Monthly Archive for October, 2011

Ending Baathism in Syria requires a major war

Ending Baathism in Syria requires a major war.

Syria has a population of 22million that is massively divided along religious and ethnic lines (10% Kurds). It has a Baathist tyranny better supported among that population than was Gadaffi who had considerable support and so a big war is in the very early stages of developing. The tyranny is very well armed and trained, and has ‘undegraded’ command and control, with massive numbers of police thugs, spies, and so forth. So, this will take some time and will involve Turkey for sure. Turkey is being quite open about being the regional power that will act if it must, and the Kurdish issue and PKK is clearly central to this.

Syria also has had a national conscription system that now leaves a great legacy of trained men who are now willing and partly able to take on the lawful tyranny in a civil war. Both sides have just observed what happened over 9mths in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt etc., in this year of continuous spring. So soldiers who are thinking about mutiny will be encouraged as the situation develops and the core forces of repression will be somewhat shaken by the visions they have just been witness to.

Fortunately for the masses of people in revolt, the Islamic cultural reality of Friday prayers and mass gatherings throughout the country to mobilize around, and the egged on or ‘shame’ factor of not being left behind when others have been brave and fought and grabbed their freedom ought not be underestimated. Confidence really ought to be up on the side of the revolution and down a bit at least among the tyranny despite its large support and vast quantities of military assets. Large scale mutiny is the most hopeful start to the next stage of ridding Syria of Baathists, but from at least the Turkish side, I can’t see how this fight can be left alone to develop as a ‘pure’ civil war for very much longer.

As I see this the Syrian army becomes muscle bound very quickly in most of the larger cities that have had the big demonstrations against Assad, and is quickly exhausted in the smaller towns especially near all the borders, and no doubt along the Euphrates river and Nth. East of that line. They are effectively an army of occupation and can obviously be spread too thin trying to hold everything so they currently are running around trying to appear to be everywhere. But spying and the in and out arresting duties of the secret police and so forth is the only way this regime can even continue to exist in huge parts of the country.

The young fighting men can and will be pissed off and fight back, as well as leave and cross the border into Turkey as we have seen in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. They will be greeted by the soldiers that have deserted and already there as a determined rebellious armed force planning for either a long war, or rapid growth if the situation changes. This force will in the face of almost weekly reports of mass slaughter start to mount reply attacks deliberately to gain greater recognition and further stimulate recruitment. They are not refugees but a fighting force already trained and intent on overthrowing the people that they have fled from and who are still systematically killing their friends and family members, so they will find ways to fight right now and that keeps some of this fighting near the Turkish border.

The Turks are already permitting the establishment of an insurgent force and the Syrian tyranny can’t hit across the border as the Turks would respond immediately and massively. Turkey will remain the most important country able to impose the military action (similar to the NATO effort in Libya) and no other country has the stomach for this IMV. Turkey’s leadership has a vital interest identified and seems determined to advance its democratic reform program within Turkey that requires dealing with Kurdish liberation issues, and simultaneously with the current PKK that has been and still are hosted in all the neighbours.

Turkey has no territorial ambitions but regularly has crossed its borders and beat up on the PKK and is still doing so right now so it looks like the perfect storm for a war to develop.

The Syrian tyranny is continuing to systematically murder the Syrian people and can’t stop this brutality. They can’t undo the way they rule with terror police as the core to their control across a vast part of the country. They can only now exist by holding guns over the people of very many towns and villages and cities of Syria. The Syrian army is now an army of occupation that fears intervention from the far larger Turkey. The army has too much to do and is rotting so it has no prospect of stopping the small fights and the constant flight that the activities of the secret police etc., ensure will continue. Eventually it will be unable to patrol near the border for fear of hit and run, then hit and advance attacks that will be mounted near population centres. They will not be able to use air power against the freedom fighters.

