Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Faisal Shazhad and The Right (not) to Have Rights

Sam Chambers
Johns Hopkins University

The arrest last week of Faisal Shazhad, a US citizen, for attempting to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, has pushed the debate over “Miranda Rights” and citizenship status to a whole new level. Indeed, the current debate may reflect a new historical stage in the problem of what Hannah Arendt called, “the right to have rights.” Where Arendt located the tragedy of refugees and other stateless people who lacked so-called universal human rights precisely in the fact that they lacked membership in the nation-state that would grant them that very right to have rights, today we see the prospect of a new, modern, form of political exile, wherein the nation-state simultaneously creates and invokes its own right not to recognize the rights of its citizens (and others).
For issues such as this, wherein a very important political event (a failed act of terrorism on US soil) is linked up with deep and fundamental questions about political and philosophical principles (the question of rights), the media loves it when they can get those well-known figures who are putatively located in the center of the political spectrum (so-called “moderates) to stake out a potentially polarizing position. In this case, the media darlings came through.
First, there was John McCain, leading the charge of pundits like Rush Limbaugh (of course) and politicians to argue that Shazhad should not have been read his Miranda rights. Despite his obvious abandonment – in the face of the growth of the tea-party movement (and their numerous electoral successes) – of the so-called “maverick” status, John McCain is still a media favorite. Because when McCain gives a quote on a political event such as this one, he can, almost all by himself, mark the position as another radically polarizing one, and he can do so by merely taking up the position on the right. In this case, McCain delivered once again, with this quote: “Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about.” It didn’t take long, of course, until the “other side” spoke and pointed out, to McCain and others, that as Shazhad was an American citizen arrested in New York City, not an “enemy combatant” and citizen of a foreign country who was captured on foreign and taken to Gitmo.
But to that problem, Joseph Lieberman has proposed an answer: take away his (their) citizenship status. Lieberman has proposed a broadly “bi-partisan” bill – co-sponsored by Scott Brown (R Mass) and tentatively supported by Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton along with just about every Republican who has been asked about it – that would strip a US citizen of his or her citizenship rights for either joining a terrorist organization or providing one with “material support” (anything from supplying weapons and intel to writing a check to a charity that turns out to be a terrorist front). Commentators on the left, like David Cole and Joan Scott, have already done a thorough job of showing how utterly and completely untenable this bill proves to be from a legal or constitutional perspective. My interest here is in something other than the constitutional questions or the politics of demagoguery; I’m concerned with the distinct political logic that one can see traced out in the responses of McCain and Lieberman.
Let’s start with a closer look at the McCain quote: “don’t give him his Miranda rights.” This formulation reflects the current state of the political debate over Miranda rights, where it appears to be a question of whether or not a suspect will be granted a set of rights. Of course, this is not actually the case, and, in fact, takes us a great distance from the constitutional question of “Mirandazing” a suspect. The 1966 Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona does not create a new set of rights; those rights are already written into the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the US Constitution. Miranda v. Arizona creates, instead, a new set of procedures, that, on the one hand, can be said to protect and uphold those rights, but, on the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, function to ensure successful criminal prosecution. We have all heard the Miranda script read a thousand times on television, but it seems worth noting that those cops are not so much protecting the suspect they have just cuffed but rather making sure that the case they build against him or her will not be tossed out.
But all of this means that it is the Fifth and Sixth Amendments that give Shazhad, any other US citizen (and, according to another body of Court precedents, non citizens as well, but I will put this issue to the side for now) his right to remain silent and have an attorney represent him. So McCain and others are simply wrong to think the question before us today is one of “giving him” rights or not; he already has those rights. The question is about whether we should inform him of those rights so that he can then explicitly waive them when he speaks with his interrogators. Of course, there is already a “public safety exception” to the Miranda warning requirements, and Attorney General Eric Holder has now said that he is looking into possibly modifying Miranda procedures under that exception in order to deal with terrorist suspects.
However, no changes to Miranda processes will alter the fact that US citizens still have due process rights, rights granted to them by the Constitution and not by anything an arresting officer says or does not say. Thus, Holder’s comments will surely not be enough for Joe Lieberman. Lieberman and McCain are both on the same page to the extent that they would like terrorist suspects to have no rights. Lieberman’s bill has the advantage (within the terms of his own argument) of recognizing that those rights can only be taken away from a suspect if he or she is stripped of citizenship.
Thus, Lieberman’s logic continues McCain’s, and runs as follows: a suspect “found to be involved with a terrorist organization…would be deprived of their [sic] citizenship rights.” What Lieberman means by “citizenship rights” proves to be slightly complex, since the Bill itself would actually strip a suspect of his or her US citizenship, and it would do so precisely as a means to the end of taking away that suspect’s Constitutional due process rights. Let’s unpack this logic: if you are a terrorist suspect then Lieberman et al do not want you to have due process rights, but to take away those rights they have to take away your citizenship. But you are being stripped of your  citizenship precisely because of your suspected terrorist ties.
So what are your rights in the process that would conclude by stripping you of your rights? By definition, it would appear, you have none. To recognize your rights at any point along with way would stop the process of stripping you of your rights, and therefore the Lieberman Bill could only function in practice if it grounded itself on “the right not to have rights.” That is, the principle of taking away someone’s citizenship has to be self-grounded, i.e. ungrounded. The process of taking away someone’s very ground for rights (citizenship) cannot be a rights-based or rights-governed process; it has to be an arbitrary exercise of police force or political will. It must rest, fundamentally, on a denial of the right to have rights.
It is probably for just this reason that the US Supreme Court over-ruled earlier mid-twentieth century citizenship laws with the effect that, today, one can only lose one’s citizenship if one expressly and intentionally relinquishes it. That is, the Supreme Court has said that even fighting for an enemy army does not amount to loss of citizenship unless one explicitly renounces one’s US citizenship. As David Cole says, “Since those decisions, no Americans have lost their citizenship except where they have chosen freely and purposefully to give it up.” I cannot imagine that either Lieberman or McCain would show much support of this legacy of the Warren court. Nevertheless, the Warren court’s position proves to be politically and philosophically cogent. To make citizenship status a thing that can be taken away because one is suspected of a crime (even the crime of terrorism or treason), is to make the most fundamental rights utterly non-grounded, non-fundamental.
Thus it is that the McCain-Lieberman logic (tacitly) and the Lieberman-sponsored bill (more explicitly) would bring about what I’ve called, by following and modifying Arendt, “the right not to have rights.” It would subject every American to an ever-present (no matter how statistically unlikely) threat of statelessness. “We are all refugees now.”

