Sunday, September 25, 2005

Externalities Ain't All That Radical

I frequently discuss externalities in markets because I think it cuts to the core of the inefficacy and fundamental injustice of markets, that they allow some to profit off of forcing others to pick up their mess. This may sound radical, but it really isn't.

For one thing, externalities say nothing about the justice of the existing wage and production system. Forcing either the end user or the producer to pay the cost may exacerbate inequity.
Mind you, to deal with this, I also propose raising the minimum wage, full employment policies, socialized health care, etc., all to reduce inequity. As a heuristic case, let's take oil and answer the question: Are the poor better off if people have to pay the full social cost of oil? Say, through some kind of sales tax levied on oil?

Sales taxes tend to be regressive: that is, because they add a constant amount, they harm those with less to spend more. However, poorer individuals spend less on consumption items and more on necessities, proportional to their income. Raising the price of oil raises prices across society since oil is involved with so much (agriculture, transportation and production of almost all goods, plastics), of course, but if it's done through a tax system, it could be put into programs that benefit the poor, perhaps even oil waivers for the poorer, as well as the obvious programs to cut carbon emission and deal with pollution.

Making people pay the full social cost of the products they buy has, of course, a major incentive value, in that it encourages socially beneficial production, and encourages producers to choose better methods that previously they would not have chosen because it was more expensive than the externalizing production type.

Also consider that those who pay the cost of externalities are typically the poor. They are the soldiers who forcefully extract from the Gulf. They suffer from the terrorism that ensues. They are proportionally the most harmed by the pollution and the global warming (heat strokes and such).

I don't know if this answers the question. There may indeed be a tradeoff between the proper cost of products and reducing inequity. What does this indicate to me? That even a very basic concept (people should pay for all their stuff) indicates how terrible markets are.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Affirmative Action: Thank You, Law and Order

Recently, I watched two Law and Order episodes in which defendants (one a college student, and the other a star reporter for The New York Sentinel) cheated in some way, were involved with a murder and finally let their lawyers claim that affirmative action put them over their heads and put additional pressure upon them. This is actually a very broad conservative argument: Affirmative action is bad for minorities' self-image or perception somehow.

Tim Wise's piece, "Lamont in the White House", discusses a number of the issues very eloquently, such that I doubt I will top it. But there are even more problems Tim didn't discuss.

One of the lawyers arguing this came up to Jack after a plea bargain was made and said he had a dream that the US Supreme Court had not voted the way it did in the Michigan case, going onto say that the white students were applauding those black students who did succeed. But this stems from a flatly false notion of white behavior: this idea that we've just been waiting for the black community to be able to pick up the pieces from racism and move on. No, successful black individuals are scarcely more acceptable now than they were ever before. As Jack said, "I'm barely white enough to live in Greenwich." Witness the whole of black history, where any attempt to improve one's standards (escape slavery, learn to read, create businesses, leave the ghetto, go to better schools) were vigorously and violently denied. Think that that's all nasty things of the past? Fine, add in the diatribe that many will launch about how much money those black sports stars make. Or the fact that social scientists have argued that were there no racist pressures operating there would be no de facto segregated communities in the United States, and that when too many blacks move in to a white neighborhood whites leave in droves for another sub-sub-suburb. Black success doesn't make us happy; it makes us scared.

Now, it is true that affirmative action may deepen the perception of the black woman and man as black rising above other variables in their lives, but as Jack pointed out, that's putting the problem backwards. For black people in this country know the negative stereotypes held about them and their culture very early on in life, often before they are ten years old. They were already self-identified themselves racially because they had no luxury to do otherwise: race was part of their lives. Indeed, this is yet another race privilege: To be able to pretend that racism does not exist. The lives of most black individuals are filled with examples; for them to deny it would be highly suspect.

Another issue that came up was the "Dinner with Spike Jones" problem: The whole black community identifiying with the successful black individual propelled by preferential treatment. Indeed, this is a problem, but to identify this as a problem with affirmative action is eminently silly. For that pressure will obviously accrue to any successful person of color, non? And if that's the case, doesn't that mean that blacks are carrying a unique burden, because their actions are viewed as not just representing themselves but also their community's intelligence and character? In fact, this isn't hypothetical or anecdotal. Claude Steele has done good work about the "stereotype threat", wherein blacks who take standardized tests that are viewed to matter (SAT, AP, etc.) suffer compared to comparable white students because they feel the additional burden of justifying their ethnicity; sometimes they go too quickly to finish early, sometimes too slowly because they are paranoid about checking answers. Give them a practice test or a test that they are told does not matter and scores improve drastically.

One does, of course, have to bear in mind that affirmative action, however needed, is in essence picking up for the failure of somewhere else in society. The high school system was terrible; thus, the college must take that into account. The black employee has had fewer years of employment because of racism. If this is deferred for too long, it may indeed be that a student, however bright and gifted, or a potential employee, however qualified, is behind the curve somehow, such that they cannot compete.

What do I say to that scenario? Give them the opportunity to try.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Small Thought on Epidemiology

This is an interesting article: I particularly direct you to this paragraph: "Two US Air Force C-130 planes meanwhile started low altitude spraying of the city with insecticides in a bid to combat the spread of mosquito-borne disease."

Now, one can make a reasonable argument, though with a number of ethical problems, that it is acceptable to sacrifice some for the good of all. It may even be so when those who are being affected are not consulted and do not agree. But there is always a race, a class, a gender story lurking behind the situation.

Israelis have installed some basic sewage and other systems in Palestinian territory, but this has been openly admitted to be because otherwise diseases will spread into Israel. Those insecticides are only guaranteed to do one thing: harm the people still left in the city. It is the poor and black who disproportionately "serve their country" in the military, and whose 60 and 80 hour a week sacrifices of time and effort keep the economy afloat.

In other words, when a white commentator says that military service is the most noble profession, it's remarkably easy for her to do so, because it's highly likely that she won't in fact be asked to make that sacrifice. When insecticides are dumped or high-intensity agriculture harms workers, it is not the white, male or rich whose lives will be disrupted.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Racism and Classism Abound in New Orleans

Here reprinted is a fantastic Socialist Worker's article, . It describes the cruelty and humiliation inflicted by the official relief operation in stark contrast to the courage of NO's stranded citizenry, also putting the lie to the dominant media's discourse of anarchy.

"TWO DAYS after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Walgreens store at the corner of Royal and Iberville Streets in the city’s historic French Quarter remained locked. The dairy display case was clearly visible through the widows. It was now 48 hours without electricity, running water, plumbing, and the milk, yogurt, and cheeses were beginning to spoil in the 90-degree heat.

The owners and managers had locked up the food, water, pampers and prescriptions, and fled the city. Outside Walgreens’ windows, residents and tourists grew increasingly thirsty and hungry. The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized, and the windows at Walgreens gave way to the looters.

There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices and bottled water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead, they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters.
We were finally airlifted out of New Orleans two days ago and arrived home on Saturday. We have yet to see any of the TV coverage or look at a newspaper. We are willing to guess that there were no video images or front-page pictures of European or affluent white tourists looting the Walgreens in the French Quarter.

We also suspect the media will have been inundated with “hero” images of the National Guard, the troops and police struggling to help the “victims” of the hurricane. What you will not see, but what we witnessed, were the real heroes and sheroes of the hurricane relief effort: the working class of New Orleans.

The maintenance workers who used a forklift to carry the sick and disabled. The engineers who rigged, nurtured and kept the generators running. The electricians who improvised thick extension cords stretching over blocks to share the little electricity we had in order to free cars stuck on rooftop parking lots. Nurses who took over for mechanical ventilators and spent many hours on end manually forcing air into the lungs of unconscious patients to keep them alive. Doormen who rescued folks stuck in elevators. Refinery workers who broke into boat yards, “stealing” boats to rescue their neighbors clinging to their roofs in flood waters. Mechanics who helped hotwire any car that could be found to ferry people out of the city. And the food service workers who scoured the commercial kitchens, improvising communal meals for hundreds of those stranded.

Most of these workers had lost their homes and had not heard from members of their families. Yet they stayed and provided the only infrastructure for the 20 percent of New Orleans that was not under water.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

ON DAY Two, there were approximately 500 of us left in the hotels in the French Quarter. We were a mix of foreign tourists, conference attendees like ourselves and locals who had checked into hotels for safety and shelter from Katrina.

Some of us had cell phone contact with family and friends outside of New Orleans. We were repeatedly told that all sorts of resources, including the National Guard and scores of buses, were pouring into the city. The buses and the other resources must have been invisible, because none of us had seen them.

We decided we had to save ourselves. So we pooled our money and came up with $25,000 to have ten buses come and take us out of the city. Those who didn’t have the requisite $45 each were subsidized by those who did have extra money.

We waited for 48 hours for the buses, spending the last 12 hours standing outside, sharing the limited water, food and clothes we had. We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and newborn babies. We waited late into the night for the “imminent” arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived at the city limits, they were
commandeered by the military.

By Day Four, our hotels had run out of fuel and water. Sanitation was dangerously bad. As the desperation and despair increased, street crime as well as water levels began to rise. The hotels turned us out and locked their doors, telling us that “officials” had told us to report to the convention center to wait for more buses. As we entered the center of the city, we finally encountered the National Guard.

