Subject: ON KARMA AND THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE IN THE 21st CENTURY.
May Day 2013
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
I first joined the faculty at the University of Grenoble in September 1994, returning from a Fulbright post in the former Soviet Union, and remained as visiting professor of American Studies in the foreign languages department for three years. When I was denied tenure, I went to UC-Berkeley as a visiting scholar for a year, after which I returned to France in 1998, with a tenured post at Marc Bloch University in Strasburg. In 2000, I was re-invited to Grenoble as a tenured full-professor. Since then, I have seen many “university reforms,” none of which have improved the working environment of the faculty, nor the quality of education for students.
I was invited to teach a lecture course in US Foreign Policy across the road at the Institute d’Etudes Politiques in 2001, until the fallout from 9/11 grew too great. Toward the end of the third year of my contract at Science Po, an American colleague whom I barely knew suggested that now was the time to stop criticizing MacDonald’s restaurants, because “this was exactly what the terrorists wanted us to do.” Not knowing this woman, I laughed and suggested that perhaps we should all eat at McDo's more often to show our support for the victims of terrorism. She is did not laugh, and I did not get my contract renewed….
I find myself now reading the fourth and final volume of Michael Mann’s epic study of The Sources of Social Power which covers a period of some 5000 years, from ancient Mesopotamia to Obama’s American empire. It is a challenge in more ways than one : reading these 2500 pages is an experience sort of like my 3000-mile bicycle trip across North America back in the late 1970s –no one could have paid me enough money to undertake this project; but human need prevailed and I did it on my own nickel, simply to satisfy my own existential needs. A very un-collectivist attitude, but nevertheless effective. [Somewhere, Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out that it was collectivist instincts, during the period of the Great Plague in Medieval Europe between 1348 and 1350, that brought together great numbers of peasants seeking divine protection inside the local churches where they became contaminated and died in larger and larger numbers.]
In the final chapter of the final volume of this magnum opus, Mann discusses the “Global Crisis: Climate change” citing the radical proposal by Oxford University climatologist, Myles Allen, who suggests that the appropriate corporations should “take responsibility for burying all the carbon dioxide emitted by the fossil fuel products they sell.”
Carbon comes into Europe through a couple of dozen pipes, ports and holes in the ground. It goes out through hundreds of millions of flues and exhaust pipes. Yet European climate policy is all about controlling the flow at the point of emission. It’s like blowing air into a sponge and trying to slow it down by blocking up the holes.” (cited by Mann, Vol. IV, p. 381.)
Mann comments on Allen’s sarcastic conclusion, that ”such control would require less government, not more,” by characterizing this idealistic observation as pie-in-the-sky, for it fails to take into account the real nature of the political power in the hands of industrialists, who effectively control the state to achieve their pecuniary claims on their investments.
Mann’s central thesis is that there exist four exclusive and autonomous sources of social power which can be found in overlapping and interwoven crystallizations throughout history. The independent sources of these four currents of power are: ideological, political, economic, and military; and that one of these interrelated currents of power is less precipitous than the others. Economic power is often a glacial movement toward securing an environment which is investment friendly, a social network which guarantees the highest possible dividends to corporate stock owners. This quest leads logically and ineluctably, according to Mann, to the financialization of capital.
The problem is generated by an overaccumulation of capital, which becomes too great to be invested in productive activity. Thus investors switch to investing in financial instruments, which are less bound by real material resources. Keynes had worried about this tendency in his General Theory (1936) …, noting ‘So long as it is open to the individual to employ his wealth in hoarding or lending money, the alternative of purchasing actual capital assets cannot be rendered sufficiently attractive …. Except by organizing markets wherein these assets can be easily realized for money.’ Such financialization might deepen and become more leveraged and Keynes feared lest the ‘enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation … When the capital development of a country becomes the byproduct of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.’ (Mann, Vol. IV, p.322)
Satisfying the capital investors is the name of the economic power game, but Mann warns that it is reductive and fallacious to think that military, ideological and political power is always subordinated this one source of social power. Each of the four sources, he argues, are autonomous and from their unique origins he attempts to show how they have interacted at specific moments in particular places over the centuries of human history. An ambitious work, indeed!
