Saturday, November 29, 2008

Comment on "Anarchy" in Somalia

Somalia is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. While international eyes scorn the recent hijackings of over 40 shipping vessels off Somalia's coast and berate the perceived "lawlessness" of the pirates who hold them for millions of dollars ransom, the pirates have accused European multi-national corporations (specifically, Swiss and Italian) of dumping toxic waste (radioactive uranium, lead, cadmium, and mercury) off the coast of Somalia.

One pirate crew is demanding $8 million for a Ukranian ship which was hijacked while moving tanks to fractious Sudan and claims the money will go towards toxic clean-up. Other ships, like the Sirius Star - a tanker carrying 2 million barrels of Saudi crude oil - are being held for over $30 million ransom.

"The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

- Somali Pirate

When the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia, it washed up toxic materials onto the shores of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia where some of the hijackers live, exposing decades of cheap and out-of-sight dumping that took place in the Horn of Africa since the 1980s. The people of Puntland have radiation sickness now. They report skin infections, abdominal bleeding, and strange bleedings at the mouth. Animals, fish and livestock have also become sick and died. And with such an untidy brew of chemicals in the sea this may only be the beginning of a long and drawn-out health crisis. Nick Nuttall, a United Nations Environmental Program spokesperson, reiterated the pirates' point, adding that

"There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it."

- Nick Nuttall, UNEP

This all came to light by 2005 at the latest, and no one took action against it. A UN report was prepared and buried under dozens of other UN reports chronicling the devastation of humanity.

On the one hand we have a bunch of starving people with guns. And on the other, you have very wealthy people without guns going right past them on big boats. Any system tends to equilibrium, and so, before too long, a balance was struck whereby the hungry people got something to eat, while the wealthy people got the guns pointed in their faces.

But "the last thing the world needs right now," says the Economist Magazine, "is disruption of one of its busiest shipping lanes and a spike in insurance premiums." You can see more double-dealings with Africa glossed over elsewhere in the mainstream press. Some are saying this is the most booty ever captured by pirates anywhere at any time in history. It's worth pointing out, however, that the Sirius Star is carrying only about a quarter of the daily output of Saudi oil. Either the world business community can continue to view the disruption as an "outrageous" act of opportunistic thievery, or it can view the disruption as the price they must pay for years of negative externalities.

What else? Blood money and weapons sent by the CIA to finance secular Somali clans empowered "the same Islamic groups it was intended to marginalize" since the 1990s. And because the American chain-of-command is so impervious to criticism, when a US State Department official, Michael Zorzick, criticized the CIA-backed warlordism in Somalia, he was transferred to Chad from his post in Mogadishu. Arms, military matériel and financial support continue to "flow like a river to these various actors," according to a UN Security Council report in 2006. Even as the CIA is secretly encouraging carnage all over the country, armed American, British, Ethiopian, and Eritrean forces (as well as private security contractors) have been very openly blasting Somali fishing villages to pieces in their search for shadowy bin Ladens.

The recent leak of the Al Qaeda Network Exord stated that US forces had long been operating "frequently" in 15 to 20 countries without Congressional approval, and against ineffective UN rulings. One of those 15 to 20 countries had been Somalia. The New York Times wrote that "members of a classified unit called Task Force 88 crossed repeatedly into Somalia to hunt senior members of al Qaeda". Firing missiles into villages from remote locations, as the Times article states, American forces just "occasionally" dropped in to assess air strike results.

Curiously, the mainstream media conclude that the cause of Somalia's problems is the persistence of none of the aforementioned injustices, but "anarchy". Now that they have mine and your attention, Somalia is an opportunity for anarchists and anti-authoritarians to unveil the facade of "peace-keeping" imperialism in Africa and the effects of environmental racism all over the world. The comments of anarchists are relevant. Anarchist Derrick Jensen, in his book Endgame, writes,

"Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Titling's reverse causal effects on the poor

This is a conventional view advanced by the World Bank: land rights are more secure and transferable through the titling process - that is, assigning titles to parceled bits of land so that urban and rural poor can then use the land.