The guard members told us we wouldn’t be allowed into the Superdome, as the city’s primary shelter had descended into a humanitarian and health hellhole. They further told us that the city’s only other shelter--the convention center--was also descending into chaos and squalor, and that the police weren’t allowing anyone else in.

Quite naturally, we asked, “If we can’t go to the only two shelters in the city, what was our alternative?” The guards told us that this was our problem--and no, they didn’t have extra water to give to us. This would be the start of our numerous encounters with callous and hostile “law enforcement.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WE WALKED to the police command center at Harrah’s on Canal Street and were told the same thing--that we were on our own, and no, they didn’t have water to give us. We now numbered several hundred.

We held a mass meeting to decide a course of action. We agreed to camp outside the police command post. We would be plainly visible to the media and constitute a highly visible embarrassment to city officials. The police told us that we couldn’t stay. Regardless, we began to settle in and set up camp.

In short order, the police commander came across the street to address our group. He told us he had a solution: we should walk to the Pontchartrain Expressway and cross the greater New Orleans Bridge to the south side of the Mississippi, where the police had buses lined up to take us out of the city.

The crowd cheered and began to move. We called everyone back and explained to the commander that there had been lots of misinformation, so was he sure that there were buses waiting for us. The commander turned to the crowd and stated emphatically, “I swear to you that the buses are there.”

We organized ourselves, and the 200 of us set off for the bridge with great excitement and hope. As we marched past the convention center, many locals saw our determined and optimistic group, and asked where we were headed. We told them about the great news.

Families immediately grabbed their few belongings, and quickly, our numbers doubled and then doubled again. Babies in strollers now joined us, as did people using crutches, elderly clasping walkers and other people in wheelchairs. We marched the two to three miles to the freeway and up the steep incline to the bridge. It now began to pour down rain, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm.

As we approached the bridge, armed sheriffs formed a line across the foot of the bridge. Before we were close enough to speak, they began firing their weapons over our heads. This sent the crowd fleeing in various directions.

As the crowd scattered and dissipated, a few of us inched forward and managed to engage some of the sheriffs in conversation. We told them of our conversation with the police commander and the commander’s assurances. The sheriffs informed us that there were no buses waiting. The commander had lied to us to get us to move.

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the six-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans, and there would be no Superdomes in their city. These were code words for: if you are poor and Black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River, and you are not getting out of New Orleans.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

OUR SMALL group retreated back down Highway 90 to seek shelter from the rain under an overpass. We debated our options and, in the end, decided to build an encampment in the middle of the Ponchartrain Expressway--on the center divide, between the O’Keefe and Tchoupitoulas exits. We reasoned that we would be visible to everyone, we would have some security being on an elevated freeway, and we could wait and watch for the arrival of the yet-to-be-seen buses.

All day long, we saw other families, individuals and groups make the same trip up the incline in an attempt to cross the bridge, only to be turned away--some chased away with gunfire, others simply told no, others verbally berated and humiliated. Thousands of New Orleaners were prevented and prohibited from self-evacuating the city on foot.

Meanwhile, the only two city shelters sank further into squalor and disrepair. The only way across the bridge was by vehicle. We saw workers stealing trucks, buses, moving vans, semi-
trucks and any car that could be hotwired. All were packed with people trying to escape the misery that New Orleans had become.

Our little encampment began to blossom. Someone stole a water delivery truck and brought it up to us. Let’s hear it for looting! A mile or so down the freeway, an Army truck lost a couple of pallets of C-rations on a tight turn. We ferried the food back to our camp in shopping carts.
Now--secure with these two necessities, food and water--cooperation, community and creativity flowered. We organized a clean-up and hung garbage bags from the rebar poles. We made beds from wood pallets and cardboard. We designated a storm drain as the bathroom, and the kids built an elaborate enclosure for privacy out of plastic, broken umbrellas and other scraps. We even organized a food-recycling system where individuals could swap out parts of C-rations (applesauce for babies and candies for kids!).

This was something we saw repeatedly in the aftermath of Katrina. When individuals had to fight to find food or water, it meant looking out for yourself. You had to do whatever it took to find water for your kids or food for your parents. But when these basic needs were met, people began to look out for each other, working together and constructing a community.

If the relief organizations had saturated the city with food and water in the first two or three days, the desperation, frustration and ugliness would not have set in.

Flush with the necessities, we offered food and water to passing families and individuals. Many decided to stay and join us. Our encampment grew to 80 or 90 people.

From a woman with a battery-powered radio, we learned that the media was talking about us. Up in full view on the freeway, every relief and news organizations saw us on their way into the city. Officials were being asked what they were going to do about all those families living up on the freeway. The officials responded that they were going to take care of us. Some of us got a sinking feeling. “Taking care of us” had an ominous tone to it.

Unfortunately, our sinking feeling (along with the sinking city) was accurate. Just as dusk set in, a sheriff showed up, jumped out of his patrol vehicle, aimed his gun at our faces and screamed, “Get off the fucking freeway.” A helicopter arrived and used the wind from its blades to blow away our flimsy structures. As we retreated, the sheriff loaded up his truck with our food and water.

Once again, at gunpoint, we were forced off the freeway. All the law enforcement agencies appeared threatened when we congregated into groups of 20 or more. In every congregation of “victims,” they saw “mob” or “riot.” We felt safety in numbers. Our “we must stay together” attitude was impossible because the agencies would force us into small atomized groups.

In the pandemonium of having our camp raided and destroyed, we scattered once again. Reduced to a small group of eight people, in the dark, we sought refuge in an abandoned school bus, under the freeway on Cilo Street. We were hiding from possible criminal elements, but equally and definitely, we were hiding from the police and sheriffs with their martial law, curfew and shoot-to-kill policies.

The next day, our group of eight walked most of the day, made contact with the New Orleans Fire Department and were eventually airlifted out by an urban search-and-rescue team.
We were dropped off near the airport and managed to catch a ride with the National Guard. The two young guardsmen apologized for the limited response of the Louisiana guards. They explained that a large section of their unit was in Iraq and that meant they were shorthanded and were unable to complete all the tasks they were assigned.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WE ARRIVED at the airport on the day a massive airlift had begun. The airport had become another Superdome. We eight were caught in a press of humanity as flights were delayed for several hours while George Bush landed briefly at the airport for a photo op. After being evacuated on a Coast Guard cargo plane, we arrived in San Antonio, Texas.

There, the humiliation and dehumanization of the official relief effort continued. We were placed on buses and driven to a large field where we were forced to sit for hours and hours. Some of the buses didn’t have air conditioners. In the dark, hundreds of us were forced to share two filthy overflowing porta-potties. Those who managed to make it out with any possessions (often a few belongings in tattered plastic bags) were subjected to two different dog-sniffing searches.

Most of us had not eaten all day because our C-rations had been confiscated at the airport--because the rations set off the metal detectors. Yet no food had been provided to the men, women, children, elderly and disabled, as we sat for hours waiting to be “medically screened” to make sure we weren’t carrying any communicable diseases.

This official treatment was in sharp contrast to the warm, heartfelt reception given to us by ordinary Texans. We saw one airline worker give her shoes to someone who was barefoot. Strangers on the street offered us money and toiletries with words of welcome.

Throughout, the official relief effort was callous, inept and racist. There was more suffering than need be. Lives were lost that did not need to be lost."

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Ipso Facto Irrational: The Right's Calling Card

There is a common strategy among the right. It can be seen in comments like these:

"They [black leaders saying that the Bush administration's tepid response to the hurricane crisis belies racism] cry racism to promote their own self-egos while exploiting their people and taking advantage of their suffering and grief."

"Cindy Sheehan deserves our sympathy for protesting the war in Iraq. She is driven by shallow thinking, emotion, anti-Bush zealots and the exhilaration of notoriety."

I pick my local newspaper for this one, but everywhere, the right (and sometimes, unfortunately, the left) does it.

To these people, I expand Tim Wise's response to David Horowitz: "Again with the clinical diagnosis. David, where did you get your degree in psychology, such that you can make this diagnosis? And where did you practice your craft as a professional psychologist? Answer: nowhere."

To be crude: Get your head out of your ass and learn some basic logic. One of the many logical fallacies in the book is called an "ad hominem" attack. It attacks the person or entity making the argument rather than the argument itself. Now, it may make for interesting reading to see how Cindy Sheehan once killed a baby goat and sacrificed it to Michael Moore in the manner of a pagan ritual, but it says absolutely nothing about the arguments she proposes. Cindy Sheehan may have come up with a correct argument through astrology, bone reading or hate and grief, but if it was correct, it was correct. QED.

You may say that those who dissent from your opinion are paranoid, egocentric, disingenuous/lying, etc. all you want, but that doesn't make it true. To do so would take quite a bit more evidence than anyone tries to offer or a psychological reading, done preferably in close proximities for an extended period of time. A viewer watching FOX News at home has done none of those things. They are responding to their gut instinct, which may be great for some things but horrible to allow into politics.

