," however moderate the Gipper's sausage-making with Tip may seem as compared logically in their published propositions to the monolithic obstructionism of the Tea Party Caucus of highly popular urgently necessary problem-solving legislation proposed by Democratic members in Congress, however moderate Hayek's Road to Socialism may seem as compared logically in its published propositions to David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom, it is profoundly misleading to fail to grasp the ways in which these apparently more "moderate" forms aspired to and practically enabled the eventually immoderate ones, as they meant to do. It is profoundly misleading to treat these propositions as earnest declarations of ideal belief rather than compromise proposals offered up in particular circumstances into the hearing of audiences with limitations and interests of their own in the hopes of soliciting best-case or least-worst outcomes in light of deeper assumptions and animating aspirations to which they only partially attest as propositions. Although they may not provide easy clarity nor offer up as much occasion for surprising historical revisionism (surprising mostly because they get the underlying fundamentals so egregiously wrong), I do think that intellectual history is most illuminating which offers up competing rhetorical readings of political formulations situating them at once in the dynamic give-and-take of interested stakeholder position-making but also embedded in shared affiliative assumptions and aspirations, whether subcultural, ideological, structural, or what have you.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thank You

A Thanksgiving Prayer

An Amor Mundi tradition, of course, Gus Van Sant's video of William Burroughs performing his Thanksgiving Prayer. Reference to "laboratory AIDS" conspiracy nonsense aside (the susceptibility to conspiracy spinning was pretty indispensable to the whole Burroughsian schtick, you know), the piece is as righteous and riotous as ever.
Thanks for the wild turkey and
the passenger pigeons, destined
to be shat out through wholesome
American guts.

Thanks for a continent to despoil
and poison.

Thanks for Indians to provide a
modicum of challenge and

Thanks for vast herds of bison to
kill and skin leaving the
carcasses to rot.

Thanks for bounties on wolves
and coyotes.

Thanks for the American dream,
To vulgarize and to falsify until
the bare lies shine through.

Thanks for the KKK.

For nigger-killin' lawmen,
feelin' their notches.

For decent church-goin' women,
with their mean, pinched, bitter,
evil faces.

Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Christ" stickers.

Thanks for laboratory AIDS.

Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.

Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind the
own business.

Thanks for a nation of finks.

Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
your arms!

You always were a headache and
you always were a bore.

Thanks for the last and greatest
betrayal of the last and greatest
of human dreams.

The Annual Thanksgiving Tweet

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Deceptive Framing

Every story framing new Republican tactics as "fighting back" against the Senate Democrats recent ending of some filibusters to break the logjam obstructing the ongoing crisis of vacant judicial and administrative posts is falsely treating as a Democratic provocation what was in fact a reluctant response to egregious abuses. Such frames are not neutral or innocent, any more than the media's endless false equivalencies are neutral or innocent. Pretending though they do simply to report the flow of tactical give and take between senatorial factions, in positioning Republicans as responding to Democratic provocation they are actually constructing a narrative assigning blame to Democrats and locating Republicans as stalwart underdogs in a drama in which in fact Republicans have indulged in historically unprecedented obstruction of Democracy in ways that threaten every citizen of their country with economic, military, environmental catastrophe.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Washington Flayed Caucasians

I hear the team may be casting about for a new moniker...

It Began At Hobby Lobby...

Pleased to be on the slippery slope to day SCOTUS finds flying spaghetti monster corporation compulsory abortion mall visits constitutional.

The Pardoner's Tale

Presumably, all the millions of non-pardoned turkeys who get eaten on Thanksgiving are being punished instead for the crime of being... what exactly? I agree that the White House has upped the ghoulishness ante of the spectacle of the Presidential Pardon this year with the whole vote for the weirdly personalized turkey you want to get slaughtered website. I guess it might be a useful provocation to some kind of awareness around horrific issues of factory-farmed corpse-production in the US, maybe, kinda, sorta? But I can't say the pardoning ritual has ever seemed anything but insane to me, certainly not the least bit "innocent" or "cute," and uniquely American in a way that doesn't inspire confidence. Is the pardoned turkey an inverse scapegoat of some kind, a ritual non-sacrifice expiating American guilt over its gross mass-corpse consumption habit, so conspicuous in mass-mediated framings of the traditional feast that inaugurates the ugly joyless shopping orgy of the Holiday Season, or perhaps guilt over the genocidal historical realities attending the customary imagery of the First Thanksgiving fable as prelude to the bloodyminded bulldozer of manifest destiny? I can't say that America seems to me either particularly aware or ashamed of these debased and debasing realities otherwise. At this point, I've been a vegetarian for so long I can no longer remember when this turkey pardon ceremonial didn't seem utterly alien and endlessly puzzling. I'm not sure it didn't seem rather awful to me even before I became a vegetarian, when it comes to that. And by the way, by way of conclusion, since we're talking turkey, it is worth noting that there a thousands upon thousands of undocumented workers and non-violent drug offenders and conscientious activists who could use a Presidential Pardon right about now if the White House has enough to go around to indulge in frivolous ones.

Monday, November 25, 2013

What Are Sanctions For?

