Volatility

February 28, 2011

Revolutionary Tour

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 12:48 pm

 

It looks like the Qaddaffi regime is down to just his capital in Tripoli. Although I’ve been reading for days about an imminent counter-attack of his supporters, it doesn’t come, the people keep advancing, and I figure if they were really able to attack they would’ve done it. We’ve already seen Qaddaffi’s big attack, and even bombing and strafing his own cities with aircraft wasn’t able to save him.
 
This is a milestone in the liberation wave. It’s not complete proof that a resolute people can defeat even disciplined instruments of government violence, since many army units refused to obey orders and in many cases actively turned against the regime. But the fact remains that disciplined units did exist, did carry out orders, did launch their full fury against civilian protestors, and the people kept coming.
 
I’ve read that by now it’s the troops and thugs who are loyal to Qaddaffi who are reduced to wearing masks and scarves, while the rebels enjoy the sun and wind on their proud faces.
 
The latest battleground was the town of Zawiya, near Tripoli, where insurgents took the town after pro-Qaddaffi forces shot up a mosque where a sit-in was in progress. This is the town where for days we’ve had a stand-off and these rumors of “counterattack”. Qaddaffi must be reduced to Hitler’s delusional state in the bunker, crazily demanding information about Steiner’s non-existent counterattack.
 
Meanwhile the neoliberal West has more easily let Qaddaffi go then they did Mubarak. Although they refused to impose a no-fly zone, the EU issued a travel ban, a list of sanctions, while others promised ICC investigations against him, his sons, and many regime nabobs. Apparently, according to neoliberalism bombing your own cities is out, at least for someone on probation like Qaddaffi. (He’s also not a personal friend of the Bidens and Hillary Ribbentrop the way Mubarak is, and Obama probably doesn’t consider him one of the Cool Crowd.)
 
Back in Tunisia, the place that started it all, the situation continues to evolve. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali’s equivalent of Suleiman, who took over from him and has tried to preserve the regime intact, was forced to resign after a new wave of protests and violence. The Tunisians understand that this is far from over.
 
Progress in Egypt has been fitful. The army wishes to curb the ongoing wave of strikes, but so far has not tested the situation by actually banning them, although it keeps threatening to. The army leadership remains stuck with the same problem it’s had since day one – how far could it trust the rank and file conscripts to obey orders? To remain disciplined at all? What misstep might trigger a confrontation which forces a test the generals don’t want to risk? So brinksmanship continues, albeit at a lower level of intensity for now. The Egyptians understand that this is far from over.
 
Bahrain is perhaps the most advanced example. There too the demonstrators have braved open violence from police and military. But unlike Libya, only lately being integrated into neoliberalism, Bahrain is a postmodern City of the Plain, fully financialized, a state of the art coordination center much like the UAE itself. Revolution in Sodom Bahrain conjures the image of the slaves of Dubai itself rising up and burning that Gomorrah to the sand.
 
And does it offer a possible precedent for democratic revolt in the ultimate bastion, Saudi Arabia itself? The government is treading very carefully, dealing gently with the first signs of worker protests.
 
Back in America, we have the Wisconsin protest, where in spite of the hostile Democratic establishment (but with some decent discipline from state-level Dems) and feckless, conciliatory union leadership, the rank and file have maintained their vigil for an impressively long time. They keep this up and they’re going to have to think about organizing their own street democracy. But they’d better be ready to continue the protest indefinitely, and find ways to escalate it, if they want to win. If I understand the Wisconsin Mubaraks correctly, and I think I do, they’re not going to give in. Why would they?
 
So there’s a short tour of our state of self-liberation. Nowhere has there yet been a complete breakthrough, but everywhere (except the standoff in Wisconsin) we’ve seen steady progress. The situation today seems vastly brighter than I ever would have dreamt at the down time following the moral collapse in France, and the continuing abject submission in Ireland and elsewhere, and of course in America.
 
More than ever before, I think the system is rotten to the core, physically strong but morally and intellectually weak, and with its physical strength ready to collapse at any time as well. More even than before, I think things are in our hands, that we the people are masters of our fate, free to dictate our future by making our choices.
 
What an exhilarating ride this is becoming. The path before us is coming into focus. The ideas are being collected and arranged. The spirit is regrouping. Like Naomi Klein writes in Shock Doctrine, at some point the people become numb to the shocks, and find ways to withstand them, and then realize that they no longer fear them, and then develop contempt for them.
 
This world process is now coming to light, after years in the incubation of our souls. It’s a new sun rising, the dawn of humanity’s new day. It wasn’t capitalism and oil which embodied the genius of the age, but democracy. This rising spirit of a new, fully responsible humanity was only temporarily obscured by the noise and flash of fossil-fueled corporatism. But it was that shallow clamor and smoke which was ephemeral. It shall be our democratic heritage which is lasting, which shall be co-eternal with history itself. We need only choose it. 

February 26, 2011

A Virtuous Circle: Breaking Government Power By Limiting Government’s Pro-Corporate Power

Filed under: Corporatism, Reformism Can't Work, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russ @ 5:12 am

 

Government and corporate power can always be simultaneously eroded or broken by the simple step of limiting government’s ability to undertake pro-corporate actions.
 
The most obvious example is stripping government’s power to charter corporations. This would abolish corporations completely, and at the same time greatly lessen government power, much of which is laundered through corporations. Just to give one example, how much social and political control is actually enforced through the banks’ tyranny over personal finance, exerted via credit scores and the like? I look in vain in the Constitution for the place of the credit agencies. I think if such dossiers and such a control mechanism are to exist at all, shouldn’t it have to be starkly in the form of an official government credit score? Wouldn’t this greatly clarify the power issue and Constitutional issue in the eyes of many whose sightlines are currently befogged by the power dispersal through the corporate-government nexus?
 
We recently saw a coalition of civil libertarians on the “left” and “right” vote against extending provisions of the so-called PATRIOT Act. A vote to limit the fraudulent and domineering activities of, for example, credit card purveyors would constitute the exact same kind of vote.
 
But in describing such limits I don’t mean having government become more proactive in a “regulatory” sense. I always aspire to the same pattern: Limiting corporations by limiting government.
 
In most cases regarding the banks, this could mean reinstituting the old bucket laws, and beyond that the downright retro concept of intra vires. These are simply restraints on the kinds of contracts which government recognizes as valid and will enforce. Prior to the corporatist coup d’etat which began in earnest during the Civil War, one of the common limits on corporate activity was the way their charters strictly delimited their recognized range of activities. The law would refuse to recognize as a contract any corporate action which exceeded those limits.
 
Nothing would be simpler for reforming CDS than to literally outlaw them, declare them to be unenforceable non-contracts. This basic principle can be extended to many categories and entities. This solution is conceptually elegant and practically minimalist. In my mind these contracts already cease to exist. All we need is a critical mass of minds to similarly nullify them.
 
The radical extension of government’s contract power as well as the radical extension of its initial arrogation in empowering corporations in the first place are expressions of Big Government at its most aggressive. How ironic that it’s the self-named “libertarians” who have been the most fervent ideologues of this radical, aggressive Big Government, and all these aggressive interferences in the market. (There’s no such thing as a “free” market, but there are certainly more or less free markets. A market where government interferes to create corporations is a market greatly distorted by Big Government action.)
 
So there’s a basic principle and practical outline for policy advocacy.
 
