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Danner's Choice

john.halle's picture

(Version with links available here. I can't seem to get links included when I copy and paste texts.)

Mark Danner's Choice

A long standing staple of Fox News discourse claims that liberalism in the academy holds sway as a kind of semi-official ideology. This view is largely correct, though it should be kept in mind that it is the liberalism targeted in recent denunciations by Adolph Reed and Chris Hedges, not the "radical leftism" of teabaggers and other fantasists of the right.

A more or less paradigmatic example of the former can be found in Mark Danner's recent NY Times Op-Ed "To Heal Haiti, Look to History" which would be quickly been picked up at commondreams.org, Democracy Now! and grit.tv among other sites.

That the piece would be promoted by web organs of the authentic-as opposed to liberal- left was, at least superficially reasonable in that Danner's (or for that matter anyone's) minimally accurate thumb nail sketch of Haitian history could not fail but to deliver a stridently anti-imperialist message: Haiti has functioned as "a state built for predation and plunder", starting with the complete eradication of its native population, to its establishment as the most brutal of slave states, to its functioning in the 20th century as a paradigmatic kleptocracy presided over by a string of vicious dictators serving themselves and the interests of foreign capital.

Danner's bill of particulars, many of these laid on our doorstep, is of course regrettable, disturbing, and even damning and as such provides an opportunity for the displays of teeth gnashing and garment rending which liberals can be relied on to engage in. Their doing so requires, however, that one condition is met: that these instances are all safely in the past.

Thus, what is predictably missing in Danner's discussion is anything other than the vaguest allusion to the recent history of Haiti. And it is this history which is largely responsible for the almost inconceivable scale of the devastation caused by what would otherwise be a major, but by no means unprecedented disaster.

The relevant cause, as is described in the works of Robert Fatton, is demographic: for the past three decades the city of Port au Prince has experienced a ballooning of its population from approximately 300,000 to over 2.5 million. Lacking the infrastructure required to support this population and the financial wherewithal to develop it, most residents of the capital lived in slums lacking the most basic sanitation facilities, with only sporadic access to safe drinking water and frequently subjected to protracted encounters with what NGO's somewhat euphemistically refer to as "food insecurity". Moreover, it hardly needs to be mentioned, building codes were non existent.

It was eminently predictable from these initial conditions that a 7.0 Richter Scale seismic event would materialize as it did with countless thousands buried under rubble, those able to extract themselves doing so in a weakened condition sometimes literally dying of thirst or through opportunistic infections.

If we want to understand as opposed to merely wring our hands about this epic tragedy, we need to inquire into why these conditions obtained. What accounted for the massive influx into Port au Prince from the rural, agricultural areas? Danner indirectly alludes to the crucial in his proposal to "America (to) throw open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008."

Danner has this exactly backward. As Fatton and others have noted, it is not the failure of the U.S. to open its markets, but rather the converse which is directly implicated in the catastrophe- which is to say two decades of extortionate neo-liberal trade pacts which required Haiti to open its markets to U.S. goods. Chief among these are heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products, most notably rice. These were dumped on Haiti with similar results to that in much of the third world: Farmers unable to compete with exports were driven off their land, selling out to multinational agribusiness and developers, initiating an exodus to the cities offering the prospect of employment in manufacturing sector albeit at near starvation wages.

This is now an old story applying to much of the third world and told in numerous places, most comprehensively in Mike Davis's Planet of Slums. And so it is reasonable to ask why does Danner fail to mention it?

The answer is necessarily a matter of speculation though it is probably not too cynical to assume that Danner is well aware that his reputation as a "serious" thinker on these and related matters in establishment circles requires that these obvious truths pass over unacknowledged.

A parade examples of a fall from grace occasioned by failing to respect the boundaries of acceptable discourse is provided by former Times Middle East bureau chief Hedges whose rigorous, informed and brilliant recent works, or "rants"-as they are described when insiders even bother to recognize them, are now relegated to wilds of the internet.

