Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Your copyright can kiss my a$$

The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!


By Naomi Klein
and Avi Lewis


-- In 2004, we made a documentary called The Take about Argentina's movement of worker-run businesses. In the wake of the country's dramatic economic collapse in 2001, thousands of workers walked into their shuttered factories and put them back into production as worker cooperatives. Abandoned by bosses and politicians, they regained unpaid wages and severance while re-claiming their jobs in the process.

As we toured Europe and North America with the film, every Q&A ended up with the question, "that's all very well in Argentina, but could that ever happen here?"

Well, with the world economy now looking remarkably like Argentina's in 2001 (and for many of the same reasons) there is a new wave of direct action among workers in rich countries. Co-ops are once again emerging as a practical alternative to more lay-offs. Workers in the U.S. and Europe are beginning to ask the same questions as their Latin American counterparts: Why do we have to get fired? Why can't we fire the boss? Why is the bank allowed to drive our company under while getting billions of dollars of our money?

[This week] (May 15) at Cooper Union in New York City, we're [took] part in a panel that looks at this phenomenon, called Fire the Boss: The Worker Control Solution from Buenos Aires to Chicago.

We'll be joined by people from the movement in Argentina as well as workers from the famous Republic Windows and Doors struggle in Chicago.

It's a great way to hear directly from those who are trying to rebuild the economy from the ground up, and who need meaningful support from the public, as well as policy makers at all levels of government. For those who can't make it out to Cooper Union, here's a quick round up of recent developments in the world of worker control.


In Argentina, the direct inspiration for many current worker actions, there have been more takeovers in the last 4 months than the previous 4 years.

One example:

- Arrufat, a chocolate maker with a 50 year history, was abruptly closed late last year. 30 employees occupied the plant, and despite a huge utility debt left by the former owners, have been producing chocolates by the light of day, using generators.

With a loan of less than $5,000 from the The Working World, a capital fund/NGO started by a fan of
The Take, they were able to produce 17,000 Easter eggs for their biggest weekend of the year. They made a profit of $75,000, taking home $1,000 each and saving the rest for future production.


- Visteon is an auto parts manufacturer that was spun off from Ford in 2000. Hundreds of workers were given 6 minutes notice that their workplaces were closing. 200 workers in Belfast staged a sit-in on the roof of their factory, another 200 in Enfield followed suit the next day.

Over the next few weeks, Visteon increased the severance package to up to 10 times their initial offer, but the company is refusing to put the money in the workers' bank accounts until they leave the plants, and they are refusing to leave until they see the money.


- A factory where workers make legendary Waterford Crystal was occupied for 7 weeks earlier this year when parent company Waterford Wedgewood went into receivership after being taken over by a US private equity firm.

The US company has now put 10 million Euros in a severance fund, and negotiations are ongoing to keep some of the jobs.


As the Big Three automakers collapse, there have been 4 occupations by Canadian Auto Workers so far this year. In each case, factories were closing and workers were not getting compensation that was owed to them. They occupied the factories to stop the machines from being removed, using that as leverage to force the companies back to the table - precisely the same dynamic that worker takeovers in Argentina have followed.


In France, there's been a new wave of "Bossnappings" this year, in which angry employees have detained their bosses in factories that are facing closure. Companies targeted so far include Caterpillar, 3M, Sony, and Hewlett Packard.

The 3M executive was brought a meal of moules et frites during his overnight ordeal.

A comedy hit in France this spring was a movie called "Louise-Michel," in which a group of women workers hires a hitman to kill their boss after he shuts down their factory with no warning.

A French union official said in March, "those who sow misery reap fury. The violence is done by those who cut jobs, not by those who try to defend them."

And this week, 1,000 Steelworkers disrupted the annual shareholders meeting of ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel company. They stormed the company's headquarters in Luxembourg, smashing gates, breaking windows, and fighting with police.


Also this week, in Southern Poland, at the largest coal coking producer in Europe, thousands of workers bricked up the entrance to the company's headquarters, protesting wage cuts.


And then there's the famous Republic Windows and Doors story: 260 workers occupied their plant for 6 world-shaking days in Chicago last December. With a savvy campaign against the company's biggest creditor, Bank of America ("You got bailed out, we got sold out!") and massive international solidarity, they won the severance they were owed. And more - the plant is re-opening under new ownership, making energy-efficient windows with all the workers hired back at their old wages.

And this week, Chicago is making it a trend. Hartmarx is a 122-year old company that makes business suits, including the navy blue number that Barack Obama wore on election night, and his inaugural tuxedo and topcoat.

The business is in bankruptcy. Its biggest creditor is Wells Fargo, recipient of 25 billion public dollars in bailout money. While there are 2 offers on the table to buy the company and keep it operating, Wells Fargo wants to liquidate it. On Monday, 650 workers voted to occupy their Chicago factory if the bank goes ahead with liquidation.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Stigma of Beer

By Kate Hopkins


I believe it's safe to say that beer doesn't get as good as press as say, whiskey, and certainly no where near as positive spin that the wine industry enjoys. This is a damn shame, to be sure, but the question that begs to be asked is "Why?"

The natural inclination is take a stare with disapproving eyes at the folks at Anheuser-Busch, MillersCoors, and Madison Avenue. With ad campaigns that highlight what one might consider the less-than-cultured aspects of the beer world, spots that inexplicably contain animals, and ads that contain overt sexual messages, it would be easy to say that this stigma is their fault.

While these folks certainly haven't helped promote the quality of beers, deciding instead to focus more on the more base and puerile aspects of the alcoholic beverage, the lower class nature of beer has been around, not just for generations, but for millenniums.

There has always been a divide between beer and wine drinkers. In the British Isles, while the upper classes drank wine and cognac, the lower classes drank ale. (Whiskey, as a side note, transitioned from a drink of the poor farmers to the a drink of the upper class in the mid-to-late 1800's.)

This divide goes as back as far as the Greeks, who were tremendous wine drinkers. Nearly as a culture they looked down upon those societies and tribes who drank beer. To them, beer was an effeminate and uncultured drink, one in which most of the city-states were above consuming.

So how should beer companies, micro-brew or otherwise, seek to change this? For one, the should either stop, or never plan on treating their product as an economic commodity. What I mean is that the personal aspect of brewing should be highlighted, and the skill of the brewmaster should be celebrated. Whiskey does this with Master Distillers, and this could easily be transferred to brewery cultured. (To some extent, this already occurs, but there is always room for improvements).

My second point here is more wishful thinking on my part, and it is more of a romantic notion than a practical one. But I think that breweries should have types of beer available that differ in taste from year to year. Barleywine is already doing this to some extent, but any cask-aged beer should taste different from year to year. And having a beer brand or two that can last aging in a bottle or cask anywhere between one to a dozen years will allow for the desire of exclusivity for both taste and collection freaks out there to be encouraged. Of course you can't do this for every beer, but for those that this can be done for, it should be at least considered.

The goal here isn't to compete with wine, or even whiskey, because rather to celebrate all that beer can be. There are some amazing beers out there, and some amazing beer production techniques that bring out flavors that many people do not know exist. To move beyond the stereotypes surrounding the brews, some innovations or return to traditions may need to take place.

Victory for Student Rights in Wisconsin: Regents to Restore Due Process Rights

FIRE Press Release


MADISON, Wis., May 6, 2009After substantial input from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has restored essential due process rights for students statewide. The restored rights include the option of a hearing before a committee including student peers, attorney representation in the case of serious allegations, and both e-mail and paper notification of proceedings.