1. Limit corporations by limiting government, and limit government by limiting corporations.
 
2. The most simple and far-reaching solution: Abolish the government power to create corporations in the first place.
 
3. Short of that, the basic concept is to limit the contract recognition and enforcement power to the kinds and magnitudes of contracts which are in the public interest.

February 23, 2011

Relocalization and Federalism vs. the Commerce Clause (Wickard v. Filburn and Peak Oil)

 

When we ponder the real implications of the Stamp mandate and the Food Control bill (my main exposition is here, parts one and two), we’re talking about a (so far) politicized civil war where constitutionalism is one of the battlegrounds. This the context for our confrontation with aggressive Commerce Clause power as embodied most infamously in the SCOTUS case Wickard v. Filburn.
 
This case was actually the climax of a line of similar cases extending the Commerce power. It’s most notorious for extending this power to a product created for personal use. But we can take it as the capstone thus far of this aggressive SCOTUS Commerce Clause doctrine. The case is now argued to be the precedent which ought to validate the mandate to buy a worthless Stamp, which mandate is the centerpiece of the health insurance bailout.
 
But when we explore the implications of this case, we’ll see:
 
1. How its logic, once extended from excessive action (the case in Wickard, namely growing grain in excess of one’s quota) to inaction, and once extended from excessive selling to insufficient buying, will justify literally any government mandate to buy any rent-extracting privately purveyed product.
 
2. How this is the broad ideology of coercive commodification itself, and how the SCOTUS has perverted the Constitution into the service of this tyrannical corporatist agenda. Therefore, relocalization is not just a set of actions which may be odious in the eyes of kleptocracy, but a rogue ideology, since it espouses a point of view and set of principles fundamentally opposed to those of corporate commodification.
 
The logic of SCOTUS Commerce Clause jurisprudence, as exemplified by Wickard, is part of the general corporate subversion of all American values of freedom and self-determination. It’s intended to help prevent by force our economic and political self-redemption through our ability to take our lives back in our hands by resuming our old, long neglected responsibilities to produce for ourselves.
 
A basic principle of Food Sovereignty is that food production and distribution logically, we can say rightfully, start at the natural levels of subsistence and then the local/regional market. The overwhelming majority of food production is logically of this nature, and so the only legitimate government action upon food markets would be action which enhances this. (My definition of enhance: To make something better according to the vector of its natural evolution.) By contrast, food commodification is at best an appendage, an optional ornament. That governments, corporations, and globalization cadres have conspired to force all food production and distribution into compliance with the demands of globalized commodity markets is a crime against humanity.
 
At the level of the Constitutionally legitimate Commerce power, the government cannot interfere in the natural, beneficial action of this market by chartering corporations, establishing the IP regime, or other such empowering of monopoly. The Commerce Clause, as originally depicted in Gibbon v. Ogden, was supposed to restrain the states from imposing such monopoly, not empower the federal government to do so.
 
But the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA), and other government agricultural policy of the 1930s, was intended to prop up precisely this kind of commodified corporate agriculture. (Given the energy premises of the time, this national market may have needed to exist. And given that premise, along with the servitude of agriculture to the finance sector and the Great Depression this sector caused, the AAA may have been a reasonable countermeasure intended to buffer grain prices. This kind of Tower of Babel of creating one problem, then creating another problem to coexist with the first problem (instead of just solving it), and so on, is characteristic of Big Government liberalism like the New Deal. Obamacare and the Food Control bill pretend to be these kinds of massive kludges, but they’re really further corporate assaults masquerading as Big Government do-gooderism.)
 
The AAA imposed quotas on how much wheat acreage farmers could grow. The goal was to constrain supply in order to boost the price. It would prevent the race to the bottom where farmers responded to harvest price deflation by planting greater acreage, which would only further depress the price. This tragic cycle is endemic to the farm sector wherever finance is allowed to control the land, the money, and the credit supply. Allegedly, the AAA quotas would benefit the farmers themselves and not rentier middlemen. In that case, a farmer like Filburn who exceeded his quota in order to maximize the amount of grain he could bring to market and/or minimize the amount he had to purchase for on-site use would be free riding on the price support.
 
Whatever Filburn himself was doing isn’t the main point here. The point is the malevolent doctrine the court expounded in deciding against him (Robert Jackson writing the decision).
 
We find the core of the case here:
 

The effect of consumption of home-grown wheat on interstate commerce is due to the fact that it constitutes the most variable factor in the disappearance of the wheat crop. Consumption on the farm where grown appears to vary in an amount greater than 20 percent of average production. The total amount of wheat consumed as food varies but relatively little, and use as seed is relatively constant.

The maintenance by government regulation of a price for wheat undoubtedly can be accomplished as effectively by sustaining or increasing the demand as by limiting the supply. The effect of the statute before us is to restrict the amount which may be produced for market and the extent, as well, to which one may forestall resort to the market by producing to meet his own needs. That appellee’s own contribution to the demand for wheat may be trivial by itself is not enough to remove him from the scope of federal regulation where, as here, his contribution, taken together with that of many others similarly situated, is far from trivial.

 
We see the bad vector of the entire logic (from today’s point of view, certainly). The government is said to have a legitimate power to both restrict commodity supply and increase commodity demand, in the latter case by constraining self-production so that one is forced to resort to the commodity market.
 
In other words, interstate commerce is taken as the normative priority, indeed as a law of nature. Policy is to be considered sound according to how well it enforces this commodity prerogative. By contrast, local use and commerce (that is, the real nature of food markets) is to be judged and regulated according to its alleged affect on this normative interstate market.
 

It is well established by decisions of this Court that the power to regulate commerce includes the power to regulate the prices at which commodities in that commerce are dealt in and practices affecting such prices. One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was to increase the market price of wheat, and, to that end, to limit the volume thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market, and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. The stimulation of commerce is a use of the regulatory function quite as definitely as prohibitions or restrictions thereon. This record leaves us in no doubt that Congress may properly have considered that wheat consumed on the farm where grown, if wholly outside the scheme of regulation, would have a substantial effect in defeating and obstructing its purpose to stimulate trade therein at increased prices.

 
It lays bare how personal/local consumption is to be regarded only from the point of view of commodification. It implies that it’s bad to produce for oneself rather than to participate in the commodity economy. In principle, a small farmer like Filburn should have to sell all his wheat to the corporate distribution system, and then buy back what he’ll personally use from the consumer market, at the rent-inflated consumer price. (Anyone familiar with Bolshevik agriculture, prior to and especially under Stalinism, will see the parallels. All authoritarian systems must necessarily view the farmer as a slave.) From the point of view of corporatized government ideology, to do anything for yourself, let alone relocalization as a principle and a movement, must be seen as antisocial, rebellious, even criminal.
 
In the end Jackson disparages much of the terminology previously used to try to delineate the Commerce power. “Production” vs. “consumption”; “direct” vs. “indirect” effects on commerce; whether something is or isn’t “marketing”. All that’s too annoying to be used in sweeping power seizures. Instead Jackson decides against any such limitations in favor of this formulation:
 

But even if appellee’s activity be local, and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce, and this irrespective of whether such effect is what might at some earlier time have been defined as “direct” or “indirect.”

 
This disintegrates any restraint on federal domination. It gives broad discretion, delivering us into the power of the government’s mere claim that any regulation, however tyrannical, has a “substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.”
 
For the most far-reaching interpretation, we can quote some related cases:
 

Congress’ power to keep the interstate market free of goods produced under conditions inimical to the general welfare…, may be exercised in individual cases without showing any specific effect upon interstate commerce……it is enough that the individual activity when multiplied into a general practice is subject to federal control, or that it contains a threat to the interstate economy that requires preventive regulation.