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Flying Matters

David Howarth, University of Essex and Steven Griggs, De Montfort University, Leicester

Many of those who read this blog (we presume) will board a jetliner in the near future. Some will attend academic conferences, or visit friends and family. Others will commute to and from a place of work, or take a flight to spend a well-earned rest on holiday. Increasing numbers will be ‘leisure travellers’ heading for a weekend or short-break in a nearby city or holiday resort. How many of us will reflect on the environmental and social impacts of our actions in flying, and then act differently?

No doubt some of us will have agonised over the decision. We may have carbon offloaded our flight, or salved our conscience by finding solace in the limits of individual action to address climate change. We may even have worked through a complex set of mental calculations in which we determine that the flight would depart with or without us on board, and that for this particular journey there is no viable alternative to flying. (In recent weeks, we’ve also had to check that the cloud of volcanic gas from the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallaj√∂kull is not preventing us from flying at all!) Anxieties about personal security have for many years been a growing threat at airports and for airlines. We might be tempted to swallow the latest ‘cake and eat it’ fantasy about the prospects of a ‘sustainable’ and ‘responsible’ form of aviation expansion.
Yet even those who agonize over the negative environmental impacts of air travel, or who abhor the endless queuing through security checks and customs, sooner or later find themselves buckling up their seat belts and putting up their trays ready for take-off. Such is the modern subject’s love affair with air travel - at least for those who are lucky enough to afford it.


Reducing carbon emissions from commercial aviation is a challenge facing governments across the world. Consider the case of the United Kingdom. Its Committee on Climate Change has predicted that aviation’s contribution to UK greenhouse gases will rise from the current level of 6% to 25% by 2050. If 6% does not sound much, then it’s worth noting that aircraft pollution emitted at high altitude causes up to 2.5 to 4 times as much pollution as those emitted from cars on the ground.
Yet in the face of this threat the position of the UK government is riddled with contradictions. Despite vocal opposition from local residents, high-profile celebrities, environmental groups, direct action movements, and even government agencies, opposition parties, and members of the Cabinet, the Brown government gave its support in 2009 to the construction of a Third Runway at Heathrow airport. This followed its own 2008 Climate Change Act which committed the UK government to an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
Controversially, in December 2009 the Committee for Climate Change went as far as to suggest that a 60% growth in demand for air travel could be compatible with the Labour government’s commitment to keep CO2 emissions from commercial aviation in 2050 no higher than they were in 2005. This judgment was welcomed by some as a cap on New Labour’s ‘predict and provide’ ambitions to accommodate unlimited demand for aviation. But underlying the Committee’s assessment was acceptance of the aviation industry’s own ‘solution’ to the environmental impacts of flying: the ‘technological fix’. Indeed, the apparent mismatch between higher demand and lower emissions hangs on the reality of anticipated future fleet fuel efficiency, the use of alternative biofuels, and enhanced air traffic management, as well as other operational efficiencies.

A couple of weeks ago, these tensions were evident again in a high court ruling that declared that ministers should revise their rationale for the third runway as ‘it is now challenged by the government’s own global warming policies.’ (Guardian, 27 March 2010) The government met this judgment with repeated assertions of the need for a third runway to secure jobs and drive forward economic growth. Once again ministers have denied any contradiction between aviation expansion and measures to address climate change. Lord Adonis (the current Transport Secretary) said that ‘a new runway at Heathrow will help secure jobs and underpin economic growth … It is also entirely compatible with our carbon reduction target, as demonstrated by the recent report by the Committee on Climate Change.’ (Guardian, 27 March 2010)
A number of issues present themselves here. In the first place, the contradictory logic of aviation expansion is not external to the emergence of neoliberal forms of capital accumulation and governance in the UK, but a vital component of its reproduction and subjective grip. At the same time, global aviation is one of the major contributors to climate change, whilst the unregulated growth of airports and its transport needs, threatens local communities and their quality of life. The inevitable public consultations and deliberations initiated by governments and public authorities are rarely viewed as legitimate by those opposed to growth, whilst solemn promises by governments of all hues to curb the expansion of airports like Heathrow and Stansted are regularly broken.


