Tuesday, November 29, 2011

American aggression in Pakistan

The US just murdered 25 Pakistani soldiers. I asked students yesterday morning, what happened in Pakistan? One finally said: they withdrew permission for an air force base. It was a drone base, I suggested, linked to the killing of Pakistani civilians (last week, drones murder 6 children between ages 4 and 12 in Afghanistan – see here).

But in reaction to what did they do this? Most were silent. Finally, another student pointed out that 25 soldiers had been murdered.

This was a political science class at Metropolitan State College. We are discussing King’s A Time to Break Silence on Vietnam and Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power. This atrocity is highly relevant to the class, making it, unfortunately, today’s news.

I suggested to them that they didn’t know, not because they wouldn’t be interested, but because the corporate media, part of the war complex (the military-industrial-financial- Congressional-media-“intelligence”- think tank/academic complex with foreign components like the Egyptian military through the vast network of US military “aid” and bases abroad) will not cover or when forced to cover, name American crimes. The students I teach at Metro are the multi-racial citizens of America and its future. The corporate media is thus remarkably anti-democratic...

Imagine if 24 American soldiers had been murdered at Fort Hood by Chinese drones – see here. Every politician would be up in arms about it. The US would probably go to war in self-defense. Ron Paul, to his credit, has actually been saying this, but of course the media will not cover these statements (or at best as in Gail Collins’ report on Paul’s candidacy Saturday in the Times, dances around them. But Paul’s words were the best thing in her article. *

Imran Khan, the great cricket player and opposition leader, spoke to a large crowd Saturday afternoon of how the alliance with the United States leads to the murder of Pakistani civilians through drones – the Pakistan government has begged the US not to use drones, but to no avail. The Pakistanis have been co-opted into a war, he suggests, for another power, one that does not involve them [one which actually spurs the Taliban in Pakistan]. And now their soldiers are murdered.

General Ashfaq Pervaz Kayani, the head of the armed forces, spoke to the funeral gathering. He has demanded the withdrawal of the drone base. The alliance was already riven and Pakistan is now very shaky as an American ally. The likelihood is that the opposition will come to power, and even if not, that the government will turn increasingly hostile. Obama’s policies kill large numbers of ordinary Pakistanis including children. Ordinary Pakistanis, I am afraid rightly, increasingly hate the United States. The inanity of Roger Cohen's op-ed piece below in the on-line New York Times is revealed here. A policy of depraved murder of children is not the same as war, but only a war criminal or a sycophant of war criminals (sadly, a good rough definition of a member of the American establishment) would shrug it off, apologize for it. See also Greenwald here.

The US has leaked that the Pakistani soldiers, near the Afghanistan border, fired on American troops. The murders were just “self-defense.” But the US wages aggression in Pakistan – the drones, these murders – without any declaration of war and with a curtain of secrecy (denying the drone strikes, which the Pakistan government has said, have killed some 30,000 civilians – cut it to a tenth and it still is a horror). Had the Pakistanis fired on the US, they would have been but defending themselves. This is whitewashing for the American media, and nothing more.

And of course, one knows how many times the Pentagon has told the truth about such matters in the past. And the Obama administration generally hides drones and its illegal and immoral operations in Pakistan under a veil of secrecy.

Why is the United States involved in this long, losing occupation of Afghanistan and war against Pakistan? The ostensible reason is to get Al-Qaida. But CIA estimates were that there were fewer than 100 Al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan when the Obama administration was reviewing the policy (before sending 30,000 troops and secretly 70, 000 Xe/Blackwater mercenaries). Apparently, according to Greenwald’s report yesterday morning here, there are 2 Al-Qaida leaders that the CIA knows of in both countries…

Note that the Joint Special Operations Command – a large, secretive, murderous branch of the US military, 25,000 troops, which now overshadows the CIA and the intelligence services – took out Osama Bin Laden under Obama’s orders with no use of drones, no civilian casualties, no murders of soldiers.

So why does the US keep at these horrific and counterproductive wars, declared and undeclared? What does all this murder and expense accomplish except to create more people who hate the United States justifiably (there is nothing akin to killing innocent members of people’s families, particularly children…) and as an outlier, more who would fight the United States. These wars are part of a cycle to justify the war complex’s militarism, and this is, one suspects, a leading incentive to wage them.

But one might also include the reactionary two-step of so-called party competition – Gore Vidal’s crack that America has one party with two right-wings often seems apt. "Republican"/authoritarians move always to the Right, dragging the Democrats with them (short of mass movements from below) and attack Obama for breathing…

In addition, General Wesley Clark gave a talk at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in 2007 in which he speaks of the neoconservative “Policy coup” in the Pentagon (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld) and the Bush administration following 9-11. See here. He had written a book on the bombing campaign in Kosovo, questioning its wisdom. Rumsfeld had spoken with him, said he read the book, and that nothing would restrict US bombing. Clark thanked Rumsfeld for reading the book, said “and” to speak on the issue. Rumsfeld cut him off and dismissed him.

But an officer summoned him to his office and told him the US planned to attack Iraq. “Why?” Clark asked,” Have they connected Saddam to Osama Bin Laden?”

“No,” the officer said, and shook his head, “We have no idea.”

Clark returned to the Pentagon some weeks later. He said to the same officer he was glad the US had attacked Afghanistan and not Iraq. But the officer said “it’s much worse” He then showed Clark a note from Secretary Rumsfeld indicating the US would wage aggression against 7 more countries and overthrow their governments in the next five years (Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran).

The US of course, got bogged down in Iraq and so did not proceed with the others.

This is a plan for aggression and Clark's testimony underlines a Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeldsmoking gun worthy of Hitler and Himmler. Under Article 2, section 4 of the United Nations charter which bars aggression, this indicates – it is all too clear with Iraq – that outside and against international and American law, the US planned the crime of aggression to replace governments it disliked (Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land). None of this was authorized under the Congressional measure on the use of force against Al-Qaida and countries which sheltered specifically that organization.

Further, the think tank experts in Washington, Democratic as well as Repubican (neocon), are a fraternity who get “face-time” on television for urging war. That was Leslie Gelb’s self-critical assessment in Foreign Affairs about how he could have supported, mindlessly , the lies about Iraq. Gelb was the head of the Council on foreign relations.

Democratic “experts” helped shape Obama’s policy in Pakistan which relies on drones and murders many civilians (even the Pakistan Taliban is not our direct “enemy”: we have not declared war on it; it has no relationship to Al-Qaida; so killing its leaders like the Mehsud brothers, if indeed the US government has, is not an obvious way of trying to quell revolt or encourage it to focus on some other target than the US…). They bay for war continuously.

Note as Greenwald says, that Obama has engaged in war with Libya this year. He has so far avoided bombing Natanz in Iran (and so far Netanyahu has not engaged in this immense crime as well as act of self-destruction), but his covert operations are killing Iranians, including nuclear scientists (innocents). Even Cohen below weakly notes this. Much of the neo-con policy though through less war-like measures has thus continued even though at a different pace and with more emphasis on coalitions and less US involvement. It is, however, hard not to see Obama’s approach as something of an improvement (the truth in Cohen's column), even though the reliance on militarism and secrecy may ultimately prove fatal for the US and much of the world. See Peter Singer on drones here (h/t Amy Eckert) and add to his account, mercenaries whom Obama now ships out more frequently than regular soldiers.

Of course, Obama is waging aggression in Pakistan, something beyond what the neocons had imagined (yet another war). And this is the worst, most bizarre, immoral and counterproductive policy of his administration, one very likely to create a hostile nuclear armed Pakistan in rivalry with the now American ally, nuclear armed India.

The unintended consequences of American militarism could thus contribute to fomenting nuclear war in the next period between these two powers (as could American policy, particularly if strengthened by the mad Republicans, Ron Paul excepted, toward Israel**). See here on Badshah Khan and the nonviolent effort to create a different kind of India.

What we need is a clear focus on militarism as a policy of the 1%. Americans need to know about these crimes done in our name and to oppose the grotesque and stupid policies to which militarism gives rise (already 66% of Americans want the US military out of Afghanistan, in this epoch of economic collapse, destruction of the middle class; on making war, our “democracy” is not very democratic…). But the issue of making American peaceful, redirecting resources from militarism to education, training for the jobs of a green economy, health care and pensions, restoring decent working conditions for all and the possibility of a middle class lifestyle for many is very important. The Herbert Gans column on "superflous labor" from the New York Times, the most interesting column on America’s future published in recent times in the mainstream press, makes important suggestions about sharing employment and a 30 hour work week. See here.

But we must start from recognition that the slaughter of 25 Pakistani soldiers – innocents – by the US government is a crime and a foreshadowing of deeper ones, unless prevented from below, to come.