In the 8 items below, readers will confront the irrationalities of the contemporary political economy, in a world where it is becoming increasingly evident that no "zero-sum game" is being played, but rather a dismal race to the bottom which is driven by the inertia of old capitalist habits hard to shake off. While many are totally mystified, some of us are not --but either way the levers of power seem to float just beyond our reach, as if in a dream. Collective power is approaching the vanishing point, as distributive power secures minority control over the most important institutions by the owners of capital, who intend to take minimum risks with their short-term investments in civil society and have been preparing the population to meet their objectives.
Item A. are “Happy May-Day Greetings” with a short history from San Diego community organizer, Monty Kroopkin.
Item B., sent to us by University of Pennsylvania Professor emeritus of Finance Edward S. Herman, is his recent article published in Z Magazine on The crisis of political power in the USA.
Item C., from Mark Crispin Miller, is information on The Case Against High-Stakes Testing: “Teaching the exam: competition and the culture of cheating.”
Item D. is a video coverage of a discussion on economic power by the players themselves, members of the conservative/libertarian The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, founded by conservative students at the University of Chicago Law School, Yale Law School, and Harvard Law School in 1982 to challenge what conseratives perceived as the orthodox American liberal ideology found in most law schools at the time of Ronald Reagan’s election.
Item E., from Francis Feeley isa documentary exposé on the treatment of prisoners in the USA, an index for any society for measuring degrees of civilization and barbarism.
Item F., from Francis Feeley isa short excerpt for the 97-minute docu-drama produced by Louis Rudolph and originally aired on US television March 3rd, 1980.
Item G., from Viktoria Volodarski, is a photo essay, “Des Coins de Pardis”.
Item H., from the April 29 broadcast of Democracy Now !, are two interviews concerning the prisoners’ hunger strike at Guantánamo, which began in February 2013 and we are still counting….
And finally, we offer readers a look Leonard Cohen’s 2008 PBS performance of :
Democracy is Coming to the USA
Professor of American Studies
University of Grenoble-3
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
From Monty Kroopkin :
Date: 1 May 2013
Subject: Happy May Day.
I hope you have (or take) the day off and I hope you get to join in one of the May Day celebrations near you.
In San Diego there will be a rally at the Civic Center at 3 pm and a march to Chicano Park and another rally and festivities at the Park, starting at 5 pm.
I am on the elected negotiations team for my SEIU local and we have a collective bargaining session with the County of San Diego starting at 8 am and going probably until close to 5. So I plan to go directly to Chicano Park afterwards. I hope to see some of you there.
I have pasted in below a short rendering of the history of May Day. Hope you like it.
by Eric Chase
Most people living in the United States know little about the International Workers' Day of May Day. For many others there is an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union. Most Americans don't realize that May Day has its origins here in this country and is as "American" as baseball and apple pie, and stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.
In the late nineteenth century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16 hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860's, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880's that organized labor was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.
At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.
A variety of socialist organizations sprung up throughout the later half of the 19th century, ranging from political parties to choir groups. In fact, many socialists were elected into governmental office by their constituency. But again, many of these socialists were ham-strung by the political process which was so evidently controlled by big business and the bi-partisan political machine. Tens of thousands of socialists broke ranks from their parties, rebuffed the entire political process, which was seen as nothing more than protection for the wealthy, and created anarchist groups throughout the country. Literally thousands of working people embraced the ideals of anarchism, which sought to put an end to all hierarchical structures (including government), emphasized worker controlled industry, and valued direct action over the bureaucratic political process. It is inaccurate to say that labor unions were "taken over" by anarchists and socialists, but rather anarchists and socialist made up the labor unions.
