Never Forgive, Never Forget the War Crimes of George W. Bush

Yesterday, George W. Bush was paid $175,000 to speak about leadership to various Riverside County public officials at Casino Morongo in Cabazon. Occupy Riverside, Occupy Coachella Valley, Answer LA, Veterans for Peace, and various other community organizations and members came to mark Bush’s visit to Riverside County under the theme “Never Forgive, Never Forget.” Local media coverage of the event is available here and here.

I was asked to speak by my compatriots in Occupy Riverside and here’s an expanded version of the speech I gave:

I can’t say that I’m happy to be here today but I know that this is exactly where I need to be. Today is a sad day. Today a murderous criminal, an unelected dictator, walks around free while one of our democracy’s great heroes sits at trial accused of being an enemy of the state. I just heard today that the Army is filing an additional 22 charges against Bradley Manning. I ask you: What kind of state is it in which telling the truth makes you an enemy of the state but those who tell the most base lies to the American people and commit the gravest of crimes walk around free?

That is why I say today is a sad day and this is also why I know that this is exactly where I need to be. I know that someone needs to remind our fellow citizens that a murderous dictator is walking around free here today. Though I wish it were under better circumstances, it warms my heart to see so many of you here as well. I know that it must have taken a strong commitment to justice to bring you out here to the desert today. Look around. We are not alone.

My hope is that the next time all of us meet George W. Bush will be wearing handcuffs. Until the day comes when Bush is arrested and made to account for his crimes, every day will be a sad day. Seeing all of you here makes me hopeful that that day of justice will come sooner rather than later. I know that if we are to have a democracy that it has to happen. It may take 30 years but it will happen.

It took the people of Guatemala 30 years to bring the murderous dictator Rios Montt to trial. Yes, sadly it is true that although he remains in house arrest, Rios Montt’s conviction was overturned on a technicality. This is an injustice no doubt, but we must not lose sight of the fact that for the people of Guatemala the greater justice was the process of the trial itself. The crimes of a government regime of mass murder, sponsored at every step by the Washington power elite, were brought to the light of day. Victims were able to claim their stories and to make the atrocities that they witnessed a matter of public record. Telling the truth in public exposes crimes for what they are and in so doing prevents similar crimes from being repeated in the future.

That’s why we need a trial for George W. Bush. Not for the sake of punishing an individual, as deserving as he may be. We need a trial for the deeper purpose of exposing the culture of corporate and government criminality that pervades our society today. This culture of criminality is what allows Wall St. bankers to rob us with full confidence that they will never be made to account for their systematic thievery. This culture of criminality is what allows the Obama Administration to shred the Constitution as it sees fit, with its extrajudicial assassination program and the total surveillance of every form of private communication for every American that it has enacted. This culture of criminality is what allowed the head of the National Security Agency, to tell an outright lie to the US Senate when he was asked a direct question as to whether any type of data was being collected on millions of Americans. When our public officials feel unremorseful and unabashed about lying to the Senate, what else do they think they have license to do?

As long as Bush walks free, the power elite know that they are unaccountable, that there is no limit to the crimes that they can commit in our name. It is important to remember that the total surveillance program that Obama has brought to fruition was dreamt up by Bush’s employees. It took Obama’s competence to execute Bush’s fascist dream. The two go hand in hand. J. Edgar Hoover lies in his grave in awe.

If we were to list Bush’s crimes today we would be here a very long time. That being said, in my estimation, there is one set of crimes that stand above the rest. That is the deliberate fabrication of intelligence that made possible the Iraq War. The fact that intelligence was forged at the behest of the Bush Administration in order to make the case for war stands already as a matter of public record. I ask you: What else do we need to know? What could be a greater crime in a democracy than lying the public into a war of aggression? Kill a single person with a gun and you will be denounced as a murderer for the rest of your life. But evidently, if you orchestrate the killing of hundreds of thousands, not only are you able to walk around free. You’re even paid $175,000 to spend an afternoon sharing your thoughts about the meaning of leadership.

