Nov 14th, 2011 by ravi
OWS: reporting and reality

Yesterday I wrote about the strange analysis of OWS from the Left by Jodi Dean. In my comment I expressed some doubt on the sincerity of her argument. The post by Dean that I was referring to is an old one. Shortly after that one, Dean repeated a bit of unsubstantiated news that was floating around claiming that OWS was coming to an end due to the inability to resolve the simple matter of keeping drumming to a minimum. On Oct 24th, Dean quoted alleged OWS insiders, without comment:

OWS is over after Tuesday:

Friends, mediation with the drummers has been called off. It has gone on for more than 2 weeks and it has reached a dead end. The drummers formed a working group called Pulse and agreed to 2 hrs/day at times during the mediation, and more recently that changed to 4 hrs/day. It’s my feeling that we may have a fighting chance with the community board if we could indeed limit drumming and loud instrumentation to 12-2pm and 4-6pm, however that isn’t what’s happening.

This would have been pretty big, if true. Except it wasn’t. Michael Pollak — the most fair, level-headed and rational person I know on the Left — has been visiting Zuccotti frequently and attending some of the General Assembly sessions. He had this say:

Okay, I just got back from the park and 60 Wall (which is the hive of the working groups) and this was clearly a non-issue.  Nobody mentioned it and everyone is still working with timelines extending into the indefinite future.  I was a little embarassed to ask, to be honest, it was so obviously an exaggerated rumor.  But when asked, the general answer was the same: the GA/drum circle conflict has been there since the beginning, and conflict and negotiation with the neighbors and city officials has been there since the beginning.  Nothing’s changed or come to crisis.  On the contrary, things have recently gotten substantially better on both fronts precisely because the drummers are drumming substantially less now. So the conflict will continue, and hopefully continue to improve.  No one was worried.  People getting mad or feeling agreements were reneged is just considered SOP when there’s a conflict.  It always leads to another meeting.

And speaking of conflicts — or lack thereof — the Demand working group met today with the Facilitation working group, the one that sets the agenda for the nightly general assembly.  They couldn’t have been nicer or more efficient.  We asked if we could propose it and they said sure.

So rumors that this would somehow get strangled in its cradle behind the scenes seem entirely ungrounded. To judge by this meeting, I don’t see how it would such smothering would be even possible, this committee seems so transparent and rational and non-judgmental.  It looks at this point as if the whole idea was either a misunderstanding or a bluff or both.

What a difference data makes!

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Nov 13th, 2011 by ravi
OWS and its detractors

In case you have been living in a cave, OWS is Occupy Wall Street: a protest movement that arose from an initial call by AdBusters, and is now a world-wide affair with “occupations” springing up in cities across the USA and the rest of the world.

The idea is simple and brilliant:

Occupy Wall Street Signage

1. Choose a method — occupation — that overcomes the customary weakness of other actions of the powerless such as rallies and marches: politicians, administrators, the police, simply wait them out; let the protestors have their day with marching and speeches, after which the powerful can return to business as usual. Even the term “occupy” upends that relationship.

2. Target the clearest representation (Wall Street) of the few who were the primary cause of the economic meltdown of 2008, while also the greatest beneficiaries of the government response to the crisis.

3. Make the identification clear: the most common slogan used by the group is “we are the 99%“. While their sentiments may not be shared by all of the 90+% that took the bulk of the pain and gained little benefit from the Bush-Obama bailouts and half-hearted programs, the material reality is well captured by the slogan. A long overdue challenge, in simple terms, to the Right’s effortless claim to the majority opinion or position.

Due to their resilience, and with the “help” of the inevitable police brutality, this movement has struck a chord and gained popularity and sympathy among the larger public. The response from right-wing organs such as Fox News has been predictable. More unexpectedly, some on the left have issues as well. Here is Jodi Dean:

[T]he language of occupying occupy wall street that I am using suggests that any attempt to hegemonize the space will be a problem for the ‘movement.’ That is, to remain the movement it is (18 days in), it has to resist any and all efforts to channel the message. But that then implies not that the priority is a contestation among people to forge a way ahead but instead that openness and indeterminacy are themselves the goal, that which is to be protected. If that’s the case, then there is something wrong, a kind of built in (self-deceiving?) confusion: the goal is just to keep the occupation going, not to use the occupation to overthrow capitalism or bring down the banks, or redistribute wealth at all. In fact, it’s probably wrong for me to call this confused or self-deceiving: it’s explicit in a number of different statements about democracy and discussion and raising questions. This language is a language of process rather than ends. Or, the process is the end. To the extent that this is the goal, rather than a means of overthrowing capitalism and working toward putting in place a communist solution, then that’s not my revolution.