First things first: Sanctions are a key piece in a suite of both positive and negative incentives to encourage Iraq into a negotiated settlement with the world to prevent the emergence of a new nuclear power there without finding ourselves in another war in the Middle East. It is important to grasp that sanctions were obviously indispensably part, but also just as obviously never the whole, reason Iraq entered into negotiations: There were plenty of positive incentives to encourage this development as well. Given geopolitical realities it isn't exactly irrational for Iraq to want a nuclear weapon, even if there are ways of making it more rational for Iraq not to pursue this end. So long as one simply assumes Iraq is populated entirely with nefarious characters there is little space to contemplate these positive and rational possibilities. It is also important to grasp that the present effectiveness of the sanctions regime derives entirely from the fact that they are supported by many international actors, but that not all of those actors share the belligerent assumptions of neoconservative foreign policy hawks and hence that a stubborn refusal to negotiate once that possibility actually appears would provide grounds to break the sanctions coalition and hence eliminate its effectiveness even for those who (wrongly) focus on the sanctions piece to the exclusion of everything else in the first place. For me, it is hard to shake the suspicion that the suffering caused by sanctions against Iraq is an end in itself for the right, just as the suffering caused by austerity is an end in itself for the right, championed with increased fervor as it fails to accomplish any of its practical economic aims. I think the Republican right wants the bad brown foreigners to suffer as they want the lazy brown people at home to suffer. I don't think the cruelty caucus see the sanctions as a means to the good end of entering into diplomatic negotiations, else they would not have greeted the achievement of such negotiations as such a total catastrophe. The pretense that a willingness to negotiate is itself all the evidence one needs to demonstrate insufficient skepticism and care to engage in negotiations is a self-evident absurdity. If that point is too subtle, how about this one: America doesn't want another damn war. As in Syria, the Obama Administration's willingness to pursue diplomatic alternatives to conflict as they present themselves in Iraq is excoriated in the press as naive, feckless, spastic, dangerous. All the while, Obama's too slow withdrawal from Bush's wars and War on Terror policies as they thread the needle of belligerent neoconservatives and the inertial militarism of neoliberal institutions provides little ground for support from the left. I daresay Obama accepts a corporate-militarist understanding of "America's legitimate interests" that I wouldn't share with him -- I don't think any even remotely electable American President could affirm the planetary democratic socialist regime I'm more than ready for myself -- but I recognize the potential progressive force in Obama's diplomatic efforts and I salute them and their promise.

Overreach Is The New Uppity


Straight Shooters

As ACA headlines shift from "Rollout Catastrophe!" to "Red State Catastrophe!" the GOP will discover soon enough that the big bad gun they have been gloating about over the last few weeks was actually pointed at their own head.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sick Days

In case you were wondering, I've spent the last few days immobilized in my bed with a bug -- hoping I'll emerge from my gunky blanket cocoon as a butterfly but strongly suspecting this will not be the case.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is That All There Is?

I can't find the reference, but I seem to remember that it was Louis Armstrong who proposed that the only way to take American popular music seriously (as we should) is to grasp that every American pop song is a joke. Quite apart from the fact that it has been one of my favorite songs for a quarter century, I have always considered Peggy Lee's definitive performance of Leiber and Stoller's "Is That All There Is?" a quintessential representation of the depths available to pop music, but especially to pop music that assumes an ironic attitude toward those depths. Lee's 1969 recording was early but it wasn't the first, and we know only that the song was written in the mid-sixties, possibly some time around my birth day in 1965 I'd like to think, ushering me onto the planet.

Bullies Bullied Into Not Bullying

"I think what we really need is an anti-bullying ordinance in the Senate," declares Republican Rand Paul. We do now, Senator, we do now. And the GOP's historically unprecedented obstruction and nullification strategies and bullying by egregious abuse of the filibuster will finally end in the Senate.

BooMan on "Dangerous" Democracy

BooMan seems uncharacteristically scared of democracy (I still love him tho'):
While it was necessary to change the rules of the Senate to allow the administration to appoint its staff and put judges on the courts, it still required the Democrats to change the rules with a mere majority. And that precedent is dangerous. It's that precedent that can be used to eliminate the filibuster on legislation (e.g., to ban abortion or privatize Social Security) or on a Supreme Court nominee like Robert Bork. Just because the Democrats preserved the filibuster for legislation and Supreme Court judges today, that doesn't mean anything because the precedent they set will allow a future Senate to change the rules in any way that they might want. Under the circumstances, the Democrats really had no choice and I applaud them for their courage, but this really does change the whole dynamics of American politics. The stability we've grown accustomed to is now a thing of the past. The danger of a Republican majority is now much greater than at any time in our lives. So, remember that when you're celebrating the Democrats' demonstration of backbone. More than anything, today's vote was a symptom of a chronic disease that has been growing and dividing our nation.
First of all, I absolutely agree that the precedent of overturning a supermajority requirement with a simple majority vote ultimately means that the filibuster will be eliminated in the next few months or years in every other area, from legislation to supreme court nominations. Unlike BooMan, I consider this to be a wonderfully welcome larger-stakes longer-term progressive democratizing legacy of today's historic vote that is easily equal to the more immediate impact it has in standing up to Republican nullification strategies and enabling the President to fulfill his Constitutionally mandated task of appointing judges to fill vacancies and staff executive agencies tasked with fulfilling regulatory work mandated by law.

I simply do not believe that a Republican party that would actually outright privatize social security or ban abortion could win enough elections on that agenda to gain control of both congressional branches and the White House, and if Republicans did so without such a mandate they would be overthrown in the next election by overwhelming margins for their pains -- and if you want to entertain dark fantasies of the imposition of total dictatorship at that point, then you have already strayed far enough from present realities that you might as well posit totalitarian takeovers are plausible without the precedent of today's rule change in the Senate, so focus people! Rather than worry about Republicans run wild (as if they haven't anyway), howzabout contemplating instead the legislation we could have on the books by now had the Republican's monolithic obstruction via unprecedented abuse of filibuster rules been circumvented earlier -- from cap and trade, a public option (since the most conservative Democrats would no longer have been able to shape legislation through the indispensability of their Senate votes), card check, comprehensive immigration control with a path to citizenship, a Jobs Bill stimulating the economy with millions of public sector jobs and infrastructure spending (turning the economy around without years of pointless austerity and suffering), gun safety regulation, ENDA, and who knows what else?

When BooMan refers to "the stability we've grown accustomed to" I honestly cannot think what he possibly can mean -- gridlock is stability, I suppose, but I am glad for it to be "a thing of the past." I agree that "the danger of a Republican majority is now much greater than at any time in our lives." Part of the danger represented by Republicans in this ruinous phase of their reactionary neo-confederate extremity is that there are no rules or precedents that Democrats can make them honor by honoring them themselves. (By the way, who is to say that some of these more "moderate" Republicans we are always being told about won't now be empowered to vote WITH Democrats to re-introduce a measure of bipartisanship in legislation now that even monolithic obstruction can no longer succeed in smashing sensible legislation thus complicating the calculus of Republican Senators in less resolutely reactionary districts? Do we really believe that the filibuster is functioning in the contemporary polarized context as a balancing or moderating force?)