This state of affairs will not last. It cannot last. Bush himself knows this. I guarantee you that already today, before he thinks about travelling to a foreign country, Bush has to ask himself and his lawyers whether or not it would be safe for him. Already today, I do not believe that his lawyers would recommend that he visit Argentina or Spain. Every year the list of places that Bush is not welcome will grow, and every year he will find himself more and more a prisoner. The day will come, I am sure of it, when Bush will not even be safe in Texas. For the sake of our democracy, I hope that day comes sooner rather than later.

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On the falling rate of profit…

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It’s the falling rate of profit… my thoughts for the past few days exactly… but it gets complicated… at present, the govt is essentially bankrolling the maintenance of corporate america, esp. through the fed’s quantitative easing and perpetually low interest rate (thus making corporate stock much more comparatively appealing for investment than bonds, etc., and still much of the stock surge has been powered by companies buying back there own stock, i.e., providing an internalized solution for their own overliquidity)… in effect, corps are borrowing money for nothing from the govt and using that money to raise the value of their own stocks… thus the function of the “stock market” is that of leaking fiat-created public $$$ directly to shareholders… basically, it’s a circuitous mechanism for a handful of owners to extract money from the public treasury… there is even little pretense of investment (i.e., the falling rate of profit)… hence… the place we’re at might be thought of as a special kind of liquidity trap, one bankrolled oddly enough by the govt… a notion which is a perfect contradiction in Keynesian terms, and yet we see it in reality very clearly nevertheless… Keynes assumed that the govt would spend money into existence, but our govt lends more money into existence than it spends into existence and that money is not being invested so much as hoarded… accordingly we are no longer in Keynesian territory… the entire economic system bears a startlingly similar appearance to a single system of patronage.

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On the logic of standardization: a response to Jeff Bliss

If you haven’t seen the viral video of Duncanville, TX high school student Jeff Bliss eloquently condemning the endless procession of worksheets that counts as education today, what’s keeping you? I can’t think of a better way to spend 87 seconds of time.

I’d like to respond to Bliss’ equally thoughtful and visceral remarks by taking a step back and asking simply, what is the logic behind standardization? Standardization defines nearly every aspect of the educational process at present but it’s obviously got to do with a lot more other than education alone. Accordingly, I think that if we want to understand why standardization is such an attractive framework for education, we should start by seeing the concept in as holistic a fashion as possible. I’ll get back to education eventually, but first I want to expand the canvas a bit.

The logic of standardization is a legacy of the factory. Who determines standards? Toward what end? Today, the core of capitalist production demands only the standardization of results rather than the standardization of processes. In fact, much of capital’s present ability to achieve efficiencies in the standardization of commodities often comes from removing standardization from the processes of production. For instance: How “standardized” was the application of building codes in Bangladesh? As David Harvey and others have pointed out, in recent years, the more exploitative forms of capitalist production have increasingly moved away from the factory model and back to the workshop (often organized on the basis of familial, clan, and caste hierarchies rather than the factory logic of labor differentiation by specialization alone). In many respects, this is nothing new. The suburbanization of production (and the production of new suburbs as part and parcel of capitalist production) was already a phenomenon well-known to Marx; the emergence of the post-War defense industry as a collection of more or less decentralized engineering, machining, communications, computing, optical, chemical, and theoretical “shops” is another long-standing example; the pre-established differentiation of their products allowed greater degrees of fluidity and collaboration regarding productive tasks within individual shops; granted this fluidity of job duties was made possible by the over-arching standardization of product specifications made possible by the fact that this plethora of decentralized shops often served a single customer–the Defense Department–who standardized its demands. This production model was itself one of the many gifts that the public sector gave to the private sector: just ask Wal-Mart.

