This is what American Education looks like

November 14, 2011

Police brutalize UC Berkeley students on November 9

Peacefully and non-violently, the students attempted to set up an Occupy Wall St encampment on Sproul Plaza, right exactly where (among so many others) Mario Savio spoke in the 1960s. And look at how odious the machine is today! I sent the following letter to the despicable Chancellor Birgeneau who should resign now, both for the indignity of this violence and for his own lack of any minimal respect for the democracy which these students have somehow learned to practice, despite him and his peers: the 1% who rule us and treat us like dogs.

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Chancellor Birgeneau -

As a native Californian and UC Berkeley PhD graduate, I too have a stake in UCB. I follow closely what happens there. Today I read the following statement that you made to the extended UCB community:

“It is unfortunate that some protesters chose to obstruct the police by linking arms and forming a human chain to prevent the police from gaining access to the tents. This is not non-violent civil disobedience.  By contrast, some of the protesters chose to be arrested peacefully; they were told to leave their tents, informed that they would be arrested if they did not, and indicated their intention to be arrested. They did not resist arrest or try physically to obstruct the police officers’ efforts to remove the tent.  These protesters were acting in the tradition of peaceful civil disobedience, and we honor them.”

This is ONE OF THE MOST HYPOCRITICAL STATEMENTS  I have ever read. The idea that linking arms is not non-violent civil disobedience flies so far in the face of common sense that it is sufficient to condemn you entirely as an administrator. Far from honoring anyone, you have cast immense shame on yourself and have committed a physical and verbal assault every aspiration and ideal that the people of California have invested in OUR university.

In your actions one clearly sees that you choose to represent and enact a police state rather than a community of democratic debate. If you believe that the civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King is reducible to blind obedience to the orders of men wielding clubs, then you have severely misunderstood the meaning and power of the civic philosophies which have been elaborated and taught within OUR public university. Such a profound lack of understanding disqualifies you from the position you hold, and I call on you to step down from it. No other action could remove the shame of the statement you have made.

In the absence of your immediate resignation, I sincerely hope that one day soon I will have a chance to link arms along with thousands or tens of thousands of others to protest the tyranny that your administration manifests.

Brian Holmes

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1968 IN THE USA

November 8, 2011

Political Crisis in the Keynesian-Fordist Economy

The fourth session of the collaborative seminar THREE CRISES: 30s – 70s – Today was held at Mess Hall on Saturday Oct. 29 — another great discussion with an amazing lecture on the San Francisco State Strike by Sarah Lewison. The seminar materials, readings, recordings and a pdf version of this text are available here. The archive of readings is particularly good for this session.

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The second major crisis of the 20th century began in the late 1960s and stretched all the way to the early ‘80s. It was an overaccumulation crisis, caused by the spread of Fordist production methods to Western Europe and Japan, resulting in a saturation of global markets and a decline of the profit rate in the mass manufacturing industries. It was also a crisis of Keynesian deficit financing: repeated attempts to stimulate the economy through counter-cyclical spending gave rise to stagflation, or the combination of stagnant growth and ever-increasing inflation. The period was punctuated by what are usually seen as economic events: the onset of wage-price spirals in 1966; the breakdown of the Bretton-Woods exchange-rate system in 1971-1973; the two oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; and finally, the Volcker interest-rate shock and government-induced recession of 1979-82, which decimated entire sectors of industry and ushered in the era of financially driven neoliberalism. Yet none of these events were simply economic. The crisis of Keynesian Fordism was intensely political. It came to a climax in advance of the major economic trends, when seemingly isolated struggles from around the world suddenly revealed their interrelatedness, if not their unity. And this time the strictly political aspects of the crisis were not far away in Europe, as they had been during Great Depression. Instead they converged on the United States.

To grasp this convergence, consider a series of posters printed in Cuba from 1967 onward by the OSPAAAL, or the Organization of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The first shows a white policeman threatening a black protester with a club. The text is the word “NOW!” – referring to the civil rights slogan “Freedom Now,” used by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the US. Another from 1971 shows an upraised black fist and reads “Free all political prisoners Solidarity with the AfroAmerican People.” It commemorates August 18, declared a day of solidarity after the Watts riots in 1965. A third, apparently from 1967, is the most striking. It shows the face of a black man with a machine gun framed within the borders of the United States, with a text reading: “We will destroy imperialism from the outside/They will destroy it from the inside.” For Third World revolutionaries galvanized by the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the most encouraging signs on the international horizon, beyond the resistance of the Vietnamese themselves, were undoubtedly the great uprisings of Detroit and Newark in the summer of 1967, followed a year later by a surge of urban and campus unrest that appeared to be tearing the US superpower apart on its home ground.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Solution to the 1%

November 6, 2011

Refuse to let them be the ruling class anymore

 

For any of my European friends who might not know, Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin got elected with the support of the right-wing billionaire Koch brothers. He is pursuing the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which seeks among other things to entirely get rid of collective bargaining rights for public employees. He wants to cut $900 million from school budgets next year as part of a general austerity plan for the state. Massive protests against Walker’s anti-union law were a prefiguration of today’s Occupy Wall Street movement. In a strange and dark twist, Wisconsin — which was formerly known as a very progressive state, and still is for half the people living there — just passed a law permitting the carrying of concealed weapons. In the US where a very deep left-right split is now emerging, this kind of law is now the norm. However, in Wisconsin it will explicitly be legal to carry concealed weapons in the State Capitol building. What can that possibly mean?

