Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

The Power of Principle

November 04, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

So I got into a little twitter spat a few weeks ago.  One of the people I follow made the following statement:

Some bloggers feel it’s better to be principled than in power.

Naturally, I objected. The conversation turned into one of those us v. them tropes.  Us, in the case of this twitterer, being  progressives.  Whatever that means.

We have to stop the conservatives.  We have to choose between “2 years of investigations about birth certificates, or trying to inch forward with our agenda.”  (I’m not sure what “our” agenda is.  Mine doesn’t include assassinations, American citizens or not, or massive bailouts to hedge funds.)

More importantly, it’s a false choice.  You don’t have to compromise your principles to have power.  You only have to compromise them to have the kind of corrupt, coercive power that has gotten us into this craphole.  Didn’t Martin Luther King have both power and principle?  How about Gandhi?  Emma Goldman?  James Baldwin?

The people whose power lasts are those whose power comes from their principles, not from selling their principles out.  It’s not naive to think that people shouldn’t sell their principles to power.  It’s naive to think that someone in power who has sold their principles can do us any good.

And now the progressives/democrats/liberals/whatever are out bemoaning their loss of congressional seats.  And they wonder why.  Hello out there!  People know when you are willing to sell out your principles and they generally don’t like it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the actually tweet that started this all was referring to the five bloggers that Peter Daou thinks are “bringing down the Obama presidency.”  I thought I must have somehow made a mistake, that I was misunderstanding.  I mean surely it was not being suggested that the media should become a cheerleader for the democrats.  Guess it was my turn to be naive.  The twitter convo is below.   A third party jumped in.  He actually quoted Macchiavelli – – fucking Macchiavelli.  I kid you not.

And these people wonder why they keep losing.


Me: I don’t understand.  You think Greenwald et al shouldn’t write about those things?

Shoq: I think they can be constructive critics without threatening to tear down any progress we’ve made against a rabid right.  In fact, it’s helping to drive us farther off a cliff.

Me: They aren’t working for the democratic party.  That’s not their job.

Shoq: I don’t work for them either.

Then this guy jumps in:

JeffersonObama: Greenwald, Olbermann should help the Dems by posting voting info and supporting all Americans opposed to Teabag sycophants

Me:  Journalists/Bloggers jobs are to tell it like they see it, to give people info to make informed choices…Despite what Fox may have people believe, it is not their job to be partisan hacks

JeffersonObama: Fox News is the reason their voters are organized to vote on election day..they have maps, sites & work with 501s, 527s & GOP

Me: So just our side and their side, leave your principles or honesty at the door.  Win, win, thought to what you win?

JeffersonObama: Our bloggers tell our voters to hate Obama, our values and then fold up and run. Bloggers are Cowards. Some of us are fighting

Me: I’ve never heard Greenwald say people should hate Obama.  Being in lockstep with dems when they are wrong is not brave.

JeffersonObama: Simply, as Machiavelli writes, “The answer … it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” Stand up & fight

Me: LOL.  The only thing people seem afraid of is being principled even when it means giving up their “we’re the good guys” bs

JeffersonObama: Bloggers like you hate our party more than GOP. That’s fine, but at least don’t discourage our fighters to take on GOP-Teabags

Me: You miss the point.  I don’t hate.  And I definitely don’t make life out to be a football game btwn 2 teams of 9 yr olds

JeffersonObama: I’m not talking Football. I’m noyt talking low brow slogans..I’m talking about winning in politics..not meant for some obviously



P.S.  In case you missed it, Glenn Greenwald took Daou and the rest down.

Who Will Notice?

August 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Stratification

I met a Palestinian woman who came to the United States for her graduate degree.  She picked the U.S. because she wanted to see imperialism from the inside.  She wanted to understand the richest, most powerful country on earth.  Imagine her surprise when she learned that the kind of economic development programs she worked on in Palestine were needed as much in Appalachia as back home.

I was thinking about that conversation as I read Glenn Greenwald’s piece on What Collapsing Empire Looks Like.

The truth is that a whole lot of people aren’t going to notice the cuts in basic services that Greenwald wrote about.  Cutting public school hours doesn’t make much difference to people who send their kid to private school.  And it doesn’t make much difference to the 18% of U.S. Latinos who won’t graduate high school (26% in California.).

