Saturday, August 29, 2020

Two More Books

 Hello Posterity. You might have heard of me. I'm "thwap." A practitioner of the dying hobby of "blogging." In the young childhood of the internet, many people heretofore excluded from the distribution channels of the mass media used the medium of "blogging" to get their ideas out to a potentially worldwide audience. 

They typed essays and articles and diaries and musings. Whole books even. It was "citizen journalism" it was an online "marketplace of ideas." It was fresh and exhilarating an new. It was even impacting the public conversation on politics and policies.

Now of course, the youngsters and other lazy people are limiting themselves to unnuanced blurbs and shallow observations in 145-characters or less (or something, I don't know) on "Twitter." 

The first book I'll tell you about is a university textbook from Cambridge's "New Approaches to European History" series; Jonathan Sperber's The European Revolutions, 1848-1851.

In case you don't know, after some bad harvests (followed by a bumper crop that caused grain prices to plummet) there was social unrest all across Continental Europe. In the spring, in the face of massive urban uprisings, the French constitutional monarchy fell, the Kingdom of the Naples & Sicily, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Hapsburg Empire were all compelled to accept liberal ministers and call for parliamentary elections within their states' borders. By the end of the year however, reactionary forces regained the upper hand and by 1851, when Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew, Louis Napoleon, recently elected President of the Second Republic declared himself Emperor, it was all over with conservative triumphs across Europe. Both Britain and Russia remained relatively stable, with Britain extending moral support (and little else) to the constitutional monarchists, while Russia intervened diplomatically and militarily on the side of reaction.

Sperber does an excellent job of describing the social structure of Europe in the decades leading up to 1848. He also shows how the ideological importance of the French Revolution of 1789 weighed on the minds of everyone involved; some being inspired by it, others terrified of repeating it. 

Railroads and advanced capitalism were disrupting the economy of Europe the way they'd disrupted Britain a few decades previously. The British ruling class had crushed the working class Chartist movement in their own country and Sperber argues that the uprisings of 1848 were caused by the same social-economic upheavals that had produced Chartism.

Cities had become more important to the running of states by 1848. It was no longer enough for a monarch to have a court that could travel from place to place. Capital cities, at the hubs or transportation and communication networks, as well as finance, had to be controlled to control the 19th Century state. When the barricades went up, most monarchs (impoverished by the Napoleonic wars and the economic turmoil that followed them) lacked the military wherewithal to strike back, hence their capitulation to the early demands of the revolution for constitutional assemblies and elections.

Karl Marx lived through this period. Indeed The Communist Manifesto was written and produced during the revolutions. In Marx's analysis, the liberal revolutionaries were not strong enough to push the feudal social order from power in 1848. Neither were the urban working classes. But the hints of continued class struggles were there for all to see.  Liberal constitutionalists were a small, wealthy minority of commoners. 

Secondly,  I'm reading Robert C. Tucker's The Lenin Anthology:

Lenin writes with a kind of sneering condescension about the ideas of others he disagrees with. But so far I find myself agreeing with him more than I disagree with him. I'm glad I took it off the shelf.

Friday, August 21, 2020

The Squandering of Anglo-American Cultural Hegemony

I was a pretty idealistic person in my youth. Part of that might have come from my Mother's honest Canadian patriotism (which included an acknowledgment of the importance of the First Nations) and her deep, sincere religiosity. If you believe in something, you should genuinely live to reflect your beliefs.

I think that's why as a kid, when World War Two was only thirty years in the past, the idealistic portrayal of the actions of Canada and our two larger allies, Britain and the United States, resonated so much with me. We were the democracies fighting tyranny. We didn't start the war, the Germans did. We fought to liberate other countries and did not take anything for ourselves at the war's end. The film clips of Allied troops liberating Paris and Rome were thrilling. We even treated the Germans (and the Japanese) well afterwards, despite all their war crimes. (As a child, the dropping of the atomic bomb, was just accepted by me as something wise and powerful men had done as part of a war. I accepted it the way I accepted the reality of the existence of nuclear weapons in my own day.)

Here's the way I understood the progress of the war as a child: Germany invaded Poland. Britain and France declared war. (So did Canada.) France was defeated. The Germans bombed London and Churchill vowed that Britain would fight on. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. Then D-Day happened. (There were battles in the Pacific between the American and Japanese navies and the British were fighting the Japanese in the Burmese jungles. The Japanese treated Allied prisoners terribly.) Germany was defeated and the concentration camps were discovered and the survivors were rescued. Allied troops liberated conquered cities to cheering crowds throwing flowers. Then the USA rebuilt Europe out of the goodness of their hearts. (You can see the impact of propaganda here in the absence of the enormous contribution of the Soviet Union and of the story of the massive suffering of the Chinese.)

