Exterminism and the World in the Wake of Katrina
PART FOUR OF FOUR
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New War Order
That is why Kaldor’s description of “new war” is useful, even if she confuses its manifestations with its causes.
One difference between Reagan and Bush II is that the Cold War, which served as the basis of American core-capitalist supremacy – as security guarantor – disappeared. The huge military apparatus of the US, built up for that conflict, is now being seized upon as the primary instrument to reassert American supremacy over the world, when the former bases of that supremacy – industrial export production and the dependence of other core capitalists for American military power to face down socialist and national liberation threats – have withered away.
Gowan remarks on the issue of capitalist state autonomy:
[I]t is far from obvious that a state devoted officially to the social power and values of the business class and openly and directly controlled by the leaders of that class is actually the optimal form of capitalist state. It can, instead, become a state devoted to the immediate gratification of the desires of business people to the exclusion of all the other considerations that a capitalist state should concern itself with. There are plenty of symptoms of this kind of problem at the present time. The emergence of leaderships capable of resisting immediate gratification of the business class in the name of longer-term goals that require reorganizations unpalatable to powerful business coalitions is very difficult in the United States.
It is the combination of this administration’s militarism and its inability to curb the dominant class’s demands for instant gratification that give the Bush regime its unique and uniquely dangerous character – not just to the people at large in the world, but to the transnational business class (as a class) itself.
Gowan’s essay refutes the pop theory of many anti-globalists that transnational capitals are actually detaching themselves from the state.
It has been fashionable amongst some globalization theorists to claim that the transnational capitalists have broken with their own “territorial” state. This seems very wide of the mark as far as the relations between American transnational capitalism and the American state are concerned. This sector of American capitalists has, through its representatives, controlled the American state for decades, has invested large amounts of money in politics to maintain this control, and has shown something like hysteria at the prospect of political forces hostile to its transnational interests gaining power within the United States.
And this political posture has surely been a rational one from their angle. After all, the American state has worked tirelessly to open other jurisdictions to these internationalist American capitals, to further their implantation abroad and their interests abroad in a thousand ways. And if history has taught capitalists one thing about investments abroad, it has surely taught the importance of projecting the power of their state to protect their capitals from hostile forces in other states. All this suggests that the relationship between American transnational capitalists and the American state remains that of robust, mutual loyalty. One key empirical test of this would surely be to see whether this (dominant) wing of the American capitalist class has worked to build new, supranational institutions for enforcing their property rights internationally, over and above the American state. There is not the slightest evidence of this. Another would be to see whether the American state has worked to penalize the transnational expansion of American capitals. Again, no evidence of this exists.
At the end of the day, capital still requires its armed forces, and this requires the American state. “Pax Americana,” quipped I.F. Stone, “is the ‘internationalism’ of Standard Oil, Chase Manhattan, and the Pentagon.” Symbiosis.
It is the contradiction emerging between the US military as the enforcement arm of transnational capital – immediately – and the use of military power to play the central role in long-term post-Cold War restructuring – which has overstretched it – that has run headlong into the economic contradictions created by a state that needs to expand its military spending even as it bleeds the public treasury as a rescue-offering to transnational financial speculators, Kaldor’s rentiers – who now dominate the international financial agenda with what Gowan calls the Dollar-Wall Street Regime.
Military overstretch has long been a feature of the post-WWII US empire, beginning with Korea and Vietnam and also with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. At each juncture, the US has struggled to reassert the myth of American military invincibility. Iraq is different because, as the administration is fond of saying, it is the main front in the war on terror. Once you remove the euphemism – war on terror – and substitute the term “global battlefield” or “new war,” this becomes a remarkably honest account. The fact that the US is losing that main battle is also true, and defines the military aspect of Washington’s latent political crisis.
In fact, members of this administration have been remarkably honest about their ambitions – openly declaring the entire earth a battlefield and their intention to fight on that battlefield for decades. “Terrorist” is simply a euphemism for those who resist, or those who must be strategically targeted.
Autonomy is the essence of sovereignty. Wars on popular sovereignty are wars on the people themselves. Even with the US development of precision weapons that theoretically reduce the “collateral damage” of war, we see the employment of those weapons to target social infrastructure – to the casualties become casualties of starvation and medical neglect, removed in space and time from the explosions.
The logic of exterminism is not precision, regardless of the hardware. It is deracination and extermination.
