13 articles Articles posted in politics

The iconicity of “peaceful resistance”

The New York Times’ Mandela Obituary Headline Couldn’t Have Been More Wrong


Before it falls down the memory hole, it should be noted that the online US edition of the New York Times marked the sad passing of the great Nelson Mandela with this odd headline: “Nelson Mandela, South African Icon of Peaceful Resistance, Dies”. (They’ve since changed it to “South Africa’s…Moral Center”, which sounds like a place FIFA could have held business ethics conventions during the last World Cup.)

“Icon of Peaceful Resistance” makes it sound like Mandela was an advocate and practitioner of nonviolence. He wasn’t. Apartheid was above all a socioeconomic system of structured viciousness: the whites were not going to give up their advantages without a fight. The struggle against Apartheid was necessarily bloody. The symbolic force of an “icon”, no matter how noble its martyrdom, could not have defeated Apartheid. It had to be defeated at the cost of lives. Mandela always knew this.

Mandela founded and ran Umkhonto we Sizwe, the paramilitary wing of the ANC, which carried out armed resistance and a bombing campaign. The bombings mostly targeted high-profile pieces of property, but were nevertheless responsible for many civilian deaths. Umkhonto we Sizwe also executed collaborators.

Botha would have freed Mandela in ‘85 if he’d agreed to renounce armed struggle; Mandela courageously refused. On his release in 1990, Mandela repeated:

“The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.”

He was right on both counts.

Don’t think he wasn’t reviled for it. In the eyes of many among the Western elites, Mandela was a Soviet-dominated terrorist until the day he walked out of jail, and into iconicity. Reagan put the ANC on the State Department terrorist organizations watch-list; this wasn’t undone until 2008. Reagan vetoed the South Africa sanctions bill, and was overridden — not before Jesse Helms fillibustered the override vote.

Then there were even more charming expressions of Western antipathy to Mandela’s violence, like this poster produced in the 80s by the UK’s Federation of Conservative Students, which I will reproduce without further comment:


Poster by the UK’s Young Conservatives (thanks to @sarahlicity)But in American bourgeois fantasy life, the only good liberation struggles are Gandhi and King, and if a struggle does not match that mythologized template, could not have matched it, it will be roundly condemned while it is ongoing, and if it happens to be successful (despite us), its history will be rewritten.

The dialectic is a familiar one — familiar and a little sad. There is a way in which the myth of peaceful resistance is flattering to the oppressor and disabling to the oppressed. It’s as much the oppressor’s narrative as anyone’s. “You ought not to fight us with more than the image of your own broken body,” it says, “for we who oppress you are good and rational — most of the time. We have the same interests as you, and understand that you enjoy the same basic rights. We, your rulers, simply need to have our consciences pricked from time to time.” By couching the antipathy as a mere moral lapse, the oppressor is permitted simultaneously to deny the actual material basis of the social division and hence the necessity for a struggle for liberation that is more than merely symbolic, and to perform a mental splitting-off from its own identity of those aspects of itself it can now pretend were inessential deviations from its rational, humanistic core. Just as the United States broadly did with the benighted South of Bull Connor and the Klan. As if the story of American racist oppression was one of mere regional ideological peccadillo and not one of the founding principles of the whole nation’s economic structure. As if the story of Apartheid were simply those nasty Afrikaners and their gauche racism. They’d probably lived in Africa too long and allowed its “tribalism” to rub off on them, and so deviated from the European universalist norm. Still, one of us in the end, eh?

That’s the funny thing about colonialism — even when it’s visible, it appears only in ideological garb flattering to the oppressor.

In fact, this is such a reflex that the Times probably wrote that headline without a second thought, and it was only after a few thousand derisive tweets that they remembered that there is occasionally such a thing as real history, and they quietly changed it.

This post also appears on Medium.com

Law Like a Hole: one unimportant bourgie’s experience with the Affordable Care Act (so far)

There’s an NBC News investigation — “Obama Administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance” — going around the internet right now. It made Reuters; that’s how I knew about it. (I don’t watch a lot of tv news.) The NBC claim is a little misleading, but it points out a genuine and serious problem with Obamacare — one I happen to be having.

The reason people can’t keep these plans is the coverage they offer is no longer legally sufficient. They have too many exclusions. The plans that will replace them are at least nominally superior; that should be good news. But the replacement plans are not necessarily cheaper.

When rewriting the policies, the insurance companies often took the opportunity to raise their rates; not surprising, because the policies must cover more conditions and sicker people. A subset of customers— like me — have found their new insurance will be considerably more expensive, because they either fall into the Medicaid expansion “hole” or find that the subsidies they do get from the healthcare.gov Exchange are not enough to make up for the increase in rates.

Let me explain my own position — it’s the one I know most about. I’m solidly middle class, and healthy, which means my situation is hardly representative of people having serious difficulty with the nightmarish American health care market, but does show that the health care law is having all kinds of problematic effects even for bourgeois folks who were supposed to find the law unambiguously helpful. As an electoral proposition, the Affordable Care Act was marketed by the Obama administration to people like me.

I don’t have a health plan through work, so a few years ago I bought an individual policy off the rack from Blue Cross. It’s not ghastly, but I don’t think it’s a very good policy — it has a high deductible. Of course, “high deductible” is a relative term these days; ten years ago this policy’s deductible would have seemed obscene, vertiginous, but now it’s normal. In fact, it turns out to be the near-equivalent of a policy Blue Cross is selling as a Gold plan on the Exchange.

The exact policy I have is going away because it has exclusions that are no longer allowed. So I need something new.