Some people in Chicago do not wait to find out what is at the end of the ultra-rightwing tunnel. When Walker came to a rich businessmen’s club named, bizzarely, the Union League — which is just a few steps away from the Board of Trade and Federal Reserve Bank where the Occupy Chicago protests are ongoing — a group of Teachers’ Union members and affiliates of Stand Up Chicago bought tickets to the event. And then when Scott Walker began to speak… well, just watch the video! One of the most fabulous bits of direct action I have ever seen!

Meanwhile here in Chicago, as the protesters said, “corporations and bought-off politicians clamor to find ways to grant a $100 million tax break to the Mercantile Exchange, one of the most profitable companies in the state, while social services are being slashed, while workers’ pensions are threatened, and homelessness, poverty, and joblessness continue to rise.”

CinEducación – Chilean video platform

November 3, 2011

Sometimes you get beautiful messages from distant places, sent by people you don’t know but would like to meet. This is one of them. Gracias, Veronica Cordeira. Gracias, Ricardo Greene, y suerte con el proyecto! –> http://www.cineducacion.cl

CINEDUCACION

Share your view

In April 2011, Chilean students started a national social movement aimed to achieve a free of charge and better education for everyone. Issues such as profit-oriented educational institutions and unequal access to opportunities were among the urgent-but-silenced topics they brought to public debate; through them, they wanted to challenge not only the educational system but the whole socio-economic model the country adopted during Pinochet’s dictatorship. According to the last national survey, their demands are currently supported by 80% of the population, revealing a widely spread social unrest amongst Chileans.

Standing from an active and engaged position with this social movement, we at Overlap -a Laboratory of Audiovisual Anthropology- have created a project called “CinEducación”, which can be translated both as “Film+Education” and “Without Education”. It is a collective digital platform designed to be used as a space of information, creation and public debate regarding education. The project was initially inspired by May 68′, when in the midst of the student revolts a group of French filmmakers -Godard, Resnais, Garrell and Chris Marker, from whom we have already received his active support- came out on the street to document the events. They produced short audiovisual essays, which later were projected under the name of “Cinétracts”. Like those filmmakers, we want to align ourselves with the student’s demands, but in addition, we’d like to take advantage of the internet and the ease of access to cameras in order to widen the call to the whole population, and not just to professionals. Despite the number of renowned filmmakers already engaged with the project (over 20, including Patricio Guzmán, Gael García Bernal, Pablo Larraín, Ignacio Agüero, Willem Dafoe and Cristián Jiménez), our main purpose is to open a broad space where every creation is welcome and valued, and where no audiovisual experience is required.

We would like to invite you to be a part of this collective platform, sharing your own view about what is happening in Chile and around the world regarding education. It doesn’t matter where you live, which language you speak, if you are a professional filmmaker or a citizen armed with a phone camera; what matters is having something to say and to use audiovisual language to share it with us. Animations, collages, productions, voice over, text and all imaginable resources will be welcome. CinEducación is a collaborative project which starts in Chile and is opened to diverse approaches, so take your camera and speak up!

How to participate?

Simply produce a video of between 1 and 4 minutes, upload it to youtube or vimeo and register on http://www.cineducacion.cl. On our website you will be able to watch, comment and share all the material we’ve received. Starting next December, we’ll allow anyone to make a film by selecting, sorting and cuting the shared videos, thus challenging the idea of a unique and vertical editor. We are also organizing a series of free screenings at public spaces and cultural and educational centers, and next year we will produce an interactive DVD and a 90 minute documentary film with selected videos, which will be screened on movie theaters and sent to international film festivals. All published material will be licensed under Creative Commons, and we are currently working on getting funds to open an English version of the online platform.

In addition to inviting you to collaborate by sending videos, we encourage you to work with us by spreading the word on this project between friends and contacts.

If you have any questions do not hesitate to contact us.
We look forward to having you on board.

Ricardo Greene
Coordinator -CinEducación
http://www.cineducación.cl / @cineducacion

Coordinator -OVERLAP, Laboratory of Audiovisual Anthropology

Metropolitan strike

November 1, 2011

more info: http://www.occupyoakland.org

definitely see the incredible brutality of the Oakland police who sparked all this

Unlike a traditional strike, the idea of a metropolitan strike is this: union members who can collectively cease working and citizenry who can either skip out or don’t have a job come together in a massive presence on the streets that effectively shuts down the whole metropolitan area, so that everyone who wants is free to join the protest. In Paris in 1995 this was done for an entire month with the transportation workers on strike, soon followed by municipal and government employees. In that way business as usual is disrupted, the city becomes a social and political space, peoples’ lives change, established values are brought into question and better ones are created on the spot, through reciprocity and solidarity. I was there, I walked and rode a bicycle and talked with strangers on the street and it transformed all our lives, for the better. Pushed back the right-wing gov’t too.

Could it be done in Oakland? No one as yet knows, but the list of striking unions is lengthening. A recent “Declaration of solidarity with neighborhood reclamations” (copy below) promises support from the Occupy movement for taking over some of the huge amounts of disused buildings around the city. With the mayor weakened by the shocking abuses of the police force, there is a chance for people to reclaim urban space and set up new ways of inhabiting the shattered urban fabric of neoliberal Oakland. It may be that this working class city, with its strategic docks and its large and angry and militant multi-ethnic population, is not only ready to liberate itself from an out-of-control police force, but also to liberate us all from apathy and impotence, by showing that people power exists and that direct political action can change your life. These are impressive times. It could even be that in the words of Leonard Cohen, “Democracy is comin’ / to the U – S – A…”

Declaration of Solidarity with Neighborhood Reclamations

Occupy Oakland, in solidarity with the Occupy movement and with the
local community, has established the principle of claiming for open use
the open space that has been kept from us. We are committed to
helping this practice continue and grow. Here in Oakland, thousands of
buildings owned by city, banks, and corporations stand idle and
abandoned. At the same time social services such as child and
healthcare, education, libraries and community spaces are being
defunded and eliminated.