 
(Mandeville Island Farms v. American Crystal Sugar Company, 1948)
 

[T]he marketing of a local product in competition of a like commodity moving interstate may so interfere with interstate commerce or its regulation as to afford a basis for Congressional regulation of intrastate activity.

 
(United States v. Wrightwood Dairy, 1942)
 
That sounds like if the Buy Local movement ever became a real threat to Walmart, Congress could pass a law to penalize it, in order to prop up Walmart’s market position. By now all government action has that effect as it is.
 
All government has to do is claim this power according to “the general welfare”. But nothing in principle prevents (or in practice has prevented) them from flipping all measures of the general welfare upside down to the pro-corporate opposite pole. That’s what made the doctrine so pernicious, that it depends so completely and tenuously on the saintliness of an uncorrupted government. No doctrine which so depends has any soundness whatsoever. That’s why regulation of corporate rackets can never work. Only a Big Government ideologue, conservative or liberal, could ever have trusted it, and no honest person could ever have considered it sound federalism.
 
So we see how the entire jurisprudence is set up to benefit the big producers and corporate distributors, as well as the finance parasites who manipulate these markets. The existence and rents of these entities and processes are taken as the existential norm and as the normative standard for all activity.
 
Relocalization in principle directly rejects this. It denies that commodity markets or corporate distribution networks have any right to exist at all, let alone to extract rents. Relocalization and Food Sovereignty recognize that the only measure of the validity of trade can be the bottom-up demand for it. But this can never be properly gauged until government’s artificial supports for corporate markets and goon assaults on the corporate behalf are removed.
 
Meanwhile, the government’s goal in arguing on behalf of its Stamp mandate is to get the SCOTUS to extend this commodity participation doctrine to complete inaction, to mere existence. A poll tax will now be extracted, not as the price of one’s voluntary or even involuntary participation in the voting ritual, but as the price of one’s participation in existence itself. Being alive shall now be considered a commodity market. And once there’s a tax on the probability of illness, there shall be no barrier in principle to a tax on health, or to literally breathe the air. Don’t laugh – it follows, and not at all tenuously, from the logic. Water privatization is already close in both principle and practice.
 
As for the Food Control bill, we see how the combination of Wickard and existing FDA doctrine already afford wide negative government latitude to restrict any action whatsoever. Add the enhanced powers the Food Control bill bestows upon the FDA, its vastly increased power over produce, and the affirmative requirements of a SCOTUS decision upholding the Stamp mandate, and the power potential will be absolute and totalitarian. There will be literally no legal restriction on what the government can forbid or require us to do within the realm of commerce, nor will there be any restriction on how far this commercial realm extends.
 
Where it comes to food, the FDA already arrogates the power to define milk as pasteurized milk only. With the new bill’s extension of this power, the government will have complete license to declare any fruit or vegetable as GMO only, or as having been grown using a patented seed, or a synthetic fertilizer, herbicide, or pesticide. Those are just a few examples.
 
I’ve seen some pieces claiming that the Wickard doctrine already meant the government could dictate how you grow your vegetable garden. That wasn’t actually true before, since Wickard dealt with grain acreage regulation under the AAA. But with this new Food Control bill extending FDA power over all produce, it’s true now.
 
We see how past attempts by growers of so-called “specialty crops”, that is regular fruits and vegetables, to receive some of the same subsidies as the big five “commodity crops”, was to play a dangerous game. It would have been much better for the reform advocates of the last Farm Bill to have stuck with getting rid of all subsidies rather than accepting a deal which spread a few crumbs around. That only brought fruit and vegetable produce further into the conceptual/legal realm of commodity crops, even though the markets for them can never be anything like those for grain.
 
Let’s sum up. It was originally in Gibbons v. Ogden that John Marshall said the federal government had vast fiat power over commerce except where constrained by Congress itself. This was a direct contradiction of the claims of the Federalist papers and a confirmation of the suspicions of the so-called “Anti-Federalists” (i.e. the real federalists). Here Marshall was claiming that the point of this arrogation was to allow for a progressive federalization upwards, so that the SCOTUS could use the Commerce Clause to overturn state-chartered monopolies. According to the economic logic of the ascent of fossil fuels, this may have made sense. But if we allow that, by the same token we must then reason that post-oil, where the vector of the economy is to relocalize, we must harmoniously refederalize downward. (The fact that this process is also in accord with what we’ve learned about political morality and the true democratic imperative is an added reason we must do it.) 
 
Today we see the full fruition of the core anti-federalist doctrine, as the small producer/consumer is conscripted into the corporatized commodity system and regulated according to how his action or inaction will be most subject to corporate rent extractions. We see how this doctrine, which was always anti-democratic and anti-federalist, is especially pernicious as we now enter upon the post-oil, post-capitalist era. (The question may arise: If this view of Peak Oil constitutionalism is correct, then shouldn’t Congress and the SCOTUS naturally come around to it, as they’ve allegedly complied with economic and political necessity in the past? But one of the main goals of neoliberalism’s pre-feudal onslaught was to establish this terminal kleptocracy, to corrupt the Congress and the SCOTUS beyond redemption, to prevent any such democratic adjustment. So no, these cannot be reformed, and they will not reform themselves.)
 
The New Deal style of ever greater technocratic control over the economy, still virulent in the minds of so many today, was alleged to be better for everyone. Today we know that it didn’t work to spread prosperity, but was only part of the scam. At best, it was a feature of the rise of the Oil Age. The same sort of policy is purely reactionary and malevolent during energy descent (the decline of fossil fuels). The same goes for the expansive view of the Commerce Clause in the first place.
 
So here’s one of today’s Constitutional imperatives: Constrain this rogue Commerce power.
 
Would that hobble government’s regulatory authority?
 
1. Good. All government action is pro-corporate by now.
 
2. Our main Constitutional project must be to abolish corporations anyway.
 
All this must be placed in the context of the relocalization of economies and polities. In every way, relocalization = breaking free of central government power. We don’t need or want corporations to exist, and we don’t need or want the expansive Commerce power to exist.
 
One last reminder – today, the federal government no longer protects us from economic or political assaults. It only enables and empowers them. That’s where we must locate Wickard-style jurisprudence, and that’s where we must locate policy like the health racket Stamp mandate and the Food Control bill.

February 22, 2011

Land Scandal Community Education: Ideas Toward An Outline

Filed under: Bailouts Only Propped Up Zombies, Land Reform — Tags: , — Russ @ 3:33 am

 

A few days ago I broached the idea of community lectures on the Land Scandal, to describe it in detail and placing it in the broad context of Wall Street’s crimes, the Bailout, and the destruction of democracy and the real economy. These lectures could be for the benefit of mortgage holders, the community at large, and local governments.
 
I haven’t yet worked out the exact details for such a presentation, and since I’m not a tech guy I don’t personally know how to give it the whole powerpoint-type treatment, although I assume that would be more effective.
 
I’ve compiled hundreds of links on every aspect of the subject, mostly from Naked Capitalism. I’ve been in the process of arranging them by subject and chronology as if into a book. (There’s also the many posts I’ve written on the subject.) My basic idea would be to distill an accessible, popularized presentation from all this material. It should be comprehensive and easy to understand. The lecturer must also master sufficient detail to be able to answer most questions. We’d have to try to anticipate what the most common questions (both sincere and phony/hostile) would be. Looking at comment threads, perhaps at MSM outlets, seems like the obvious place to do such research.
 