Democrats must make government make the lives of everyday citizens better when they are in government and they must win elections by making the stakes of their losing power palpable to everyday citizens. Anti-democratic filibuster rules in the already non-representatively anti-democratic Senate stand in the way of getting things done and obscure the stakes and messaging through which Democrats can communicate the differences between the parties in the context of elections.

The beginning of the end of the filibuster today has not made the Republicans less dangerous -- nothing we do can accomplish this except beating them until they adapt or die. Today's vote is not a "symptom of a chronic disease," but the beginning of the only effective remedy available to us. I will not cease my celebration of Democrats standing up to Republican abuses and further democratizing the Senate whatever the danger. Indeed, the only danger represented by the actions of Reid and Senatorial Democrats today is a danger inherent in Democracy -- and as Democrats we should embrace that danger as well as its potential benefits to do good works and stand on the record of those good works.

Go Nukes!

The Senate is an anti-democratic body, first, by disproportionately empowering sparsely populated, non-representatively conservative and homogenous rural states over states with diverse, densely-populated cities where most real Americans live and work and most real American politics and problems are happening in the first place; and then, second, by procedurally enabling reactionary minorities in obstruction and dysfunction. Republicans will go nuclear the first chance they get whether Democrats do or not, and Democrats have confirmed so many terrible Republican nominees already it is hard to imagine they could do much worse with a majority rather than a super-majority threshold in any case. I regret only that filibuster reform isn't extending to legislation yet. Yes, Republicans will pass more evil laws when they get the chance, but as a believer in democracy I don't think it is a bad thing that parties get to enact the agendas for which they are elected into majorities and then face the consequences of doing what they said they would do -- I think it would be all to the good were Republicans to enact and own their shitty brainless bigoted plutocratic agenda and then pay for the results, and Democrats actually enact their comparatively better, more progressive agenda and then reap the rewards for the results.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"It's Like, What?"

The hypocrisy, and its acceptable inevitability, is the real scandal. Via HuffPo:
In September, [Republican House] Rep[resentative for Florida] Trey Radel voted for Republican legislation that would allow states to make food stamp recipients pee in cups to prove they're not on drugs. In October, police busted the Florida Republican on a charge of cocaine possession. “It’s really interesting it came on the heels of Republicans voting on everyone who had access to food stamps get drug tested," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told BuzzFeed Tuesday. "It’s like, what?”
Of course, what Pelosi surely means is something more like "but, of course." And the extraordinary lenience of the treatment of this powerful white man as compared to the treatment of, say, an impoverished person or a person of color charged with cocaine possession gets another one of those: "It's like, what?/But, of course." Needless to say, it is high time to end the catastrophically failed and racist War On (some) Drugs, to legalize, tax and regulate for safety most recreational drug use and decriminalize and expand treatment and counseling for all drug abuse.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dispatches from Libertopia Milestone

One Hundred Wingnut Chestnuts and Democratic Aphorisms.

Mistaking The Problem

Every second Social Security is discussed as a problem to be solved is a second lost to the necessary celebration of Social Security as the ongoing solution to the problem of poverty for our seniors.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Obama Boom!

A rising stock market is always an unmistakable indicator of economic success… of plutocrats over the vast majority of people who work for a living.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Even I Wouldn't Read It

If US political pundits were reflecting reality, they would be talking about nothing but Republican sabotage and obstruction every minute of every day in every way. What a relentlessly demoralizing unprofitable bore that would be, such truth-telling, truth be told. Whomping up Obama's Syria disaster (it was a success, but never mind) and Obama's healthcare disaster (it is a success, but never mind) and Obama's plummeting approval numbers (they don't mean anything substantive or sustainable about his Presidency, but never mind) makes for an energizing change while we remain forever stuck like gnats in amber in this unending unchanging Republican obstruction and idiocy.

Culture of the Digital Gilded Age

The quintessential literary genre of the neoliberal epoch, our Digital Gilded Age, is the futurological scenario: an artless, reductive, promotional fraud, mind you.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Ongoing ACA Rollout Is Building On Successes

Why do stories like this one in the LA Times which is getting a lot of attention today in progressive circles, reporting rapidly rising ACA enrollments in November and about more and more states meeting or even exceeding their enrollment targets in these early weeks of the ongoing rollout -- and, by the way, the article doesn't even mention the extraordinary Medicaid expansion, or the multiplying lives saved by new regulations, also vital success stories, you know -- inevitably still begin with the words "despite the disastrous rollout"? You're reporting on the rollout. You're demonstrating it's not disastrous before our eyes. Why circulate right-wing anti-reform spin at one and the same time as you debunk it?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Minutes With Elizabeth Warren On The Need To Expand Social Security

Republicans Howling About Repeal Are About To Run Over A Cliff

Paul Waldman points out today at The American Prospect that in just six weeks, on January 1, millions of Americans are going to be living in a new healthcare reality. Republicans crowing about the fraction of folks on the private insurance market who think they are happy with junk insurance plans so bad they are now illegal will suddenly be proposing "Repeal" of benefits that millions upon millions of Americans will be experiencing first hand. He writes:
  • Millions of people will begin getting coverage through Medicaid. Repeal would mean kicking these people off their insurance.
  • Millions of people will begin getting subsidies to pay for private insurance. Repeal would mean taking away their subsidies, making it unaffordable for them to get insurance.
  • Denials for pre-existing conditions will be officially over. Repeal would mean that once again, insurers could deny people coverage if they've ever been sick.
  • Annual limits on coverage will be outlawed. Repeal would mean that people will once again start being forced to pay huge medical bills, in many cases forcing them into bankruptcy, if they have a serious illness or accident.
Republican ecstasies over the troubled rollout have a curiously manic quality. Bludgeoned by the disastrous Government Shutdown they seem to have experienced the attentional turn back to Obamacare as an unexpected salvation. In their almost spastically ecstatic embrace of this turn of events they have been ratcheting up expectations of total debacle while the Administration has been lowering expectations and biding their time. Republicans are where they are because they have nowhere else to go. The complicity of mainstream media in whomping up the "Game Over" narrative for the Obama Administration as well as their readiness to focus on a small percentage of misinformed citizens on the private insurance market rather than the millions who are on the verge of historically unprecedented healthcare benefits reveals a preference for gossip over substance that should surprise and please no-one -- including the present Republican beneficiaries of this nonsense, since the dramatic narratives all change to their catastrophic cost on January 1st. Get ready for the Obama Comeback and ACA Miracle and Democratic House Prospects Rise stories to usher in the new year.