Where is the factory logic of the standardization of production processes still applied most religiously today? In two places above all, it would seem: schools and prisons. Mandatory minimum sentencing is a form of legal standardization that regulates the flow of “inputs” (i.e., poor, black, and brown bodies) into the production process. Ensuring the standardization of security protocols, inmate conditions (food, space, medical care, etc.), building standards, etc. in turn defines the official logic of the production of the prison as a commodity. However, just as in other forms of production, there is always money to be made by subverting the official production standards (e.g., overcrowding, cheapening food and medical care, taking a laissez-faire attitude toward inmate safety, etc.). The compelled labor that many prisoners are made to perform while serving in prison functions according to the classically specialized factory model not because that model has a unique claim to productive efficiency but only thanks to the overarching presence of force as it defines every aspect of the conditions of production in such settings (which, in fact, is always the condition upon which the efficiency of factory production depends).

This brings us, at last, to the logic of standardization as it is encountered in the educational system today. Many of the conditions discussed above with respect to the production of prisons also apply to educational production. “Standards” determine not only the content and delivery of curriculum, the processes of teacher certification, the parade of background checks required of all school employees, but everything from school building codes to the nutritional content of school lunches. School districts purchase only computers, software, textbooks, desks, and chairs that meet pre-ordained state “standards.” The creation of such “standards” constitutes the job duties of many state bureaucrats and these “standards” in turn insure the profitability of well-connected corporate educational suppliers. On the other hand, just as in the case of prisons, money is also made by cutting corners when supplying standards, especially when the cheaper materials are thought to be more or less indistinguishable; and so, some of the worst quality meat in the country goes into school lunches.

The absurd over-standardization of what seems like nearly every detail of the educational process found at traditional public schools in turn makes possible a critique of these institutions as inefficient. As an institutional outgrowth of this critique, charter schools generally operate with much more lax standards concerning curriculum, textbooks, teacher training, and building regulations (collectively: the means of educational production, if you will). Interestingly, however, the comparative lack of standards dictating the process of educational production found at charter schools is in turn justified solely by their ability to obtain sufficient results on standardized tests. This mirrors the manner in which the decentralization of production in the defense industry is made possible by that industry’s having a single customer; in the case of schools, the state-as-customer buys the commodity of students with acceptable standardized test scores; there can be 10,000 different charter schools run under 10,000 different conditions precisely because the state-as-customer has itself dictated the standards of the commodity that it will purchase. In other words, contrary to the free market dogma regarding charter schools, in fact–rather than having anything to do with a robust market–charter schools much more closely resemble small manufacturers clamoring to fill a single, pre-determined job order made by a single firm that has a monopoly in its given industry; there is competition, but only with respect to the standards of competition that are set by a single buyer; competition takes place with respect to the different approaches of individual schools with respect to the standard goal of producing “outputs” (i.e., students with acceptable standardized test scores) as efficiently as possible by any means necessary; no matter the educational production process, the results are intended to be the same in all cases.

I don’t want to suggest that standards are in themselves the problem. In some sense, the dissemination of standards is what allows us to speak a common language (e.g., the various genres of music), to coordinate our movements through space (e.g., traffic rules), and to meet similar ends with similar tools (e.g., the standards of computer hardware, which in turn make possible certain standard operating systems which facilitate communication in certain pre-configured ways). But standards also help humans to organize themselves into armies for the sake of killing one another; moreover, the more widely adopted a given standard, the less susceptible it is to change (the technologies and norms based upon fossil fuel energy being the most obvious and pernicious example). Standards facilitate human expressions of creativity but at other times they smolder our passions for novelty, change, and chance; standards make us healthier but they also kill us; standards provide a set of social rules according to which we can set our designs and intentions but these rules invariably favor those actors well-situated to take greatest advantage of them.

The question concerning standards then, like most questions complex enough to think about for longer than a minute, is not whether they are simply good or bad. Better questions to ask are: What interests does the standard serve and what does the standard take an interest in leaving out? As I see it, it is with respect to such questions that we should reflect upon Jeff Bliss’ impassioned critique of the standardized educational process.