"The Board of Regents should be highly commended for protecting students' rights and fundamental notions of fairness across the state," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "The policy revisions are a victory for due process rights, which have been systematically reduced in higher education over the last few decades. It is very refreshing to see a university system take steps towards restoring procedural protections for students."

Since 2007, the Board of Regents has been developing a new version of Chapter UWS 17 of the State Administrative Code, which governs infractions and judicial procedures within Wisconsin's public universities. A committee of administrators and students suggested many controversial changes that met with strong opposition from FIRE and student groups. The most objectionable changes limited due process rights and afforded a dangerous degree of discretion to administrators. Had it been granted, this discretion would have opened the door to due process lawsuits as well as arbitrary and inconsistent punishments.

Adam Kissel, Director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, went on a speaking tour of Wisconsin campuses sponsored by the United Council of UW Students in early March to advocate against the controversial changes. On March 5, he spoke before several Regents directly at a public hearing. On March 13, FIRE wrote the Regents with seven specific concerns together with the Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Almost all of FIRE's concerns were addressed satisfactorily by the Regents, who will vote on the final version of the policy on Friday, May 8.

One significant issue involved a single word. The revision committee had changed "shall" to "may" in the provision that "The hearing examiner or committee shall observe recognized legal privileges." The change to "may" would have taken away a huge swath of legal privileges that had been guaranteed to students, leaving students with no idea, until they actually arrived at the hearing, what the rules of their hearing would be. After FIRE intervened, the Regents restored the original word.

At least one member of the revision committee has criticized these positive changes. "It is sad that some administrators are unhappy about these improvements for students' rights," Kissel said. "Students should not have to fight administrators for their rights every step of the way."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty within the University of Wisconsin System and on campuses across America are detailed at

Lysander Spooner: Libertarian Pietist

by Murray N. Rothbard


[Introduction to Vices Are Not Crimes]

We are all indebted to Carl Watner for uncovering an unknown work by the great Lysander Spooner, one that managed to escape the editor of Spooner's Collected Works. Both the title and the substance of "Vices are not Crimes" highlight the unique role that morality and moral principle had for Spooner among the anarchists and libertarians of his day. For Spooner was the last of the great natural rights theorists among anarchists, classical liberals, or moral theorists generally; the doughty old heir of the natural law-natural rights tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was fighting a rear-guard battle against the collapse of the idea of a scientific or rational morality, or of the science of justice or of individual right. Not only had natural law and natural rights given way throughout society to the arbitrary rule of utilitarian calculation or nihilistic whim; but the same degenerative process had occurred among libertarians and anarchists as well. Spooner knew that the foundation for individual rights and liberty was tinsel if all values and ethics were arbitrary and subjective. Yet, even in his own anarchist movement Spooner was the last of the Old Guard believers in natural rights; his successors in the individualist-anarchist movement, led by Benjamin R. Tucker, all proclaimed arbitrary whim and might-makes-right as the foundation of libertarian moral theory. And yet, Spooner knew that this was no foundation at all; for the State is far mightier than any individual, and if the individual cannot use a theory of justice as his armor against State oppression, then he has no solid base from which to roll back and defeat it.

With his emphasis on cognitive moral principles and natural rights, Spooner must have looked hopelessly old-fashioned to Tucker and the young anarchists of the 1870s and 1880s. And yet now, a century later, it is the latters' once fashionable nihilism and tough amoralism that strike us as being empty and destructive of the very liberty they all tried hard to bring about. We are now beginning to recapture the once-great tradition of an objectively grounded rights of the individual. In philosophy, in economics, in social analysis, we are beginning to see that the tossing aside of moral rights was not the brave new world it once seemed — but rather a long and disastrous detour in political philosophy that is now fortunately drawing to a close.

Opponents of the idea of an objective morality commonly charge that moral theory functions as a tyranny over the individual. This, of course, happens with many theories of morality, but it cannot happen when the moral theory makes a sharp and clear distinction between the "immoral" and the "illegal", or, in Spooner's words, between "vices" and "crimes." The immoral or the "vicious" may consist of a myriad of human actions, from matters of vital importance down to being nasty to one's neighbor or to willful failure to take one's vitamins. But none of them should be confused with an action that should be "illegal," that is, an action to be prohibited by the violence of law. The latter, in Spooner's libertarian view, should be confined strictly to the initiation of violence against the rights of person and property. Other moral theories attempt to apply the law — the engine of socially legitimated violence — to compelling obedience to various norms of behavior; in contrast, libertarian moral theory asserts the immorality and injustice of interfering with any man's (or rather, any non-criminal man's) right to run his own life and property without interference. For the natural rights libertarian, then, his cognitive theory of justice is a great bulwark against the State's eternal invasion of rights — in contrast to other moral theories which attempt to employ the State to combat immorality.

It is instructive to consider Spooner and his essay in the light of the fascinating insights into nineteenth century American politics provided in recent years by the "new political history." While this new history has been applied for most of the nineteenth century, the best work has been done for the Midwest after the Civil War, in particular the brilliant study by Paul
Kleppner, The Cross of Culture[1].

What Kleppner and others have shown is that the political ideas of Americans can be reduced, with almost remarkable precision, back to their religious attitudes and beliefs. In particular, their political and economic views depend on the degree to which they conform to the two basic poles of Christian belief: pietistic, or liturgical (although the latter might be amended to liturgical plus doctrinal.) Pietistic, by the 19th century, meant all groups of Protestants except Episcopalian, High Church Lutheran, and orthodox Calvinist; liturgical meant the latter plus Roman Catholic. (And "pietistic" attitudes, often included deist and atheist.) Briefly, the pietist tends to hold that to be truly religious, a person must experience an emotional conversion; the convert, in what has been called "the baptism of the Holy Spirit", has a direct relationship to God or to Jesus. The liturgical, on the other hand, is interested in either doctrinal belief or the following of prescribed church ritual as the key to salvation.

Now, it might seem as if the pietistic emphasis on the individual might lead to a political individualism, to the belief that the State may not interfere in each individual's moral choices and actions. In 17th century pietism, it often meant just that. But by the 19th century, unfortunately, such was not the case. Most pietists took the following view: Since we can't gauge an individual's morality by his following rituals or even by his professed adherence to creed, we must watch his actions and see if he is really moral. From there the pietists concluded that it was everyone's moral duty to his own salvation to see to it that his fellow men as well as himself are kept out of temptation's path. That is, it was supposed to be the State's business to enforce compulsory morality, to create the proper moral climate for maximizing salvation. In short, instead of an individualist, the pietist now tended to become a pest, a busybody, a moral watchdog for his fellow-man, and a compulsory moralist using the State to outlaw "vice" as well as crime.

The liturgicals, on the other hand, took the view that morality and salvation were to be achieved by following the creed and the rituals of their church. The experts on those church beliefs and practices were, of course, not the State but the priests or bishops of the church (or, in the case of the few orthodox Calvinists, the ministers.) The liturgicals, secure in their church teachings and practices, simply wanted to be left alone to follow the counsel of their priests; they were not interested in pestering or forcing their fellow human beings into being saved. And they believed profoundly that morality was not the business of the State, but only of their own church mentors.