It is the emergence of states that have collapsed from their own lack of autonomy (as in Africa), states that attempted to reassert their autonomy and were destroyed in the effort to impose discipline on them (Yugoslavia and Iraq), states that are attempting to reassert autonomy (China and Iran), states that are chafing at the mismatch between US hegemony and their own ambitions (Western Europe and Russia), and the introduction of powerful non-state actors (like al Qaeda) – all these outgrowths of US post-Cold War restructuring – that make Iraq different.
This international disequilibrium has loosened, not tightened, the grip of American primacy in the world, at the very time Katrina has exposed in microcosm the depth of the American domestic crisis created by the rentier pillaging of the public treasury.
These new conditions have generated fractures – however temporary – between European and American capitals.
Western Europe, that still boasts a productive capitalist economy (albeit very vulnerable to US finance capital), is no longer in the grip of its Cold War security dependency on the US, and the attempt by the US to establish a permanent military presence around the Persian Gulf as a future lever against other core nations has led to the Eurasian courtship of Iran as well as the fractious Euro-opposition to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Clinton administration attempted to restore this European sense of military dependency on the US through “human rights imperialism” in the Balkans, but it didn’t take. The Germans exploited the situation for their own purposes, then promptly returned to Eurozone discussions of a regionally autonomous military security strategy.
Domestically, both foreign military adventures (in Latin America primarily) and a militarized police war against urban oppressed nationalities in the US were passed off as War on Drugs. That didn’t take, in no small part because many Americans like taking drugs – especially smoking marijuana, which the federal government idiotically continues to treat as comparable to heroin and rock cocaine. And the libertarianism that was implicit in the rationale of the mythical free-market led many to believe that taking drugs is a victimless crime. Even the verbose arch-conservative William Buckley argues for decriminalization, and currency speculator cum liberal philanthropist George Soros finances whole campaigns for drug decriminalization.
Soros is an interesting character in all this, because he is a rentier capitalist par excellence and he is violently opposed to the Bush administration. Not a benign character by any stretch of the imagination, but a financial predator of the first order who made a substantial contribution to the Asian economic meltdown of 1998, Soros is completely devoted to American primacy.
The question among ruling circles in the United States is not whether American primacy, but how. Both factions around this debate are aware that a mismatch has occurred between requisite (from their standpoint) economic expansion and post-Cold War political fragmentation. It is only at this juncture that the debate about unilateralism or multilateralism begins to make any real sense. And there is certainly no debate about whether the US can and will employ military force against any and all recalcitrants. It is whether the US has the capacity to go it alone.
When John Kerry, who was supported by Soros, expressed support for the occupation of Iraq, but decried the lack of meaningful allied support, he was not equivocating. He meant exactly what he said. He and Soros both recognize the dangers of military overstretch in a period when the world system has been thrown into disequilibrium.
The Bush faction – really the Cheney-Wolfowitz faction – is possessed of a kind of grandiose machismo that says, “No guts, no glory.” When 9-11 presented itself, this faction, in power due to the political clout of certain business sectors, saw it as a chance to leap over these contradictions and quickly re-establish post-Cold War US primacy on a new foundation. The goal was to reorganize the world for a new period of stability under a new form of the Pax Americana – one in which friend and foe alike are obliged to knuckle under to the American diktat. In this sense, the whole project has been an utter failure.
This was precisely the fear of the so-called multilateralists – that one does not treat a problem caused by disequilibrium by creating more disequilibrium. The destabilization of strategically critical Southwest Asia may have been part of the (real) Bush doctrine – certainly the almost mindless provocation of Muslims around the world has seemed more designed to cultivate “terrorism” than interdict it. Just as provocation of the Soviets actually caused Western Europe to come under the range of Soviet missiles and force European military dependency on the US, the creation of a generalized asymmetric military threat throughout the world might be calculated to recreate that dependency after in the absence of the Cold War. But it would be a foolish gamble, militarily at least, because the war in Iraq is proving yet again that protracted wars are not won by states but by insurgents and that asymmetric warfare is not countered by conventional military strength, but exacerbated by it.
Denial and Delusion
The other thesis afoot about the Bush war in Iraq is that it is primarily for “demonstration effect.” It is an example (a demonstration) to the rest of the world about what happens when you fail to heed the wishes of the American state. If so, that too has been not merely a failure but the antithesis of demonstration effect. The Iraq war is now proving to the whole world that the US is incapable of defeating a low-tech, urban resistance.
I am one of the troglodytes who still believe that the war is about oil.