The root of Bliss’ complaint concerns the worksheet as a mode of pedagogy. The justification of worksheet pedagogy is not so much that it teaches reading, writing, or math skills effectively, nor that it is an efficient conduit of information. The virtues of worksheet pedagogy are 1) student assimilation of facts, concepts, and skills can be tracked efficiently and frequently and 2) the worksheets are themselves designed to provide students with practice with respect to both the content and the format of the standardized tests that constitute the consumable product of education for the state. The advance notice concerning student’s future testing performance that worksheet pedagogy provides is particularly important because teachers and administrators know that their jobs depend upon student test results, and accordingly, they don’t want to leave such results to chance. If worksheets show that students are “underperforming,” the cure is simple: even more worksheets until they improve. The worksheet is both the assessment and the lesson contained in the smallest, most temporally segmentable form possible.

Bliss’ demand–that his teacher abandon or simply provide a respite from worksheet pedagogy and instead engage in classroom discussion–as simple and reasonable as it may be, is nevertheless impossible. It is only the students who have already demonstrated that they can be trusted to perform well on NCLB tests (or whose level of social privilege in and of itself makes such demonstrations unnecessary) that get the luxury of learning by discussion. With respect to the students who need the social benefits of education the most, teaching by discussion is simply too risky a proposition. The most immediate risk from the point of view of teachers and administrators is that discussion is not the most direct way of leading students to the standard pre-ordained result that the powers that be demand that they reach (at exactly the same time, regardless of their differences in abilities or development, etc.). Even if it is adopted with the best of intentions, and even if it is indeed the most efficient method of preparing students to score well on standardized tests, there is a limit to how much worksheet pedagogy students can tolerate; while some can tolerate more of it than others, no one can tolerate it forever.

As I see it, the limits to how much worksheet pedagogy a person can tolerate have to do with the nature of assessment in general and the fact that worksheet pedagogy devotes such an obscene amount of time and resources to assessment. The thing about assessment is: sometimes you either know or you don’t. If you know already, assessment is more or less unnecessary. On the other hand, if you don’t know yet, assessment alone is almost certainly not going to help you figure it out. Accordingly, we can say that the greater the amount of time devoted to assessment, the less time there will be for actual learning. When you add to this the fact that students are very aware of the fact that assessment is not learning–for that is above all exactly what Jeff Bliss is telling his teacher–it seems that this system is actually well-designed in order to make students learn as little as possible while being as frustrated as possible in the process.

There is another reason that discussion is a dangerous mode of pedagogy, or at least why it would be dangerous if it were afforded to students who are not the most privileged. If given the opportunity to voice their opinions, the possibility exists that students may comment upon the absurdity of their circumstances in ways that their peers would sympathize with. Moreover, the reason and conviction of student resentment may at times be difficult to contradict, even by authority. The teacher cannot argue with Jeff Bliss. She can only exercise her limited threats of authority from the confines of her desk. She may know the absurdities of the system that employs her very well, but she knows better than to talk about those absurdities, for doing so would raise the question of what could be done to change them. As someone who institutes this system of absurdities, she knows that such a conversation could only undermine her authority and so she understands that such a conversation must not be had.

It is more or less safe to give opportunities for discussion to students of privilege because they learn very quickly that their future success depends upon attaining leadership roles within the present system of absurdities. Moreover, they are less aware of present absurdities simply because their privilege often insulates them from experiencing those absurdities directly in their most potent forms (e.g., worksheet pedagogy). Because they are privileged, they are trusted. Because they are trusted, they are taught instead of merely assessed. Finally, because privileged students are actually taught–instead of just given an endless supply of worksheets–whatever initial differences in test performance may have been used to justify class-based segregation, the process of educational production will itself soon exacerbate these differences. This is how the educational system reproduces inequality, not by accident but by the very standards of its design. Any questions?

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If we fix the violence, the social networks will fix themselves

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Some of my commenters have informed me that I haven’t been clear enough about just why I got so incensed over Nancy DiTomaso’s recent op-ed “How Social Networks Drive Black Unemployment.” I apologize if in my disdain for white liberal obfuscation I have not been explicit enough about just why this particular instance of obfuscation is so deeply and regretfully pernicious. Let me try to be as precise as I can.