TUESDAY, NOV 29, 2011
The victims the NYT Editors forgot

The New York Times Editors chime in today on the border killing of two dozen Pakistani soldiers by the U.S., and offer up a formulaic both-sides-have-some-explaining-to-do sermon. It’s their first paragraph that is notable:

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

This opening from the pro-Afghan-War NYT Editors is meant to provide balance and justifying context to the deaths of these soldiers by pointing to the deaths caused by The Other Side: sure, it’s regrettable that these Pakistanis are dead, but let’s remember that it’s not just these soldiers who have been killed, but also “American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.” Therefore, the American war against these “extremists” (a war we’ve been supporting for more than a decade and still support as much as ever) is just despite this week’s little regrettable incident.

Except when constructing their general statement of regret for all those killed in the war they support, the NYT Editors forgot to mention one rather large category of victims: namely, “Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed” not “by extremists” but by the American military (unless, that is, they used “extremists” to refer to the invading U.S. army, which seems highly unlikely). That’s a particularly striking omission given that it was just this week that the United States extinguished the lives of six more Afghan children from the air. But it’s as though the NYT Editors can’t even bring themselves to acknowledge that it isn’t only the “extremists” but also their own country’s army, fighting a war they’ve long cheered, which regularly kills civilians. But that’s par for the media course: American war media narratives, as Ashleigh Banfield was demoted and then fired by NBC News back in 2003 for pointing out, specialize in erasing the existence of America’s war victims, and this is a perfect example of how that’s done.

Ongoing American killing of Pakistani civilians is a major cause of the tension between those two nations: that’s because governments and their citizenries tend not to like it and generally become quite angry when foreign nations kill their civilians (though there is one major exception to that rule when it comes to American citizens). America’s constant killing of numerous Afghan children independently inflames anti-American rage. If the NYT Editors are going to purport to provide context and balance to the conflict between the U.S. and Pakistan by listing (and expressing cursory regret for) all the killing beyond just this one border incident, perhaps they should include — rather than awkwardly ignore — this category of deaths (and those justifying the war in the name of what’s good for The Afghan People should also take that into account, along with polling data about what they actually think). It might also be good to start thinking about the cumulative effects of those ongoing civilian killings by the U.S. when deciding whether this war should continue even though Al Qaeda — the original justification for this war more than a decade ago — is, according to U.S. officials, “operationally ineffective” and virtually non-existent in that region.

Doctrine of Silence
Published: November 28, 2011

LONDON — The Obama administration has a doctrine. It’s called the doctrine of silence. A radical shift from President Bush’s war on terror, it has never been set out to the American people. There has seldom been so big a change in approach to U.S. strategic policy with so little explanation.

I approve of the shift even as it makes me uneasy. One day, I suspect, there may be payback for this policy and this silence. President Obama has gone undercover.
You have to figure that one day somebody sitting in Tehran or Islamabad or Sana is going to wake up and say: “Hey, this guy Obama, he went to war in our country but just forgot to mention the fact. Should we perhaps go to war in his?”

In Iran, a big explosion at a military base near Tehran recently killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, a central figure in the country’s long-range missile program. Nuclear scientists have perished in the streets of Tehran. The Stuxnet computer worm has wreaked havoc with the Iranian nuclear facilities.

It would take tremendous naïveté to believe these events are not the result of a covert American-Israeli drive to sabotage Iran’s efforts to develop a military nuclear capacity. An intense, well-funded cyberwar against Tehran is ongoing.

Simmering Pakistani anger over a wave of drone attacks authorized by Obama has erupted into outright rage with the death of at least 25 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO attack on two military outposts near the Afghan border.

The Pakistani government has ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to end drone operations it runs from a base in western Pakistan within 15 days. Drone attacks have become the coin of Obama’s realm. They have killed twice as many suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda members as were ever imprisoned in Guantánamo.

One such drone attack, of course, killed an American citizen, the Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen a few weeks ago.

The U.S. government says precious little about these new ways of fighting enemies. But the strategic volte-face is clear: America has decided that conventional wars of uncertain outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan that may, according to a Brown University study, end up costing at least $3.7 trillion are a bad way to fight terrorists and that far cheaper, more precise tools for eliminating enemies are preferable — even if the legality of those killings is debatable.

The American case for legality rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force act, which allows the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against persons, organization or nations linked to the 9/11 attack, and on various interpretations of the right to self-defense under international law.

But killing an American citizen raises particular constitutional concerns; just how legal the drone attacks are remains a vexed question. And Iran had no part in 9/11.

In general, it’s hard to resist the impression of a tilt toward the extrajudicial in U.S. foreign policy — a kind of “Likudization” of the approach to dealing with enemies. Israel has never hesitated to kill foes with blood on their hands wherever they are.

This is a development about which no American can feel entirely comfortable.

So why do I approve of all this? Because the alternative — the immense cost in blood and treasure and reputation of the Bush administration’s war on terror — was so appalling. In just the same way, the results of a conventional bombing war against Iran would be appalling, whether undertaken by Israel, the United States or a combination of the two.

Political choices often have to be made between two unappealing options. Obama has done just that. He has gone covert — and made the right call.

So why am I uneasy? Because these legally borderline, undercover options — cyberwar, drone killings, executions and strange explosions at military bases — invite repayment in kind, undermine the American commitment to the rule of law, and make allies uneasy.

Obama could have done more in the realm of explanation. Of course he does not want to say much about secret operations. Still, as the U.S. military prepares to depart from Iraq (leaving a handful of embassy guards), and the war in Afghanistan enters its last act, he owes the American people, U.S. allies and the world a speech that sets out why America will not again embark on this kind of inconclusive war and has instead adopted a new doctrine that has replaced fighting terror with killing terrorists. (He might also explain why Guantánamo is still open.)

Just because it’s impossible to talk about some operations undertaken within this doctrine does not mean the entire doctrine can remain cloaked in silence.

Foreign policy has been Obama’s strongest suit. He deserves great credit for killing Osama bin Laden, acting for the liberation of Libya, getting behind the Arab quest for freedom, winding down the war in Iraq, dealing repeated blows to Al Qaeda and restoring America’s battered image.

But the doctrine of silence is a failing with links to his overarching failure on the economy: it betrays a presidential reticence, coolness and aloofness that leave Americans

*”Naturally, a man with such a wide range of pet peeves is going to make waves in his own party.

'Chicken-hawks are individuals who dodged the draft when their numbers came up but who later became champions of senseless and undeclared wars when they were influencing foreign policy,' Paul writes in his chapter on conscription. 'Former Vice President Cheney is the best example of this disgraceful behavior.'

Really, you can’t totally dislike the guy.”

In an example of patriarchy like Maureen Dowd, Collins is not allowed to analyse or evaluate arguments in the Times.

Paul’s “libertarianism” about the civil rights act is of course incredibly racist, and his willingness to consign the poor to an early death – it was your bet; why do you need medical care – fascist and unfeeling.

**Meir Dagan, outgoing head of Massad (Israeli Intelligence) has warned that Iran will not have nuclear weapons till 2015 at the earliest - here - and opposes the craziness of Israel attacking Iran and creating a wider Middle East war, but Netanyahu and his quasi-fascist coalition seem bent on self-destruction.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Poem: symmetr ies

In thenighttorchrace

riders pass from hand


tohan d


dis tant

horses froth ing

under stars

Friday, November 25, 2011

Debt-slavery and the destruction of democratic education

In response to the last post about the decline and possible destruction of the University of California here, Tracy Strong wrote a fine letter, underscoring how a democratic institution is being eroded below. He makes two very important points. As a democratic institution, University of California at San Diego contributes a great deal to the local economy. But the local news and politicians do not mention it. Thus, as with the national economy where Keynsian measures – putting money in the hands of poor people who will spend it here in exchange for work – are widely known among economists and policy-makers, but an authoritarian elite works to reintroduce the age of Scrooge, throwing “tax relief” at the top 1/10 of 1% who spend it in Monte Carlo or China, California is cutting off its nose despite its face. This is a profound political problem.

More importantly, Tracy invokes Hannah Arendt’s defining statement about the nonchalant police officer pepper spraying the students at UC Davis. “These are students, not criminals.” The same point could be made about Occupy. “These are citizens, not criminals.”

How many bankers have been arrested for bringing the economy down (leave aside, pepper sprayed)? See Robert Reich’s column on the first amendment upside down below. The war criminals Paul Wolfowitz and David Addington (the war crimes are torture and aggression) got to ask questions at the “Republican” (war complex authoritarian – with the exception of Paul and to some extent, Huntsman) foreign policy debate. No law enforcement against genuine thugs...

The UC system is vast and multiracial, as Tracy emphasized. It accommodated many. But now, it is to be streamlined, with more left behind. Tuition rises – double at UC Davis now over a year ago , what the students are protesting about, and four times as much in a few years if Chancellor Mark Yudof gets his way – will price this increasingly secondary UC campus out of the reach of most.

This issue – debt slavery – for those who go to good colleges, even great state universities, is a driving force in the Occupy movement, along with joblessness and foreclosures. Work your heart out to achieve the American dream, do just what the authorities and the mainstream papers say, and you can end up $100,000 or more in debt to bank/usurers with no job and no way to pay it back (even if you get a job, you can’t pay off this amount of debt until you are half way through your working life, at best). It would be much less expensive for government to give aid – scholarships mainly as in Europe – directly to students. It would eliminate the overhead of the private middle men (as with health care where the administrative costs are much higher than universal systems and the US pays 3 times as much for worse medical results…). It would also be decent...