Cutting off street lights won’t be noticed by the people who live in gate-enclosed McMansion communities.  And it won’t be noticed by the 14%  on Indian reservations who don’t have electricity in their homes.  Total lack of public transportation won’t be noticed by people with three luxury cars in the driveway.  And it will barely be noticed by people who live in places like Liberty City or Little Haiti, where residents have been relying on private jitneys for years.

People keep talking about the United State’s decline, but I wonder how much of it is more of an unveiling.

Sorry Iran, We Need a Bogeyman and You’re It

October 01, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

In 1989 the Berlin wall fell and the cold war officially ended.  While most of the world was thrilled, arms dealers were less than excited.  The end of the cold war arms race meant a serious decline in sales.  But what to do?

The arms dealers needn’t have worried.  The U.S. government always looks out for them.  As this Foreign Policy in Focus article sums up nicely, the U.S. government from, Nixon to Clinton to Bush, aggressively pushes for arms sales around the world.  Any cold war drop was quickly made up.

In yesterday’s post, I described the enormous arms sales by developed nations (especially the U.S.) to developing nations.  The obvious question is, why?  Why would a developing nation spend so much money on arms?  Why would the people in those nations allow it?

In fact, why would any people allow so much of their money to be taken in taxes and paid directly to defense contractors who make obscene amounts of money?


Arms dealers need to keep us all in a constant state of, if not war, at least fear.  Both fear and war in the Middle East have been keeping arms dealers very busy.  Take another look at that Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2001-2008 (CATDN) report.

Top purchasers of U.S., Russian, French and British arms include the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco – whose arms transfer agreements in 2008 were worth $9.7 billion, $8.7 billion, and $5.4 billion respectively.

Is it any surprise that the United States, France, and the UK would stand united in their tough talk toward Iran?  Each of them stands to gain by keeping that area of the world militarized.  Note the following quote from the CATDN report.

The principal catalyst for major new weapons procurements in the Near East region in the last decade was the Persian Gulf crisis of August 1990-February 1991. This crisis, culminating in a U.S.-led war to expel Iraq from Kuwait, created new demands by key purchasers such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for a variety of advanced weapons systems. Subsequently, concerns over the growing strategic threat from Iran has become the principal driver of GCC states’ arms purchases. Because GCC states do not share a land border with Iran, their weapons purchases have focused primarily on air, naval, and missile defense systems. Egypt and Israel, meanwhile, have continued their military modernization programs, increasing their arms purchases from the United States.

(Interesting how this is just one year after the Berlin wall fell, no?)

As Scott Ritter explains in this Guardian piece, Iran is not in violation of any laws related to nuclear facilities.  And Iran is not any closer to nuclear weapons capabilities.  Iran has not been the aggressor in the area.  “When is the last time that Iran has invaded any other country?” Glenn Greenwald asks in this must see appearance, “You would have to go back several centuries.”

Now some of you are going to want to talk about how crazy Iran’s leaders are, how they violate human rights, victimize homosexuals and oppress women.   But if we care so much about human rights violations, why are we selling weapons to the United Arab Emeriates, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco?

Iran is easy pickings.  While we are hiding under our beds, the arms dealers, military contractors, oil companies, and other industries that profit from our fear are contemplating how to spend their bonuses.

Rethinking the 912 Protest

September 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

It is time for me to enter the 912 commentary fray.  It seems like most of the posts I’ve seen have either ridiculed all the protesters as ignorant racists or completely ignored the obvious racism and ignorance.

Below is a series of photos taken by Chris (that’s the boyfriend), who describes his undercover adventure into the 912 protests:

I would ask each protester in my Oklahoma accent if I could get a picture of their great sign. They would ask me suspiciously, one eyebrow up, who I was with. I told them I was an independent blogger. Not MSNBC, okay. They would ask me where I was from and I would tell them Oklahoma. Geographically okay. I just hoped they didn’t have any lefty sniffing dogs.

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Is it wise, or even fair, to just dismiss the 912 protesters as a hoard of pitchfork carrying, white-hood-wearing, racists?  Some of the signs were appallingly racist.  But most of the signs Chris shot were not indicative of the kind of personal hatred and bigotry that we most associate racism with.

Even the boyfriend, who grew up around people very much like those at the protest, “expected to see screaming lunatics like at the town hall or secessionist meetings I see on the television.”  But as Chris spent more time wandering around and talking to people, he got the impression that:

The vast majority of the people at this event were more government-out-of-my-life Libertarian types as opposed to right wing spittle spewing racists. That doesn’t mean there were not racist messages or people out there, because there were. It seemed, however, that there were more class issues and anti-government issues.