No doubt if war breaks out the western international community would turn a blind eye and hope for the end of the Assad regime as one aspect of the outcomes that in some cases would happen in days of a mass Turkish incursion. The Turkish armed forces would not have to liberate large Syrian population centers, all they have to do is prevent the Syrian forces from surrounding and suppressing the people they are currently intimidating near the Turkish border and then allowing the rebel force that they currently protect in Turkish territory to return and be protected in very much larger form in Syrian territory. They would then hand over all the arms required by the new Syrian regime that they recognize and try to continue to take steps back over time as the Syrian civil war is fought. Seems straight forward but wars don’t work to plan, let alone time-tables, and other sides usually have a bit to say. What we have here in abundance is other sides.

But though I feel sure that a large war is coming and how it gets going won’t matter much this is too complex for me to get a handle on. What follows from the current suppression of the Syrian masses by the Baathists is that a war of liberation must breakout if democracy is part of the demands that are thrown on the table. These demands are on the table and Turkey must comply with the international body that approves of the end of the war. The UN determines when the end is and the new government is given the UN seat. Given that 3,000 are already dead and lots more are disappeared the war is going in one sense already.

Once Turkey gets involved then the NFZ and or destruction of the Syrian air forces in a big war comes up and NATO naval forces would also get drawn in with blockade work and U.S. spy assets etc.. The Syrian army would be rapidly isolated in large areas of Syria and then systematically destroyed if it lacks air power. If this war were to eventuate Turkey is bound to follow through and cut up the army that is spread too thin trying to hold down large population centres. That will end the period of secret police activities and see heavy arms rapidly distributed to the population that is more than willing to put them to use. That is I suppose the ideal first stage for putting a stop to the way the Baathists run Syria.

The Baathists can now enter population centers unopposed, but provided the opposition run around and avoid much fighting they can’t stay and comfortably regain control everywhere at once. Neither can they do what the Russians have done in Grozny because that will bring on the required intervention. If they can’t use heavy weapons and can’t avoid continuous small arms skirmishing then they will over time be driven from the bigger cities that are in revolt. The soldiers cant stay in their tanks and can’t avoid snipers and so the insurgents will be able to organise and grow. IMV Turkey wants to intervene and will intervene if the Baathists use air power, or they start to use the heavy weapons.

Without air power the Syrian army eventually won’t be able to enter some of the larger cities without being defeated because the supply of anti-tank weapons etc., will flood in from Turkey with the blessing of the whole world. Then the civil war will unfold and finally ought to draw in the U.S. from the Mediterranean. NATO ought to be redeploying from the Libyan theatre now. There will be much work for the A10′s.

I can’t see a ‘cheaper’ way of ending the Syrian Baathist tyranny as they are far too strong at the moment, just like the Libyan tyranny was before they were seen to be about to defeat the rebels in Benghazi and the intervention was launched. That was when I hoped for Egyptian intervention. It would have sped the liberation that has now come to Libya even without that intervention and with all the costs to the libyan people.

Syrian people call for No Fly Zone – Solidarity with Syria!

The demand for an international No Fly Zone over Syria has been raised by protestors there. Yesterday, another 29 people were killed for taking to the streets to protest against the dictatorial Assad regime and for democracy. The toll in Syria stands at around 3,000 dead, since the people’s movement began its current phase in late January this year. Local coordinating committees exist in many parts of Syria and these grass-roots organisations organise the protests, which are invariably met with violent suppression by the state, including the use of snipers.

I don’t know enough about the circumstances to have an opinion about the No Fly Zone. My impression has been that the regime uses ground troops to suppress resistance. I’m not aware of any Gaddafi-style strafing from the air. But what I do like is the people’s call for international support of a practical military nature, not just ‘moral support’.

