Monday, 30 August 2010

Really Existing Capitalism.

How the World Works?

It has been argued that the financial crisis of 2008 was caused by a failure of economic policy that there has been too much intervention and too much regulation. This is one of the genres, in terms of opinions and arguments, to emerge as an explanation of the causes of the crash of '08. The most right-wing pundits at Fox News, but also the Tea Parties and the World Bank, have been spouting this argument. The state hasn't stuck to the theory and principles of free-market capitalism and as a result the rest of us are suffering. These free-marketeers claim that if there had been less regulation and less taxation, and if there hadn't been bailouts in the past, the crisis would have never came about. Theoretically, market forces would have led to greater competition and innovation, which would have eliminated the kind of recklessness that led to this crisis.

This is in spite of the fact that the economies of the UK and the US have been financialised over the last 30 years, which was engineered mostly by the administrations of Thatcher and Reagan (but also Major and Clinton). Over the same time period the welfare state has decreased in size in both countries, the labour movement has been smashed, financial markets have been deregulated and effectively subsidised through generous tax-cuts. The state did have a role in enabling the financialisation of the economy and is partly responsible for the financial crises. But it was the internal structure of the banks which nurtured irresponsibility as part of company practice and such irresponsibility was exacerbated by the kind of market forces unleashed over the last three decades.

However it is true, as the free-marketeers claim, that capitalism does not really exist in its "pure form" in the West. The stock market may be free, due to the minor level of regulation and taxation that it is subjected to, but other areas of the economy like the labour market are not as free. Even so, the economies of the developed world are not egalitarian in terms of structure and remain explicitly capitalist. It would be more accurate to describe the economy of a country like Britain as state-capitalist, or even corporatist, as it is a mixed economy and there is still some kind of welfare state in the UK. In the UK and the US, the way the state interacts with the economy often amounts to socialising costs and privatising profits.

The closest examples we have to the free-market ideal are countries in the developing world where neoliberal reforms has been imposed undemocratically, usually through a dictatorship or a loan with strings attached by a fine institution like the IMF. Take Mali where over half of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day and the economy is "built" on agriculture, specifically cotton and cattle. Unlike American and European politicians, the Malian government actually believe in free-markets and as a result Malian beef and cotton producers cannot compete on a level playing field. As the US government subsidise cotton farmers with more funding than the Malian government spends on it's entire budget. And the EU subsidises farmers with 500 euros per cow, which is higher than Mali's GDP per capita. It would be easy to say that the US and the EU should not subsidise agriculture, but such measures are what have secured economic growth and development.

The Free-Market Utopia?

The advocates of "pure" capitalism like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises supported statism as an invaluable step towards their utopia, whether their followers like to admit it is another matter. Hayek was an admirer of General Pinochet in Chile, after all it was the 'Chicago Boys' - who were inspired by Hayek, Mises and Friedman - who advised Pinochet on economic policy. When Hayek was interviewed by El Mercurio, a pro-Pinochet rag, he stated "Personally I prefer a liberal dictator to democratic government lacking liberalism." It was the devotion to neoliberal economics - specifically policies which consisted of anti-inflationary measures, spending cuts, privatisation and deregulation - under Pinochet that these puritanical ideologues fawned over. It didn't matter to them that these economic policies were incredibly unpopular and had to be imposed by illiberal means.

Ludwig von Mises admired Italian fascism as it "defended" private property and "saved" the European civilisation. He once wrote "It cannot be denied, that Fascism and similar movements aiming at the establishment of dictatorships are full of the best intentions and that their intervention has, for the moment, saved European civilisation. The merit that Fascism has thereby won for itself will live on eternally in history." When the Austro-fascist dictator Engelbert Dollfuss began to crush the labour movement in 1934, Ludwig von Mises once again approved with glee and even worked as an economic adviser under Dollfuss. Mises went on to co-author a report with Dollfuss arguing that the the Great Depression was caused not by the free-market but by government interference.

This is the essence of free-market fundamentalism, when the boom ends in bust and we are plunged into a deep recession, it is not the markets that were responsible it was the state and those politicians who were not faithful enough to the theory. Similarly, in socialist states - really existing socialism - whenever the system failed it was communists who claimed that the failure was because we were not "pure enough". These claims were almost always followed by a "purge" of the "bourgeois tendencies" undermining the revolution and stifling socialism. We see the same claims being made at Fox News, for Glenn Beck the crash of '08 was caused by too much regulation and has been exacerbated by "socialist tendencies" in the Obama administration. The logic of this is to further perpetuate the system and further it's current trajectory.

There are no "socialist tendencies" in the US government, which is why the Treasury Department is referred to as "Government Goldman" by regulators as most of the players involved in drawing up economic policy are former bankers. The reason that Goldman Sachs emerged so well from the recession was because the Treasury Department was dominated by former Goldman employees, namely Hank Paulson et al. The American commentariat - specifically the radio-show hosts and pundits of the extreme Right - is fuelling common grievances and outrage going back over 30 years. The aim is to empower the most reactionary elements of the Republican Party. But this is nothing new, the same methods were used against Clinton with great success, and it ultimately led to the 8 year catastrophe known as the Bush Presidency.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The American Experience.