Titling land provides a guarantee to the informal urban and rural markets that the fruits of their investments will not be appropriated by the government or private land holders, and this can be done with a "flick of the wrist" as Hernando de Soto writes. All Third World governments and lawyers need to do is look at squatted land and write up a legal sheet documenting their formal ownership and welcome them to the private housing system.

Yet for almost every study showing that the titling process leads to greater security of land tenure, there are studies showing that causality runs the other way around. Instead of increased security of land tenure (titling is one of several ways to do that) causing long-term investment, it has been argued that investments themselves cause security of land tenure. The causality is reversed.

One example of this are the studies that have looked at investments in cash crops. Planting profitable trees - coffee, eucalyptus, for example - enhances tenure security (Atwood, 1990; Besley, 1995; Otsuka et al., 1997; Brasselle et al., 2002; Sjaastad, 1997; Place, 2001). Other findings show that tenure insecurity has little effect on the decision of farmers to plant trees and invest in the land (Holden, 2002). These findings cast considerable doubt on the need for embarking on ambitious land registration and titling policies, if the goal is increasing investments or standards of living.

Most of the literature finding a link between tenure security and long-term durable investments in the land have sidestepped the question of causality and have jumped to the conclusion that widespread titling should increase tenure security - (and do not mention titling's adverse effects on landless, indigenous and the new urban poor.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bluetech, like a school of fish

One of my favorite downtempo artists recently came out with a wicked new set of tracks. Evan Marc is Bluetech, a Portland-based synth sorcerer, who whips up modest tunes and chords that leave my head spinning for days. Here are some samples of his older work.

In the movie Ring of Bright Water, there is a picturesque set where the hero and heroine are looking over a beautiful scene together. The hero sighs finally and says, "I really must get back to work. I can't keep idling the rest of my life." The heroine replies, "Why not, if it serves a purpose?"

Just what the purpose was is not very explicit, but that's part of the story's charm. I don't think she was against the hero having a purpose, but against the attitude the he should always have a purpose. I think she would agree that having a purpose might sometimes serve a very useful purpose, just as spontaneity can sometimes serve a grand purpose too.

I have also found it extremely hostile and destructive to ask another person what their purpose is. I am thinking of those who ask "Why would you want to learn philosophy or art?" Isn't it enough to want to learn them? The presumption is that philosophy and art are purposeless, or meaningless. Similarly, the question "What do you do?" is not "What sorts of things are you enjoying lately?" It's "What is your relation to the means of production in our society and how much social capital do you have compared to me?"

I have traveled far from the topic. What I am suggesting is that music can transcend this nightmarish duality of purpose and purposelessness. When I'm listening to a hypnotic scenescape it's as if I am unlocking the secret groove to the universe, a balancing act between work and play; a place in the mind where you can move headway through work like a school of fish. Like coffee, only less wiry... It also distracts me immensely from my work. Damn, I can't idle all day listening to Bluetech and Boards of Canada. Somebody please tell me to chill out because it's only a Saturday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Photoblog - Stop the H8

Following the Prop 8 legislation that banned same-sex marriages in California, people from all fifty states turned out to march for equal rights this Saturday in their respective cities. Seattle and Olympia were both on the march. One of my friends, Melissa, went to Seattle and brought some pictures back for show-and-tell.

ME: Even though Prop-8 was California's bad deal, why were people marching for equal rights in Seattle?

MELISSA: Although the majority of the states have motioned to define marriage as "a union between a man and a woman", Prop. 8 was unique in that it took away same-sex marriage rights that had already been granted by the California Constitution. Just because it happened in a different state doesn't mean that we can't process a thought and take action.

ME: You snapped a photo of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels speaking at the rally on Capitol Hill. What did he say and what does it mean that the Mayor, Senator Ed Murray, King County Executive Ron Sims, and several others in government positions are supporting the cause?