Here, too, the so-called free market is a disaster from the point of view of delivering important social or human goods cheaply (the preservation of life, health care and education, among other matters, should be government responsibilities and not left to "profit-takers"). Rather, "privatization" produces the worst results: burdening students with unrepayable debt, just as the medical “insurance” industry hires some 6,500 people to work at denying the claims of the insured (in “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore showed that companies now take out secret insurance policies on their employees, unbeknownst to their families; the incentive to off elderly and expensive employees is obvious and who could say, with the shifts in the past few years, out of reach…).

Tracy also mentions the corruption of the legislature and referenda which vote more money for prisons than for education. Once again, let us consider the prison—probation-industrial-political-media complex (the companion of the war complex). The US imprisons 2.3 million human beings, 25% of the world’s prisoners (more than China and the Middle East combined, and much higher as a percentage of the population). It has 5.1 more on probation, unable to get a job or rent public housing or, often, to vote. 7.4 million in the prison system, perhaps equivalent to 75% of the prisoners in the rest of the world. 60% have been imprisoned for drug crimes; 4 out of 5 of these for possession.(h/t Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow here and here).

So if you are black or brown or poor white, imprisoning you as a teenager for having grass is an important priority for this government; democratic education is not. That America is more a police state than a democracy, particularly for young people who also have the highest poverty rates, is increasingly apparent.

The stakes of the Occupy movement are very large…

The American Occupy movement of which Davis has been a leading part (and Berkeley and Oakland) is, of course, international – in its origins in Tunisia and Egypt and Greece and Spain, and in its impact (Occupy movements now occur in Berlin, in Amsterdam and in many other settings). The film segment here is on the impressive movement in Barcelona where students, too, are fighting tuition hikes. There, protestors in the recent elections have refused to support the two corrupt parties (one self-styled Socialist) which are both enforcing austerity on behalf of the banks. They cast more votes for neither candidate than the winner collected (too bad there wasn't a serious candidate...). There, occupiers have opened a building (owned by the bank Sa Nostra) to people foreclosed from their homes. The Spanish movement (see the letters from Martha Soler here and here) has formed more neighborhood organizations and is, increasingly, working on diverse, local issues (fighting evictions).

But now, so are Occupy Harlem and Occupy Bronx.

The battle against US-funded military tyranny in Egypt, now in its second phase, is the leading news in the world. And this struggle will be of profound impact on democracy in the Middle East, including in Palestine. But Tunisia and Egypt have stirred the worldwide indignado and Occupy movement. In Egypt, the military still murders more demonstrators, though as Tracy’s invocation of Arendt suggests, the distance between police brutality in the “center” (now declining) and the “periphery” is no longer great. As the response to UC Davis shows, however, they can be stopped.

As Arab spring illustrated, and Occupy, for example, in its changing of the national conversation to focus on unemployment or in Bank of America dropping its $5 fee or in bank transfer day or most importantly, in the realization of and hope for a resurgent democracy and the feeling that each of us may play a part in it, this is an important effort to join.

“Alan -- it is the case that UC is in the process of eroding itself or being eroded.

The general reaction to the budget cuts seems to me the parable of the talents -- those who are deemed good will get what there is to get and the others will to some degree wither. A possible coming response will be to essentially tier the system: UCSD, UCLA, UCB will be the flagships, the rest, except for a few programs (eg Cosmology at UCSC) will be pared down ("how may programs in German do we really need?").

Another factor is the creation and growth of UC Merced. Merced came into being for two reasons. When there is a downturn in the economy the application rate to UC goes up by about 25 %. (You have to be in the top 12% of your high school class to get into UC. The Cal State system takes up to, I think, 30%; below that the community colleges and so forth -- however if you do well at one of the lower tiers you can transfer to a UC and a lot of students including many very excellent ones do so. Given the sorry state of most high schools the system is about as democratic as it can be. It is also the most multi-ethnic of any large institution: less than half of UCSD, UCI, UCB, UCLA are white (counting Hispanics as non-white); and the state will be so shortly. It is the case that in a normal ("good" year) about 50% of those eligible apply to UC; in a bad (downturn) year about 75% do. Remember that you had the RIGHT to go to UC if you meet the entry criteria. While you may not get into your top choice you will get a spot). There had been a push in the number of applications and the projected need was for another campus. Merced though costs money.

The second reason for Merced is that it was discovered that first generation ethnic students tended to go to schools that were within 200 miles of their home (unless they got into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT etc. -- this tended to be more the case with students of Asian descent than hispanic.) The combination of the demographic pressure (which does go up and down) and the lack of any schools between UCLA, UCSB and UCD -- the whole Central Valley -- where there is a very sizeable Hispanic population made the creation of Merced desirable. (Neither the legislature nor the administration is dumb...)

What has happened since I have been here is that we have about 25% more faculty (30 years!) than we had 30 year ago and have 50% more students. (Berkeley and UCLA can't grow; UCR is pretty much maxed out; UCI has grown as has UCSB). This produces enormous classes; an increased dependency on graduate students. Almost all new appointments in the next 5-7 years are expected to come from retirements or separations, so the faculty will remain the same while students increase.

The university has made two responses: one is to increase the number of out of state students who pay full tuition (now 22%+ percent at Berkeley); the second is to raise tuition. Even with that the teacher-student ratio continues to fall. Another move would be to increase the teaching load of the regular faculty. The expectation here is that if you do that (especially when coupled with salaries not keeping up to the national elite school level) that a good number of your desirable faculty will bail.

The picture of excellence that UC has of itself (and it is in those terms excellent) is to be "world-class." This is thought of in terms of the relative prestige and reputation of its faculty. (There are other ways of thinking about this: I taught for several years at Amherst College where my colleagues were as good or better than those here and where the education was excellent. But the faculty did not win Nobel and Field prizes...). What has happened here is that we are bleeding top faculty to the rich private schools. My department ranks, for what is worth, 6th or 7th in the country. At the end of last year we lost three nationally top professors (to Stanford, USC etc) cutting the guts out of what was one of the best (professionally speaking) programs in American politics. Our physics department lost 6 full professors.

(There is a whole other theme here: the consequences of the nationalization of the academy: what has the jet plane wrought! -- Top students now apply all over the place: look at the already self-selected application numbers to the "best" schools: they can get there in less time than it took to take the train from Omaha to Chicago. Faculty move about with regularity (Henry Louis Gates for example). But if I can be here today, in New York tomorrow and in Paris on the following day -- I am no longer attached to a place as one might have been 60 years ago).

I tend to think that UC has been desperately unimaginative about this: Basically the response has been that if you lack money, get more somehow and don't worry about the consequences. The question has to be how can one retain the democratic quality of the institution at a time when de-democratization is consequent to the way the financial crisis has been construed?

But there is also a complete collapse of the political commitment on the part of the Legislature. (To some degree the referendum ties their hands by committing monies by law to certain things: more money is spent on the prisons than on education. But it says something when a society is such that it spends most of its funds putting its citizens out of sight.) So keep up the pressure on Yudof and the regents. But the political powers that be need a severe jolting -- and it is not clear to me how that is to happen. There are arguments that I do not hear made to the public. E.g. the annual budget of UCSD is $2.5 billion. A very large portion of this is spent in San Diego county. Counting a multiplier effect of 5 that is around $10 billion going into the local economy (and we aren't counting things like the impact of Qualcomm, started by a UCSD physics prof.). UCSD gets at this point something like 4% of its annual budget from the state. The rest comes from tuition (11%: less than the state), grants, the Feds, teaching hospitals and so forth. Such a return on investment is enough to make democracy seems a good thing, one would think. But is this in the papers every month? Do candidates run on this fact? Not that I know.

As for the pepper-spray: perhaps the most disturbing aspect of that picture was that the cop had one hand behind his back. I quoted Arendt on this once before: "For heaven's sakes! They are students, not criminals."


Thursday, November 24, 2011 by Robert Reich

The First Amendment Upside Down. Why We Must Occupy Democracy
by Robert Reich

You’ve been seeing this across the country … Americans assaulted, clubbed, dragged, pepper-sprayed … Why? For exercising their right to free speech and assembly — protesting the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

And what’s Washington’s response? Nothing. In fact, Congress’s so-called “supercommittee” just disbanded because Republicans refuse to raise a penny of taxes on the rich.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court says money is speech and corporations are people. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year ended all limits on political spending. Millions of dollars are being funneled to politicians without a trace.

And a revolving door has developed between official Washington and Wall Street – with bank executives becoming public officials who make rules that benefit the banks before heading back to the Street to make money off the rules they created.

Other top officials, including an increasing proportion of former members of congress, are cashing in by joining lobbying power houses and pressuring their former colleagues to do whatever their clients want.

Millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street and in executive suites aren’t contributing all this money out of sheer love of country. Their political spending is analogous to their other investments. Mostly they want low tax rates and friendly regulations.

Why else do you suppose tax rates on the super rich are now lower than they’ve been in three decades, and why – even though the long-term budget deficit is horrendous – those rates aren’t rising? Why else do the 400 richest Americans (whose wealth is larger than the combined wealth of the bottom 150 million Americans) now pay an average tax rate of only 17 percent?

Why do you think Wall Street got bailed without a single string attached – not even being required to help homeowners to whom they sold mortgages, who are now so far under water they’re drowning? And why does the financial reform legislation have loopholes big enough for bankers to drive their Ferrari’s through?

And why else are oil companies, big agribusinesses, military contractors, and the pharmaceutical industry reaping billions of dollars of government subsidies and special tax breaks?

Experts say the 2012 presidential race is likely to be the priciest ever, costing an estimated $6 billion. “It is far worse than it has ever been,” says Republican Senator John McCain.

If there’s a single core message to the Occupier movement it’s that the increasing concentration of income and wealth at the top endangers our democracy. With money comes political power.

Yet when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with all this, they’re told the First Amendment doesn’t apply. Instead, they’re treated as public nuisances – clubbed, pepper-sprayed, thrown out of public parks and evicted from public spaces.

Across America, public officials are saying Occupiers have to go. Even in universities – where free speech is supposed to be sacrosanct – peaceful assembly is being met with clubs and pepper spray.

The First Amendment is being stood on its head. Money speaks, and an unlimited amount of it can now be spent bribing and cajoling politicians. Yet peaceful assembly is viewed as a public nuisance and removed by force.

This is especially worrisome now that so many Americans are in economic trouble. The jobs recession grinds on, seemingly without end. Homes are being foreclosed upon. Qualified students cannot afford college. Or they’re forced to take on huge debt loads they can’t repay in a jobless economy. Schools are firing teachers. Vital social services are being axed.

How are Americans to be heard about what should be done about any of this if they are not allowed to mobilize and organize? When the freedom of speech goes to the highest bidder, moneyed interests have a disproportionate say.

Now more than ever, the First Amendment needs to be put right side up. Nothing less than the future of our democracy is at stake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Civil disobedience, Socrates and pepper spray

Libby Comeaux wrote about my latest post of Socrates and the Republic here:

"I read the whole email. I'm impressed with your scholarship. We owe much to the Greeks. I felt like I was reading an allegory of our own times. And look what we do with a philosopher king. We confront our belief in a) that this is a democracy with the reality of b) that greed a/k/a addiction to fossil fuels rules.

At least that is where my mind wanders as I read your essay on passages unfamiliar to me.

Thanks for your post!

Libby Comeaux"

"Dear Libby,

Thank you so much for your reading of the piece and for the brilliant and apt comparison!

The issue of fighting against tyranny - what the students did at UC Davis, one of whom, Elli Pearson, a student in sustainable agriculture, was on Democracy Now yesterday along with Nathan Brown, a courageous, non-tenured faculty member in the English department, is striking, and also a mirror of Socrates...

All the best,

On the reactionary interpretation of a "philosopher-king," this fortunately is something that was closer to Cheney's ambitions than to Obama's. But I used to say in the 2008 campaign, we need to have a mass movement - continuing the campaign- to make Obama be Obama. The Occupy movement has arrived, hopefully, to do much more…

On Democracynow, Elli Pearson talked yesterday of the lack of warning of the pepper spraying, a deliberate misnomer for the fierceness of the damage. See here. It is part of a pattern of police state violence against many different kinds of civil disobedience, nonviolent protest. One could already write a whole new chapter in the international nonviolent movement on the unfolding movement of the 99%, the violent responses to Occupy and student protest.

Particularly memorable at Davis is the scene of President Linda Katehi's walk of shame between three blocks of silent demonstrators to her car...

Nathan Brown points out that UC tuition has doubled in the last years and that the UC president plans to double it again (from $6,000 to $23,000). The University of California system has been among the greatest public university systems in the world, possibly the finest. It and the Cal State and community college system has been a comparatively democratic system of education. But if the leaders are allowed to continue this trend, it will soon be priced out of the range of 99% and become a poor facsimile of itself, a mediocre shelter of the privileged.

That is, as we have all learned, the plan of the Koch brothers, formerly the Bircher far right: to attack public universities and echoed by Gingrich in his call for child laborers to replace their laid-off and destitute parents and by Romney in his call to privatize the Veterans Administration (what is their left, these "Presidential" minions of the 1% ask, to steal?), But the same plan is being carried out in “blue” states somewhat more gradually, not just in Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio.

This broad movement is the democratic resistance to this horrific change and offers the chance to reverse it. Students at the City University of New York also stormed a Trustees meeting yesterday against tuition hikes...

Nathan Brown spoke also of an outpouring of support internationally, and of the role of professors at the University of California sticking together. Occupy is moving organically into these struggles for education (see Elli’s initial comment). The movement should work to include campus workers as well (and of course, the members of the 1% and their minions – what cop at UC Davis can look in the mirror this morning? – who have integrity (a former state Supreme Court judge and a retired Philadelphia police chief were among those roughed up and arrested in New York; Robert Hass, the poet, and his wife, were both roughed up at Berkeley...).

These students and teachers fight for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the Occupy movements and the increasingly brutal police response around the country. At the University of California, Davis, campus on Friday, campus police officers used pepper spray against student protesters. Videos of the incident have spread rapidly on the internet. The footage shows two police officers firing pepper spray at point-blank range on a group of students sitting together in the quad to protest the dismantling of the Occupy UC Davis encampment. The students were peacefully sitting down crosslegged with their arms locked, when the officers began pepper-spraying them at close range, as people around them shout, "Don’t shoot students!"

PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students!

AMY GOODMAN: The University of California, Davis, has announced it’s placed two police officers on administrative paid leave after pepper-spraying the group of student protesters. The incident has sparked calls for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, who initially defended the actions of campus police. Katehi has since said she wants an outside, independent panel to review what happened. In a written statement Saturday, she said, quote, "The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this. To this effect, I am forming a task force made of faculty, students and staff to review the events and provide to me a thorough report within 90 days," she wrote.

On Saturday, following Katehi’s brief press conference, students began to surround the building in protest. When Katehi eventually emerged to leave, she walked past a group of students nearly three blocks long, who, in a coordinated effort, remained completely silent. And for our radio listeners, you can go to our website to see the silent walk of the chancellor.

To talk more about what happened at UC Davis, we go to Sacramento, California, to talk to Elli Pearson, one of the students pepper-sprayed Friday. She’s a sophomore at UC Davis studying sustainable agriculture and food systems.

We’re also joined from Berkeley by Nathan Brown, assistant professor of English at UC Davis. He wrote an open letter calling for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi following the pepper-spraying incident Friday.

Before we turn to our guests, let me just play a short clip, which shows Elli Pearson being pepper-sprayed.

PROTESTERS: Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students!

The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Elli Pearson. Elli, describe exactly what happened on Friday.

ELLI PEARSON: Well, we were protesting together, and the riot cops came at us, and we linked arms and sat down peacefully to protest their presence on our campus. And at one point, they were—we had encircled them, and they were trying to leave, and they were trying to clear a path. And so, we sat down, linked arms, and said that if they wanted to clear the path, they would have to go through us. But we were on the ground, you know, heads down. And all I could see was people telling me to cover my head, protect myself, and put my head down. And the next thing I know, I was pepper-sprayed.

AMY GOODMAN: You were in the white jacket?


AMY GOODMAN: And what did the pepper-spraying feel like?

ELLI PEARSON: Well, I couldn’t see anything. And so, if I—you know, I felt like pepper spray go over my body, and then I started choking on the fumes. And I lifted my head at one point, and one of the protesters had come to kind of protect our huddle of people, and he just told me to keep my head down. And then, from that point on, all I could hear was screaming around me and people being jostled.

AMY GOODMAN: Two people, two of the students, were taken to the hospital?

ELLI PEARSON: Yes, it was actually three students.

AMY GOODMAN: Why were you there? Why were you protesting?

ELLI PEARSON: Well, I mean, one, I was standing in solidarity with students at UC—or at UC Berkeley who were beaten by police. Two, I’m protesting the tuition hikes that are happening on campuses, public universities really all over the nation. And three, I was standing in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Did the police say, "We’re about to pepper-spray you"?

ELLI PEARSON: I believe they told maybe one student, or like had some dialogue, but certainly not everyone could hear. It wasn’t like an announcement that was made. And we weren’t aware that we were going to be—I wasn’t aware I was going to be pepper-sprayed until people told me to protect myself. And then I have friends who were pepper-sprayed who said they did not know that that was happening and that that was coming. And we were actually expected—we were expecting to be shot in the back with something, because they were behind us. And we really had no idea what was going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Nathan Brown, you’re an assistant professor of English at UC Davis. You’re not tenured, so your job is certainly vulnerable. Yet you wrote an open letter calling for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi following the pepper-spraying of Elli and other students. What are you calling for? What is this open letter?