To imply that an entire community or sub-community, such as "black leaders" or "Republicans" have a characteristic that is not only somewhat determinative (i.e. Republicans are generally fiscally conservative, but not in some instances or in some programs and may sometimes be hypocritical about it), but is SO determinative that it undermines all individual choice and rationality and makes someone's interlocutor ipso facto irrational and wrong, is to propose an analysis that requires incredible amounts of evidence. If there is no unifying thread that you can identify among individuals, to deny all of them as irrational is to compound the above error about psychology a million times.

Add in that none of this proves that the person's argument is wrong and one wonders why the Right spends so much time admonishing other people that if they can't understand the logic behind "liberating" a people who want us out or the logic of a jingoist national identity replete with an English language, they should just leave. Why those who question national myths are told that they just "don't understand" (as another Union commentator did), and further, never will understand, that Bush and his cadre have found some miraculous truth that only a select few are party to.

Perhaps it might be that, once you scratch away the meaningless and petty personal attacks, the evidence that the Right has to offer is as empty as a whoopee cushion?

Oops, I think I smell a bad gas.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Myth of the Good War and Film's Collusion with Fascism

A shameful chapter of modern American history is almost never discussed: the collusion between American corporate and state elites and rising fascist powers, particularly in Spain, Italy and Germany. This even extended to the post-war period, with programs like Operation Paperclip, a CIA initiative that set up Nazis to crush partisans and engage in manuevers against the Soviets, as well as secret war criminals like Japanese chemical scientists, Reinhard Gehlen and Klaus “The Butcher of Lyon” Barbie to safe zones where they could help in the growing US counter-insurgency campaign. The counter-insurgency campaigns also took the form of blocking Greek and Italian elections. Film and media are powerful instruments of propaganda, as all sides in World War II showed.1 With the US as a leading cinematic production and research powerhouse, one would inquire into the degree of film industry collusion with fascism. The responses of the film industry and the film community to fascism can be correlated to changing American elite opinions of fascism.

There are at least a few reasons to expect the attitudes of film and media to follow American corporate opinion in general. Film companies have essentially the same interests as other corporations: profits and control, meaning reduced wages and working class bargaining power. History teaches us that totalitarian regimes are often capable of supplying these necessary things. As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman demonstrate in Manufacturing Consent, the media (including film) conforms quite closely to a “propaganda model” in which the needs and interests of powerful state-corporate elites are transmitted as the basis for rational discussion and assumed to be right and correct. While it may be sometimes in the tendencies of capitalism to liberalize governments (something that is a contested point at best), it is quite clear that capitalism and corporations can co-exist with totalitarian states.

What was the general state-corporate consensus on fascism in its early years? As Noam Chomsky argues in Deterring Democracy (available online on Z Magazine's website),

"Fascist Italy received mounting praise as a bastion of order and stability, free of class struggle and challenges from labor and the left. 'The wops are unwopping themselves,' Fortune magazine wrote with awe in a special issue devoted to Fascist Italy in 1934. Others agreed. State Department roving Ambassador Norman Davis praised the successes of Italy in remarks before the Council of Foreign Relations in 1933, speaking after the Italian Ambassador had drawn applause from his distinguished audience for his description of how Italy had put its 'own house in order... A class war was put down' -- by means that were apparently regarded as appropriate. Roosevelt's Ambassador to Italy, Breckenridge Long, was also full of enthusiasm for the 'new experiment in government' under Fascism, which 'works most successfully in Italy.' After World War II, Henry Stimson (Secretary of State under Hoover, Secretary of War under Roosevelt) recalled that he and Hoover had found Mussolini to be 'a sound and useful leader.'"2

Even Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia aroused no consternation among these apologists: Breckenridge Long and others defended Mussolini because, ostensibly, without him Italy would fall into leftist disarray and opportunities for profit may be harmed. Roosevelt even called Mussolini “that admirable Italian gentleman.” The rights of Ethiopians were, of course, secondary to the Bottom Line. 3

Mussolini was not the only individual blessed in the dewey eyes of American intellectuals; Hitler and the Japanese fascists also attracted the adoration of the state-corporate elite. Again from Deterring Democracy, Chomsky, citing David Schmitz, the author of the major academic study on the topic of US-German ties in the pre-war period, argues the following:

"The American chargé d'affaires in Berlin wrote Washington in 1933 that the hope for Germany lay in "the more moderate section of the [Nazi] party, headed by Hitler himself...which appeal[s] to all civilized and reasonable people," and seems to have "the upper hand" over the violent fringe. In 1937, the State Department saw Fascism as compatible with U.S. economic interests. A report of the European Division explained its rise as the natural reaction of "the rich and middle classes, in self-defense" when the "dissatisfied masses, with the example of the Russian revolution before them, swing to the Left." Fascism therefore "must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle classes, will again turn to the left." Not until European Fascism attacked U.S. interests directly did it become an avowed enemy." [my emphasis] 4.

The fundamental attitude can be expressed succinctly: the U.S. Embassy's observation that “there has not been a single strike in the whole of Italy” during Mussolini's rule. In fact, Michael Parenti in his “Real History: The Functions of Fascism” piece demonstrates that fascism was essentially a natural outgrowth of capitalist bourgeois interests: use proletarian and ethnic rhetoric to coopt the working class while creating a new corporatism (Mussolini himself declared fascism to be corporatism5) of state-subsidized industries with the public bearing the cost and the private sector reaping the benefits6. Even American labor supported Mussolini: Samuel Gompers, the head of the AFL, argued that the new “collaborating units of usefulness” (read: state-subsidized corporations) were apt replacements for the old “Bolshevik-infected” labor unions (in fact, drawing on a mix of progressivism, leftism and conservativism)7."

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Spanish Revolution, where capitalism, fascism and Stalinism colluded to repress anarchist democracy. According to Mickey Z, author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “The Good War”, “On the governmental front, US Secretary of State Breckinridge Long curiously gave the Ford Motor Company permission to manufacture Nazi tanks while simultaneously restricting aid to German-Jewish refugees because the Neutrality Act of 1935 barred trade with belligerent countries. Miraculously, this embargo did not include petroleum products and Mussolini's Italy tripled its gasoline and oil imports in order to support its war effort while Texaco exploited this convenient loophole to cozy up to Spain's resident fascist, Generalissimo Francisco Franco.”8 Other companies investing in the fascists were International Telegraph and Telephone, Ford, General Motors, Standard Oil, General Electric, and IBM. In general, “US investment in Germany accelerated rapidly after Hitler came to power." Such investment increased "by some 48.5 percent between 1929 and 1940, while declining sharply everywhere else in continental Europe.”

Was the film industry part of the “clique of US industrialists working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy”, in US-German ambassador William Dodd's turn of phrase?9 A potential answer may come from a Los Angeles Times article of September 8, 1927 entitled “Mussolini Talks Via Movietone.” This article revealed that Mussolini “expresses salient features of the present Italian government under Fascist rule” through the medium of film, recorded by Fox Films. Mussolini also contracted Fox for “special motion pictures... of his army, navy and government” and opened Italian opera houses to select films. An astute observer may note that Mussolini is called a “dictator” in the article, but neither dictatorship nor Fascist was as taboo as it is today. Even in the 1930s, the 99% vote for Mussolini was taken to be something aside from a total fraud (this fact is also described in Deterring Democracy), and Mussolini is called the Premier and “Italy's 'Iron Man'” in the article. This piece has no critical word for Fox's collusion with fascism, simply a tone of wondrous awe for this new technology that allows us to hear the “salient features” of Italian fascist oppression and militarism.

Even predominantly Jewish film companies colluded with fascists. As Pertti Ulander, an expert on Goebbels and the Nazi propaganda system, argues, “ their film relations with Poland, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and France, the Nazis demanded that all Jewish moviemakers be excluded from films designed for export to Germany. At the same time, however, they also co-operated with "Jewish" film companies in Europe and the USA.”10 This was the case even when the rank-and-file of the industry harbored anti-Nazi sentiments. Film companies continued to have fruitful ties with Germany until about the spring of 1941, when Goebbels began to cut off ties to preserve the purity of Nazi propaganda.11

In an April 9, 1933 New York Times article, “Movie Industry Halted in Germany”, it is revealed that the German industry was shut down during the Nazi takeover until protocols of censorship could be established. During that time period, the Times article reported, “American representatives believe this will provide a good chance for increased imports of American films. They also believe the new censorship regulations will be less important than their regulation.”12 Again, we see the film industry opportunistically profiting from fascism, filling the gap for German domestic production during the fascist takeover. Moral considerations of profiting off of an entire society's move to fascism never entered into the calculations of elites.

Though British appeasement of Hitler is well-known in history, what is not often discussed is the degree to which the British government went to defend Hitler. As Greg Palast, investigative journalist for The Guardian who is well-known for his work on the Florida debacle in 2000, points out in his July 10, 2001 article “Kissing the Censor's Whip”, “Most American readers, who still think of Britain as Mother of our democracy, will be surprised to learn that the United Kingdom remains one of the hemisphere's only nations without a written constitutional guarantee of free speech and press.”13 This ability to censor films critical of Chamberlain's appeasement policy was utilized. According to a December 8, 1938 New York Times article, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy played a part in the “deletion of a Paramount newsreel during the crisis last September” . The film contained interviews with newspaper editors who “bitterly attacked the British government over the partitioning of Czecho-Slovakia”14. Thus, even when film attacked Hitler, censorship and pressure on the filmmakers prevented the films from being heard.