MELISSA: Nickels denounced Prop. 8 as a hateful measure and said it should have never made it onto the ballot. He also declared November 15th Marriage Equality Day in Seattle. We have support from politically influential people; it means a lot to have that kind of support, especially when the viewpoint you're fighting from isn't necessarily the popular one.

ME: How did you meet Fabulous K.J.?

Fabulous K.J. and his two friends were the only other people I saw at City Hall that morning, the original meeting place. I didn't get the memo about the rally being moved to Volunteer Park and obviously neither did they, but I suppose it was an organized venue change because it was pretty much just the four of us. We tripped around together for a bit, confused, and then split up (they went to find breakfast while I tried to locate a few friends). My friend Leo looked things up online and messaged me that the happenings were at Volunteer Park. I don't think I would have made it if it weren't for him. I forwarded the info to K.J. and we reunited during the march.

ME: Who is the saxophone guy in this picture?

MELISSA: Oh, Kevin - he wasn't associated with the Prop. 8 happenings. I just recognized him as one of my brother's classmates and decided to be oddly extroverted. He invited me to join his band. I guess that's flattering.

Who is the naked lady on the balcony?

I wouldn't have a clue, but everyone on the street loved her. I don't think the guys in the next balcony over realized that the sudden surge in whoo hoo was due to naked-support, rather than the usual clothed-support, but, well, you know. We'll take any support we can get, nude or otherwise.

ME: When you got to Westlake Center you were met with anti-anti-Prop 8 protesters. What was their deal?

Oh, the typical burn-in-hellers. They were citing Bible verses and saying we should repent or else. I know the big "or else" thing is a common thread amongst Bible-affiliated religion, but I really don't think there is any choice associated with being gay, lesbian, or otherwise.

I've heard about ex-gay programs... they're really unhealthy; the American Psychiatric Association (APA) doesn't approve of that at all - doesn't that mean anything to people advising gays to repent?

I met a Christian woman on the bus ride home and we talked pretty much the whole time. She said if people want to get married they should get married, and we've got bigger things to spend our time on than fighting over that.

ME: Beautiful picture! Last question: the Washington State Supreme Court upheld in 2006 the definition of marriage as "a union between a man and a woman", and in 2007 Governor Christine Gregoire passed the Domestic Partners Registry which explicitly bans same-sex couples from marriage. What's it going to take to win same-sex marriages in Washington State?

MELISSA: What the exact logistics of getting same-sex marriage legal in Washington State are, I don't know. I think the organization and the peacefulness of the event this past Saturday speaks volumes about our community. There were tables to write to legislators and such about how people in attendance disagreed with bans on same-sex marriage. Domestic partnerships and civil unions just aren't enough.

ME: Thanks, Melissa!

Business Film Instructor

This is the latest documentary I put together at the Instructional Technology office, where I work and have just finished training the next generation how to make propaganda for the university communications office. The university wants invitational and student life videos to come from the students instead of the media relations board. (Student-led propaganda would also give the impression that students have more control over the university than they in fact do.)

The video above, however, focuses on an instructor in the School of Business and Leadership who uses documentary filmmaking as an instructional device in her Entrepreneurship class.

My thoughts on business schools aside, film is an increasingly effective way to reach wider audiences. I have found that people will often watch a video before they read an article or a review. That is a rhetorical aspect. (Obviously for business students, having an understanding of film can help sell products and ideas.) But working with film also gives different insights in comparison to other instructional media since it focuses easily on emotions, moral dilemmas, and inter-personal relationships.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sincerely, Malice

