As the ordinary Egyptian population stood up and said it was no longer willing to follow Iran and other middle eastern countries into the abyss of authoritarian and fundamentalist Islamist politics, the mouthpiece of western arch-conservatism, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, was thrown into a panic. In an editorial published, sadly, on our Independence Day, the paper called for the installation of a Pinochet-like General in Egypt.
Either the Journal has been struck by some kind of severe cognitive disorder that allows it to paint over the history of one of the most brutal regimes to have ever ruled or they really mean it. If the former, they owe their readers and the Chilean and Egyptian people an apology and should retract the statement. If the latter, then they are in fact the leading edge of a new fascism emerging here in America. Since I am not a medical professional, I will simply comment on what it means to suggest that fascism is the right outcome in Egypt.
First, for any of my younger readers, if you want a taste of what it means to be for a Pinochet then go to iTunes and download this week’s Editors Choice – the film “NO” which recounts the very final stages of the Pinochet regime, after the blood had been washed off the streets. If you have a stronger stomach, then find a copy of the magnificent Battle of Chile, an important long documentary film that includes amazing and disturbing footage of the Allende era and the imposition of the U.S.-backed brutal Pinochet dictatorship, now viewed as a political model for the middle east by such august figures at the Journal as Paul Gigot, Daniel Henninger and the recent Pulitzer winner Bret Stephens. (Stephens, the recent recipient of a Pulitzer, we have encountered before on these pages – it seems he looks for his ideas all over the place and is not always willing to give proper credit.) The Battle is hard to find but you can also look at Missing the fictional account of an American, Charles Horman, who was kidnapped and tortured to death by Pinochet’s thugs.
Here is a capsule summary of the Pinochet period, though, just so we are all on the same page: 3,000 murdered; 30,000 tortured; political parties outlawed; trade unions smashed; nearly two decades of brutal repression and fear. Two of those killed were blown up by Pinochet’s secret DINA police force on the streets of Washington D.C. The regime was installed with the not very covert support of Henry Kissinger and the Nixon Administration. Pinochet was feted by “Lady” Margaret Thatcher and other right wing thugs in order to burnish their own domestic reactionary politics. Pinochet’s regime was advised by economists trained in the shock therapy politics developed by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.
For brevity’s sake I will spare readers an account of the book burnings carried out by the regime.
Now that we are all up to speed on what one is talking about when one invokes the name of Pinochet, what does it mean that the Journal would react to the unfolding events in Egypt like this? It means, most likely, that American conservatives are in a full blown panic over the popular uprising we have witnessed there in recent days but not only there. It signals broader panic among the Wall Street and D.C. elite over what is known as the Arab Spring, the region wide unfolding of a new democratic era in a part of the world that has for many decades found itself in the grip of what ever great power rivalries were taking hold in Europe, first, and later, in the cold war, between the great US and Russian blocs. For the first time, the region’s own populations are speaking up independently and saying, as the Chileans did to Pinochet, No.
This kind of democratic uprising is, inevitably, messy and volatile. There is, undeniably, also the presence of opportunistic forces that are not democratic, most clearly the Islamists. That makes the situation particularly complex but does not mean that the overall direction is one we should fear or condemn. Chile was able to make a more peaceful transition but only because a pre-existing political culture that had thrived in a long period of relative stability and democracy prior to the Pinochet period was able to survive underground and re-emerge when the regime finally was pushed aside. Egypt, Syria and Libya do not have that luxury, as they have been either under the direct colonial thumb of imperial powers such as Britain or held down by the local thugs representing post-imperial powers for generations.
Since the great powers have invested billions and many decades in creating the authoritarian regimes now being challenged, it appears to the mouthpieces of those same forces, like the Wall Street Journal, that all is chaos. Even “liberal intellectuals” like Harvard’s Noah Feldman are frightened by the disorderly nature of the popular effort to recreate these long repressed societies. He condemned the Egyptian millions as a “mob” as I explained here.
No doubt, when one is threatened with the loss of a significant investment panic is a reasonable enough reaction. But should they really be surprised that the “order” they imposed on the backs of the middle east is now under challenge?