The First Casualty of War.
Ricky Gervais once joked that the Second World War may have the best ending but the Vietnam war has the best sound track. He was referring to the horrendous use of the atomic bomb against the Japanese as less "entertaining" than the music of the 1960s. In doing so, whether intentionally or not, Gervais highlights the way war has been reduced to the realm of entertainment today. As we all know, since the end of the Vietnam war there have been countless efforts to immortalise the conflict on the big screen for all to see. The best of these films are often listed as Platoon, The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. The Kubrick film being my personal favourite. But there are problems with the so-called anti-war films that have focused on the war which raged from the early 60s under JFK to the mid 1970s under the caretaker administration of Gerald Ford.

The problems of films like First Blood and Missing in Action are self-evident, as such films do not pretend to be anything more than a shallow display of steroid-fuelled jingoism and a mere excuse for a angry white man to go "wild". The problems of films that claim to show us the true horror of war are not often discussed in the same light. Even though the films, which take a less "positive" look at the Vietnam war, have made false depictions of the Vietnamese. One such instance being in The Deer Hunter where American POWs are forced to play Russian roulette for the pleasure of sadistic Vietcong. Thus, justifying the ruthlessness which Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken demonstrated in gunning them down to escape. It is the scars, both physical and psychological, of war that are depicted in the film. But only the scars inflicted on the minds and bodies of American soldiers.

Let's look at Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola's take on the Vietnam war, which was an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Conrad's novella takes place in the Congo Free State, a private-colony of the Belgian King Leopold II, and the characters are working for a trading company which brutally exploits African workers. Apocalypse Now takes place in war-ravaged Vietnam and Cambodia, the main characters are soldiers. It is Cambodians who replace the Africans as the brutalised people, but also as "primitive savages" who worship Kurtz as a God. In Apocalypse Now Kurtz recalls a humanitarian trip to inoculate children for polio in a Vietnamese village, the Vietcong went into the village and then hacked off the arms of the inoculated children. Kurtz wept at the sight of the pile of little arms, before learning to admire the will of the Vietcong to commit such atrocities. Kurtz says "If I had 10 divisions of those men, then our troubles would be over very quickly."

The emphasis on the American experience of the war is a characteristic that practically all films on the Vietnam war share. The Vietnamese experience is severely neglected, even though it was 6 million Indochinese who died during the war. Not only is the war depicted from the side of the aggressor, it is the subjective experience of the war by soldiers carrying out the invasion which is the focus of such films. The objective violence of war, which is inherent to war regardless of the existence of any particular person, which becomes subjective violence in war films. Subjective violence in the sense of violence as impacting directly on individuals, violence which is partly dependent on the existence of an individual. Take Platoon the mass-killings and fraggings that take place is all part of Charlie Sheen losing his innocence, which is the "first casualty of war" according to the film's tag line.

Far from actually taking a moral position on the war these films actually obfuscate the important issues of the war. Instead opting to focus in on the perpetrator's traumatic experience, which enables the ethical and political background of the conflict to be suppressed. Why was the US in Vietnam? This question goes unanswered in most, if not all, American war movies. The fact that it was the events at Pearl Harbour that drove the Europeans out of South-East Asia and by the early 1950s colonial powers were struggling to maintain power.  Around this time the US government supported the French in their bid to regain dominance over Indochina. This attempt failed and the US ended up backing a nationalist regime in the South of Vietnam as the North was taken over by communists. In the 60s, the US moved to destroy all currents of independence in Vietnam - whether communist or nationalist - to prevent a "domino effect" across South-East Asia. 

In We Were Soldiers, which was dedicated not just to the Americans who fought at Ia Drang but also the Vietnamese who died there, the fall of French colonialism in the region is depicted in the opening scene. The problem in the ambush of French soldiers by Vietnamese rebels is that it is the Vietnamese who remain faceless aggressors and the French who are the victims of the assault. This goes as far as portraying a Vietnamese man literally stabbing a French officer in the back with a bayonet. It is the French who are overwhelmed, disarmed and executed mercilessly. This scene is supposed to explain how the Vietnam war "began", but it takes one battle out of context. The battle of Ia Drang was one of the last in the First Indochina war, which spanned 8 years and ultimately brought an end to over 60 years of French colonialism in the region.

It is as if the American film industry is obsessed with Vietnam in particular because it is commonly perceived as such a loss for the US and a pointless waste of American life. Not because it was fundamentally wrong and immoral, but because almost 60,000 Americans died in a senseless war. Never mind the 6 million people slaughtered all over South-East Asia, not just from Vietnam but Laos and Cambodia as well. It could also be argued that the US succeeded in its goals in Indochina, most currents of independence were eradicated and these countries were reduced to satellites of China. In that sense, the Vietnam war was no loss for the US and the thousands of Americans who died in the war did die for a cause - an immoral cause. The Americans were not the victims of this war, the people of Indochina were. Thus, a film about the Vietnamese experience of war is well over due.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Memento Mori.