At its national convention in Chicago, held in 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (which later became the American Federation of Labor), proclaimed that "eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886." The following year, the FOTLU, backed by many Knights of Labor locals, reiterated their proclamation stating that it would be supported by strikes and demonstrations. At first, most radicals and anarchists regarded this demand as too reformist, failing to strike "at the root of the evil." A year before the Haymarket Massacre, Samuel Fielden pointed out in the anarchist newspaper, The Alarm, that "whether a man works eight hours a day or ten hours a day, he is still a slave."
Despite the misgivings of many of the anarchists, an estimated quarter million workers in the Chicago area became directly involved in the crusade to implement the eight hour work day, including the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialistic Labor Party and local Knights of Labor. As more and more of the workforce mobilized against the employers, these radicals conceded to fight for the 8-hour day, realizing that "the tide of opinion and determination of most wage-workers was set in this direction." With the involvement of the anarchists, there seemed to be an infusion of greater issues than the 8-hour day. There grew a sense of a greater social revolution beyond the more immediate gains of shortened hours, but a drastic change in the economic structure of capitalism.
In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:
•Workingmen to Arms!
•War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
•The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
•One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
•MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.
Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.
The names of many - Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg - became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers' strength and unity, yet didn't become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted.
More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers.
For six months, armed Pinkerton agents and the police harassed and beat locked-out steelworkers as they picketed. Most of these workers belonged to the "anarchist-dominated" Metal Workers' Union. During a speech near the McCormick plant, some two hundred demonstrators joined the steelworkers on the picket line. Beatings with police clubs escalated into rock throwing by the strikers which the police responded to with gunfire. At least two strikers were killed and an unknown number were wounded.
Full of rage, a public meeting was called by some of the anarchists for the following day in Haymarket Square to discuss the police brutality. Due to bad weather and short notice, only about 3000 of the tens of thousands of people showed up from the day before. This affair included families with children and the mayor of Chicago himself. Later, the mayor would testify that the crowd remained calm and orderly and that speaker August Spies made "no suggestion... for immediate use of force or violence toward any person..."
As the speech wound down, two detectives rushed to the main body of police, reporting that a speaker was using inflammatory language, inciting the police to march on the speakers' wagon. As the police began to disperse the already thinning crowd, a bomb was thrown into the police ranks. No one knows who threw the bomb, but speculations varied from blaming any one of the anarchists, to an agent provocateur working for the police.
Enraged, the police fired into the crowd. The exact number of civilians killed or wounded was never determined, but an estimated seven or eight civilians died, and up to forty were wounded. One officer died immediately and another seven died in the following weeks. Later evidence indicated that only one of the police deaths could be attributed to the bomb and that all the other police fatalities had or could have had been due to their own indiscriminate gun fire. Aside from the bomb thrower, who was never identified, it was the police, not the anarchists, who perpetrated the violence.
Eight anarchists - Albert Parsons, August Spies, Samuel Fielden, Oscar Neebe, Michael Schwab, George Engel, Adolph Fischer and Louis Lingg - were arrested and convicted of murder, though only three were even present at Haymarket and those three were in full view of all when the bombing occurred. The jury in their trial was comprised of business leaders in a gross mockery of justice similar to the Sacco-Vanzetti case thirty years later, or the trials of AIM and Black Panther members in the seventies. The entire world watched as these eight organizers were convicted, not for their actions, of which all of were innocent, but for their political and social beliefs. On November 11, 1887, after many failed appeals, Parsons, Spies, Engel and Fisher were hung to death. Louis Lingg, in his final protest of the state's claim of authority and punishment, took his own life the night before with an explosive device in his mouth.
The remaining organizers, Fielden, Neebe and Schwab, were pardoned six years later by Governor Altgeld, who publicly lambasted the judge on a travesty of justice. Immediately after the Haymarket Massacre, big business and government conducted what some say was the very first "Red Scare" in this country. Spun by mainstream media, anarchism became synonymous with bomb throwing and socialism became un-American. The common image of an anarchist became a bearded, eastern European immigrant with a bomb in one hand and a dagger in the other.