Right and left alike – in several guises – want to reject this because they object to the idea of peak oil. The right, of course, believes in divine intervention and the like; some even believe the Iraq war is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Some on the left, on the other hand, are still wedded to the Old Left development paradigm that carries with it an unexamined technological optimism that flies directly in the face of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (See “Capitalism is Against the Law,” Part 1 at http://stangoff.com/?p=12 and Part 2 at http://stangoff.com/?p=13)
They have theorized oil solely as a commodity in a universe divorced from physical laws and finite quantity, and entered into a cosmos no less orthodox and abstract than transubstantiation. They have old maps on new terrain.
They have rejected the empirical evidence in the name of rejecting empiricism – it is accepted by Malthusians, after all. This is tantamount to rejecting the theory of natural selection in biology because of social Darwinism.
One thing that is missed in this exercise of denial is the urgency of the future we are actually facing and the scope of the task in front of us. The final stage of imperialism – exterminism – is coinciding with the final stage of hydrocarbon Homo sapiens. The 21st Century will make the 20th look like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
The first whiff of what this means – not in the empiricist argot of the Malthusians, but looking at the social relations of energy crisis (and the multiple socio-economic cascades flowing from it) – look at the composition of the Bush administration. (Much of what follows is information gleaned during research for an article published two years ago on the Bush administration – “Bush, Security, Energy, and Money.”)
Earlier in this composition, I quoted Newsweek: “Not since the rise of the railroads more than a century ago has a single industry [energy] placed so many foot soldiers at the top of a new administration.” There is a wealth of information available about the administration’s energy corporation bona fides. What is often not discussed is how heavily stacked the administration is with the proponents of nuclear power.
In order to maintain domestic tranquility in the United States, two key things are required: Gasoline for the vehicles, and electricity. We have gone to war to occupy the oil patch and contain China (Look at the new dispositions of US forces, if you don’t believe the latter.).
The nuclear energy story was the Bush "Energy Transition Advisory Team" (ETAT). It had 48 members, and 14 of them were from nuclear utilities, led by Joe Colvin, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute. Nevada Representative Shelley Berkley said that the ETAT "reads like the who's who of the nuclear power industry." Thirty-four of the 48 members of the ETAT gave personal campaign contributions to the Bush presidential campaign. One top member who was the biggest single contributor to the Bush campaign was then – CEO of Enron, Kenneth Lay. Lay was quietly eased aside after the huge energy trading company was exposed as one of the biggest criminal enterprises in history, and one that wiped out the life savings of tens of thousands of people.
It is little wonder that nuclear utilities (all of which are also coal utilities), along with the petroleum sector, have done so well under the Bush administration. They run it.
"It appears to me," quipped Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, "we have the [energy] industry directing policy."
The Bush administration's public relations people have spun out a series of Orwellian narratives implying that the energy needs of American society are synonymous with the financial imperatives of the huge holding companies that now own most public utilities, that nuclear energy is cheaper, safer, and cleaner than all fossil energy (it is none of these), and that emotional rhetoric about homeland security somehow suggests that this is an administration that is showing a genuine material commitment to public safety.
On a Saturday night, November 15, 2003, the Bush administration secretly slipped new provisions into their execrable so-called Energy Bill that included a 1.8 cent per kilowatt-hour nuclear production tax credit that could cost taxpayers over $7.5 billion, according to the Nuclear Information Resource Service. Previously existing subsidies and public support of nuclear energy amounts to almost $4 billion a year now, with a cumulative total of $140 billion since the industry began, making nuclear generated electricity the most expensive in existence.
Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) spokesperson Cindy Folkers sardonically remarked, "Apparently the Bush Administration only upholds free market principles when it isn't inconvenient for their campaign contributors."
Cheney is known to be an avid fan of nuclear, and this accounts for the administration’s miraculous conversion to faith in the crackpot “hydrogen economy.” In this energy shell game, the reality behind the legerdemain is that you can’t pop those water molecules open into their constituent parts to get the hydrogen without an external energy source – read: nuclear. The natural gas they’ve been using in their costly research is running low.
But the most remarkable aspect of the provisions of the Bush Energy Bill is that they gutted terrorism protection provisions written in the original House-passed bill, and "repeal[ed] a ban on exporting highly enriched uranium to other countries, increasing the chances that nuclear reactors could be hit by terrorists, or that nuclear bomb material could fall into terrorist hands," said Folker.