Clearly, DiTomaso was trying to be a good, well-meaning, white liberal and justify affirmative action. My concern is with how she goes about doing it. I don’t really care whether she intended to be misleading or not–her argument is deeply misleading and as I see it fundamentally counterproductive. I’m not a mindreader and I feel like judging the goodness of someone’s intentions is overrated as a moral category generally speaking. I cannot call her mendacious, for the facts that she reports are indeed true. As I say, I’m sure that social networks do indeed function in an often racially exclusive way. However, it seems clear to me that this observable phenomenon is better situated as an effect of racial injustice rather than as a cause. The problem I have with treating it as a cause is that doing so offers a set of solutions that are either mysterious or inadequate.

Here’s how the implied argument behind DiTomaso’s piece seems to go: People are people. They like to socialize with people who they see as like them. Unsurprisingly, they like to give jobs to people they socialize with. Therefore: white supremacy is no one’s fault! It’s just human nature! (And to say that this is only implied is even being generous: the subtitle of her book is “racial inequality without racism”).

First of all, that’s just bullshit. White supremacy takes violence and the segregation found in social networks is a result of violence. If we’re serious about redressing white supremacy let’s redress the racial violence that pervades our society before we start worrying about how to fix people’s social lives to make them more politically correct. DiTomaso would agree with that point I suspect, as the fact that people aren’t politically correct in their social lives is what leads her to argue that we need affirmative action to redress this fact. If the segregation of social networks wasn’t largely a result of more fundamental socioeconomic violence, I might agree. When I said DiTomaso’s work was a missed opportunity what I meant was: The point about how under the present conditions, white supremacy can not only function but flourish without the need for individuals to think of themselves as racially biased is indeed an important one, but only when we look at it in a larger context.

Apart from my belief that there are indeed deeper causes of black unemployment than the exclusivity of social networks alone, the practical problems with trying to redress the exclusivity of social networks through affirmative action are immense. 1, we would need much, much stronger affirmative action policies to move the unemployment disparity even at all; 2, this would be fighting against the grain of an economy that no longer feels that workers are terribly necessary; 3, the bulk of the benefits of affirmative action policies benefit the small percentage of black and brown folk who are already well-connected. As far as the last point, there is something to be said for AA, in that any diversity in white institutions does improve them (even if in better accomplishing their white supremacist aims). However, as a policy it does nothing for the people who need the state and the cops and the corporations off their back the most! It does nothing for the young black and brown men in prison. It does nothing for black and brown single mothers hustling to raise kids and working minimum wage jobs. It does more or less nothing for the black and brown kids who the educational system failed. 



In conclusion, if DiTomaso actually wanted to do something about black unemployment she NEEDS to talk about mass incarceration, the drug war, the injustices of our educational system, the fact that the economy is stacked against poor people in general, and the fact that we need a MUCH stronger social safety net. I am an advocate for a guaranteed wage paid to everyone; if capitalism can get by without workers, then why should not having a job preclude you from being able to survive? In short: If we fix the violence, the social networks will fix themselves.

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Open Letter to Nancy DiTomaso

Dear Prof. DiTomaso,

I was deeply disheartened to read your op-ed in The New York Times. I very much wish that you would reconsider the fundamental perspective of the work that you are doing. I feel that, as it stands, your work provides a deeply myopic and ultimately misleading idea of how white supremacy functions in the present context. If I’m being particularly generous, I’d call your work a missed opportunity. Social networks do indeed play an immediate function in determining hiring and ties of association do indeed lead those on the inside of social hierarchies to hire people who look like them without ever having to think of themselves as racist. Of course. So what’s the problem I have with your work then? The glaring fact that the segregation of social networks takes place in, by, and through white supremacist violence.

As I see it, to leave your argument as it stands is to ignore, dismiss, and obfuscate the very real violence that is inflicted upon persons of African descent in this country everyday, especially at the hands of law enforcement and under the auspices of The Drug War. In fact, you provide cover for white supremacist violence by perpetuating the tragically false idea that racism just happens magically. I fear that such an argument is little more than an attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy, one which, even if we were to accept, only makes us less able to address the issue in a real way.

