Tag Archives: naomi klein

Tide of Political Conservatism not (yet) Reversed

Contrary to the implication in George Packer’s article in the current issue of the New Yorker, Conservatism is alive and well in America, and America remains all the poorer for it.  At least this is the side of the debate I ascribe to. The other side, as Packer suggests, is that conservatism might be the wane, its ideas bankrupt (I agree), its influence over cultural and political life subsiding (I disagree). 

First, it appears from nearly every slice of the political pie, this is going to be a strong democratic year. Democratic Party voter registration and contributions to democratic candidates at unprecedented levels. Democrats just won three special elections in very conservative congressional districts (Illinois, Louisiana and Mississippi). 

The current conservative republican president is at an all time low in popular opinion for sitting presidents (worse than Nixon during Watergate); more than 2/3 of the country oppose the president’s war in iraq; oppose the way he is handling the economy, and believe the country is on the wrong track.

All these pro-democratic tidings could be reversed, however, were John McCain to win the presidency, and the polls have McCain and Obama in near statistical dead heats.  Given the fact that Obama is running a superior political campaign in terms of strategy and organization, the reason for this deadheat is one of three things:

1) the democrats have yet to officially settle on a nominee.  If this is the reason for the dead-heat, then perhaps a change in tide is indeed coming. But, unless you ascribe to a great man theory of politics/history, and i don’t, the election of a liberal president would not undermine the existing right wing hegemony of the political system.

2)  voters are not keen on Obama’s liberal politics.  This speaks for itself. if Obama loses because of hs politics, then it is impossible to hold that conservatism is dead.

3) Americans are not ready to elect a President of color.  sort of explains itself, to this country’s great shame.

The more crucial argument, I believe, has to do with the sort recently raised in books by Naomi Klein and Sheldon Wolin.   And this argument suggests the conservative tide will not be reversed by an Obama Presidency.  The argument goes to policy infrastructure which the right has been working on since the early 1970s, economic and market structures which the right has been undermining since Reagan, and political structures which the Bush administration has violently attacked since 911; These structures have etched deeply worn patterns in the political culture that are not easily erased by current voter registration trends, campaign contributions–which could well me anomalous– and short term special elections.

First, democrats and political progressives have yet to develop a progressive infrastructure of think tanks and policy centers that might in some future administration, extend a set of beliefs beyond discrete executive orders and policy initiatives. (It remains to be seen if the blogosphere will help fulfill this function). The progressive community cannot even support the likes of the Rockridge Institute which endeavored to contribute to the process of countering the 1971 “Powell Memo,” with progressive tanks and institutes.  Recall the Powell Memo launched the conservative hegemony in this country.  More important than this initial rallying cry was work of Richard Mellon Scaife to almost single handedly build institutions that would take anti-democratic ideas, like Milton Friedman’s free market neo-liberalism, and make them appear as if they were universally accepted as inevitable in the development of american democracy.  The fact that the Clinton’s who held the democratic throne during the 1990s, control almost 1/2 the dem. party now, and would like to hold the throne again, have been endorsed by Mellon Scaife and are sitting down and conducting business with the likes of Rupert Murdoch/Fox and Rush Limbaugh, does not bode well for a progressive revolution.  The Clinton’s Nixonian politics of personal destruction adds additional fuel to anti-progressive forces, regardless of who wins the dem nomination and the general election in November.

Finally, and most important, is the destruction that Friedmanesque neoliberalism has already wreaked on this country’s democratic institutions. The mark of privatization, begun in earnestness, by the way, with Clinton’s reinventing Government initiatives of the mid 1990s, is a black mark on democratic institutions, and might well prove to be permanent, or at least take decades to undo. Once corporations have come to control vital government services, it becomes extremely difficult for government to reassert its constitutional controls. Once presidents violate fundamental principles of separation of powers, and are not held to account, it becomes increasingly difficult for subsequent administrations to reassert such delicate constitutional balances.







Blackwater leaves Potrero Plans in Dust, but Blackwaterization to Continue

The San Diego Union Tribune reports today that Blackwater has decided to pull its plans to set up a base camp in Potrero, near San Diego. News that Blackwater may not set up shop on this former chicken camp, does not mean Blackwater is not coming to the border. All it means is that Blackwater didn’t expect all the negative publicity and local resistance that awaited it in Potrero. Next time beware a much more clandestine operation.

Nothing has changed about Blackwater’s plan to expand its private security forces in the US. And nothing has changed about its plans to bring its private “war on terror” home to the U.S., and intertwine it with immigration control, five years after Paul Wolfowitz first positioned the “home-front” as the first defense against terrorism.

It still makes sense that the private war that followed the troops to Iraq is now establishing a paramilitary infrastructure on domestic turf. Author Jeremy Scahill notes that Blackwater is “looking for a lucrative domestic opportunity,” and San Diego Congressman Bob Filner’s recent comment to the Salon article that Blackwater is positioning itself to move into the border security business, remains on point. Keep in mind Jeremy Scahill found that Blackwater made an application in early 2005 “to serve as a force to deal with immigration and border security.”

Blackwater remains symbolic of a much larger immigration industrial complex, privatizing decades of border militarization and low intensity conflict that as author Tim Dunn has documented, has been waged against border crossers and residents since the 1970s. I would also contend that Blackwater remains part of a post-9/11 neo-liberal regime that is designed to re-territorialize and privatize the war on terror on the domestic front. The immigration industrial complex, with Blackwater quickly taking the lead, figures prominently in what Naomi Klein refers to as neo-liberal shock therapy, which is undemocratic to its core.