Right Wing Sabotage of ACA Includes DDoS Attacks

Via The Examiner:
The House Homeland Security Committee published a video on their Youtube page highlighting... [a] successful attack that is designed to deny access to the [] website called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. A DDoS attack is designed to make a network unavailable to intended users, generally through a concerted effort to disrupt service such as repeatedly accessing the servers, saturating them with more traffic than the website is designed to handle. Right wingers have been distributing the link to the necessary tools to perform the attacks on the website through social networking, as pointed out by Information Week... "Destroy Obama Care!" ... is the advertised name given to the attack tool by "right wing patriots" who are distributing the DDoS tool through downloads on social networks, which promises to overwhelm the website... Some online news sites have talked about this attack tool being distributed by right wingers, and Congress held hearings this week and talked about the attacks, but there is not one mainstream news organization that seems to be interested.
These attacks are of a piece with misinformation campaigns about "death panels" and "government takeovers" and the recent spate of deceptive cancellation notices sent by insurance profiteers to divert junk insurance policyholders into ruinously expensive coverage without notifying them about incomparably better options made available by the ACA, all the while blaming the ACA, of course, as well as with refusals of Republican governors and state legislatures to accept Medicaid expansion to support millions of their own most vulnerable citizens, refusals to create their own exchanges thus overloading the federal exchanges and website, endless delaying tactics to ensure coders had little advance time to address real demands the website would face, and efforts to actively interfere with Navigators who would help citizens access urgently needed and now available services and subsidies. While the mass-mediated narrative rails monotonously about "the disastrous rollout," indifferent to actual causes or real improvements, it is sometimes said that Republicans are "rooting for failure" of the Affordable Care Act. This is true but utterly inadequate: Republicans are actively working for failure, actively attacking the law of the land, indulging in nullification of laws legitimately passed, endorsed by the Supreme Court, and mandated by the verdict of two national elections.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Barbie and Bellwhether

What Benkler was seeing back in the early 2000s, we now know, was not the popular networked information economy. He was seeing an early version of the networked information economy that was skewed to the atypical sensibilities of the web’s pioneers. What we see today is a much truer version of a “democratized” information economy, which turns out to be bland, homogenized, and infused with a consumerist ethic. The contested Barbie has been pushed back into “feminist-criticism symposia and undergraduate courses” — back to the offline and online margins. Slee was not quite right when he said that the more recent Google searches for Barbie are “owned by Mattel.” They’re not. They’re owned by us. The distinction, though, is trivial.
Nicholas Carr's contra-Benklerian Slee-esque slaying on the online de-contestation of Barbie reminds me how marvelous and prescient and abiding Connie Willis's veeery nineties sf novel Bellwhether was. Read both of them.

Be Prepared

Nothing works perfectly, nothing works all the time. The Republicans are going to declare the website a failure even when it no longer is a failure. They regard its working a failure as well as its not working a failure. This is perfectly predictable. The Obama administration and Democrats more generally need to prepare effective responses to the inevitable charges well in advance. These responses should not hum and haw, they should not delve into robotic acronyms and bureaucratise, they should not be qualified and give opponents the benefit of the doubt. We have just observed the right reduce the ACA to a website's functionality, we have just observed the right focus on 3% of the population in the private healthcare insurance market who think they like their crappy plans instead of the 40% potentially accessing Medicaid and regulated markets that would once have excluded them, hell, we have observed the right pretend that healthcare is establishing death panels when the ACA's regulations functionally eliminate the death panels of exclusive and misleading junk insurance profiteering. The right will tell lies, the right will fixate on minor problems to distract from major benefits. Democrats need to memorize their concise, confident, righteous, unified, fighting stance right now. Democrats succeeded by doing it during the shutdown, you can succeed again by doing it again. Democrats, do it.

"Discourse Is Not Life; It's Time Is Not Your Time"

I am happy to discover that there is a quite mainstream discussion of a US Basic Income Guarantee in the latest edition of Business Insider. Basic Income (or at least a bundle of welfare entitlements including basic income, universal healthcare, lifelong education, retirement security sufficient to secure a legible scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday commerce) is an idea I've advocated myself for years, most recently here.

While it's nice to see a personal hobbyhorse find its way to a more mainstream media carousel, the more general point I would make is that it is also interesting that recently I have been seeing proposals for increasing social security, for lowering the retirement age, for providing universal pre-K, and for comparable extensions of general welfare from across the left getting floated with greater seriousness and with greater regularity in widely read spaces. The point is not that these proposals have much of a chance in the near-term, but that seeds are being sown that might bear fruit later -- and that, as we have all learned to our cost from the libertopians, "later" can actually be sooner than people think.

When I was in high school, and for crappy decades thereafter, it was commonplace to see endless reactionary libertopian proposals being made -- privatize the post office, voucherize social security, charter schools, deregulate finance, replace the three-legged stool with IRAs, on and on and on. It isn't just that many of these palpably idiotic notions were catastrophically implemented -- though of course far too many of them have been -- but that the relentless drumbeat of destructive deregulatory energy they mobilized has shaped what has been politically possible and seemed politically important for a long lingering generation now. For most of my politically active life, all the "energy," all the "ideas" have been declared to be on the right... Sometimes they were described as "libertarian" in a way that pretended not to be of the right but "beyond left and right," but even these conspicuously conduced always only to the benefit of the right. Even after all the deregulatory enthusiasm and greedhead looting of common and pblic goods and phony rugged individualist self-congratulation and cruel plutocratic rationalizations predictably (and the result was indeed predictable, as well as predicted, by many who remembered history or who were not taught to be macroeconomic illiterates) failed over and over again, and finally flabbergastingly, even after these failures, more than a decade of inertial investment in these failed reactionary formulations, figures, and frames among professional intellectuals and governing elites has yielded still more years and years of austerian misery and corporate control in the midst of their smoking moaning ruins.