From the 1850's to the 1890's the Republican party was almost exclusively the pietist party, known commonly as the "party of great moral ideas"; the Democratic party, on the other hand, was almost exclusively the liturgical party, and was known widely as the "party of personal liberty." Specifically, after the Civil War there were three interconnected local struggles that kept reappearing throughout America; in each case, the Republicans and Democrats played out this contrasting role. These were: the attempt by pietist groups (almost always Republican) to enforce prohibition; the attempt by the same groups to enforce Sunday blue laws; and the attempt by the selfsame pietists to enforce compulsory attendance in the public schools, in order to use these schools to "Christianize" the Catholics.

What of the political and economic struggles that historians have, until recently, focused on almost exclusively: sound money vs. fiat money or silver inflation; free trade vs. a protective tariff; free markets vs. government regulation; small vs. large government spending? It is true that these were fought out repeatedly, but these were on the national level, and generally remote from the concerns of the average person. I have long wondered how it was that the nineteenth century saw the mass of the public get highly excited about such recondite matters as the tariff, bank credits, or the currency. How could that happen when it is almost impossible to interest the mass of the public in these matters today? Kleppner and the others have provided the missing link, the middle term between these abstract economic issues and the gut social issues close to the hearts and lives of the public. Specifically, the Democrats, who (at least until 1896) favored the free-market, libertarian position on all these economic issues, linked them (and properly so) in the minds of their liturgical supporters, with their opposition to prohibition, blue laws, etc. The Democrats pointed out that all these statist economic measures — including inflation — were "paternalistic" in the same way as the hated pietistic invasions of their personal liberty. In that way, the Democrat leaders were able to "raise the consciousness" of their followers from their local and personal concerns to wider and more abstract economic issues, and to take the libertarian position on all of them.

The pietist Republicans did similarly for their mass base, pointing out that big government should regulate and control economic matters as it should control morality. In this stance, the Republicans followed in the footsteps of their predecessors, the Whigs, who, for example, were generally the Fathers of the Public School System in their local areas.

Generally, the "mind your own business" liturgicals almost instinctively took the libertarian position on every question. But there was of course one area — before the Civil War — where pestering and hectoring were needed to right a monstrous injustice: slavery. Here the typical pietistic concern with universal moral principles and seeing them put into action brought us the abolitionist and anti-slavery movements. Slavery was the great flaw in the American system in more senses than one: for it was also the flaw in the instinctive liturgical resentment against great moral crusades.

To return now to Lysander Spooner. Spooner, born in the New England pietist tradition, began his distinguished ideological career as an all-out abolitionist. Despite differences over interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Spooner was basically in the anarchistic, "no-government" Garrisonian wing of the abolitionist movement — the wing that sought the abolition of slavery not through the use of the central government (which was in any case dominated by the South), but by a combination of moral fervor and slave rebellion. Far from being fervent supporters of the Union, the Garrisonians held that the northern states should secede from a pro-slaveholding United States of America.

So far, Spooner and the Garrisonians took the proper libertarian approach toward slavery. But the tragic betrayal came when the Union went to war with the Southern states over the issue of their declared independence. Garrison and his former "no-government" movement forgot their anarchistic principles in their enthusiasm for militarism, mass murder, and centralized statism on behalf of what they correctly figured would be a war against slavery. Only Lysander Spooner and a very few others stood foursquare against this betrayal; only Spooner realized that it would be compounding crime and error to try to use government to right the wrongs committed by another government. And so, among his pietistic and moralizing anti-slavery colleagues, only Spooner was able to see with shining clarity, despite all temptations, the stark difference between vice and crime. He saw that it was correct to denounce the crimes of governments, but that it was only compounding those crimes to maximize government power as an attempted remedy. Spooner never followed other pietists in endorsing crime or in trying to outlaw vice.

Spooner's anarchism was, like his abolitionism, another valuable part of his pietist legacy. For, here again, his pietistic concern for universal principles — in this case, as in the case of slavery, for the complete triumph of justice and the elimination of injustice — brought him to a consistent and courageous application of libertarian principles where it was not socially convenient (to put it mildly) to have the question raised. While the liturgicals proved to be far more libertarian that the pietists during the second half of the nineteenth century, a pietistic spirit is always important in libertarianism to emphasize a tireless determination to eradicate crime and injustice. Surely it is no accident that Spooner's greatest and most fervent anarchistic tracts were directed in dialogue against the Democrats Cleveland and Bayard; he did not bother with the openly statist Republicans. A pietistic leaven in the quasi-libertarian liturgical lump?

But it takes firmness in libertarian principle to make sure to confine one's pietistic moral crusade to crime (e.g. slavery, statism), and not have it spill over to what anyone might designate as "vice." Fortunately, we have the immortal Lysander Spooner, in his life and in his works, to guide us along the correct path.

Murray N. Rothbard
Los Altos, California

[1] Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 1850-1900 (New York: Free Press, 1970). Also see Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflicts, 1888-1896 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).

Tech Policy Debate: Do We Want Enlightened Leadership...Or A Hands Off Policy?


from the it's-important... dept

I know that many folks think that "tech policy" is boring -- but, for those who care about the tech industry and innovation in general, it remains an important issue. During The Free Summit earlier this week we tried to inject some tech policy issues. This was a key reason for having the event in the first place. Both the Free Summit and the Tech Policy Summit were organized and run by the folks from SageScape, who are quite concerned that the tech world doesn't care enough about what's happening in the political realm and how it might impact them. While someone brought up the question, during The Free Summit, of why we should care about the entertainment industry influencing copyright laws, since they were dinosaurs in the process of dying off anyway, we pointed out that the amount of damage they could do while dying was impressive, and shouldn't be underestimated.

The overall Tech Policy Summit was quite interesting (and I've done some separate posts on some of the specific speakers), but the two key discussions that I think crystallized the debate were the discussions with Obama advisor Blair Levin and Consumer Electronics Association boss Gary Shapiro. Levin laid out a very compelling case that now that we have someone who "gets technology" in the White House, a lot of good things can be done. He was quite anxious to get nominated FCC boss Julius Genachowski approved and visibly angry and frustrated that Senate games have delayed his confirmation. Indeed, after years and years of watching technologically illiterate policy makers mucking things up left and right, the idea of having tech savvy folks in the administration is incredibly appealing. While I don't always agree with Levin, his comments did lessen some of my concerns about what's going on with tech policy in the administration.

But then... thankfully... Gary Shapiro got on stage and challenged many of Levin's points, highlighting how dangerous it is to think that the government can be an enlightened player in determining how innovation should work:

"It's not the job of government to say, "You win. You lose. You win.' That's the job of venture capitalists. The government's just going to mess it up."
While I'd argue that it's the job of the folks in the market, rather than venture capitalists, I think his point is sound. We should be worried about such massive government intervention -- even if it's coming from people who do seem to understand technology issues. Unfortunately, it had been so frustrating dealing with clueless tech policy makers for so long, the idea of more clueful tech policy makers seemed so appealing that you start to forget there's a third option: government getting out of the way.

And, realistically speaking, this should be a big concern. Even if Obama's appointments really are brilliant about technology, and put in place wonderful plans... what if the next President isn't quite so technologically clueful? Giving the federal government too much say in shaping the tech market landscape is dangerous long-term. It's why we should certainly be careful and watch what the government is doing, even if you believe the participants really are smart and knowledgeable about these subjects.

Along these lines, I should point out how strong an advocate Shapiro has been (for a long time) of consumer-first policies. Some will point out that these interests align well with the consumer electronics firms he represents, but if you just speak to the guy for a little while, you realize how strongly he believes in consumer rights because it's right, not just because it helps the companies he works with. And, unlike some of the other big names at the event, Shapiro was very involved in the entire event -- getting up to ask plenty of questions and challenge lots of speakers who said questionable things (he gets extra points for zinging David Carson, from the Copyright Office by asking him: "Do you represent the interests of copyright holders, or the public, because everything you say appears to be from the interests of the copyright holders only?"). Lots of us know about consumer advocacy organizations like the EFF and Public Knowledge, who fight for consumer rights on many of these issues, but Shapiro and the CEA deserve an awful lot of credit as well.