Occupy Oakland supports the efforts of people in all Oakland
neighborhoods to reclaim abandoned properties for use to meet their
own immediate needs. Such spaces are already being occupied and
squatted unofficially by the dispossessed, the marginalized, by many of
the very people who have joined together here in Oscar Grant Plaza to
make this a powerful and diverse movement.

We commit to providing political and material support to neighborhood
reclamations, and supporting them in the face of eviction threats or
police harassment. In solidarity with the global occupation movement,
we encourage the transformation of abandoned spaces into resource
centers toward meeting urgent community needs that the current
economic system cannot and will not provide.

http://www.occupyoakland.org/occupationcommunity-solidarity-declaration


Listen to this man from America

October 23, 2011

Chris Hedges, the former NY Times war correspondent who took a stand against the war in Iraq, knows more about what’s wrong with this country and is more articulate about it than any other person alive. In this interview he admits that he never imagined what it would take to actually change the system. He recognizes the strength of a movement that can be leaderless because it is based on principles that all can uphold and that no one can appropriate as personal property and power. Such a movement can grow without being instrumentalized, coopted, reduced to the travesty that defines our totally corrupt society.

Listen to this guy. Chris Hedges has expressed the blackest version of our common fate that I ever heard anyone put into words. Today he is optimistic. What he sees, what hundreds of thousands of people see, is that we now have a chance to bring down a system whose irrational greed has alienated almost everyone. For him, a cop in a blue uniform is just another member of the 99% who will someday soon be unable to do his job anymore — unable to repress us any further.

Yes, some cops are killers, that is the reality. I held a sign today in Chicago asking “Why do police kill citizens?” I went to the Hilton Hotel on Michigan Avenue where a gala dinner was being held for police chiefs around the world. Undoubtedly they exchanged their experiences to plan for the repression here during the upcoming meeting of the G-20. In Chicago 17 people have been killed by the police this year. It’s a race war and up to now, no one says a word. But not anymore, and we will not forget Troy Davis. The system that now drives everyone into poverty and that exacts its victims from among the poorest is now becoming nakedly visible in its injustice, even to the people who are directly charged with upholding its laws. If Chris Hedges thinks this thing is gonna fly, so do I. If he thinks we can break the system’s legitimacy to the point where the police lay down their guns, then I want to try it. Let’s take a historic chance, and spend the next few years driving the 1% out of power.

Right now they are arresting hundreds of people in Grant Park in Chicago. Next time we will be thousands and they will not be able to do it anymore.

American Dreams

October 19, 2011

Keynesian Fordism as Global Social Compact

Last Saturday October 15 we held the third session of the autonomous seminar THREE CRISES: 30s – 70s – Today, with presentations by Brian Holmes, Jerome Gand and Heather Marie. After which we all made signs and went out to Occupy!

My text begins with the disjunct between market-oriented production and social reproduction that led to the Great Depression. It then explores how the US economy was finally stabilized through the total mobilization of WWII.

Three sections follow the development of the new hegemonic order inside the country and then throughout the non-communist world of the postwar period (roughly, 1945-73). The first deals with the organization of production; the second, with the shaping of a global monetary and military order; and the third, with the notion of “effective demand” and the feedback loops of consumer society. The point is to reveal the deep structures of integration and neutralization that put an end to the progressive social transformations of the 1930s, and established the United States as a liberal empire.

A final section, entitled “Hegemony and Dreamwork,” briefly suggests how a rebellious painter associated with the social realist schools of the political left, Jackson Pollock, could ultimately become an icon of cosmopolitan abstractionism – with a little help from a New York art critic and the CIA.

The seminar texts, readings and recordings can all be found at the Mess Hall site linked above. Because this text is long and intricate, I decided to make it available here as an illustrated pdf rather than a web page. Here it is:

American Dreams: Keynesian Fordism as Global Social Compact

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MEANWHILE, BACK IN CHICAGO

October 17, 2011

175 arrested for breathing together


Gene, I am gonna make this a kind of open letter, it’s more urgent to write publicly and privately at the same time. I’ll write to you what I’ll publish for everyone.

Urgent means last night, downtown in the park on Congress and Michigan, where a couple thousand people had marched from the corner of the Federal Reserve and the Board of Trade. Urgent means moving in public, speaking with and listening to people you don’t know: feeling the necessity of this movement as the tents go up and the word goes out that the idea is to stay, take this place, create a political heart that beats in this cold city of the corporations.

A group of us came direct from our seminar on Three Crises: 30s–70s–Today. We knew when we began planning it six months ago that “today” was no joke, this is a major crisis of capitalism, the kind that comes once every forty or fifty years. Only in a major crisis does the basis of the system nakedly show: exploitation, corruption, exclusion, domination. And only then, it seems, do all kinds of people think spontaneously and together, including with their bodies and their feet. These are moments that some of us prepare for, the now-time. We opened the seminar on September 17. Only that evening would we learn that the New York occupation had begun. Yes, it’s a good time, an important time, actual possibilities in the USA. At last there is a chance to do something, on the street, in writing, in art, in organizing, these are the days.



Last night was Saturday, and just a few days ago, on Monday, it was even bigger. We were thousands more in the city, coming in from five directions to converge on the Modern Wing of the Art Institute where the futures traders association were convening for a high-class drink. “Shame, Shame, Shame on you” roared the crowd from below. It was the teachers’ unions and the SEIU and the old lefties and the young Occupy Chicago types, a beautiful and powerful composition of social forces that made me feel the streets alive beneath my feet for the first time in years — the years since I returned to the USA. In such a demo the mothers come out with their kids (like Rozalinda and Liana). There is every kind of face and every age, I love it.