NATHAN BROWN: The open letter calls directly for the immediate resignation of the chancellor. There are also now efforts on the Davis campus, spearheaded by the board of the UC Davis Faculty Association, as well as others, to institute policies which will prevent the forcible removal of student protesters from the campus by police.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you calling for Katehi, the UC Davis chancellor’s resignation?

NATHAN BROWN: Because what we’ve been seeing for two years on various UC campuses is that senior UC administrators basically use police brutality as a systematic tool to terrorize student and faculty protesters, to suppress dissent, to suppress free speech, and to intimidate students into not protesting, which, of course, has not worked: students continue to protest. But it’s the systematic use of police brutality, basically, to enforce tuition increases, for which I want to hold—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the tuition issue is.

NATHAN BROWN: Well, in 2005, tuition at UC campuses was around $6,000. It’s currently around $13,000. And there’s currently a plan proposed by UC President Mark Yudof to increase tuition by 81 percent over the next four years. So that would raise tuition to around $23,000. So, what we’re looking at is, within 10 years, a tuition increase of around $6,000 to $23,000. And that’s what students are protesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about your own job? You’re not tenured.

NATHAN BROWN: Of course, it’s always possible that there could be some sort of retribution from the administration. At the same time, I feel like I have a tremendous amount of support from my department, a tremendous amount of support from the Faculty Association, from my colleagues throughout UC Davis and throughout the UC system. And indeed, I’ve been receiving thousands and thousands of letters of support from around the world over the past three days. So, in my opinion, the best way to go about these things as a junior faculty member is to speak up openly. And in that way, you draw a lot of support. And that, I think, will be very helpful in protecting me and protecting other people who speak out, if there’s any effort of retribution by the administration.

AMY GOODMAN: Calls are being—coming in for a banning of police on campus. Who are the security on campus? And, Elli Pearson, who did this to you? Who pepper-sprayed you in the face?

ELLI PEARSON: Well, the University of California, Davis, has police officers on campus, UC Davis police, but we also have an agreement with the city of Davis that police officers can come in when needed. And so, the UC or the Davis police officers came in to help the UC Davis force when they were called for the protest.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, it was the UC Davis police that pepper-sprayed you?


AMY GOODMAN: Are you satisfied with the two police officers being put on paid administrative leave?

ELLI PEARSON: No. I mean, I’d like to know who really ordered that it was OK for pepper spray to be used on a peaceful protest.

AMY GOODMAN: And you said you were also protesting in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Why is that important to you?

ELLI PEARSON: Well, I’m a sustainable agriculture and food systems major, and I’ve studied a lot of the food industry. And food corporations definitely aren’t interested in feeding people; they’re interested in making a profit. And that’s not really healthy for us, good for us, in any way. And I’m also protesting the corporate greed that we see.

AMY GOODMAN: And Nathan Brown, are professors and staff supporting the students?

NATHAN BROWN: They are. One of the most inspiring things about what happened in Berkeley two weeks ago, on November 9th, is that faculty at UC Berkeley stood with their arms linked with students in solidarity. Those faculty were assaulted by the police, just as the students were. At UC Davis, there’s been an outpouring of faculty support for the student movement since that happened on the Berkeley campus. And I think that the statements calling for the resignation of the chancellor and for a policy preventing the forcible removal of students by police issued by the board of the Davis Faculty Association is a very strong statement of support for the student movement.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Nathan Brown, assistant professor of English at UC Davis, speaking to us from the University of California, Berkeley, studios, and thank you to Elli Pearson, sophomore at UC Davis, speaking to us from Davis, California.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Republic’s amusing answer to the Athenian charge against Socrates: clean up the gods!

In this post, I will explore some aspects of the problem of poetry and censorship in the Republic. The writing in the Republic is musical; it is full of beautiful stories or myths, poems whose reach extends far into the future from the story of the ring of Gyges to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Grey. See here and here. What does Plato the poet mean by censoring “beloved Homer” (book 10)?

I interpret the account of censorship of the gods, the heroes and the poetry which spells out their psychological states starting in book 2 as primarily an ironic answer to the charge against Socrates of defaming the gods. The poets beat him to it, Plato suggests, just as the Athenians parading for the Thracian moon goddess Bendis at the opening of the Republic beat him to it. Plato is making fun of the charge…

The linked charge in the Apology is "corrupting the youth." But the nature of Athens as a free regime and its worship and poetry is, among other things, as the poetry shows, inevitably “corrupting” of the youth, and one has to make an artificial and inhuman regime, deny the young experience as the King sought to deny Siddhartha, to make life itself incapable of “corrupting” such an “ideal.”

It is still possible, as a separate image of becoming a philosopher in the Republic suggests, that one can ascend from the cave through mathematics (in the way of Pythagoras as I will discuss in the next post). * But no political philosophy - what Socrates engaged in - is possible without experience. To eliminate poetry, to breed up ever the same dogs, with the same habits and passions, is to eliminate Socrates and Plato…

Put differently, therefore, the Republic’s answer to the charges is: let’s see what would happen if no one was to speak ill of the gods. Let’s really clean them up.

Religion means a) believing in the gods, and especially believing the gods are good (381c);

b) telling all the stories about the gods literally as they have come down.

But a), as Polemarchos might point out as he does in the first book here, is inconsistent with b). Athenian law purportedly takes the violation of b) seriously and executes Socrates for asking questions about these stories, doubting them. But it does so in the name of supposedly believing a) which would require far more extensive censorship. What the censorship of poetry in the Republic does is illustrate how glaring and bizarre this contradiction is.

So the Republic as a comedy, in this respect, takes b) deadly seriously. It shows what a scythe it would have to take to Athenian culture to believe a), to clean up the gods. It is thus a stunning, sarcastic answer to the graphe asebeias (the charge of impiety against Socrates).**

Some ideas in kallipolis are interesting and meant seriously. That women can be philosophers (Theano, Pythagoras’s wife, who discovered the golden mean, Diotima in the Symposium) and in some rare circumstance, a wise or philosophical-king are among them. But as I will underline below, in the Seventh Letter, Plato and his best student Dion seek to advise the tyrant Dionysius to introduce laws in Syracuse. That advice differs markedly from the beautiful city in the Republic and the Athenian Stranger’s vision in the Laws.***

Is this city in speech in the Republic, one might ask, really so beautiful, so “just” (the most sex to the leading warrior – an appeal perhaps to the interlocutor/warrior Glaucon whose image this city is, putting “defective” babies to death, the women and men wrestling naked together, throwing out everyone over the age of 10, and the like) or is it, pretty plainly for Plato, mainly a send-up?

Is the “beautiful city” perhaps a justification of Socrates’s thought in the Apology: that unlike the proud and puffed up, those who think themselves wise, are thought wise by others, and are not, “I neither know nor do I think I know…”

At the beginning of book 3 of the Republic, there are six brief passages from Homer which are pegged for censorship. Four of them indicate the horror of Hades, the soul slipping into the dank darkness, gibbering…They are supposedly bad for the young who are to become fearless guardians, valuing death over slavery:

‘Let us begin then,” says Socrates, “ by expunging the verse that follows and all other writings and sayings of the same ilk:

‘I would rather be a poor serf
on the land of one himself penurious
than be monarch of all who ever died’

and this

‘Lest to mortals and immortals
the houses of the dead be conjured up
dark, hideous, dank,
and abhorrent to the gods themselves. ‘

and this

‘Ah, woe! So it is true;
in Hades’ house are souls and apparitions
but all intelligence is gone’


‘He was alone with his wisdom and wit
All the others were shadows and wraiths.’


‘Shrilling and gibbering,
the soul slipped down like a vapor
and vanished underneath the earth.’


‘Like bats hanging in a darkened cave
will cling to a rock together and shriek
for the one that falls from the cluster
so their souls will screech and falter.’

We shall beg Homer and the other poets not be be angry if we ban these and all similar passages.” (386c-387b)

Note that Socrates remarks here, as in Phaedrus 242c-243b, that perhaps his sayings – his censorship – will stir the anger of the poets. A careful student or reader might, indeed, imagine that the poets would be angry, and consider whether there is some other way. Is censorship a wise suggestion?

If one listens carefully, as Plato expected his students to do, two of the quotes point in a different direction, the second markedly. For the second is the image of Tiresias the blind seer from Thebes who alone among the dead can see.* It is the image of Socrates in the cave being put to death in book 7 and in life. It is also the image from the end of the Meno where the badly posed question - can virtue be taught in the absence of a definition of the idea of virtue - leads to the conclusion that virtue cannot be taught. One could teach virtue only, Socrates says, if one were like Tiresias whom Odysseus meets among the dead (the rest are flickering shadows).

But Socrates is such a one. And the action of the Republic is Socrates' teaching Glaucon not to become a tyrant. So these lines have a completely different resonance from the other 5 citations.