The protestors know how the NFZ was effective in helping to bring down Gaddafi’s regime, and they know it involved an invasion of Libyan sovereignty (air space) and an effective naval blockade on the part of the British Navy. I’d be surprised if they are not aware, too, that the NFZ over Libya involved much more than mere protecting the people from the Libyan Air Force, though that was its pretext. The US and NATO used the NFZ (read: more than a hundred Tomahawk missiles) to destroy the Gaddafi regime’s facilities and forces on the ground. And the French went further with direct hardware assistance to the rebels, including air-drops of assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and launchers. A NFZ over Syria would make sense if used in that way: namely, to weaken the military capabilities of the regime on the ground (especially its tanks) and demoralize it. And, of course, military hardware should be supplied to the Free Syria Army, which consists at this stage of regular Army defectors. As in any democratic revolution, the people need to defeat the regime militarily.

The Syrian protestors’ call for a No Fly Zone is essentially a call for international support of a military interventionist nature on the part of foreign governments to weaken the Assad regime militarily and support the people’s democratic aspirations.

In Syria, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc., you do not see the protestors burning the US flag but rather seeking, and supporting, imperialist intervention when it serves their (the peoples) strategic objective.

Since the victory in Iraq, those who prefer to leave oppressed people to their own devices, even if it means massacre and the likelihood of regional conflagration, have been unable to mobilize anything resembling an “anti-war” mass movement. Some of the prominent activists who opposed the Iraq War even supported the No Fly Zone over Libya. (Yes, ‘the times they are a-changin’). And the anti-war mass movement against the Iraq War collapsed in a heap as soon as millions of Iraqis went to the polls to actually vote for a parliament and government of their choice – much to the anger, fear and chagrin of just about every dictator in the region.

Those sections – or sects – of what passes for the Left who advocated defence of Libya against US imperialism couldn’t mobilize anyone other than themselves. At this site, we called for a NFZ over Libya immediately after the first strafing took place there.

Now, with Syrians demanding a NFZ, does anyone have enough knowledge of the situation there to know whether that is the best way to go?

http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/28/world/meast/syria-unrest/

Thoughts on #OccupyBrisbane so far

Occupy Brisbane is like nothing I’ve ever been involved in.

I’ve only been on the fringe of the Brisbane site (which had about 50 tents last night), as I’ve been mainly helping out with Facebook, Twitter and the website. But I’ve attended two General Assemblies, one very divided, and spent maybe ten hours on site, including two half-hour stints on the OB livestream.

The Left (no matter how broadly or weakly you define it) are in a minority at the Brisbane occupation. Brisbane has three small Trotskyite groups; no more than four or five people from all those groups are in any way seriously engaging with the occupation. On the weekend two of the groups set up tents to try to capitalise on public interest but the ones who weren’t here already usually don’t even stay around for the General Assembly.

The newest thing for me is a group called The Zeitgeist Movement, “an explicitly non-violent, global sustainability advocacy group”; it’s common to hear talk about them and their project of a “Resource-Based Economy” from the Brisbane occupation. I think linked with this is a significant strand of opinion on site that:

– opposes the flouridation of water

– opposes compulsory vaccination

– opposes fiat money and central banking [ADDITION: and fractional reserve banking], and

– has a generally conspiratorial, rather than systemic, view of politics

Magical thinking seems common in people who hold to some of these views. On Sunday I was at a General Assembly where the possibility of the police evicting the camp was discussed. One organiser seriously advanced the priniciples in The Secret as a guide to political action, and an attendee at the Assembly said that discussing a possible violent eviction meant it was more likely to manifest.

Some of this may have been an over-reaction; perhaps those opposed to violence feared that those who aren’t opposed in principle wanted to get it on with the police. But even if so such attitudes present wide political gaps between outlooks.

There is bitter opposition from some people to even acknowledgment of indigenous custodianship/ownership of land, discussion of female, queer or class oppression and so on. One tenet of the Zeitgesit movement I mentioned about is that divisions between nation, gender, class are denied, as described on the Australian chapter’s website:

The Zeitgeist Movement is not a political movement. It does not recognize nations, governments, races, religions, creeds or class. Our understandings conclude that these are false, outdated distinctions which are far from positive factors for true collective human growth and potential.

