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Monday, June 3, 2013



It is old adage that the political left is its own worst enemy in that various factions devote most of their time attacking each other for presumed crimes against ideological correctness. If the forces of the left could only unite then they would have no difficulty in waging a war against the forces of the right – and stand a good chance of winning. There is some truth in this but of course real life is far more complicated than that. To certain degree it is also true to note that the forces of the center-right are often shifted to the centre or even centre-left as the extreme right becomes ever more established and claims the middle ground – as is obviously true for the current state of the politics in the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany and New Zealand to name but a few examples.

In the US anyone who ever worked for the Obama campaign in the mistaken belief that HE would make the world a better place, and when realizing one’s naivety, then shifted to a campaign that is slightly to the left of the centre-right Obama democrats (many of whom remain purely right-wing), one becomes an extreme left-wing lunatic in the reckoning of the new centre-right.

In New Zealand the right-wing National Party government now paints the Green Party as an extreme left-wing party even though the Green Party had – quite amazingly – signed an MoU with the government at the beginning of the term. The NZ Green Party in line with many other Green Parties in the Western democracies are as centrist as can be, ready to make deals for a piece of the action. With new elections looming, the right-wing parties must of course claim the middle ground and accuse the Greens as lunatics, lest they team up with an even more centrist party, the NZ Labour Party, and win the elections. OMG, they would force supermarkets to become ‘fair trade’ shops!

Which brings me to the sad case of Aaron Swartz which is highlighted by a Guardian lead story entitled ‘Aaron Swartz: hacker, genius… martyr?’ (June 2013) in which his former girlfriend Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman reminisces as to the likely reasons for Aaron’s suicide. Taren is revealed to be a social activist and ‘executive director of SumOfUs, a global protest movement that seeks to hold corporations to account’. Her account – as edited by the Guardian reporter – makes, in parts, interesting reading:
His professional choices were guided by his conscience. In 2009, he chose to spend time as an intern in the congressional offices of Democrat Alan Grayson because he wanted to learn about how government operated before he set about the business of trying to improve it. Swartz had already compiled a report about the relation between candidates' wealth and their electoral success. During the period he spent in Grayson's office, he worked to help pass Obama's landmark healthcare reform. In 2010, he volunteered for the Democratic national convention in the runup to the midterm elections.
Unlike many social activists, who dismiss the political process as corrupt without seeking to understand what makes it so, Swartz was always seeking a deeper explanation from within the institutions he wanted to change.
To be somewhat disingenuous, one wonders what the second paragraph is meant to convey: do we have to join the NSDAP first in order to find out what makes it abysmally corrupt? How sadly deluded does one have to be, to work for someone in good faith who will ultimately kill you? Aaron was driven to his death by an Obama appointee, namely by US attorney Carmen Ortiz who prosecuted the case to set an example for anyone contemplating the freedom of the Internet by hacking into a commercial-academic (JSTOR) site to liberate academic articles. Aaron even returned all the articles and JSTOR withdrew the complaint, unlike MIT which is embroiled in a new right-wing takeover from Obama democrats. Ideological cleansing (read ‘murder’) within political parties and movements is nothing new but to snipe at harmless souls like Aaron is akin to the proverbial killing of a fly with a sledge hammer. On the other hand it has huge propaganda value to do the occasional overkill, just to demonstrate the absolute power of the powers-to-be. The Guardian in reviewing the case does just that, especially with the sly headline suggesting that Aaron could be mistaken as a ‘martyr’, a term we all know has the current connotation of mad Islamists.

My real point is however the question as to how much Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman has learnt from this tragic case. The Guardian portrays her as going back to work as ‘executive director of SumOfUs, a global protest movement that seeks to hold corporations to account’. If and when you visit SumOfUs as an example of an increasing number of like-minded web-based ‘protest movements’ you will see a list of the oddest co-workers that are introduced after the ‘executive director and founder ‘ of the web-site. Quite a few of the US based ‘campaigners’ have had previous roles in the Obama election campaigns while others have worked for various NGOs and government organizations that feed on each other. The European Campaign Manager, Oliver Moldenhaur, is credited with ‘in his spare time he likes good food and wine and hiking mountains – best of all good wine on top of mountains’: I mean, how much more bourgeois can you get? So what do all these good people do?