In an important respect, the ecological maxim ‘Think Globally, Act Locally’ is tailor made to think about possible solutions to the problems of unsustainable aviation. To operationalize this idea, each of us has to think carefully before pressing ‘Confirm’ when booking our next flight. Are our journeys necessary? Are there realistic alternatives to flying? Can our purposes be achieved in different ways? At the very least, we should seek to offset the environmental impacts of our ‘binge flying’.
We can also work on forging connections between different struggles aiming to bring about more sustainable forms of aviation. In recent years, the dislocatory effects of aviation expansion have resulted in new assemblages on both sides of the argument. On the one hand, coalitions like Freedom to Fly and Flying Matters have linked airport companies, airlines and trade unions, air users, organized business and sections of the tourist industry around the rhetoric of ‘responsible’ and ‘sustainable growth’ in aviation. They have called on government to take a lead in increasing airport capacity, whilst continuing to support the aviation industry with tax subsidies.
But they have been opposed by groups like AirportWatch and the Aviation Environment Federation, which have elaborated a policy of demand management. They have called on governments to regulate the expansion of aviation in an effective fashion, whilst bringing together local airport protest groups with national environmental and conservation lobbies, such as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth, and Transport 2000. At times, they have gone beyond the ‘normal’ modes of campaigning and local protest by forging tactical links with more radical environmental activists and movements such as Plane Stupid and the Camp for Climate Change. Direct action has been threatened and used effectively. Their proposals for greater environmental regulation, coupled with the management of aviation growth, argue that unfettered airport growth across the United Kingdom is unnecessary. They have demanding the removal of the tax concessions and subsidies enjoyed by airlines and the need for more sustainable transport networks, such as high-speed rail links.
Finally, we need to think carefully about the role of government. Many radicals and progressives are wary of government and state interventions. Yet on an issue like aviation, governments of a progressive hue have an important part to play in constructing a clear line – an ecologically defensible balance between economic growth and environmental protection - and then seeking to lead, educate, and legislate. They must strike appropriate balances and then forcefully articulate the case for such proposals amongst key opinion-makers and the wider public. In the case of UK aviation, they should place an immediate moratorium on the expansion of airports, and tax aviation fuel at the same rate as road fuel. They should also introduce emissions charging for airplanes to encourage the use of cleaner technology, whilst promoting high-speed rail routes to reduce short-haul aviation. But governments and states can only go so far. It is the concerted efforts of responsible individuals, the forging of red-green coalitions in different sites, plus pressures for governmental action at the national, regional and global levels, which can tackle this pressing issue.
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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bigger Than Arizona: Immigration and Economic Justice

John Buell
Author of Evil Doers: Demonization and the End of Civil Debate in American Politics (New York University Press)

The President may have no appetite for an issue he seems to regard as a distraction, but as with volcanoes the intersection of many intensifying currents may produce eruptions that command our attention. A recent Paul Krugman blog
post on the topic highlights a dilemma shared by many on the left:
“Democrats are torn individually… On one side, they favor helping those in need, which inclines them to look sympathetically on immigrants; plus they’re relatively open to a multicultural, multiracial society… today’s Mexicans and Central Americans seem to me fundamentally the same as my grandparents seeking a better life in America… Open immigration, [however] can’t coexist with a strong… safety net; if you’re going to assure… a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global. “

Furthermore, Krugman has argued in a prior column: “Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations — often the result of immigration — tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.”

Krugman sees open immigration as an enemy of the safety net in two senses. Either it overwhelms our scarce resources and/or it undermines the social consensus on which the safety net must rest. Both arguments are problematic.

Current immigration politics is fueled by an image of hordes of Mexicans eager to cross our borders for our welfare benefits. Implicit in this image is the self-flattering view that Mexicans predominantly want our way of life. .Such a view also obscures the role of US policy in the Mexican exodus. Under the 1994 NAFTA accords, Mexican markets were opened to competition from subsidized agribusiness, displacing about two million peasant farmers. They had few options besides emigration. Recent studies also indicate that the flow of Mexicans is now in the other direction—likely because of the severe US recession.

Walling off Mexico will not redress the assault on the working class. Driving undocumented workers back to Mexico would both further destabilize the Mexican economy, lower wages there, and perhaps make Mexico even more attractive to business flight.

Protecting labor rights both in the US and in trading partners is the best answer to the corporate globalization that impels rapid population shifts. Organizing across ethnicity and nationality for labor rights here is crucial and could in turn build support for international labor collaboration to press reform of the current international trade system. Such an agenda would improve economic circumstances in Mexico, foster more full and remunerative employment in the US, thus providing the revenue to finance a generous safety net even for a growing US population. ( Krugman seems strangely to forget that historically the immigrants who seek our safety net are also an asset to our economy.)

Even as he worries about open immigration, Krugman describes the US as having a tradition of welcoming immigrants. But following Bonnie Honig (Democracy and the Foreigner) I read our traditions as more ambivalent. At times immigrants have been treated as advancing the American dream. Full citizenship rights are encouraged. The other side of that coin, however, is that when the dream falters—either because it seems unattainable or is less satisfying than promised, bashing immigrants becomes a means to preserve our commitment to and reverence for that dream.

Economists are conflicted as to the effects of undocumented immigrants on unskilled worker wages. No study, however, puts their impact anywhere close to that of such variables as the Federal Reserve’s manipulation of interest rates and employment levels. All workers advance in a full employment economy. Yet despite overwhelming evidence about the weaknesses in our deregulated banking system, the role of the Fed and investment bankers in creating and abusing that system, and their role in fostering a near depression, there is, other than from Michael Moore, no movement to deport bankers.

