Monday, March 28, 2011

Bob Herbert has left the New York Times

And in doing so has ended any hope I had for the venerable old rag.

But in his last column, he has pointed to this story.

It is just as unsurprising as it is unbelievable that this is not huge news. After decades of anti-tax rhetoric, it is hard to foment outrage when someone dodges taxes: precisely the goal of said rhetoric.

These men are criminals: their children go to our schools, they drive on our roads, their mail is delivered by our post, they enjoy all our freedoms and they give nothing back but the middle finger.

We must return to the rhetorical discussion of America as a democracy of the people, even as we know that reality gets further and further everyday.  We have to stress that these men don't steal from some shadowy "government", they steal from us, from every single responsible American who plans to pay their taxes this April, who has a child in school, who enjoys receiving mail, who is on unemployment because the colleagues of these men laid them off, who is on medicaid because they're too poorly paid or too old to work; they steal from the soldier in Iraq and the postal worker in Buloxi, the Detroit garbage man and the New York City sewer worker.   They steal from the woman sweeping clean the Lincoln Memorial and the public defender upholding its legacy; they steal from the San Fransisco tram driver, the Iowa corn farmer, the Texas roughneck and the Floridian retiree.  

These people are villains who are stealing right out of our pockets, and if we don't understand this there's no hope for us. It's time we ignited some populist rage, took it back from the right, and showed these men that stealing from us ends badly indeed.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Unedited Email to Citizen H about Intervention in Libya

I think you nail the objections to the intervention as they relate to the LIbyan people, and the potential for disaster/success there.  This is a situation with very high stakes, although I think the intervention is almost certainly bad for Afghanis and Iraqis.

To argue that the devil wont do good to achieve greater evil is to completely misunderstand the devil: this is (probably) good for the Libyan people. 

It's important, here, to zero in on the methods of intervention: namely, cruise missiles and air strikes.  These are the most expensive forms of attack (each cruise missile costs upwards of $200,000, fighter jets over $100 million) and also the most useless as employed in modern warfare (guerilla style combat in the desert/jungle/city/etc): in other words, successful "humanitarian" air strikes justify the continued expansion of a flight program that is wildly expensive and unnecessary. 

Important, too, to remember the caveat that this is not about Libyan oil (just like Iraq was not actually about oil either).  The presence of oil in a country increases its attractiveness as a war target but is balanced against a number of other factors (international reaction; interest viz. Israel/China/Russia/Venezuela; other potential resources for plunder; in the case of Iraq, daddy issues in the oval office; nuclear arsenal of target nation; potential labor/consumer force of national population once "liberated"; domestic political concerns; strength/weakness of opposing army, etc).  We'd just as happily go to war in Mexico, China or Switzerland if the combination of the above factors were correct.

WWI was the first modern war not only because of its universalization of war as alienated labor, in which soldiering was finally, totally divorced from skill, order, or individual effort, and became a roll of the dice; in which individual men finally became mere statistics. Not only because of the high technology mass killing devices there employed and the high level of destruction wrought thereby (although in our public school history classes you will be taught that modernity means efficient war technology).  Not only because it involved the idea of the nation state and self-determination. 

No, WWI was the first modern war because it taught the world that war was profitable as long as it wasn't fought within your borders.  No countries took this to heart as carefully as the US and, later, Stalin's USSR (which, it should be remembered, was the only iteration of the soviet state which was allied with the US). 

Success in Libya for everyone means the US and the EU stay the fuck out of Libya after bombing Qaddafi's military resources, and allow the revolution to continue (as) peacefully (as possible), and do not put anyone on the ground. The concept of accurate, pinpoint, or humanitarian air strikes is of course a fiction: air strikes are expensive, violent and destructive like no other form of warfare, but the rebels were losing, wanted our help, and if this stops Qaddafi, then I am all for it.  If we just pull out, cry "mission accomplished" and then watch as Qaddaffi re-arms and "cleanses" Libya, then of course it will have been worse than not intervening.  But I think it was the right move.

However, we should remember that each "intervention", correct or not, further entrenches the most poisonous foreign policy ideology in the world: that the US Army is a force of good and liberation, and thus no expense should be spared from its functioning. And I think it is good to see the right and the left unified against this intervention: we need some good old fashioned isolationism in the US. If the US military only ever intervened on behalf of struggling revolutionary democracies who demanded our help, rather than always pretending our actions are exactly this, what a wonderful world it would be.

What is most important to remember is that war is the preferred method of federal tax spending in the US, that our federal tax code is more or less set up to funnel wages into war, plowshares into swords.  The US government spends more on military bands than it does on arts spending through any of its programs.