I had just gotten back from New York on that Monday afternoon, so I rushed to the foot of the Chicago Board of Trade where the crowd filled a plaza the size of Zuccotti Park aka Liberty Square. It was not so dense as in New York, but the drums and brass orchestras filled that little canyon between tall builidings. We looked up at the blankness of the place where the traders work with their machines, and then we took to the street. I wasn’t with Claire because she had decided to get symbolically arrested in front of the museum that lends its name (probably regretfully) to the school where she teaches. That’s exactly where things are at in the United States today: corrupt, totally corrupt, to the point where no one escapes. To not know it you have to make an effort, and receive a payoff. Which is the norm, the crushing norm. We knew it on Monday, not only because of seeing the traders up there in their glassy rooftop cafe, but also because of seeing the cops coming linked-arms up the street, pushing us off the street, with those horse-mounted bone-crackers right behind them. Resistance is futile. Shame, shame, shame on us! We have nothing in this country, no power, no public space, no free speech, no equality. “Police partout, justice nulle part” I would have said in an earlier life, but never have I seen it so true.

So there we were last night, second time in a week, at this big-small demo. Big for us in here in Zombieland USA where such things do not happen. Small against the backdrop of global trade, trillion-dollar collapses, transnational news ninjas, Presidents of Planet Fear. It’s about the courage of starting small, no? And the courage of not staying small. Avoiding the traps of manipulated violence is one way people hope to make this a lot bigger.

What I like in the Occupy movements is that people speak, individuals, lost souls emerging out of their labyrinths of passion and loss and deep disorientation, with a unique chance to speak as their only way out, their only thread. We had already been on this little plaza where General Assemblies are held, also on that night after the big Monday demo when all the union buses had already gone away. It was only maybe five hundreds then, a radical nakedness of co-presence with the huge skyscrapers at our backs. Some kid from nowhere who hadn’t made it, a young drunk who wasn’t proud, he told us not to repeat with the people’s mic because he wasn’t clever. But he knew exactly what he wanted to say. It was “dead end, no chance, doors closed, please try somewhere else”: what happens when there’s no place for you in the system. It’s strange to feel myself, over fifty years old, with accomplishments and self-discipline and a name that others recognize, reverberated in the speech of this honest kid. What it means to me: dead end for practical idealism, no chance for real cooperation, doors closed to care and solidarity, try somewhere else for your humanity. There’s no place for people like me in this system, that’s how I feel, stripped bare by the crisis like all the rest. It’s because the 1% have blocked all vision of anything beyond what they can grab, and that’s practically everything, the whole cookie.

The 1% is a name for the ruling class, it’s so obvious that the people who know don’t say it to the cameras. Everyone is understanding it as they connect the numbers to the lived experiences. We will have to find words, better words, but before speaking them out loud let’s get bigger.

The Tea Party started here in Chicago when some trader-turned reporter at the Mercantile Exchange started ranting about how all the people with repoed homes were just “losers.” This guy was saying class hatred on national television, he was shaking with excitement because he was really saying “dump the poor.” That’s true TV these days.

Occupiers prefer the human mic that amplifies some body’s speech with dozens and hundreds of others, speech that links breath in solidarity. Not because we don’t want to be heard through our streaming media, not because we don’t want to reach the thousands of speakers and writers and public figures who take up our causes. Just don’t want corporate media-speech — or politicians which are mostly the same thing — to block out the realities of this crisis. On Saturday night at Congress and Michigan, people were grabbing the mic of each other: “I’ve been here since day 4,” “I’m from the janitor’s union,” “We want art and music in our schools,” “Like all the immigrants my name is Maria.” The point was to start a revolution in the now-time. Start tonite with the tents, right here.

Well, it soon became obvious that the choice was not to leave or spend the night right here on the square. The choice was to leave or go to jail. Half the crowd chose to go to jail, but the other half didn’t choose to leave. Resistance is not futile. Hundreds of us stayed just a few yards away for long hours to chant and witness and stare down the police. At one point some tall guy, visibly shocked at the way the arrests were going down, started yelling, “They’re dehumanizing those people.” It was shockingly true. That guy was humanizing himself, and the rest of us. He was remembering something I’m sure he never saw in public space: the respect of one living person for another.

So the news from Athens — where unlike us they really know how to stop business as usual — is that slowly it’s all collapsing, the fabric of daily life is falling apart. And yet no one has a Plan B, there is no replacement for the system. It must be like in Argentina after the 2001 uprising: people filled the streets, police barricaded the stores, some banks went down but in the end, order returned. And although many things had changed for the better, the basic order remained the same.

I think we need a Plan B. I think it takes a tremendous amount of work. My intuition is that the only effective revolution would be an ethical surge in the universities, where people think and connect that thinking to action. I mean in engineering departments, in social sciences, in the deep connection between artistic fictions, philosophical concepts, and values made into concrete machines. I mean a revolution in the pilots’ seats of knowledge that builds another society. This used to be the very idea of Left intellectuals. I don’t buy the idea that we should only riot in the street. Just one thing though: there is no more time for a “long march through the institutions.”

Some guy in New York, he said, what’s important is our questions. What an intellectual does is bear witness. No, I think a collective intellectual actually comes up with Plan B. The A team has been doing it for a long time and the results are atrocious. To question and to bear witness are essential acts on the way to another reality.

Good luck, man.

 

The 1% fail to evict Liberty Square

October 14, 2011

[amazing video on the hypocrisy of the government-of-the-1%]

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“Once we have completed our cleanup and maintenance, we would ask that the Department assist Brookfield on an ongoing basis to ensure the safety of all those using and enjoying the Park. As you know, we have discussed this situation with you and/ or others under your command on a daily basis seeking assistance. The situation continues to worsen and we need your assistance to ensure public safety.”