It looks as if Sloth and I are the only ones who survived our Friday night. After shiraz and stout arrived, Gluttony had the upper hand, and called up his friends Tostito and creamy spinach. I'm glad I didn't see Pride, because if he was there I really would have kicked his ass. But the night had already seen enough injustice. I've come to the conclusion that there's too much Envy in the world, all kinds of Envy, and most of the time Greed is the instigator. Fuck Greed, all he ever does is ask for more shit, and when he doesn't get it he demands it. Some assholes are never satisfied. Sort of like Lust, but that's understandable. I make an exception for Lust from time to time. Okay, so all the time. (I have a huuge crush on Lust.) Am I forgetting someone? Oh yes, Anger. He stuck around and badgered Sloth about unfinished business. Together, though, they did come up with some good schemes. But Pride would never admit that. When we tell him he should "be more like Anger" he gets so snotty. That probably makes me biased because despite all the rage Anger is one of my favorites. I mean, there's plenty of stuff to be angry about. All these lowlifes, for example.

Monday, November 10, 2008

What NGOs Can't do for Squatters

Since the mid-1990s, the International Non-Governmental Organizations bypassed Third World governments in order to work directly with regional and neighborhood NGOs. Some have called this "the NGO revolution".

Revolution? Well, it is clear there are now tens of thousands of NGOs in Third World cities on housing specifically: the World Bank, the UNDP, Ford Foundation, German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, UK Department for International Development, etc, etc. They have changed the landscape of urban development and aid in a way comparable to Johnson's War on Poverty of the 1960s, this time by transforming relations between Washington D.C., political parties of Third World governments, and inner-city constituencies. In the context of inner-city poor, the NGOs have had perverse effects on the well-being of the 'slums'. Let me breeze by a few good reads, bullet-style.

  • Diana Mitlin describes how, on one hand, NGOs "preempt community-level capacity-building as they take over decision-making and negotiating roles," while, on the other hand, they are constrained by "the difficulties of managing donor finance, with its emphasis on short-term project funds, on financial accountabilities and on tangible outputs."
  • Regarding the 'NGO-middlemen' approach to urban housing: "renters, harassed squatters, displaced downtown tenants," writes Peter Ward about Mexico City, "are likely to be more radical and disposed to anti-government demonstrations than are those who have, in effect, been bought-off by the government through successive housing policies" that offer tenants land titles (private property) in exchange for taxes and often legitimized evictions.
  • There are somewhere between one and two million NGOs operating in India. Lea Jellinek, who spent a quarter-century in Jakarta, recounts how one NGO, a neighborhood microbank, "beginning as a small grassroots project driven by needs and capacities of local women," grew into a "large, complex, top-down, technically-oriented bureaucracy" that was now "less accountable to and supportive of" the poor of Jakarta.
  • Frederic Thomas, writing about Kolkata, argues that NGOs "are inherently conservative. They are staffed by retired civil servants and businessmen at the top and, lower down, by social workers, from among the educated and unemployed and by housewives and others without roots in the slums."
  • Mumbai housing activist P.K. Das gives an even harsher critique of squatter-oriented NGOs in Manifesto of a Housing Activist.

"Their constant effort is to subvert, dis-inform and de-idealize people so as to keep them away from class struggles. They adopt and propagate the practice of begging favours on sympathetic and human grounds rather than making the oppressed conscious of their rights. As a matter of fact these agencies and organizations systematically intervene to oppose the agitational path people take to win their demands. Their effort is constantly to divert people's attention from the larger political evils of imperialism to merely local issues and so confuse people in differentiating enemies from friends."