It is a sign of how the world is turning on its axis now that the Journal would go this far. The Egyptian people are to be congratulated for being among the first to put their shoulder to the wheels of history and pushing.
Let’s hope the American people will find the courage to join them. Then the Journal’s editorial writers can join their fascist comrade in arms Pinochet in the ash can of history.
Commentators around the web today are in a great confusion. Is it a coup, is it a revolution? The fact is most of these people have no political experience or historical perspective and so cannot understand what they are witnessing.
Some, however, are desperate to rebuild some order that they can feel comfortable with. Noah Feldman at Harvard falls into the latter category. He dismisses this week’s events in Egypt as a “mob” action. He is unable, more likely unwilling, to acknowledge that this is the next stage in a long process that aims to establish democracy and genuine human freedom in the middle east. He wants social events there and elsewhere to fall into the categories he learned as a young law student. He seems to forget that law is a secondary institution, second to actual social and economic reality. It is important but it is a function of more important social forces.
Feldman suggests the imposition of Morsi – a compromise reached by those very social forces last year – was the result of a rule of law, a constitutional process. But there can be no stable rule of law in a country in the condition that Egypt finds itself until some fundamental social issues are resolved. That is the nature of the revolutionary process that began with the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The process is far from finished. Wishful thinking by liberals like Feldman will not shorten or simplify that process.
The situation emerging now in Egypt and the middle east, and elsewhere, resembles the “triangle of forces” that characterized the Cold War era. This framework was first described by Hal Draper in his essay on the Czech coup in 1948 (link below). In the Cold War the three basic camps were the wider working class, the emerging new authoritarian bureaucrats led by the Stalinist movement, and a capitalist order that was still on its back in much of the world.
The glue that held the triangle together was the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism itself, a crisis-prone tendency that continues today. The Stalinist movement emerged as an authoritarian movement based on anti-capitalist rhetoric. It aimed to impose a new form of social and economic power that relied on (brutal) bureaucratic and authoritarian institutions to force countries through some form of economic development that could compete with the traditional market based capitalism. Its “success” was based on the its appeal to the victims of capitalist crisis. I used this framework to explain the development of Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution in my recently published book, Rights and Revolution.
Today, the emerging social forces are somewhat more complex but there is without doubt a new diverse global working class (explored in my book “From ‘Che’ to China”), albeit one without nearly enough work, a new global capitalist elite with allies in new bureaucratic forces in the so-called “emerging market countries,” and an opportunistic authoritarianism taking several forms including and perhaps most significant right now, Islamic fundamentalism, but also found in the movements loosely allied with the fundamentalists like Chavez of Venezuela, the Chinese stalinists and others.
Feldman and those who want to condemn the ouster of Morsi as a “coup” are not, of course, allies of the authoritarian fundamentalist camp. They are, instead, more worried about what they call “chaos” represented by the global working class. Since that is a class they cannot control it sends them into a frenzy as this new social force emerges to exercise power, as workers are doing in so many parts of the world today, whether in the form of Occupy Wall Street or the movements for social equity, transparency and democracy in places like Syria, Turkey and Brazil.
One tactic of those who fear the events in Egypt or Syria is to suggest that they are nothing but tools of the fundamentalist camp. This view point is widely held on the far right. Others, typically among the far left, attempt to dismiss these new movements by saying they are nothing but tools of the CIA. Though emanating from the back benches of global politics these rhetorical interventions serve those front benchers, like Feldman, who want to quell the new movements. These amount to an attempt to flatten the triangular complexity of events into two dimensions and thus force their audience to pick a side, namely their side. Perhaps it is not a surprise that Feldman’s intervention appears on the media outlet of billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
But despite these attempts to dismiss the new movements, there is, in fact, a real and autonomous social and democratic movement emerging in these countries that is not under the thumb of either the CIA or al Qaeda. That is the new reality. It is an inevitable by product of the globalization process that has now replaced the Cold War. Feldman’s “mob,” is, in fact, the new face of humanity struggling to gain its footing in the new era. We in the west should applaud and support its efforts. And there is no better time for us to begin than on the 4th of July weekend.