Yet there always was some ambivalence. More forward-looking members of the elite community could see that the foot soldiers they were creating to fight the leftists would soon turn against them. Ironically, a modern film, Cabaret, describes this ambivalence. A young Aryan in full Nazi regalia sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” while Maximillian, a German noble playboy, discusses how he and his class allies are cultivating the Nazis to behave as they do. The main male character, an Englishman by origin, asks, “But can you control them?” The question is prophetic, and illustrates clearly the dilemma that cultivating the Nazis to fight the left posed.

This dilemma extended into both the Italian and American film industry. In an introduction to a compilation of essays called “Italian Film” published by Cambridge University Press, Marcia Landy argues that “the regime [Italian fascism] expressed a 'general commitment to private property... there was a rolling back of the state, in other words, in the interests of property and entrepeneurs'. Significantly, these policies, at odds with the statist predilection associated with Italian Fascism, would continue to create tensions between entrepeneurs and Fascist leaders. As in the commercial cinema, contradictions were evident in the pressure on the one hand toward productivity and profit and, on the other, the Fascist insistence of the state and the party”.15 This ambivalence may seem to be an attack on the thesis, but it is in fact its best proof. The ambivalence of corporate-fascist relations stemmed exclusively from internal disagreement in the elite community as to the profitability and utility of fascism for their interests. When the utility changed, the perception changed, and therefore the subjects and assumptions of film changed.

When fascism harmed American interests (for example, during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939), the film industry began to turn against the Nazis. An April 9, 1939 article of the New York Times titled “Nazi Expansions Seen as Curb on U.S. Films” reveals that the gradual closing of Nazi markets to American films in favor of domestic production was slated to expand to Czechoslovakia, meaning losses for American film. However, as noted above, exports continued, though at a slowed pace.

Propaganda films began to be produced at a fever pitch during the post-Pearl Harbor period. However, what is relatively unknown is the degree to which cartoons were made subservient to war time needs. In the 1944 cartoon “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips” Bugs becomes trapped on a desert island and is forced to fight vicious caricatures of Japanese soldiers, complete with buck teeth and jaundice-yellow skin. Other racist cartoons include “The Ducktators” (1941), “Herr Meets Hare” (1945), and Disney's “Der Fuehrer's Face” (1943).16 Numerous cartoons advocated buying war bonds and viciously slandered the enemy fascists. As noted earlier, words such as “wops”, “dagos”, “Japs”, and “krauts” were frequently used to dehumanize the Axis. The most vapid racist and political statements were made with virtually no criticism or questioning. The film industry thus contributed to vicious atrocities and horrendous mistreatment. In Secrets, Lies and Democracy, Chomsky notes, “Basically, the Americans ran what were called "re-education camps" for German POWs (the name was ultimately changed to something equally Orwellian). These camps were hailed as a tremendous example of our humanitarianism, because we were teaching the prisoners democratic ways (in other words, we were indoctrinating them into accepting our beliefs). The prisoners were treated very brutally, starved, etc. Since these camps were in gross violation of international conventions, they were kept secret. We were afraid that the Germans might retaliate and treat American prisoners the same way.”17 He also recounts how children would harass prisoners in a POW camp close to his high school. The media and the film industry, largely responsible for the relaying of news, reported the government line to a tee, and only when Peggy Duff and others began a campaign did some recognition of the mistreatment appear. These racist caricatures laid the framework for horrendous atrocities such as the POW camps for German soldiers and thus helped make an isolationist populace highly jingoist and even brutal. It is also interesting to note that these films presented the Italians and Germans in somewhat silly ways, but the Japanese were portrayed as ugly monsters, an indication of domestic racial perceptions.

Non-animated films began to join the anti-Nazi movement roughly around 1941, even when isolationist pressures were still at large. In fact, isolationist Senators pushed for an Investigation into Propaganda in Motion Pictures on September 9, 194118. The isolationist lobby assaulted Warner Brothers as communist, anti-American and spoke of a Jewish conspiracy to incite war with Germany. This description was in response to one of the earliest anti-Nazi films, Confessions of an Anti-Nazi Spy. Even at the late date of 1941, elite support for Germany and the fascist powers continued. Digital History, a respected online teaching resources, comments, “While Hollywood did in fact release a few anti-Nazi films, such as Confessions of a Nazi Spy, what is remarkable in retrospect is how slowly Hollywood awoke to the fascist threat. Heavily dependent on the European market for revenue, Hollywood feared offending foreign audiences. Indeed, at the Nazis' request, Hollywood actually fired 'non-Aryan' employees in its German business offices. Although the industry produced such preparedness films as Sergeant York, anti-fascist movies as The Great Dictator, and pro-British films films as A Yank in the R.A.F. between 1939 and 1941, before Pearl Harbor it did not release a single film advocating immediate American intervention in the war on the allies' [sic] behalf.”19 Further, even these tepid advances suffered from being too little, too late. The fascist threat was already clear far before 1939, with Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia occuring in 1935 and artists such as John Heartfield publishing publicly available and well-researched accounts of Nazi atrocities and militarism as early as 193620.

The Senate investigations were a serious matter. British producer/director Victor Saville, director of Evergreen, First A Girl, and Hindle Wakes, attempted in 1940 to produce The Mortal Storm, an anti-Nazi film that angered Goebbels enough to ban MGM pictures. For his work, he was nearly deported, saved only by Pearl Harbor.21

On the other side, one can see that the film industry appeared to be at the liberal edge of the state-corporate consensus, with Warner releasing Confessions of a Nazi Spy on April 27, 1939, substantially before the isolationist tendencies in America cracked. Steven J. Ross, Professor of History at USC, demonstrates, “Nazi sympathizers in Milwaukee burned down the local Warner Bros. Theater shortly after the movie opened. Angry citizens in other cities picketed theaters, slashed seats and threatened exhibitors.” For his efforts, Harry Warner was attacked by the Senate committee22. The trend towards anti-Nazism continued with the general march to war. As Frederic Krome argues, “The entry of the United States into the Second World War in December 1941 changed the strategic, military, economic, and diplomatic relationship between Great Britain and the United States. Prior to Pearl Harbor, British propaganda in the United States was primarily intended to influence American public opinion toward intervention, sometimes with the tacit consent of an officially neutral United States government. Once America entered the war, however, the U.S. government not only encouraged the work of the British, in particular the Films Division of the Ministry of Information (M.o.I.), but assisted in many of its activities.”23 (Interestingly enough, the British community, much more used to attacks on freedom of the press, censorship and propaganda, looked down upon the relatively crude American tactics). A primary producer of propaganda films, Frank Capra, assisted in the 1944 release of “Tunisian Victory” and created the “Why We Fight” series, considered to be paramount examples of wartime propaganda. As Kenneth W. Rendell, historian and specialist on historical letters, argued, “Until late 1943 the war went very badly for the Allies. American home front morale was protected by censorship of the news as well as propaganda posters and films. During the first two years the news was heavily censored, and there was, in retrospect, such a transparently positive attitude--too strong to be called a slant--to make one wonder why people didn't see through it--until one reflects on much of the news coverage we have seen since September 11th and our desire to believe what we want and need to believe.”24 The film industry ensured that the American public was far more enthusiastic and optimistic about the prospects of success than even American planners.

This pattern of enthusiastic support or at least silence and apologetics for even the most questionable Allied moves continued into the war. An excellent example can be discovered by analyzing media coverage of Dresden during the time period. Bob Zelnick, chairman of the Department of Journalism at Boston University, notes in his article “War Reporting” that the death toll in Dresden was over 50,000 and that, “Ironically, the strategic bombing study commissioned at war's end concluded that targeting civilians had the perverse psychological impact of rallying Germans behind their government. In retrospect, the American public might have been better served if reporters had taken a more skeptical look at the deliberate targeting of civilians...”23 Yet a ProQuest search of all relevant databases for “Dresden” from 1945 to 1947 finds a number of articles on “the Reds” getting closer to Dresden and only a few articles describing the death toll. A paragraph-long article on page 2 of the New York Times on February 17, 1945 and other scattered and small references comprise the extent of reporting for an event that is now recognized as a horrible event in human history. Filmmakers did not consider it appropriate to discuss the ramifications of such viciousness, even though Dresden contained American and British prisoners of war. Even now, according to a October 22, 2003 article by Ray Furlong of the BBC, “...the British Public Records Office would not release the kind of horrific images that he [Joerg Friedrich, author of Places of Fire, a picture book of destruction and death in World War II] found of German victims”.25 The veil of silence that made the dead at Dresden non-entities partially continues even to this day. Again, we see filmmakers and journalists, despite liberal tendencies, identifying with wartime propaganda rather than objective interests.