But interestingly, so does the first. That citation is the statement of Achilles, better a serf to the meanest lord on earth than Lord among the dead. On an obvious level, this saying from the bravest of heroes affirms grisly fear of death and goes along with the theme: make guardians “men” by ridding them of experience and fears. He who never sees a corpse will ostensibly be brave rather than she who sees but overcomes her fear.

If one looks at the lines closely, however, the statement moves. Achilles did not fear death; he wanted to avenge Patroclus more. He had been immortal (except the heel by which Thetis held him in the waters of immortality). He is thus like Siddhartha, never to be exposed to the wasting pain of life, a warrior Dorian Grey as it were. But Hector has killed his lover Patroclus, dressed in Achilles' armor. Hector mistook Patroclus for Achilles. Disguise, the ring of Gyges, fools Hector, his fate swiftly upon him. To avenge his lover and make himself clear as a warrior, Achilles chooses the cycle of book 10 (the Myth of Er). He does not fear or avoid action because of fear of Hades. But this is not decisive.

In book 7 to explain the cave and the wrenching of doing philosophy, asking questions and turning - "being dragged" - toward the light, Socrates summons Achilles again. He who has ascended, whose eyes have cleared, who can see things as they are, Socrates says, would no sooner return to the cave than Achilles to Hades.

“Suppose there had been honors and citations those below bestowed upon one another. Suppose prizes were offered for the one quickest to identify the shadows as they go by and best able to remember the sequence and configurations in which they appear. All those skills, in turns, would enhance the ability to guess what would come next? Do you think he [the one who has ascended toward the light] would covet such rewards? More, would he envy and want to emulate those who hold power over the prisoners and are in turn reverenced by them? Or would he not rather hold fast to Homer’s words that it is ‘better to be the poor servant of a poor master,’ better to endure anything than to believe those things and live that way?” (516c-d)

Now this is the very same passage from Homer ostensibly excised in book 3, and it occurs in the most vital context in the Republic. If this passage were really to be censored, if the philosophers and would-be philosophers (Glaucon and the others, Polemarchus excepted, are shown as interested in or fascinated by philosophy, but not philosophers) were to know no poetry of “the wrong sort,” having tossed out “beloved Homer,” why would this startling image illuminate the division of the noetic world and the visible world? Why would it serve as a hint about the most important matters to us, the readers or students starting on a journey as well as Glaucon who sees “through a glass darkly” and whose interest in becoming a philosopher is unclear (Glaucon appears in no other dialogue).

After pointing to the likelihood that the one who sees, like Socrates, would be murdered in the cave (517a), recalling also the image of Tiresias among the dead from book 3, Socrates points out the scope of the new philosophical use of these lines from and, for at least Glaucon’s sake, but perhaps also in the spirit of the Apology, offers that “god only knows if it is true”

“Now, my dear Glaucon, we must apply the allegory as a whole to all that has been said so far. The prisoners’ cave is the counterpart of our own visible order, and the light of the fire betokens the power of the sun. If you liken the ascent and exploration of things above to the soul’s journey through the intelligible order, you will have understood my thinking since that is what you wanted to hear. God only knows whether it is true.” (517a-b)

The city in speech was, in fact, a satiric ideal for the benefit of Glaucon, the warrior-athlete, not a serious proposal. See the Phaedrus 252c-253c here where different types of souls love differently according to their diverse gods, their diverse goals and characters. But the images of the cave and philosophical ascent are, as I have suggested about Polemarchus in book 1 – see here – meant to be taken seriously and wrestled with by students.

In fact, the force of this image about doing philosophy in book 7 replaces Achilles’ warrior cycle (consider, again, the Myth of Er). Once one sees in the light, one will not be happy to go down. It will require some determined effort and perhaps incentive to descend (perhaps to fight for democracy and the possibility of philosophy as a way of life within a regime).

It is useful to consider where else in the Republic the figures who show up in the Myth of Er appear (and alternately who is in the cave and who is, at least partially, not). Plainly Cephalus, who spouts poetry as a rich man preparing to die, is glad to have Socrates at his house as a court jester, but is driven out promptly by Socrates’s pointed question: aren’t you using your money to try to bribe the gods?, His exit marks the beginning of political philosophy (h/t Peter Steinberger).

An unnamed Cephalus reappears in the Myth of Er as the first chooser of a guiding spirit, a good man by habit rather than philosophy or virtue, who rushes to choose the life of a tyrant. Examining it more closely, he discovers that he is fated to eat his own children, and berates the fates, not blaming himself for his choice.

In contrast, the last to choose is Odysseus, for whom the fates say, there will still be a suitable life. He is the famous and clever warrior, good at deception and appearances (the ring of Gyges) who chooses the life of a private man. He substitutes for Achilles caught on the cycle of hero and descent into Hades; Odysseus somehow exits the cycle or at least finds some steps on the path. Strikingly, Odysseus is also a counterpart of Glaucon, the imager of the beautiful military/guardian city, who is alerted not to become a tyrant and perhaps to the goal of becoming a philosopher-king (either one who rules by laws as in the Seventh Letter or a public leader for philosophy and decent democracy against tyranny****).

To put it in terms of another story, Cephalus and Thrasymachus are most in the cave (h/t Jacob Hemmerle). But Polemarchus, who starts there, begins to find a way out. Glaucon in book 2 seems to be a challenger of the cave, in and out (in in that he is the sharpest eyed of the citizens, one who sees through the shadows and is bent on doing injustice with the appearance of justice), and to be guided out (not to become a tyrant) by Socrates in terms of Glaucon's own dream (the beautiful city led by the warrior/athletes). In the Myth of Er, Glaucon, with the experience of the night’s argument, follows Odysseus, with his experience of the labors of war, to choose a private life.

But neither Odysseus nor Glaucon is philosophical. In fact, with that happy life and a thousand year journey (in soul time, not earth time), they might choose again the warrior fate. Only questioning, only philosophy as a way of life, allows further steps on the way out (consider again the hints in Phaedrus).

In Homer himself, whom the Republic seems to censor in the “city in speech” but not in the philosophical and political conversation, this is also the image of Odysseus. Odysseus finally escapes the madness of war; at the end of the Odyssey, he beats swords into plowshares, plants his sword in the soil. The implied resonance is that Glaucon may find healing in Odysseus and that Homer is restored.

Still, Glaucon has an interest in talking with Socrates, but is not yet, like Polemarchus, on the path. And aside from homoerotic play, Socrates’s interest in talking with him is to overcome the would-be tyrant, to tame him through some experience of philosophy (not that he is into doing it for himself) and thus, a distant or oblique image of what the path is. Glaucon asks of the austere city: “where are the relishes?” He is hungry, a potential tyrant. When Socrates speaks of the highest good, Glaucon blurts out “You can’t mean pleasure.” “Hush,” responds Socrates.

Whether Glaucon will come to do philosophy is not clear, as the image of Odysseus also suggests.

Nonetheless, Glaucon, Plato’s brother, son of Ariston (the best) does not become a tyrant, is unknown, outside of this dialogue, to history (he appears briefly and unmemorably in Xenophon's Memorabilia as well). So he got at least part way along the path, as far in the speech with Socrates of one night, as Odysseus did in the life of battles in Homer’s Iliad and at the end of the Odyssey, abandoning war in the soul and war at large.

The image of Odysseus coming home to Penelope supersedes Glaucon’s imagining of the ring of Gyges. Though Odysseus disguises himself to murder the many suitors with arrows, he at last achieves peace and not injustice. The Homer story is shaded with aspects of politics and the ring of Gyges: Odysseus is a master deceiver. But the resolution achieves no picture of Dorian Grey, no corruption. Odysseus moving to a private life in Homer as well as the Myth of Er thus symbolizes Glaucon’s fate as well.

Note also that Plato does not propose to excise the ring of Gyges story as poetry from the dialogue. It is the story even of the "noble" lie, even where a common good is realized, perhaps stains all political leadership, and is revealed especially in tyrants. But is the story of the ring then wholesome philosophical poetry? Or is it rather a poetic version of the challenge of politics to philosophy? If this story is not to be censored, what happened to the censorship of the supposed city in speech?

And if Odysseus, the master deceiver, the most adventurous and inadvertently (Circe, the sirens, the underworld, the cave of Cyclops, the storms of Poseidon, all to go home) experienced, shows up at the end of the Republic, what happened to the purging of “beloved Homer”?

*Plato, in his travels outside of Athens, perhaps became more of a Pythagorean than Socrates. In any case, political philosophy was most important to Socrates in the last period of his life as the contrast between the character "Socrates" in Aristophanes' The Clouds and the one in Plato's dialogues reveals. It is not, for example, Socrates but Timaeus (in the Timaeus) who proposes a mathematical theory of the universe.

**The most powerful theological question is: how can a god(s) who is or are good create a world of such incredible and unjust suffering, particularly of children, as well as beauty? Being mortal and dying is no pleasure, even for Socrates.

Buddhism escapes this dilemma to some extent with its insight that life is suffering.