Here’s some of the basic topics to cover:
 
* How the mortgage holder has a perfect right to challenge his current servicer or anyone who would foreclose.
 
* How the forecloser probably has no legal right to foreclose.
 
* How his documents are possibly fraudulent.
 
* The details of each of these: Servicer fraud, how the servicer seeks to put people into default, robo-signing of lost note affidavits, direct forgery, forged allonges, the fact that MERS has no standing to foreclose, etc.
 
* How all this violates venerable real estate law, which is a bastion of social stability and local control.
 
* How the banks and both parties in Congress are conspiring to legalize these crimes and further assault federalism in the process. This would be a key point – any bill you see in Congress will be part of this assault on behalf of the banks. The audience should be ready to swarm their reps like enraged hornets.
 
This could be placed in the context of:
 
* The nature of the housing bubble.
 
* How predatory lending was a premeditated fraud on the part of lenders who knew they were telling lies about a bubble. Also how the federal government collaborated in this. (Although lower-level governments did as well, there it may be better to go more with a “bad apple” approach. After all, we want to work with local governments and if possible take power at that level. So there’s no point in extending the systemic crime accusation to that level.) How all mortgages since the late 90s were fraudulently induced by the same banksters who were systematically destroying the real economy. (From here, to audience taste, one could give a primer on globalization itself, placing the mortgage bubble in that context.)
 
* How the banks intentionally crashed the economy in 2008.
 
* The basics of the Bailout. (How the TARP was just a tiny part of the Bailout, and how the Bailout is the ongoing and permanent priority of all federal government policy.)
 
* How by now the banks and government are indistinguishable.
 
While the main focus of each presentation would be Foreclosuregate in itself, the description of the broader context could be scaled depending on the context and the receptivity of the audience. I expect people would be interested in it.
 
Then there’s this basic point:
 
* Why did the banks blow up the bubble? Securitization. Primer on securitization. What are MBS?
 
* The reason for the convoluted originator-sponsor-depositor-trust conveyance. How there never was any reason for it which was good for the real economy, only good for the banksters and bad for us.
 
* How the banks then systematically failed to convey the notes. The reasons they failed to honor their own system (so they could belatedly assign failed loans to tranches; so they could sell the same loan multiple times; so they could engage in massive evasion of recording fees and taxes).
 
I haven’t figured out yet how to tie together in one simple package for novices the fraud “how” of the foreclosuregate basics with the fraud “why” of the MBS scam. Those are the two essential parts and are intertwined, but also seem like two different threads of presenting the ideas. So we need to figure that out.   
 
* How many if not all of the MBS are therefore fraudulent, void, null.
 
* How this means the banks are insolvent. (Even beyond the way the Bailout has always been a Ponzi scheme, the Fed and Treasury simply building a Tower of Babel of debt ever higher.)
 
In all of this, while it shouldn’t be too hard to find audience agreement on the malevolence of the banks and government, the tricky part is going to be convincing them not to also bash fellow debtors. This needs to be done with tact. The lecturer must not be haughty and broadcast how stupid debtor-bashing is. Presenters need to explain clearly:
 
* How we’re all victims of this massive fraud which was propagated by our own government and media. (Was it also propagandized in schools? I don’t know, not having been there lately. What were high school personal finance classes saying about asset prices and using one’s house as an investment during the decade starting in the latter 90s?)
 
* How those who fight foreclosure are not the profligate deadbeats of bankster propaganda, but are overwhelmingly either the victims of servicer fraud, are just flat out being wrongfully foreclosed upon, are trying to protect their home while filing for bankruptcy, or have been faithfully adhering to bank and/or government directives on how to apply for a modification, and are now being betrayed by that scam process.
 
In everything, the lecture should present the best examples we can find, selecting for clear-cut cases of abuse against what everyone would agree were normal, unassuming middle class types. Where it comes to wrongful foreclosure we have a vast selection available.
 
In everything, the right tone should be derived from the mood of the audience itself. The presenters should be prepared to be more or less passionate, more or less appealing to emotion, more or less radical in the indictments and prescriptions. For now the default tone should be restrained and matter-of-fact.
 
Finally, what is to be done?
 
* How people must be aware of the question, Where’s My Note in the Chain of Conveyance?
 
And the moment the servicer begins the foreclosure process, or there’s any dispute with the servicer whatsoever: Show Me the Note!
 
* Walking away (for non-recourse states), how it’s a simple contractual option. How the banks, other corporations, and the rich do it all the time. How the results are not as dire as system propaganda claims. (This should only be discussed sparingly, mostly in response to audience questions. After all, our goal isn’t for communities to continue to disintegrate, but for them to recohere. If people are willing to stop paying, our goal should be to convince them that they can still stay in the house and remain committed to the community, if that’s what they’d prefer to do. They shouldn’t let fear of the banks get in the way of that. Here we truly have nothing to fear but fear itself.)
 
* The tactics of seeking a mod. How one has to reject bank directives to miss payments and so on (that’s a trap they lay for us). How one has to reply immediately with a credible threat to stop paying permanently, whether one walks away or not.  
 
* As for the broader idea of mass Jubilation in Place, that a critical mass or any significant number in a community can stop paying the mortgage, stay in the house, keep paying the property tax, and remain committed to the community, I don’t know if many people are receptive to this idea yet. So for the time being it’s probably not a key part of the presentation, but something which could be suggested if a particular audience seemed like it might be receptive.
 
 
So there’s some basic ideas on what the presentation could contain, and how it could be laid out. Next I’ll work on a detailed outline. Then each item on the outline could be further fleshed out – basic explanation, talking points, rhetorical points, politically effective examples, recommended links, etc. Does anyone have ideas to add?

Libya

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 3:24 am

 

Protest in Libya has reached an awesome new level of resolve. Carrying on the spirit of the Egyptian democracy, the Libyan demonstrators have refused to let even the most brutal extremities of state violence defeat them.
 
As democratic protests surged in Libya, Qaddafi, evidently trying to learn from the failure of Mubarak, unleashed savage, murderous repression from the beginning. No one knows how many have been killed, but the number is at least in the hundreds. We can see how each successive tyranny will become more rabidly, insanely destructive in order to prop up its wretched power and privilege as the democratic wave engulfs it. The conventional wisdom was always that if the instruments of state violence maintain discipline and are willing to fire on the people, the people have no chance of winning. That’s clearly what the thugs of Bahrain and Libya were thinking. They’ve maintained control over at least some of their instruments, and have been importing vermin mercenaries as well. That’s a lot of willing firepower, and according to received wisdom that must be the end of it.
 
But in an absolutely thrilling epiphany, first in Bahrain and now even more spectacularly in Libya, the democratic people are so fired with the will to fight and the faith that they must win, that their resolve continues to redouble even in the face of sustained state terrorism. While the ability or inability of the people to prevail over direct, open state violence will still be on a case by case basis, we know that in principle there’s nothing the people can’t overcome if they keep fighting.
 
So it was in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, where protestors have apparently seized control of the city over the fierce opposition of state security forces. The protests continue with great verve in Tripoli and elsewhere. Tribesmen have said they will cut oil and gas pipelines. The regime has responded with unprecendented levels of ferocity, including the use of aircraft to strafe and bomb demonstrators. (I can’t recall any previous examples of this.)
 