Danner's perches at the Council on Foreign Relation, Pacific Council on International Policy, and the World Affairs Council of San Francisco and his access to mainstream "print" media (not to mention the substantial fees which accompany these) will remain secure so long as he respects the limits which Hedges transgressed-as will his ultimate legacy as one more apologist for imperial plunder, albeit of the kinder and gentler neo-liberal variety.

If it is to be otherwise, he will need to join Hedges on "the dark side" as it were, by developing the capacity to name those individuals as well as the system (namely capitalism) which is responsible for the conditions which made widespread death and destruction, in Haiti and much of the rest of the third world, inevitable.

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vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I copied your original post into the compose tab on a draft post on blogger.com.

It includes a ton of formatting tags but also the links. Here goes:

Mark Danner's Choice

A long standing staple of Fox News discourse claims that liberalism in the academy holds sway as a kind of semi-official ideology. This view is largely correct, though it should be kept in mind that it is the liberalism targeted in recent denunciations by Adolph Reed and Chris Hedges, not the "radical leftism" of teabaggers and other fantasists of the right.

A more or less paradigmatic example of the former can be found in Mark Danner's recent NY Times Op-Ed "To Heal Haiti, Look to History" which would be quickly been picked up at commondreams.org, Democracy Now! and grit.tv among other sites.

That the piece would be promoted by web organs of the authentic-as opposed to liberal- left was, at least superficially reasonable in that Danner's (or for that matter anyone's) minimally accurate thumb nail sketch of Haitian history could not fail but to deliver a stridently anti-imperialist message: Haiti has functioned as "a state built for predation and plunder", starting with the complete eradication of its native population, to its establishment as the most brutal of slave states, to its functioning in the 20th century as a paradigmatic kleptocracy presided over by a string of vicious dictators serving themselves and the interests of foreign capital.

Danner's bill of particulars, many of these laid on our doorstep, is of course regrettable, disturbing, and even damning and as such provides an opportunity for the displays of teeth gnashing and garment rending which liberals can be relied on to engage in. Their doing so requires, however, that one condition is met: that these instances are all safely in the past.

Thus, what is predictably missing in Danner's discussion is anything other than the vaguest allusion to the recent history of Haiti. And it is this history which is largely responsible for the almost inconceivable scale of the devastation caused by what would otherwise be a major, but by no means unprecedented disaster.

The relevant cause, as is described in the works of Robert Fatton, is demographic: for the past three decades the city of Port au Prince has experienced a ballooning of its population from approximately 300,000 to over 2.5 million. Lacking the infrastructure required to support this population and the financial wherewithal to develop it, most residents of the capital lived in slums lacking the most basic sanitation facilities, with only sporadic access to safe drinking water and frequently subjected to protracted encounters with what NGO's somewhat euphemistically refer to as "food insecurity". Moreover, it hardly needs to be mentioned, building codes were non existent.

It was eminently predictable from these initial conditions that a 7.0 Richter Scale seismic event would materialize as it did with countless thousands buried under rubble, those able to extract themselves doing so in a weakened condition sometimes literally dying of thirst or through opportunistic infections.

If we want to understand as opposed to merely wring our hands about this epic tragedy, we need to inquire into why these conditions obtained. What accounted for the massive influx into Port au Prince from the rural, agricultural areas? Danner indirectly alludes to the crucial in his proposal to "America (to) throw open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008."

Danner has this exactly backward. As Fatton and others have noted, it is not the failure of the U.S. to open its markets, but rather the converse which is directly implicated in the catastrophe- which is to say two decades of extortionate neo-liberal trade pacts which required Haiti to open its markets to U.S. goods. Chief among these are heavily subsidized U.S. agricultural products, most notably rice. These were dumped on Haiti with similar results to that in much of the third world: Farmers unable to compete with exports were driven off their land, selling out to multinational agribusiness and developers, initiating an exodus to the cities offering the prospect of employment in manufacturing sector albeit at near starvation wages.

This is now an old story applying to much of the third world and told in numerous places, most comprehensively in Mike Davis's Planet of Slums. And so it is reasonable to ask why does Danner fail to mention it?