***In the Phaedrus passage (242c-243a), the poet Stesichorus was struck blind by a god for speaking ill of him, though he recovered his sight through a poem of recantation. Darkness, blindness and light, words are an underlining theme in the symphony of the dialogues.

****In the Apology, Socrates fights against tyranny (Meletus) in the defeated and decadent Athens of 399 BC. He defends a reformed democracy. He says he might have been freed with a change of 30 votes, with the adoption of the conventional practice of other cities: a four day trial in a capital case instead of a one day trial. The modern modification of equal freedom of speech and conscience flows from this thought, or as Martin Luther King says in his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail": "To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Poem: dognight





starsacrosstheskylikes m o k e




neighborthievesbringmea t


generates si lence

tailwagsf u r I o u s l y


forthequest ion


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Police attack on Occupy Wall Street and the importance of fighting back

Occupy Wall Street was trashed last night by the police. Van Gosse, a member of Historians against the War, was going to send a note about the OWS 5,000 book People's Library which is also set up to distribute books to the Occupy movements elsewhere. This is a symbol of the knowledge and decency of this open, democratic movement, and reveals Bloomberg and the 1% (or the ruling class as one sometimes says) as the barbaric enemies of education. It is not only the debt-slavery of jobless students who have believed the promises of the elite and the hopes of American opportunity but the fire and example of Occupy and education that are - and, of course, should be - frightening to Wall Street. The police, in their capacity not as individuals among the 99% but as a tool of the ruling class, trashed it (I imagine that even some of the police were sickened by those who became Bloomberg's thugs). Ydanis Rodriguez, a city councilman who was at the protest, was beaten and arrested.

The police pushed occupiers and others out of a four block area around the park (with violence and arrests), shut down the subways, operated as minions of a police state. I should underline: this is nearer Mubarak and the worst at Tahrir Square than it is to the rule of law.

Today, Bill McKibben wrote an important article on the victory of the mass civil disobedience movement against the "sure-thing" Keystone XL pipeline. Civil disobedience and the Occupy movement are powerful in a way that cannot be killed by the 1%, even with police actions like this one or the ones in Oakland and Berkeley and the ones in Denver over the weekend - see here (h/t Nicole Bekken). The protestors are mainly committed to mass nonviolent resistance (sometimes, the "diversity of tactics" argument permits misguided in this respect people to break windows and help the elite). But the massive police riots, fostered by seemingly civilized Mayors (such as Bloomberg who defended the Islamic center by standing up for freedom of conscience, even as now, a threatened billionaire, his principles and wits desert him), are here the overwhelming fact.

We should all act to support Occupy.

Update: the National Lawyers Guild has obtained an injunction for people to return to the park. Freedom of speech and assembly still has some purchase in overriding tyranny...

Dear fellow HAW members,

I was going to write a brief, upbeat report on the small contingent we took down to OWS on Saturday (8 in all, lots of trains and subways not running that day kept others away), and how inspiring it was to see the new well-organized library tent, and to talk to the People's Librarian, who welcomed our donations of Radical History Review and other books.

My plan was to announce a book drive, since the OWS People's Library distributes books to other Occupations around the country.

But all that is no longer viable, since Mayor Bloomberg shut down OWS at 1 AM, with the 5,000 volume People's Library reportedly thrown out by the NYPD along with everything else--that's what Time Inc.'s Newsfeed says.

I think we all knew that OWS was fragile in the material sense, and now New York's power elite, to use an old-fashioned term, has finessed it--for the moment! But over these past two months, it sparked something genuinely new and full of light and hope, and we can build on that.

La lutta continua, so let's continue on, no mourning, just organizing,

Van Gosse

Police Clear Out Occupy Wall Street Protests

Tue, 11/15/2011 - 6:42am —
Avi Zenilman
Matt Taylor

UPDATE: The National Lawyers Guild has obtained a court order allowing Occupy Wall Street protesters to return with tents to the park. The guild said the injunction prevents the city from enforcing park rules on Occupy Wall Street protesters.

MANHATTAN -- Hundreds of New York City police officers decked out in riot gear surrounded and then dismantled the core of the Occupy Wall Street protest early Tuesday morning, tearing down tents and arresting at least 75 people after they refused to leave. The surprise raid, which began at about 1 A.M. and was reportedly requested by the private owner of Zuccotti Park, spurred a massive outpouring of people -- a mix of supporters, curious observers, and media from around the world -- into the streets of downtown New York.

Hundreds of demonstrators dispersed in search of a new gathering spot (a march on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's City Hall was quickly aborted) while others stood by, shouting, as a backhoe, sanitation trucks, at least four dumptrucks, and trash compactors rumbled down Broadway and cleared the park. There were murmurs of regrouping at another downtown location as dawn approached, while one activist warned a television reporter that the movement was doubling down for Thursday's planned "day of rage," when protests have been planned across the country.

“Protesters can return after the park is cleared,” said the mayor’s office in a tweet delivered shortly after 1 A.M. However, sleeping bags and tents will no longer be allowed, effectively ending the ragged, utopian statement of a society that has been camping out in the square since September 17.

“Some have argued to allow the protestors to stay in the park indefinitely – others have suggested we just wait for winter and hope the cold weather drove the protestors away – but inaction was not an option," Bloomberg later said in a statement. "I could not wait for someone in the park to get killed or to injure another first responder before acting. Others have cautioned against action because enforcing our laws might be used by some protestors as a pretext for violence – but we must never be afraid to insist on compliance with our laws."

At around 2 A.M., police started knocking back the swarm of observers, many of whom were wielding cell-phone cameras. The officers marched in horizontal lines gripping their batons with two hands in order to break up the crowds. “Move the f--k up! Move the f--k up!” yelled one especially agitated police officer as he aggressively shoved his nightstick against the back of a National Memo reporter who was walking away from the scene.

Retreating demonstrators occasionally panicked as the cops tried to clear out a four block radius from the park. “EVERYBODY GET TO THE CHASE BANK,” screamed a demonstrator as a few members of the increasingly fragmented crowd were marched back across a street. The official Occupy Wall Street livestream was flooded with viewers and at least temporarily put out of commission by the raid.

The unexpected raid was accompanied by an attempted media blackout, as the police prohibited reporters (including those with press passes) from entering Zuccotti, closed the subways leading to downtown Manhattan, and even prevented news helicopters from flying in the airspace over the park.

Neither were politicians spared. Ydanis Rodriguez, a city council member representing New York City's 10th district visiting the park, was reportedly injured and arrested by the police.

The raid has thrown the signature protest defined by a sustained physical presence in a well-known public space into disarray, even as activists swore they would only be emboldened by the most strategic and aggressive effort yet by city authorities to crush the movement. Plans were already forming early Tuesday to reignite the protest at Foley Square, a nearby park and common site for targeted actions by "Occupy."

In recent weeks, despite the fact that specific policy demands never emerged, a growing strain of thought emerged on the left that the debate had already been won by shifting the national conversation from fiscal austerity to income inequality. Adbusters, the Canadian group that took a lead role in getting things started two months ago, issued a strategy memo just hours before the raid suggesting the camps might be in a position to declare victory and pack up before winter.

Camps throughout America have been coming up against increased hostility from police as the holidays approach and elected officials lose patience with a cause that operates outside the traditional political channels.

A video of the chaos at its peak early in the morning follows:

{the video would not reproduce but can be found at National Memo).

With research and reporting contributed by Peter Sterne

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Puncturing the Pipeline
Posted by Bill McKibben at 8:07am, November 15, 2011.

What's the biggest story of the last several weeks? Rick Perry’s moment of silence, all 53 seconds' worth? The Penn State riots after revered coach JoePa went down in a child sex abuse scandal? The Kardashian wedding/divorce? The European debt crisis that could throw the world economy into a tailspin? The Cain sexual harassment charges? The trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor?

The answer should be none of the above, even though as a group they’ve dominated the October/November headlines. In fact, the piece of the week, month, and arguably year should have been one that slipped by so quietly, so off front-pages nationwide and out of news leads everywhere that you undoubtedly didn’t even notice. And yet it’s the story that could turn your life and that of your children and grandchildren inside out and upside down.

On the face of it, it wasn’t anything to shout about -- just more stats in a world drowning in numbers. These happen to have been put out by the U.S. Department of Energy and they reflected, as an Associated Press headline put it, the “biggest jump ever seen in global warming gases.” In other words, in 2010, humanity (with a special bow to China, the United States, and onrushing India) managed to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any time since the industrial revolution began -- 564 million more tons than in 2009, which represents an increase of 6%.

According to AP’s Seth Borenstein, that’s “higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.” He’s talking about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, which is, if anything, considered "conservative" in its projections of future catastrophe by many climate scientists. Put another way, we’re talking more greenhouse gases than have entered the Earth’s atmosphere in tens of millions of years.