A Tabula Rasa.

Christopher Nolan's film Memento (2001) explores the dull archetypal story of revenge combined with aspects of traditional detective stories, which have been recycled and churned out repeatedly by Hollywood over the years, through the cliche of a amnesiac narrator. Perhaps, what is so original, compelling and truly brilliant aspect of Memento is the structure that the story takes and the way in which Nolan combined old ideas in the piece. The protagonist, Leonard Shelby, suffered a head injury whilst trying to save his wife from intruders who had broken into their house. Since then Lenny has suffered from anterograde amnesia, amnesia in which he retains his old memories and knowledge but is incapable of maintaining new memories. The film is structured, to fit the unsettling subjectivity of the protagonist's view of reality, in reverse chronological order. As Nolan explains, Memento does not have a non-linear structure, at least not in the conventional sense, because each scene is directly dependent on the one before just as in a linear structure.

Though the film is enthralling on many levels, it introduces an age-old area of philosophy to popular culture and its audience. In the opening scene, we are confronted with a polaroid photograph of a man who has been shot dead. In reverse of the process taken in photographing the corpse, the polaroid slowly fades as it gradually returns to it's initial blank state before retreating back into the camera. The polaroid itself is passive to the camera and it's owner to determine the image of which it will ultimately convey. This is almost a metaphor for the blank slate, or tabula rasa, description of the mind, favoured by empiricists like John Locke. Empiricism is a philosophical school of thought focusing on the nature of knowledge, empiricists argued that all our ideas and knowledge are derived from experience via senses. For instance, our ideas of ‘white’ and ‘cold’ come from the first time we encountered snow. Our experiences shape our knowledge of reality and all the ideas we’ll ever have are taken from our experiences. There are parallels to this in Memento. The polaroids, notes and tattoos are the only ways in which Leonard Shelby can collect knowledge - which is derived from his daily experiences in his search for John G.

The way that a camera can serve as a model for the empirical view of the mind. Images are received and after a flash imprinted onto a polaroid, the tabula rasa, as the human mind is blank upon birth and develops an understanding of the world from sense impressions, according to the empiricists. The opening shot of the polaroid is a metaphor for the inner-workings of Leonard's damaged psyche - a truly empirical mind perhaps is one in which memories cannot be made. The distorting effect amnesia has had on Shelby's consciousness is why a priori knowledge is absent in his life after the incident. We do not live like Shelby because we can make new memories, we don't need all those notes and tattoos to get by. The reason: because Lenny is lacking something we are not. We can hold onto knowledge, probably because the mind isn't a blank slate normally. Rationalists would argue that we have a priori knowledge, which is independent of experience and sense impressions (if anything) "unlock" such knowledge. There has to be something in the camera to hold images, it can't just be a void.

Reason and Experience.

Immanuel Kant proposed a synthesis, a compromise in the epistemological argument between philosophers of the rational and empirical traditions. Most animals receive information through sense impressions, a dog can hear us speak but will not understand our language. It takes reason to understand the received information, which is what may separate us from the animals. The reason interacts with the experience and is not passive, if anything, reason dominates experience shaping it into concepts that we can understand. The concepts of ‘white’ and ‘cold’ exist to us, not because they exist objectively. But because we have imposed these concepts onto our subjective experience of reality, snow can appear to us as both ‘white’ and ‘cold’. This is not because the world is inside our minds. This is because our minds only have the capability to perceive the world in such a way. For instance, the unified notions of time and space that we hold are not entirely independent of our minds. We just cannot perceive the world without applying the concepts of time and space, otherwise nothing would be comprehensible.

This is a point enforced by the reverse linear structure of Memento. If we could perceive the world without applying the concept of time, as we understand it, the reversed structure of the film would be insignificant. Though, we can follow the storyline because we put things together as we're watching, the structure has a major impact upon how we interpret the story. When we first come across Natalie we see her as a possible love interest. This is due to the traditional depiction of female main characters as a love interest or play-thing for the leading man. In Memento, this assumption of Natalie is further played on when Leonard awakens after sharing a bed with Natalie. It is only as the story progresses, that it becomes apparent that Natalie is not a love interest at all and appears to be a manipulative character with her own goal of avenging her boyfriend's death. All of this is predicated on the fact that the audience would be caught off guard by the structure of the film. Though it's possible that the film could not even have been made if the concept of time was totally objective and unconnected to the human experience.

During the conclusion of Memento, which is actually the beginning of the story, Leonard acknowledges that there is such a thing as a priori knowledge when he says "Yeah, we don't need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are. I'm no different." In doing so, he rejects the notion that knowledge is derived only through sense impressions. We do not need to sense ourselves to know ourselves, we simply are ourselves and therefore know ourselves a priori - it is not acquired through experience but known. So this would mean that the metaphor of a camera for Shelby's mind is only partially accurate of his "condition" - a state of near passivity to knowledge, to others etc. Leonard has anterograde amnesia and the way he has been led along by Teddy shows the depth of his passivity. It is in the film that we see the transition Leonard Shelby makes from "bad faith" - acting as if one is a object passive to the forces around them - to authenticity and all the responsibility that comes with it.