Today we see tens of thousands of activists embracing the ideals of the Haymarket Martyrs and those who established May Day as an International Workers' Day. Ironically, May Day is an official holiday in 66 countries and unofficially celebrated in many more, but rarely is it recognized in this country where it began.
Over one hundred years have passed since that first May Day. In the earlier part of the 20th century, the US government tried to curb the celebration and further wipe it from the public's memory by establishing "Law and Order Day" on May 1. We can draw many parallels between the events of 1886 and today. We still have locked out steelworkers struggling for justice. We still have voices of freedom behind bars as in the cases of Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier. We still had the ability to mobilize tens of thousands of people in the streets of a major city to proclaim "THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!" at the WTO and FTAA demonstrations.
Words stronger than any I could write are engraved on the Haymarket Monument:
THE DAY WILL COME WHEN OUR SILENCE WILL BE MORE POWERFUL THAN THE VOICES YOU ARE THROTTLING TODAY.
Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted - people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for. The sacrifices of so many people can not be forgotten or we'll end up fighting for those same gains all over again. This is why we celebrate May Day.
From Edward S. Herman :
Date: 29 April 2013
Subject: The crisis of political power in the USA.
Democrats’ (And Liberals’) Existential Crisis?
by Edward S. Herman
Z Magazine, May 2013
In his New York Times column of March 23, 2013, entitled “The G.O.P.’s Bachmann Problem,” Charles M. Blow argues that the Republicans open internal squabbling, while it is “too delicious for words,” is not the main show. The main show is that “The Republican Party is experiencing an existential crisis, born of its own misguided incongruity with modern American culture and its insistence on choosing intransigence in a dynamic age of fundamental change.” In the process they are also pushing away voters whom it could otherwise win. Blow then cites political scientist and pollster Andrew Kohut, who compares the low ratings and the Republicans today with the devastation of the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s when supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern were “radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”
But are the Democrats today advancing positive values in this “dynamic age of fundamental change”? Are they opposing the permanent war system and entrenchment of the military-industrial complex? Are they dealing effectively with the severe internal problems this country faces? Gene McCarthy and George McGovern were most notable for their opposition to the Vietnam War, a murderous enterprise that the Kennedy-Johnson-Humphrey Democrats had gotten us into so heavily and that Nixon continued at huge human and financial cost. McGovern was also a strong spokesman for the welfare state. So in fact he (and McCarthy) stood for the values that any decent liberal would advocate and support (see the classic exposition in L.T. Hobhouse’s 1911 book Liberalism, which includes a strong condemnation of militarism). McCarthy and McGovern were beaten back by seriously regressive forces, that included AFL-CIO boss George Meany, business investors in election outcomes, the Democratic political establishment, and the mainstream media. It was actually a low point in modern political history, the triumph of business-as-usual and anti-revitalization. The Democrats political image was made to seem radical by political-economic forces that no good liberal today should present as an appropriate arbiter.
And was the Democratic Party revitalized thereafter? Jimmy Carter was a presidential failure and helped set the stage for Reagan’s intensified class warfare, militarization, and global “anti-terrorism” program (notable for its compatability with warm relations with the Argentine and Guatemalan military dictatorships and apartheid South Africa). In short, Carter didn’t revitalize the Democrats, he kept the party in the familiar political mainstream, setting it up for the advance of rightwing forces that had an ideology and program that they believed in and pressed.
The Republicans today and in the recent past have pushed for and implemented a class war on the majority, so that their “intransigence” and aggressive bargaining and union-busting efforts are truly making this a “dynamic age” with “fundamental change,” although in a backwards direction. It is widely recognized that they have pushed the political frontier to the right, the Democrats being the pushees as well as the collaborators. The far-right Koch brothers and “entitlements”-slashing Pete Peterson are surely pleased with this political drift. The Republicans may have lost recent elections, but they have succeeded in the policy arena—militarism has been strengthened, welfare state encroachments continue, and the Democrats have hardly been able to claim progressive advances on any front but in social changes that were already strongly underway (such as gay rights).