 

The most interesting conflict on site is about the idea of whether Occupy Brisbane is in fact political. This may be a mere confusion over terms in some cases where people assume “politics” is “what politicians do”. But there is also a strand of real hostility to any idea of systematic analysis of oppression.

However I’ve been learning a lot about getting information about an ongoing event onto Facebook, Twitter, our website, Livestream etc. I’m looking now for more people who want to make a team to do this sort of thing.

I’m also learning about what is and isn’t possible. I re-read Fascism and the Left the other day after I recommended it to someone else for its descriptions of pathological behaviour, but this paragraph in particular struck me:

 

“This article is not a plea for everybody to be more tolerant of everybody else. It is a call for sharper defence of our basic principles and less tolerance of attempts to undermine them. One cannot be a Communist if one is not first a democrat. The democratic revolutionaries of England, France and so on in earlier centuries had no hesitation about chopping off the heads of their aristocratic opponents and neither should we.”

 

This principle is bound to come into conflict with people at the Occupations and at would seem to make, at most, a unified short-term unification around reformist goals the most that could be widely agreed on by an Occupation. Perhaps a wealth tax” or a “People’s Bank” are the sort of things that could happen here.

It seems clear to me at the moment that to form a party contending for government is the last thing likely to arise out of the Occupy movement as a whole. I could see several possible parties arising from the various tendencies, but not one that could possibly encompass people who believe that politics drives human relations, and people who are avowedly non-political.

living with offence

Kindly Inquisitors: The new attacks on free thought (1993) by Jonathan Rauch

Frances Widdowson published a review (The Kindly Inquisitors), some time ago, of this book on her blog. I haven’t read the book but I like her review. These brief notes are based on her review.

In our civilised democratic society (not Iran, China, North Korea etc. where different forms of Fundamentalism are the main problem), the modern day equivalent of the Inquisition are the philosophies of Egalitarianism and Humanitarianism

ie. the principle of the Inquisition was that people with wrong or hurtful opinions ought to be punished for the good of society

Egalitarianism – the beliefs of all sincere people deserve equal respect
Humanitarianism – one must never offend

Taken separately and in particular when combined these outlooks undermine the pursuit of scientific truth by introducing a variety of mental and ideological barriers to free and open discussion. This is explained more in the review.

It is essential to learn the hard discipline of living with offence that will inevitably follow from this approach rather than fudging the quest for truth out of fear of offending others or being offended ourselves. Words might offend but as long it remains just words then we need to accept it and either argue back or move on, not try to censor it and to reject philosophies which attempt to censure open, vigorous discussion

Gaddafi actually getting it right…..

 

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGwHOWUPKuo

 

At the 2008 Arab League summit, following the execution of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi saw the writing on the wall. He told them: “In the future it’s going to be your turn too” and “America may approve our hanging one day”.

The tyrants of the region certainly understood that the political space that was opened up in the region by the Iraqi people and their allies was not in their (the tyrants’) interests.

The Gaddafi clip becomes interesting at 1:30. Note Assad’s smirk. He won’t be grinning for much longer.

the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan captured the mood in 1963 with “The Times They Are A-Changin’“. Well, once again in 2011, The Times They are A-Changin’.

An economic crisis which began in earnest in 2007-08, an economic crisis that never went away despite governments throwing trillions of dollars at it. Now, with Occupy Wall Street spreading around the world more and more people are realising that the capitalist system doesn’t have all the answers.

In 2011, revolution breaks out in the Middle East and spreads like wildfire to overthrow one tyrannical regime after another. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya the tyrants have fallen. That is a great beginning but it is only the beginning …

The property question. Before the crisis no one was talking about it. Now, everyone is talking about it. Put these two things together. (1) Increasing wealth inequality (2) Economic crisis, high and rising unemployment. This makes for a toxic mix for the ruling class. They are not coping.

“… the top 1% of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth in this country. The top 5%, meanwhile, own nearly 70%.”