Immigrant bashing preceded the current crisis and has taken several forms, including “the English only movement,… blaming immigrants and ethnics for the fragmentation of high culture (perversely enough at a time when the homogenizing powers of American popular culture are at their height and the identification of enclavism with immigrants and ethnics at a time when the propensity to withdraw from public services and public culture is most characteristic not of foreigners but of the wealthy.” (Honig) More recently, immigrants have been blamed for lawlessness at a time when rates of violent crime are actually falling.

A nation most of whose citizens are from away, does not share a common heritage, and has often seen itself as God’s chosen, has often experienced an especially strong need and temptation to affirm the unity and simplicity of a set of core values. ( Paradoxically, portraying ourselves as uniquely open often serves to strengthen our sense of ourselves as a chosen few and to justify new forms of repression of those who are different.) There is a long tradition in the US of treating even domestic dissidents who suggest the limits to or the difficulties in attaining that dream as “foreign inspired.”

The Obama Administration’s rather tepid and overhyped stimulus package, leaving unemployment at extraordinarily high levels, invites continued scapegoating. What else is left to blame if the stimulus package has failed? Democrats need to return to a vigorous jobs agenda, But building support not only for job creation but long- term safety nets requires addressing ethnic politics and immigration.

Krugman argues that studies indicate ethnic diversity must be limited to achieve broad support for the safety net. But perhaps the very repetition of such regularities along with the larger theoretical understanding that society always proceeds in an orderly fashion help reproduce the phenomenon and is part of the problem. It may give undue solidity to the very murky notion of ethnicity and freeze existing boundaries.

In addition, Krugman assumes that enactment of a more just safety net depends on what is happening within the society. A dynamic between internal and external may play a more vital role than in earlier eras. Perhaps a world as marked by the rapid flow of ideas, populations, and products offers possibilities as well as risks.

Rather than build commitment to the safety net—especially in our globalizing world-- on cultural or ethnic homogeneity, the best foundation may be far more pluralistic. Such a coalition might spring from multiple ethnicities, gender justice, labor, and religious and secular sources, all of whom recognize or can be indueced to see the damage to each from forms of political repression and exclusion. They cultivate among themselves and others a willingness to risk challenge to the certainty of their identities in an effort to have a political life together. Sister cities movements, the World Social Forum (WSF) and experiments on cross national labor collaboration may be early examples. At their best, their participants are willing to concede that some of their deepest beliefs about God and truth are not or have not been fully proven. They admit their participation in historic injustices. (Mexicans who break laws by crossing our borders are returning to land stolen from Mexico.) They recognize that the established rights or democratic forms—important as they are-- may not be the last word. Many of the most alienated will not join such a collaboration, but others confused and disturbed by the drift of our politics may. Such a coaltion seems better prepared to resist the worst forms of exclusionary and authoritarian politics. The endeavor to build on a diverse and open foundation seems worth it to me.

In Arizona even as activists oppose the new law both in the courts and through boycotts, they can reach out to some members of the law enforcement community who see the cost and inequities in the law. And within the Hispanic community itself, new alliances may be built as some who have shared opposition to the undocumented (perhaps because they or their parents came legally) may come to see that demonization of the undocumented comes to touch them also. A pluralistic politics on the international scene may be equally vital, especially as walls between inside and outside become more porous. Of these early efforts, the WSF may deserve the most attention in a world of rapid population flows. Critics of a consensus that pits workers against each other, exacerbates inequalities among nations, and treats the environment as an open sewer are often called “anti-global.” Yet from its inception participants in the WSF have been committed to finding global alternatives to international corporate capitalism. The WSF’s motto, “another world is possible”, implies globalization with two big differences. The emphasis is on initiatives from the bottom up. Just as basically, the WSF rejects not only the corporate dominated model but also even the underlying assumption that the world can be united through one underlying ideology, philosophy, or worldview. As one commentator puts it, the WSF “was constituted as an important initiative of mobilization and articulation of the global civil society. From then on it has maintained a central role against "single thought"…offering a rich space for sharing experiences, drawing up campaigns and for debates on alternatives to social problems at global level.”

In order to remain a focus for continuing debate and inspiration, WSF takes no positions as an organization, Its only membership requirements are opposition to corporate domination, an international outlook, nonviolence, and open participation, terms whose meaning it continually re-examines.

Thus WSF participants have generally opposed the anti-labor thrust of Washington deregulators. But the body does not serve to foster “socialism” as conventionally defined. Some labor and left parties have seen as their mission greater equality in material standards achieved primarily by endless growth in wages and affluence, including autos and more air travel, for poor and working class citizens. But as an organization that includes first people’s movements and others moved by reverence for the earth, the WSF challenges conventional left to explore the limits of their preconceptions. More broadly its ongoing dialogues are premised on and seek to advance responsiveness to new and emerging injustices. Only a flexible, self-organized mesh can cover a globe that may be more volatile and unpredictable than monomaniacal corporate globalizers and old time socialists assume. Here in the US immigrants can be a catalyst to fundamental transformations in our politics. Many have engaged at great personal risk in demonstrations and union organizing. They are more than an economic asset. Coming from a variety of Christian and indigenous perspectives, many value cultural, religous, and family commitments more than endless material growth. Many also share a greater appreciation for the centrality of political participation both as a value itself and a means to a more dynamic pluralism. They may be key players in our enactment of a more generous society.
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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Politics of The Tea Party.