The New Man.

Leonard Shelby is a highly original character, standing out against scenery in his cream suit and even standing incongruous to the banal revenge story he is part of. Shelby is remarkably independent, resourceful and determined for an individual suffering from such a "condition" - in contrast with the story of Sammy Jenkis who ends up in a home. But at the same time, because of his "condition", he vulnerable to the power of others. We can only watch as Leonard is manipulated by those around him. Teddy, Natalie and even Burt use his "condition" to further their own ends, whether it be for financial gain or revenge. Though the trust Leonard places in his notes keeps him from being easily manipulated by Teddy. On several occasions Leonard looks at the picture of Teddy and his comment "Never believe his lies" which stops him from following his guidance blindly. Partly this is the way that Leonard continues on his own independent path to find the killer-rapist John G. Of course, John G is already dead and Shelby is already free but trapped in "bad faith", allowing others to determine his actions.

Though it could be that this element of Memento cannot be understood fully without exploring the ideas of existentialism. Existentialism is a radically subjective philosophy that places the individual, autonomy, authenticity and the self, at the centre of importance. Fanon believed that the only way individuals could achieve true freedom, as opposed to the spurious bourgeois freedom of the West, is through violence. The very experience of violence would be cathartic and can awaken individuals from the West's insidious form of control. At the heart of existentialism rests a view of human beings not too dissimilar from empiricism. The way in which empiricists view the mind as a tabula rasa at the beginning of life is similar to the way in which existentialist philosophers viewed the attaining of essence after existence. But for the likes of Sartre, the individual is not a passive and blank slate waiting to experience the world. Sartre would have argued that the individual must not act in "bad faith" in order to attain authenticity and experience true freedom. "Bad faith" being to act as if one is passive and conform to the pressures that surround you.

The story of Memento relates closely to the existentialist philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Frantz Fanon. This is also appropriate as Sartre was heavily influenced by Kant and pursued merging the duty-based ethics of Kant with existentialism. The act of killing Teddy may be the emancipation in itself, as it is Shelby's action that destroys the powerful force that he has been passive to for so long. After which Leonard emerges as a "new man" who has taken charge of his life and has purged himself of the "bad faith". The paradox of this relationship being the comfort and security of it, but also the turmoil and horror that is innate to the relationship. However, it could be argued that the emancipation Leonard achieved by killing Teddy was set in motion when he first wrote down Teddy's license plate, in the film's conclusion and the story's beginning, and in that sense it was that action, not killing John G, which was truly authentic.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Breakfast in the Big Society.

The Evening Standard has recently boasted of having hit the £1 million milestone as part of efforts to establish the Dispossessed Fund, the paper also featured a list of leading donors including the asset-stripping retail tycoon Philip Green and Maurice Saatchi - who one wrote If this is Conservatism, I am Conservative. The front page story brought to mind the phrase "Big Society" churned out by David Cameron's campaign machine. If you've forgotten about the term, since we've had over 100 days of a Con-Dem Coalition, it was a pillar of Cameron's speeches as the Conservative Party walked into the General Election on a campaign of "Change". The Tory vision of a "Big Society" includes community action and social responsibility as it's foundation. In raising £1 million for London's dispossessed, the Evening Standard has demonstrated such social responsibility.

The notion of the "Big Society" is in stark contrast to the "Broken Britain" phenomenon the right-wing press has spat out to bring popular anxieties - of welfare dependency, teenage pregnancy and binge drinking - together under a party-platform on which a leader can rail against 'New Labour'. The Conservatives have latched onto the idea that Britain is broken and have used it to propel themselves forward, presenting a vision of society which is "big" in the sense that government is "smaller" than it used to be. The logic of the "Big Society" is that charities, community organisers and volunteers will take on the tasks of "Big Government". This explains Gove's "free schools" paid for by tax-payer money siphoned from the funds for free school meals, let alone the talk of "milk-snatching", as a desire to "empower" communities by letting them "decide" (and pay for) what their children eat for lunch - not so rich kids can have access to the best resources that tax-payers can buy, of course not.

The Dispossessed Fund is not an instance of the cuts-driven "Big Society" but it is an example of the kind of community action which David Cameron is in favour of, which would clarify why he praised the fund - a meaningless gesture in itself. The Dispossessed Fund will raise money to help London's poorest via hundreds of grass-roots charities active in five key areas: education; getting people into work; improving mental/physical health; helping the homeless, pensioners and the working poor; tackling gang-related crime. Notice that all of these areas should be the duty of the state, as well as society, and charities are an insufficient means to such problems as poverty. Yes, charitable giving and voluntarism are better than nothing. But there is more at work in the kind of charity that the Evening Standard is indulging in, the kind praised by the Con-Dems.