What is a Carrotmob?


What is a Carrotmob you ask? It's not a vegetarian riot, if that's what you're thinking. Carrotmobs are the next step in the evolution of activism. They're based around buying products you already want and creating friends instead of enemies with local businesses all the while providing incentives for those regional shops to do what you want.

The strategy goes like this. Traditionally, if a group wanted to change the direction of a business they'd resort to punishment a.k.a. boycotts. This didn't make anybody happy as the conpany would lose money and the customer would lose a purchasing option. What a Carrotmob does is reinforce positive, cooperative relationships by first choosing a geographic location perhaps a few city blocks, then starting a bidding war among the competing companies. What are they bidding for? The prize at the end of the auction is that one day a "mob" of activists will flood the store who agrees to devote the highest percentage of sales that day to environmental improvements.

So simple, eh? It's attractive to shop owners because it boosts their bottom line (duh!) but it appeals to lazy activists (sometimes called "slacktivists") who have a social conscious. You know the type who just sit around on myspace, facebook or blog about their concerns (ahem, don't look at me) but never get out of their computer chair except to buy some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream to compliment the herbal enhancement they just smoked 15 minutes before -- you know the type.

To see the efficacy of this program you need look no further than the inaugural event back in March of 2008 in San Francisco. One business, K&D Market, was chosen out of 23 competing stores. That day the Carrotmobsters spent a grand $9,200, 22% of which was invested in greening the lighting system. This is a brilliant way of harnessing the power of markets for good and not evil.

There are plenty of Carrotmob resources online. Check them out.

See the first ever Carrotmob in action
Shoppers, Unite! Carrotmobs Are Cooler than Boycotts
Organize a Carrotmob or find one near you

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pipelineistan goes Af-Pak

By Pepe Escobar

As United States President Barack Obama heads into his second 100 days in office, let's head for the big picture ourselves, the ultimate global plot line, the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order. In its first 100 days, the Obama presidency introduced us to a brand new acronym, OCO - for Overseas Contingency Operations - formerly known as GWOT (as in "global war on terror").

Use either name, or anything else you want, and what you're really talking about is what's happening on the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean. It's there that the liquid war for the control of Eurasia takes place.

Yep, it all comes down to black gold and "blue gold" (natural gas), hydrocarbon wealth beyond compare, and so it's time to trek back to that ever-flowing wonderland - Pipelineistan. It's time to dust off the acronyms, especially the SCO or Shanghai Cooperative Organization, the Asian response to NATO, and learn a few new ones like IPI and TAPI. Above all, it's time to check out the most recent moves on the giant chessboard of Eurasia, where Washington wants to be a crucial, if not dominant, player.

We've already seen Pipelineistan wars in Kosovo and Georgia, and we've followed Washington's favorite pipeline, the BTC, which was supposed to tilt the flow of energy westward, sending oil coursing past both Iran and Russia. Things didn't quite turn out that way, but we've got to move on, the New Great Game never stops. Now, it's time to grasp just what the Asian Energy Security Grid is all about, visit a surreal natural gas republic, and understand why that Grid is so deeply implicated in the Af-Pak war.

Every time I've visited Iran, energy analysts stress the total "interdependence of Asia and Persian Gulf geo-ecopolitics". What they mean is the ultimate importance to various great and regional powers of Asian integration via a sprawling mass of energy pipelines that will someday, somehow, link the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, South Asia, Russia and China. The major Iranian card in the Asian integration game is the gigantic South Pars natural gas field (which Iran shares with Qatar). It is estimated to hold at least 9% of the world's proven natural gas reserves.

As much as Washington may live in perpetual denial, Russia and Iran together control roughly 20% of the world's oil reserves and nearly 50% of its gas reserves. Think about that for a moment. It's little wonder that, for the leadership of both countries as well as China's, the idea of Asian integration, of the Grid, is sacrosanct.

If it ever gets built, a major node on that Grid will surely be the prospective US$7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, also known as the "peace pipeline". After years of wrangling, a nearly miraculous agreement for its construction was initialed in 2008. At least in this rare case, both Pakistan and India stood shoulder to shoulder in rejecting relentless pressure from the Bush administration to scotch the deal.

It couldn't be otherwise. Pakistan, after all, is an energy-poor, desperate customer of the Grid. One year ago, in a speech at Beijing's Tsinghua University, then-president Pervez Musharraf did everything but drop to his knees and beg China to dump money into pipelines linking the Persian Gulf and Pakistan with China's far west. If this were to happen, it might help transform Pakistan from a near-failed state into a mighty "energy corridor" to the Middle East. If you think of a pipeline as an umbilical cord, it goes without saying that IPI, far more than any form of US aid (or outright interference), would go the extra mile in stabilizing the Pak half of Obama's Af-Pak theater of operations, and even possibly relieve it of its India obsession.

If Pakistan's fate is in question, Iran's is another matter. Though currently only holding "observer" status in the SCO, sooner or later it will inevitably become a full member and so enjoy NATO-style, an-attack-on-one-of-us-is-an-attack-on-all-of-us protection. Imagine, then, the cataclysmic consequences of an Israeli preemptive strike (backed by Washington or not) on Iran's nuclear facilities. The SCO will tackle this knotty issue at its next summit in June, in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

Iran's relations with both Russia and China are swell - and will remain so no matter who is elected the new Iranian president next month. China desperately needs Iranian oil and gas, has already clinched a $100 billion gas "deal of the century" with the Iranians and has loads of weapons and cheap consumer goods to sell. No less close to Iran, Russia wants to sell them even more weapons, as well as nuclear energy technology.

And then, moving ever eastward on the great Grid, there's Turkmenistan, lodged deep in Central Asia, which, unlike Iran, you may never have heard a thing about. Let's correct that now.

Gurbanguly is the man
Alas, the sun-king of Turkmenistan, the wily, wacky Saparmurat "Turkmenbashi" Nyazov, "the father of all Turkmen" (descendants of a formidable race of nomadic horseback warriors who used to attack Silk Road caravans) is now dead. But far from forgotten.

The Chinese were huge fans of the Turkmenbashi. And the joy was mutual. One key reason the Central Asians love to do business with China is that the Middle Kingdom, unlike both Russia and the United States, carries little modern imperial baggage. And of course, China will never carp about human rights or foment a color-coded revolution of any sort.

The Chinese are already moving to successfully lobby the new Turkmen president, the spectacularly named Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, to speed up the construction of the Mother of All Pipelines. This Turkmen-Kazakh-China Pipelineistan corridor from eastern Turkmenistan to China's Guangdong province will be the longest and most expensive pipeline in the world, 7,000 kilometers of steel pipe at a staggering cost of $26 billion. When China signed the agreement to build it in 2007, they made sure to add a clever little geopolitical kicker. The agreement explicitly states that "Chinese interests" will not be "threatened from [Turkmenistan's] territory by third parties”. In translation: no Pentagon bases allowed in that country.

China's deft energy diplomacy game plan in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia is a pure winner. In the case of Turkmenistan, lucrative deals are offered and partnerships with Russia are encouraged to boost Turkmen gas production. There are to be no Russian-Chinese antagonisms, as befits the main partners in the SCO, because the Asian Energy Security Grid story is really and truly about them.