George Shulman
New York University
The latest polls suggest that “the tea party movement” may be nothing more than a discontented and “extreme” minority of Republican Party voters, surely no harbinger of a wide populist revolt. Surveys depict self-identified Tea Party members as overwhelmingly upper middle class, reliably Republican voters, exclusively white, and mostly men over the age of 60, who share anti-statist and national security views, but echo longstanding tensions between libertarian and religious/conservative stances toward cultural issues. Their protests now seem an instance, not of emergent popular association, but of the capacity of Fox media to produce the politics it claims to report. How these folks will be absorbed into or reshape the Republican Party remains to be seen, but their significance or newsworthiness as signals of a wider phenomena may have been discredited. My thought, however, is that this picture narrows way too much the resonance and actual support of tea party associations. As well, the entire episode raises issues political theorists should reflect on: first, how we explain the emergence and meaning of these protests; second, how we conceptualize the meaning of anti-statism in relation both to American history and to democratic theory; third, how we address issues around civility and violence. (This post is deeply indebted to conversations with Joe Lowndes and Peter Euben)
A. Explaining counter-subversive politics
The conduct of those organizing under the tea party metaphor seems self-evidently an example of racialized ressentiment in Nietzsche’s sense, but how do we analyze the patronizing, demeaning and even demonizing way we talk about them? My hope, then, is to turn a theoretical gaze back on ourselves as theorists. My model is Arendt’s account of the difference between Socrates and Plato: her Plato brings a truth to the ignorant, whereas for her Socrates seeks to draw out the truth in their doxa. What can we learn about or from these folks, that might (maybe not!) take us beyond saying simply that they are stupid, racist, paranoid (and propertied) men of a certain age, and undeserving of so much media attention? I am suggesting not that we conduct focus groups, but reflect on our frames of reference.
The most typical frame of reference is Richard Hofstadter’s analysis of “the paranoid style” in American politics. His argument invoked American exceptionalism: whereas European politics was organized by class conflict over structurally antagonistic interests, American politics oscillated between a pragmatic politics of “interest group” bargaining over material rewards, and a “status politics” enacted in impossible-to-compromise struggles over identity, i.e. who was “truly American.” Hofstadter attributed this rancorous status politics -and “paranoid style- to anxiety, and he derived anxiety both from the fluidity of a society shaped by markets not stable class groupings, and from issues of identity and belonging provoked by waves of immigration. Accordingly, he read the populist movement in terms of status and identity not class and interest; populist anger targeted not class domination but their displacement by “Un-American” (non-Protestant, individualist, and “native”) immigrants. For the children of these immigrants, now turned social scientists, McCarthyites and John Birchers were the heirs of these populist nativists; especially after the New Deal included the immigrant working class in a share of political and economic power, Hofstadter argued, paranoid anti-communism appeared from the margins to protest displacement (betrayal) by new and old elites sharing an increasingly pluralist center. He thus saw a society divided not by revolutionary subversives, but by irrational obsession with them. 
As Michael Rogin argued about Hofstadter and other cold war social scientists: “In classic American fashion, however, these children of immigrants were turning their own autobiographies into American history. They were elevating the conflicts between immigrants and natives, the upwardly and downwardly mobile, into the central principle of a non-interest based American historical conflict....It was as if the children of immigrants were saying to [Protestants from the hinterland], “You had the fantasy that our parents were dangerous to you; that fantasy made you dangerous to them. Then, America belonged to you and you tried to exclude us. Now, with the New Deal, it belongs to us as well. But while you had only superstition and religion to de-legitimize us, we can use modern scientific methods to discredit you.”
In sum, paranoid-style analysts were participating in the status politics they analyzed. More importantly, by focusing on a status politics that exaggerated minor differences, they ignored constitutive social divisions of class and race, as if fears of identity loss or displacement could be separated from structural inequalities and corporate power. Lastly, they located the paranoid style only at the margins of society and not also at the center: by an image of a pluralist and consensual center threatened by a lunatic fringe, they obscured how national politics was organized by anti-communism as an exemplary instance of the paranoid style. Rogin thus transfigurees the “paranoid style” into a broader “counter-subversive” tradition: “To win in the counter-subversive tradition is to be an English speaking white man. To lose is to fall back among the undifferentiated mass of aliens, women, and peoples of color.” In this tradition of discourse, the nation is imagined as an “imperial self” and “the contradictions denied at the center of American life are located in the dark side of Americanism, the alien. The alien comes to birth as the American’s dark double, the imaginary twin who sustains his (or her) brother’s identity. Taken inside, this subversive would obliterate the American, driven outside, the subversive becomes the alien who serves as a repository for the disowned, negative American self...”