See this and other charts which reveal the extent of unemployment, corporate profits, income inequality, unequal debt and tax distribution and Bank behaviour (CHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About…)

Where did the “We are the 99%” slogan come from?

David Graeber is the guy who thought of it:

Someone—this time I remember quite clearly it was me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a half dozen others had equally strong memories of being the first to come up with it—suggested, “well, why not call ourselves ‘the 99%’? If 1% of the population have ended up with all the benefits of the last 10 years of economic growth, control the wealth, own the politicians… why not just say we’re everybody else?” The Spanish couple quickly began to lay out a “We Are the 99%” pamphlet, and we started brainstorming ways to print and distribute it for free.
On Playing By The Rules – The Strange Success Of #OccupyWallStreet

The slogan was in the ether just waiting to be born. World events, the economic crisis, the bailout of the Banks, the escalation of wealth of the top 1%, the workings of capitalism guaranteed that a slogan like this would come forward and flourish.

Pics from We are the 99 percent

Yes, indeed, the times they are a-changin’

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
For the loser now will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
The Times They Are A-Changin’

Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?

steve jobs: capitalist entrepreneur

Steve Jobs’s range of achievements is impressive: the Apple computer, the NeXT computer, Pixar and then his return to Apple to lead development of the iPod, iPhone and iPad. eg. Tim Berners Lee spoke very highly of NeXT and used it to develop much of his world wide web technology.

Many people love his products (hi pat!) because they enabled them to make use out of computer technology that they could not achieve through the relatively clunky alternatives provided by Bill Gates and others.

I’ve been thinking about Jobs from the POV of how his talents would have played out, if at all, in another type of society, call it socialist or post-capitalist. It has been an interesting thought experiment for me. Jobs definitely did have a dark side as well as being quite talented in certain respects (and not talented in other respects). I’m interested in the question of creativity in the development of computing and in this case what type of creativity Jobs had and how that played out in our current social system.

Of course it’s trite to say that Jobs had a dark side. Everyone has a dark side. The political point is that the focused ruthlessness he directed against some others and institutions was magnified and rewarded by the capitalist system. From my reading (see references below for more detail) Jobs as a capitalist personified was worse than some of the others. Marx’s fundamental point about commodities is very relevant here. In pursuing commercial success in perfection in things Jobs treated many people badly.

It’s clear that much of what Jobs achieved was achieved by his partners. Wozniak did most of the work in developing the Apple computer. In Wozniak’s words (recent interview) it was he who worked in the famous Silicon valley garage while Jobs worked out of his bedroom, making phone calls, doing the marketing.

The same is true for the development of the WIMP interface (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointers). The fundamental work here was done by teams led by Doug Engelbart and Alan Kay and made available for free for others to use. Jobs could see the potential and developed it commercially.

The truth of the matter is that the fundamental developments in both computing hardware and software were given away by the real pioneers of the computing revolution. Their motivation was that of scratching a personal itch, of immersing themselves in the exciting possibilities of a new technology and what could be achieved with it. The names of those pioneers are less well known than the names of those who converted their spirit of freedom into commercial success.

Jobs said about the Mac development:

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard on something, but working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life. Almost everyone who worked on it will say that. None of us wanted to release it at the end. It was as though we knew that once it was out of our hands, it wouldn’t be ours anymore. When we finally presented it at the shareholders’ meeting, everyone in the auditorium gave it a five-minute ovation. What was incredible to me was that I could see the Mac team in the first few rows. It was as though none of us could believe we’d actually finished it. Everyone started crying.” [Playboy, Feb. 1, 1985, source, my emphasis]

The words I have bolded sums up the dilemma of creative people who decide to become highly successful under capitalism. Once the interesting, creative process is completed then you have to do the hard work of promoting and selling your product in a highly competitive market. Clearly Jobs was very good at the latter.