Cheers went up loudly around Silicon Valley today, at least in the C-suites of the large incumbent companies. Why? Because now the President, who has been a heavy fund raiser here in the Valley, is promising to institute reforms of the nation’s intellectual property regime that favor those incumbent companies and potentially harm inventors and entrepreneurs. This follows a recent shift in our patent regime, also heavily tipped in favor of large well established technology companies, that favors those who are the first to file for a patent not the first to invent a new technology.
For years, law firms, academics and lobbyists working for big technology companies like Apple, HP and Intel have been pushing for these kinds of reforms. But the individual entrepreneurs and inventors who have historically been “present at the creation” of these now giant companies are not able to make their voices heard in the same way. They are widely dispersed, often young and without the huge resources of the incumbents.
Many new inventions threaten the existing invested capital of the incumbents and they are in fact worried about the impact they could have on their existing business models. In fact, many new ideas are unable to find investors or are swept up into the giant portfolios that the big companies now assemble and are never heard from again.
That’s why a young Bill Gates in the 1970′s made a passionate defense in favor of the IP rights of writers of software code for startups like his, but years later Gates started attacking the granting of patents to code writers. As Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation discovered:
“Here’s what Bill Gates told Microsoft employees in 1991: ‘If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today…A future start-up with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose.’”
Of course, Microsoft was fast becoming one of those giants and now it uses that power to back groups like Intellectual Ventures which is scooping up thousands of patents and providing expensive mass licenses to firms that want a moat around their business model. Valley VC’s recently established a firm called RPX that does much the same thing.
It is no surprise then that an older successful Bill Gates was once asked what kept him awake at night and he answered – to an audience in Palo Alto – the fear that two guys in a garage somewhere nearby were developing a new way of doing things that would threaten his business model. Ironically, at that very moment, in the late 90s, Sergey Brin and Larry Page had started a little company called Google, first in their dorm rooms at Stanford and then in a nearby garage.
In other words, when the IP system helped a young Gates he tried to enforce it, when it began to threaten him he found ways to change it. Gates is not alone in this, of course, as Apple and Intel and Cisco and HP and ATT and IBM all do the same thing. But do we ever stop to ask, where will the new forms of these companies come from?
One of the targets of the patent reform movement are companies derisively labelled “trolls.” In the pure form these are companies formed solely to buy up orphaned technology that may have value because it is possible there are infringers out there in the world of existing companies. Thus, these companies provide a valuable secondary market for the exploitation of technology that inventors can no longer afford to pursue. Our entire economy is built on similar kinds of secondary markets, for IP and for financial instruments and for entertainment products, heck, even for used cars.
The advantage of these markets is that inventors know there is at least some value they can get out of their invention even if they cannot build an entire company around it. The existence of this market also signals to incumbent players that they have to play by the rules. I spent eight years on the board of directors of a technology company whose original inventions were trampled on by big players, like AMD, Apple and Intel. That destroyed the company and only an aggressive licensing and litigation strategy helped recover some value for our shareholders.
That (eventually successful) strategy was long, complex, expensive and unpredictable. Now the new reforms will make defending the original ideas of our entrepreneurs and inventors even more difficult.
The bottom line is that in many ways we are all “trolls” now because the pace of innovation is so intense that every inventor and firm must have an aggressive IP strategy, both defensive and offensive.
And yet when firms like the one I helped out as a lawyer and a board member try to defend their own technology, they are dismissed as “trolls.” When firms like Acacia Research emerge to provide a secondary market for IP that might otherwise be grabbed without compensation by larger players they are dismissed as trolls.
Meanwhile, it is the large incumbent and increasingly less innovative companies that are using their resources to capture the political process in order to defend their slowing business models.
We will all pay a price in a weaker culture of innovation.
This time courtesy of Bill Ayers himself comes confirmation of the relationship between Obama and Ayers reaching back to the late 1980′s. Long time followers of this blog will recall the effort of Scott Shane of The New York Times to avoid the conclusion that the close work Obama and Ayers undertook in education policy in Chicago in the mid-1990′s suggested that the two figures had a longer term relationship.