These words conclude the Oct. 11 letter addressed by Richard B. “Ric” Clark to New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly (leaked letter here). Clark, representing the corporate owners, agreed with Kelly on a dawn raid to clear Zuccotti Park aka “Liberty Square,” where the Occupy Wall Street protests have been held for almost a month now. However, pressure from citizens (a petition with 300,000 signatures, NYC’s 311 service number flooded with calls) and more importantly, pressure from local officials caused him to withdraw his request, much to the chagrin of New York mayor/financial tycoon Bloomberg who was ready to move on the operation. The outstanding question is, what have Clark and the NYPD been discussing on a daily basis?

Media coverage of the park focuses on John E. Zuccotti, portrayed as an affable and generous “public servant” of Italian origins. However, like Clark today, Zuccotti was US Chairman of Brookfield Properties, the Canadian-based real-estate giant that owns the World Financial Center among endless other pieces of premium office property around the globe (for instance, they recently acquired a controlling position in the Chicago-based shopping-mall corporation, General Growth Properties). Brookfield is a major player in the real-estate operations of the transnational elite, carrying out what has been called “megagentrification,” or the process of total urban makeover for the needs of globalizing corporations. When Ric Clark engages in friendly discussions with the NYPD, it’s the 1% giving orders to its own law-enforcement arm, which as we have recently learned, it pays and controls directly.

The scandalous fact is that according to a must-read article by investigative journalist Pam Martens, Brookfield’s World Financial Center is among the clients of the NYPD’s “Paid Detail” program, which rents out off-duty policemen to whoever can afford them, for $37 an hour plus a 10% adminstrative fee going to the city. Wall Street is a major client. As Martens notes, “The taxpayer has paid for the training of the rent-a-cop, his uniform and gun, and will pick up the legal tab for lawsuits stemming from the police personnel following illegal instructions from its corporate master.” But maybe the recent $4.6 million “donation” by JPMorgan-Chase to the New York City Police Foundation will mop up any inconvenient legal fees that might be incurred through public-private police abuse?

At the heart of her article, Martens explains:

When the infamously mismanaged Wall Street firm, Lehman Brothers, collapsed on September 15, 2008, its bankruptcy filings in 2009 showed it owed money to 21 members of the NYPD’s Paid Detail Unit…. Other Wall Street firms that are known to have used the Paid Detail include Goldman Sachs, the World Financial Center complex which houses financial firms, and the New York Stock Exchange…. On September 8, 2004, Robert Britz, then President and Co-Chief Operating Officer of the New York Stock Exchange, testified as follows to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services:

“…we have implemented new hiring standards requiring former law enforcement or military backgrounds for the security staff… We have established a 24-hour NYPD Paid Detail monitoring the perimeter of the data centers… We have implemented traffic control and vehicle screening at the checkpoints. We have installed fixed protective planters and movable vehicle barriers.”

This is what our country has come to under the rule of the 1%: militarized urban enclaves with electronic surveillance and checkpoints, where privatized police answer to the needs of financiers and global real-estate firms. Yet with all that, they have not been kick the protesters out of Liberty Square. The people are winning!

OCCUPY WALL STREET! OCCUPY EVERYWHERE!

Does anyone remember how the Tea Party began?

October 13, 2011

 

The Tea Party, which the media constantly tell us is an authentic grassroots social movement of outraged working-class Americans, began on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange – the center of the global derivatives market – when an enraged CNBC Business commentator, Rick Santelli, began screaming on camera about the Obama administration plans to offer some mortgage relief to people faced with foreclosure. Santelli said the people being kicked out of their homes were “losers,” and to prove it he appealed to the authority of the CME traders, whom he called a “cross section of America.” This was the “rant heard around the world” that launched the Tea Party.

THE TEA PARTY IS THE PARTY OF THE 1 PERCENT!

Sign on the Chicago Board of Trade (owned by CME group)

October 9, 2011

And when you’re done diggin’ THAT, check out the photos of OWS and other occupations collected more or less daily on cryptome.

Are the newspapers still saying these are kids with air between their ears? This is the most intense and expansive American social movement since Seattle. Shout out some respect to North Africa, ’cause they showed us the way. Occupy your own town, occupy your own brain, occupy everywhere.

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And by the way, here’s some news from Occupy LA:

BETWEEN THE GRASSROOTS AND POWER

October 3, 2011

Social Movement Politics in 1930s America

The second session of the collaborative seminar THREE CRISES: 30s – 70s – Today was held at Mess Hall on Saturday Oct. 1. The seminar materials, readings, recordings and a pdf version of this text are available here.

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On Dec. 30, 1936, workers at the Fisher Body no. 1 plant in Flint, Michigan, heard the rumor that the dies of the stamping presses – a strategic link in the General Motors national production chain – were to be removed that evening. The technique of the sit-down strike, pioneered in the tire factories of Akron, Ohio, was the immediate response of the United Autoworkers Union, an affiliate of the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The strike lasted 44 days, mobilizing women alongside men and drawing solidarity pickets from across the Great Lakes region. After several weeks it escalated to the point where National Guards with machine guns were brought in to keep the peace, and ultimately to clear the factories. On February 3, 1937, in the face of a court order to vacate the premises, the strikers sent a telegram to the governor of Michigan, Frank Murphy:

We feel it proper to recall to you the assurance you have many times given to the public that you would not permit force or violence to be used in ousting us from the plants. Unarmed as we are, the introduction of militia, sheriff or police with murderous weapons, will mean a blood bath of unarmed workers. The police of Flint belong to General Motors. The sheriff of Genesee County belongs to General Motors, and the judges of Genesee County belong to General Motors…. It remains to be seen whether or not the governor of this state also belongs to General Motors. We have decided to stay in the plants. We have no illusions what sacrifices this decision will entail. We fully expect that if violent efforts are used to put us out, many of us will be killed. We take this method to make it known to our wives, our children, and to the people of the state and country, that if this result follows from the attempts to eject us, you are the one who must be held responsible for our death.