  • Another rebel planner and exile from the NGO universe, Gita Verma, in her book Slumming India, characterizes NGOs as a category of middlemen who, with the help of foreign philanthropists, are usurping the authentic voice of the poor. In her view, the World Bank's paradigm of "slum upgrading" is a position which views the slums as "eternal realities" in need of quick fixes. "Saving the slum," she says, specifically referring to Delhi, "translates into endorsing the inequity of one-fifth to one-fourth of the city's population living on just 5 percent of the city's land." Although neighborhoods in Indore at one point had sewers installed after the 1998 Habitat II conference (a UN summit on urban housing for the poor) residents didn't have enough water to drink, much less to flush waste. Sewage consequently backed up into homes and streets; malaria and cholera spread, and residents began dying from contaminated water.
  • Verma was also irate about an award-winning resettlement project, the Habitat Improvement Project, for squatters in Aranya. Like many similar to it, it rehoused a small number of the evicted while the "slum saviors" are praised as international humanitarian celebrities. In this case, however, most of the projects achievements were literally on paper.
  • Arundhati Roy wrote: "NGOs end up functioning like the whistle on a pressure cooker. They divert and sublimate political rage, and make sure it does not build to a head." Talk about "enablement" and "good governance" carefully step around core issues of global inequality and debt, and ultimately become language games.
  • Dhaka, the world's poorest megacity, has seen intensive urban land speculation in the wake of slum upgrading, or rather, slum privatizing. Ellen Brennan writes that "an estimated one-third of expatriate remittances have gone toward land purchases. Land prices have risen about 40 to 60 percent faster than prices of other goods and services and are now completely out of line with income levels."
  • Referring to a Manila-based squatter association that was given land titles, Erhard Berner writes, "Now that they have become landowners K-B leaders regard their alliance with other squatter organizations as obsolete and emphasize their relation to government institutions."
  • Asef Bayat wrote that the professionalism of the NGOs tended to diminish the mobilizing features of grassroots activism, while it established a new form of "clientelism". In this case, it is a new form of the old "clientelism" that informed the World Bank community's decisions during the era before the 1990s' NGO boom.
  • NGOs monopolize on expert knowledge and middleman roles in the same way as traditional political parties, writes Ruben Gazzoli about urban Argentina. (Political parties are not friends of the urban poor unless they have to be to win votes.)
  • "Upwards of a million apartments stand empty," writes Jeffery Nedoroscik in City of the Dead, "there is no housing shortage per se. In fact, Cairo is filled with buildings that are half-empty." The same empty building scenario holds true in hundreds of large cities around the world.

The UN's Habitat branch of urban housing and NGO experts work in an office complex in the same city as the largest squatter settlement in the world, Nairobi's Kibera. One can almost imagine the number of conferences and short-term project reviews that take place inside as the people outside are constantly being evicted forcibly by developers under orders from the state.

The problem is, housing is everywhere and the poor have no access to it. The World Bank's favorite urban housing economist, Hernando de Soto, argues just the opposite: that there is "dead capital" everywhere and by privatizing the poor's housing settlements, international capitalists will have access to it. Theoretically, squatter associations would then have access to credit, would be able to take mortgages out on their housing structures, and make money from selling their titles to urban developers. Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums, calls this "soft imperialism".

Whether the NGOs really need governments to help do their work is not the question. Many left-ish housing authors believe more government involvement in urban housing projects is needed. The reality is that neither NGOs nor governments have succeeded in securing housing for the urban poor. In recent years both have legitimized the slow takeover of informal development by professional developers. International institutions like the World Bank have acquired their own "grassroots" (rather, a recuperated) presence through the NGOs, and their work has had perverse effects on the well-being of inner-city 'slums'.

Notes on a Police Riot

Police ultimately arrested 106 very "scary-looking" anarchists after this. Click here to see the mug shot slideshow that Rocky Mountain News felt so obliged to post. But according to a use-of-force police report obtained by the ACLU of Colorado, undercover Denver detectives staged this stand-off between protesters and police.

After the struggle between a police commander and and unknown number of undercovers, the riot police unleashed their power onto the protesters who stood there penned in by six times as many riot police. The commander knew some of the anarchists were working undercover, and the plan was to pull them out of the crowd and pretend they were under arrest so protesters would be none the wiser.

The report says that the commander and an undercover detective were sprayed, but it does not indicate how many others were affected. (Oh, other people?) The report also doesn't say whether the pepper spray used on the undercover police was the first deployment of chemicals that night or whether the police riot was already underway. Then again, with a situation like this, the police riot is a dialectical necessity. It had to happen no matter what anybody did to stop it.