By the way, elsewhere on the Grid, those two countries recently agreed to extend the East Siberian-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline to China by the end of 2010. After all, energy-ravenous China badly needs not just Turkmen gas, but Russia's liquefied natural gas (LNG).

With energy prices low and the global economy melting down, times are sure to be tough for the Kremlin through at least 2010, but this won't derail its push to forge a Central Asian energy club within the SCO. Think of all this as essentially an energy entente cordiale with China. Russian Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Ivan Materov has been among those insistently swearing that this will not someday lead to a "gas OPEC [the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries]" within the SCO. It remains to be seen how the Obama national security team decides to counteract the successful Russian strategy of undermining by all possible means a US-promoted East-West Caspian Sea energy corridor, while solidifying a Russian-controlled Pipelineistan stretching from Kazakhstan to Greece that will monopolize the flow of energy to Western Europe.

The real Afghan war
In the ever-shifting New Great Game in Eurasia, a key question - why Afghanistan matters - is simply not part of the discussion in the United States. (Hint: It has nothing to do with the liberation of Afghan women.) In part, this is because the idea that energy and Afghanistan might have anything in common is verboten.

And yet, rest assured, nothing of significance takes place in Eurasia without an energy angle. In the case of Afghanistan, keep in mind that Central and South Asia have been considered by American strategists as crucial places to plant the flag; and once the Soviet Union collapsed, control of the energy-rich former Soviet republics in the region was quickly seen as essential to future US global power. It would be there, as they imagined it, that the US Empire of Bases would intersect crucially with Pipelineistan in a way that would leave both Russia and China on the defensive.

Think of Afghanistan, then, as an overlooked subplot in the ongoing Liquid War. After all, an overarching goal of US foreign policy since president Richard Nixon's era in the early 1970s has been to split Russia and China. The leadership of the SCO has been focused on this since the US Congress passed the Silk Road Strategy Act five days before beginning the bombing of Serbia in March 1999. That act clearly identified American geostrategic interests from the Black Sea to western China with building a mosaic of American protectorates in Central Asia and militarizing the Eurasian energy corridor.

Afghanistan, as it happens, sits conveniently at the crossroads of any new Silk Road linking the Caucasus to western China, and four nuclear powers (China, Russia, Pakistan and India) lurk in the vicinity. "Losing" Afghanistan and its key network of US military bases would, from the Pentagon's point of view, be a disaster, and though it may be a secondary matter in the New Great Game of the moment, it's worth remembering that the country itself is a lot more than the towering mountains of the Hindu Kush and immense deserts: it's believed to be rich in unexplored deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chrome, talc, barites, sulfur, lead, zinc and iron ore, as well as precious and semiprecious stones.

And there's something highly toxic to be added to this already lethal mix: don't forget the narco-dollar angle - the fact that the global heroin cartels that feast on Afghanistan only work with US dollars, not euros. For the SCO, the top security threat in Afghanistan isn't the Taliban, but the drug business. Russia's anti-drug czar Viktor Ivanov routinely blasts the disaster that passes for a US/NATO anti-drug war there, stressing that Afghan heroin now kills 30,000 Russians annually, twice as many as were killed during the decade-long US-supported anti-Soviet Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

And then, of course, there are those competing pipelines that, if ever built, either would or wouldn't exclude Iran and Russia from the action to their south. In April 2008, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India actually signed an agreement to build a long-dreamt-about $7.6 billion (and counting) pipeline, whose acronym TAPI combines the first letters of their names and would also someday deliver natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India without the involvement of either Iran or Russia. It would cut right through the heart of Western Afghanistan, in Herat, and head south across lightly populated Nimruz and Helmand provinces, where the Taliban, various Pashtun guerrillas and assorted highway robbers now merrily run rings around US and NATO forces and where - surprise! - the US is now building in Dasht-e-Margo ("the Desert of Death") a new mega-base to host President Obama's surge troops.

TAPI's rival is the already mentioned IPI, also theoretically underway and widely derided by Heritage Foundation types in the US, who regularly launch blasts of angry prose at the nefarious idea of India and Pakistan importing gas from "evil" Iran. Theoretically, TAPI's construction will start in 2010 and the gas would begin flowing by 2015. (Don't hold your breath.) Embattled Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who can hardly secure a few square blocks of central Kabul, even with the help of international forces, nonetheless offered assurances last year that he would not only rid his country of millions of land mines along TAPI's route but somehow get rid of the Taliban in the bargain.

Should there be investors (nursed by Afghan opium dreams) delirious enough to sink their money into such a pipeline - and that's a monumental if - Afghanistan would collect only $160 million a year in transit fees, a mere bagatelle even if it does represent a big chunk of the embattled Karzai's current annual revenue. Count on one thing though, if it ever happened, the Taliban and assorted warlords/highway robbers would be sure to get a cut of the action.

A Clinton-Bush-Obama great game
TAPI's roller-coaster history actually begins in the mid-1990s, the Clinton era, when the Taliban were dined (but not wined) by the California-based energy company Unocal and the Clinton machine. In 1995, Unocal first came up with the pipeline idea, even then a product of Washington's fatal urge to bypass both Iran and Russia. Next, Unocal talked to the Turkmenbashi, then to the Taliban, and so launched a classic New Great Game gambit that has yet to end and without which you can't understand the Afghan war Obama has inherited.

A Taliban delegation, thanks to Unocal, enjoyed Houston's hospitality in early 1997 and then Washington's in December of that year. When it came to energy negotiations, the Taliban's leadership was anything but medieval. They were tough bargainers, also cannily courting the Argentinean private oil company Bridas, which had secured the right to explore and exploit oil reserves in eastern Turkmenistan.

In August 1997, financially unstable Bridas sold 60% of its stock to Amoco, which merged the next year with British Petroleum. A key Amoco consultant happened to be that ubiquitous Eurasian player, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, while another such luminary, Henry Kissinger, just happened to be a consultant for Unocal. BP-Amoco, already developing the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, now became the major player in what had already been dubbed the Trans-Afghan Pipeline or TAP. Inevitably, Unocal and BP-Amoco went to war and let the lawyers settle things in a Texas court, where, in October 1998 as the Clinton years drew to an end, BP-Amoco seemed to emerge with the upper hand.

Under newly elected president George W Bush, however, Unocal snuck back into the game and, as early as January 2001, was cozying up to the Taliban yet again, this time supported by a star-studded governmental cast of characters, including undersecretary of state Richard Armitage, himself a former Unocal lobbyist. The Taliban were duly invited back to Washington in March 2001 via Rahmatullah Hashimi, a top aide to "The Shadow," the movement's leader Mullah Omar.

Negotiations eventually broke down because of those pesky transit fees the Taliban demanded. Beware the Empire's fury. At a Group of Eight summit meeting in Genoa in July 2001, Western diplomats indicated that the Bush administration had decided to take the Taliban down before year's end. (Pakistani diplomats in Islamabad would later confirm this to me.) The attacks of September 11, 2001 just slightly accelerated the schedule. Nicknamed "the kebab seller" in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, a former Central Intelligence Agency asset and Unocal representative, who had entertained visiting Taliban members at barbecues in Houston, was soon forced down Afghan throats as the country's new leader.