The answer is necessarily a matter of speculation though it is probably not too cynical to assume that Danner is well aware that his reputation as a "serious" thinker on these and related matters in establishment circles requires that these obvious truths pass over unacknowledged.

A parade examples of a fall from grace occasioned by failing to respect the boundaries of acceptable discourse is provided by former Times Middle East bureau chief Hedges whose rigorous, informed and brilliant recent works, or "rants"-as they are described when insiders even bother to recognize them, are now relegated to wilds of the internet.

Danner's perches at the Council on Foreign Relation and access his access to mainstream "print" media (not to mention the substantial fees which accompany these) will remain secure so long as he respects the limits which Hedges transgressed-as will his ultimate legacy as one more apologist for imperial plunder, albeit of the kinder and gentler neo-liberal variety.

If it is to be otherwise, he will need to join Hedges on "the dark side" as it were, by developing the capacity to name those individuals as well as the system (namely capitalism) which is responsible for the conditions which made widespread death and destruction, in Haiti and much of the rest of the third world, inevitable.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

To do this in the future:

1. Make an account on blogger.com and create a blog (it doesn't have to be public or have any content).

2. Any posts you want to cross-post here or elsewhere with the links, create a new post on your blog at Blogger and go into the Compose tab.

3. Copy the text from your site and paste it into the Compose page on Blogger.

4. Go to the Edit HTML tab on Blogger, copy the text and paste it into a new post at Corrente.

Alternatively, you could compose your post here (or Blogger) and then see if your site preserves links when you paste.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Clearly there's a lot of variance in which term one associates with illegitimate lefties.

In these parts "progressives," usually with the scare quotes, has emerged as the near-consensus favorite.

I tend to use "liberal" as the term for legit lefties, since all our fake-lefty politicians are afraid to have the word associated with them. Your (and Reed's and Hedges's) mileage may vary.

I agree that a tell for fake outrage is the use of examples that are at a safe distance. For example, I've frequently found that at "Open" "Left," they're enthralled with political lessons (Whigs, New Deal, etc.) so long as they aren't recent ones that are unflattering to their "progressive" agenda.

A recent history where perhaps the most wholesome thing we did was to starve the country to undo our own coup (before the next one) doesn't really bode too well, I would have to say.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

We will need to agree on a term sooner or later. Those whom I associate with it are liberals like Arthur Schlesinger who started out as red baiters and then cheered on the Vietnam War, but somehow finally ended up respectable as the political spectrum swung to the right under Carter, Clinton and the Bushes.

Also in this crew are best and brightest types like McGeorge Bundy and Robert McNamara who are connected more or less directly to the Jacob Hackers of today-a connection I tried to make in my last blog posting.

I'm always deeply distrustful of Ivy League technocrats who as someone pointed out here a while back develop their reputation for "brilliance" by operating within the existing framework of assumptions. In other words, they're experts at rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Our President also fits the paradigm to a T and I distrusted him from the first I knew about him.

But what to do with Harvard Prof. Elizabeth Warren-who, more troublingly, describes herself as a "friend" and "colleague" of Jacob Hacker.

According to this, she may be running for Senate in MA.

Do we support her?

I'm torn but I'd say probably yes.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Include Bernie Sanders, Dennis Kucinich, and Russ Feingold.

I admit there's a risk of playing "No True Scotsman" in what qualifies as a liberal, but I have a hard time considering the red-baiting hawks like JFK true liberals. Certainly a lot of Dems of the 60s were relatively liberal on social issues but still hawkish on foreign policy.

Most of today's breed barely, IMHO, even qualify as neo-liberals, since they seem to accept the entire Reagan caboodle: corporatism, "entitlement reform," militarism, imperialism, the war on drugs, doing nothing to promote gay and women's rights, to fight poverty, to protect civil liberties or the separation of church and state, etc.