That's the impression I had as a youngster and it didn't really get replaced with anything approaching a more nuanced reality for almost two decades. It just gradually faded from my mind as I became a narcissistic teenager. But it subconsciously continued to form my perception of the role of what Churchill called "The English-Speaking Peoples" or "Anglo-America." We were victorious democracies. We were liberators. We tried to help other people. (Sometimes the people we tried to help resisted us out of confusion or because of the malevolence of their rulers.)

I gradually acknowledged that we'd made mistakes in the past. By the 1970's I was aware that the USA had stolen the lands of the First Nations there. And that there had been slavery. (I thought Canada's history had been inexplicably far more peaceful. That we'd never had slavery and that we'd signed treaties with all "our" First Nations.) Britain had built an empire through conquest and had ruled people without their consent. (As a Canadian I sided with the British in the story of the American Revolution. The colonists didn't have it so bad. But what was done was done. We're all friends again.) The important thing was that all these bad things had happened in the long-ago past and the past was a different world. Most civilizations conquered others and enslaved people in the past. Black people were free now. (Racists were a minority and they were on their way out.) Both Canada and the USA were trying now to help their Indigenous Peoples to overcome the damages done in the past. Britain had peacefully given up its empire and we were all friends now in the British Commonwealth.

And everybody in the world wanted what we had, materially and culturally. Rock and Roll was an American phenomenon (and the contribution to it from Black people was a sign of their growing acceptance in American culture and the decline of racism). Rock and Roll as embraced by young people the world over. Aside from Black people in the USA, British people were (for some reason) better at it than Americans were! Hollywood films dominated the world. American television shows dominated the world. (Though, as a Canadian, I knew that if you wanted more clever television, there were British television shows that you could watch. Also, Canada had some pretty good Rock and Roll bands, SCTV was great, and many Canadians had gone to Hollywood and gotten successful and famous. Plus we had some famous doctors.)

People everywhere wanted our standard of living. (From what I could see, from Southern Ontario at least, the Canadian and US standards of living were the same.) The poor, oppressed people in the Soviet Union wanted Anglo-American culture and American blue jeans and running shoes. People came from all over the world to try to share in "The American Dream." (They came to Canada too. But one didn't speak of a "Canadian Dream" for some reason. Modesty maybe.)

In all honesty, I didn't know much about Australia. I just knew that it had English-speaking people too who shared a similar standard of living with us and that they also had kangaroos, koalas, Tasmanian devils, baby-snatching dingoes, and Aborigines who lived in the dry, dusty "Outback."

The thing was, there was some truth to this whole childish vision. We did have a high standard of living that had gotten better (by conventional measurements) with each succeeding generation.  And immigrants did come from all over to have a share of it. (And we welcomed them. My Dad's grandparents had been immigrants after all. (My Mom's family had been in the Maritime Provinces since forever as far as I was concerned.) Both my parents were good people. Anti-racist. My Dad liked to listen to the Blues and also Black radio stations from Buffalo, New York. There were people trying to repair the ill-effects of our racist and otherwise problematic histories.  "Our" movies, films, music, writers, were admired the world over. We had been the liberators in WW2. And the USA was the richest, most powerful country the world had ever seen.

But that time has clearly past. The standard of living of the average US-American went from being first in the world to outside of the top-ten. The British have been a nation in permanent decline since 1945 and the process is accelerating. Our economies have suffered from a process of financialization that has concentrated wealth in the hands of a small coterie of criminal parasites. Politically we suffer from being societies that have believe our own lies about ourselves for too long. More to the point, our oligarchies have been resorting to pandering to the most debased (racist, sexist, authoritarian right-wing bullies/cowards) to be their shock-troops against the inevitable reactions to their depredations. 

This is why we have Boris Johnson in the UK and Donald Trump in the USA. And the mainstream "opposition" to these boors are neo-liberal scumbags like the Clintons, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Canada vomited up Stephen Harper but we're currently under the neo-liberal scumbag Liberal Party. The massive failures of Trump and Boris Johnson, together with the undeniable economic decline caused by slavish devotion to the demands of the financial sector have made those two countries international laughing-stocks. Their culture of corporate-friendly mythology exposes the hypocrisy and shallowness of it all. As I said, Anglo-Americans have been allowed to believe in their own self-serving lies about themselves for far too long and this current sorry state is the result of that.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Kamala Harris For VP

I didn't watch TV news enough to know how her name is pronounced, But a recent kerfuffle with Tucker Carlson that I read about told me it's not pronounced "Ka-Mal-a" but "Comm-la." So from now on, when I talk about her I'll do her the courtesy of pronouncing her name right. It's the minimum of decency.