Thus, one can see a move in the film community in attitudes towards fascism that followed the bounds of the state-corporate consensus, though perhaps on the liberal edge. The film industry viewed Mussolini and Hitler as either irritations to their foreign markets or as possibilities for further expansion. Some companies, such as the Warner Brothers, made thoroughgoing efforts to describe Hitler's menace, but faced Senate inquiries, ethnic violence and accusations of anti-Americanism as a result. When American elites turned against fascism in self-defense, film followed in lockstep, never criticizing actions such as the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or the firebombing of Dresden. Even now, recognition of facts such as Operation Paperclip elude the public. A film history of the true pre-and-post-war period could make a tremendous difference, but due to the supposedly “liberal” Hollywood's commitment to state power, this is unlikely. Yet the World War II illusion of a “good war” in which America played a saintly role (and was surely not implicated in violence) or at worst was delinquent in preemptively stopping Hitler and allowing the French and British to rob Germany dry is used to justify violence: the Rendell quote and Mickey Z's “The A Word” clearly show how the World War II myth is used to condone violence such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The national psyche will not be clean until this myth is excised and purged from our memory, and proper analysis of film and recommendations for its behavior can assist in this process.


1. On Operation Paperclip, see Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power, The New Press, New York 2002, pg. 162; Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft, New York: Pantheon 1992, particularly the third chapter; Christopher Simpson's Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War, New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1988, pp. 40-72, 92-94, 185-195 248-263, 279-283. Information on efforts to block Greek and Italian democracy can be found at Pg. 160-162 of Understanding Power.

2. Chomsky, Noam. Deterring Democracy, South End Press, 1992. Available online at,

3. See footnote 2.

4. See footnote 2.

5. Mickey Z, Z Magazine, “The A Word” [appeasement],

6. Michael Parenti, Z Magazine, “Real History: The Functions of Fascism.”, 1990.

7. See footnote 2.

8. See footnote 4. Supplementary material on Texaco's support for Spanish fascism: Pg. 159, Understanding Power, and pg. 222-223 for the cooperation between the US, fascism and Stalinism in backing Franco.

9. See footnote 2.

10. Ulander, Pertti. “Det stora filmkriget.”
See footnote 10.

11. New York Times, April 9, 1933 (pg. 15), “Movie Industry Halted in Germany”,

12. Greg Palast. “Kissing the Censor's Whip.”

13. New York Times December 8, 1938 (pg. 23), “Commons Debates Kennedy As Censor”, by correspondent Ferdinand Kuhn, Jr.

14. Marcia Landy of University of Pittsburgh. Italian Film. Cambridge University Press, 2000.

15. Big Cartoon Database.

16. Noam Chomsky. Secrets, Lies and Democracy. Odonian Press 1994. See the chapter entitled “World War II POWs.”

17. Steven J. Ross. Warner's War: Politics, Pop Culture & Propaganda in War-Time Hollywood. “Confessions of a Nazi Spy: Warner Bros., Anti-Fascism and the Politicization of Hollywood.” A New York Times article of September 10, 1941 (pg. 22), “The Movies and Free Speech”, also discusses the attempts to censor anti-Nazi films.
Digital History.
For a helpful timeline of World War II and a clear indication of the mounting fascist threat, see For a discussion of John Heartfield's war against fascism and his early attempts to warn the world of the danger through photomontage and journalism, see both and

18. Screen Online article, “Saville, Victor”.

19. Steven J. Ross. “Confessions of a Nazi Spy: Warner Bros, Anti-Fascism and the Politicization of Hollywood”. Published in Lear Center's Warner's War: Politics, Pop Culture and Propaganda in Wartime Hollywood, the title being an excellent indication of how Warner's crusade was largely a lone one.

20. Frederic Krome.“Tunisian Victory and Anglo-American film propaganda in World War II”.

21. Kenneth W. Rendell. From his speech, “The Real World War II: Fear on the Home Front, Terror on the Front Lines .”, delivered to the American Enterprise Institute in May 2002.

22. Bob Zelnick. From Coverage of War, a 2003 Nieman report. “War Reporting: How Should War Casualties Be Reported?”

23. Ray Furlong, BBC News. Wednesday, October 22, 2003.

Of Looters, Race and Spirituality: View from the Eye of the Hurricane

Another post on Katrina may seem remiss given my own commentary on disaster pornography, but I had a few insights into crime and practical spirituality.

Our hearts should go out to the people of New Orleans, yes, but the way that some people have been feeling is hardly useful. Compassion is great, but feeling guilt or sorrow does not help people squatting in shelters. If you become less useful at your job, with your family, all because you feel terrible about a tragedy far away, you are wasting your time, I'm afraid. What makes me impressed is doing, not feeling. A man smiling as he serves soup or reunites families impresses me more than a man crying himself to bed at night in a posh apartment because of the horrible tragedy.

Yes, this is Buddhism in action. Emotions form attachments, the attachments that cause suffering. Me suffering for you is useless. Me feeling your pain and helping conquer our joint suffering is noble and vital.

Of course, per usual, White Amerikkka's sympathy extends only so far. Russell Steele, a conservative blogger (, had the audacity to say that we suffer from a lack of respect for personal responsibility, as evidenced by the fact that individuals in New Orleans didn't leave. Sorry, Russ, and Bill O'Reilly, and Dave Horowitz, and Bush: Not everyone in this country was lucky enough to be born white or be the beneficiary of our eocnomic system. Some people, far as this may be from your (and, to be honest, my) perceptions, do not have a car, a TV, a radio; any way to hear emergency announcements, communciate with family, leave in a timely manner, protect their children, insulate themselves from disease... It is not so easy to pick up and leave everything you have, especially if you rely so much on what you leave behind, if that forms such a large portion of what you can call your own.

As Tim Wise made in one of his typically excellent commentares: "This is what we choose to believe, some of us, apparently: that people we call animals, whose humanity we refuse to recognize even in the midst of tragedy, actually conspire to stick around in a rotting cesspool, all so they can score some candy bars from the Rite-Aid, or Nikes from Foot Locker...

And while there is every reason to suspect whites are looting in heavily damaged parts of the metropolitan area where they predominate, the television coverage, by virtue of being concentrated in downtown New Orleans--an area that is three-fourths or more African American on a normal day, and which is probably 90 percent black now, given that most whites living downtown had the means to evacuate--gives the impression to the weak-minded who don't understand the laws of statistical probability, that looting and blackness are inextricably linked at the hip.

Then, as if this weren't bad enough, photos widely circulated on with captions yesterday, presented an image of a black man with a garbage bag full of God knows what, side by side with a picture of two white folks wading through waist-deep water with bags of food in their hands: the captions? The black man, according to the news, had "just looted" a store. The white man and woman had "found" food from a flooded store. White people find things. Black people steal things. Got it?

In another photo, taken in an outlying area, one white man and one black man are pictured: the former is walking away from a clearly looted store, looking through his stash, while the latter is jumping through the store's broken front window. But instead of labeling the shot, as "two looters standing outside a ransacked business establishment," AP tells us that the white man is "looking through his shopping bag." White people shop. Black people steal things. Got it? "

Never mind that looting has mostly been of needed supplies; never mind that horrible crimes such as rape and murder have occured in the mostly white refugee areas. Damn starvation, capitalism full speed ahead!

Don't forget that coverage in a situation like this will be sparse at best, and likely highly inaccurate: . This article from a newspaper trade magazine also concedes that criticism of the racialization of the looting is likely very fair, and also points out that even well-off journalists have difficulty communicating and verifying information in a storm of this magnitude.

But the media does not only communicate a constant script of despair; not only does it gloss over broad social issues in favor of racialized coverage and tepid criticisms of Bush (courageous insofar as CNN, especially Anderson Cooper, goes, but not nearly far enough); it runs this stream 24/7, keeping viewers glued rather than helping New Orleans or their communities.

Sorry, America, it isn't Russia that screwed up here. Or even Bush. It was the imperial priorities that we all help shape. Feeling guilt over that or sorrow for what happens in New Orleans does very little. And refugees seem to agree. I remember a heart-wrenching speech on CNN by a man bursting into tears, asking (in essence) "You've held 50 press conferences and children are still starving?! Why?! What do you have to gain!" They do not need us admonishing our children to eat their vegetables because, hey, Timmy might be in Louisiana right now. They need help. And so does the system.


Monday, September 05, 2005

"We Haven't Had A New Terror Attack Since 9/11"

An argument that seems to be uttered fairly frequently by those who want to come to some sort of "bottom line" is the above: "I am getting my money worth, we have not had another 9/11." But in fact the questions this argument begs are so many that the fact that the argument is raised is a testament to the ability of some Americans to find an excuse for apathy, however desperate.

After all, by this arbitrary measure, Clinton was a far better president than Bush: there were no 9/11s at all during Clinton's administration. But this is plainly not an argument that the right can stomach, nor is it a good one independent of the hypocrisy of those saying the above.

Whether Clinton or Bush were better on terror is not a debate I think is especially valuable to engage in. Their tactics were fairly much the same: Bomb the bastards... even if they're not actually the bastards (Sudan for Clinton, Iraq for Bush). Whatever difference was there doesn't seem to me to be worth harping about. In any respect, how long does it take a terror attack to develop? If the period was short, then Bush was responsible for the initial 9/11 incident, and yes, Bush may seem to be doing better now (though still worse than Clinton's presidency). But if the period is in fact rather long, then Clinton can be blamed, as the buildup for 9/11 would have occured during his presidency. Or maybe it went back to Reagan?