This is not the kind of "creative capitalism" practiced by George Soros and Bill Gates, in their day jobs they accumulate wealth and property - benefiting greatly from the public-sector and enormous tax-cuts along the way - but give away some of the money to charity in their private lives. It is closer to the kind of consumerism which has redemption, in the form of charity, built into it - the kind practiced by Starbucks and Waitrose. In buying fair trade goods, organic food, clothes from a charity shop etc, you feels better about being a consumer and taking part in passive consumption. This is part of propelling the system onwards as it exploits. Starbucks might be "fairer" to the coffee farmers and the children of Guatemala, but such "fairness" is limited and insufficient in improving the conditions to which such children are born to. It is itself dependent on the exploitation of places like Guatemala to increase revenue, there needs to be impoverished people to give charity to in this system.

This sort of consumerism is almost obligatory in today's world, especially as a leftist or even a liberal you are obligated to engage in consumerism to redeem yourself of living in a capitalist society. Even though the aim of the social democratic reforms, out of which the welfare state emerged in Britain during the late 1940s, was to ensure that the people would not have to rely on the "kindness of strangers" to survive if they themselves could not afford adequate health-care and food etc. Whereas buying a coffee from Starbucks to help the impoverished prolongs the suffering of such people, it does not tackle the real conditions which resulted in their poverty and ultimately is part of the problem. Despite the best efforts of the Evening Standard and Starbucks, among others, the improvement of conditions for the poor does not justify capitalism as even in the slave trade some slaves were treated better and conditions improved.

If we were serious about ending poverty and dealing with the inequalities that plague our society, we would be pushing for full employment, a rejuvenated welfare state, the tight regulation and taxation of "Big Business". The kind of "Big Government" that has existed under 'New Labour' was not a progressive force in British society, it exerted state-power at the benefit of private-power. The "Big Society" is at best an example of "liberal communism", in the sense that it is proposed to achieve radical goals of equality (e.g. solidarity) through liberal means (e.g. public spending cuts). Essentially a utopian idea which quickly saw it's own arm off when put into practice. But that is a very generous and forgiving description to say the least, it might be more apt to sum it up as an instance of Cameron's conservatism - "One World Conservatism" - or, as I like to think of it,  Thatcherism without the penis.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Fear and Loathing in Arizona.

The Home of the Brave?

 The Arizona Senate Bill 1070 may have a soft and cuddly sounding name, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods act, but on closer inspection the bill could have been a proposal by the American Nazi Party. As the act obliges police officers to demand proof of citizenship from people who "look" like illegal immigrants, if such a person cannot produce registration documents on the spot they can face time in prison. The bill was actually a Republican proposal signed by Jan Brewer nee Drinkwine the Republican Governor of Arizona. At the same time, there has been a wave of fear-mongering using immigration and multiculturalism to rile up the masses with the aim of securing a Republican victory in November. The claim that illegal immigrants are the source of the increase in crime in Arizona is a favourite method of doing so.

Even though crime is at it's lowest since 1971, falling 23% in the last decade alone as illegal immigration has increased by 100%. But on goes the fear-mongering, politicians like Jan Brewer and even John McCain have claimed that illegal immigration is a source of gang activity, drug dealing and murder. Out of 170,000 people picked up by the Tucson Border Patrol this year only 1% have been charged with crimes related to drugs. The claims that over 60% of murders in Phoenix involve illegal immigrants are not recognised by any police department or by the FBI. Equally false is the estimation that 9,000 Americans who are killed by illegal immigrants every year. Republican politician Steve King is responsible for propagating such a falsity, King's reference is to the 2005 GAO Report - which lacks any such statistic. Another fallacious claim is that the majority of Latinos support the bill, when 70% of Latino-Americans oppose the bill.

This fear-mongering has enabled hard-right Republicans to gain prominence in the media as anti-immigration candidates, appealing to the prejudices of many Americans and have been competing with one another to see who can be the most brutal on the issue. Barry Wong, a Republican candidate for the Arizona Corp. Commission, has pledged he'll shut off the utilities of people who can't produce papers proving their citizenship. While others, like John McCain, are content with merely pushing to deprive illegal immigrants of birth certificates, for children born in the US, and the minimal level of health-care. Even though the 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship to people born in the United States. But the Tea Parties have gotten involved and have been arguing that the 14th Amendment does not extend to the children of illegal immigrants, as such people are outside of the jurisdiction of the US.

The Land of the Free?
However, in 1898 the US Supreme Court ruled that Wong Kim Ark was an American citizen because he was born in the United States. In doing so the US Supreme Court set a precedent that people born in the US are American citizens, with the exclusion of the children of diplomats and foreign soldiers. Wong had travelled to China to see his family and was then blocked from re-entering the US. The reason being that in 1892 a racial exclusion act had been enacted, banning the Chinese from migrating to the US. At the time the "Gold Rush" was coming to an end and many Americans found themselves out of work and living in poverty. Chinese immigrants became a scapegoat for the high unemployment which resulted from the end of that era. The US government passed the exclusion act to pander to the anger against the early Chinese settlers.