And the minimum of decency is all that I think Kamala Harris deserves. A lot of liberals are excited by her being picked to be the [loathsome] Joe Biden's running-mate. A woman of colour! A former California Attorney General! A US senator! It's a testimony to the wonderfulness of the awesome Democratic Party USA! It's a testimony to the better side of US-American politics! The feminist, fighter for social justice, anti-racist, meritocratic, embodiment of the opportunity and fairness party in the world's "indispensable nation"!

Whereas I on the other hand, am not excited by her being the VP pick. I think I first heard of her when firebrand comedian/political YouTuber Jimmy Dore played her video announcing her primary run for 2019 and showed it (and therefore her) was full of nothing but empty platitudes.

She was subsequently known for refusing to prosecute the bank run by Wall Street criminal (and shit-headed beneficiary of nepotism) Steven Mnuchin even though her office told her a cursory investigation found evidence of massive criminality and that further investigation would no doubt find even more. Some people are pointing to Mnuchin's having donated $2,000 to one of Ms. Harris's campaigns as some sort of quid pro quo. I don't think that's it. Mnuchin is worth $400,000,000. Donating $2,000 to Harris's campaign was more like you or I tipping a waiter with a penny. Certainly AG Harris didn't sell her soul for a $2,000 donation either. I think it was the case that Harris knew that Mnuchin was a wealthy, connected member of the elite and holding him accountable for his crimes would constitute a massive social faux-pas. That sort of thing just isn't done. 

So what if Steve Mnuchin is a talentless moron, beneficiary of nepotism, low-functioning criminal psychopath who bought a failing bank at a discount, giving him ownership of the mortgages held by that bank, and then used blatant fraud to force innocent people out of their homes in order to seize those assets? The important point is that Mnuchin used his money to finance all sorts of wonderful Hollywood films. "Steve Mnuchin draws a lot of water in this town. His victims didn't draw shit."

So, from this little episode we see that Kamala Harris, the "law-and-order" Attorney General is quite happy to not enforce the law if it means that powerful people will be inconvenienced. Perfect for a federal politician! Not inconveniencing the powerful, even when they're criminals, is how the game is played.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Some Additions to Yesterday's Post


I want to add some reflections I forgot to include in yesterday's post about Juan Cole's article of how US-Americans acquiesce to their abuse (and even killing in the case of COVID-19, the for-profit healthcare system in general, and [consequence free] police brutality).

What I want to add is that this happens because many US-Americans either deny their abuse is happening or they support it in some way or other. I know that both Cole and myself implicitly stated this, with talk of "brainwashing" and cultural rot. But I want to discuss this explicitly.

Monday, August 10, 2020

US-American Acquiescence To Their Own Plundering & Abuse


From Juan Cole over at Informed Comment:

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Nicole Winfield and Lisa Marie Pane at the Associated Press write at the unbelief with which Europeans are staring at the United States, as we head for 300,000 dead from the coronavirus and our economy shranks 33% on an annualized basis last quarter, and we just appear to be all right with that.

Not only are we perfectly willing to toss grandma in an early grave on Trump’s say-so, but we are supine as he openly engineers the destruction of social security and medicare, and of the post office, on behalf of himself and the billionaire class he represents. That is after we sat by while he completely gutted all environmental regulations that got in the way of corporations making money off poisoning us. I don’t think the neutering of the EPA has even been reported on daytime cable news, though the prime time magazine shows on MSNBC have at least brought it up.

Americans imagine themselves rugged individualists. A cartoonist did a satire on us showing brawny guys, shirts off, with the logo “Rugged individualism works best when we obey.”

In fact, Americans are masochistic sheeple who let the rich and powerful walk all over them and thank them for the privilege.


By feeding us decades of propaganda against unions and “socialism,” the American rich have broken the legs of the people, and left them to twitch helplessly as more and more indignities are heaped on them. They’ve divided us by race (Trump is not alone in this tactic, only the least subtle), they’ve convinced us to give the super-rich power because they will make us rich too. (How is that working out for you?).

And Canada is half-way there. Or more than half-way. I don't have any intention in conveying that US-Americans are genetically inferior or contaminated. They can't be. They're a nation of immigrants/settlers the same way that we Canadians are. They aren't more "stupid" than other people. I say all the time that they're normal human beings like everyone else. But their culture has been shaped, deliberately, by their dominant classes, through propaganda, "public relations," religious brainwashing, etc., ... to embrace toxic values of authoritarianism, deluded individualism, anti-socialism, selfishness, religious stupidity, etc., ... and that we Canadians by our proximity and pre-existing cultural similarities, have been infected by it.

One example: Look at any international comparison of police killings of civilians. The USA is the highest on the list of wealthy, industrialized countries. But Canada is second (albeit a distant second). 