Roosevelt himself intervened. The Democratic governor, aligned with New Deal policies, did not give the order to fire. The right of workers to form unions, to strike and to engage in collective bargaining had already been guaranteed, first by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, then by the National Labor Relations Act, or “Wagner Act,” of 1935. Now that formal guarantee stood the test of reality. The strike reached a climax on Feb. 11 when the UAW gained exclusive representation of union employees. A wave of sit-downs then unfurled at GM plants across the country, extending to Chrysler and, unsuccessfully, to Ford. The rise of the CIO’s industrial unionism had begun. The sit-down strikes were a pivotal event in the consolidation of the New Deal policies that have continued to shape the United States up to this day, when their last remains are being taken apart before our eyes.

The Great Depression of the 1930s is a fascinating historical period in the United States, not because of the Crash of ‘29 or the machinations of the financiers, but because hard times revealed the nation to itself, giving visibility and agency to those at the bottom. In labor and agricultural history, literature and popular culture, the filmic and photographic record, everywhere you find traces of a multifarious desire to survive, to improve the conditions of daily life, to beat back the forces of capital and to resolve the paradox of scaricity amid abundance and overproduction. Through the intermediary of governmental reforms running parallel to technological and managerial changes, these struggles would ultimately result in a transformation of the American class structure and the emergence of a new, increasingly educated service class. Let’s frame our questions in that perspective. How did the social movements of the 1930s come into being? What made their victories possible? Where did Roosevelt’s New Deal lead the country as a whole? And then more urgently: What kinds of actions could gain the transformative power of the sit-down strikes today? Who could carry them out, in which kinds of alliances, where and when? And finally, how do we control the trigger-fingers of the police?

National Guard, Flint, 1937 / Miami police, FTAA Summit, 2002

On the radical left today there are two rival approaches to the history of social movements, both of which hail from Italy. First, the autonomous Marxism of the 60’s and 70’s – from Mario Tronti to Toni Negri – says that labor is the dynamic force of history, and that workers’ struggles are what provoke organizational, technological and political change. The sit-down strikes are proof of that, since they alone created labor’s bargaining power. In works like Marx beyond Marx, Negri has elaborated an ontology of living labor as a protean capacity of self-valorization which, when collectivized, give rise to a constituent power able to reshape the social order. This view celebrates organized militancy alongside resistance, subversion and exodus, and it rewrites leftist defeatism as veiled victory. Capital’s only power, for the autonomists, is that of capturing and channeling working-class self-assertions. This has the great advantage of focusing on agency from below. In the English-speaking world there are equivalents from E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class to Linebaugh and Rediker’s The Many Headed Hydra. The concepts of self-valorization and constituent power reveal the creative force of social movements in the three major crises of modern American capitalism.

The second approach derives from Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks. There the former communist party leader shows how in the absence of a successful leftist program, the energies of the subordinated classes are channeled into a “passive revolution” where technological and organizational transformations are guided from above and social struggles are neutralized by an all-pervasive ideology. The key concept is hegemony, understood not as pure coercive force, but as the set of conciliatory cultural images, institutions and discursive reflexes that make up what the international relations theorists now call “soft power.” Hegemony is established in the wake of violence. It uses both real and imaginary compensations to quell class conflicts, dispel the very possibility of more radical demands and ultimately create what Gramsci calls an “historic bloc” that can effectively shape the course of social evolution. Italian fascism was the prime example; but Keynesian Fordism would be another, and neoliberalism yet another. The approach allows us to asses the powers of capital in its institutional, cultural and even psychosexual forms. It also uncovers the contours of recent struggles beneath the apparent complacency of normal behaviors, and points to the sources of latent divides and alternative pathways. But it can be disempowering, as in much of academic Marxism; and Gramsci is rejected by the autonomists because he seems to consider integration as the inevitable destiny of all struggles. Still the concepts of passive revolution and hegemony can’t be ignored. Recent US and European history has done far too much to substantiate them.

How to engage with the successive formations of North American and global society using these rival concepts? I think they should be seen as the opposing poles of a highly charged social field. What matters is what happens between them. To theorize an ontologically pure force of emancipation is to turn away from real human beings; while to continually chart the dynamics of integration is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in your own perception. If what’s at stake is a malleable social field whose human forces are shaped by assertions from both fundamental poles of the class system, then we have to pay more attention to those in between, the so-called “middle” or “service” classes, who were both a leading sociological factor and a focus of popular aspiration throughout the twentieth century. These commercial, administrative, scientific, technical, cultural and care-giving sectors are themselves subservient to the upper classes, but also tend to function as relays of domination. Yet they began in the 1930s to gain new degrees of autonomy by representing and channeling the forces of the working and excluded classes in a struggle against capital – a struggle aligning them with elements of the state. Through that very process, the size and agency of the middle strata increased considerably. So although I’m aware of the morass of compromise that awaits on this path, I still think the historical projects and trajectories of the intermediary strata have to be taken seriously and analyzed in their diversity and contradictions, alongside the working and owning classes. This is the only way to map out the successive transformations of the social field, and grasp our own potentials for agency in the present.

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Defending UC?