Well, they set up story boxes about naughty corporations that do the wrong thing and you can ‘take action’ by clicking on it and adding your name to a petition to remind the wayward corporation to pull up its socks, lest they get more bad publicity which could hurt their profits. One such example is the ‘Whole Foods: Stand up for exploited children’ campaign which notes that ‘America’s largest fair trade and organic retailer … Whole Foods has built a successful brand as an ethical retailer’ but actually fails to comply with its own doctrinal business and ‘fair trade’ ethics, such as sourcing and selling chocolate that is tainted by child slave labour. We can then electronically add our name to the following petition:
Stop stocking chocolate produced by companies that have not committed to eliminating child labor in their supply chains and purchase only fair trade certified chocolates.
Didn’t they just say above that Whole Foods is America’s largest fair trade and organic retailer’? It doesn’t take much detective work to figure out that the whole ‘fair trade’ movement has become a sham that puts Band-Aids on some of the most glaring crimes in international food production practices.

Returning then to the quip about the NZ Green Party, one can see the contradictions piling up on the contradictions whenever an established political party is subject to the wildest left-right fluctuations visited upon by rival parties just to the right of the other rightists. Is Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman serious when launching a campaign – and they won - to ‘Don’t let Wall Street block Elizabeth Warren from the Senate Banking Committee’? Is this a case of voting for the devil you know versus the one you don’t? In sum, SumOfUs is a ‘support Obama’ web-forum under the vaguely left-wing banner of a ‘protest movement’. No wonder, to entice potential donors, the site announces that ‘SumOfUs is a movement of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking with one voice …’. What an odd assemblage! Aren’t large corporations owned by ‘shareholders’?  Is that where the big donations are coming from to bankroll SumOfUs? What is going on here? Delusion? Self-deception? Agent-provocateurs? Material for conspiracy theorists?

Don’t they know that governments and corporations cannot be reformed? After all it was the democrats under Clinton that sanctioned the greatest aberration in the history of economics, namely investing corporations with the legal status of a person.  You cannot turn the NSDAP into a good party by signing a petition asking them to comply with human rights. You cannot turn disaster capitalism (à la Naomi Klein) into good capitalism: it’s a contradiction of terms, it’s an oxymoron. You cannot falsify Chomsky’s dictum in that if he were to become president he would send himself to jail: it is the office that corrupts (keeping in mind that most office holders were corrupt long before then).

Just to demonstrate that the US is not alone in these machinations, consider this story from New Zealand: Kim Hill is a National Radio presenter who does the Saturday morning show that has a media reputation as being savvy and  slightly to the left of center. I suppose to ‘balance’ her politics she must interview various wannabes from the corporate right wing in order to sneak in the occasional lefty, such as the UK’s Howard Brenton who calls himself a reluctant Marxist on her interview, and is as such a source of great amazement for Kim Hill. The mainstream right-wing counterpart is one Derek Handley, a ‘young and inspiring’ NZ entrepreneur who wrote a book based on his ‘recent involvement in The B Team, a global leadership group, led by Sir Richard Branson, focused on new models of business for a sustainable and prosperous 21st century’. In the interview with Kim Hill, he keeps repeating that all we need to make the world a better place, are enlightened leaders like SIR Richard Branson who demonstrates so well that we can make lots of money and make the world a better place by doing so.

No wonder the world is lurching ever closer to the brink of a new NSDAP. History has a sad tendency to repeat itself, first as at tragedy, then as a farce (as Stalin said), mainly because – the way I see it – various well-meaning people see the storm coming but their only solution is to propose to the storm to calm down. Aaron Swartz paid with his life. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman and her supporters need to wake up to the reality of the situation and consider some ideas for a better world: one WITHOUT governments, presidents, corporations, entrepreneurs, knighthoods and quite possibly ‘executive directors’ of ‘protest movements’ in cyber space.