Consider as well the prediction offered by Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency: without an effective international agreement to staunch greenhouse gases within five years, the door will close on preventing a potentially disastrous rise in the planet’s temperature. You’re talking, that is, about the kind of freaky weather that will make October’s bizarre snowstorm in the Northeast look like a walk in the park. (That storm had all the signs of a climate-change-induced bit of extreme weather: New York City hadn’t recorded an October snowfall like it since the Civil War and it managed to hit the region in a period of ongoing warmth when the trees hadn’t yet had the decency to lose their leaves, producing a chaos of downed electrical wires.) And don’t get me started on what this would mean in terms of future planetary hot spells or sea-level rise.

Honestly, if we were sane, if the media had its head in the right place, this would have been screaming headlines. It would have put Rick Perry and Herman Cain and the Kardashians and Italy and Greece and Michael Jackson’s doctor in the shade.

The only good news -- and because it unsettled the politics of the 2012 election, it did garner a few headlines -- was that the movement Bill McKibben and 350.org spearheaded to turn back the tar-sands pipeline from Hades (or its earthly global-warming equivalent, which is Alberta, Canada) gained traction in our Occupy Wall Street moment. Think of it as a harbinger. Mark my words on this one: sooner or later, Americans are going to wake up to climate change, just as they have this year on the issue of inequality, and when they do, watch out. There will be political hell to pay. Tom

Obama’s Positive Flip and Romney’s Negative Flop
Is Global Warming an Election Issue After All?
By Bill McKibben

Conventional wisdom has it that the next election will be fought exclusively on the topic of jobs. But President Obama’s announcement last week that he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election, which may effectively kill the project, makes it clear that other issues will weigh in -- and that, oddly enough, one of them might even be climate change.

The pipeline decision was a true upset. Everyone -- and I mean everyone who "knew" how these things work -- seemed certain that the president would approve it. The National Journal runs a weekly poll of “energy insiders” -- that is, all the key players in Washington. A month to the day before the Keystone XL postponement, this large cast of characters was “virtually unanimous” in guaranteeing that it would be approved by year’s end.

Transcanada Pipeline, the company that was going to build the 1,700-mile pipeline from the tar-sands fields of Alberta, Canada, through a sensitive Midwestern aquifer to the Gulf of Mexico, certainly agreed. After all, they’d already mowed the strip and prepositioned hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pipe, just waiting for the permit they thought they’d bought with millions in lobbying gifts and other maneuvers. Happily, activists across the country weren’t smart enough to know they’d been beaten, and so they staged the largest civil disobedience action in 35 years, not to mention ringing the White House with people, invading Obama campaign offices, and generally proving that they were willing to fight.

No permanent victory was won. Indeed, just yesterday Transcanada agreed to reroute the pipeline in Nebraska in an effort to speed up the review, though that appears not to change the schedule. Still, we're waiting for the White House to clarify that they will continue to fully take climate change into account in their evaluation. But even that won't be final. Obama could just wait for an election victory and then approve the pipeline -- as any Republican victor certainly would. Chances are, nonetheless, that the process has now gotten so messy that Transcanada’s pipeline will die of its own weight, in turn starving the tar-sands oil industry and giving a boost to the global environment. Of course, killing the pipeline will hardly solve the problem of global warming (though heavily exploiting those tar sands would, in NASA scientist James Hansen’s words, mean “game over for the climate.”)

In this line of work, where victories of any kind are few and far between, this was a real win. It began with indigenous activists, spread to Nebraska ranchers, and eventually turned into the biggest environmental flashpoint in many years. And it owed no small debt to the Occupy Wall Street protesters shamefully evicted from Zuccotti Park last night, who helped everyone understand the power of corporate money in our daily lives. That these forces prevailed shocked most pundits precisely because it’s common wisdom that they’re not the sort of voters who count, certainly not in a year of economic trouble.

In fact, the biggest reason the realists had no doubts the pipeline would get its permit, via a State Department review and a presidential thumbs-up of that border-crossing pipeline, was because of the well-known political potency of the jobs argument in bad economic times. Despite endless lazy reporting on the theme of jobs versus the environment, there were actually no net jobs to be had from the pipeline. It was always a weak argument, since the whole point of a pipeline is that, once it's built, no one needs to work there. In addition, as the one study not paid for by Transcanada made clear, the project would kill as many jobs as it would create.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson finally demonstrated this late in the game with a fine report taking apart Transcanada’s job estimates. (The 20,000 jobs endlessly taken for granted assumed, among other stretches, that modern dance troupes would move to Nebraska, where part of the pipeline would be built, to entertain pipeline workers.) Still, the jobs trope remained, and you can be sure that the Chamber of Commerce will run 1,000 ads during the 2012 presidential campaign trying to hammer it home. And you can be sure the White House knew that, which was why it was such a tough call for them -- and why the pressure of a movement among people whose support matters to them made a difference.

Let’s assume the obvious then: that one part of their recent calculations that led to the postponement decision might just be the suspicion that they will actually win votes thanks to the global-warming question in the next election.

For one thing, global warming denial has seen its apogee. The concerted effort by the fossil-fuel industry to underwrite scientific revision met its match last month when a team headed by Berkeley skeptic and prominent physicist Richard Muller -- with funding from the Koch Brothers, of all people -- actually found that, what do you know, all the other teams of climate-change scientists were, um, right. The planet was indeed warming just as fast as they, and the insurance companies, and the melting ice had been insisting.

Still, scientific studies only reach a certain audience. Weird weather is a far more powerful messenger. It’s been hard to miss the record flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and across the Northeast; the record drought and fires across the Southwest; the record multi-billion dollar weather disasters across the country this year; the record pretty-much everything-you-don’t-want across the nation. Obama certainly noticed. He’s responsible for finding the cash every time some other state submerges.

As a result, after years of decline, the number of Americans who understand that the planet is indeed warming and that we’re to blame appears to be on the rise again. And ironically enough, one reason may be the spectacle of all the tea-partying GOP candidates for the presidency being forced to swear fealty to the notion that global warming is a hoax. Normal people find this odd: it’s one thing to promise Grover Norquist that you’ll never ever raise taxes; it’s another to promise that you’ll defeat chemistry and physics with the mighty power of the market.

Along these lines, Mitt Romney made an important unforced error last month. Earlier in the primaries, he and Jon Huntsman had been alone in the Republican field in being open to the idea that global warming might actually be real. Neither wanted to do anything about it, of course, but that stance itself was enough to mark them as realists. It was also a sign that Romney was thinking ahead to the election itself, and didn’t want to be pinned against this particular wall.

In late October, however, he evidently felt he had no choice but to pin himself to exactly that wall and so stated conclusively: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.” In other words, he not only flip-flopped to the side of climate denial, but did so less than six months after he had said no less definitively: “I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer… And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that.” Note as well that he did so, while all the evidence, even some recently funded by the deniers, pointed the other way.

If he becomes the Republican presidential candidate as expected, this may be the most powerful weathervane ad the White House will have in its arsenal. Even for people who don’t care about climate change, it makes him look like the spinally challenged fellow he seems to be. But it’s an ad that couldn’t be run if the president had okayed that pipeline.

Now that Obama has at least temporarily blocked Keystone XL, now that his team has promised to consider climate change as a factor in any final decision on the pipeline’s eventual fate, he can campaign on the issue. And in many ways, it may prove a surprise winner.

After all, only people who would never vote for him anyway deny global warming. It’s a redoubt for talk-show rightists. College kids, on the other hand, consistently rank it among the most important issues. And college kids, as Gerald Seib pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last week, are a key constituency for the president, who is expected to need something close to the two-thirds margin he won on campus in 2008 to win again in 2012.

Sure, those kids care about student loans, which threaten to take them under, and jobs, which are increasingly hard to come by, but the nature of young people is also to care about the world. In addition, independent voters, suburban moms -- these are the kinds of people who worry about the environment. Count on it: they’ll be key targets for Obama’s presidential campaign.

Given the economy, that campaign will have to make Mitt Romney look like something other than a middle-of-the-road businessman. If he’s a centrist, he probably wins. If he’s a flip-flopper with kooky tendencies, they’ve got a shot. And the kookiest thing he’s done yet is to deny climate science.

If I’m right, expect the White House to approve strong greenhouse gas regulations in the months ahead, and then talk explicitly about the threat of a warming world. In some ways it will still be a stretch. To put the matter politely, they’ve been far from perfect on the issue: the president didn’t bother to waste any of his vaunted “political capital” on a climate bill, and he’s opened huge swaths of territory to coal mining and offshore drilling.

But blocking the pipeline finally gave him some credibility here -- and it gave a lot more of the same to citizens' movements to change our world. Since a lot of folks suspect that the only way forward economically has something to do with a clean energy future, I’m guessing that the pipeline decision won’t be the only surprise. I bet Barack Obama talks on occasion about global warming next year, and I bet it helps him.

But don’t count on that, or on Keystone XL disappearing, and go home. If the pipeline story (so far) has one lesson, it’s this: you can’t expect anything to change if you don’t go out and change it yourself.

Bill McKibben is a founder of 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College. His most recent book is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Copyright 2011 Bill McKibben