When the law passed, I was personally very pleased, because I stood to benefit a lot —I was going to be eligible for Medicaid. For anyone Medicaid-eligible, the law doesn’t offer a subsidy to purchase a policy from the Exchange. Why would it? Nobody thought of that. We’re meant to get our coverage for nothing. (Nothing, except the taxes we pay, of course.)

The Medicaid expansion was supposed to be mandatory for every state, but the Supreme Court decision that otherwise upheld the Affordable Care Act struck down that mandate. 15 Republican-led states went on to refuse the Medicaid expansion outright, 7 more probably will, and 5 more are considering alternate models that, even if they’re approved by HHS, won’t benefit as many people or benefit them as directly. Only 21 states have accepted the expansion of Medicaid outright (3 more might). That creates a gaping “hole” in which people newly eligible for expanded Medicaid (or people who were already eligible for Medicaid, but who have been unable to enroll because their states are broke and enrollment has been closed) actually get neither Medicaid nor subsidized insurance through the Exchange.

Because the sticker prices for individual policies are generally going up, Obamacare has done people in my situation a lot less than no good: to maintain coverage at the same level, we have to pay a lot more. My options are to buy a new individual policy off-the-rack from an insurance company, or to buy a policy through the Exchange at full sticker price. In both cases I’m looking at paying thousands more next year to maintain my high-deductible policy.

Of course, right now it’s academic. There are some steps in the enrollment process I can’t complete because the healthcare.gov site is still broken. The state I live in is one of those that does not have its own exchange, so the whole process has been on healthcare.gov, and — you know the story.

Pro tip: if you are going into the national Exchange, do not use the web site at all. Start and complete the process on the phone or with a human broker. Once you have started on the web site, you must finish on the web site; a second application will case “an issue”. I found that out when I called — it only took a minute to get in touch with a person. They just couldn’t do anything to help me. I’m stuck until the web site is repaired. Whether that will be in time to start coverage on Jan 1 is anyone’s guess; it’s been 30 days and the site still can’t perform the most basic functions.

I could just go uninsured and pay the $95 penalty. That number really tells the story. You can see the amazing disconnect of intention and reality by comparing the premiums, which will cost most people hundreds (if not thousands), with that small penalty.

I’ve considered some exotic options. Incredibly, after Obamacare, it may actually be cheaper for me to buy the least expensive policy that also offers prescription coverage, and to invest in a concierge doctor.

Of course, that’s already to say I’m very fortunate. Most people in my situation — and it’s tens of millions — will have to refuse coverage and get nothing but a poke in the eye, because they don’t have thousands to spend on premiums for a policy that will still require thousands more to pay in deductibles, copays, and coinsurance.

I could move to a state that didn’t refuse the Medicaid expansion. But pulling up stakes isn’t so easy. Internal exile wasn’t supposed to be the rational solution to the health care crisis.

This is just one story, in the genre of “unintended consequences”. I don’t advance it to elicit pity. To repeat, I’m still one of the lucky ones. I will have insurance. If I get sick, I will be able to get the treatment I need.

I offer it as a case study of how the the Affordable Care Act is actually working, on the ground.

The premise of the Exchange was to make group-like policies available to individuals who either didn’t have insurance or were struggling under premiums that were breaking them. For that goal, it has already failed millions.

Daddy, what’s Syria?

Steve Rattner (@SteveRattner), a former Obama adviser and rapacious Wall Street demogorgon, tweeted today that it’s wrong of Obama to seek Congressional approval for “strikes” in Syria because, well, I’m not sure why, except that it’s not decisive. “The President is our CEO,”* he tweeted.

As Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood) replied, “the elite is so done with democracy.”*

What’s amusing is that, while the Congressional Republicans have just as big an erection for war, if not a bigger one, nothing gets their loins pulsing like a chance to trip Obama, so they’ve declined to come back into session during recess so Obama can get their approval. So, no strikes for at least a little while. That’s an ironic reason.

Rattner also tweeted that the precedent of the Iraq war has “paralyzed”* the West. That sounds like today’s go-go, hyperlinked version of the old “Vietnam Syndrome.” (That was an awful disease in which both moral and prudential considerations were allowed to be brought to bear on the decision to go to war. It was horribly debilitating, and caused our National Resolve to bleed out.) Then we kicked Saddam Hussein’s ass – in 1991 – and we were cured. Yay!

But then Saddam gave us another dose after 2003. He was tricky that way.

Maybe it’s like Looney Tunes, in which you have to get hit on the head an even number of times to avoid amnesia. (Except, yeah, it’s an odd number of times in this case: the first touch of Saddam cured us, like removal of a case of the King’s Evil. Whatever.)

I miss the days of Vietnam Syndrome, actually. I’m nostalgic. Let’s bring back some of those moments.

TV Commercial (sorry, Youtube interstitial):

A father and his young son, standing in front of the National Iraq War Memorial, which doesn’t yet exist, but one day will have to. I favor an Ozymandias-style pair of vast and trunkless legs: Bush’s legs, from the “mission accomplished” aircraft carrier landing, complete with the big, stuffed crotch bulge in the flight-suit pants. Just nothing above that.

Child: “Daddy, what’s Iraq?” (Daddy looks nonplussed.)

Narrator: A question a child might ask, but not a childish question.

Child: Daddy, did we win the war in Iraq? (Daddy looks troubled.)

Narrator: With your payment, Time Life Books will rush you your first book in The Iraq Experience: “What the Fuck Were Bush and Cheney Thinking?” Another book will follow about every other month, including “The TV War Douchebags”, “Images of the War by the Journalists Who Were There” (that’s a blank book), and “The Mysterious Koans of Donald Rumsfeld”.

…I’d buy that.

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