Now it is impossible to separate class and anti-government issues from racism in this country. It is impossible to separate anything from racism in this country, including healthcare. We are saturated in racism. But that is exactly why it is so ludicrous to dismiss people as racist and therefore unnecessary to be listened to.  If only non-racists are allowed to participate in our democracy, then we better anoint a king now.  The only problem is, where do we find the one non-racist to be king?

Dismissing all the protesters isn’t just undemocratic, it also avoids confronting issues that we need to confront.  As Stephen Maynard and Charlton McIlwain point out in their must read post, using racist as a noun only obscures the fact that we are fighting structural racism and not just personal bigotry.

And remember, as you look at some of the more appalling photos and images from that protest, what the media does to us.  There could be a million everyday-looking people at an anti-war march, but the media will film the three naked hippies or the two kids throwing rocks through windows.  We don’t get reporting anymore.  We get Jerry Springer with a veneer of newsiness.

That’s if the media bothers to show up at all.  Note that most of the footage and photos floating around the internet don’t seem to be from major news stations.  Chris said, ” I saw one other person wading through the crowd as I was covering the event. I didn’t see any news trucks.”

The media doesn’t need to stick around because they have no plans to talk about anything substantive.  Darren at Dissenting Justice observes that:

The issue of race has become the latest nonpolicy distraction for the media. Earlier, the media covered violence and mayhem at healthcare town hall discussions — rather than the substance of reform. It then covered the conflicts between moderate and liberal Democrats (rather than the substance of reform). Now, it is exploring whether the opposition to Obama is racist (rather than the substance of reform).

Nobody knows what the hell is in those healthcare bills.  Matt Taibbi says you would have to read 9,000 or 10,000 pages of documents in order to figure out what they are trying to do.  And then the myriad of bills will just go into committee, where who knows what will happen.

It isn’t surprising that people are confused and enraged and feeling as though our government is constantly confusing, deceiving and taking advantage of us.  And since we don’t communicate with each other, it’s easy for the Glenn Beck’s of this world to rake in the cash insinuating that the money of “hard working Americans” is going to be given to less hard-working, less American (less white ) people.

The anger and confusion is legitimate.  It is the target that is too often confused.  Glenn Greenwald (the Glenn that people should be listening to) says:

It is true that the federal government embraces redistributive policies and that middle-class income is seized in order that “someone else benefits.” But so obviously, that “someone else” who is benefiting is not the poor and lower classes — who continue to get poorer as the numbers living below the poverty line expand and the rich-poor gap grows in the U.S. to unprecedented proportions. The “someone else” that is benefiting from Washington policies are — as usual — the super-rich, the tiny number of huge corporations which literally own and control the Government.

In the first link of this post, there is a video of some anti-czar protestors. The interviewer points out that Ronald Reagan appointed the first czar and that Bush increased them. The protestors had no idea. It’s easy to ridicule them for being ignorant, but by doing so you might miss something important. One of the women says she has been a republican all her life, but is rethinking that now. That’s what we really need, a whole lot of Americans rethinking their knee jerk support of the republican and democratic parties. That’s what we could get if we actually spoke to one another.

I’m not saying it will be a piece of cake or that everyone is equally open to new information. Too many people, right and left, are closed minded as hell. Chris didn’t talk to everyone, but he talked to enough people to give him an impression that he wouldn’t have gotten from sitting in front of the televison

Once people realized my t-shirt was Bob Marley and not Go Army (same green color), they stopped giving such candid proud photos. They would still talk to me though, guarded perhaps. But they would still have an ideological political discussion with me. I believe, to save our democracy, we need to find a way to have those conversations in the midst of all the crazies.

***P.S. Still on the Hunger Challenge this week.  Yesterday went a bit better.  I managed to stay in my $4 budget and get to the gym.  I was still sadly lacking in veggies though.

Obama, Friend or Foe?

June 22, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

President Obama has been getting his share of criticism lately. And it isn’t just coming from Fox News or the crazies who are still searching for his Kenyan birth certificate. Much of the criticism has been coming from his supporters.

The gay community and its allies are furious about the recent brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Particularly infuriating was the inference that gay marriage equates with incest.

Those of us who think that torture should be fully investigated are upset about Obama’s unwillingness to pursue the matter. The u-turn he took regarding the release of torture photographs was frustrating to say the least.