If Shane was to be believed Ayers was first introduced to Obama only in the spring of 1995 by two foundation presidents when those presidents recruited the recent Harvard Law School graduate to head up a new $150 million education reform effort called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC). I pointed out to The Times (in five separate interviews with three different reporters) this was simply not possible legally or politically because it was Ayers himself who had the legal power, alone, not the two foundation presidents, to appoint Obama to the CAC board.
Shane ignored my explanation in his key story absolving Obama of any important ties to Ayers that was published on the eve of the 2008 presidential election. I in turn pointed to evidence that not only was Ayers the key figure in recruiting Obama to the CAC board but that when the Ayers/Obama relationship became a topic of concern in the campaign David Axelrod worked with Ayers directly in a failed effort to suppress public access to CAC records held by the University of Illinois. Again the mainstream media ignored this relationship and minimized or attacked any effort to explain it.
Since then two biographers of Obama have provided evidence of the deep and longstanding relationship between the two figures. The New Yorker’s David Remnick explained that Ayers was responsible for appointing Obama to the CAC board while Christopher Andersen explained the key role Ayers played in helping Obama finish his memoir.
And now Ayers himself in a recent interview with The Daily Beast states that his wife Bernardine Dohrn was at the Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin “together” with Michelle Obama, then, of course, known by her maiden name Robinson. It is already widely acknowledged that it was at that firm that Michelle first met Barack himself. The use of the word “together” by Ayers suggests that Dohrn and Michelle knew each other not just that they were employed by the same entity.
Dohrn was a law school graduate, from the University of Chicago no less, but could not get admitted to the bar because of her past association with the violent and murderous tactics of some former Weather Underground “comrades.” Sidley hired her anyway – to do what is not clear – as a favor to Tom Ayers, the father of Bill Ayers, the chairman of Commonwealth Edison, an important Sidley client. Sidley senior partner Howard Trienens explained that the firm sometimes did “favors” for its friends.
The striking thing about the latest admission by Ayers of the ties between him and Obama is that there has been almost no one attempting to connect him to Obama through Sidley and Austin (although Andersen to his credit mentions this possibility). And in fact the Daily Beast writer did not ask him about it and quite likely did not know anything about it. Ayers dropped this particular piece of information into a sprawling general answer that confirms several other aspects of his relationship to Obama. Yet, none of those other “confirmations” places the relationship between the two as far back as the late 1980s. The only other concrete evidence that places the relationship in this same time frame is the interview I first conducted with the letter carrier who recalled meeting a young Obama visiting the house of Ayers’ parents in suburban Chicago.
Of course, the picture is far from complete. Ayers himself said in the epilogue to a recent edition of his own memoirs, written it should be said without the editorial assistance of Obama and apparently completed on time for the publisher, that he and the Obamas were “family friends.” Exactly how and why the four became so close is not entirely clear. Obama himself did not work at Sidley until the summer of 1989, but by then Dohrn had moved along her career path, eventually joining the faculty of Northwestern University’s Law School where both Tom Ayers and Howard Trienens were members of the board of trustees.
The overlap between Dohrn and Michelle, then, would have occurred earlier in the First Lady’s work there as an associate or summer associate. Dohrn was at the Sidley firm from 1984 (starting in their NY office) until 1988 (after moving to Chicago). Michelle was there as a summer associate in 1987 and began work there as an associate in the fall of 1988.
Given the important role that Ayers and Dohrn are said to have played in the Obama campaign for president, off the official rolls, of course, and the congruence of world views at work in Obama’s policies as President with those of Ayers and Dohrn (see, for example, support for certain policies in education and even to an extent the “relativist” world view that animates Obama “foreign policy”) a more complete understanding of this relationship is important. It only made sense for Ayers to approve Obama as CAC board chairman if he felt Obama shared his agenda for education reform in Chicago. Indeed, as many posts here have explained, the CAC was deeply engaged in the so-called “Chicago School Wars” of that era and Ayers would have wanted a reliable ally leading the CAC he had worked so hard to initiate and establish in Chicago.
Of course, the appointment of Obama to the highly visible CAC board chairmanship in early 1995 was a vital step in the young and ambitious politician’s career. Obama touted that experience in his first political campaign for the state senate that he began in the fall of 1995, a campaign, Ayers also confirms in the Daily Beast, that began with a fundraiser hosted by Ayers and Dohrn in their stylish Hyde Park town house.