This is causing splits in the government and military. According to reports some military units in Benghazi went over to the side of the protestors. Two Libyan fighters landed in Malta, their pilots requesting asylum after having refused orders to bomb the protests. Libya’s UN ambassador has declared Qaddafi a criminal and pleaded with the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. There are reports of air and naval attacks on military targets, which if true could indicate civil war within the military. Western governments have been scrambling to evacuate their carpetbaggers, while the Obama administration keeps up its by now familiar line of confusion and hesitancy.
 
In Egypt it seemed like demonstrators and regime were often engaging in brinksmanship. There’s no brink in Libya; facing the rightful demonstration of democracy, Qaddafi immediately chose to unleash the dogs of war upon his own people.
 
But the people have already given a response for the ages. We’re learning, every day, how this global tyranny is doomed, and perhaps sooner and more directly than most if not all of us expected. Although I always thought revolutionary processes like what we saw in Egypt were possible as soon as someone had the guts to go through with it, I admit that I didn’t think what we’re seeing in Libya could be done. But this opens up a whole new range of possibilities. We now know that there’s nothing the tyrant can do which can forever defeat us, if we only muster the resolve to escalate the fight with his every escalation.
 
If there’s any decency left in the world, once Qaddafi’s gone and the rest of the thugs can see the ultimate vanity of even the worst violence when you’re trying to beat back the ocean itself, they’ll shrug and decide it’s not worth it. A naive hope, perhaps, but anything’s possible in this war of attrition. Sometimes there’s even an attrition of evil. 

February 18, 2011

The Constitution

 

There are two complementary reasons for a Constitutional Convention. The first is that such an exercise in democratic participation is a value in itself which can help clarify our principles of resistance and self-liberation, and help develop an organizational framework for this resistance and self-liberation movement. The second is that it can possibly succeed in bringing democratic and anti-corporate amendments to the Constitution, which would be a step toward true federalism, true positive democracy.
 
My premise in proposing changes to the Constitution is that the 1788 Constitution betrays the ideals and spirit of the American Revolution. Some critical provisions run directly counter to federalism and democracy, while others have been severely perverted through long corruption of practice.
 
I find the right to critique and change the Constitution in the fact that the American Revolution’s ideology established the sovereign constitution to be prior to any written Constitution, and therefore according to sovereignty*, as explicated and practiced in the course of the Revolution, the Constitution is legitimate only to the extent that it’s faithful in principle to the sovereign constitution and useful in practice to empower the sovereign people. Where it is not so faithful and so useful, we may and must convene and change it.
 
[*For more on the fact that sovereignty is inalienable, cf. Rousseau’s Social Contract, Book 2 section 1. Consider also the usually abused idea, “the Constitution is not a suicide pact”. If we turn this right side up and take it as a severe restraint on aggressive government power and constitutional readings which would support that aggression, it puts something like Citizens United in the proper perspective even if it had been technically the “correct” decision, although for many reasons it was not.]
 
Are these ideological matters important? Historically, they have been. Movements have sustained themselves through time and travail where they squared things with themselves, philosophically and morally. Real activists need to be satisfied before the court of their conscience that they’re doing the right thing, and that they had the right to act in the first place. The Israelites’ ideal of the Promised Land, and the Greek classical theory of the right and obligation to resist usurpation and tyranny were perhaps the earliest examples of this in Western history. Fighters who understand exactly, in the deepest sense, not only what they’re doing but why they’re doing it, not only that they fight for freedom but the philosophical basis of this freedom and its fight, have always been the most successful activists. No doubt many think modern America is different, and that for once “exceptionalism” would be correct, but I sure don’t see any evidence for that. I think we need to rigorously work this stuff out.
 
So in a series of posts I propose to analyze critical points of the Constitution, in what ways it was anti-democratic in its inception (in particular its structural anti-federalism), how it’s been subverted in practice (in particular how jurisprudence has enshrined and empowered corporations) and discuss possible amendments to solve these problems.
 
Here’s a few amendment possibilities. Some of these already have one or more proposed drafts offered by various groups, which we’ll discuss in their turn. For now I’ll just list some basic ideas.
 
* The enshrinement of Food Sovereignty as a basic right. (This would certainly have been the First Amendment if anyone in 1788 could have contemplated a day when the federal government would explicitly deny we have a right to grow and eat the foods of our choice. But even the opponents of the centralized government who demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, as suspicious as they were, never contemplated such an obscene assault on our liberty and dignity.)
 
* Corporations are not persons and have no constitutional rights. Only humans have rights.
 
* If corporations are to exist at all, an amendment could explicitly limit them to the purposes and constraints which would have been familiar in the 1780s.
 
* The Full Faith and Credit clause shall not be construed to include corporate charters. All corporate activity shall be subject to the chartering laws of the state, except as restricted by one or both of the two previous amendments.
 
The point of these would be to prevent races to the bottom (since e.g. Delaware’s not all that big a market, and outside Delaware a corporation chartered in Delaware would be subject to the provisions of those other states, not those of Delaware)
 
* The federal government power shall be strictly construed according to the explicit letter of the Articles.
 
* “Interstate commerce” is only commerce which within a discrete transaction crosses a state line.
 
* Some way to declare that globalization “treaties”, i.e. contracts of adhesion, are most definitely not “the Law of the Land”, overriding federal, state, and local law.
 
* Clarify Article 1, section 8, to specify that the government may not alienate the sovereign power to coin Money. That is, the Fed and all private bank money is unconstitutional and to be abolished.
 
Those are the examples that first come to mind. I’m sure there’s other good ideas. My way of reading the Constitution is that the central government described in the main body must have its power greatly diminished, while the real spirit of the document is to be found in the negative provisions of the Bill of Rights and the wide open, implicitly positive 9th and 10th Amendments. So I’d want to amend toward the structural goals of constraining everything in the regular Articles and confirming that the 9th and 10th more closely represent the spirit of the constitution.
 
Up till now, the debate over loose construction, or strict, or originalist, has been parochial and wrongly focused. The procedure must not be to apply one standard of interpretation (let’s leave aside that almost all such ideologues have been hypocrites who were lying about their constitutional jurisprudence) to the whole Constitution, but rather to apply the Constitution according to the logic and spirit of the American Revolution. So we must look to the ideals of the Revolution, where we find the basic ideology of power and liberty as necessarily, existentially engaged in a fierce struggle. We find that the Revolution recognized that:
 
1. Sovereignty reposes only in the people.
 
2. The constitution is the social embodiment of this sovereignty.
 
3. Any power which is concentrated in government form must be rigorously constrained.
 
So any Constitution worthy of the American Revolution would be, to put it in today’s interpretive terms, loose with regard to the people’s rights, strict where it comes to government power. This was the original intent of the American Revolution, so to any extent that the so-called “federalists” of 1787-88 violated this intent, their intent would be invalid, since the intent of the Revolution itself is the only intent which has authority.
 
So as part of our project to take back our country, let’s take back our Constitution. In these posts I’ll provide documentation for all the points of the Revolutionary ideology of the 1760s-70s, although Bernard Bailyn has already done the hard work in his Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and I’ll mostly be drawing on his reportage. (I already documented the real nature of constitution here, and of liberty’s necessary struggle against power here.) From there I’d like to have a mock Convention on this blog, discussing possible amendments, drafting our own wording or adopting drafts already written by others. It should be a worthwhile and even fun exercise in figuring out exactly what we want out of a more democratic, humanistic Constitution.