Avi Lewis and me

a crazy good week so far. I just learned that two law review articles I wrote last fall will be published this spring, one on Bono, cause-marketing and the First Amendment to be published by Pepperdine Law School; and the second on Blackwater and immigration privatization will be published by the St. Thomas Law Review (spring ’08), as part of the LatCrit XII symposium.

Funny thing is five minutes before the email binged with the news from St. Thomas Law Review, i got off the phone with Jeremy Young who told me he and Avi Lewis (Canadian documentarian and political reporter) saw the article on the internet (thanks expressO), liked it, and wanted to talk to me for a segment they are putting together for the new news magazine show, “Frontline-USA” for the Al-Jazeera network (yep). Freaked steph and me out, must say.

Even though I have seen and read about the independent and high level political reporting of Al-Jazeera over the years (I taught about al-jazeera for an international communications class), tough to deny the emotional response coming from America’s post-911 corporate media culture. Sure had a funny feeling hearing that al-jazeera wants to talk to me.

At first i thought th initial email from jeremy young could have been spam; i emailed it to steph at her office and she wrote back “what da *;^*”

but we decided I should do it because their story idea about Blackwater and privatization of the border is important and coincides with my own research on the privatization of immigration control. So we figured that millions of people around the planet might see it (yikes, but at least our friends in Hungary and London could see it), except everyone in the US, of course, where it al-jazeera is nowhere to be found on cable.

come on first amendment people, time to get on this!

To see the segment, you’ll have to go to the al-jazeera-english web site. the show airs, beginning this Friday at 8pm (i think).

Next, we did some digging on Avi Lewis, who anchors the show. Avi is a celebrated left-documentarian, reporter and producer from Canada, having done some fantastic work, including a documentary “The Take” on the recovered factory movement in Argentina, with his wife, Naomi Klein (a book hero of mine since No Logo).

Quickly, trepidation turned to excitement. “Avi gonna be in da house.” what a kick.

Avi’s grandfather, Moshe Lewis (Losz), was a leading member of the Jewish Bund, who left Poland for Montreal in the early 1920s. So hey, my granfather fled the pogroms in Russia, went to Paris to paint and then NYC. close enough. If Avi could do Al-Jazeera, so could I.

(more later…)
PS although i ended up on the cutting room floor for this piece it was still a grand experience. More important, the frontline usa segment on the border (3/16) turned out to be a strong piece on privatization of border control. check it out on You-Tube.

Republicans and Immigration: All Smoke, No Flame

Immigration is one of those issues in the ’08 campaign that is all smoke and no flame. Conservatives are voicing some pretty ugly xenophobic rhetoric about immigrants but they haven’t voted for the xenophobic and nativist candidates. All the same, the smoke suffocates rational discourse about immigration. Were the issue truly incendiary, Duncan Hunter or Tom Tancredo, perhaps even Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee. The remaining smoke, however, also screens out the practical advantages of having every driver get a license and insurance not to mention also concealing discussion about the militarization and privatization of immigration control.

It is too bad that presidential candidates aren’t discussing the positive role immigrant businesses, entrepreneurs, engineers, and others could and do play in slowing economic recession; or the continuing racism and discrimination in society that expands well beyond “illegal aliens” but lately has focused on them; or the constitutional issues (due process; privacy; free speech) that affect everyone regardless of immigration status.

The smoke is piped in by conservative radio and cable talk hosts (Rush, O’Reilly; Beck; Coulter; Dobbs…) and right wing anti-immigrant policy centers (FAIR CIS), which energize conservative mobs with red meat claims of alien hordes and terrorists.

But no flame. Folks aren’t voting their anti-immigrant rhetoric. For all the ranting against immigrants according to primary state exit polls, Republican voters have failed to cast votes (decisively, at least) based on their anti-immigrant opinions, settling instead on the least anti-immigrant Republican in the field–John McCain.

Briefly here’s why:
1) The immigration issue has no first-order constituency. When it comes right to it, anti-immigrant xenophobes hate a lot of other things as much or even more than they dislike immigrants. Over the years, opinion pools have shown that americans may not be in favor of immigration (in the abstract) but they like the real individual immigrant neighbor down the street or in the office. Thus, small towns around bigger cities where necomers often first reside, may rail against immigration but few would actually take up arms (figuratively), or call ICE to report their colleague, friend, neighbor, babysitter, landscaper or painter (real human beings with families). Anti-immigrant rhetoric thus becomes less salient in the voting booth because few voters have been harmed by actual immigrants (the system perhaps, immigrants, no). The same cannot be said about Iraq, lob layoffs, sub-prime mortgages, lack of health insurance, poorly funded public schools and so forth which create real tangible harm for most people. These are the issues that generate acutal votes when the voting booth curtain closes.

2) Dominent interests inside and outside government have financial claim on perpetuating a perceived problem with “illegal immigration.” Immigration agencies within the DHS have been hollowed out almost as much as have other DHS agencies during the Bush years. As Naomi Klein argues in Shock Doctrine, this is no isolated occurrence. It is part of a much larger globalization movement towards free market neo-liberalism; The larger point here is that the demonization of immigrants helps efforts to privatize and militarize immigration control, which in turn benefits a wide assortment of security management firms which have donated a great deal of money to Bush brother and current Repub. campaigns, and which get incredibly lucrative DHS contracts in return.

Republican contenders this year stand to gain ideologically and some financially by puffing smoke at immigrants and generating the growth of the immigrant industrial complex at the borders and thoughout the country. Within this system, voting hardly matters.