If you look at the government provided pie chart on federal income tax dollars, it will tell you that defense is 20% of our spending.  20%? That would mean that one in five of the hours you worked you were paying for war, or every five minutes you funded another bullet.  But, that 20% does not include any of the federal debt (which we know at least half of went to war) while veterans' benefits are treated as "mandatory spending" not military expenditure.  During Vietnam the government started combining the cost of trust and federal funds (social security, future pensions) into the overall federal budget to make the percentage spent on war appear smaller.  In other words, making these adjustments, it's reasonable to imagine 40-60% of our federal income tax goes to war making.  

The best possible result of intervention in Libya would be Qaddafi's fall and an anti-military isolationist movement in the United States.  But I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Gentrification is Apartheid; The Housing Bubble: Class War

The base line criticism of gentrification is obvious: upper middle class (there's no such thing as middle class anymore, darling) college graduates move from all across this great nation into NYC, and, in need of cheap rent* move into once impoverished neighborhoods, now celebrated for their stock of beautiful old rowhouses, convenient access to the subway system and "genuine" "gritty" "New York" feel.

In short, predominantly white young people move into a neighborhood, landlords raise rents every May and September (the college year, dummy!), until rent in the area is too expensive for the predominantly black and Latino residents, driving them further from even marginally desirable neighborhoods, uprooting them from their homes and destroying their communities.

You can argue that gentrification helps increase economic activity in the neighborhood, brings down crime, and desegregates neighborhoods racially. You'd be wrong, but not only because organic grocery stores replace bodegas and cafes replace barbershops, so that old businesses are pushed out, creating a new local economy rather than helping the existent one; not only because (unofficially, of course) the punitive consequences for violent crime against white people are significantly more severe, so that more white people in a neighborhood means fewer targets for violent crime, which, combined with increased police presence, just moves crime towards less gentrified areas; not only because, despite the visible mix of skin tone on the street, the populations tend to favor totally different hang outs (in my neighborhood there is a hipster bar, Sweet Revenge, literally next door to an old neighborhood stalwart, Franklin Palace: crowds of white twenty somethings divided by twenty inches of plaster from a crowd of black locals).

No, even those who manage to hold on to their homes in gentrifying neighborhoods do not see their schools or services improve because of our totally perverse property tax code: and yes, I realize how much less sexy that is than racist culture war.

The Big Interview

In a huge coup for the fledgling blog, Wasted Ideology secured an exclusive round table interview with New York City, Washington D.C. and the United States of America!  The discussion began with a focus on law, but it opened up to include culture, economics and geography.  It has been edited for length and coherence.

Wasted Ideology: First of all, I just want to thank you three for taking the time out of your busy schedules to answer some questions.
New York City: No problem
Washington D.C: Sure thing
United States of America: I am the schedule, the answer and the question.    

W.I: When will marijuana be legalised?
NYC: When gentrification is complete.
D.C: Never
USA: When we find an easier way to throw young black men in prison.

W.I: Why is the drinking age 21?
D.C:  If your daddy doesn't have a cabinet full of scotch, who are you to desire anything?
NYC: Times Square is fun for the whole family!
U.S.A: So people under 21 will experience the thrill of rebellion while consuming pleasure rather than the pleasure of all consuming rebellion.

W.I: Why are corporations legally people?
NYC: So people will become corporations.
D.C: What, only your best friends get to be human?
USA: Corporations are people.

W.I: Why are flak jackets illegal?
NYC: So cops don't have to worry about aiming for the head.
D.C: So soldiers will keep them in their homes
USA: Scarcity produces value
W.I: What is class warfare?
D.C:100% voter turnout
NYC: Moving from Westchester to Brooklyn
USA: Taxes 

W.I: What is America's most significant export?
DC: Freedom
NYC: Culture
USA: Bosses

W.I: What is America's most significant import?
NYC: Labor
DC: Debt
USA: Fear

What city is the cultural capital of America?
NYC: New York City
DC: Los Angeles
USA: Las Vegas

What city is the center of American power?
DC: Washington D.C
NYC: New York City
USA: Celebration, Florida

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Wasted Ideology: Brain Infection

Just now, packing my travel bag for the journey back, I placed a large pair of scissors I was taking from my desk here at home in my bag, and considered whether you could even bring scissors on the train.  Almost immediately I imagined (fantasized) a scene from tomorrow (granted I'm quite stoned right now) : an engineer is looking through my bag, and I am become frantic with anxiety but, out of respect for the quiet car, I stand silently and rock back and forth on my heels, saying "I've done nothing wrong.  You can't search my bag.  I've done nothing wrong" until the engineer finds a bunch of drugs, twists my arm and escorts me off to prison.

Why tell this rambling tale?  To show just how security ideology has infiltrated my brain?  To admit the deep self-surveillance I carry out on behalf of the NSA, or maybe to point to how intractable this knee jerk state-sponsored thinking is among we youth-2.0, post 9/11 babes?  To hope that by becoming aware of our ideological flinch, we will defeat it in the future? 