Protesters, witnesses, and media that I spoke to myself that night agreed that the police first agitated non-violent crowds of people in Civic Center Park by standing extremely close to the protesters in battalion-like formations, wielding their riot weapons, and walking through lines of people waiting for food and pushing them out of the way. The entire park was swarming with police and nothing had even happened, just talking and eating - you know, stuff people normally do in parks!

When a group of about 50 anti-capitalists started jumping up-and-down and chanting, "a-anti-anti-capitalista!", this aggravated the riot police for some reason, and they crashed into nearby people to get a closer look. The anti-capitalist group then locked arms and somehow marched about a block-and-a-half down the street before they were surrounded and peppersprayed as you saw in the video above. The police then severely beat and hospitalized several protesters and arrested over a hundred.

The ACLU contends videos show that protesters, as well as otherwise uninvolved onlookers, were never ordered or given a chance to disperse before they were surrounded and detained by police.

This was our report from Day 1 of occupied Denver.

The charges, some of them as silly as Noah Jacobs on behalf of Rogue Valley IMC pointed out, were either dropped later or plead to right away. If the protesters accepted their riot charges they would be fined a certain amount but let out of jail within the following days. Most protesters, still wanting to have an influence on the Democrats, the delegates, and the convention atmosphere, accepted the plea bargains and the charges. The ACLU's letter was received by the Denver Police Chief, but he refused to give a comment or return any calls.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

the Circular Diagram

Circular diagrams are great because they conceptualize things in a circular motion.

I have been writing a new zine with some friends called Activate! It's a monthly zine printed on a single sheet of tabloid paper, and it focuses local and national politics with an activist twist. We want to keep the ideas short and simple. We also wanted to avoid really long articles that make people shy away from reading it. I think adding more diagrams to explain our point instead of using prose could do this as well.

From the Perspective of the Broken Window

After watching some video of the DNC/RNC protests, the ACLU of Washington members decided on Wednesday that "punk kids" were simply way too violent to have any effect or value in American society. The punk kids were "out of control", they smashed windows, slashed tires, stopped traffic, and who knows, maybe even threw a little urine. "Would you look at the violence of the protesters? I think they are way out of hand. You need some explaining to do," they told me. Every face in the room had a worried expression. Grumbles all around.

I was invited to speak at this ACLU meeting about my two arrests over the summer and to talk about the protests I was documenting. But instead I was harangued for not denouncing the political violence that took place in St. Paul. In fact, it seemed, I was standing up for political violence at the Republican National Convention when the protesters took to the streets, sometimes in a rowdy or boisterous fashion, to draw the world's attention to crimes committed by the Republican Party. Indeed, I was standing up for that.

There used to be, and I think still is, a term for those who feel it is legitimate and maybe necessary for people, say, in colonies and occupied territories like Iraq or Palestine and elsewhere in the Third and Fourth Worlds to fight back and even die in the struggle against international imperialism, while intellectually exempting themselves from incurring the same risks or obligations at home in the imperialist-aggressor nation. Even while your nation may be plundering nations abroad and gradually installing a police state at home, if you break one bank window, it's all over for you. I believe that word was, or maybe still is, "hypocrisy".

Friday, November 07, 2008

The recession? I heard the worst part had already passed...

If you had the opportunity to look at this Friday's 'jobs report' it is only evidence that the current system continues to deteriorate in the United States.

The natural rate of unemployment - because there's always a certain amount of unemployed due to growth - has for the last 60 years been averaging around 5.4%. Some time around the first week of October the percent of unemployed workers was almost 6%, which seemed very high at the time, but today the number is actually 6.5% (see official Bureau of Labor Statistics press release). This is the highest unemployment has been since 1994. To put this number into more perspective, at the height of the 2001 recession the unemployment rate peaked at 6.3%.