You need to dig deeper. How did social networks get so racially segregated in the first place and how are they kept that way today? You need to examine the manner in which The New Jim Crow, geographical segregation, and the gross racialized disparities in the educational system relate to the division of social networks that you encounter. Otherwise, you’re just giving white people an excuse for not redressing our society’s blatantly white supremacist outcomes and I find that abhorrent.

I hope that a public apology for the misleading nature of your arguments will be forthcoming. In any event, I very much hope to dialogue with you on this matter further as I feel profoundly unsettled by your grievous erasure of the systematic violence that provides the essential basis for white privilege.

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I wish I was more irrelevant

It’s been a funny night. As the sun started to set, I stepped out of the house in order to see that the first print copies of my new book Economies of Whiteness had arrived. As a physical object, it does indeed look beautiful. There’s always something other worldly, or unhomely at any rate, about encountering an object of your own labor as… well… an object. It’s terrifying and exalting and embarrassing and gratuitous and gratifying. And then, once the shock wears off, there’s a certain insistent nagging that takes over. The nagging is not so much about the faults of one’s labor for as real as such faults no doubt are, the most exceptional of these faults will remain sheer blindnesses to you until someone else points them out to you–for, after all, if such faults were obvious you would have corrected them in the first place. No, the nagging that one is left with after encountering the object does not so much concern the object’s faults as it does the more fundamental, more simple question of the object’s relevance. Did I really need to go to all this trouble just to say these things? Isn’t everything that I said in this object completely obvious to anyone who’s paying attention? Such were the nagging thoughts running through my head this eve, and then…

I had the misfortune of reading the following opinion piece in the NY Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/how-social-networks-drive-black-unemployment/

If I can say nothing more for this op-ed, and really I can’t without succumbing to a relentless string of expletives, let me say that in one fell swoop the author convinced me that my book is indeed relevant. Sadly, tragically, all too relevant. 

Read the article for yourself and see what you see. What I see is this: the outcomes of 400 years of some of the most brutal VIOLENCE ever to occur on the face of the earth being justified as simply a result of the mere fact that the perpetrators of that violence just happen to all know each other! Well isn’t that something! Fuck the New York Times and fuck white liberals trying to excuse the white supremacist violence that surrounds us every fucking day! I have no idea how you write an article like that without mentioning The New Jim Crow. Fuck you Nancy DiTomaso! I’ll tell you right now: you’re full of shit and the only reason you’re still in business is because rich folk will always pay for another layer. Get a REAL job you worthless white liberal! 

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Falsifiability anyone?

Ask a neoclassical economist this: Take any actually existing economy. What action would your model recommend and what result would make you abandon your model? Southern Europe was told by these intellectual clowns that their economy would magically heal once government spending was cut. And yet, somehow, taking money out of the economy made things worse, as even the IMF now acknowledges. After watching this take place, the politicians in the United States responded by cutting government spending and raising taxes on the poor (i.e., those who actually spend their money). In other words, knowing what came from austerity in Europe, our leaders decided they’d give us a taste of the recipe. Presumably, we’re to believe that everyone who recommends this policy now is hoping for a different result than it has had on nearly every observable occasion. Would it be too rash of us if we started to wonder at the goodness of our leaders’ intentions?

 

Indeed, it is difficult to deny the possibility that despite his effervescent protestations to the contrary, Obama is in on the shakedown. Whenever he so chooses, he can raise the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th amendment, as even a neoliberal as otherwise dedicated as Bill Clinton has recommended to him. The fact that Obama does not do so and instead goes along with the Republican charade means that he is enjoying scoring political points by portraying himself as the populist (if only by comparison) and/or he thinks that cutting social security is the right thing to do for neoliberal reasons and he appreciates having the political cover in order to do just that. Aside from the small issue of his complete and utter moral depravity, one certainly has to marvel at Obama’s artistry. (I won’t repeat here the argument concerning why the debt is not in fact the problem with the economy. Anyone who needs clarity on that point can read any of Paul Krugman’s columns for the last four years. And for an in-depth explanation of why cutting social security through chained CPI is both a bad idea and has nothing to do with the non-existent deficit problem, read Dean Baker’s excellent remarks on the subject.)

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