By Rogin’s analysis, the Tea Party exemplifies a “counter-subversive tradition” at the center of American politics, which is recurrently organized around the trope of protecting core liberal institutions from subversive threats identified with people of color, women, alien immigrants, and non-liberal practices. People transform feelings of marginality and impotence into political power and cultural legitimacy by claiming to redeem a threatened nation and liberty. Jeremiadic tea party rhetoric thus bespeaks and continues the “culture war” politics of a post-Vietnam era characterized by eroding national power, de-industrialization, a second reconstruction, and mass immigration. But Rogin’s account also provokes questions. First, what is our own position relative to those participating in or excited by the Tea Party events? Surely, the organization and mobilization of Americans through race has proceeded openly since Kevin Phillips’ “southern strategy” won Nixon election in 1968, and racialized politics has divided the white working class in profound ways. But the election of Obama seems like a decisive defeat to those who for forty years have narrated politics as culture war. In response, how do we address them? Without saying so, do we speak as winners in the status wars to a minority of a minority party? Do we use our metro-culture skills to pathologize their resentment in a culture war they are correct to believe they are losing? Do we speak as their enemies and adversaries because of opposing class and racial identifications? Do we speak as a vulnerable and resentful minority still subject to their hegemonic cultural power, which they mistakenly fear is being displaced? Is addressing them necessary? possible?
Second, by interpreting tea party politics especially in terms of racialized resentment at displacement, as simply the defense of racial privilege, do we repeat the elision by which Hofstadter removed the issues of class and corporate power from his account of populism as a status politics? Surely, there is a powerful element of anxiety if not literal aversion in their racialized denunciations of Obama; their animus does bespeak a desperate defense of a whiteness few name directly. But do we interpret race, now, in the way he interpreted anti-Semitism then, that is, do we reduce their populism to ethnic grievance only, to status or identity politics, as if they had no legitimate grievance with Wall Street or with the State?
B. Is there a truth in their doxa?
To pursue questions about economic populism and anti-statism, we need to credit first how hostility to the state in the American case has been inseparably tied to the protection of racial privilege and racialized domination, and not only to the defense of the market and corporate power. Historically, anti-statism appeared in “republican” criticism of monarchy, and in “anti-Federalist” critiques of the “Junto” seeking to expand the powers of a centralized state, but what was being defended against the state and what was being sought through the state? Centralization appealed to those seeking to finance Indian war and infrastructure as expansionist national projects; it was opposed by those seeking to defend de-centralized political life as well as agrarian and artisan radicalism. Since the 1850's however, the language of local self-determination and popular sovereignty has served white supremacy (and local elites) against nationalized standards of formal equality and state intervention on behalf of (racial) equality. This is one way of narrating the civil rights movement, as equality required using state power against local (racial) tyrannies being defended in the name of democratic liberty. Because racial privilege cannot be separated from the defense of local liberty in American history, it is no surprise that the state has been seen by many whites -from Oxford Mississippi to Boston Massachusetts- as the enemy of their local liberty. 
In addition, herrenvolk republicanism invokes a “producer’s republic” to attack both a state parasitic on “productive” labor, and the undeserving (“unproductive”) poor supported by it. In the American political imaginary, indeed, blackness is linked to (among other things) state power; the central image in the counter-subversive politics of culture war is a demonic love triangle composed of the liberal state supporting unproductive blacks and aborting (i.e. unproductive and not only autonomous) women, at the symbolic and literal expense of white men. Tea Party rhetoric sustains these historical themes: a blackened Obama is associated with state power and redistribution as taxation of the productive supports the unproductive. (The health plan does avow a right to healthcare for 40 million uninsured people, who are coded black and/or alien, not poor.)
Anti-statism, therefore has a racial and not only market or neo-liberal dimension; indeed, at the core of anti-statism is an ambivalence about dependence that is wholly racial (and gendered) in meaning. Nevertheless, anti-statism historically has also included a “populist” critique of the connection between the state and entrenched elites, once (maybe still) coded in the paranoid association of the state with (Jewish) bankers, and now with poverty pimps and welfare queens on one side and chardonnay swilling liberal elites on the other side. Since the 1950s, the state has also been associated with an emergent “new world order” that is centralized, cosmopolitan, and violent. Tocqueville, as well as Staughton Lynd and Sheldon Wolin might be said to voice the truth in this doxa: the state enacts an imperial and corporate agenda that destroys customary forms of popular sovereignty and self-determination; the language of democratic legitimation by elections does not hold the state accountable but authorizes its power. From this point of view, democracy depends on expanding local forms of participation, though as Lawrence Goodwyn argued in The Populist Moment, 19th century populism teaches us that state power needs to be used against local elites to sponsor truly democratic de-centralization. 
Might we then affirm the voice in the Tea Party that criticizes the wedding of the state and finance capital, and that denounces the lack of transparency in policy-making? Moreover, don’t we ourselves need to be clearer about the state? Surely, some of these Tea Party folks are libertarian neo-liberals attacking the state to defend de-regulated markets. But in the case of Scott Brown’s election there were many “fellow-travelers” less ideologically bound, who might be open to a left populism that addressed the connection of the state to the banks, say, without racial coding or religious affiliation. Could we invent and offer a different chain of signifiers, to remake the meaning of the state and of liberty, to link rather than oppose these on behalf of social democratic social policy? But as Tocqueville asks, in what regards is the state a problem even on behalf of equality? Can a better welfare state be the horizon of democratic politics? As we pursue equality by way of the state, does there angry voice disclose a  paradoxes we need to recognize?