February 17, 2011

Land Scandal: Community Education

Filed under: Freedom, Land Reform, Reformism Can't Work, Relocalization — Tags: — Russ @ 5:31 am

 

I have far more confidence in the beleaguered people’s potential to rouse themselves to fight back on their own terms than I do in the standard reformist crawling and scraping and begging for crumbs. (Here’s a great example of how relocalization is already winning anti-corporate victories, and at least as important, infusing communities with the conviction that their destiny is in their own hands. The contrast with feckless liberal reformism and the conformist fetish of “national” politics is complete. I’ll have more to say about this in upcoming anti-corporatism posts. But I wanted to give the example now.)
 
We’re at a dead end with conventional reformist and representative politics. It’s a total blockage. Everyone feels it. It’s the source of the great tension which lays over the land.
 
As Egypt has proven, the path to freedom, to action and liberation, lies open before us the moment we renounce our political passivity and strike out on our own. We can be our own leaders, our own organizers, our own inspiration, our own wellsprings and steam surges of action. 
 
So it follows that if we want freedom and security in our homes, we can’t count on the accident of whether or not a judge is conscientious. It should go without saying that Congress will never pass reform, but on the contrary will only look for a way to legalize the criminal assaults. Every bankster expects the politicians to do this, and so must we.
 
So that leaves us where we started and where we should have ended: Reliant upon ourselves.
 
I’ve advocated that mortgage holders should stop paying the banks, should stay in the house, keep paying the property tax, remain (or become) deeply involved in their communities, and get involved in local politics. If a critical mass did this, it would break the banks, and deal a severe blow to centralized power. It would be a great assertion of true federalism.
 
(I don’t mean individuals should necessarily do this unilaterally. The correct evolution of such a movement would depend on lots of regional conditions, but I think the basic plan should be for significant numbers of people in a region to organize for this, plan it, and do it as a group.)
 
So how do we get such groups started in the first place? The media certainly won’t undertake any systematic citizen education on the issue. So the idea I had was derived from the Farmers’ Alliance lecturers movement of the 1880s.
 

Farmer’s Alliance invented the lecturer system. Each local chapter chose a lecturer — someone in the chapter who had an ability to move its membership. In the local meetings, these speakers gave speeches, learning what moved their neighbors and polishing their way to capture the situation that they and their neighbors found themselves in as a public problem. These local speakers gave speeches at the district conventions and developed their speaking to a broader range of farmers. In turn, the district’s best speakers learned their craft at the state conventions. The result was a rich tradition of speaking that spawned a rich public sphere constructing the farmer’s problems as public concerns. Travelling lecturers developed, but the system always tied these lecturers with a local chapter where they kept their immersion in their local community.

 
These lecturers toured the South, the Midwest, the Plains and beyond, educating farmers about the way the banks manipulated the money supply and the crop lien system to rob them of their rightful reward for their hard work. They described the aspirations of the Alliance and how joining its cooperative system could liberate the farmers from the yoke of the parasites. They also attempted liaisons with factory labor.
 
(As that short description I quoted demonstrates, the lecturer organization was itself a superb example of participatory democracy, where the citizen activist flourished in proportion to his passion and commitment.)
 
So this is an idea that we might deploy today to educate our communities about the Land Scandal and its place at the core of the Bailout and the finance tyranny. (And the idea’s applicable not just to the banks and foreclosures. Unfortunately, there’s more than ample opportunity and room for anyone who wants to educate on the food rackets, the weapons rackets, the health racket bailout and Stamp mandate, the police state and civil liberties, net neutrality, and so many other things. I especially recommend student debt as a potential movement-builder which dovetails well with Foreclosuregate.)
 
In my next post on this I’ll give a basic outline for a sample curriculum for such a lecture series.

Egyptian Seed Bank Looted by Thugs; Seeds Safe

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Food and Farms, Freedom, Relocalization — Tags: — Russ @ 4:31 am

 

After the Egyptian people chased the uniformed police from the streets, the police pivoted to plain-clothes and a looting offensive. This was meant to terrorize citizens and smear the protests. As we know, it failed miserably, as the people took responsibility for defending their homes and streets, public property, and confronting the thugs.
 
Mubarak’s thugs were eventually reduced to attacking Western media figures and carrying out revenge attacks in isolated places. They were routed.
 
But one location which fell victim to the thugs was the Egyptian Deserts Seed Bank in North Sinai. Luckily, the seeds themselves weren’t damaged (read the comment thread at the link), although lots of equipment was stolen or damaged. This confirms not only the viciousness and stupidity of existing governments (early in the Afghan war a seed bank there was completely destroyed for no apparent reason but pure neoliberal terrorism), but the strategic principle that while state of the art centralized seed banks are good as long as they’re not corporatized, they are not sufficient. In a world of increasing civil disturbance, counter-revolutionary destruction, and natural disaster, it’s imperative that the Freedom Seed movement develop a broadly decentralized system of seed saving. This seed bank relocalization is necessary as both complementary to and independent of any formalized system.
 
Meanwhile the strikes continue in Egypt, as the workers defy regime threats to criminalize worker assemblies. The democracy is calling for a Day of Victory demonstration on Friday. The Military Council continues to try to ease into “normalization” while postponing the most formal measures. It keeps pushing back bank reopenings and lifting other suspensions. By trying to refuse the democracy’s economic demands, the regime continues to damage the very stability it claims to want to restore.
 
Egypt’s continued revolution is now the center of a vast fan of uprisings which have broken across the wings of the North African/Middle East eagle. In Algeria, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen the people are demonstrating against varying levels of repression, making demands similar to those of Egypt. (In Bahrain there’s also a strong Shiite vs. Sunni aspect to it.)
 
These are all repressive regimes, perhaps worse than that of Mubarak. But we see the contagion of democracy. Even more imminently potent, we see the contagion of political self-respect, self-confidence, courage. Almost everywhere the people are realizing that no matter how forbidding the regime’s ugly face, if they go to the streets confidently, in critical numbers, these gangs of thugs turn into paper tigers. In the end they’re just cowardly bullies who can’t stand up to the defiance of the unified democratic people, but can only foment division and prey on despair.
 
So the lesson is clear. Reject despair, reject “fear itself”, reject the failed “reformist” counsel of cowardice (which has its basis only in this despair and fear, where it’s not simply treacherous). Face the enemy with confidence and resolve. Perhaps, especially in a place like America, most of the initial work must be organizational and directly affirmative, indirectly subversive. There are also innumerable opportunities for direct action and civil disobedience right now. All this will be laying the groundwork for the eventual great democratic assertions, once our own discipline and confidence reach critical mass. 

February 15, 2011

Some Preliminary Ideas on the Egyptian Revolution So far

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 4:00 pm

 

1. The people who went to the streets are not the destitute, but rather those who hold a decent economic position but feel cramped. They experience pressure either pushing them downward or blocking their attempts to rise.
 
This highlights the question of how decisive a factor food (and fuel) stagflation has been here, and how decisive it’ll be going forward. We’ve already seen several years’ worth of demonstrations over artificial blockages to food security. (There’s more than enough food, but corporations and governments set up price barriers to exclude billions from easily accessing it. This is the basic goal of food globalization.) As the masses become more used to these assaults, more used to demonstrating, and place food stagflation within the context of globalization as a systematic policy, the uprisings will less and less have the character of “food riots”, as the MSM disparages them, and will become larger, better-planned, and embedded within the broad front of political revolution as we saw in Egypt.
 