There is a lot going on in this single paragraph, almost all of which is troublesome. To begin with, Dean gives away the strawman quite explicitly in her very first sentence, with the  accurate qualifier that “the language of occupying occupy wall street” is one that she is using i.e., this is her take on it, and if her take or language leads to some “confusion” or “self-deception” it is not clear who else is to blame here!

And what exactly is a “language of process“, or a “language of ends“? I am pretty sure I don’t know. What is clear however is that Dean wants to lay down the terms on which she will consider Occupy Wall Street “her” revolution: the movement has to share her goal, without question, of a communist solution. Well, okay, that’s her call to make. Why we worry? The trouble I have with Dean’s post is the way she goes about making her point, using all sorts of bad faith hypotheticals, logical leaps, and by playing games with the meaning of words like “process” and “goal”.

One example is Dean’s worry about the presence of Ron Paulites:

To the extent that Occupy Wall Street remains open to and for multiple political persuasions, it is not a left movement at all.  […] As I understand it, Ron Paul supports an odd notion of free markets; he thinks that individuals make better decisions than groups and that a social safety net damages freedom. If there is space for this view in Occupy Wall Street, then that’s not my revolution. In fact, it seems like a version of the one that hijacked the country in the 70s.

What is “space for this view“, per Dean, and how do the protestors please Dean by purging the movement of such space? Should they chase away Paul leafletters hovering around the periphery? Should they not  listen to them should Paulites attempt to start a discussion? Dean’s own hypothetical extent to which OWS is “open” to alternate “persuasions” or provides “a space” for them, is evidence (“it seems“) that OWS is out to hijack the country. In this analysis, it’s a direct route from hypotheticals (“to the extent that“, “if there is space“) to conclusions.

Another example is the first section quoted above, where Dean condenses all the varied procedures, activities, slogans and positions of OWS to a matter of obsession with “process“. Out of the Brownian flurry of hypotheses bouncing around in her own mind, Dean builds a caricature of a movement — not a movement that is occupying a space to achieve goals (explicitly stated in their statements and placards); not a movement trying to avoid co-option by staying open (while also guarded) to ideas and arguments; but really rather a movement in love with its on machinations and minutiae.

What do we make of the  analysis that people have occupied a park for the fun of the process of being open to Ron Paulites and for the thrill of continuing such occupation into the balmy days of winter, rather than the more probable case that they are using the occupation as a base for protests whose goals are made explicit in their slogans? What could the author possibly mean?

I suspect that to get to the content, you have to work through Dean’s post in a different sequence than top down. It is the Lenin references up front and the political identifications towards the end (“those of us who think of ourselves as communists, Leninists, Trotskyists…“) that provide the necessary backdrop for Dean’s dismissals: “that’s not my revolution” and “Occupy Wall Street … is not a left movement at all“. The contrast to watch for is not the one Dean draws between libertarianism and leftism:

The easiest rough initial cut is between those who begin with an emphasis on equality and those who begin with an emphasis on freedom; another crude cut would distinguish between those who begin from an emphasis on individualism and those who begin from an emphasis on collectivity, solidarity, and a commons.

For surely those actually collected in solidarity in the commons hardly need lecturing (a la Ricard Dawkins: by all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out) on libertarianism! Dean is of course not lecturing OWS. She is writing to that “those of us“, her people, and the contrast she draws out is really between the ideological commitment of those like her, and the open-ended process of discovery through action employed by OWS. We cannot take seriously the speculation that OWS is some sort of ISO9001 circle jerk. So, when she raises the suspicion that OWS may not be about “overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a communist solution“, the emphasis is likely on the latter part. The lack of a priori commitment to communism is Dean’s real issue. But there is good news. She is willing to wait for OWS to come around:

For those of us who think of ourselves as communists, Leninists, Trotskyists, Maoists, and socialists, our challenge is finding ways to work within and together with the movement, which can well mean not pushing too quickly for something for which the proper support has not yet been built.