One of the strengths of President Obama's pursuit of and tenure in the White House has been his circulation of memorable formulations championing good governance and collective responsibilities, and there have been others joining in to articulate a progressive social democratic vision lately, too. Mainstream media outlets like MSNBC have unquestionably amplified these rhetorical efforts. My own social democracy/democratic socialism is to the left of most of these representatives and outlets, of course, and so my point isn't to endorse them, but to recognize their indispensable contribution to a progressive rhetorical atmosphere, an available progressive hegemonic commonsense for people to latch onto, in which more radically democratic formulations and campaigns can find purchase as well. It has been especially frustrating to observe the desperate last-ditch white-racist patriarchal plutocratic anti-democratic GOP frustrate and even paralyze altogether the problem-solving work of the emerging progressive consensus and energy with their relentless hate and obstructionism, but I suppose it is worthwhile to note that even when representatives and media outlets are devoted to symbolic elaborations of progressive possibility and satirical exposures of reactionary irrationality this is work that contributes all the same to eventual good.

As Foucault said: "Discourse is not life; its time is not your time." The slow transformation of commonsensical assumptions and aspirations is perfectly normal, as is the painfully slow work of resistance and reform in the democratizing direction of equity-in-diversity. I think it is my awareness that in the background of all this slow change is the unspeakable reality of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change that worries me most of all: The chaos and expense and horror of ever more frequent and destructive Greenhouse storms, the inexorable rise of population coupled with the no less inexorable depletion and spoilage of clean water, breathable air, fertile topsoil, the social dislocations and violations of rising waters, confront us with an indispensably political task we fail to address as reactionaries force our politics to fail more generally. I do not doubt that democratic ideas can prevail once more, I do not doubt that progressive effort will wrest the collective imagination away from elite-incumbency, I do not doubt that sense will overthrow selfish nonsense in good time. But the pace at which ideas are changing and the pace at which the world is ending are not the same. Discourse is not life, its time is not our time, but its time may not give us the time to save our lives.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Skytwister Gallery

I adore the emerging twenty-first century dynamic curvilinear urban high-rise aesthetic. Vapid sarcastic post-modern citational architecture is finally ending. Along with drag multiculture and women writing wonderful new sf, here is a sign that popular creative expressivity can push past the lost dead decade behind us. More, please.

Nothing Is Happening

Republicans aren't letting anything get done, and so nothing is happening. Given the Republican commitment to absolute obstruction it will only be through Democrats retaining control of the Senate and regaining control of the House that anything useful or even new can possibly happen for years and years. If they do, problems will get solved, if they don't nothing will happen and problems will persist while approval grinds away in the single digits. The ACA and lgbt civil rights victories aren't such a bad legacy for President Obama, and that's baked in the cake now. Otherwise, nothing is happening. Certainly, this is not a "Presidential Crisis." Republican obstruction is an ongoing, indeed, neverending crisis of sorts, but it is boring to say that over and over again every day even if it is always true day after day. Nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. President Obama has a press conference in which he talks about what it feels like to get racially profiled, President Obama has a press conference in which he soothes a horrified nation in the aftermath of yet another needless mass shooting, President Obama has a press conference in which he apologizes because a small fraction of people are losing healthcare plans they think they want because they are too stupid to grasp that crappy plans aren't worth wanting, but no legislation is happening to connect any real problems to any real problem-solving, nothing real is happening. Nothing is happening. People are going through the motions of being in motion, symbolic and ceremonial motions are making emotions slosh massively about. People are polled about this or that mirage they are crawling toward. But nothing is happening. Nothing is happening. Pundits are talking about all this nothing that is happening with same the energy with which they talk about something when it is happening, and so it is superficially easy to confuse this nothing that is happening with something happening. But it is nothing, not something. Nothing is happening, I tell you. Nothing is happening. The Republican "fix" of the latest trumped up healthcare non-problem is just another ritual repeal vote that won't go anywhere, the website is already working incomparably better while obstructionists and ignoramuses continue to talk as though that isn't true while more and more Americans enroll and the law is implemented more and more. Diplomatic breakthroughs may take place, but probably not, executive orders may regulate greenhouse gasses, but not as effectively as legislation would manage and, anyway, the details of the diplomacy will exceed mass-mediated attention spans and be treated to roughly the same sort of misleading or entirely symbolic interpretations (as witness, Benghazi, Syria) and few of the real regulatory actors involved with executive orders will be the protagonists of the narratives the media tells about these regulations. Legislators will wave their hands and bark their slogans, but they will have nothing to do with anything that is happening if anything happens to happen, which is unlikely in any case. Nothing new is happening. Nothing is going to happen while the Republicans have the authority to stop anything from happening. Nothing is happening. That's what's happening.

Enough With the Rob Ford Already

I laughed at the the height of the nonsense, too, it's fine, but there is a point at which laughing at even powerful people with obvious problems becomes ugly. And there is nothing funny in the least about abuse allegations. Ford has been stripped of some real powers, sensible people are taking sensible measures, most Canadians are nicer than Ford and bored America needs to move on from this. Here's hoping Batkid heroically saves us from ourselves by switching the channel.

"Moderate" "Establishment" "Institutionalist" John Boehner's Anti-Gay Activism

Right on the high heels of the Senate's passage of ENDA, the Employment Non Discrimination Act, by a bipartisan supermajority, Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner refused even to allow a vote on the law in the House of Representatives. So doing, Boehner single-handedly ensured the failure of the Act which -- like so many urgently necessary and overwhelmingly popular measures (like commonsense gun safety measures, like comprehensive immigration reform, like a farm bill restoring SNAP benefits to vulnerable citizens, like the President's Jobs Bill and countless infrastructure spending measures that could stimulate our needlessly depressed economy and turn around the Republican manufactured unemployment crisis) -- has more than enough votes with a majority of Democratic and a minority of Republican on-record supporters to pass.

Although it is perfectly legal and all to commonplace to fire people simply because of their sexual orientation in twenty-nine states as well as to fire trangender folks in thirty-three states, Boehner has declared that the law is not needed and that queer folks are already protected. This is a lie, told by a bigot.

Today, we discover as well that Boehner has gone out of his way to provide space for a hate-group called the World Congress of Families (it's a Congress for all the World's Families except for all the families with queer folks in them or families that happen to welcome their queer friends and neighbors and fellow citizens, which are families that aren't families for the World Congress of Families). Boehner secured the group a government-sanctioned platform for their hate after Illinois Senator Mark Kirk withdrew their access to a space in a Senate office building.