This is not unconscious neglect. It is exterminist acceptance. In fact, as we saw with 9-11, any real attack will be quickly exploited to stampede a cowed Congress into surrendering yet more power to the executive branch.
Opportunism and Asymmetry
The first step toward understanding what this administration was doing is to connect the energy-security nexus dots. The stakes are incredibly high on many accounts. There is a powerful connection between putative national security measures and what appears to be a massive assault on environmental, health, safety, and security oversight any time genuine oversight threatens the expansion of already-substantial energy sector profits.
So both the autonomy of the state and potentially its legitimacy are at grave risk. We have to understand and prepare to exploit that.
This is an administration that has shown an alarming willingness to use national security as a pretext for going after its political enemies and undermining constitutional protections of freedom of assembly and speech, including the scapegoat roundups of thousands of immigrants without due cause. The same people who call these racist roundups an issue of homeland security willingly deploy the pretext of national security to erase corporate accountability and even to criminalize truth-tellers on behalf of private companies.
The Bush administration has welcomed every new emergency as an opportunity to advance their agendas – those agendas being a contradictory mix of capitalist short-term (business cycle) interests and grand(iose), neocon, unilateral strategy objectives.
Note that after Katrina, Bush Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Alphonso Jackson (one of Bush’s Uncle Tom Squad), actually told the Houston Chronicle that New Orleans would be rebuilt “whiter,” reducing the pre-Katrina 65% Black population to around 35%. Jackson himself told Mayor Ray Nagin not to rebuild the largely Black 9th Ward – a working class Black neighborhood – where most of the homes were owned, not rented (and therefore affordable). These people – not-fully-citizens from the Black Nation – are to be dispersed into 40 states and housed in “Bushvilles,” the new name for FEMA trailer parks. Meanwhile, more affluent and whiter neighborhoods like Lakeview, that are just as flood-prone as the 9th Ward, are already being reviewed for reconstruction. Jackson, by the way, was a developer before he was appointed to HUD.
This is just a small example of Bush regime emergency opportunism. And these mass displacements are emblematic of negligent-exterminism. Emergencies work for the Bush administration. At least they have so far. But they may be inching further and further out onto a legitimacy overhang.
I’ll return in a moment to the incestuous relationship between energy interests and this administration. But it must be said, in the face of reluctance among progressives to accept that the threat of asymmetric attacks (“terrorism” is a polemical, not descriptive, term) against civilian targets inside the US. This threat has actually increased. The policies of this administration are provoking such threats and vastly increasing the probability that they will happen. During the Cold War, provocations against the Soviet Union actualized the (originally polemical) Soviet military threat to Western Europe. In the same way, current provocations and the willingness to project conventional military force is nurturing new forms of asymmetric warfare.
Contrary to its assertions of deep concern about the domestic security of the United States, the Bush administration has substantially degraded "homeland security" since September 11 while facilitating a massive transfer of public and private wealth into the coffers of the energy industry. The Bush administration, with its legions of energy industry insiders, has cynically invoked (information) "security" to conceal this degradation of domestic security, to attack government and corporate whistleblowers, and to protect the enormous energy conglomerates from accountability.
Associated Press, November 7, 2003:
Washington. The latest warning from the Homeland Security Department that al-Qaeda may be plotting an attack is renewing calls for stricter security on cargo planes.
The department advised law enforcement officials Friday night of threats that terrorists may fly cargo planes from another country into such crucial U.S. targets as nuclear plants, bridges or dams, Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
Leon Laylagian of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations security committee said the government must take air cargo security as seriously as it takes air passenger security.
Mark Hertsgaard, "Nuclear Insecurity," Vanity Fair, November 2003:
Over the past two years, the Bush administration has talked tough about defending the United States against terrorism, pointing to the September 11 tragedy to justify much of its domestic and international political agenda, from invading Iraq to limiting civil liberties to relaxing environmental regulations. But... the Bush administration is in fact failing disastrously at the practical job of keeping the American homeland safe from terrorist attacks. In particular, the administration is doing worse than nothing ... leaving serious flaws in the nuclear-security system unrepaired, it is silencing the very public servants who are trying to fix the problem before it is too late.
Argonne National Laboratory, for the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1982:
[A] large commercial airliner striking the reactor dome... would easily penetrate the reactor dome... obliterate the reactor core's primary containment thereby immediately releasing massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere without any chance of evacuation. Thousands of people would quickly perish and thousands more would perish over time... the explosive force of jet fuel exploding inside the containment dome would... convert the containment dome itself into a bomb.