The fact is that terrorists do not tend to attack on your schedule, or with any regularity. Irregularity is actually better, for it makes individuals believe that any day an attack could come.

Also consider that the US is not the only target that al Qaeda has. If a list of targets would include any member of the coalition that bombed Iraq, by random chance the US would only be hit once every 30 times or so. Take into account the Madrid and London bombings (putting aside the 9/11-esque questions that conspiracy theorists ask) and Bush has presided over quite a bit of terror internationally.

In fact, to say that "Another 9/11 hasn't happened so Bush must be doing his job" makes one wonder: Just how many times have 9/11s happened? Since the people yelling loudly about the horrible human tragedy that was September 11th (and, as an aside: notice that we have a date, 9/11, globally recognized as a horrible atrocity, yet equally infamous days - say, the date of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution - are only locally recognized, despite the infinitely higher human catastrophe; ah, the benefits of empire) say that it was the single instant death toll outside of warfare in history, it shouldn't surprise anyone that another 9/11 hasn't happened. Historically unprecedented actions wouldn't happen within one Presidential administration of one another so often even if said Presidency was a complete basketcase. Take a small probability and combine it with a small number of years and you don't get very useful information.

The above quote, "I am getting my money worth, we have not had another 9/11." regards the Iraq war. Here the blatant artifice of the argument should be readily apparent. If Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and the bombing indeed increased terror there, then what the hell justified the cost there?

So perhaps Bush's basic terror regulations like keeping scissors off planes or similar (many such regulations in fact long called for by the left), or some other subset of Bush policy, has been a tolerable enough policy to explain the lack of 9/11s. But that wouldn't imply every part of Bush's policy would be acceptable. Even if the merits of the good policies outweighed the debits of the bad, if the bad policies could be separated out why not do it? To be mathematical:

Bush's good policies - 10
Bush's bad - -7

3 may be more than 0, but it's not as big as 10. This becomes especially cogent analysis if anybody could have done the 10, which would be my contention.

How would one evaluate all these things? Fairly simply. Take an account of successful damage done to terrorist infrastructure. Compare it to cost in. Look at alternatives that could have cost less or had fewer mitigating demerits. See if long-term grievances likely to make terror are increasing or decreasing. See if global incidences of terror have reduced. Maybe add or subtract some questions or alter their importance, but these strike me as relevant ones to ask.

When analyses like these are taken, not silly ones like "Has there been another 9/11?", Bush's administration has been a total failure.

But, if you don't want to go through all the above reasoning, here's the one vital argument that can be offered exclusively by the Left. After all, Kerry-esque liberals can handle all the above. But the question that must be asked, that cuts to the core of the imperial hubris, is this: Are those 1500 American soldiers, 100,000 Iraqis, and untold Afghanis fair "trade" for about three thousand American lives? Especially since those above had nothing to do with 9/11 and thus had no business being forced to be involved by others, especially not being killed? (Conservative commentators: Please spare me the lecture on promoting democracy. I cover this in "Assume We Gave Them Their Freedom...", but in any respect, the above remains a cogent question, especially since regime change only became advocated re: Afghanistan and Iraq when the other pretenses were collapsing).

Even if Bush's actions have reduced, not increased, "their" terror, is it justified for it to have been done through "our" terror?

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hair, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll

While it seems to be a little gauche to be speaking about while people (largely blacks) suffer without insurance from Hurricane Katrina (see Paul Street's excellent “Natural Calamity and Human Folly” available at, I think it'd be worthwhile to consider how deeply run discrimination is in our society. For example: No one thinks anything of the fact that positions at grocery stores, fast food outlets and similar require their employees to shave beards and take random drug tests.

Why is this discrimination? Simply put: Asking someone to change their appearance to appeal to the prejudices of the company, fellow employees, managers or customers is little different when it is done because the individual is black, gay, Republican or has a goatee. And companies have no legitimate interest in discovering what their employees do off the job, whether illegal or not.

Companies can, should and ought to be legally obligated to insure sanitation, of course. Wearing a hairnet and gloves, requiring that employees wash their hands, etc. are all completely fine. Employee and customer safety should also be a concern. If long hair gets sucked into machinery, there should be solutions on hand, just as if machinery launches particulate matter into exposed vulnerable flesh. And if an employee becomes dangerous, arriving to work drunk or otherwise intoxicated, they should be fired.

Nor do I have an objection to a company requiring uniforms. Here, the onerous nature of wearing the uniform is very minor, as the uniform can be taken off at the end of the day. Meanwhile, the benefits in terms of ease of identification (ever had a hard time figuring out who's an employee and who's not at a grocery store?) and a unified company image far outweigh the cost to the employee.

Shouldn't companies assist law enforcement in cracking down on criminals? Well, no. Companies should not be adjuncts of government. This is true even if drug laws are legitimate, or if the employee on hand is a murderer. Companies should comply with active law enforcement measures insofar as doing so does not violate confidentiality or other obligations, but they should not turn themselves into judge, jury and executioner. The ramifications of government and private industry uniting are, of course, terrifying: Need I remind the informed reader of what happened when companies complied with Nazi directives and accepted slave labor?

However, even if one believes that companies should help law enforcement, that does not justify the current regime, where most drug tests are sealed under strict promises of confidentiality. In this case, the only justification is the company's interest.

And of customer service or sales folks? The citizenry must know that the cost of living in a democracy is occasionally dealing with a long-haired guy at Raley's. Of course, they have no legal obligation to frequent such establishments. If a salesperson decides his appearance does not sell his product well, he may choose to alter it. But that is his choice, not mandated by his employer.
What's next? Restrict drugs, the next thing that's up is sex and rock and roll. Will companies begin to monitor sperm counts to see if employees are cheating on their wives? After all, the ensuing turmoil could affect the company in the long run.

The underlying theme is this: The 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as common sense and a respect for tolerance and diversity, dictates that private actors do not have the right to discriminate, that there must be some guarantee of fairness provided by government and industry to allow a fair marketplace (assuming that markets are just institutions, which I do not, but that is neither here nor there). The right to execute one's private property as one wishes does not extend to “Irish need not apply” or “White only” signs on the door.

Companies have a legitimate interest in knowing some personal information about their employee: Name, phone number, address, past employment history, references, etc. These impinge upon the company's stated task. And they have the right to fire dangerous, irresponsible, unprofessional, lazy or underskilled employees. But they do not have the right or means to be executors of their customers' irrational prejudice or the law.

Assuming We Did Give Them Their Freedom...

The right recently seems to have backed down to perhaps three things to justify the Iraq war: There was good reason to believe Saddam had WMDs; Saddam gave money to Palestinian suicide bombers' families; we freed the people of Iraq from tyranny. The first two should be easy to defeat, but the latter seems a little more daunting. What would I point out to such individuals?

1) The US helped the Ba'ath Party gain its stranglehold, then supported Saddam for more than a decade, even helping put down what could have been a successful resistance struggle. Its sanctions regime and DU dumping allowed Saddam to strengthen his rule by appealing to nationalist resistance. The war consolidated direct US control, allowing neo-liberal regimes, elections only after being forced by courageous Iraqi resistance (largely fraudulent), and in general was a colonialist action. In essence, the US replaced a client for direct US and corporate control. Doesn't seem so courageous now, does it?

Was Saddam's replacement a courageous act? Yes, more than twenty years too late. Will we be better than Saddam? Considering we didn't care about what Saddam did and the atrocities going on at Abu Ghraib, hardly. We eagerly supported the Turks murdering the Kurds. We were perfectly willing to call the Shah a democrat and support Islam Karimov. And one only need look at what happens to those who begin to run their own country (see Venezuela, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Indonesia before Suharto, or the US conquest of the Philippines, to give a cross section of history) to see what will happen if Iraq ever departs from its intended place in the US imperial system. Indeed, Saddam's fate proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt as well.

Every empire claims great intentions. Look on the ground and you almost always see a different story.

Though I have my problems with Bill Mahr, I was glad when he pointed out that, in essence, we're Britain in the Revolutionary War: the occupying army instead of the homegrown resistance. And, of course, who's on our side? Britain. The dying empire and the new empire!

2) Putting aside the content of the "freedom" we're offering, who gave us the right to decide who to give freedom to and not? Why don't numerous other countries suffering under dictators and radical Muslim governments deserve freedom? Might it have anything to do with Iraq's oil reserves and a desire to get more military bases in the Middle East? Or the fact that Iraq was defenseless and would build up the Republican security credentials in 2002 and 2004?

3) In line with #2: Those 100,000 extra dead (or 15,000 from direct bombing; hey, Stalin didn't directly kill all that many people either, yet everyone still mentions all those dead from his economic reforms, of course not mentioning those who may have been saved by industrialization and the ability to fend off the Germans) were never consulted if they wanted to sacrifice their lives for freedom. Nor was the rest of the society asked if they wanted Saddam gone. And even if 90% of Iraq did want their freedom, who were they to force those 100,000 to die for it? Please note that I do not know the answers to these questions. What war does is force fewer options and make these sort of questions, vital ones, moot.