Some of the reaction has been nasty. I’ve seen “f-you Obama” posts. I’ve read a litany of articles on how the gay community needs to dump Obama and the democrats. One writer even went so far as to wax nostalgic for the Bush administration – at least we knew they were going to screw us.

Then there are Obama’s unwavering defenders. When Bill Maher criticized Obama for not pushing hard enough for health care and cutting carbon emissions, he received a barrage of calls from Obama supporters.

In response, Bill Maher said “He’s your president, not your boyfriend.”

Which reminded me of the part in Sexaholix, where John Leguizamo talks about falling in love with his girlfriend. He fell in love with her because she “calls me on my bullshit, but is sweet about it.”

Real support means calling people on their bullshit, not blindly supporting every stupid thing they do.

More importantly, we don’t need to chose friend or foe. It doesn’t make you a foe if you criticize the president. It doesn’t make you a friend if you don’t. In fact, Obama needs us to be vocal and pushy. The people who don’t want to see his promises fulfilled certainly will be.

We have a tendency to be unhappy with one action and extrapolate that to mean that the person is bad or failing or selling out. Life is not that simple. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out:

In general, how much one criticizes Obama is largely a function of the areas on which one tends to focus. If I had spent the week writing about Iran, I would be largely defending — and praising — Obama’s very wise restraint, even in the face of bipartisan political pressure, when it comes to interfering in Iran’s internal political disputes. His private and public refusal to cheer on all of Israel’s policies is also commendable. Conversely, those who focus on gay issues have been understandably furious with the administration, and in the areas of civil liberties, secrecy, and his Justice Department generally, the administration has been nothing short of abysmal.

Finally, I’d like to respond to those people who are unhappy with some of Obama’s actions, but feel we haven’t given him a chance and so should keep quiet. Or maybe they think he needs to spend his political capital on health care and so can’t waste it on prosecuting torturers or following through on promises to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Or maybe they are just afraid he won’t get reelected if he pisses off too many homophobes and torture supporters.

I might accept that criticism was coming too soon if it was simply a matter of not proactively following through on certain promises he made. But this is much more than that. He is actually defending the very policies he claims to be against, from the Defense of Marriage Act to indefinite detention of “suspected” terrorists.

It is not just our right, but our responsibility to point out the hypocrisy and failures of the Obama administration. That doesn’t mean we are being too hard on him. It means we believe he can (and should) be who he said he was.

Portugal Proves that Decriminalization Does Not Increase Drug Problems

April 03, 2009 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug use. Much like in the U.S., the naysayers claimed that decriminalization would lead to increased drug use and drug tourism. Glenn Greenwald went to Portugal to find out if the dire predictions were true. They weren’t.

Portugal in the 1990s was experiencing an increase in drug abuse and related problems. A commission was convened to decide what to do about it. Drug legalization was taken off the table because international treaties force countries to keep drugs illegal. Barring legalization, the commission was tasked with looking at the evidence and making a rational decision. The commission decided that the best way to get the drug problem under control was decriminalization.

They had identified two obstacles that decriminalization would help them to overcome. The first was that criminalization made people hesitant to go to the state for help with their drug problem. Fear of jail, a criminal record, or simple stigma kept people away. By removing those obstacles, they reasoned, people would be more willing to get help.

Additionally, they were pouring money into the criminal justice system to prosecute drug users. Portugal, as one of the poorest European countries, didn’t have money to waste. Decriminalization freed up resources to be used for treatment and education instead of for the criminal justice system.

As Greenwald pointed out in his conference at the Cato Institute on Friday, supporters of prohibition use scare tactics to justify their position. They will grudgingly acknowledge that our efforts have not resulted in less drug abuse or related problems, but they always claim that legalization or decriminalization would make matters worse. For Greenwald, the central question is “is this assumption accurate.”

All the evidence from Portugal shows that it is not. According to his report Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, drug use in the 13 – 15 year old and 16 – 18 year old groups has decreased for most drugs. Newly reported HIV and AIDS cases related to drug use have declined. Drug related deaths have declined. In fact, “in virtually every category of any significance, Portugal, since decriminalization, has outperformed the vast majority of other states that continue to adhere to a criminalization regime.”

Greenwald sent a draft of his report to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy asking why, given higher drug use here than in Portugal, we continue to pursue criminalization. They didn’t respond.