The President of the hate group Allen Carlson praised John Boehner, congratulating him for refusing to succumb to fear of lesbian and gay activists whose exposure of antigay bigotry and work to secure equity and protection for queer folks he apparently compared to the rise of fascism. The event that Boehner has secured will educate legislators how they can promote families (you know, the real families, the ones defined, as everybody knows, by the pure heterosexuality and obsessive homophobia of all of their members) by emulating Russia's laws harassing queer folks, fostering anti-gay violence, spreading officially-sanctioned anti-gay misinformation and propaganda, and harshly censoring any public recognition or factual discussion of queerness.

I don't care if it makes him cry to hear me say so: John Boehner isn't only a well-meaning but utterly incompetent Speaker of the House presiding ineffectually over one of the most unruly and historically useless Congresses in the history of the institution. He is everything but well meaning, he is indeed incompetent, but also an utterly evil asshole.

"Obama's Katrina"

Apparently the Affordable Care Act is being narrated as "Obama's Katrina" by many pundits now... because flabbergasting Bush Administration incompetence arising from indifference collaborated in the deaths of so many precarious American citizens and, somehow very similarly, serious problems with the website in the first weeks of the rollout have kept so many precarious American citizens from realizing how the ACA saves their lives? Not to put too fine a point on it, but GOP ACA sabotage is THEIR Katrina, their LATEST Katrina, the latest of endlessly many episodes of death-dealing Republican incompetence, ignorance, and bigotry. Look, the egregious abuses of private insurance profiteers made the ACA necessary, remember? And now the deceptions perpetuated by private insurance profiteers in their misleading "cancellation" letters over junk policies are being made into evidence of Obama's dishonesty and of his administration's "beating up on" insurance companies? This is too stupid to discuss. We are all made more stupid even entertaining these convolutions even for a second. The black hole of paralysis created by monotonous, monolithic Republican obstructionism is getting filled with statement-parsing, vapid gossip, shiny objects.

For clarity, via Media Matters (and everybody else by now):

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Who Behind the What

The pretense that Technology "Is" a thing enables only the technology writer/promoter, just as the pretense that there "Is" a God enables only the priest.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Under Investigation

To lose the expectation of privacy is substantially to lose the presumption of innocence. To live under surveillance and profiling is always to be committing the not-yet-determinable crimes for which you are being framed.

Is this a Dispatch from Libertopia or is it a Futurological Brickbat?

Friday, November 08, 2013


Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, ages ago:
To the extent that Robot Cultists regard themselves as a sooper-genius elite and/or explicitly worship gurus and celebrity tech CEOs they regard as a sooper-genius elite and/or implicitly worship plutocratic elite/incumbent interests through their devotion to hyper-consumption, gizmo-fetishism, technofixes for disease/climate crises/poverty, etc. it isn't the least bit difficult to grasp the structural affinity of the transhumanoid/singularitarian techno-transcendentalists to reactionary politics. One hears a self-congratulatory pining after aristocracy in many of their works (sometimes inflected with eugenicism, sometimes just scarcely stealthed class privilege/nationalism), and, needless to say, the sorts of "spontaneisms" that crop up so often among futurologists of both the crypto-right market and the pseudo-left luddic anarchisms almost always amount to an endorsement of maximal consumption and acquiescence to the status quo. It is no surprise to me to find futurological discourse in the service of reaction, as I always say, "Every futurism is always a retro-futurism."
That last quote is a futurological brickbat near three others that complete the point:
V. Futurity is a register of freedom, "The Future" another prison-house built to confine it. VI. Futurity is the openness in the present arising out of the ineradicable diversity of calculating, contending, and collaborative stakeholders who struggle to make and remake the shared world, peer to peer. VII. Futurity cannot be delineated but only lived, in serial presents attesting always unpredictably to struggle and to expression. "The Future," to the contrary, brandishing the shackle of its definite article, is always described from a parochial present and is always a funhouse mirror reflecting a parochial present back to itself, amplifying its desires and fears, confirming its prejudices, reassuring its Believers that the Key to History is in their hands.
Okay, so the context for all this is that I responded to an Alex Steffen tweet that provoked me without thinking about it too much. He didn't respond to my response but I did find myself thinking about it more after just tossing off my own tweet. Here's the exchange, such as it is:

You might think the disdain for "antique futures" in Steffen's tweet would be one with which I sympathize, and maybe it should be, really, maybe I am being critical in a hair-trigger way...

But I must say that the phrasing set off alarm bells for me. The term "creatives" for one thing almost inevitably means "privileged people" in such formulations in a way that denies the endlessly exhibited but usually disdained creativity and flexibility and imagination and problem-solving of precarious exploited people -- it's a term like "makers" which ultimately seems less about affirming making than it does setting the stage for a false excoriation of majorities as "takers." It's also one of those terms and phrases forever reminding us of the strangling tight coupling of the futurological and the neoliberal imaginaries, phrases like "thought leader" and "enabling innovation" and "accelerating change" and "propagating memes" and on and on. We signal affiliations with language choices, especially in constrained communication contexts like tweeting, and I am very suspicious of futurologists challenging "creatives" to gain "future-relevant skills" in the face of obsolete "antique-future" institutions. I can't help it I'm gagging on neoliberalism.

I also think that the future figured in Steffen's adjectival "future-engaged" and "future-relevant" embeds the futurologically usual future-as-imagined/projected-destination rather than future as an openness in the present (including all future presents), a figuration of the futural that makes actual engagement of the kind Steffen might mean -- in the most generous construal of his tweet -- difficult to impossible in my view.