4) Though I hate to engage in practical cost-benefit analysis with human lives and freedom, it is nonetheless worth it to ask: Is all that money going to prosecute an illegal war worth it? Couldn't that money have been sent in humanitarian aid or to protect the poor and weak in this society? And what of the terror and WMD proliferation that has accelerated since the war? What of the risks to civilization that hardly left analysts were discussing in the security literature?

5) As I wrote in a Negative for a debate in front of the League of Women's Voters, " It should be noted that the true hope for democracy lies in the hands of the Iraqi people. The failed 1992 rebellion was indicative of the potential for change. As noted by Susquehanna Associate Professor of Philosophy Jeffrey Whitman in the Journal of Social Philosophy, “The problem with interventions in the name of liberty and human rights is that the people have no vested interest in maintaining these newly acquired rights.” If the US intervenes for the Iraqis, they will not have gained democracy and rights for themselves, and thus will not have learned how to exercise freedom and solidarity. Resistance groups against Saddam’s regime should be supported."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Thoughts on Hurricane Katrina

I'm sure most of you have heard of the "super-storm" Katrina that has blanketed Lousiana in rain and flood water. As far as I can see, federal disaster assistance is doing its (very limited) job, while Bush attempts to get political capital from doing what any President would be lynched for not doing. But this doesn't mean there aren't social issues lurking in the background.

The most obvious one is global warming. All the pundits will undoubtedly be saying "This is a liberal cock-up to harm business! There's no direct proof Katrina was caused by global warming." And the latter bit will be true. That's not the way a chaotic system, like weather (defined as the fact that a small deviation at the start will create large deviations later), works. But the NOAA and numerous experts have been saying that super-storms would increase. Voila, an unprecedented storm. And conservatives have the audacity to trumpet out all their old garbage plus some vitriolic and unscientific comments about Katrina when a prediction of the other side just came true.

Consider for a moment the pro-and-anti-global-warming literature (by which I mean, respectively, the literature that supports the notion of anthropogenic climate change and the literature that tries to rebut it). Pro-global warming folks admit there is a lot of complexity in models and deviation in evidence and provide numerous individual sources of confirmation of what they expect and record; anti-global warming folks utter garbage about maximum entropy in the atmosphere or cite one or two studies that "disprove" global warming (as if a mass of evidence could be disproven by one study). Pro-global warming folks talk about the complex social ramifications of warming (and here I include Robert Kaplan and the Pentagon) considering the vectors of race, inequity, poverty, resource conflicts, and geo-political considerations; anti-global warming folks discuss almost none of this. There is a complex reality out there, and conservatives yelling about how volcanoes produce more greenhouse gasses than humans ever have (obliquely ignoring that volcanoes are cooling factors, not heating factors) do violence to it.

And the security issues are real. Right now, Canada is anticipating the return of the Northwest Passage, committing their military to defend that vital SLOC (sea lane of communication). Kaplan's "Coming Anarchy" discusses how ecological problems may cause untold warfare in the southern part of the horn of Africa, where five countries (thanks to colonial influence) are cut up vertically when the geography runs horizontally. Just some of the heuristic cases of warming.

To return to Katrina specifically: 1/4 of folks have flood insurance, meaning that a number of people may suffer severe financial loss, possibly debilitating loss. As Paul Street points out in his article (linked below), there's more than white folks in New Orleans; in fact, it has a disproportionately large African-American community. But the media seems to think that the population is far more melanin-deprived than it actually is. Another case of the media's wholesale disregard for the browner among us.

But even the white folks without insurance, health or otherwise, will suffer incredible hardship from this disaster. Where is the federal government insurance program to protect them from what is not their fault (and may in fact be the fault of the government itself?) And why does Bill Gates have the GDP of Norway while people suffer heat stroke crammed into stadiums?

Updates (9:42, Friday, September 2nd, 2005)

And the ecological hypothesis gets more evidence. All those levees that busted when the storm surge hit? They have been getting steadily bigger. See, New Orleans is essentially in a giant basin, and similar to Venice, as more and more construction goes on the land actually sinks. Development helped this disaster.

Racial considerations also continue to be vital, as the media racializes (and, as the below articles indicates, class-polarizes) the violence and the looting, making the victims and the heroes white and the villains black, per usual.

My Dad reminded me of "disaster pornography", a quaint little position we'd run in high school debate. Unfortunately, D-Porn is indeed real. The fundamental argument is that the way that the media and the culture pictures and frames disasters is in a pseudo-pornographic fashion, where the entire society is supposed to watch and be titillated (if not in a sexual manner).

Consider how the major catastrophes the media has chosen to highlight (9/11, the Indonesian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina) have received nearly constant airplay and analysis. Every second a new horror arrives. Social issues are placed on the backburner in exchange for emotionally potent oversimplification. The entire polity is paralyzed, the news services only able to discuss one thing.

Add in a good dose of hypocrisy, as well. See, coverage of Cuba's successful hurricane aid mission (discussed more fully in the articles below) is non-existant; the Lancet report received little report except for token condemnation; Darfur received some coverage... While Katrina's death toll is incredible, in terms of numbers it is (tragically) not very high up on the list. In particular, those crimes that the US is responsible for or successes that US enemies have done are totally ignored.

And in my local newspaper, The Union, two letters said that the world wasn't giving enough aid, nor were celebrities. In perhaps two minutes total of Google searching, I found that in fact the IAEA is having member countries release oil; the EU is considering whether to send oil or money/food aid (some aid will be sent); international humanitarian organizations are assisting; and numerous celebrities immediately began kicking up donations. Blame the rest of the world or Hollywood liberals. Don't blame Bush, the army, global warming, ecological devastation, development, or yourself. See a pattern?


Two articles from the Z Sustainers system, reprinted for your convenience:

"How the Free Market Killed New Orleans
By Michael Parenti

The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New Orleans and the death of thousands of its residents. Armed with advanced warning that a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to hit that city and surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just as the free market dictates, just like people do when disaster hits free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an optimal outcome for the entire society. This is the way the invisible hand works its wonders.

There would be none of the collectivistic regimented evacuation as occurred in Cuba. When an especially powerful hurricane hit that island last year, the Castro government, abetted by neighborhood citizen committees and local Communist party cadres, evacuated 1.3 million people, more than 10 percent of the country's population, with not a single life lost, a heartening feat that went largely unmentioned in the U.S. press.

On Day One of the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina, it was already clear that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of American lives had been lost in New Orleans. Many people had "refused" to evacuate, media reporters explained, because they were just plain "stubborn."

It was not until Day Three that the relatively affluent telecasters began to realize that tens of thousands of people had failed to flee because they had nowhere to go and no means of getting there. With hardly any cash at hand or no motor vehicle to call their own, they had to sit tight and hope for the best. In the end, the free market did not work so well for them.

Many of these people were low-income African Americans, along with fewer numbers of poor whites. It should be remembered that most of them had jobs before Katrina's lethal visit. That's what most poor people do in this country: they work, usually quite hard at dismally paying jobs, sometimes more than one job at a time. They are poor not because they're lazy but because they have a hard time surviving on poverty wages while burdened by high prices, high rents, and regressive taxes.

The free market played a role in other ways. Bush's agenda is to cut government services to the bone and make people rely on the private sector for the things they might need. So he sliced $71.2 million from the budget of the New Orleans Corps of Engineers, a 44 percent reduction. Plans to fortify New Orleans levees and upgrade the system of pumping out water had to be shelved.

Bush took to the airways and said that no one could have foreseen this disaster. Just another lie tumbling from his lips. All sorts of people had been predicting disaster for New Orleans, pointing to the need to strengthen the levees and the pumps, and fortify the coastlands.

In their campaign to starve out the public sector, the Bushite reactionaries also allowed developers to drain vast areas of wetlands. Again, that old invisible hand of the free market would take care of things. The developers, pursuing their own private profit, would devise outcomes that would benefit us all.

But wetlands served as a natural absorbent and barrier between New Orleans and the storms riding in from across the sea. And for some years now, the wetlands have been disappearing at a frightening pace on the Gulf? coast. All this was of no concern to the reactionaries in the White House.

As for the rescue operation, the free-marketeers like to say that relief to the more unfortunate among us should be left to private charity. It was a favorite preachment of President Ronald Reagan that "private charity can do the job." And for the first few days that indeed seemed to be the policy with the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The federal government was nowhere in sight but the Red Cross went into action. Its message: "Don't send food or blankets; send money." Meanwhile Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network---taking a moment off from God's work of pushing John Roberts nomination to the Supreme Court---called for donations and announced "Operation Blessing" which consisted of a highly-publicized but totally inadequate shipment of canned goods and bibles.

By Day Three even the myopic media began to realize the immense failure of the rescue operation. People were dying because relief had not arrived. The authorities seemed more concerned with the looting than with rescuing people. It was property before people, just like the free marketeers always want.

But questions arose that the free market did not seem capable of answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it take helicopters five hours to get six people out of one hospital? When would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the feds? The state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses and trucks? the shelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies and water?