Or of course there is the alternate possibility. As a fellow subscriber on a left mailing list summarised this kind of analysis (using a quote that seems to be widely attributed to Mahatma Gandhi):

There go my people. I must run and catch up with them because I am their leader.

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Jan 22nd, 2007 by ravi
Will the Real Internet Left please stand up?

A minor skirmish has broken out in Bloglandia between the left purists and the “netroots”. The opening salvo was fired by our good friend Max Sawicky, with this bit:

The “Internet Left” is a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party.

Congratulations are first due to Max: in a world that lives on and for catchy one-liners, he can justifiably claim to have moved us farther, with this clever aphorism, irrespective of its validity. Second, is it just me, is Max looking pretty slick in that picture (for contrast see the wiser gent on Crooks and Liars)?

The “purists” are the old guard, the textbook leftists, the big thinkers who understand the systemic rot, the root cause dudes who will fix the problem not the symptoms. The “netroots” are a gaggle of bloggers who gained popularity and prominence after the 2004 Dean debacle. Some are just wide-ranging commentators (much as we here at PB are, albeit with a readership that is non-trivial) but for our exercise we can limit the group to a couple of biggies: DailyKos, the mothership of the movement, and MyDD one of whose writers (Matt Stoller) figures in the very first sentences of Max’s assault on the virtual roots.

What is Max’s beef against the young Turks? I am guessing he is unhappy with their apparent attitude that they have the whole leftist enterprise covered (from activism to theory). Instead old Max finds that they are ill-read if at all (and extends that point to suggest that they have little coherent theoretical understanding and analysis of their positions and the things they, or rather the Left, should work against or for), and they are not very left at that (as attested by the unbridled enthusiasm for Democrats — which seems to exceed that of a Democratic convention speaker, Al Sharpton, who memorably quipped: we want to see how far this donkey can take us — and election politics and activism). Further evidence is not hard to come by, ranging from Kos’ attitude towards marches and the activists involved (“boring”, “obsolete”) to Duncan Black on Chomsky (Google it. I refuse to link to random blather!). The “netroots” wants the old Left (the 60s left in particular?) out of their way in a hurry, but as Max outlines, what is the alternative they offer to the many facets of old style organising and activism?

The purists, usually from the Church of Marx, have nothing but disdain for party politics, electoral victories, crackpot realism. It’s all ephemeral, these meagre and meaningless victories … a mistaken identification of the roots with the trees and the trees for the forest. The Democratic Party is the buffer, a parasite that lives off the malcontent of the left, bleeding away its anger while offering no real progress. The destruction of the DP is the first step towards the inevitable and necessary confrontation with the real powers that keep us down! Even the extended discussion of elections, potential candidates and results, is not mere waste of time but a dangerous distraction (aided by the “netroots” which offer the fora and gravitas for such chatter).

Theoretical analysis and such elaborate arias can also be seen as a luxury of those who can afford them. Every bit of change can mean something significant for someone else — the return of Democrats might return funding to medical services in poor nations, alleviate conditions in Iraq (the 2006 GOP electoral humiliation, in itself, has generated a significant number of defections into the camp that questions the Iraqi strategy), a bit more safety for immigrants at risk of landing in Guantanamo, increase in minimum wage, and so on. If a coherent argument is available to demonstrate that these incremental steps have a net negative effect (and a large one at that), I am yet to hear it put forth without resort to magic language.

Another little matter nags: I do not vote on MyDD straw-polls because I believe I am furthering the grand leftist agenda, but because I have nothing better to do. The problem lies in the mistaken idea that the purists and the “netroots” are battling over scarce eyeballs and limited time. I can eyeball both of them and still have enough time to write this silly blog. My problem is not too little time but too little opportunity.

And on that question of opportunity, I return to consider Max’s original point regarding the “Internet Left”, and his own conclusion:

The real Internet left is the Internet of leftists who use the Internet.