Among the first fruits of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's bombing and invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 was the signing by Karzai, Pakistani president Musharraf and Turkmenistan's president Saparmyrat Nyazov of an agreement committing themselves to build TAP, formally launching a Pipelineistan extension from Central to South Asia with brand USA stamped all over it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did nothing - until September 2006, that is, when he delivered his counterpunch with panache. That's when Russian energy behemoth Gazprom agreed to buy Nyazov's natural gas at the 40% mark-up the dictator demanded. In return, the Russians received priceless gifts (and the Bush administration a pricey kick in the face). Nyazov turned over control of Turkmenistan's entire gas surplus to the Russian company through 2009, indicated a preference for letting Russia explore the country's new gas fields and stated that Turkmenistan was bowing out of any US-backed Trans-Caspian pipeline project. (And while he was at it, Putin also cornered much of the gas exports of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well.)

Thus, almost five years later, with occupied Afghanistan in increasingly deadly chaos, TAP seemed dead-on-arrival. The (invisible) star of what would later turn into Obama's "good" war was already a corpse.

But here's the beauty of Pipelineistan: like zombies, dead deals always seem to return and so the game goes on forever.

Just when Russia thought it had Turkmenistan locked in …

A Turkmen bash
They don't call Turkmenistan a "gas republic" for nothing. I've crossed it from the Uzbek border to a Caspian Sea port named - what else - Turkmenbashi where you can purchase one kilo of fresh Beluga for $100 and a camel for $200. That's where the gigantic gas fields are, and it's obvious that most have not been fully explored. When, in October 2008, the British consultancy firm GCA confirmed that the Yolotan-Osman gas fields in southwest Turkmenistan were among the world's four largest, holding up to a staggering 14 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, Turkmenistan promptly grabbed second place in the global gas reserves sweepstakes, way ahead of Iran and only 20% below Russia. With that news, the earth shook seismically across Pipelineistan.

Just before he died in December 2006, the flamboyant Turkmenbashi boasted that his country held enough reserves to export 150 billion cubic meters of gas annually for the next 250 years. Given his notorious megalomania, nobody took him seriously. So in March 2008, our man Gurbanguly ordered a GCA audit to dispel any doubts. After all, in pure Asian Energy Security Grid mode, Turkmenistan had already signed contracts to supply Russia with about 50 billion cubic meters annually, China with 40 billion cubic meters and Iran with eight billion cubic meters.

And yet, none of this turns out to be quite as monumental or settled as it may look. In fact, Turkmenistan and Russia may be playing the energy equivalent of Russian roulette. After all, virtually all of Turkmenistani gas exports flow north through an old, crumbling Soviet system of pipelines, largely built in the 1960s. Add to this a Turkmeni knack for raising the stakes non-stop at a time when Gazprom has little choice but to put up with it: without Turkmen gas, it simply can't export all it needs to Europe, the source of 70% of Gazprom's profits.

Worse yet, according to a Gazprom source quoted in the Russian business daily Kommersant, the stark fact is that the company only thought it controlled all of Turkmenistan's gas exports; the newly discovered gas mega-fields turn out not to be part of the deal. As my Asia Times Online colleague, former ambassador MK Bhadrakumar put the matter, Gazprom's mistake "is proving to be a misconception of Himalayan proportions".

In fact, it's as if the New Great Gamesters had just discovered another Everest. This year, Obama's national security strategists lost no time unleashing a no-holds-barred diplomatic campaign to court Turkmenistan. The goal? To accelerate possible ways for all that new Turkmeni gas to flow through the right pipes, and create quite a different energy map and future. Apart from TAPI, another key objective is to make the prospective $5.8 billion Turkey-to-Austria Nabucco pipeline become viable and thus, of course, trump the Russians. In that way, a key long-term US strategic objective would be fulfilled: Austria, Italy and Greece, as well as the Balkan and various Central European countries, would be at least partially pulled from Gazprom's orbit. (Await my next "postcard" from Pipelineistan for more on this.)

Gurbanguly is proving an even more riotous player than the Turkmenbashi. A year ago he said he was going to hedge his bets, that he was willing to export the bulk of the eight trillion cubic meters of gas reserves he now claims for his country to virtually anyone. Washington was - and remains - ecstatic. At an international conference last month in Ashgabat ("the city of love"), the Las Vegas of Central Asia, Gurbanguly told a hall packed with Americans, Europeans and Russians that "diversification of energy flows and inclusion of new countries into the geography of export routes can help the global economy gain stability”.

Inevitably, behind closed doors, the TAPI maze came up and TAPI executives once again began discussing pricing and transit fees. Of course, hard as that may be to settle, it's the easy part of the deal. After all, there's that Everest of Afghan security to climb, and someone still has to confirm that Turkmenistan's gas reserves are really as fabulous as claimed.

Imperceptible jiggles in Pipelineistan's tectonic plates can shake half the world. Take, for example, an obscure March report in the Balochistan Times: a little noticed pipeline supplying gas to parts of Sindh province in Pakistan, including Karachi, was blown up. It got next to no media attention, but all across Eurasia and in Washington those analyzing the comparative advantages of TAPI vs IPI had to wonder just how risky it might be for India to buy future Iranian gas via increasingly volatile Balochistan.

And then in early April came another mysterious pipeline explosion, this one in Turkmenistan, compromising exports to Russia. The Turkmenis promptly blamed the Russians (and TAPI advocates cheered), but nothing in Afghanistan itself could have left them cheering very loudly. Right now, Dick Cheney's master plan to get those blue rivers of Turkmeni gas flowing southwards via a future TAPI as part of a US grand strategy for a "Greater Central Asia" lies in tatters.

Still, Brzezinski might disagree, and as he commands Obama's attention, he may try to convince the new president that the world needs a $7.6 billion-plus, 1,600-km steel serpent winding through a horribly dangerous war zone. That's certainly the gist of what Brzezinski said immediately after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, stressing once again that "the construction of a pipeline from Central Asia via Afghanistan to the south ... will maximally expand world society's access to the Central Asian energy market."

Washington or Beijing?
Still, give credit where it's due. For the time being, our man Gurbanguly may have snatched the leading role in the New Great Game in this part of Eurasia. He's already signed a groundbreaking gas agreement with RWE from Germany and sent the Russians scrambling.

If, one of these days, the Turkmenistani leader opts for TAPI as well, it will open Washington to an ultimate historical irony. After so much death and destruction, Washington would undoubtedly have to sit down once again with - yes - the Taliban! And we'd be back to July 2001 and those pesky pipeline transit fees.

As it stands at the moment, however, Russia still dominates Pipelineistan, ensuring Central Asian gas flows across Russia's network and not through the Trans-Caspian networks privileged by the US and the European Union. This virtually guarantees Russia's crucial geopolitical status as the top gas supplier to Europe and a crucial supplier to Asia as well.

Meanwhile, in "transit corridor" Pakistan, where Predator drones soaring over Pashtun tribal villages monopolize the headlines, the shady New Great Game slouches in under-the-radar mode toward the immense, under-populated southern Pakistani province of Balochistan. The future of the epic IPI vs TAPI battle may hinge on a single, magic word: Gwadar.

Essentially a fishing village, Gwadar is an Arabian Sea port in that province. The port was built by China. In Washington's dream scenario, Gwadar becomes the new Dubai of South Asia. This implies the success of TAPI. For its part, China badly needs Gwadar as a node for yet another long pipeline to be built to western China. And where would the gas flowing in that line come from? Iran, of course.

