Manning Links

Bradley Manning’s verdict has been announced. He has not been found guilty of aiding the enemy (which is a victory for media), but has been found guilty on a number of charges that could land him in jail for up to 136 years. For some reason I haven’t seen any reactions to this, which is rather unfortunate. This could turn out to be a seminal case. After all, this is the first case that examines the legality of mass leaks that have only become possible in the internet age. We should all be paying attention.

In case you want to read more on Manning, here are some links:

1. Crash Course: The Verge has a guide on what you need to know here.

2. Manning: If you are looking for more information on the man himself, this profile by Denver Nicks has been described as the definitive one. This article by Jesse Hicks at The Verge also profiles him, and also goes into some of the broader issues.

3. Solitary Confinement: The US government has been subject to criticism for the way Manning was treated; with reportedly being forced to be naked in the cell while enduring solitary confinement for extended periods. This article looks at Manning’s confinement and explains why solitary confinement is so harmful.

On that note, the UN special rapporteur on torture yesterday concluded an investigation by finding that “the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment in keeping Manning locked up alone for 23 hours a day over an 11-month period in conditions that he also found might have constituted torture.”

If anyone has good reads on the broader implications of this trial, please send them my way.

What’s in a name?

Why we need to get better at naming things.

In my previous roundup, I linked to an Op-Ed about “The Charitable-Industrial Complex” by Warren Buffet’s son, Peter. It’s a pretty good piece, especially given who wrote it. The title is an allusion to the term “Military-Industrial Complex,” which was coined by President Dwight Eisenhower to refer to the relationships between the political establishment and the industries which profit from warfare. Homages in nomenclature like this one are a runaway trend in our discourse, and in my mind they’re a real danger: they facilitate a shallow approach to problems by glossing over differences and creating lazy mental shortcuts that might be easier, but lack subtlety and truth.

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Some Readings on Capitalism

Readings on Capitalism

Because arguably, it’s the most important thing we can educate ourselves about.

Why Write the History of Capitalism? asks Louis Hyman, in view of a once-again flourishing field of history.

Economic theory, for instance, would tell us that depressions are the worst time to strike and organize. Yet the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936 took place in the middle of the Great Depression. A group of auto-workers took on and won a strike against General Motors, then the most powerful corporation in the world. That reality, more than any theory, is what makes the history of capitalism different from economic history.

Above all else, historians must remind us all that things change, even capitalism. In some sense, this idea is more radical than any millenarian communist tract. While the basic rules of capitalism might appear fixed (excess profits ought to be invested, work needs to be organized, and private property needs protecting), the forms that are possible are quite endless.

Luckily, archives always offer more instruction in the specificity of the past, even as they push us to question our assumptions about how capitalism works. Choices were and are made every day, if not by everyone, determining not only capitalism’s past but its future as well. The history of capitalism is not a fad, but something that we should think about, so that we can make better choices — when we have them — in the future.

(The article was posted at Symposium Magazine, which seems to be brand-new. “Where Academia Meets Public Life” is their tagline, and lots of their stuff looks good. Check them out here )

Below the fold: how ratings agencies fucked up and helped cause the financial crash, and why Econ 101 can’t quite explain some of the most important questions in economics.

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Snowden

So Melissa Harris Perry lost all credibility as a journalist when she devoted an entire segment to discussing how Snowden leaving the US was the real problem here – apparently this is a cowardly act which distracts people from the issue.

She clearly didn’t get that she forms part of the media that chooses to focus on Snowden’s abscondal rather than the actual issues. Because god forbid Journalists do  their jobs.

Anyway, Daniel Ellsberg, the man she held up as a stirling example of whistleblower who “got out of the way,” thinks Snowden made the right move:

Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago…He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently.

Some good readings:

  • Oh first off, shout at the TV everytime they say Snowden is “stateless.” He is still a citizen, he just doesn’t have a passport.
  • Months before the PRISM papers were released, Wired ran a brilliant piece about the surveillance center the US is building in Utah. Great read back then, even more so now. Seriously, read it.
  • On the flight back from the US, I read a piece about the General who oversees the NSA, Keith Alexander. He is called “The Emperor,” because whatever he wants in terms of resources and power, he gets. Eerie, eerie stuff — read it here.
  • And then yesterday we found out that Australia and New Zealand are helping too, though that doesn’t surprise too much.
  • But the surveillance isn’t limited to the US. German magazine Der Spiegel ran an extensive series on how the NSA spies on supposed US allies in Europe, providing documents that detail  “a system whose dimensions go beyond the imaginable.

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Anti-intellectualism/ paucity of ideas on the left

Anti-intellectualism/ paucity of ideas on the left

This article is from a while back, but raises some excellent points.

Activismists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a nineteenth century temperance crusade.

A constant frustration I had at college was that many who would identify themselves as progressives or even leftists had a very superficial understanding of the things they were critiquing. Often, this was because they just couldn’t be bothered. Capitalism is bad, and so is globalization, and pretty much everything can be blamed on them in matters ranging from race to sexuality. And while this is often true, there was seldom any attempt to explain how these systems worked to create those effects. In fact, I suspect many would struggle to adequately explain what ‘capitalism’ is, or ‘markets.’  (I’m not immune from that critique; I think a point can be made here about the sort of education we got but I’ll leave that for another day).

Anyways, back to the article. There are practical reasons why there should be more systemic thinking:

 without an analysis of what’s really wrong with the world – or a vision of the better world you’re trying to create – people have no reason to continue being activists once a particular campaign is over. In this way, activist-ism plus single-issue politics can end up defeating itself. Activistism is tedious, and its foot soldiers suffer constant burnout. Thinking, after all, is engaging; were it encouraged, Jiramanus pleads, “We’d all be enjoying ourselves a bit more.”

But that’s not what is happening. Especially in the US,

 a petit-bourgeois populism is the native radical strain, and anti-intellectualism is almost hard-wired into the culture. And because activistism emphasizes practicality, achievability, and implementation over all else, a theory dedicated to understanding deep structures with an eye towards changing them necessarily gets shunted aside.

This has many detrimental practical effects on radical politics, which the authors talk about.

But isn’t intellectualism elitist? Isn’t a more practical approach better, because it doesn’t exclude those who haven’t had the privilege of higher education? Well, theory doesn’t have to mean complicated intellectualism. In fact,

We’re not calling for leadership by intellectuals. On the contrary, we challenge left activist culture to live up to its anti-hierarchical claims: activists should themselves become intellectuals. Why reproduce the larger society’s division between mental and physical labor? The rousing applause for Noam Chomsky at the World Social Forum in Porto Allegre was hardly undeserved, but ideas don’t belong on pedestals. They belong in the street, at work, in the home, at the bar and on the barricades.

Indeed. And if everyone thinks more on a systematic level, they write, that allows us to rephrase our goals. Rather than protesting against certain things, we can agitate for better systems, more just societies.

Solid advice, I think.