Thursday, April 9, 2015

Open letter to 47 members of U.S. Senate


To its credit, the Obama administration has consistently rejected calls for military action against Iran and has engaged the country's leadership in an attempt to negotiate a agreement. This marks one of the few instances where the public good is being served by an administration that has otherwise been unwilling to fight back against the right for fear of offending its most important supporters (i.e., not the aforementioned public). The issue is urgent because of the need on the one hand to eliminate trade sanctions against Iran, as such sanctions have a history of hurting civilians more than the regimes they allegedly target, and on the other hand to reach an accord with Iran before warmongers in both the U.S. and Israel have a chance to escalate the confrontation beyond the possibility of an agreement, as it is largely Israeli and Iranian civilians who would bear the brunt of any military conflict.

Anyone who has been paying attention to U.S. politics over the past five years or so is aware of the lengths to which Republicans in Congress have been going to undermine the Obama administration, despite the fact that the bulk of the administration's policies are well to the right of what the public wants. Not surprisingly, some (but not all) of these Republicans--with the help of the right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu--have been working diligently to undermine any agreement the Obama administration may attempt to reach with the Iranian government. At least as far as I've been able to look into the issue, it's not clear whether any of them have stopped to consider the implications of such a course, as it is unlikely that Iran would accept any attack without retaliating, at which point the operation escalates from a military assault to yet another invasion and occupation. For a number of reasons, it should be obvious that attempting to occupy yet another country in the region is out of the question for the United States, and Israel is hardly in a position to undertake such an initiative without U.S. support, particularly considering how much of its resources are tied up in its occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Escalating the risk of violent confrontation

This insanity reached new heights on 9 March 2015, when 47 Republican senators signed an open letter to the Iranian government essentially claiming that they would nullify any agreement between the U.S. President and the Iranian government as soon as Obama's term expires. Not surprisingly, this letter was not well-received by all parties to the negotiations. While I don't see in the letter any grounds for accusing the senators of treason as some have done, I do see an instance of almost criminal insanity and at least three good reasons why the 47 people who signed the letter do not belong in the U.S. Senate (admittedly, not an institution I held in particularly high regard prior to this incident either).

As far as I'm concerned, this is not about respecting the office of the President or any other aspect of the U.S. government, as I'm looking forward to the day when the workers finally do away with these institutions and replace them with something more akin to genuine democracy. Thus, my concern here is pragmatic: i.e., I want to avoid violent conflict. To that ends, I quickly drafter the following open letter requesting an explanation for the decision to sign the letter to the Iranian government and sent a copy to each of the 47 senators who signed. I framed it as a request for an explanation primarily rather than a diatribe because the former has a slightly better chance of actually getting the point across to the intended audience (i.e., the staff members who read these things) than the latter. Anyone who wishes is welcome to re-use this letter and to modify it in any way she or he sees fit.

The primary purpose of this letter is to request clarification from your office of your decision to sign a 9 March 2015 “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

As a U.S. citizen living overseas, I am not always able to glean sufficient background information from reports on internal politics in the U.S.A. to form a sufficiently informed perspective of what is happening there. In the case of the letter identified above, it appears that you and 46 other senators, perhaps because you are still unable to come to terms with the idea of a black Democrat in the White House, have become so engrossed in advancing your personal interests by undermining the Obama administration that not even an issue as deadly serious as the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons was sufficient to induce you to pause for a moment of reflection and to place the common good over your personal agenda. Although I am not so naïve as to expect any degree of altruism from a career politician in either the Democratic or Republican party, I do expect a U.S. senator to possess sufficient maturity to be capable of weighing immediate gains against substantial risks, something you appear to have failed to do in this case.

Because I do not want you to mistake this letter for a partisan attack, please allow me to clarify that I am aligned with neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties, as I believe neither is particularly interested in the needs or interests of either U.S. workers or their counterparts elsewhere. I have in fact been opposed to many of the Obama administration's decisions over the past five years, albeit for reasons and in favor of alternatives opposite to those championed by you and your colleagues. The one point on which I and the majority of other U.S. voters are in agreement with the administration, however, is the need to negotiate an agreement with Iran rather than resort to military force. Based on the letter that you signed, it appears that you do not share this concern, and would rather risk an armed conflict than even consider a degree of political compromise. That you would risk such conflict for so selfish a gain and have failed to take into account the lessons learned from the U.S. government's previous two military adventures in the region suggests that, in addition to the emotional maturity, you lack sufficient critical capacity to serve as a U.S. senator.

Importantly, the text of the letter also seems to indicate that you lack any comprehension of the world outside Washington, D.C. I can assure you that many nations other than the U.S.A. have things like universities, scientific advisors, and even computers. Indeed, insofar as the assertions made within the letter reflect your own understanding of the constitutional system in the U.S.A., it would appear that that of your Iranian counterparts is far superior. In any case, the disrespectful tone of the letter strongly suggests that you lack both the knowledge of the world and the capacity for diplomacy required to execute your duties as a U.S. senator.

As I mentioned at the start of this letter, I am contacting your office to request clarification primarily because your actions at this point appear to be so base and childish as to be beneath contemplation by any U.S. senator. If, however, my perception of your actions is even partially correct, and especially if you did indeed sign this letter in an effort to undermine the Obama administration's negotiations and/or increase the risk of violent conflict, it would seem that the course of action most likely to salvage the legitimacy of your party and advance the interests of both the people and the government of the United States of America would be to issue a sincere public apology and then resign from office on the grounds that you lack the emotional maturity, critical capacity, and requisite knowledge to adequately fulfill your responsibilities in the U.S. Senate.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Added some content---at last!