September 30, 2011

Here’s a particularly interesting snip from a debate I have been having with Blake Stimson, a UC Davis professor, and others on the iDC list. At stake among other things are the relative merits of publicly funded and autonomous education, which is being called DIY education on the list, particularly in reference to various online schemes which are not all corporate. The entire debate can be found in the archives of the list for the month of September.

–It’s great to sustain the public debate, Blake. It’s the only way to get beyond the usual schiz of promotional confidence and total cynicism.

> I assume that we both agree that the root issue vis-a-vis education today is something like the progressive displacement of socially-minded critical thinking by opportunistic, self-interested calculation and the role this has played in the antidemocrati redistribution of wealth and power that defines our times.

We agree on that!

> I understand you to see bureaucratized higher ed as the bigger cause of this whereas I take the future of DIY higher ed to be more significant. In the 1960s I would have agreed with you that institutions are the problem. Now that the most successful challenges to the Establishment arise from the unholy marriage between Tea Party resentment and Wall Street greed, I think institutions are less of a problem than the larger cultural effort to dismantle them.

But here our analysis diverges, because I think that universities have already been largely repurposed along neoliberal lines. I don’t think UC is public anymore. The ethos of equality does not exist in the system, because the administrators are frankly on the take, the majority of professors are paid off the wage scale and most of teaching is done by adjuncts under vastly unequal conditions. If Schwartz’s analysis is right, there is no public support for undergraduates since their tuition pays for their entire education, while the government, corporate and endowment money goes to sports and research labs. To this extent, “the market” is not exterior to “the institution.” Rather, since the time of Reagan and Clinton you have a powerful and partially completed trend towards a “market institution.” There is a lot of frustration and anger across the board in the face of this situation, and the point is to elevate those sentiments into a constructive leftist and social-democratic critique of that which founds them in reality. I am, by the way, a taker when it comes to names, references, projects elaborating such critique. Without it the left is just nostalgia.

> In the best light, the future of DIY higher ed seems rightfully enough labeled “iTunes U,” with large corporations serving as clearing houses for, say, a progressively defunded and deregulated science curriculum that ranges from biopolitics to evolution to creationism.

Here again we agree. I think the ideal corporate model is functional knowledge piped directly into your brain by networked media without any of that subversive classroom and discussion stuff. As a complement, the traditional upper classes and their more recent imitators have no intention of letting go of the Ivy League schools where more agile and powerful forms of subjectivity can be cultivated.

> Looked at in a poorer light we might imagine future higher ed to be more like the US insurance/healthcare industry now–with market dynamics progressively disenfranchising a growing segment of the population through voucher policies and democratically-minded politicians increasingly vilified for their efforts to provide some minimal measure of equal access. Further, it will surely be significantly harder to fight for any standards of equal access to education because it is less important than healthcare.

This will definitely be the case if the marketization of the state university systems is completed! That’s why I am saying it’s nuts to “defend UC” without a deep critique of what’s already indefensible in it. The grad student/adjunct population has a very sour view of the institution today, largely based on their economic experience doing the majority of the teaching without ever having a career. So the so-called public university is supported on a foundation of seething resentment. Without a simultaneous recognition of the situation the graduate teachers are describing and an effort to campaign against it very actively and at all levels – analysis, department and university politics, activism, state and national politics – there will be no social forces to resist the kind of Tea Party populism that is shown in the sinister Lebed “College Conspiracy” video you linked to, which is worth watching for sure (link here). We do need a critique of neoliberal financialization, which is the target of that video. But we don’t need *their* critique, because it will turn us into morons under the boot of the right-wing oligarchies.

> To repeat for emphasis, I am not saying that DIY initiatives from Wikipedia to many of the projects referred to on this list are not valuable. Nor am I saying that existing higher ed institutions should not be critiqued and transformed. Instead, I am saying that such critical DIY initiative needs to be pursued with a clear sense of larger social, political, and economic interests that circulate through the huge education economy so that it can most effectively pursue its own aims and not be a pawn in someone else’s game.

Here we go! We perfectly agree. However probably I take it a good deal further than you and I’m curious what you and other people may think.

I think we need to create a strong left civil society that can make ideas politically active. This is urgent because the right is doing their version of it, and after the long Reagan and Clintonian transformation of the New Deal institutions, this effort of the right cannot be fought by just defending the eviscerated shells of formerly public institutions. To create a powerful left praxis with only a weak institutional base and no billionaire Koch-brother resources is going to require several things. The creation of intense discursive communities outside the university. The movement of people between universities, critical communities, workplaces and social movements. The forging of a new egalitarian political discourse and a cooperative aesthetics. The creation of supple and resilient networks to link all that. Ultimately, new political platforms based in this expansion of critical civil society and social movements.

It sounds like a lot, but otherwise it looks to me like the writing is on the wall for social democracy, let alone the “communist horizon” that Jodi Dean is talking about. I guess university professors would have to begin by reorienting their research and publishing activities towards areas that have some use value for people outside, while simultaneously elaborating meta-discourses to prove to themselves, first of all, that this is not about populism or the watering down of their subjects, but instead about the creation of a more rich and socially complex form of knowledge. Personally I find that kind of creativity the most passionately interesting one!

further, Brian

“Goldman Sachs rules the world”

September 27, 2011

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While the protesters occupying Wall Street are beaten by the cops and sprayed with gas for nothing, those who incarnate the ideals of neoliberal society – the traders – admit they dream of a great crash where they can make tons of money while millions of people lose their savings and an entire continent plunges into chaos. Apparently this is not our friends the Yes Men (inquiries have been made – proving nothing at all) but as my brother says, maybe this guy had his own little strategy to move the markets. The thing is, everything he says conforms to well-known mentalities and established patterns of financial history. So exactly like the Yes Men it rings true. Felix Stalder, who sent me this, gets the final word: we live in astonishing times.