Well, obviously, but also to talk about how you've already dismissed the whole story as a joke or mere paranoia. It's true, that passage. "I'm quite stoned".  Indicating that someone is fucked-up (even yourself) has become shorthand for: "all surrounding sentiment is farce or madness."  Stoner comedies reenforce the idea that smoking weed is awesome, while also portraying weed smokers as bumbling idiots not to be taken seriously.  And alcohol?  Lordy lordy save us from our relationship to alcohol. We spend time in places we don't like saying things we don't mean in order to get sex we don't want, and then, analyzing this situation, say: "boy, I really shouldn't be held responsible for what I think or say or do when I'm under the bottle".  (Most frequently in response to accusations of sleeping/flirting/dancing with a girl/boy of low physical attractiveness/social stature/mind). We use it to numb ourselves from the seriousness of sex, in order to convince ourselves into bed with, ack! another human body, but then, when the sex is awful, we blame the booze.

Buying drugs teaches you to equate purchase with pleasure. With all other consumer goods, the pleasure is mediated, imagined, never to be achieved (maybe this vacuum will shut my fucking kids up so I can plan how to kill my husband in relative silence).  But with drugs (and don't fuck around and pretend I'm only talking "hard drugs" and that excuses your tobacco/alcohol/marijuana), what you're buying is quite directly pleasure.  There is no other use-value.   

And, with the illegal-er drugs, you also get (and pay for!) a tiny thrill from "undermining" the police state.  Like a balloon with a pin prick, each time you think fondly on the illegality of your doobie, a little bit of subversive energy is dissipated, a tiny false catharsis in the face of your total impotence.  The last three of our presidents have admitted to doing drugs, and Bush and Obama harder drugs than I have.  What could be less subversive than a "crime" that literally makes you more compelling to voters?

Yet I could still get put in jail for marijuana possession, although it's much more likely if I'm black or Latino. Beautiful: release the tension of the bourgeois leftist until he's a liberal, while allowing for the apprehension of any "troublemakers" (read: poor dark folk).  Try adding our prison population to our unemployment numbers sometime.  It adds 2, 300, 000 unemployed, or about 2.1% to our unemployment rate.  One poor minority pothead might not seem revolutionary to you, but 2,300,000 of them?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wasted Ideology: A Quiz

A quick, fun quiz for all you funheads out there.

Think of the person you love most in the entire world (other than yourself).  Now, imagine a situation, I don't care what it is, I am drunk, and I hate you, so imagine a situation in which you could literally achieve complete and total justice, peace, happiness, on all the Earth for every man, woman, child and mollusk, instantly.  Do you end climate change? You end climate change.  Do you end oppression, suffering, poverty and Muammar Gaddafi's life? Yes. All these things are achieved, perfect and total utopia, but to achieve it, you have to do one thing. You have to close your fingers around the throat of the person you're still thinking of, the one you love the most in the world, and strangle the life out of them.  Do you do it?

Correct answers after the jump!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

As much as I hate to repost from my overlords at If You Can Read This, You're Lying

What has congealed as an environment is a relationship to the world based on management, which is to say, on estrangement. A relationship to the world wherein we’re not made up just as much of the rustling trees, the smell of frying oil in the building, running water, the hubbub of schoolrooms, the mugginess of summer evenings. A relationship to the world where there is me and then my environment, surrounding me but never really constituting me. We have become neighbors in a planetary co-op owners’ board meeting. It’s difficult to imagine a more complete hell.

•   •   •
The West is a civilization that has survived all the prophecies of its collapse with a singular stratagem. Just as the bourgeoisie had to deny itself as a class in order to permit the bourgeoisification of society as a whole, from the worker to the baron; just as capital had to sacrifice itself as a wage relation in order to impose itself as a social relation – becoming cultural capital and health capital in addition to finance capital; just as Christianity had to sacrifice itself as a religion in order to survive as an affective structure – as a vague injunction to humility, compassion, and weakness; so the West has sacrificed itself as a particular civilization in order to impose itself as a universal culture. The operation can be summarized like this: an entity in its death throws sacrifices itself as a content in order to survive as a form.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TV Stars are Eternal

The ideological comfort of the Television dramatic series is, as with the three camera sitcom, the promise of immortality. The highest drama makes this promise even more deeply and subtly than the lowest sitcom, where the plot and characters reset for every 22 minute episode: at least there is a weird discordant unreality to these shows as the actors age, or change.  Even the dumbest audience member doesn't believe anyone lives exactly that way: or at least they would claim that if asked.

Drama can claim a heightened realism, because characters die: they can pretend to address mortality.  The sitcom character is a bizarro vampire, the drama character always in Logan's Run: his end will only come when it is dictated by advertising revenue ("sweeps") or, should it be premium cable, dramatic cliche (at the end of a story arc/season).  Their deaths, though perhaps "painful" for the characters around them, actually increase the financial and critical success of the show as a whole.  Not only is the death of a character structurally foretold, but beneficial to the show in general. Death becomes a seasonal, foreordained, low-stakes result of the actions of individuals.