2. The street democracy was primarily a political convocation and made political demands. Once again we see how in the first rush of demonstration, the people experience true democracy with exhilaration. It inspires, it fulfills, it drives. This graphically exposes what a sham our “representative democratic” forms really are. Those aren’t the food of life. They don’t make us experience our humanity. Only the vibrant, fully lived democracy can do this. It’s the highest, finest, most satisfying communal experience humanity has ever known. For those wondrous moments, it makes us whole. It’s so potent, even its reverberations down through history, or as experienced through the present communications media, convey and bestow some of the blessing.
 
Under such an intoxication, it’s natural to focus on the enshrinement of this political freedom. It may even seem like a subtraction from the moment to focus on economic grievance. Perhaps the task of a fundamental transformation of the economic dispensation seems too daunting to think about at first. At any rate, the first cadre of street demonstrators tends to focus on political demands. So it was in Egypt, although increasing strike activity bolstered the political uprising and eventually powered it to its first great victory.
 
3. This trend of labor unrest goes back several years. That Egyptian workers have alone defied the police state for so long and under such a media blackout is the most unsung story of heroism in this revolution. Compared to that, going to the streets last week must have been more of a carnival.
 
Seeing the great political movement at least temporarily joining their longstanding strike movement, the striking workers put themselves at its service. They submerged their demands in the political movement and seconded its political demands. They did this in the expectation that the political movement’s advance would help their own economic movement’s advance. More on this below.
 
4. The regime is inefficient and clumsy. This is a standard feature of successful revolutions. The regime was clueless about the situation, even after the mass street protest broke out. Belatedly noticing it, Mubarak wavered between pledges of reform and threats of repression, but the people correctly didn’t believe he was capable of following through on either. Mubarak’s promises were consistently too little, too late, and at any rate not believable as anything but sham. His threats were the classic mixture of a collapsing regime: Brutal enough to infuriate the people further, but too uncoordinated and haphazard to successfully put down the uprising. Malevolent in intent, incompetent in execution: This is the classic state of a brutal, stupid leadership ready to fall.
 
The vaunted police may actually have been hollowed out by embezzlement and stupidity. The rank and file riot police, who are supposed to be well-trained elites or at least motivated regime ideologues, may in fact have mostly been ill-trained conscripts. Many may have shed their uniforms early in the protest. Meanwhile, the regime chose to use its committed cadres not for direct crowd suppression, but for provocation activities, looting, mugging, vandalism, arson, and organizing mobs of scum to throw rocks. That should give an indication of the quality of personnel the regime was reduced to leaning upon, and the quality of its own mindset.
 
At the same time they made the mistake of sending the army in among the democracy and then leaving it to sit there, bombarded with the good will and friendship of the people. I assume the idea was that the mere sight of the tanks would scare off the demonstrators. When this predictably failed, the result was the worst of both worlds, from Mubarak’s point of view. It would already have been dubious to order the rank and file troops to open fire on the people. Any general who ordered it would be courting a mutiny, which would immediately have escalated things to February 1917 levels. Basically sending in the troops without a plan, as if you wanted them to do nothing but fraternize, could only increase this likelihood. At the same time the idea that the army was among them, was with them, and the sight of the troops often running interference for the demonstrators against the uniformed police and the thug mobs, could only further hearten the people and bolster their resolve.
 
Mubarak bluffed and failed miserably. It’s no surprise that when he finally did try to give an order for the troops to attack the democracy, they simply ignored it. The order was considered so absurd and depraved, the troops could disregard it without fear of repercussions from their officers. They didn’t even bother to mutiny, Mubarak had so stripped himself of authority.
 
More on the army below.
 
5. In Egypt the call to go to the streets was coordinated by political and perhaps labor activists. It’s still difficult to parse the intentions of these activists, but at the least they wanted to overthrow Mubarak and his NDP. More on them below.
 
6. Once the people were in the streets, the movement was spontaneously self-organizing. Although the basic idea of assembling at set points and from there converging on the Square was laid out in prepared material ahead of time, and the idea of using the mosques as embarkation points on the first Friday was also preplanned, from there the massed democrats of the streets had to make it up as they went along, and they did so with great ingenuity, discipline, and spirit. They met every challenge the same way, from keeping their processions moving to confronting the riot police to greeting the tanks to protecting the Museum and other worthy public property to defending their neighborhoods to dealing with police looters and muggers to fighting the mobs to building the barricades to manning them in shifts to preventing the tanks from moving to the more mundane and more difficult challenges of arranging food, water, shelter, medical care, and sanitation. They did all this with great skill. Through it all they remained non-violent except in direct self-defense. They also spontaneously found religious amity, with Muslims and Christians protecting one another’s prayer sessions and even joining together for some collective services.
 
7. At all times, self-confidence and self-respect remained high, and often surged. Most pivotal, and most indicative of true fighters, they escalated their resolve and demands at every new obstacle, every provocation. That’s the exact opposite of the dynamic with which we in the West are familiar, when we look at our existing “political” types. There’s zero sign of the revolutionary spirit among them. I think most of it will have to come from those who have renounced existing politics completely, and especially from those who are completely new to politics.
 
8. The whole thing has depended upon the forbearance of the military. That should be obvious, but it’s weird how many people I see discussing that as if they just discovered it, because Egypt is for the moment under military rule. They act as if they just had an epiphany regarding something which was obvious to most of us from day one, and they see this as a bad sign.
 
But the historical fact is that revolutionary, as well as many reform movements, often depend upon the state instruments of violence not to practice anything near their full violent potential. To give some obvious examples, both the Gandhi and King movements depended upon this forbearance. That’s one of the basic parts of the revolutionary mix, upon which the success of the movement rises or falls: Are the troops ordered to open fire, and if so do they obey? Positive answers to these may not be sufficient, but they’re usually necessary. It’s funny how many observers seem not to know this, and regard the current state of affairs as a sign of the movement’s failure, when this is only the beginning.
 
9.  Western governments and media were helpless. They had no words, not even the slightest idea how to respond to this. “Do I lie and embrace a democratic movement, hoping to help destroy it behind the scenes? Do I disparage it? Openly or subtly? Do I even believe this is democracy? It’s just troublemakers, right? Riled up by Islamists and foreigners, just like Mubarak says? Mubarak’s not a dictator. His son is the friend of our worthy banks. Suleiman tortures for us. Maybe he’d be better as head of state. What about Israel? What about the Suez Canal? What about our oil? What is our $1.5 billion a year buying, if it can’t deal with a street mob? What the heck is that they keep chanting? ‘Democracy’? No, we’re democracy, right? That’s what we always say. It must be true. Mubarak’s a democrat too, just like us. Do I tell the truth and reject this obnoxious movement? Maybe an orderly transition would be better. Can’t they just shoot them down? Or would that be too embarrassing to us all? Surely nobody in the West would care, right? Muslim Brotherhood equals bin Laden. What kind of corporate opportunities will this open up in Egypt?…”
 
Disgruntled confusion.
 
10. The democracy won its first great victory. It toppled Mubarak and seems to have prevented Suleiman from seamlessly taking up his position. Obama and Hillary’s “orderly transition” was defeated.
 
The next real political demands are an end to the state of emergency, prosecution and disgorgement for all Mubarak criminals, a new constitution, and new elections. All striker demands must also be met. The army has already suspended the Mubarak-corrupted constitution and dissolved the fraudulent parliament.
 