In this connection, it isn't really surprising that Steffen speaks of skills the relevance to "the future" of which he already thinks he knows as an "expert" futurist -- future-as-destiny tends, after all, to trap us in a pernicious and falsifying instrumental logic of freedom-as-capacitation against the indispensably (which is not to say exhaustive) political logic of freedom-as-consensual/dissensus [civitas]. One almost expects to hear Steffen going the whole TED-squawk hog, and evangelizing about charter schools and STEM-jobs that will win The Future's North Atlantic trade war with China while incubating new institutions for profitably geo-engineering our way to sustainable resilience blah blah blah. I mean, probably Steffen doesn't fall for any that moonshine in its baldly reactionary futurist forms, but if he doesn't I want to know why his good sense doesn't extend then to a recognition of the inter-implication of such corporate-militarist claptrap with talk of "challeng[ing] creatives... to gain new future-relevant skills" in the first place? My worry is that, like Jamais Cascio, he shrinks only from the bald exposure of the reactionary assumptions and aspirations of the futurological imaginary with which he remains a collaborator (in both senses).

bells hooks and Melissa Harris Perry in Conversation at the New School


Happy Belated Birthday Joni

This song couplet is probably my favorite, although with Joni favorites are more like hauntings. She turned 70 yesterday.

Noam Chomsky Tells Singularitarian that AI and the Singularity Are Marketing and Science Fiction But Not Science

Chomsky is a model of patience.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

There's Nothing "Pro-Life" About Forced Pregnancy Zealotry

Democratic candidate for Texas Governor Wendy Davis engages in some fierce long overdue re-framing in PolitcalWire's quote of the day:
I am pro-life. I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry about their children's future and their ability to provide for that future. I care about life and I have a record of fighting for people above all else.

Off To The Salt Mine

It's a teaching day and so, probably, low to no blogging for a while.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Ew, the People

Seven of the 12 richest people in the world have names ending in Koch, Walton or Adelson... The Koch brothers once threw $60 million into attempting to dethrone President Obama... The Waltons derive their wealth from Walmart, a company that has historically donated more to Republican causes and lobbied aggressively on taxes and labor issues [translation: cutting taxes on the rich and union busting]... And Sheldon Adelson may just be the biggest Republican donor of all.

Praying for the Horse Race

Pretty hilarious to hear pundits patiently explaining how Democratic victories in Virginia aren't really victories and how the real message is that attacking Obamacare in yet another election is going to be a big winner for Republicans in 2014 -- and, no doubt, 2016 and possibly also in the year 3000 as well.

Self Knowledge

"Leadership is much less about talking than it is about listening," declared Chris Christie last night as he droned on and on about himself for an hour in his victory speech as New Jersey got a minimum wage increase and after it got the marriage equality he had steadfastly vetoed and refused to listen to his citizens about.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Early Clinton Versus Christie Skirmish Today

Asked by a student back in the spring of 2012 who I expected to run for President in 2016, I said I would be surprised if it wasn't between Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton. I still believe that. I also believe that the Big Show governors races in Virginia and New Jersey today represent an early chapter in that very contest. Pundits seem to want to frame the nearly inevitable conclusion of a Christie win in blue New Jersey and McAuliffe win in purple Virginia as a pedagogical demonstration to Republicans in the wilderness that "moderation" is the path to GOP victory where Tea Party radicalism leads only to GOP suicide. Although I agree that the GOP is on the road to nowhere, I note that the pundits are peddling moonshine here since the palpably homophobic union-busting austerian macroeconomic illiterate Christie is hardly a moderate on either social or economic policy matters, and hence cannot provide an object lesson in moderation for anybody (Village gossip columnists gossip to the contrary notwithstanding), but also that the Tea Party caucus is ineducable in the sense these pundits seem to be counting on, and are already busy making feelgood excuses for the Christianist Teahadi Cuccinelli's defeat as bad luck, bad timing, bad personalities despite GOOD winning principles, and readying themselves for the next purity utterly battle undeterred.

In my view, the more relevant framing for these matched contests is to see in them an early skirmish in the eventual 2016 contest for the Presidency between Clinton and Christie. Although many have ruefully noticed that Democrats more or less abandoned the Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor Barbara Buono providing for a second term coronation of the Republican Christie, the fact remains that in so doing they have embedded Christie in an establishmentarian narrative coming into an anti-establishmentarian Presidential year. All the noises being made about the Deep Republican Bench of oh so serious Governors like Jindal and Walker and celebrity darlings like Cruz and Paul will be exposed in an actual primary contest as another posse of killer clowns like we had last time around (it actually matters that these governors are desperately unpopular failures and that hate-radio clowns like Cruz and Paul are already phony filibustering, plagiarizing, grandstanding, neo-confederate incompetents making new important enemies with every applause line). It is actually just conceivable that the Tea Party Base energy will actually manage to nominate one of their own and hence set up a catastrophic Goldwaterian debacle in 2016 (a result more than justifying leaving Buono out on a limb this time out, if it happened), but I personally still doubt they will get their way next time any more than they have in countless campaigns past when the plutocrats lay their money down. Instead, the loons and roosters will treat Christie as a punching bag for months, bloodying him up and pushing him unelectably to the right all the while. By keeping their powder dry in this Governor's race, Democrats will have plenty of crony capitalism, morally questionable dealings, bullying of public servants, homophobic and misogynist behavior (not to mention all the sub rosa "health concern" signalling so amply available) to blanket the airwaves with after Christie emerges from the crazytown GOP primary spectacle, in which he can be tarred with their ugly off-putting radicalism to his ruin.

Meanwhile, the victory of the infinitely unloveable Terry McAuliffe as Virginia Governor matters less, as I say, for what the Cuccinelli defeat will not actually manage to communicate to Tea Party radicals, but for what it means to have a life-long Clinton operative in charge of a purple state without winning which it has become pretty much impossible for any Republican to chart a path to any legible electoral victory. A state in which disenfranchisement shenanigans and healthcare sabotage would be a cauldron cooking up an early election night Christie victory and an opening for a few plausible pathways to the White House will be instead a state in which majorities benefiting from conspicuously trumpeted healthcare improvements will easily register and vote at their leisure to shut down Christie's bid before California closes its polls, allowing millions to go to bed basking in Hillary Clinton's early acceptance speech in the midst of what looks like the mathematical setup for another Democratic supermajority in the Senate and, one hopes, a House majority probably under the leadership of another woman, this time Debbie Wasserman Shultz. If we don't manage comprehension Immigration reform before then, that will be next up. And then we're coming for your guns, assholes, raising taxes on the rich, and filling the courts with pro-choice judges from sea to shining sea.