It has always seemed likely, then, that the two first “crossed paths,” to use The Times’ phrase, during an earlier battle in that war, perhaps during the battle of 1987-88 to win the school reform legislation that both individuals say they supported. That reform bill established local school councils (LSC’s) in Chicago as an additional layer of school management and it was, in fact, a central task of the later CAC effort funded by the Annenberg grant to help strengthen those LSC’s in the face of an attack by then Mayor Daley. As one independent analyst of the CAC effort concluded: ”The Challenge sought to build on the momentum of the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act which had radically decentralized governance of the Chicago Public Schools.”
The “drip, drip, drip” approach Ayers is now using to acknowledge his relationship with Obama is not likely to be very helpful. One would hope that ambitious journalists like Scott Shane or David Remnick would be motivated to sort all this out but that seems likely to remain only a vain hope.
From the back cover:
The victory of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua in 1979 opened up a major new battleground in the Cold War between east and west. That larger conflict caused many to ignore or misjudge the domestic battle for democratic rights carried out by ordinary Nicaraguans, first against the Somoza dictatorship, and then against the Frente Sandinista, which led the Revolution. In Rights and Revolution: The Rise and Fall of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Movement, political scientist and legal scholar Stephen F. Diamond examines the conflict inside Nicaragua from a viewpoint that is critical of the FSLN, which was allied closely with Cuba and the Soviet Union, and of the United States, which formed a proxy army to overthrow the FSLN regime. Such an independent viewpoint yields important and original insights into the complex relationship between authoritarianism and democracy in the developing world.
Susan Rice, the troubled potential nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, seems to have a peculiar interest in Canadian energy companies. Earlier this week On Earth, a magazine published by the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, reported that an unusually large part of her and her husband’s personal wealth is tied up in Canadian energy companies and banks that stand to gain significantly if the U.S. State Department approves the Keystone XL pipeline to bring oil from Canada through the United States for export through ports on the Gulf of Mexico. (The “XL” project is an extension of the overall Keystone project which includes pipelines to bring Canadian oil to U.S. based refineries that became operational in 2010.)
The personal portfolio of Rice and her Canadian-born husband Ian Cameron includes shares in two large Canadian energy companies, Cenovus and EnCana. Until 2009, EnCana was both an oil and natural gas company. It then spun off its oil assets in the newly formed Cenovus entity. It is likely that Rice obtained the shares of Cenovus as a result of an original investment in EnCana.
Both EnCana and Cenovus are large Canadian energy firms with links to Keystone. EnCana entered into a joint venture with ConocoPhillips known as Wood River which owns refineries in the U.S. built to process oil that comes from Canada via one completed part of the Keystone pipeline project. Cenovus now owns that interest in the Wood River project. The Toronto Globe and Mail reported in 2011 that Cenovus was “banking” on overall approval of the pipeline project “underscore[ing] the high stakes” if the project were not approved.
It turns out that Rice and her husband were also willing to wager a substantial part of the assets of their family foundation on the prospects of those very same two energy companies. A filing with the IRS by the Rice-Cameron Family Foundation reveals that the Foundation has most (approximately 80%) of its investments in typical diversified stock and bond funds. These are valued at approximately $750,000. But the remaining 20%, valued at about $180,000, is invested in EnCana and Cenovus. Those companies are the only direct equity investments made by the Foundation. A copy of the filing can be found here.
Also of interest is that the Foundation filing is for the tax year ending November 30, 2011, so unlike the older 2009 disclosure document provided by On Earth, the IRS filing (called a “Form 990″) indicates a continuing interest in Canadian energy prospects lasting until late 2011.
My own view about Ambassador Rice is that her potential nomination as Secretary of State should be opposed because she represents the “relativist” world view that animates Obama’s approach to foreign policy. To date, Obama has not been able to put a significant institutional piece of the national security apparatus outside the White House in the hands of a loyal “relativist.” This would change if Rice, a hard core loyalist of both Obama and Valerie Jarrett, were put in charge of the Department of State.
