Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Violence and Dignity

Noam Chomsky at Friends House in London, March 18th, 2013.

The Q and A.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Return of the Native

Chris Floyd is back, after a four-month hiatus.
Surely the re-election of Barack Obama has, at long last, put the kibosh on the hoary notion that the “Professional Left” poses any kind of threat or counterbalance to the malignant spread of empire, within and without. Slice the timeline any way you like –10 years, 20 years, 30 years – and you’ll still come up with the same sad salami: a political world shifted so far to the right, so deep in the pockets of Daddy Warbucks, General Ripper and Elmer Gantry that even Boss Tweed might blush for shame. This is what the Prof-Left has to show for its decades of working diligently within the system.

Of course, America’s hard-right turn (or reversion) to militarism abroad and Hobbesianism at home is not solely the result of the Left’s egregious failures; far from it. It’s a brew made up of many poisons. And yes, failure can be honorable at times. But there is nothing honorable about what happened to “progressives” in Campaign 2012.  After years of consciousness-raising – unmasking atrocities, tracking corruption, decoding propaganda, speaking truth to power, etc. – where did the Prof-Left end up in November? Supporting a lawless, cynical, corporate-coddling warmonger who has taken the tropes of imperial sway to their logical conclusion, their final solution: the arbitrary, unchecked power of life and death, not only over the grubby barbaroi but even over his own subjects. As the scripture saith, our professional progs strained at a gnat – but swallowed the whole damn camel.

Nowhere was this betrayal of principle more naked than in the very arena which, we were told, had “transformed” politics forever, shattering the old paradigms and giving unprecedented voice and power to reform and resistance: the progressive blogosphere. Yet here the cognitive dissonance was so jarring that it hurt just to look at it.  (God knows what it must felt like inside those conflicted craniums.) Here you found stern denunciations of White House death squads, drone wars, whistleblower persecutions, corporate whoredom and other outrages standing cheek-to-cheek with gushing paeans to presidential cool, testy rebuttals of Tea Party attacks, minute nit-pickings over polls and soundbites, and sage tactical advice to ensure victory for … the same man they were simultaneously slating for murder and repression. For all their “savvy” caveats and subtle nuance, their Chomskyean parsing of narrow moral choices in a brutal power system (Democrats, said one prominent progblogger, are "2% less evil," so one must support them), in the end, the netrooters were as avid as David Axelrod in their partisan plumping for more drones, deaths, deportations, drilling, drug warring and all the other draconia wielded happily by Obama in his first four years.

This is a “movement” that has finally collapsed beneath the weight of its own incoherence. You cannot denounce state crime while supporting its perpetrators. Or rather, you can – but you will look like a fool. You will look like someone who has nothing to offer beyond a pallid, unprincipled tribal loyalty to a clapped-out party of bloodstained bagmen. And all the “ordinary people” out there whose consciousnesses you are trying to raise will sense this hollow core, this estrangement from reality. They will know you have no answers for the suffering they endure in a heartless system, that you can provide no understanding of what the system is doing to them – because you are part of the system, you speak its language, you play its games, you support its crimes, you cheerlead for its criminals. Why should they listen to you? And so the people you seek to help and enlighten turn away – to those whose certainties, however false, seem more coherent; or to ever-more frantic, frenetic diversions; or to a grim, ground-down, burnt-out , grudging acceptance of a system that seems inescapable, more like a natural order than a hell of our own making.

I certainly don’t exempt myself from this critique. (Except maybe for that 2012 criminal-supporting thing.) For 35 years now, in print and on line, I’ve been doing the same kind of consciousness-raising and outrage-recording described above. (And I must confess that for too much of that time, I also hewed to the “2 percent” line that induces moral blindness when the criminals ride donkeys, not elephants. The hardest consciousness to raise is always one’s own.) But the 2012 election seems to me to represent a milestone of sorts, or a turning point or – hell, why not? – a new paradigm. Decades of dissent – not just pallid progblogging or Beltway-liberal lobbying, but the real deal, down in the trenches, courageous, unsung, dedicated – has not slowed the imperial juggernaut, whose depredations are more brazen, more entrenched and more accepted, even celebrated, than ever. Something ain’t working. The tongues are all broken. The message is not getting through.