Sometime in 1990 or 1991 I was introduced to the term “user”. It seemed an elegantly apt way to describe those who were interested in consumption and not participation (elegant because “user” is also the term to designate a non-technical human using a computer). These were the sort of people who made posts to newsgroups or mailing lists with the preface: please respond to me at my email address, since I do not read this list. I bring this up for a reason. Max is wrong. The real Internet Left is not the leftists who use the net, but the people who contribute to making it what it is. If you need a name, that name would be Richard Stallman. Behind all this noise that they enable is a dedicated community of developers, documenters, testers, bug reporters, and volunteers for all kinds of other roles, who work using the simple philosophy of from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs. The best unsolicited advice that I can offer anyone that faces the problem I bring up above, of the lack of opportunity, is to forget about theoretical frameworks or blog activism, but rather get involved in this thriving actual community (that is by the way, among other things, enabling communities in the so-called Third World), which exists despite (and perhaps because of) the disimissal of it as a serious and important force and phenomenon. Forget the Marxist thesis and the Technorati rank, or rather along with that, write some code, help out with answering questions, get your hands dirty.

A random list of efforts that you could involve yourself in today, directly related to what you are doing now:

  • WordPress — open source blogging software and service
  • Mozilla — open source web browser and email software with ad/spam blocking
  • GNU — extensive suite of tools from the Free Software Foundation
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Oct 7th, 2006 by ravi
$11 million judgement against Spamhaus

A bit of slightly old news: A judge in Illionois awarded [default] $11 million to a person/entity listed as a spammer in Spamhaus’ block list. There are many interesting issues here, primary of which is that of jurisdiction. Below is Spamhaus’ response:

The Spamhaus Project – Answer (2) to David Linhardt aka e360 Insight LLC

David Linhardt (aka e360 Insight LLC) filed a lawsuit in an Illinois court with no jurisdiction over the United Kingdom and obtained a default judgement ordering Spamhaus in the United Kingdom to pay Linhardt damages, to remove Linhardt’s ROKSO record and to cease blocking Linhardt’s spam. Unfortunately Mr. Linhardt was not advised that U.S. court default judgments have no validity outside of the U.S.

Below is ArsTechnica‘s report on the affair:

Spamhaus fined $11.7 million; won’t pay a dime

An Illinois judge has ruled that UK blacklist site Spamhaus must pay $11,715,000 to an alleged spammer. The ruling, issued Wednesday, comes after e360insight sued The Spamhaus Project in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that it had suffered massive harm to its business as a direct result of Spamhaus’ decision to list e360 on a ROKSO anti-spam blacklist.

How did it happen? After all, the judge, Charles Kocoras, is chief judge of the District Court in Northern Illinois and was last month awarded the Chicago Bar Association’s highest honor, the Justice John Paul Stevens Award. This is not a guy who hands out his verdicts like candy.

The answer is that it happened because Spamhaus didn’t bother to reply.

[…]

[ Link ]

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May 2nd, 2006 by ravi
Ultimate Fight Activist

From AlterNet:

The Anti-Bush Anarchist

By Gabriel Thompson, In These Times
Posted on May 2, 2006, Printed on May 2, 2006

Standing 5' 9" tall, weighing 240 pounds and sporting a shaved head, Jeff "The Snowman" Monson looks like a cartoon ready to pop, a compressed giant of crazy shoulders, massive biceps and meaty forearms. When he sneers, people shudder. When he sweats, they turn away. When he's angry, your best bet is to run.

He's angry right now, even though his combat career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — an often-bloody tournament that combines martial arts disciplines like Brazilian Jujitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing — is taking off. […] So no, it's not his future career prospects that have him pissed. It's the state of the world.

"I'm not some sort of conspiracy theorist," Monson says of his political leanings. "I'm not talking about how the government is trying to hide UFOs. I just want to do away with hierarchy. I'm saying that our economic system, capitalism, is structured so that it only benefits a small percentage of very wealthy people. When I was traveling in Brazil, they had us staying at a really posh hotel. Outside the hotel there was a mom sleeping on the sidewalk with her two kids. That's when reality hits you. What did that woman ever do? Who did she ever hurt?"

Monson wears his politics on his sleeve, as well as the rest of his body. An anarcho-syndicalist star is tattooed on his chest, an anarchy sign on his back and another "A" on his leg. While he loves his sport, he also feels a responsibility to use whatever exposure he receives for a larger purpose. "I don't think I'm more important than anyone else, but since some people are paying attention, then I'm going to use this as a vehicle to express myself," he says. Some fans have labeled him anti-American, but he shrugs off such criticism.