Anyway, here are some interesting quotes and references I have discovered in my search for the real Steve Jobs:
Richard Stallman:

“Steve Jobs, the pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died”
source

Eric Raymond: On Steve Jobs’s passing

Commerce is powerful, but culture is even more persistent. The lure of high profits from secrecy rent can slow down the long-term trend towards open source and user-controlled computing, but not really stop it. Jobs’s success at hypnotizing millions of people into a perverse love for the walled garden is more dangerous to freedom in the long term than Bill Gates’s efficient but brutal and unattractive corporatism. People feared and respected Microsoft, but they love and worship Apple – and that is precisely the problem, precisely the reason Jobs may in the end have done more harm than good.

The Eric Raymond article links to a very interesting NYT article titled Against Nostalgia by Mike Daisey but unfortunately it is now hidden behind their firewall.

There were some correct criticisms of Eric Raymond’s dismissive attitude to China’s sweatshops at reddit.

What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs

IMF

Advisor Says We Face a Worldwide Banking Meltdown

Dr. Robert Shapiro who advised Presidents Clinton and Obama and who currently advises the IMF predicts a cascading meltdown of the World’s banking system starting with Sovereign debt in the Eurozone, affecting the UK then finally bringing down the global banking system.

Watch the video to the end since Shapiro has the final word against the others who are saying it can all be prevented. He points out that there is no credible plan to avert the sovereign debt crisis in Italy and Spain.

discuss: wealth tax

On the Keynes thread, Arthur initiated a wealth tax discussion and provided some wikipedia links:

On the need for a positive program I would suggest a separate topic on “wealth tax”. Wikipedia has some good starting points which link to useful statistics:

Wealth_tax

Wealth_condensation

Distribution_of_wealth

Wealth_inequality_in_the_United_States

Economic_inequality

Capital_flight

Unlike the usual Keynesian stuff, reformist proposals for wealth taxes have the benefit of actually providing a plausible solution to budgetary crises and sharply raising the property question since revolutionaries can propose steep progression from the insignificant rates currently contemplated to actual expropriation.

Major arguments against are:

1. High cost of administration (but this cost is necessary to facilitate future expropriation by having detailed records of ownership etc).

2. Capital flight, which leads directly to other “antiquated” demands from the Communist Manifesto like confiscation of the property of emigrants and rebels.

different takes on the Wall Street protest

Seven hundred arrested in Wall Street protest. I went to the Occupy Wall Street site with hope but quickly became disillusioned. Leadership is hard but for a movement to promote itself as “leaderless” is sad and to hear people in the video clips argue the case for no leadership is torture.

On the other hand, the We are the 99 percent blog format is great. Each blog post is from a person describing their situation, how they are being screwed by the system. Read some of these stories. The format is simple, effective, hard hitting. The capitalist system is broken for a growing number.

This page from the Occupy Wall Street site outlines various “demands”, from Day 5, brainstormed like confetti without any analysis or overall direction. At the end we were told: “Our use of the one demand is a rhetorical device. This is NOT an official list of demands“. In the paragraph immediately preceding this obsfuscation we were further enlightened: “We speak as one”. I read this a few days ago. On revisiting the page now I notice that some of the contradiction has been removed.

This Spiked article, Is this Monty Python’s Occupy Wall Street?, lampoons the whole thing as ridiculous (subtitle: “The surreal protests in New York’s financial district will certainly leave the system shaking. With laughter”). And certainly some aspects of the protest are ridiculous. For example, the reluctance to use megaphones or microphones apparently because they represent hierarchy. People speak and those that hear them repeat their words so that those further away can hear. There is always a new creative twist to dysfunctional ultra democracy.

Following the 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge there was more publicity and some trade unions, such as the Transport Workers Union, joined in the protest. Can “Occupy Wall Street” become a movement? Hippies at one extreme, disciplined trade unions at the other. But of course similar alliances were formed in the anti-Vietnam war protests. The protest is spreading.