Furthermore, the United States is a nation of immigrants, the only indigenous people in North America have been marginalised since Columbus landed and dubbed them "Indians" because he thought he was in India. The rest are the descendents of immigrants who crossed the Atlantic from the old world, mostly of European origin but chattel slavery dragged many Africans to the country. Later came Irish, Jewish and Chinese settlers, who were subject to discrimination upon arrival. Today it is mostly Latinos and Arabs who are settling in the US, both of which have become targets of scapegoating and discrimination. Typically people settling in the US are fleeing oppression and poverty, this was true about the Jews fleeing pogroms and it's true about the Mexicans fleeing the economic destruction wrought in Mexico by NAFTA - which is the reason that Clinton started militarising the border in 1994.

So many the illegal immigrants are fleeing poverty, mostly into states which used to be part of Mexico until the 1840s. Even though 25% of the Mexican economy is heroin, it's fair to say that most illegal immigrants are not drug mules specifically because there are easier ways to enter the country than across the border. Take one of the tunnels used by the cartels to smuggle in narcotics, some even have air-conditioning and lighting. Even though the amount of illegal immigrants that have been captured and deported has increased under Obama. People considered "foreign" are being used as a scapegoat for the wage stagnation of the last 30 years, as well as double-figure unemployment and the declining quality of health-care. When really such problems are a product of an unstable economic system centred around "Corporate America".

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Difficult Decisions.

To say that the cabinet led by David Cameron has been busy lately is euphemistic, this government is suffering from hyperactivity and has taken advantage of the small window of opportunity open to them. Reform, either radical or reactionary, is best pursued in the early days, while your opponents are weak, to ensure that the legislation can be rammed through despite any public opposition. Since Labour has been preoccupied with presenting themselves as a socialist party once more - never mind the upcoming and mediocre leadership contest - the Con-Dems have had enough time to kick start the class war. It was early days when Cameron unveiled 23 bills (and one draft bill), which is more than the 15 bills that Roosevelt rammed through during his first 100 days.

The Con-Dems like to describe their reforms as "progressive" and "radical", even Melanie Phillips called the coalition "social democratic", but nothing could be further from fact and closer to fiction. These reforms that seem to have emerged on a weekly basis are deeply reactionary on closer inspection. Cameron is intent on continuing, if not completing, the neoliberal programme of privatisation and deregulation, lower taxes for the rich and lower public spending at a higher cost to the poor. Tories and Liberals are indistinguishable from one another as they claim that these spending cuts will not hurt the most vulnerable. It's hard to see how £11 billion cuts to benefits and a 20% VAT hike will not harm working-people, let alone the under-class. This is just the tip of the shit-heap mislabelled "radical".

The coalition government have unveiled plans for reforms of education, health-care and housing, which the Con-Dems promise will not harm the vulnerable. But the cuts to housing will probably drive thousands of poor people out of cities and onto the outskirts of cities. The "free schools" that Michael Gove talks about will be propped up by private companies and such schools will get the best resources, because they can afford it, at the expense of the rest of students in the country. The cuts to benefits and national insurance could lead to less unemployment, but the stagnation of wages for working-class people would continue for years to come - which are effectively lower wages due to inflation and the VAT hike. In a nutshell, the working-class and the under-class will suffer most during these cuts.

The current government consists of 18 millionaires, 19 men and 22 white people, it's a product of affirmative action for rich-white-men essentially. To call such a coalition "radical", or even "progressive", is to demean such a word. In spite of this, the Con-Dems insist that they are "progressive" whilst pretending that the decisions to slash and burn, which they made before the election, are "unavoidable" and "difficult". The words of Margaret Thatcher come to mind "There is no alternative." Even though government debt is at around 70% of GDP today, it should be remembered that this is not unusual, in between 1920 and 1960 we always had debt over 100% of GDP. Particularly after the Second World War, which left us with a government debt that made up 250% of GDP, but we still created the welfare state and nationalised several industries.

The Con-Dems also claim that government spending under Brown was unsustainable, which was true in a sense and false in another. It was unsustainable as the recession had led to a massive drop in tax revenue, which led to the "massive deficit", but it was sustainable in the sense that tax revenues would rise following the recovery. An estimated £100 billion is lost through loopholes in the tax system and active evasion every year, closing such loopholes and cracking down on evasion should be a major priority. Increasing taxes on the wealthy (a mortal sin in our economy) to rejuvenate the manufacturing industry, which could be used to provide jobs and training for the unemployed, whilst extending and improving public services for the Common Good. This probably wouldn't shrink the deficit immediately, it could set in motion the "shrinking" over a longer period of time and hold those responsible for the crash accountable.

Tony Benn, Caroline Lucas, John Pilger and Salma Yaqoob, among others, were right to advocate mass-participation in active resistance to the cuts. The social democratic reforms of the 1930s and 40s were imposed to keep the masses at bay, to prevent a revolution. But that was because there is a strong labour movement in those days and there was the Soviet Union, which was still young in those days and represented that revolutions could succeed. Today the unions have been decimated, the Soviet Union is gone, which is why the need for change is not going to be followed without a serious "push" from below. Change comes from the grass-roots upwards and can shake the very foundations of society. It's not going to be easy, but we must act now. The remnants of the welfare state, particularly benefits, education and health-care, are under threat.