Whoever "wins," if Gwadar really becomes part of the Liquid War, Pakistan will finally become a key transit corridor for either Iranian gas from the monster South Pars field heading for China, or a great deal of the Caspian gas from Turkmenistan heading Europe-wards. To make the scenario even more locally mouth-watering, Pakistan would then be a pivotal place for both NATO and the SCO (in which it is already an official "observer").

Now that's as classic as the New Great Game in Eurasia can get. There's NATO vs the SCO. With either IPI or TAPI, Turkmenistan wins. With either IPI or TAPI, Russia loses. With either IPI or TAPI, Pakistan wins. With TAPI, Iran loses. With IPI, Afghanistan loses. In the end, however, as in any game of high stakes Pipelineistan poker, it all comes down to the top two global players. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets: will the winner be Washington or Beijing?

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

(Copyright 2009 Pepe Escobar.)

Friday Flashback: The Knack - "Baby Talks Dirty" & "Frustrated"

Jon Stewart is wrong about Truman and here's why

Alright, alright. Jon Stewart has always been a Keynesian Statist. Fair enough. But he's pretty damn funny and I enjoy watching his show -- not for informational content -- but for light entertainment. But when I learned he called Harry Truman a War Criminal I had one of those "Whaaa???" moments, wholly paralyzed by disbelief. Then, practically seconds later, I found out he retracted the statement. Take a look.

For a moment it was like a flashbulb of truth illuminating the faces of America. Yes, Truman was a War Criminal. No honest survey of the complete history of the Pacific Theater could lead to any alternate conclusion. But then Stewart equivocated and finally cratered beneath the religion of Nationalism. If needlessly dropping two Atomic Bombs on non-military targets is not the height of wickedness then what could ever qualify as evil?

Was it necessary? Well, not really, in fact, not at all. In the year leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan had by all calculations already been militarily defeated. The allies had surrounded the island and choked it into submission with sanctions, meaning the people were starving, no fuel or ammunition was permitted to enter the country and Japanese cities suffered heavy aerial raids which left the nation ruined.

"Even before the Hiroshima attack, American air force General Curtis LeMay boasted that American bombers were 'driving them [Japanese] back to the stone age.' Henry H. ("Hap") Arnold, commanding General of the Army air forces, declared in his 1949 memoirs: 'It always appeared to us, atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese were already on the verge of collapse.' This was confirmed by former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoye, who said: 'Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s.'"(source)


According to no less of an authority than General Douglas MacArthur Japan even attempted to surrender not once, not twice but a whopping five full times nearly conforming perfectly to the terms the Allies had laid out. Still, America rejected the offers and these attempts were censored by the media until after the end of the Second World War. In the 40-page secret memorandum, that was never denied by the White House or the State Department, the terms of surrender included:

  • Complete surrender of all Japanese forces and arms, at home, on island possessions, and in occupied countries.
  • Occupation of Japan and its possessions by Allied troops under American direction.
  • Japanese relinquishment of all territory seized during the war, as well as Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan.
  • Regulation of Japanese industry to halt production of any weapons and other tools of war.
  • Release of all prisoners of war and internees.
  • Surrender of designated war criminals." (source)
This memorandum was received by President Roosevelt on January 20, 1945, almost a full 8 months before the decision to drop the bombs. Sorry, Bill O'Reilly -- wrong again.


But all of this obscures the human cost of Truman's actions. The number of casualties and devastation is beyond human comprehension.

The explosion utterly destroyed more than four square miles of the city center. About about 90,000 people were killed immediately; another 40,000 were injured, many of whom died in protracted agony from radiation sickness. Three days later, a second atomic strike on the city of Nagasaki killed some 37,000 people and injured another 43,000. Together the two bombs eventually killed an estimated 200,000 Japanese civilians. (source)

A fundamental distinction many fail to acknowledge is the actions of the government should not result in the collective punishment of its citizens. The state is not the people. It is essential to understand that subtlety. The lessons of that day can be transposed quite readily over American foreign policy today. Imagine being a citizen of the Hirohito regime, having all of your information regulated, swimming in a toxic sea of zealous devotion to the Divine Emperor and at every stop your culture is designed to disrupt your ability to reason. It starts during the most formative years and continues onward regulating your entire inner life. A little empathy on the part of Americans and the Allies toward the Japanese and accepting the calls for peace would have prevented one of the most vile atrocities man has every inflicted upon man.

"Yoshitaka Kawamoto was thirteen years old when the bomb exploded over Hiroshima, in a classroom less than a kilometer away from the hypocenter:

'One of my classmates, I think his name is Fujimoto, he muttered something and pointed outside the window, saying, "A B-29 is coming." He pointed outside with his finger. So I began to get up from my chair and asked him, "Where is it?" Looking in the direction that he was pointing towards, I got up on my feet, but I was not yet in an upright position when it happened. All I can remember was a pale lightening flash for two or three seconds. Then, I collapsed. I don t know much time passed before I came to. It was awful, awful. The smoke was coming in from somewhere above the debris. Sandy dust was flying around. I was trapped under the debris and I was in terrible pain and that's probably why I came to. I couldn't move, not even an inch. Then, I heard about ten of my surviving classmates singing our school song. I remember that. I could hear sobs. Someone was calling his mother. But those who were still alive were singing the school song for as long as they could. I think I joined the chorus. We thought that someone would come and help us out. That's why we were singing a school song so loud. But nobody came to help, and we stopped singing one by one. In the end, I was singing alone.'" (source)


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baby, I'm an Anarchist (Original + Cover)


And the kickass cover:

Christian Missionary Deconverted by Tribe

Pirahã tribe of Brazil returns Christian Missionary, Daniel Everett, to atheism

More on the Pirahã tribe & linguist, Daniel Everett -

And a very special appearance on Wisconsin's own Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders with Jean Feraca:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday, May 08, 2009

Left Libertarian Terminology and Strategy: Obama the statist and more


Yesterday a piece by Cato-ite In Chief Ed Crane was published: Obama Is a Statist, Not a Socialist.

I have mixed feelings about this, but I suppose I have to see it as a potential net improvement in terminology. It’s both more accurate and politically smarter, IMO, to call Obama a statist than a socialist. Yet from my perspective, many of the Cato-ites themselves are comparatively statist and the “Red State Fascist” Republican establishment they hope to influence certainly is statist beyond a shadow of a doubt. Even so, one must suppose the inconsistencies of others are their own difficulties to manage and their own responsibility.

The political reality is that calling Obama a socialist sets one up as a Strangelovian buffoon psychologically mired in outdated Cold War paranoia. It doesn’t politically suit the rhetorical needs of those who have an intelligent critique of the status quo that demands serious attention. Furthermore, it ignores the statist side of “capitalism” as it has actually existed as well as the long neglected anti-statist tradition within socialism that radical free market libertarians rightfully belong to (but more on that later).

For years, radical libertarian attempts to publicly use the more accurate term “statist” to describe statists have resulted in puzzled looks and the reply “A what-sit?”. This Crane piece at this moment, with follow-through from Crane and others, can change that if enough libertarians get behind the rhetorical shift. There are plenty of intelligent so-called “fiscal conservatives” at the grassroots level that have been alienated by the jingoistic belligerence and big spending (as long as it’s on stuff that goes BOOM!) supported by the red-state fascist “wingnuts”.

Those “fiscal conservatives” are running away from the disreputable Bushian nutcases as fast as they can. The Cato-ites have a handy catchers mitt to scoop them up with. That mitt is the term the Cato-ites originally started using out of milquetoast reluctance to call themselves libertarians — “market liberal“, in reference to what we would normally call “classical liberal” but in a modern context.