It's not much, but I have finally gotten around to pulling a couple of the most popular articles from my old site and posting them here. You can access my Informal Fallacy Primer (the most popular item on my old site) and a couple other whitepapers and opinion pieces I've drafted by selecting "White Papers" under "Pages." I also have a relatively current version of my English CV posted, and I'm going to add links (or copies, where originals are unavailable) to some of my (non-academic) published work soon.

Friday, September 14, 2012


I launched this blog because technical difficulties (with my bank, not with my former hosting company) forced me to close my previous site, A Contrario. Unfortunately, I am a bit busy working on a series of papers at the moment, but once they are submitted, I will hopefully have the time to begin working on this blog. My intention is to post information related to my research, including background information such as my CV, research interests, and publications.  If I find the time, I will also post interesting items that I find, research notes, and ideas that I don't have the time to turn into full-fledged publications. For now, I recommend the LinkRoll or the BlogRoll.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Gramsci's analysis of hegemony

The following outline on Gramsci and hegemony was originally posted on another blog I had attempted to maintain. The final presentation deviated from this outline to some extent, but I believe that the outline still may be of use.
  • Gramsci was an Italian Marxist who was Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, and was consequently imprisoned by the fascist government in 1926 until he died in prison in 1937. One of the issues Gramsci addressed in his Prison Notebooks was the need to explain the rise of the fascist state, which was obviously opposed to the interests of the Italian workers.
  • Hegemony as an effort to give the present order and power structure, which is in actuality a product of historical circumstances, the appearance of the "natural order" of things. The values of the bourgeoisie are internalized as the "common sense" values of the proletariat.
  • Much of the time, the majority of the population (at least in the North) is ruled by ideas and their own concept of the "natural" order rather than by direct force or coercion.
    Marx: "the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class"
  • Every state is ultimately a dictatorship, but it will not generally bare its teeth unless it faces a serious challenge to its power and/or its legitimacy.
    e.g. the authoritarian response to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US
  • Two levels of the state:
    • Civil society: churches, NGOs, clubs, parties
    • Political society: Apparatuses that exercise direct dominion over the population, e.g., military, police, courts
  • Intellectuals are key to maintaining capitalism's (and the state's) hegemony in civil society. They "manufacture consent" among the ruled.
  • Every person is an intellectual, but not all persons fulfill the social role of intellectual. Two types of intellectuals exist in class society:
    • Traditional intellectuals - See themselves (incorrectly) as apart from any particular class or interest.
      e.g. "objective" scientific policy, technocrats
    • Organic intellectuals - Thinking persons produced "organically" by different classes and groups in society, including the ruling class. Dissident organic intellectuals linked to oppressed classes.
      e.g. Organic intellectuals linked to the ruling class: Milton Friedman, Alan Dershowitz
      e.g. Organic intellectuals linked to marginalized groups: Malcolm X, Emiliano Zapata, Oscar Romero
    • "it is the intellectual's task to show how the group is not a natural or god-given entity but is a constructed, manufactured, even in some cases invented object, with a history of struggle and conquest behind it" (Said)
  • No hegemony is entirely complete, certain forms of resistance are typically tolerated, particularly if they provide an outlet for dissent that does not endanger the state itself. This tolerance dissipates as a state's hegemony grows weaker.
    e.g. Obama's decision to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki
  • Authoritarianism is the compliment to hegemony. When a state loses or fails to gain hegemony in civil society, it resorts to force and intimidation.
    e.g. Pinochet in Chile, Castillo in Guatemala, Stalin in Russia, US in contemporary Iraq
  • When no generally-accepted worldview supportive of the state is established in civil society, "politics is the direct and unrefined expression of the dictatorship in the economic sphere" (Gramsci)
  • Parliament and elections are merely formal (and often falsified) representations of democracy---the actual content of the state is predetermined by those with power, in conjunction with the media (which also serves the state)
  • Gramsci's theory of hegemony compliments Lenin's theory of imperialism (and the labor aristocracy) in the international realm.
  • Imperial states prefer to rule through hegemony rather than brute force, yet begin resorting readily to the latter when the former dissolves. Contemporary US rhetoric and assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel's slaughter of Palestinians as examples
  • Public opinion is the link between civil and political society, and winning its approval or marginalizing it is key to maintaining hegemony. When the state undertakes an unpopular action, it invests significant effort into winning public approval
    e.g. US invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, illegal mining of Nicaraguan harbors
  • Masses break free of the ruling class' hegemony through direct struggle and the production of their own intellectuals. This is a continuation of Marx and Engels' theories of political struggle.
  • An organic crisis in the state's hegemony is an opportunity, but it also presents a danger
    • If progressive forces backed by the masses capture the state, then the state can progress towards greater democracy and social justice. However, if progressive forces fail to maintain hegemony, the state can relapse into authoritarianism or descend into totalitarianism.
    • If reactionary forces capture the state, and their "mandarins" fail to calm the masses, then the state can descend into some form of fascism or face total annihilation.
  • "An old order cannot be made to vanish simply by pointing out its evils" (Bates) Progressive forces need to present a superior (viable, but not necessarily perfect) alternative to the status quo.