They may be "culturally liberal" (as an accident of birth and educational/career track) but their politics just doesn't get much leftier than right-centrist.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

But note that the free market Dems (who are, arguably the majority) would have a claim to the term liberal as it has been used almost every outside of the U.S., namely as believers in "liberated" markets. For example, in France the term liberal is essentially a slur, frequently used by the PS against Sarkozy, who is always careful to repudiate it when applied to himself.

Such is the degree to which American hyper-capitalisme is regarded as toxic in most of the rest of the world, thank God.

So maybe the solution is to get the terms "liberal" understood in these terms and then have it hung around these guys like a noose.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

... the fact that being tagged as a "liberal" scares the bejesus out of most Dems, who seem to spend their days looking over their shoulders for a reconvening of HUAC, suggests to me it's a pretty good term for those who want real leftward reform.

Since we're such insular folks, the meaning of "liberal" outside of these United States doesn't, I think, have too much bearing on what we think it connotes and denotes.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

And you might be right but the other possibility is to embrace "liberal" as a slur, as it is understood to be by (who knows?) maybe most Americans. And agree with them that they have every reason for despising liberals like Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, the Clintons, Obama, Stephen Breyer, Paul Begala, Diane Feinstein, John Kerry, Steny Hoyer, Rahm Emanuel, Cass Sunstein, etc. etc. as much as they do-if not for the exact reasons which they are able to articulate.

We won't get to the bottom of this here-but worth considering all options here, I think, including the jiu jitsu one.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Americans are completely convinced that there are two poles:

* Right/Conservative/Republican
* Left/Liberal/Democrat

Every bit of negativity toward "liberal" is heard as a clarion call to Dems to shift rightward, even as the public (while still fearing "liberalism") turned from the right to the left... as the Dems ran straight past them to Reaganville.

"Conservative" is valued property for Republicans and Blue Dogs and a great many so-called "progressive" other Dems.

In our Manichean world, there is only one other piece of turf, and it's the turf that includes left-populism. Seems like the most rational approach -- if one cares for what happens to "we the people" and for a U.S. that doesn't despoil the world -- is to make that turf something to be vied for... perhaps by a third party, since the Dems don't want it, which puts them in the no-man's-land they evidently seek.

If you see a way to accomplish something good by pissing (more) on that neglected turf (rather than on the Democratic Party, which plainly deserves it), I'm all ears.

Submitted by lambert on

See here. I think liberal/conservative and left/right are irretrievably contaminated, the first by American politics over the last 30 years, the second by the entire history of the 20th Century. If anything, I identify as being on the left, but even there....

And pragmatically, I think something that was seen as fresh and new would have great appeal. Especially when coupled with some sort of discourse-cleansing rules like the 12 Steps and Traditions, say.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

Seems to me that post-partisan Ponyism and "public option" did their magic in no small part by people's refusal to call things what they are.

It was an "everything must go" approach to known politics, as activism from the 60s through 90s became "bickering partisanship," even while the icons associated with them were appropriated like a hack repainting of "Nighthawks" with Elvis and Marilyn added.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

My experience running for office as a Green overturned a lot of assumptions I had previously made on this score. (Which is why everyone should do it; you learn all sorts of things about the political landscape you never would have imagined!)

For example, we had a bunch of folks working on our campaigns who would have described themselves as conservatives-but old style conservatives a la Nixon who, as I pointed out previously, started OSHA, the EPA, pushed for a guaranteed annual income etc. They opposed the Dems for local office because they believed, entirely correctly that they were "a bunch of crooks."

So left vs. right in took second place to crooked vs. honest, as it should, of course.

I can imagine that a similar dynamic could begin to decide elections at successively higher levels.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

I agree with you (and Arthur).

I do find it somewhat hard to imagine a party long-term going against our "conservative" two parties without staking out ground clearly identifiable as on the left.

OTOH, I suppose one election with a charismatic, populist candidate with the wind at his/her back could change everything and prove me wrong.

The key thing is that the media will have to not destroy such a person, which is worrisome, because they will destroy someone who's any good.

a little night musing's picture
Submitted by a little night ... on

I do find it somewhat hard to imagine a party long-term going against our "conservative" two parties without staking out ground clearly identifiable as on the left.