Clearly the Democrats themselves suffer a severe existential crisis, despite their recent electoral victories. Despite the claims of a new era of change and hope, these have been dashed almost across the board, and not solely because of Republican intransigence. The Democrats supported the enormous bailout of the financial institutions directly responsible for the 2008 meltdown and crisis; failed to give anything like parallel help to the victims among the 99% who are not “job creators” (and very affluent); failed to prosecute the financial criminals responsible for 2008; failed to reverse the civil liberties retreats of the Bush years and have actually enlarged them and expanded the attack on whistleblowers; and they have enlarged the “war on terror,” widening its global scope and making lavish drone warfare its new centerpiece. They have also bargained poorly with the “intransigent” Republicans and made no serious gains in reducing the growth of inequality and impeding the “Golden Rule,” which Rule helps us understand their own sorry role. Their triumph in the passage of “Obamacare” was muted by its lack of a public option, its complexity, and its loopholes that the insurance companies can exploit.
So we see in this country not a revitalized Democratic Party working congruently with the needs of this culture and demands of fundamental change, but one so paralyzed by dependence on money and internal divisions that it is unable to mount a credible defense of a sinking welfare state and finds it easier to go after “terrorists” and join in the fight to contain the debt. The intransigent Republicans have been making mincemeat of the far-too-little-intransigent Democrats.
We should also note that the Democrats have not made fundamental changes in, or revitalized U.S. foreign policy in any way, but instead have if anything enlarged the Bush-Cheney “global war on (really war OF) terror” and happily allowed Obama’s transformation from agent of hope and change into a permament-war president. Warfare and alleged threat prevention has been more important than peace, civil society repair, and the real threat of climate change. Epitomizing the failure to revitalize in this area was the March 2013 Obama visit to Israel, allegedly intended to get the “peace process” moving again, but ignoring the fact that the “peace process” has long been an Israeli ethnic-cleansing- protector rather than an instrument of peace-making. Peace would require abandoning that old fraud and putting serious pressure on Israel, which Obama was clearly not prepared to do, in keeping with Democratic Party (and Republican-supported) policy. So here again “intransigence” (Netanyahu) made Obama and the Democrats look like agents of hopelessness and de facto state terror, infinitely distant from revitalization.
From Mark Crispin Miler :
Date: 30 March 2013
Subject: Teaching the exam: competition and the culture of cheating.
The Case Against High-Stakes Testing
From The Law Department :
Date: 11 November 2011
Subject: Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was aimed at correcting a number of problems relating to the market woes of the last few years. Among other things, it specifically sought to address issues pertaining to the idea that some entities were too big and intertwined with the economy to be allowed to fail. Our panel will discuss the legal (and potential constitutional) issues coming out of Dodd-Frank. In passing the act, has Congress overstepped its bounds? Will Dodd-Frank succeed in identifying the entities that are "too big to fail," and will it be effective in regulating them in a way that will prevent their failure? This panel was featured as Showcase Panel I at the 2011 National Lawyers Convention on November 10, 2011.
Too Big to Fail 11-10-11
Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies
From Francis Feeley :
Date: 1 May 2013
Subject: The treatment of women, children and prisoners is the index for levels of civilization for any society, past or present.
The documentary film:
Attica Prison Riot (September 1971) - William Kunstler: “Disturbing the Universe” . POV on PBS
From Francis Feeley :
Date: 1 May 2013
Subject: One measure of civilization against barbarism mis the treatment of prisoners.
The 1980 film dramatization:
ATTICA, by Morgan Freeman
From Viktoria Volodarski :
Date: 1 May 2013
Subject: Photo essay of landscapes around the world.
Des Coins de Paradis
From Democracy Now ! :
Date: 29 April 2013
Subject: The hunger strike at Guantánamo.
A Desperate Situation at Guantánamo: Over 130 Prisoners on Hunger Strike, Dozens Being Force-Fed
Forgotten Women of the War on Terror: Author Victoria Brittain on the Wives and Families Left Behind