In an article in Vanity Fair two years ago, author Mark Hertsgaard wrote an account of Rich Levernier, a reluctant nuclear whistleblower who was fired after 22 years with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), two years before he became eligible for his pension.
Levernier coordinated mock-terrorist, laser-tag commando attacks to test Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities for six years prior to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The facilities failed to stop attackers in half the exercises, even when prior notice, issued for safety reasons, eliminated the advantage of surprise.
Levernier pushed aggressively to upgrade security at DOE for years, and was ignored until his persistence was rewarded with a job termination and cancellation of his security clearance.
The Levernier story is emblematic of a Bush administration antagonism toward all whistleblowers, public and private. That antagonism has vastly increased domestic vulnerability to attack. The administration is deploying "homeland security" concerns as justification to shield Bush-friendly corporations from public security upgrade costs, to conceal backroom deals, and to marginalize – and sometimes even criminalize – insiders who speak their conscience.
Since this administration took office, it has declared virtual war on whistleblowers.
We already noted how the Bush administration has exploited Hurricane Katrina to trash labor standards, award crony contracts, and hand over Black working class real estate to developers for quick-buck gentrification schemes.
In May 2003, Special Counsel Elaine Kaplan and deputy Tim Hannapel simultaneously resigned from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the agency that investigates wrongdoing often reported by government whistleblowers. Kaplan had overseen the transformation of the OSC from yet another toothless watchdog into an agency that was as relentless in pursuit of investigations as it was protective of its sources: especially whistleblowers. The Project on Government Oversight called her tenure a "virtual revolution." Her efforts ran headlong into a heavily Republican Federal Circuit Court of Appeals that has shown an implacable hostility to government and business whistleblowers.
The Federal Circuit interpreted the whistleblower protection in a way that raised the bar for protection only to include whistleblowers whose information is "undeniable and incontestable," a standard that is more appropriately applied to court proceedings. The court granted the government agencies themselves the "presumption of good faith," and wholly shifted an extreme burden of proof onto whistleblowers.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) bristled that the Federal Circuit had “corrupted the intent of Congress” which had crafted the 1990 Whistleblower Protection Act to shield civil servants from retaliation who spoke out about suspected waste, abuse, neglect, and malfeasance. This was a rare departure for Levin, who is in the right wing of the Democratic Party, and who has co-signed Bush initiatives right down the line on the war.
When federal judicial hostility to whistleblowers was combined with the aggressive anti-whistleblower interventions of the Bush executive branch, of which the OSC is a part, Kaplan left the agency.
It is perhaps not surprising that prior to her appointment to the OSC, Kaplan was deputy General Counsel to the National Treasury Employees Union until going to the OSC in 1998. Among the first targets of the Bush administration, after it declared the "war on terror," were government employee unions, particularly the whistleblower protection clauses of their contracts. (At the end of the day, it is always class war from above.)
The Bush administration began accelerated planning for agency consolidation within the Department of Homeland Security immediately in the wake of 9/11, a department where one might assume that abuse, corruption, or neglect would be a primary concern encouraging open-door policies for whistleblowers. (We have already seen, in Katrina’s wake, what this consolidation did for FEMA.)
The door that opened, however, was the exit. Now it might even be the door on a jail cell.
Whistleblower protections were excised from proposals for the Department of Homeland Security and the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA). To his great credit, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa (whose never seen an ag-subsidy he didn’t love) – breaking ranks with many in his party – issued a call in 2002 to restore whistleblower protection to all jobs and contracts.
“Government agencies too often want to cover up their mistakes,” said Grassley, “and the temptation is even greater when bureaucracies can use a potential security issue as an excuse. At the same time, the information whistleblowers provide is all the more important when public safety and security is at stake.”
This was precisely Rich Levernier's intent when he became a nuclear gadfly: to overcome bureaucratic inertia that left weapons grade nuclear material vulnerable to theft.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney both have strong personal financial ties to energy companies…. What a surprise! In 2003 Executive Order-13303 was issued. It repeals whistleblower protection for employees who report human rights violations, mismanage accounting, or falsify shareholder reports for companies with contracts for Iraqi oil commerce. Chief among these corporations is Halliburton, for which Dick Cheney was the Chief Executive Officer before taking office, and from which he still receives a six-figure annual check.
