Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Saturday, November 30, 2013
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
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
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
Thanks for a continent to despoil
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
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,
Thanks for "Kill a Queer for
Thanks for laboratory AIDS.
Thanks for Prohibition and the
war against drugs.
Thanks for a country where
nobody's allowed to mind the
Thanks for a nation of finks.
Yes, thanks for all the
memories-- all right let's see
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.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Monday, November 25, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Friday, November 22, 2013
Thursday, November 21, 2013
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.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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
Monday, November 18, 2013
Republican ecstasies over the troubled healthcare.gov 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.
- 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.
The House Homeland Security Committee published a video on their Youtube page highlighting... [a] successful attack that is designed to deny access to the [healthcare.gov] 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 Healthcare.gov 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 Healthcare.gov 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
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.
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
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.
For clarity, via Media Matters (and everybody else by now):
Monday, November 11, 2013
Is this a Dispatch from Libertopia or is it a Futurological Brickbat?
Friday, November 08, 2013
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:
Challenge for future-engaged creatives: how to gain new future-relevant skills within institutions which are geared towards antique futures.— AlexSteffen (@AlexSteffen) November 8, 2013
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...
@AlexSteffen All the future you can engage in is present. Everything else that gets called future is projection, denial, and self-promotion.— Dale Carrico (@dalecarrico) November 8, 2013
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).
Noam Chomsky Tells Singularitarian that AI and the Singularity Are Marketing and Science Fiction But Not Science
Thursday, November 07, 2013
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.
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
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.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
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.
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.