Related Links:
100 Days of Dave
How Dave Hit the Ground Running
The Time to Organise is Now 
Countering the Cuts Myths
Shameful Health Gap
The Great Tax Parachute

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Economy is Ideology.

Rob Ager is a film analyst and specialises in psychology, so it's fair to assume that he's no layman when it comes to Kubrick or Freud. Ager has reviewed such films as The Shining, The Big Lebowski and Blade Runner, providing internet-surfers everywhere with an interesting and enthralling take on cinema. He's explored the political themes of Kubrick's films, finding important messages relating to the genocide of Native Americans but also a strange conspiratorial strain in Kubrick's work. Politically, from what I can gather, Rob Ager is a supporter of UKIP and a fan of Antony C Sutton, which might place Ager on the libertarian right as opposed to the nationalist base that UKIP often panders to. Ager's political leanings are further outlined in his articles, particularly Economy versus Ideology (see here) in which Ager argues that capitalism is the absence of ideology.

In Economy versus Ideology, Rob Ager claims that ideologies are philosophical, spiritual and moral doctrines which would mean that capitalism is not an ideology. The implication being that capitalism does not include philosophical, spiritual and moral doctrines. The intellectual patriarch of capitalism was Adam Smith, a classical liberal economist and a moral philosopher of the Enlightenment, and the ideas of a free-market are embedded deep in liberal thought. The liberal conception of freedom, as the freedom to do as you like provided you harm no one, is built into capitalism and advocated by libertarians like Friedrich von Hayek. Early liberals like John Locke were defenders of the private property rights, but property in the sense of land, water, businesses, hospitals etc.

Liberals are supposedly dedicated to a pluralistic vision of society, in which individuals are free to live as they want provided they do not harm others. Theoretically, a liberal society leaves room for people to live their lives as they see fit. But in such a society you have to accept certain doctrines, you must accept all of the rights and freedoms espoused. The right to private property is a perfect instance, what about people who think that education and health-care should not be run privately but publicly for the Common Good. These views are against a human right, in theory, which is a central piece of liberalism and by extension capitalism. The claim that liberalism and capitalism are neutral seems absurd since both make assertions as to how people should live.

Interestingly, Ager labels the claim that "democracy has prevailed" over ideologies as "misleading" and suggests that a more accurate term would be that "science, industry and economics have prevailed". This is ideology at it's purest, as ideology can and often does imitate the form of a science - e.g. Marxist science in the Soviet Union. Ideology is reflexive, it can redouble on itself, presenting itself as neutral knowledge which opposes itself to common "ideology", as Ager does in his own article. Both claims are ideological since "democracy" has prevailed in the guise of a polyarchical system, as an extension of state-capitalism, and the same is true of economics, industry and science. All of which have "prevailed" in a form which is embedded in the dominant ideology - e.g. liberal economics, evolutionary science which sanctions egoism, industry as state-subsidised and deregulated.

I think it's about time that we put forward a definition of capitalism. Capitalism is a socio-economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods, it is characterised by the free-market and the profit incentive. This is a vision of society, not how it runs naturally, that has developed in Western thought. It could be argued that capitalism is the absence of ideologies other than itself, as it seems unlikely that the freedom of individuals would extend to the freedom of breaking apart the dominant ideology to put in place one which they favour. Ager should know this himself, as UKIP stands for liberal freedoms and rights but only as part of a vision of an independent United Kingdom in which the veil is illegal and all citizens are obligated to speak English.

An ideology is a system of beliefs, values and theories about the world and how it works. But it does not necessarily require the belief of it's participants. Take South Africa, you didn't have to be a racist to be complicit in the racist ideology that was dominant for so long in that country. Say you come along a bench designated only for white people to sit on, your immediate reaction is one of disgust as you're totally opposed to Apartheid and white supremacy. But because you're a tired person with white skin you sit down on the bench anyway. In doing so, the dominant ideology is maintained and perpetuated without your consent or dutiful belief. Capitalism is even more subtle than fascism and communism, which were crude in the imposition of their ideology. For instance, the free-market may appear to be freedom from interfering doctrines but it in itself is a doctrine.

Capitalism is an ideology in the sense that it includes a vision for society, based on assumptions about human nature and theories about the way the world works. Competition and the profit motive are held up as natural ways of running the world, as we have evolved through self-interested behaviour we should act to further our self-interest. This is the reason that CEOs read The Selfish Gene, liberal capitalism sets the bar low for human nature asserting that we are naturally selfish. Economists like Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, the ideologists of liberal economics, have shaped the world as it we know it. The mass-privatisation of state-industries has largely been down to the theories they propagated throughout their careers, this has radically altered society transforming it into an arrangement, prone to malfunction, between atomised individuals.