Another egregious example of this pattern was the Ashcroft (now torture-proponent Gonzales) Justice Department's attempt to railroad Congress to accept Patriot Act II, humorously called the Domestic Security and Enhancement Act, in which the Bush administration managed to slip clauses that undermine previous regulatory law, like the Clean Air Act, by classifying data available to the public on hazardous emissions.
Nat Hentoff, in “Bush-Ashcroft vs. Homeland Security” (Village Voice, April 18, 2003) details this bit of trickery. He quotes Tim Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union, who points out that the Clean Air Act requires that “corporations that use potentially dangerous chemicals must prepare an analysis of consequences of the release of such chemicals to the surrounding communities.” In section 202 of Ashcroft's ploy, this public oversight would have been summarily killed and even stating the location of one of the facilities no longer under public scrutiny would have become a felony. Edgar told Hentoff that “government whistle-blowers who reveal any information restricted under this section commit a criminal offense, even if their motivation was to protect the public from corporate wrongdoing or government neglect.” Lots of devils in those details.
This clause of the Domestic Security and Enhancement Act, had the act passed (which it thankfully did not), would have done nothing to increase public security, its clear intent being to wrap a cloak of secrecy around corporate patrons to enable maximization of profits while neglecting public safety, health, and security.
The primary beneficiaries of weakened clean air regulation are energy companies. And this brief summation is a mere peek into the paper-heaps of policy revision being crafted by the administration in concert with energy-capitalist patrons and busy, busy lawyers.
The primary weakness of the Bush administration is that the management of perception outweighs the material and organizational capacity to manage real crises. This may be the first truly post-modern government in the US. They actually seem to have deluded themselves that discourse is synonymous with reality.
The response to Katrina was not only morally reprehensible; it exposed the reorganized Department of Homeland Security as an ineffectual cesspool of patronage and incompetence. This mirrors exactly the crisis in Iraq. Just as the Department of Homeland Security has proven incapable of the “protection of citizens” (a key base of state legitimacy), the US military is mired in yet another un-winnable quagmire (ability to wage successful war is another base of legitimacy).
The policy is not corrected. The discourse is managed by silencing the witnesses. While whistleblowers are hounded in the United States, US forces target journalists in Iraq. In May 2005, no less a member of the establishment than CNN executive Eason Jordan noted that 63 journalists had been killed by US forces, most of them Arab, and many of them working with western news agencies. CNN, of course, demanded Jordan’s resignation, whereupon Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley picked up the call.
“Journalists, by the way, are not just being targeted verbally or politically,” said Foley. “They are also being targeted for real in places like Iraq. What outrages me, as a representative of journalists, is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq… They target and kill journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries… Arab news services like al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios with impunity. ...”
Paper tigers and silenced witnesses everywhere.
Responding to Crisis
NEW ORLEANS Oct 5, 2005 (AP) – His city in financial ruin from Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin is slashing about half the city's work force, a move he said caused him "great sadness."
Nagin said Tuesday he would lay off as many as 3,000 employees because he had been unable to find the money to keep the workers on the payroll.
The layoffs are "pretty permanent," Nagin said, and the city will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to notify municipal employees who fled the city after the hurricane struck more than a month ago.
"I wish I didn't have to do this. I wish we had the money, the resources to keep these people," Nagin said. "The problem we have is we have no revenue streams."
He said only nonessential workers will be laid off and that no firefighters or police will be among those let go. The layoffs, which will take place over the next two weeks, will shave about $5 million to $8 million from the city's monthly payroll of $20 million.
"We talked to local banks and other financial institutions and we are just not able to put together the financing necessary to continue to maintain City Hall's staffing at its current levels," the mayor said…
…Robert Warner, 51, of New Orleans said he and others have struggled to
get private housing set up through FEMA.
"We've been mired in the bureaucratic red tape since Day One," he said.
In the larger scheme of things, we are living in an era where scarcity – the bugaboo of past reactionaries and Malthusians – is being made real…. just like the threat of “terrorism” is being made real by the very system that claims it as an enemy.
Fisheries depleted, steel shortages, the loss of forests and arable lands, water famine… these are all realities. In a hypothetical world, where we could snap our fingers and suddenly impose draconian conservation measures on the core nations, it would still require three additional earths to supply the resources necessary to develop the entire planet to the technological level of the core. Many points of no return have already been passed. Only a bolder way can rescue us from the older way.