Where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the $33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? Even ABC-TV evening news (September 1, 2005) quoted local officials as saying that "the federal government's response has been a national disgrace."

In a moment of delicious (and perhaps mischievous) irony, offers of foreign aid were tendered by France, Germany and several other nations. Russia offered to send two plane loads of food and other materials for the victims. Predictably, all these proposals were quickly refused by the White House. America the Beautiful and Powerful, America the Supreme Rescuer and World Leader, America the Purveyor of Global Prosperity could not accept foreign aid from others. That would be a most deflating and insulting role reversal. Were the French looking for another punch in the nose?

Besides, to have accepted foreign aid would have been to admit the truth---that the Bushite reactionaries had neither the desire nor the decency to provide for ordinary citizens, not even those in the most extreme straits. Next thing you know, people would start thinking that George W. Bush was really nothing more than a fulltime agent of Corporate America.

-------Michael Parenti's recent books include Superpatriotism (City Lights) and The Assassination of Julius Caesar (New Press), both available in paperback. His forthcoming The Culture Struggle (Seven Stories Press) will be published in the fall. For more information visit: "

"Hurricane Katrina – View From Asia
By Andre Vltchek

More than 8 months ago, one of the worst natural disasters in a human history destroyed substantial part of a province under Indonesian control - Aceh. Although exact number will never be known, close to 250 thousand people lost their lives during the under-ocean earthquake and consequent tsunami; tens of thousands died in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand combined. It is now clear that tens of thousands more people died due to inadequate response of Indonesian government and military, stranded in remote areas with no food, drinking water, shelter and medical care.

Your correspondent went to Thailand and then to Aceh; to cover extend of disaster, almost immediately accusing Indonesian authorities of disorganized, chaotic reaction; of deployment of religious "volunteers" instead of professionals. He accused Indonesian military of sabotaging the aid, of stealing food and water desperately needed for those who managed to survive. In one of his reports he concluded that most of the people in Aceh "died because they were poor": would such a disaster strike in Singapore or in other wealthy nation instead of in Indonesia where tens of millions live in appalling shantytowns, there would be only a fraction of the casualties.

It is now September 2nd, and the cameras of almost all important international news networks are zoomed on the desperate men, women and children, begging for help, abandoned under the brutal sun with almost no food, water and shelter; in one of the greatest historical cities of The United States of America - New Orleans.

Today, one of the reports by Reuters starts with these words: "U.S. troops poured into New Orleans of Friday with shoot-to-kill orders to scare off looting gangs so rescuers can help thousands of people stranded by Hurricane Katrina, find the dead and clean up the carnage." But during the previous days, cameras recorded "looting" by desperate men and women, breaking into the supermarkets and stores, simply trying to survive. Of course there are gangs terrorizing the people in New Orleans area; of course there is shooting and anarchy; but is it the whole story? If the help would arrive sooner; there would be obviously no need for looting and no chance for gangs to organize.

After flying over New Orleans (no doubt great sacrifice and expression of solidarity), President Bush spoke about restoring order. It was obvious that defending private property was higher on his mind than suffering of his fellow citizens. He didn't explain what good is rotting food in partially submerged supermarkets and convenience stores anyway. One wonders whether this is a new and powerful message from his administration: no matter what, the private property is untouchable and defending it is of greater importance than saving human lives.

Why did it take US troops so much time to enter New Orleans? Where was all that heavy, high-tech equipment used all over the world, mainly for shameful deeds? On September 1st, official argument went that the aircraft carrier and several war ships just left East Coast, and it will take them some time to reach Gulf of Mexico. But why didn't they leave earlier; right away; few hours after extend of disaster became known?

Eight months ago reaction of the Republic of Indonesia was similar: while it takes just a few minutes, at most hours, for its military to blow sky-high known positions of the rebels in Aceh or Papua; after the tsunami, for many days, there was suddenly almost no hardware available for the rescue missions. There was "not enough ships in the area"; soldiers and police on the ground were "too overwhelmed". Government refused to take any decisive action, instead relying on the glorification of the "volunteers".

On the other hand, Thai Royal Air Force and navy mobilized almost immediately after tsunami damaged great parts of its Southwest coast. Helicopter crews, some risking their lives, were flying thousands of sorties, trying to save people from the high seas and from affected areas. I encountered several pilots close to the airport of Phuket, late at night, their eyes red from lack of sleep; grabbing something fast to eat before returning to the air - exhausted but determined.

On Thursday, the whole world watched as buses were shuttling people from the Dome in New Orleans (where almost everything collapsed; from air conditioning to the toilets) to Astrodome in Huston, Texas (where thousands of victims of the hurricane were expected to sleep on the military beds and share just a few toilets originally designed for the athletes). It was hard to avoid asking: is this really the best the US government can do for those who are experiencing severe trauma; for those who lost everything? This is not Aceh but Houston, Texas, the center of the US oil industry and space program, with hundreds of hotels and motels spread all over the area!

In Thailand, dozens of hotels (and private homes) opened their doors to survivors and to the family members (local and foreign) who were searching for their loved ones. Was it lack of solidarity of corporate America that prevented this from happening in the United States? And if it was, why didn't the government force these hotel doors open for refugees - through an emergency decree? Or is this just another proof that private sector and private property is sacred; more sacred than human life? Should it be taken as a warning: that from now on things will become this way?

For several days, there were countless images of the Coast Guard helicopters rescuing residents in the flooded areas from their rooftops and from their damaged homes. Helicopters were dropping baskets, pulling victims on board. Most of those rescued did have home as they lived in the residential areas. In the same time, we were learning that people elsewhere were starving, literally dropping dead in the middle of the streets in the centre of New Orleans.
New Orleans is no doubt a segregated city. While it is surrounded by posh neighborhoods (inhabited mainly by the whites), the city center and several suburbs are homes to minorities.

Some people living there are poor; others very poor. Could it be possible that even during the tragedy rescue operations are treating differently rich and poor, black and white? Is there really a lack of helicopters to airlift everyone; to bring them promptly to safety, to give them decent temporary accommodation, private bathrooms and showers?

No matter what are the reasons, response to the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico was inadequate, scandalously slow; unforgivable. The mightiest military power on earth couldn't (or refused to) deploy soldiers right after the tragedy; it stood-by as people were dying in the centre of New Orleans which was just a few hours after the hurricane definitely reachable from the air. The government of the United States failed.

Months ago, your correspondent mistakenly claimed that what happened in Aceh could never happen in any developed country. The government which would show such incompetence would be forced to resign. His analyses were proven wrong by recent events in his own country.
In Washington, there are no calls for impeachment and it seems that no heads will roll as a result of what this outrageous failure which took lives of many men, women and children. Criticism in the US mainstream press is half-hearted and when it appears, it is diluted by the stories (always so much in demand and on offer) about the heroism and self-sacrifice of the rescue workers. It may appear that although some mistakes were made, society is still governed by the sound principles; that in essence everything is correct.

In reality almost nothing went right for the citizens of New Orleans, especially for the poor; and nothing is going right even as these words are being written. White bags are covering corpses of those who recently died on the streets of New Orleans; those who died after the disaster - long after. Men, women and children are spread on the ground, many almost motionless, in the center of the city. They are hungry and thirsty; they have no place to wash and to urinate. And they are supposed to stay where they are; they are not suppose to "loot" and if they, by any chance, decide to break into some store and take food and water, there are orders to shoot and kill them!

Andre Vltchek is a writer, political analyst and filmmaker and he can be reached at:

"There Must Be A Rational Explanation for This"

And, to be fair, comments that benefit the other side of the aisle.

I'm sure we've all heard the comment, "There must be a rational explanation for this!" This will come up when a seemingly mystical or supernatural event occurs.

Yes, there's a rational explanation for this: God did it. Or the Devil. Or a magician. If these things are true or seem to accord with the evidence on hand and are verifiable, they're rational statements.

What people actually mean is "I'm sure there's a explanation that does not involve things totally beyond my current experience." This is reasonable, but it is in fact a statement of faith: it postulates things that one currently does not have the evidence for.

And faith is just fine. People like Penn and Teller really need to stop implying that atheism is the only or even the more rational choice. Every day people "believe" arational things like faith. They believe that the world is a good (or bad) place. They suspend their disbelief that a child named Harry Potter actually exists so they can enjoy. They feel and read and peruse art. All of these are arational. One of the human feelings people have is the rapturous spiritual feeling, and that's just fine. A respect for diversity and tolerance that otherwise left-oriented people should have is not showing with comments like these.

Now, admittedly to assume that something is deceiving the senses, that an illusion is occuring, that something operates in the background that could be explained in a scientific or mostly scientific way seems to me to be a better assumption to make, if only because it postulates less new things (and Ockham's Razor leads me to assume that, of two equal explanations, the less complicated is more valid).

Of course, regarding that spiritual experience: To say that scientists see incredible things, that the tapesty of creation is truly awe-inspiring, is completely valid. But this does not prove God's existence. It may reaffirm it for the faithful. My point to those individuals would then be that, since not just Christian scientists and science lovers but also Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, etc. experiences the same spiritual feeling and awe of wonder, that perhaps we're all on an equal playing field, spiritually speaking.