The lack of correlation between The Tea Party / Republicans and Occupy Wall Street / Democrats is an interesting one. Given the underlying reality that The Democrats are in bed with Wall Street then they can’t really incorporate this protest into their agenda so it is an embarrassment to them. In one sense the protest represents an end to the dream that formerly iconic progressive Obama can fix America. (Why Occupy Wall Street and Democrats aren’t natural allies)

It is becoming obvious that the system is broken, that the crisis is only beginning. Hence, despite the non leadership this remains a protest that has attracted widespread support, including sympathy from the media. One Guardian reporter concluded:

This city is chocka-block with Job’s comforters who purport to share the protesters’ disgust with high finance and unjust wealth distribution – and then bash them for their lack of focus. But the protesters understand something they do not: there is no Mubarak to be toppled, a single source of injustice that can be stamped out if only we all band together. There is only a diffuse political and economic system in which they – and, if you believe the slogan, 99% of us – are net losers; and before it can be redressed, it must first be exposed
Occupy Wall Street: more than the sum of its demands

This is a beginning. The transition from no leadership as a virtue to the real need to figure out how the system is broken and whether it is even possible to fix it is underway.

MORE FREE SPEECH, NOT LESS – THE RIGHT TO OFFEND OTHERS

Conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has been found guilty of causing offence to a ‘racial group’ under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. His crime was to question the basis on which some individuals claim to be Aboriginal.

His columns caused offence to nine plaintiffs and therefore he was found guilty of this crime. What is interesting to me is the reaction to the verdict.

Defence of freedom of speech is a traditional position of the left, internationally. Speech reflects thought and restrictions on speech are invariably restrictions on thought, an attempt to stop thoughts deemed bad from being expressed. On this occasion it was a judge’s ruling that the words caused offence that led to the guilty finding.

Those who argue that people should be free to offend others are accused of ‘free speech fundamentalism’. How strange to hear people who claim to be on the left more or less justifying the state’s intimidation of Bolt because they share the state’s displeasure with what he wrote. To avoid the question of free speech, they merely assert that that is not the issue. Everything from Bolt being a “dolt” through to ‘bad journalism’ are seen as the real issue.

The beauty of free speech is that it encourages debate and conflict of ideas. In other words, it is necessary to the goal of greater understanding. Along the way, it offends some. The best response to bad speech is more free speech.

Many argue that free speech is not absolute, yet when it comes to expression of opinions I think it must be absolute lest it be lost. I’m told that defamation laws are a legitimate limitation on free speech but, to me, these laws seem to exist to protect the rich and powerful from criticism. I’m also told that you can’t have a freedom to yell out “fire!” in a crowded theatre. It’s strange that this example is used, given that there is no law against it. Yes, free speech – and freedom in general – comes with risks and costs. But the alternatives come with greater risks and costs.

Those currently gloating about Bolt’s conviction may one day find themselves in front of a judge for expressing views that are offensive to others.

Where people stand on an issue as basic as this serves to further separate left-wing democrats from the pseudo-left. The latter sympathise with, if not support, all manner of social-fascist regimes, so it shouldn’t surprise that they only support free speech for ideas that are acceptable to them.

I think back to the great spirit of 1968 when slogans like “It is forbidden to forbid” inspired many young folk around the world to rebel. And now I look at all the people, including some who embraced such spirit back then, insisting that the only proper freedom is freedom based on responsibility, that it’s okay to deny freedom when it is being used irresponsibly. This begs the obvious question: who decides what is responsible? How bizzare to find people claiming to be left-wing and yet being perfectly happy with the state making the decision.

More free speech means more debate and greater capacity to expose bad ideas for what they are. Bourgeois judges are best kept out of this process.

It is right to rebel! Not: It is right to rebel (but only if not done in an offensive manner).

I’m sorry I have not linked to examples of the points of view I’ve paraphrased. I don’t have time, but I have fairly paraphrased them after following the comments sent in to various blogs, including ‘The Drum’ and ‘Eureka Street’. I don’t think I can be challenged on my portrayal of those positions.