Pick up any newspaper and what you read is laughable. Part of the reason we are in a recession (as the evidence will show much, much later) is because consumers and businesses have lost confidence in the stability of the financial system, and so have banks. So nearly all the mainstream press articles talk about how the worst part of the recession has already passed, and how the forecast can only be uphill from now, in an effort to encourage more financial participation and mood-swinging to lift us out of the recession. The pictures of frowning stock investors on the front page of the New York Times are disappearing, but the number of frowning faces is actually increasing and is far from "over". We should realize the perverse logic at work.

In a capitalist economy, bear market prophecies are self-fulfilling. What we are seeing now is an enormous amount of propaganda telling us just the opposite of the bear market narrative. NY Times: America needs to feel confident again; Motley Fool: everybody can win and even profit from the paranoia; Forbes: this is the best time to start living happily-ever-after in a posh, high-rise condo; CNNMoney: now is the best time to buy a new home; LA Times: time to start shopping for one of those foreclosed homes that unemployed families can no longer afford. Investor news everywhere else: bull market ahead, etc.

We know this is not the whole story. Two more federally-insured banks failed this week, bringing the total number of US banks gone under to nineteen. Pending home sales are falling rapidly. The banking industry needed a bail-out package (part nationalization), so too with the auto industry, the health-care industry, the airline industry, and now GM - the great emblem of American stability and triumphalism - says that it's hitting rock-bottom and needs a bailout, too. $50 billion to be exact.

The chief executive of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer, said recently that we "have got to get out of the sense of pessimism and back into a sense of optimism". The market psychology needs to change. Meaning: we should consume more of our own production, for the executives' sake, for the banks' sake, for the mortgages' sake, for the children's sake, for the sake of the entire enterprise. For fuck's sake, Work! Commute! Sleep!

It should be pointed out that consumers can only finance payments for new goods and services - and this is certainly no big secret - by borrowing money. In order to cushion a crisis, consumers must be able to "smooth" their consumption along the same levels as before the crisis. Unsurprisingly, then, the latest data show that consumer borrowing increased during the month of September instead of decreasing as was predicted by pessimists. The demand for "non-revolving credit" - the kind of credit added to credit cards - jumped from negative numbers in August to positive numbers in September even as a major global credit crisis raged forward. Every sector of the economy has demanded a boost from the Treasury (now totaling $3 trillion altogether), unemployment is expected to increase to 8.0% by January, and we are still buying more goods and services than ever before. Contrary to the idea that the recession is now mostly over, is this not the most legendary contradiction in recent times you have heard?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Now is a good time for Propaganda

I think now is a good time for propaganda. Because we have a new president, people are yearning for new ideas. Thanks to Jonathan McIntosh from Rebellious Pixels for this 10-minute culture jamming exercise which reveals the infinite possibilities and rebellious pleasures trapped and hidden by a social system dependent on the unending supply of self-reinforcing knowledge. As if inspired by a dream or a day dream, Rebellious Pixels' videos draw out the "secret appeal from within" that the surrealists praised as moments of "objective chance". Culture-jamming activity at its best - investigating the attitudes, interests, and environments that give way to the eruption of political surrealism.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Election Anecdote, some things I noticed about us

I sat and watched the election results last night with a handful of liberal college students in a lounge area at yuppie university. One television was broadcasting CNN, another was broadcasting Comedy Central. In another part of the campus a television news crew from King 5 was airing students jumping up and down as the election results came in.

Before this the college students' eyes were glued to Comedy Central. What is constantly in the back of my mind as I watch the Colbert Report is how we can be so amused by it, but at the same time castigate and argue against students who organized campaigns against racism or imperialism. The response to the Colbert Report – the show which exposes neo-conservative ideology by détournement – demonstrates to me that the liberal electorate is half-scared to exist, too embarrassed to give themselves away.

If you ask them they'll probably pretend to agree with you about this or that particular issue, but they do not have an analysis of society. "...Stephen Colbert is so funny," they say. But they do not identify with any ongoing struggle against racism, patriarchy or oppression, etc. - even when these critiques are often implicit in the Colbert Report. They do not recognize that the world really is upside down, even though the critique presented before them is a complete inversion of life. What effrontery!