Despite their affluence, and their racial positioning, there is a profound sadness in these Tea Party events, and they say as much in testifying that they have “lost” their country. If we reduce this lament to endangered white privilege we may miss something important. Perhaps I am projecting here, but I hear an issue voiced in the Port Huron Statement, which also began with an assumption of affluence. That issue concerns not the sufficiency  of the American welfare state, but the meaning or purpose of a society that seems unhinged from forms of democratic accountability, indeed from identifiable human purposes, and which seems to be hurtling along on a path of self-destruction. Might we dispute how they define or explain that end, by first affirming their sense of unease and anguish, and their notion of democratic accountability, to solicit their participation in an alternative resonance machine?
 C. Speech and Violence 
There is a second issue provoked by the Tea Party episode, concerning appropriate political speech and conduct, specifically  hate-ful speech and violent conduct. I am disturbed by the scolding and parental tone used by critics of these protesting people, as I remember earlier days when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. Perhaps memories of my own days of rage, and uncivil conduct, confuse me now; does an impulse to defend my own conduct then lead me, mistakenly, to protect their conduct now? Likewise, I have always defended “passionate” speech against the “reasonable” norms defined by “deliberative” democrats, but should I apply the same standard to those with opposed agendas? (As Judith Butler argued in regards to terrorism and 9/11, to try to understand violence (of Weathermen, terrorists, or right-wing actors) is not to condone it.) 
One issue here is how we understand the ethos of “agonistic politics.” Does it actually entail the norms defended by deliberative democratic? If the code is -accept when you lose (an election, a privilege, a country) and find a legitimate channel for your dissent- what counts as legitimate? Legal? Discursive? Are we saying: use your words children, not your fists, but also, you must make your words reasonable in tone and civil in manner, or you will be chastised, and rightfully excluded from the playground? Are we playing Aunt Polly, but won’t admit it? Does our anxiety to contain agonism betray it? Either these folks are performing the agonistic politics we say we want, or our agonism is profoundly restricted in ways we have elided. Perhaps, then, their conduct reveals how we identify with the authority of civility and law, and not with rebellion against it, just as we seem to be defending the state against those who attack it.
Their threats of violence, and actual acts of violence, provoke similar questions. On the one hand, even those protestors who endorse the arming of militias need to be heard for the truth they speak: not only is the first rule of paranoids, as Thomas Pynchon taught years ago, that “they” are indeed following you, but also, these paranoids are right to protest state surveillance and violence. Even if they are not consistent or universal in their defense of the victims of state violence -they mention Waco but not the members of MOVE incinerated in their Philadelphia homes- they register state violence in a way we could well credit rather than ignore. (Thus did Bill Clinton’s recent oped piece in The New York Times invoke McVeigh’s Oklahoma bombing as a lesson that dissent must be non-violent, while Clinton evaded but in effect endorsed and repeated the very state violence that McVeigh was protesting.) 
On the other hand, I have written about and in defense of John Brown. Brown’s violence is often condemned, but not the ordinary but normalized violence of slavery, or of the current incarceral system holding two and half million people in bondage. McVeigh invoked Brown, and Clinton’s critique of McVeigh must include Brown. I don’t mean to equate Brown and McVeigh, on the contrary, I want to make a political rather than a moral argument about violence. Some of us endorse unconditionally a non-violent politics, but canonical political theory repeatedly depicts moments in politics that inescapably involve or even justify violence. Machiavelli insists a free people must be “ferocious” in their agonism, to generate fear of retaliation by the grandeees. Machiavelli praises Junius Brutus because he killed his own sons to re-found the authority of law and equality in a corrupt republic. I imagine him endorsing a prince who uses popular or legal violence (against Wall Street Bankers or Enron executives) to sustain both respect for law and popular support. He distinguishes “fighting like men” by law and “fighting like beasts” by force and fraud, but as he shows the violence and fraud in law, so he recognizes the real and spectacular effects of enforcing law. In other words, would the tea party movement have emerged at all if Obama had signaled a left populism by acted decisively and punitively against Wall Street?
I don’t mean to endorse violence or to romanticize it, but I worry about moralizing it and sanitizing politics. Of course the tolerance for violence voiced by elected Republicans enables a chain of effects that can end in assassination, vigilante ethnic violence, and civil war. Maybe, given the play of forces in the United States, an absolute denunciation of violence is needful politically, because violence can only hurt the people we care about, but then we are talking about violence as a political rather than moral issue and we have not ruled it out absolutely. But is my resistance to those who sanitize politics leading me to actually defend racist right-wing people throwing bricks? Is it better to make a universal prohibition, or to recognize that some bricks are more justified than others?