[…]

Monson sees no contradiction between his radical beliefs and his full-time occupation. "What I do is completely different than war, because everyone wants to be there, and it's a competition. There's no victim. We're all entertainers," he explains. "If there is any contradiction, it's that we're part of the capitalist machine, and I'm really just a wage slave. You know, we don't make any money without fighting, and if I win I get more; if I lose I get less. But it's simply a sport. Sure, it's somewhat like a gladiator sport, but it's voluntary."

Monson grew up middle class in Minnesota. His mother still works as a nurse, and his late father worked at a penitentiary. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he wrestled, and then received his Masters in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. During his graduate work, Monson had his political awakening — a course entitled Community Psychology.

"Oh man, that class really opened my eyes," he says.
"Just looking at the way the world is run, the way that the people that might be disabled or have mental issues are left behind. How education and general welfare are not a priority, and how the elite run everything for their own benefit. Then I started reading a bunch of stuff — Animal Farm, the International Socialist Review, Chomsky — and I started thinking in a different way." Monson the Ultimate Fighter uses Plato's allegory of the cave to describe the experience.

After graduating from Minnesota, he moved to Washington State, where from 1997 to 2001 he counseled the mentally ill for Lewis County; his primary responsibility was to determine whether an individual needed to be institutionalized. "I started right when they were pushing through welfare reform, and so we had all of these huge cuts in money for mental health and welfare. It's the same basic idea with No Child Left Behind. The government tells you that you have to cut your programs, cut your money for books, cut the money for teachers, but then you are expected to somehow do better. It's a brilliant strategy, really, from their perspective."

Despite being a world-class competitor, Monson finds time to remain politically engaged. In 2003, he marched against the Iraq War in Seattle, and protested the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami (where the notoriously aggressive cops wisely left Monson alone). He is also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and despite the controversy that surrounds him, continues to engage people within the fighting community about politics.

So what lies ahead for "The Snowman"? At the moment his focus is on his next big fight. "But this is not my whole life," Monson says of fighting. "I've got children and a girlfriend, and I like to be with my family. I try to remain involved in political events. After my next fight, I'll be taking my son to Montreal. They're having an Anarchist Book Fair, and they invited me to come up and do a workshop." The topic: self-defense.

First Pat Tillman, then of all things an ultimate fight type dude. As the immigrant rallies show, perhaps civil/human rights is best advanced by those outside the so-called "left"! ;-)

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Apr 17th, 2006 by ravi
On what unites us in populist struggle

Here's something from the Nation's blog on a response from a Lesbian/Gay activist to the ongoing immigration reform controversy:

Marriage Myopia

Richard Kim

If you want to see the pathologies plaguing the gay marriage movement in action, you need look no farther than this article penned by Jasmyne Cannick. Titled "Gays First, Then Illegals," Cannick's editorial spews the kind of xenophobic rhetoric now rarely heard outside of right-wing radio and white nativist circles — unless, of course, it's coming from the mainstream gay press. Pitting gay rights against immigrants' rights, Cannick — former "People of Color Media Manager for GLAAD" — considers it a "slap in the face to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people" for Congress to debate immigration reform when same-sex marriage remains unrecognized. For your pleasure or fury, here are some of her greatest hits:

"Immigration reform needs to get in line behind the LGBT civil rights movement, which has not yet realized all of its goals. Which is not to say that I don't recognize the plight of illegal immigrants. I do. But I didn't break the law to come into this country. This country broke the law by not recognizing and bestowing upon me my full rights as a citizen."

[More in the original piece]

Jasmyne Cannick's blog has a response and some additional posts on the matter. She writes:

My reality in South Los Angeles may not be your reality.

I believe that America needs immigration reform but how we will get there still remains to be seen.

At the same time, I also believe that America needs to take care of its citizens who don’t yet have all of their rights, including the right to marry, access to affordable housing, access to a better education, access to healthcare, and access to jobs that pay livable wages.

And adds:

No one is right and no one is wrong. We all have the right to our own opinion on how things should be handled.

Opinion / Soap box below:

At the risk of being called inconsistent (in my prior act of defending pomo) I have to say that this seems entirely the wrong way to look at it. Reality is what it is ("r"eality with a lowercase 'r', as the postmodernists may say) and it is our common vision of it that unites us in action. If all we have instead is identity politics, we are ruling out populist struggle. If we do not try to define what is right (and only define what is right for me) we build neither solidarity nor a sustainable foundation.

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