"The task of the various branches of knowledge that are in the process of developing spectacular thought is the justify and unjustifiable society and to establish a general science of false consciousness. This thought is totally conditioned by the fact that it cannot recognize, and does not want to recognize, its own material dependence on the spectacular system."

- Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

The point is not to write the sociology or psychology of the television set, the point is to watch. They knew almost every advertisement that aired during the election. I found that very disturbing. They discussed the ads obsequiously and uncritically. As long as the advertisement was funny, it didn't matter what it was advertising. They could recite them, and did so out loud and sometimes in unison. If one of the students did not know the particular facts about popular culture or advertising, he or she had nothing to say to the group.

You cannot dissent. If you dissent then you’ve ruined the fun. You’ve crashed the party. You’ve made it no longer enjoyable. You’ve challenged someone to argue with you instead of just relaxing and soaking up the spectacle’s optimism in capitalism. Just relax!!!

In other news, last night thousands of people took to the streets of Seattle and celebrated Obama's victory. They stopped traffic and created a bit of frenzy. I am glad to see people celebrating and injecting their voice into the public space; it is free expression and spontaneous. Being in the street in large numbers is subversive simply because you’re not supposed to do it without warning. It’s subversive and rebellious even though it’s not dissenting.

I particularly like the part in the video featuring the singing. Being in a public space to share your joy with the rest of the society is an empowering and participatory thing to do. I hope this is never taken away from people. But compare last night's celebration to the "zero-tolerance" approach to dissidents. If these people were in fact dissenting, against Obama or dissenting in any other way, the street party would have been an "unlawful assembly" and there would have been a confrontation with the authorities.

Maybe! Maybe this is a sign that we can abolish all attacks on free speech activity and all the free speech "zones" - And! under an Obama presidency the streets will be owned by the people, gardens will spring up everywhere, people will fall in love with the revolution, and there will be massive direct action against the televisions, and a rainbow will form at dawn to greet every new day in peace and to celebrate this newfound creativity! Good times, good times. Don't stop believing! Hold on to the feeling, streetlight people!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Comparative Rioting

  • PHILLY: This week Philadelphia baseball fans broke bank windows, flipped over cars, started numerous fires in the streets, tipped over lamp posts, took over fire trucks, and defied police orders. Police respond by arresting 76 fans.
  • ST. PAUL: In September, protesters in St. Paul broke bank windows, slashed tires, blocked traffic, and defied police orders. Police respond by charging protesters with "terrorism" under the Minnesota version of the Patriot Act. The police, FBI and Homeland Security also pre-emptively raid numerous homes, arrest journalists, and used heavy-handed techniques to physical hurt demonstrators. Over 700 are arrested.
  • PHILLY: In Philadelphia, the riot happened after a street party at the end of the World Series baseball games.
  • ST. PAUL: If these were "riots" that occurred, they are more aptly related to protesting. and civil disobedience. Beside the first day when protesters damaged property, the rioting was initiated by police unleashing tear gas, pepperspray and violence on crowds of people standing up to the Republican Party.
  • PHILLY: Philly fans are not described as "violent" and some reporters have even denied the event was in fact a "riot".
  • ST. PAUL: RNC protesters are indiscriminately described as "scary" or "violent anarchists", "nut-cases", and the incidents were categorically labeled "riots".
  • PHILLY: there was not an articulated message defending the disruption other than to celebrate a baseball team's winning performance. However, Sports columnists willingly come to their aid.
  • ST. PAUL: The thoughtful analysis of political culture and political issues is articulated and presented well ahead of time, but the analysis is completely avoided by mainstream observers.


St. Paul

One of the things that Hyperborea loves doing more than anything else is critiquing the spectacle. The critique of the spectacle has already replaced the critique of reality.