But it is also quite odd to see this information about her approach to investing. What appears to be a heavy bet on a major energy transaction is a high risk strategy that would not be typical for a family foundation or even for someone with the resources that Rice and Cameron own personally. Diversity is the norm for the assets of foundations and other non-profit entities. Rice and her husband are trustees of the Foundation and owe it a fiduciary duty. Normally that duty mandates diversity of assets. Here, however, they have put nearly 20% of the Foundation’s assets into just two companies, both with links to the controversial Keystone project, although that appears to be no longer the case for EnCana.
Another troubling aspect of the interest of RIce in the international oil industry is the fact that oil companies are notorious for being bad actors in the global economy, an issue I explored in my article The PetroChina Syndrome. In the past, for example, there were large protests about the investment of Talisman, a Canadian oil company, in Sudan. There are also allegations that some of the companies held in the Rice and Cameron personal portfolio do business with Iran. At a minimum one would have expected Rice to divest her holdings in this controversial sector while serving the public as a diplomat.
The fact that UN Ambassador Susan Rice has not been struck from the short list to replace Hillary Clinton despite Rice’s active role in misleading the American people about the nature of the Benghazi debacle is a sign that the chaos that has consumed US foreign policy over the last several years will likely continue.
Rice is considered a self-centered opportunist who has set her course as a hard core Obama loyalist. She has no coherent world view or any independently developed rational basis for understanding how to wield US power. Thus, if appointed, she will likely attempt to continue the “relativist” approach that has stamped the Obama approach to international issues.
That “relativism” is a viewpoint that Obama developed in his long association with the authoritarian and neo-stalinist left. It led to his dangerous call for “engagement” without preconditions with dictatorial regimes such as that of Assad in Syria and of the mullahs in Iran. The result of that approach in the middle east and north Africa is now clear: the U.S. missed an opportunity to support the Green movement in Iran and the nascent uprising in Syria. Had we sided instead with the movements and individuals attempting to establish American-style values such as human rights and democracy we might have helped avoid the violent tragedy now unfolding in Syria and we might also have helped alter the course Iran is taking today.
With Clinton as Secretary of State there was at least some modicum of debate within the Obama regime over the direction of US policy. Despite Obama pressure, for example, to appease the Chinese over human rights issues, Clinton started to push back when she supported the effort of human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng to seek asylum in the United States. My law school will be honoring Guangcheng with an award for his brave advocacy of human rights in China this spring. Clinton was also said to be concerned that Obama snubbed the Dalai Lama – sending his aide Valerie Jarrett to India to persuade His Holiness to delay a long planned visit to the Washington.
But Rice has been a part of the Obama inner circle and was even named to the Cabinet while nominally serving under Clinton. It seems now that she, instead of being forced into retirement for her clear misstatements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, is set to be rewarded with a promotion.
I received the sad news this evening from the midwest that Jerry Tucker, a lifelong progressive and democratic union activist and UAW leader, passed away.
Jerry and I began to work together five years ago when he joined with other UAW activists to oppose the imposition of another wave of cutbacks in wages and benefits of auto workers at the Big Three.
Like Jerry I began to speak out about the attempt to set up a VEBA that would force the UAW to manage a massively underfunded and badly structured health care plan and relieving the Big Three of that responsibility, a benefit fought and won by auto workers over many decades. Eventually I filed a petition with the SEC on behalf of auto workers arguing that the UAW and GM were ignoring their obligation under federal law to provide full disclosure of the impact of the proposed VEBA on union members.
Just as we argued then, the VEBA has indeed proved a disastrous turn for the UAW as a recent Reuters story noted. If the union and GM had disclosed the actual risks that it implied it may never have been imposed. As he was many times before Jerry was right then, too.
Below is a video of a tribute to Jerry at a Labor Notes conference. In addition, take note that there will be a panel discussion of the State of the UAW at UM-Flint on October 28 with Dr. Tom Adams and Gregg Shotwell. Gregg was one of my clients in the petition to the SEC. It would honor Jerry’s memory and lifelong efforts on behalf of the UAW and workers everywhere to attend that meeting and discuss the future of one of our most important labor unions.