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

The New Arizona

Joel Olson
Norther Arizona State
Joel works with the Repeal Coalition in Flagstaff.  He has lived in Arizona for twenty-five years.
In the midst of the Arizona state government passing the most outrageous anti-immigrant law since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, several happenings pass unnoticed by the national media.  At a packed Flagstaff City Council meeting discussing the law, waves of people declare publicly that they are undocumented, practically daring law enforcement officers to arrest them.  At the same meeting, a member of a radical immigrant rights group receives thunderous applause for demanding the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws and declaring the right of all people to “live, love, and work wherever they please.”  Even the most conservative city councilman admits he liked the notion.  Down in Phoenix, high school students spontaneously organize a school walkout through mass texting, without direction from the established immigration reform organizations.  This infuriates the organizations because it pre-empts “their” planned protests.  And then these same students chuck water bottles at cops when they arrest one of their own. 
Welcome to the new Arizona.
Arizona has been dragged through the mud by the media and national opinion over the passage of SB 1070, a heinous anti-immigration law that massively expands police power in the state, basically mandating racial profiling and making it a crime to associate with undocumented people.  Much of this derision is deserved.  The law was crafted by one of the most nativist politicians in the country, State Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa, and signed by Governor Jan Brewer, who is running as far to the right as she can in order to win the coming Republican primary.  The anti-immigrant sentiment is so strong in this state that even our “maverick” U.S. Senator, John McCain, endorsed the bill.  McCain, who supported immigration reform when he ran for president in 2008, is also up for reelection this November.
Anti-immigrant sentiment is so widespread it could change the political landscape here—for the worse.  The rumor is that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who began the nativist sensation in Arizona in 2006 with his roadblocks and sweeps for “illegals”—is going to run for governor against Brewer.  Andrew Thomas, the Maricopa County Attorney who is otherwise known as Arpaio’s mini-me, recently quit his job in order to run for state attorney general.  Pearce salivates at the thought of replacing Arpaio as County Sheriff.  So if you think things are bad now, wait until November, when we could have Arpaio, Thomas, Hayworth, and Pearce running the state.  It’s enough to make David Duke exhale a low whistle.
But the courageous actions of undocumented workers and high school students suggest that nativism will not rule the Grand Canyon State without a fight.  And those from below just might win.
You can see the kernel of the new Arizona in the shell of the old in the Repeal Coalition, a grassroots, all-volunteer organization with chapters in Flagstaff and Phoenix.  As one of its main organizers, Taryn Jordan, explains, the group was formed in 2008 to fight anti-immigrant legislation.  “We knew something like this [SB 1070] was coming, and we’ve known it for a long time,” says Jordan.  “Our goal in Repeal was to provide a new face of resistance to it.”
And it is new.  Most immigrant rights groups here call for “comprehensive immigration reform,” a law that would create a long, arduous path to citizenship for only some undocumented people, while leaving many in legal limbo.  The Repeal Coalition, however, argues for the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws.  “We demand the repeal of all laws—federal, state, and local—that degrade and discriminate against undocumented individuals and that deny U.S. citizens their lawful rights,” their literature states.  “We demand that all human beings—with papers or without—be guaranteed access to work, housing, health care, education, legal protection, and other public benefits, as well as the right to organize.”
Flagstaff Repeal Coalition organizer Ashley Cooper says that in the current anti-immigrant climate, repeal is the only relevant demand.  “You can’t reform these laws; you can only repeal them,” she says.  “And this gets to the heart of the issue.  In a global economy, where goods and services move effortlessly across borders, humans deserve the same freedom.  The only way to achieve that is to repeal existing laws, not create complicated and difficult paths to citizenship that only some people will be able to access.”
The group is finding an increasingly receptive audience for its message, especially among undocumented people and college and high school students. 
Repeal’s approach to political organizing is also different from most immigration reform organizations.  “Our goal is not to work for the people but to work with them,” explains Phoenix organizer Ceci Saenz.  “We believe that the people should be leading this struggle—and that they already are leading it.”  Repeal’s task, she explains, is to facilitate this leadership by bringing people together, encouraging them to “develop their militancy,” and to provide a political framework for their struggle, which is expressed by their slogan, “No more hate, harass, and blame: Freedom for all people to live, love, and work where you please!”
Flagstaff Repeal helped mobilize the undocumented workers who courageously spoke out at the City Council meeting, for example, and they are currently organizing pickets at a local hotel that has harassed and abused (and now fired) undocumented workers there.  The weekend before, they organized three protests in a row, which drew 500 people in a town of 60,000.  “It wasn’t even our idea,” explains Flagstaff Repeal Coalition organizer Katie Fahrenbruch.  “We held a meeting just before 1070 was passed.  When one of our volunteers asked folks what they wanted to do about [the law], the entire audience said ‘Protest!’” (In Spanish, of course.)  “They couldn’t collectively agree on a day, so they said let’s do it for three days.  So, we helped organize it in less than twenty-four hours’ notice.”
In Phoenix, the Coalition is organizing undocumented people, trailer park by trailer park, apartment complex by apartment complex.  While thousands massed at the state Capitol the day after Governor Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, the Repeal Coalition was with a group of several hundred, led by undocumented women, who led a protest through the Latino neighborhoods they are organizing.  Later that evening they called an emergency meeting, and within thirty minutes there were forty undocumented people meeting inside a garage in a trailer park, discussing strategy. 
Many people have been talking about leaving the state since 1070 was passed, but this group did not.  They talked about fighting.  Something is new here.
All of this is being done by a group of just a handful of volunteers without non-profit status and with virtually no budget.  Three Phoenix organizers live in a “Repeal” house, paid for by a small grant they obtained.  They agree to work at least thirty hours a week for Repeal in exchange for free rent and utilities.  “We don’t live large and it’s been stressful since 1070 was passed, but it’s worth it,” says Chris Griffin.  He lives in the house and spends his days visiting jails, courthouses, and the homes of undocumented workers struggling against these laws.This is the new Arizona.  As conservative whites try to drive every “illegal” out of the state, and as immigration reform groups wait for Obama and Pelosi and Reid to put immigration reform on the agenda, folks in the Repeal Coalition are holding mass meetings of undocumented workers and are going to the hangouts of high school students, encouraging them to take their struggle to the next level.  And as snipers line the roof of the State Capitol, they are smiling every time a water bottle whizzes past a cop who is now empowered to check their papers.
Welcome to the new Arizona.

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