Google's Seeecret Floating Pirate Island

TPM arrives a bit late onto the Google Mystery Barge story, but I really appreciated the spooky portentious tone Martha Mendoza's piece managed to keep up in the re-telling:
San Francisco's mayor says he doesn't know what it is. Police say it's not their jurisdiction. And government inspectors are sworn to secrecy. Google is erecting a four-story structure in the heart of the San Francisco Bay but is managing to conceal its purpose by constructing it on docked barges instead of on land, where city building permits and public plans are mandatory... [W]hether the barge-mounted structure is a store, as is widely rumored, or a data center powered by wave action, for which Google has a patent, there are going to be grave concerns... And environmentalists warn that water-cooled data centers might warm the sea and harm marine life. Google's usually responsive media relations team did not respond to repeated calls or emails over several days, but records and other official accounts identify the project as Google's. Google has dodged public scrutiny by essentially constructing a vessel, not a building. Thus it doesn't need permits from San Francisco, a city with copious inspection and paperwork requirements for builders. Google has also avoided the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, a state agency that governs projects on the water and has its own long list of public reviews and permit requirements. If, when the project's ready, Google wants to sail it out the Golden Gate and into the Pacific Ocean, the tech giant won't ever need to explain what it's been up to.
Makes you wonder...

If Google were evacuating the island of Crete and surrounding it with these seeecret installations I'd be worried.

Actually, Sam Biddle says we have good reason to think this is a lame Floating CrapVegas Showroom-slash-McPartyBarge. I daresay this is correct. Although the libertechian types endlessly crow about Going Galt on the high seas or in the asteroid belt or what have you, these skim-'n-scam celebrity CEO PR-soopergeniuses rarely manage anything more revolutionary than shiny surfaced Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episodes after all.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Working While Gay in the USA

When I was in Queer Nation/Atlanta twenty years ago, we were doing sit-ins in Cracker Barrel restaurants across the South because they fired Cheryl Summerville for being being gay. Overabundantly inept Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner, we are told, is a "moderate," "establishmentarian," "institutionalist," depicted as forever struggling haplessly against an unruly base of anti-democratic know-nothing white racist patriarchal bigots. It is rarely made clear on just what issues of substance he disagrees with them in fact, apart from quibbling around the edges with them over questions of tactics and spin in real time. This morning, Boehner has indicated in no uncertain terms that he personally opposes ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would end hiring and workplace discrimination for queer folks. Versions of the Act have been repeatedly proposed and then failed passage for four decades, all along and long before I was picketing, marching, and getting to spend a night in jail over the issue all those twenty years ago. There are now enough votes with most Democrats and a few Republicans to pass ENDA, but Boehner's opposition means it will not even receive a hearing in the House. The next time you hear someone say they feel sorry for John Boehner because he has to deal with these Tea Party zealots, blah blah, you might recall this moment (one of endlessly many in fact, including the government shutdown, in which he has had the votes with Democratic support to accomplish useful things or stop catastrophic things from happening but did not do so). The likely passage of ENDA tonight in the Senate is a milestone nonetheless, I suppose, and we will be told it will provide "momentum" to speed the eventual passage of this urgently necessary Act. Of course, "momentum" has always looked to this rhetorician as mostly an inapt metaphor in the context of legislative processes, but who am I to say? I do suppose ENDA will pass before another twenty years goes by after all. Momentum!

The Battle for the Soul of the Modern GOP

Since a "moderate" Republican is simply one who conceals rather than broadcasts his broad agreement with racist know-nothing anti-government Tea Party radicals the burning question has become: Which wing of the GOP will prevail, the frauds or the lunatics?

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Futurological Brickbats

When science fiction conceits become too tired even for hacks, that's when futurists can be counted on to arrive to turn them into ad copy.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Dear America, Enough With the Shouting Already

Shouting is not serious acting. Shouting is not singing like a diva. Shouting is not passionate advocacy. Shouting is not hilarious comedy. Shouting is not being interesting. Shouting is not having conviction. Shouting is not leadership. Shouting is not getting things done. Shouting is not more authentic than not shouting.

As Glitches Vanish Media Outlets Megaphoning Glitch Stories Collectively Yawn

USAToday reports that load times at have already improved by 80%. Nevertheless, complaints about the website that no longer reflect the facts are still given saturation coverage, and yet improvements are not yet being reported on NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, CNN, NPR, or are being treated as loose "promises" rather than accomplished results. Instead, the media outlets have turned to the even more conspicuous misinformation effort of reporting without fact-checking palpably untrue and fantastically non-representative horror stories about cancelled coverage and skyrocketing costs from Fox-indoctrinated yahoos who simply want to destroy the program. Even the most sympathetic coverage has tended to misidentify the Affordable Care Act with the opening day glitches of its web portal in a profoundly misleading way. Few have even mentioned the basic and blatant irrationality of the loudest critics of the program who actually shut down the government to prevent people from accessing the ACA and then somehow were supposed to be scoring points by howling about how the website was preventing people from accessing the ACA. What possible use is served by pundits offering up what amounts to fashion advice on the Administration's "sloppy messaging" or even go so far as to call or imply that the President is a liar for saying people could keep their insurance if they liked it just because he didn't anticipate that some people would be so stupid or so brainwashed that they would claim still to "like" paying for insurance revealed not to insure them? Look, the problems with the damn website are being fixed well before they interfere with any of the deadlines mandated by the law, meanwhile the five percent or so of the population on the private market who may indeed find their insurance costs rising a bit without subsidies to compensate them or who already had excellent coverage that is not much improved by the regulations of the market implemented by the ACA are soon going to be swamped by the overwhelming majority of people who are finding their coverage either vastly improved (including millions of the long catastrophically uninsured poor and abused exploited citizens with what were once deemed "pre-existing conditions") or more or less unchanged, and the share of rising healthcare costs in driving the federal deficit and causing personal bankruptcies will fall ever more conspicuously (as has already begun to happen) with each year. The Republican Party which has been unified the last few years by little more than its monolithic hostility to the ACA will have to learn to sing a new tune, but the media should do some serious soul-searching as well as it realizes that there were a host of real checkable facts for them to report most of which they disdained to provide instead an endless mic for liars and ignoramuses to testify to their groundless fears and displaced frustrations to the benefit of literally no one in the end.