So what now? At this point, all I know is that I don’t know – which is, so they say, the beginning of wisdom. And that’s what I want to do in this column: begin again, re-think, see more, learn more, get away from the camel-swallowers and my own calcifications, and meet our new reality head-on.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Say No

The week of April 15th, my 8-year-old 3rd-grader Saya will be forced by the munchkin leader of Bloombergistan to take a three-day English test, followed by a three-day math test the week of 4/22 – the preparation for both having dominated her classroom for most of 2013, clearing time away from art, science, history, games, and music. Saya's a pretty good student, getting mostly As and Bs (or 4s and 3s as they mark it these days), while not taking anything too seriously. If she were to fail either of these city-enforced tests (score notices won’t come in until the last week of the school year, making summer plans impossible), she’ll be made to take 8-weeks of summer school in order to repeat the tests in late-August. If she fails either test again, she’ll have to repeat the 3rd grade.


I’ve seen sample versions of both tests, and while the math part seems pretty honest, the reading exam stunned me. Not only did it scan as something near junior-high level (sorry, middle-school), I’d bet two-thirds of American adults would fail it. In the sample, the first story to be analyzed is Leo Tolstoy’s “The Gray Hare”: a hare in winter-time plays with his companions, searches for food, and watches the sad people. The last paragraph:
The dawn was glimmering in the east; the stars grew less, and the frost vapours rose more densely from the earth. In the near-by village the women got up, and went to fetch water; the peasants brought the feed from the barn; the children shouted and cried. There were still more carts going down the road, and the peasants talked aloud to each other. The hare leaped across the road, went up to his old lair, picked out a high place, dug away the snow, lay with his back in his new lair, dropped his ears on his back, and fell asleep with open eyes.
The questions:

-- In detail, describe the hare.

-- Why does the hare keep moving through the countryside?

-- What is the hare's goal for the day? Does he reach his goal?

-- How does the author use the word sugar?

This is not Count Tolstoy writing for his children.

There’s a fight-back beginning. (Sadly not in P.S. 139’s district). A growing revolt against the expanding use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states – at all grade-levels. Parents have started refusing to allow their children to take the exams. School boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems. Hundreds-of-thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests. Superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. This corporatized “No Child Left Behind” end-all, be-all stranglehold is a perversion of what a child’s education should be.

Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle have banded together to boycott mandated tests called The Measures of Academic Progress – an action that’s serving as a flashpoint in the growing revolt. A video by Storyline Research & Productions about the moment it all started at Garfield High, and the problems with The Measures of Academic Progress – and all standardized tests, in school or out:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Devils

Sulphur: We're being suffocated by it. President Chavez calls out the Texas Cracker Devil and the United States in an astonishing 2006 UN speech, not knowing (none of us did) how much more effective and slicker a devil would be Bush's successor.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


One of the great journalists of our time. One of the great leaders of our time.

John Pilger's "War on Democracy."

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


How natural the shit-pimpers in downtown Mannahatta reached their highest numerical point on the day Hugo Chavez left us. He was the greatest and most human leader of our young century, a luminous giant among the pygmy Bush/Obama miasma. Chavez burned with communion, courage, joy, humor, compassion, sorrow, love of the arts, remembrance, true justice and -- perhaps most important of all -- HONESTY; while being the greatest Christian leader of his time: Christian in fact, in deed, in thought -- in passionate opposition to the vampires and their minions who have so degraded that term. He could have used his guts, strategic brilliance and cunning to become just another vampire, pimp, or baboon. Instead he chose to be a protector of those needing protection, blessing us with the grace of his deep sympathy and understanding of the powerless, the weak, the sad.

Those gloating tonight will immediately become mere worm food once dead. In his passing, Hugo Chavez becomes an imperishable Light of the World.

Once more, we turn to Stone. . . .

A beautiful tribute from Andre Vltchek.