Labeling the statists as statists and the market liberals as market liberals suits the strategic purposes of radical free market libertarians — i.e. market anarchists. You see, my position is that in order for libertarian ideals to triumph, the current broad-spectrum libertarian movement as it currently exists — a fusionist alliance of minarchists and reformist-oriented anarchists or “partyarchs” — must die. Or split, anyway, into two strands with better delineated identities and roles.

Libertarian ineffectiveness is the root of perpetual libertarian anguish. I believe this ineffectiveness comes from the overall conception of the movement amounting to trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Let me explain…

Despite Rothbard’s firm recommendation that libertarians absolutely must distinguish themselves from statist conservatives in his confidential 1961 memo to the Volker Fund, “What Is To Be Done?”, the nuts and bolts of reformist activism have lead to obscuring the message of radical libertarians, as well as rotten conservative contamination of the movement.

The result is that the most passionate radicals are typically the ones that throw themselves most laboriously into the reformist projects that appear to have the best chances of success (because they have the most establishment backing, and are typically the most corrupt). In the case of the Libertarian Party, radical efforts to build an organized political party have only resulted in a “brass ring” — a prize for conservatoid petty tyrants, degenerate factions of the statist ruling class, to capture. The radicals then break themselves like ships on a reef, trying to defend it from them.

Historically, though, effective reform movements have typically been partially a response by establishment interests seeking to stem the loss of support for the establishment flowing to those who pose a radical challenge to the status quo. With radical libertarians throwing themselves into reformism, as opposed to building a revolutionary class consciousness, no challenge capable of truly worrying the ruling class results.

But, one might ask, isn’t libertarian reform good? Isn’t less tyranny good? Isn’t Spangler being impractical and infantile in seeking to make the perfect the enemy of the good?

No. One doesn’t have to oppose reform in order to put one’s own efforts elsewhere. As Konkin noted, there is a spectrum of consciousness among the victims of statism. My remarks are addressed to those who already understand market anarchism. I’m calling them to participate in putting that whole body of ideas, in its most shockingly radical form, into the public discourse. The confused mini-statists will be left to react how they please, which will inevitably change anyway with the drift of politics.

The minarchist critics that make up milquetoast libertarianism have a strategic blind-spot. In their cowardly and reflexive zeal to keep up “respectable” appearances by not deviating to far from the political center, they fail to recognize that the political center itself has no objective location. It’s just the rag tied in the middle of the political tug-of-war rope, and gets yanked all over the place constantly. Radicals have the most “pull” when they are acting like radicals instead of trying to be something they’re not — reformists.

If you dream of genuinely anarchist revolution, the smashing of the state, but would settle for some decent reform, then, it still makes sense to act like a revolutionary. The half-steppers, milquetoasts and establishmentarians will get you your reform, and you might get revolution.

What do I mean by “act like a revolutionary”? As anarchists, revolution is a necessarily very different business for us than it is for statists like minarchists and Bolsheviks. We don’t want to seize state power, but rather make the populace ungovernable by anybody — perhaps especially not by us! We have to delegitimize the state, building a revolutionary class consciousness in order to build the will to defend against the state. We have to offer our ideas for how society can regulate itself as an alternative to violence-based government. We have to get behind building disobedience and alternative, quasi-insurrectionary civil society. It means “coming out of the closet” and being anarchists.

That, and that alone, is how we can pose a radical challenge to the status quo.

Getting back to terminology, we have three points so far:

  1. Label our enemies statists, not socialists, to indicate that statism in all forms is what we oppose.
  2. Label the reformers “market liberals”.
  3. Label ourselves “market anarchists”, or agorists or simply anarchists.

We come then to a fourth point of terminology and strategy: we are socialists! More specifically, we are both free market libertarians and libertarian socialists — and there is no fundamental conflict between the two in their most radical and principled forms. There are differences over theory that could be better addressed if free market libertarians were to shed reformist cultural baggage (e.g. internalization of conservative narratives that flatter the oppressor state) that makes us reluctant to apply our own theory more stringently, such as the understanding that (particularly in the context of Konkin’s agorist theory of revolution) we support the revolutionary redistribution of property!

It’s relatively non-controversial to recognize that classical liberalism was the original left. It’s also widely recognized among libertarians that Rothbard placed free market libertarianism on the far left opposite statist conservatism with Marxism in the confused middle. And that Konkin expanded on that point that we are the real left.

To drive the point that we are the real left home, though, we must reclaim our socialist heritage. Great socialist thinkers like Warren, Proudhon and Tucker all examined “the social question” of what was wrong with classical liberalism. They proposed continuing classical liberal theory to its most consistent form — the abolition of the state and the end of monopoly exploitation through complete laissez faire and resulting unbridled competition. Forget the labor theory of value. Forget everything else we’ve moved past in terms of refining economic theory. By the standards of the great libertarian socialists, we ARE libertarian socialists wanting to end the statist privilege of subsidies and monopoly for all time and achieve justice in property. Marx, by comparison, was the first Cato-ite — offering a ludicrously statist “transition program” to anarchy.

That all gets swept under the rug in the libertarian fusionist eagerness to make nicey-nice with the market liberals in the name of attempting reformism. Positing classical liberal reform as the route to achieving anarchy necessarily de-emphasizes the market anarchist critique of market liberalism. We then have difficulty credibly discussing what was wrong with classical liberalism, which we must do to “answer the social question”, when we’re busy advocating classical liberalism (i.e. market liberalism)!

As a result, the audience for libertarian rhetoric, although they may not put it so explicitly, doesn’t believe the libertarian advocate of classical liberalism (both minarchist and partyarch) — because they know the current social democratic establishment arose because there was something wrong with classical liberalism (and the social democrats managed to position themselves as having the answer, albeit a false answer from our perspective).

Liberty, and liberty alone, truly answers the social question.

Well, one might ask, why do we have to get into the whole confused array of definitions of socialism in order to advocate market anarchism effectively?

We recognize that the mainstream left and right are both factions among supporters of the social democratic state. Not only does explicitly understanding and explaining ourselves as socialists emphasize that we market anarchists have an alternative answer to the social question — as distinguished from the failed answer of the sociali democrats and the lack of answer from the market liberals — it positions us capture the loyalty of the particular people we must necessarily recruit in order to pose a radical challenge to the status quo resulting in either effective reform or revolution.

Why do I say that and who are these particular people?

Libertarians are typically aware that, at least in the U.S., the divide between center-right and center-left is a pretty much the result of an arbitrary divvying up of issue positions between ruling class factions. There is no systematic ideology there, in either spot. Rather, the center-left and center-right are more like tribes or ready made identities that people “try on” and keep if it seems to fit or discard if it doesn’t in their own personal case.

At the root of this, I believe is a difference in personality types or psychographic profiles between what are typically regarded as “right-wingers” and “left-wingers”. While that certainly isn’t true in all cases, and some people don’t fit into either category, it only has to be true enough for enough people in order for it to be a part of the political landscape we must navigate.

These two broad categories of people could be regarded as mirror images, but there is an asymmetry to them as well. That asymmetry is crucial for our purposes as revolutionaries. Right-wingers are “loyalists”. They are psychologically incapable of acting as revolutionaries. They can only act in a rebellious manner when driven into psychosis, examples being Timothy McVeigh and white supremacists. To build a cadre of advocates of revolution big enough to not be disregarded, we must become adept at explaining market anarchism as the answer to the social question and thereby recruiting enough “leftists” with a temperament or personality type suitable for acting as revolutionaries.