We don’t see the essence of these crises easily, because crises do not lay themselves open to laboratory analysis. They are mediated socially, and so we see the social character masks of crisis – self-referential ruling class impunity, hubris, and corruption; and these mere transient manifestations serve to simultaneously expose the ruling class’ social pathologies – a good thing – and disorient the rest of us with the belief that we are witnessing simple moral failures – a problem.
Ecocide, the result of modernism – in its capitalist etiology and in its former guise as barracks socialism – has become its opposite. Effect has now become causative, and the breakdown of the very geologic and biospheric architecture that forms the material basis of life on the planet has spawned a global war of incremental extermination for the key material force multiplier of human work within modernism – fossil energy – and a host of other “strategic resources.”
But even this is symptomatic. The struggle for remaining extractable oil on the planet is part and parcel of a deeper ruling project that recognizes clearly what the future holds, and intends to wipe out competitive demand.
The seagull ethic. Exterminism.
Mark Jones wrote two days after the World Trade Center attacks, September 13, 2001:
Crises, seemingly, have to be scaled to lie within some very starkly-demarcated existential boundary which maps straight onto to the
envelope of everyday life and mass consciousness. Otherwise we are paralysed into inaction. This is an ominous indicator about the likely fate of homo sapiens. And the empirical evidence for pessimism is there in the historical record of previous, now disappeared, civilisations.
Civilisations which do not develop political and social institutions capable of pushing out the envelope, capable that is of anticipating and pre-empting or resolving major step-changes (catastrophic, systemic crisis) are routinely destroyed. The growth of complexity (implying cultural richness, higher technology, more collective power of symbolic reasoning etc) does not necessarily help. In the absence of an equivalent institutional development, complexity, with its attendant entropic burden, seems only to accelerate crisis when it begins and then to deepen the post-crisis collapse. Great civilisations do not morph into lesser ones, but into totally devastated landscapes peopled by bands of roaming scavengers. This cyclical pattern of civilisational growth followed by abrupt collapse, of terminal crisis followed by periods of darkness lasting sometimes for centuries, is very evident in the historical record.
Honest historians can confront us with stark news. Fail to develop political and social institutions; “sleepwalk into the abyss.” The Democratic Party is not an institution that is pushing anyone’s envelopes.
What we see in days and weeks and months and years are mere episodes in the larger epoch – and now we are seeing the crisis of the metropolitan left, lost with all its outdated maps, as a political and leadership vacuum in a period when people are witnessing the coincident breakup of modernism and capitalism. In the absence of a left with clarity and a fighting spirit, the masses are each day more susceptible to retreat; and a retreat from modernism – instead of a fight through to the other side of it – leads people back to mythical pasts, to atavism and self-absorbed mysticism, and to fascist reaction.
Instead of leadership, the metropolitan left – lost with its archaic maps – spins out programs. Hal Draper wrote all the way back in 1971 about left sect construction (and self-marginalization):
The sect establishes itself on a HIGH level (far above that of the working class) and on a thin base, which is ideologically selective (usually necessarily outside working class). Its working-class character is claimed on the basis of its aspiration and orientation, not its composition or its life. It then sets out to haul the working class up to its level, or calls on the working class to climb up the grade. From behind its organizational walls, it sends out scouting parties to contact the working class, and missionaries to convert two here and three there. It sees itself becoming, one day, a mass revolutionary party by a process of accretion; or by eventual unity with two or three other sects; or perhaps by some process of entry.
Marx, on the other, saw the vanguard elements as avoiding above all the creation of organizational walls between themselves and the class-in-motion. The task was not to lift up two workers here and three there to the level of the Full Program (let alone two students here and three intellectuals there!) but to go after the levers that could get the class, or sections or the class, moving as a mass onto higher levels of action and politics.
The sect mentality sees its sanctification only in its Full Program, that is, in what separates it from the working class. If, god forbid, some slogan it puts forth bids fair to become to popular, it gets scared. “Something must be the matter! We must have capitulated to somebody.” (This is not a caricature: it is drawn from life.) Marx's approach was exactly the opposite. The job of the vanguard was to work out slogans that would be popular in the given state of the class struggle, in the sense of being able to get broadest possible masses of workers moving. That means: moving on an issue, in a direction, in a way that would bring them into conflict with the capitalist class and its state, and the agents of capitalists and state, including the “labor lieutenants of capitalism” (its own leaders).
The sect is a miniaturized version of the revolutionary party-to-be, a “small mass party,” a microscopic edition or model of the mass party that does not yet exist. Rather, it thinks of itself this way, or tries to be such a miniature.