But beyond this, the army’s indications have been underwhelming at best, menacing at worst. With Mubarak gone, the Council has resumed the call for the protestors to go home, since “your demands have been met”. They’re again trying to dismantle the democratic structures in the Square. The tents are gone, the barricades may be gone. The people are still there, but they’re being pushed to leave.
 
The Council also threatened to ban strikes and labor demonstrations, although the last I saw they hadn’t yet gone ahead and done this. Instead they bought time by declaring Monday a holiday, while Tuesday was already a holiday.
 
The Council also at first said it was going to rewrite the constitution in ten days and submit it for a referendum. Last I heard, this impetuous scheme has been replaced by the appointment of a jurist to supervise the writing of a new constitution. This is hardly the democratic constitutional convention the democracy of the streets must have been thinking of. This kind of instant constitution, made to order by technocrats, has never had any authority anywhere.
 
According to what I read this jurist is a pillar of the legal establishment, the same type as the “wise men” who offered a tepid set of demands on arrogated behalf of the democracy (they had no authority to do so, that’s for sure) which didn’t even demand Mubarak’s ouster.
 
When we consider this, the picture starts to resolve. We see how the prefabricated action figure Ghonim appeared on the streets at a critical point as if by magic to start striking heroic poses and making lame demands, including his recent calls, aping the generals, for the democracy to adjourn and go home, since the process is now in the hands of adults. (I heard the A6Mers also said Go Home Hippies and Strikers.) Many of them were willing to sit down with Suleiman when Mubarak was still in place. (And Elbaradei seemed upset he wasn’t invited.)
 
To make a 1917 comparison, it looks like this whole crew is analogous to the Kadets, the Constitutional Democratic party of liberal politicians and professionals. They never had any ambitions beyond some basic political reforms, but intended to leave the evil property structure intact. Their main preoccupation was to freeze the revolution in place and then euthanize it. They still had great enthusiasm for the war and wanted it to continue.
 
That’s just an analogy, but it seems fairly close to what we’re seeing so far. The people must be vigilant against such hijackers of their revolution, lest they allow them to betray it. In particular, they seem set to betray the democracy’s brothers in arms who continue on strike.
 
11. Protest action should shift to supporting all strikes, just as last week the strikers shifted their focus to supporting the political revolution. Under global kleptocracy the struggle of the workers is the same as the struggle of the cramped middle class. This cramp the middle classes feel is simply the same robbers of the workers now directing their crimes at them. From here on we shall surely hang together of hang separately. Unfortunately, political reformers have a nasty historical record of selling out the real economic struggle. But the Egyptian movement has been so overflowing with good faith so far, I have every confidence that it’ll rise to this challenge the same as it has risen to all others.
 
12. Finally, as I’ve written several times already, the democracy must not take its hand off the wheel and let the “normal”, designated forms and processes resume their normal course. The democracy is a new normal and must sustain itself as such. It must remain in session. The Committees must remain in existence and ramify themselves. They must continue with their quasi-governmental activities. They must support the strikers, on the street, in the factories, confronting the army leadership, offering themselves as mediators, but always on behalf of the strike demands. (The strikers should be organizing councils as well to coordinate with the political and community councils and ensure that these don’t sell out the strikes or neglect them.) They must confederate as a democratic Commune parallel to the pre-existing forms, claiming co-equal legitimacy with them.
 
Today the people of Egypt want a better constitution and representative government. Their best way of achieving this, and at the same time of seeing how they can grow beyond this as well, is to keep their positive democracy of the Square in living session. It can serve as the voice, the watcher, the promise of action if the people’s rightful wishes are subverted, and most of all the promise of this new, lived political freedom which has flowed as the essential lifeblood of this movement since it took to the streets. 
 
This is the only way the democratic revolution can continue as a living force, fulfilling on a daily basis the great promise with which it fired the hearts of millions who went to the streets, and of billions who watched, who knew, who felt with them, who now aspire.

February 14, 2011

The Next Big Test of Egyptian Democracy, Today

Filed under: Civil Disobedience, Freedom — Tags: — Russ @ 2:59 am

 

The Egyptian Revolution got off to a great start by forcing out Mubarak, but so far the main significance of that is the moral and tactical example the movement has provided. As far as the freedom and prosperity of the Egyptian people, it’s nothing but a start.
 
The country is now nominally under the power of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The extent to which this Council does hold the real power of the country and dispenses its will from the top down going forward depends upon the continued resolve of the people.
 
The Western media, having failed to subvert the revolution previously, will now go with the theme that with its ouster of Mubarak the democracy achieved its goal and can adjourn. Even many liberal commentators who cheered on the democracy now seem sick of it and want it to go home. Once again, it’s time for Leadership to take over. Adults.
 
The workers of Egypt didn’t get this memo. The strikes which broke out last week and which seem to have put the demonstrations over the top were not a new development, but a great escalation of several years of intensifying strike action. Although most strikers intermingled their pre-existing economic demands with the demonstrators’ political demands, they were really continuing this existing economic movement. Today they will try to maintain this new level of strike action. They plan to continue the strikes of last week, and there are new calls to strike. This is the logical continuation of the democratic movement. Its real basis was in economic grievance, it remained in economic grievance even as the movement was temporarily lofted euphorically on political aspirations (a common revolutionary development), and will continue to be an economic movement for as long as these grievances aren’t resolved. I don’t know to what extent the workers can be appeased with reforms the way most of the political protestors have been. 
 
But at the moment it looks like even that’s not on the table for the workers. The army has granted another political demand of the protestors, dissolving the recently “elected” parliament. This parliament was the result of massive electoral fraud, absurd even by the normal standards of rigged elections. The Council is also claiming it will accede to the basic demands for new, more clean elections and constitutional reform. It still refuses to lift the state of emergency, however. So there’s the state of the political demands.
 
But at the same time the Council wants to crush the strike movement before it continues to intensify. It wants to ban all strikes and worker demonstrations. This is an assault and an affront which will be rejected by anyone who’s truly a member of the democracy, and by anyone who truly supported the movement. We’ll now see the true mettle of the democracy, as the going starts to get tough. The workers will continue to strike, and the military threatens to use force to break up those strikes. Will millions surge back into the streets? Will ongoing democratic assemblies outside the designated forms and parallel to them condemn such repression and demand it stop?
 
The early indications are mixed. As many of us predicted, the middle class “leadership” of the movement has been saying in effect “Mission Accomplished, now it’s time for everyone to go home.” In Liberation Square thousands of demonstrators want to stay and have so far resisted army attempts to push them out. But they’re not just facing army pressure; a new gang of goons has appeared, chanting “They want the Square cleared!” Whoever’s chanting this may or may not have been protesting last week, but in that case democratic action has already crossed the line those people set for themselves, and they’re now on the side of the thugs. We in America who truly opposed Bush policy saw in 2009 how that happens. “They want the Square cleared.” – That can go down as an iconic slogan of cheaply bought sellouts everywhere.
 
Liberation Square remains contested ground, but for the moment is still in the hands of the people. But the Square is also everywhere a strike continues, and everywhere a new one is launched. No democratic politics worthy of that name will fail to see this as its own struggle, or will fail the call to support it.
 
If the repression units target the strikes, the people must go to the streets. And the democratic council forms must be organized to coordinate this support and formalize the economic demands of the democracy. Certainly this won’t be effectively done by constitutional reform delegates meeting someday (days from now? weeks? months?) with military representatives to plan elections. The new democracy is under assault right now. 
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