The factors that have saved our labour unions, preserved a nominally social-democratic political party, and which necessitated a more activist state, have saved us from the embracing entirely the toxic stew of nation-destroying insanity that is US capitalism.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Oligarchy's Non-Negotiable Demands

Some orders are instructions. Some orders are wishful thinking. But sometimes orders are demands for immediate compliance. No questions. No negotiations. "Do this or it's all over for you."

When the entire Democratic Party's teams in the House of Representatives and the Senate voted for the "CARES ACT" which was the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the United States of America and probably the human race, they did so because it must have been made known to them by the leadership that voting against it would have been the equivalent of political suicide. (At least in the party, which would stop at nothing to inflict whatever vengeance it could upon contrarians.)

To be clear: This piece of legislation effectively gave the Trump administration the power to dispense $4.5 TRILLION to the already super-wealthy with effectively zero oversight. At the same time it gave ordinary US-Americans rendered unemployed by the pandemic with a one-time cheque for $1,200 as well as $600 per week in unemployment benefits for those lucky enough to qualify and access their states' benefits programs. The states themselves have been left stranded, both financially and in their attempts to respond to the health emergency caused by the virus. 

As I recounted in a previous post (obviously based on real reporting done by others), the detestable Nancy Pelosi received some minor pushback for her stupidity, which clearly upset her and prompted a condescending demand to her interviewer to "calm down." Like the idiot she is, she said she'd "always" planned to give away the farm and then try to get things for people who actually need help later. 

Under her leadership, the Democrat-led Congress passed the "HEROES ACT" which Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has pointedly ignored. The oligarchy already has its money. The oligarchy doesn't care if ordinary people are suffering. The oligarchy inflicts suffering on ordinary people as its business plan.

The oligarchy isn't just the passive (but happy) recipient of policies crafted by politicians. It is usually the source of those policies. And you can bet the US Oligarchy was probably pretty insistent that it get the trillions and trillions of dollars that it was given. And the less debate the better. In fact, given the enormity of this theft, ANY debate was intolerable. Well, okay, ... there has to be some debate. Especially in the US Senate. The greatest deliberative body in the history of white males ever (or something like that). So Bernie Sanders was allowed to speak against some Republican fuckwit's desire to strip the expanded unemployment benefits from the ACT.  I give credit to AOC for pointing out the insufficient benefits for ordinary people. She says she voted against it. I'll believe her but point out that I heard the voice vote in a recording and did not hear her distinctive twang. Regardless, she hasn't spoken out against the continued brazen theft of the nation's money by the Wall Street banksters and corporate criminals.

AOC's lone-vote against the ACT (among the Democrats anyway, there was also one "libertarian" Republican Congressman voted against it as well) constitutes extreme political bravery. If other progressive Democrats voted for it, it was either out of craven subservience, fear, or ignorance. And ignorance isn't an excuse. Those people contested for the right to sit in Congress and vote on legislation. When you're talking about hundreds of billions in direct spending and potentially TRILLIONS in money creation, getting some experts to advise you is obligatory. And it didn't require an economist ("experts" such as they are) to see how this legislation was massive theft.

Of course, after the fact, the Democrats are complaining about Republican inhumanity for not extending unemployment or other benefits as the pandemic continues to rage. But the hollowness of their complaints can be seen in their refusal to find whatever leverage they can to insist on these extensions. All they are doing is providing the theatre of a fake opposition in an attempt to placate non-Republican voters. If they were really concerned about the harm to ordinary people caused by allowing the pandemic subsidies to lapse they could have held-up the "NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT." Instead of doing that, the majority of Democrats (sometimes having to vote with Republicans) actively worked to make sure that endless wars, endless support for Zionist brutality, and endless wasteful spending and profiteering remained the USA's policies. Once again, they had leverage and didn't use it. And this means that Nancy Pelosi is either incompetent or disingenuous.

It seems to me that giving Wall Street trillions with no strings attached and no oversight was seen as, ... well, not "vital" since that word implies that Wall Street needed those trillions to survive, ... so whatever word conveys some excess that an insanely greedy sociopath passionately desired. And that furthermore, the oligarchy sees spending money on making sure ordinary US-Americans survive the economic chaos caused by the pandemic as being a waste. In fact, I'm sure the oligarchy [insanely] plans on even more austerity on normal people to "pay for" the trillions that the oligarchs have taken for themselves.

These are the oligarchy's "non-negotiable demands." "Non-negotiable demands" is a term that leftists have employed from time-to-time (although at present the phrase inspires rueful laughter) for things they want from the governments/corporations they protest against. But we see the term employed correctly here. 

It's the same way that the Trudeau Liberals seem to prefer devastating the economy to allow banks to continue to extract money from households and businesses that have lost their means of income, and the way that the Trudeau Liberals choose to waste tens of billions to continue to subsidize the fossil fuels sector in times of austerity or massive COVID-19 deficits. They have been given their marching orders from their masters and they know better than to question them.