The strongest resistance is now coming from the world system’s non-citizens, and that is precisely why any assessment of the revolutionary potential of any section of metropolitan society needs to assess the degree of citizenship they perceive themselves to have… or not.
Venezuela’s revolution right now involves awarding meaningful citizenship to the disenfranchised. First the Constitution was rewritten to transfer citizen-power to the masses from the ruling class. Then the basis of every literacy program was teaching the people how to read and understand that new Constitution. In Iraq, where the US is facing its deepest crisis, the very state, which creates the basis for citizenship, has been destroyed and replaced with an irascible and opportunistic rump government that has neither autonomy nor legitimacy. The tactical strength of the resistance and its strategic weakness is its deracination, its statelessness. In Bolivia, the source of resistance is the indigenous population – long frozen out of political power by the racist elites.
What is working is beyond the envelope. Political uprootedness and social embeddedness. In Venezuela, it is establishing citizenship outside the world system paradigm. Social embeddedness in Cuba, combined with manageable scale and the forced march toward sustainability, mobilizing full citizenship, has given that nation the means to survive. In Bolivia, the status of non-citizenship left indigenous forces with nothing to lose by using the weapons of general strike and blockade of the cities – the nerve centers of world system integration. Peasants in Nepal, Haiti, and the Philippines… outsiders. External to the system.
The victims of Katrina – especially the Black victims, whose refusal to buy the explicit White nationalism of the Republican Party is a reflection of lack of citizenship – now scattered in a Diaspora within a Diaspora – are on the brink of a struggle to reclaim their homes from the ruling class looters. This is a struggle against slow extermination, and if the left and other progressives want to face up to the challenge of exterminism, then there is the front line… this is where we renounce our semi- citizenship and begin to re-map the way to the future, using the weapons of the masses – general strike, urban blockade, secession. Build the consciousness for these struggles, instead of managed elections, and we will push out the envelope.
The crisis of legitimacy is latent right now. It will become real when the storm surge hits the white suburbs. That is coming.
But the left cannot be complacent, because without intervention the reaction to that crisis will be deeply…. reaction-ARY. Now is the time to (1) seriously re-found a domestic politics of resistance, (2) base the leadership core that resistance in populations who are not “full citizens” in the United States, and (3) focus that resistance in the Sunbelt. This in no way suggests that everyone drop everything and run off to Louisiana to join Black rebel armies. The most critical initial tasks include winning over as large a section of white America as possible to a non-reactionary understanding of the period, supporting and strengthening the struggle against the US wars in Southwest Asia, and supporting and strengthening the institutions, intellectuals, and authentic political/community leaders in the internal colonies of the United States.
Out of the very broad antiwar movement, which is now representative of the views of the US majority, two things need to emerge.
First, the development of political independence from the Democratic Party. This timid, moribund formation is the graveyard of resistance politics, and the sooner it dies the better. This requires an aggressive effort to develop and teach resistance politics that is not primarily electoral-legislative, but more and more openly disruptive.
Second, a broad political alternative must be developed to give an independent alternative an organizational assertion. That will not be yet another leftist sect.
My most tentative suggestion is that of a red, black, and green alliance – and not just because of my deep sympathy for Black nationalism. There are hundreds of thousands of socialists (red) often unaffiliated with any sect, and hundreds of thousands of politically active African Americans (black) who feel like taking a bath every time they are forced yet again to vote for a spineless white Democrat who will invariably forget them in the second week of November. There are hundreds of thousands of people across the spectrum who understand the depth of the environmental crisis we have been driven into, and who are just as deeply skeptical about “green-capitalism” schemes continually trotted out by multi-million dollar enviro non-profits like the Sierra Club. This kind of alliance must also be willing to struggle against the legacy of patriarchy from right and left, and ensure that more than half of all leadership positions in every project and formation are independently operating women.
The key to white activists supporting this critical effort is twofold. Accept Black leadership, and share resources.
The political organizing of such an alliance should be as far as possible locally-rooted, and committed to building the alternative institutions we will need as the state continues to careen into the cul-de-sac of de-legitimacy. In specific cases, like New Orleans, there must be national efforts to fight not just for immediate relief, but to fight the imperatives of exterminism – displacement and dispersion. The fight for New Orleans has to start with the repatriation of every willing resident to the 9th Ward, but it cannot end until the toxins are cleaned up, the schools are funded and effective, and the residents themselves are organized to fight for their own self-determination.
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