The Working Families Party has tried to do that in New York, with some significant success, to the extent that they are being hunted down by the usual suspects.

The situation in NY State is somewhat unusual due to the ability to cross-endorse, which lets "third" parties have power by funneling votes to people nominated by the two "major" parties. Sorry, I can't find any good links explaining "cross-endorsing" (I've been planning a post on this but the research defeats me!). Basically, in NY State, a party which is on the ballot can cross-endorse the nominee of another party on the ballot, which means that that nominee will appear under their line as well as the line of his or her "home" party. The voter can then choose to vote for that nominee under either line. The WFP more or less successfully leveraged this ability, with the results you can read in the linked article. But this would not be a national model unless we had nationally such a policy.

Submitted by gob on

This was the strategy pursued by the New Party, to which I belonged for a few years in the 90s (along with Obama, I believe). The Working Families Party is all that's left of them AFAIK, since they lost their Supreme Court case. There may be other remnants but I was unable to find them at the time.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

It is hard to imagine an actual "party" going against the two establishment* parties, but it has been successful on an individual basis with, as you say, the charismatic, populist candidates with wind at their back. Unfortunately the wind has always been "Celebrity". I suppose that fits with the media not destroying them, since they are creatures OF the media.

All that aside, I am loathe to let others define me. Why are we forced to define "who is a liberal" in relation to who has been elected president of the United States? Would we be wrong to define someone like Paul Wellstone, someone who actually was also elected to an office as a role model of a "liberal"? Surely other viewpoints don't feel the need to reduce their viewpoints or icons as only those represented by elected officials or bureaucrats? Why should liberals?

*establishment is a word I prefer over liberal/conservative, being both more accurately descriptive, as well as less embodying the internalized hype of their champions.

vastleft's picture
Submitted by vastleft on

My concern about choosing a fancy rope-a-dope instead of reclaiming the liberal brand is that -- unless we're claiming a comparable or even sturdier term (leftist, leftwinger, or socialist) -- we're fundamentally ceding the legitimacy of a lefty agenda, a tactic that has long been a very ill wind.

The right has never been delegitimized. As Digby says, conservatism can't fail, it can only be failed.

The left hasn't been legitimized in these parts for a long, long time.

In my book, reclaiming "liberal" is the right place to start because (once again), the fear of that word signals that it's where the rub is. "Lefty/leftist" would be strong positions, but they sound IMHO a little more like a personal proclivity than political philosophy that you hope others will learn to respect. "Socialist" is both bracing and ultra-encumbered -- it would be a bravura move to claim it (as Bernie Sanders has), and for some of us an uncomfortable overstatement of our agenda.

Anyway, there are at least two questions in play here:

* What should those who oppose America's current (and longtime) direction call themselves?
* Should our prospective third party adopt a lefty agenda, or some kind of populist hybrid or mishmash?

Both are quite important questions, because so-called "conservatism" (sometimes masked as "neo-liberalism" and generally wrapped in the anti-gummint sentiments of libertarianism) has swallowed the two-party system whole, into a single corporatist/militarist/classist whole.

If we shun left-labeling ourselves, we're rather vulnerable to glomming onto a celebrity, a movement about itself and/or a charismatic lightbringer, and we're also vulnerable to catering to the unwholesome Reagan Revolution agenda, a zombie that Obama did yeoman work to re-invigorate in its time of decline, since no one will damn it to Hell as they damn well should.

john.halle's picture
Submitted by john.halle on

Having coined, as far as I know, access blogger, OFB, Versailles, etc. you're the man for the job.

What's the word?

Submitted by lambert on

... invented or propagated Pony at Kos; that's why they banned me!

* * *

I don't know the word. But that's because I don't have the concept, or haven't recognized it. It's immanent in whatever organization principles avoid or at least minimize the operation of the the iron law of oligarchy. Yeah, Wikipedia, but to this blogger, the International Typographical Union as an exception to the law is also very interesting. Do we have any labor historians who can elucidate?