It's also interesting that Ager mentions that ideologies, like fascism and communism, were used to manipulate the masses into passivity to the growing gap between the rich and the poor. In Britain we're more unequal than we were 40 years ago, wages for working-class people have risen by 50% in between 1997 and 2009 while income for the upper-classes has increased by around 300%. It was the economic policies of the last 30 years, which were significantly more right-wing, that have resulted in this inequality. The way the Republicans and Democrats in the US, as well as the Labourites and Conservatives, have promised greater freedom and equality through such policies as deregulation. Interestingly in Ager's article, capitalism is presented as a way for the working-class to empower itself but nothing could be further from the truth.

Related Links:
Economy versus Ideology by Rob Ager
New Labour, New Fascism, New Racism by Rob Ager
Man-made Global Warming is not Scientific Consensus by Rob Ager
Antony C Sutton, Speeches and Interviews

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

In Defence of the N-word.

Since the title of this article is provocative I want to point out that my stance on the repugnant slur "nigger" is that such a word should have no place in a civilised society. Unfortunately, we have an uncivilised past of extreme racism, misogyny and homophobia (among a whole host of other ugly prejudices) in which women were subjugated, gays executed, Africans enslaved and Jews persecuted. Thus, I have utilised one of the relics of a deeply primitive era, which we have yet to leave behind us, not to endorse the connotations it carries but to defend its re-appropriation - as well as a defence of political correctness. Political correctness is often slammed in the right-wing press as "cultural Marxism"; as a hypocritical and new form of totalitarianism that is eroding our freedom of speech. Because it's the freedom to call gays "faggots" and women "cunts" that is an invaluable freedom in the West.

Out of all the straw-man arguments against political correctness, which use the most ridiculous of examples, the one which I rate lowest takes the use of the n-word in rap music as a double-standard. "Why can't we use it if they do?" The assumption behind this is that there was an equality of standards to begin with, which is simply not true. If "we" are white people and "they" are black people then the old division of race is enforced once more. As the master-slave dynamic remains at least in the form of connotations to the words "white" and "black", there were no equal standards to begin with - as it was Africans who were enslaved. It should be obvious, though to some it isn't sadly, that whites can't say the n-word simply because the word is offensive. That is not a double-standard, partly because it is rich-white-men who have had a privileged role in the world for centuries.

The re-appropriation of the n-word, as commonly heard in rap music - which is itself politically incorrect - has different connotations as it is spelled differently, as "nigga", it is often a term of endearment. The reason that black rappers can use the word is down to the historical oppression and exploitation of Africans, which extended to the decimation of African culture and the African civilisation. This went beyond slavery and went as far as renaming human beings after their "masters" as if they were subhuman, as if they were property. This decimation went as far as the forced conversion to Christianity and colonialists dictating how "they" have sex. In blunt terms, when a white person uses the n-word it's part of a history of white supremacy and is not a form of re-appropriation. That being said, I would prefer it if this word were simply left to fade away but it's because of the history behind it that it lingers on.

Politically Incorrect.

In the video above Michael Savage, a right-wing shockjock, makes some despicable remarks to a prank caller and ended up losing his job at MSNBC over this incident. Notice that those who argue against political correctness use straw-man arguments taking examples in which people are barred from saying "black board" for the sake of offence. Then all people like Bruce Forsyth have to do to defend the use of the word "paki" is to claim it's "political correctness" that is out of control to claim the word is racist. This is not only absurd, but obscene. It's a way for people like Richard Littlejohn to whip up a rage amongst the working-classes against ethnic minorities - who are supposedly treated "too well". Ultimately it's a technique to get working-class people to act against their own interests. The likes of Rupert Murdoch, the enemies of political correctness are typically the friends of mass-privatisation.

A vote for the Conservatives or UKIP is a vote against political correctness, but it's also a vote for lower taxes for the rich and a smaller public sector for the poor. It's a vote for a deregulated banking sector and lower wages for working-people everywhere. By whipping up a furore amongst the masses over local councils banning England flags, and other ludicrous tales, right-wing media outlets are trying to get people to act against their interests. They use examples that almost always false or distorted to support their conclusions - that the n-word isn't racist and that the c-word isn't misogynous etc. - because there is no rationality behind using such words and no justification for it. We don't say "black board" anymore because we have white boards nowadays. The so-called "ban" on English flags is actually a benign warning from the police that flags (of any nation) can be a safety hazard on cars.

As Stewart Lee once said political correctness is little more than a clumsily institutionalised form of politeness, which has downsides too but it's a lot better than the time when people could make all kinds of obscene comments. Before political correctness, in Britain, we lived in a country where people like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson were allowed on television to spout jokes that pick fun at gays, women, ethnic minorities and the disabled. That was a time when we could watch shows like The Black and White Minstrel Show, in which white actors "blacked up" for the sake of 20 years of "family entertainment". Not to mention the racist claims made by Enoch Powell about immigration from the West Indies, that it would allow the black man to enslave the white man. It was a time when the Conservative Party ran a campaign in Birmingham with the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Liberal or Labour." Things are so much better today, we are a much more civilised country.