First Meeting: THREE CRISES

September 20, 2011

The first session at Mess Hall was truly excellent. Thanks to all. The seminar materials, readings, recordings and a pdf version of this text are available here. As we spoke at on Saturday, protesters in New York made a move to OCCUPY WALL STREET! Give them your eyes and your ears and your support. As the police bash heads in NYC, Rivera’s great mural (detail above) is timelier than ever.

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1. The Idea
On the third-floor balconies beneath the central dome of Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes – a Neoclassical wedding cake whose construction had been halted for decades by the Revolution – two murals stare at each other across a great divide. They were painted on state commission when the building was finally completed in 1934, by two rival artists who opposed each other in every way. Diego Rivera’s work, Man at the Crossroads, shows capitalist and communist pathways for the industrial mass production system that had emerged in the early years of the twentieth century. That machine system, as Rivera understood, was now in crisis. José Clemente Orozco’s mural, which he left untitled but has come to be known as Catharsis, is also about the power of the machine. But here it is a power of lust and disarray, of horror and murder, a force of pure violence.

Orozco knew very well what Rivera’s composition would be, and he responded directly to it. Both had just returned to Mexico from extended stays in the the United States, and in both cases, their work was informed by the US experience. Rivera’s multi-year travels from San Francisco to New York included a long stopover in Detroit, where he painted the technological and social articulation of the new Ford plant on the Rouge river: the prototype of the vast production complexes that would be built during the Second World War. As a communist, Rivera believed he understood the central significance of this machine system for the future development of life on earth. He reiterated that understanding in the initial version of Man at the Crossroads in New York, with a political framing that resulted in the work’s destruction by the man who had commissioned it, Nelson Rockefeller. As for Orozco, he lived in New York City from 1927 to 1934, where he attracted the critical attention and patronage of the historian, philosopher and urbanist Lewis Mumford, the author of Technics and Civilization. Mumford’s vision of the domination of Western civilization by the machine is visible in the fresco cycle Epic of American Civilization at Dartmouth College, in the juxtaposition of Cortez and the Cross with a crude and brutal image of The Machine. Orozco was a humanist, his cycle culminates with Man Released from the Mechanistic to the Creative Life. But he returned to the theme of domination in the late 1930s at the Hospicio Cabañas in Guadalajara, where he painted the devastating portrait of a gigantic steel-limbed Cortez striding through the New World with a bloody sword.

I knew none of these details last fall when I returned to Mexico City for the first time since the 1980s and went to see the Rivera mural once again. I rediscovered the grand narrative sweep of the composition, which pits capitalist armies in gas masks against proletarians personified by wailing women in red scarves, and contrasts dissolute bourgeois gamblers to a portrait of Lenin clasping hands with workers of all races (the very image that had so infuriated Rockefeller). The rioters on the New York streets call for bread and the mounted police beat them down with clubs, as they still do to us today, while groups of people on either side look on through lenses prefiguring TV. Like everyone I was fascinated by the image of “man the controller,” thrust ahead into space by some sort of dream propeller whose surrealistic wings reveal macro and microcosmic dimensions. The Greek statue holding a fascia emblazoned with a swastika has its head cut off at the neck: I found it amazing that in 1934 Rivera had already foreseen that the enduring conflict would not be between America and Germany, but between West and East, capitalism and communism.

click for a larger image

Yet these were things I already new, histories you learn in school. Like a hungry tourist I circled around the balconies, drinking in the other murals, especially those by Siquieros and Camarena. Then I was stopped short by the strange and bloody painting of Orozco: the flames, the rifles, the guy getting knifed, the other assassin who seems to emerge headless from some twisting metal camshaft, and of course, the bejeweled woman lying legs outspread with a rictus of pleasure, the bank vault sprung open, the scattering crowds, etc. As I stared at this apocalypse and then back across the gap at the Rivera mural, I gradually realized these paintings were in dialogue, I was sure of it. In the mid-1930s, having seen the first major crisis of organized corporate capitalism along with the rise of both Nazism and Stalinism, the two artists were looking into dramatically different futures of the industrial system. Rivera’s confident analytical and ideological masterpiece was directly contradicted by Orozco’s premonition of mechanized horror – an image of what Lewis Mumford called “the new barbarism.”

click for a larger image

What I found so impressive about this historical site in Mexico City, so promising and challenging all at once, was the simple fact that individuals with diverging ideas and ideals, real people with eyes and hands and hearts, could stand within a great economic, social and technological crisis that affected them directly, that they could try to analyze it and assess it, and that they could use all the means at their disposal to engage a public debate about what would happen next – what kind of society would emerge from the crisis. In Mexico in 1934 that effort could be made monumental in a public institution: no one censored it, no one emended or moralized it, and even if there is no direct indication within the space today that the current caretakers really understand what was at stake in this dialogue, still the paintings are there for all to see. The public dimension, the absence of censorship, the effort of analysis, the courage to present an ideology and a cosmovision, and finally, the frank disagreement which is also a form of attention and respect, all that made me feel more alive, more in tune with the present, even if what I was seeing was only a relic, a historical ruin like so many others.

The question that struck me then, and continues to strike me now, is this: How could we do such a thing in our time, today? Are we not embroiled in a great historical crisis? Do we not perceive the major outlines of this crisis, at the same time as we are viscerally oppressed by the absence of any public debate? Doesn’t the direction that will be taken by our society, and indeed by civilization in the future, depend crucially on decisions that are being made now and that will be made over the next five or ten or fifteen years? Isn’t it high time to begin analyzing and assessing the present crisis, in order to find the means of expression that could lead to a meaningful debate and from there, to political action? But when and how and where to do such a thing? And above all, with whom?

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