Can We Memorialize Without Monuments?

By Chris Lowe (August 28, 2017)

Can intercultural gardens be an alternative to Confederate monuments to the past?

A friend of mine observed that as the movement to remove or relocate Confederate monuments goes on, it will change spaces and create new spaces.

The implication is that even while we work on this, we should also be thinking about what if anything we want to fill that space with.

What *should* we memorialize? What do we want to be remembered for memorializing? Could it take forms other than monuments?

For decades, I have preferred the idea of interculturalism to multiculturalism, because I understand culture as living process, not a dead thing, in which we exercise agency in choices about how we make meaning. Even within traditions, the act of passing, which what the Latin root of ‘tradition’ means, always involves choices of what is passed, what is not, what people work to recover. Creativity is sparked by inspiration derived from cultural appreciation, exchange, and recontextualized elements, creation of hybrid forms, grafting.

Interculturalism for me is also connected to the opposition of monoculture to historical and contemporary pre- or non-capitalist systems of intercropping by which agriculturalists managed their land and food systems to sustain the land and themselves. It is possible to romanticize that history, but I don’t think the problem of creating a sustainable economic ecology can be thought about sensibly without engaging it.

So one idea I have for memorialization would be intercultural gardens, situational gardens, allegorical gardens, relating to what we want to remember and the values we want to express or raise up. Gardens that would be living as culture is living, processes as culture is process, practices as culture is practices. Gardens that would be open and open ended, amenable to new additions, or to revisions and adjustments, as circumstances and understandings change.

Multiple Strategies Needed to Defeat the Racist Right

By Chris Lowe (August 22, 2017)

Which would do more to impede the growth of the racist right, and the attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and other targets: 1) Mobilizing against “Trump free speech” rallies that the white nationalist right is using to insert themselves into the Tea Party base and spread their rhetoric there, or 2) mobilizing against the policies of Jeff Sessions at DOJ?

This is a false opposition, of course. Both are possible simultaneously, of course, and might indeed be able to support one another.

But the rallies are the easier target, and that’s where the focus is. Yet, the threats from the DOJ are larger and more systematic.

In Portland, there is organizing against the City’s efforts to revise its agreement with the DOJ that requires some elements of police reform, though not nearly enough. We need to connect that organizing to Jeff Sessions, need to put pressure on the City Council not to collaborate in Sessions’ roll-back of the DOJ’s historical role as sometimes a force against local abuses of power, even if that role has never been consistent and has included its own abuses when the FBI takes on the role of national political police. IMO.

The City says it does not want to collaborate with racist and abusive federal immigration policies that break up families, says we are a Sanctuary City. We should hold ourselves as a community to the same standard in not collaborating with Jeff Sessions’ and Donald Trump’s policies of rewidening the scope for police impunity for acts of racialized violence and discriminatory policing.


Athena Hates This: Notes on Alt-Right Recruiting In Oregon

By Chris Lowe (June 13, 2017)


(Photo:  Flyer found in Eugene, Oregon near the University of Oregon campus)

1) Athena hates this. In the days of the greatness of her city, it was Mediterranean, brown was beautiful, and Europe was the domain of pasty faced barbarians reddened by shame, shyness or anger.

In the words of the famous graffito “Wogs begin at Macedon”

2) Poster maker clearly has never been to Nigeria, or South Africa, or Kenya, or pretty much any African country — even Swaziland is multicultural.

Pro tip: Confusion of skin color with culture is diagnostic of racism.

3) Ressentiment is ressentiment is ressentiment.

How Neoliberal Austerity Politics Exacerbates Inequality: U.S. neocolonial edition

By Chris Lowe (May 30, 2017)

I first ran across the term “neoliberal” in the context of being a scholar of Africa in the 1980s when neoliberal economists and policy makers took over the World Bank and IMF under Reagan and Thatcher, and began imposing what were known as “structural adjustment” policies on poor countries seeking to renew loans. For context, structural adjustment is what early modern autocrats and religious fanatics did to their enemies when they put them to The Rack.

Basically in return, not for debt relief, but just for debt extensions that did not get countries out of the problems they faced nor out from under the coercive power of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) governments were called upon to privatize many public institutions, and to slash spending for other basic public services, particularly in health and education. In Africa, it quickly put an end to broad gains that had been made since independence in literacy and life expectancy, despite all of the political and proxy war and civil war travails of many African countries. The emergence of the HIV and AIDS pandemic was heightened by the consequences. The absence of effective public health infrastructure in the West African Ebola crisis a few years ago was another consequence. Effects in much of the Caribbean were similar. The approach was spread to the former Soviet Union and Soviet Bloc with “shock treatment” in the 1990s that devastated their economies while creating new corrupt and corrupting oligarchies with privatized public wealth setting up today’s authoritarian governments.

Somewhat different forms of neoliberalism have been extended in the continental U.S. and in the EU.

The key rule of neoliberalism is that debt must be repaid, no matter how odiously acquired, no matter if the debt was redirected to private benefit from its ostensible public purpose, no matter if it was promoted on false promises, and no matter the social harm it causes or the obstructions to economic growth it imposes.

What is happening in Puerto Rico resembles the neocolonial structural adjustment version. The social implications of the destruction of the University of Puerto Rico reported in this story are just devastating.

Lessons from Trump: Great Wealth in Office is Inherently Corrupt

By Chris Lowe (May 17, 2017)

We watch in awe and dismay Donald Trump’s amazing performance art piece Drunken Juggler President. We prepare to duck and dodge when the next plate in the plate spinning part caroms off toward us, and to groan: Noooo, don’t drop the globe!

The details are endlessly fascinating, in that recurring monster movie dream time nausea way.

But occasionally it is worth stepping back to reflect past the details of the spectacle on larger elements of U.S. politics that his whirling strobe lights may expose.

Today’s theme: Billionaire presidents increase the problem of corruption, contrary to the idea that they are immune to it.

Trump, like Michael Bloomberg and Ross Perot before him, ran on the beguiling proposition that he was too rich to be bought.

Superficially it seems to make sense. Ordinary politicians occupy a scale where running for office costs a lot more money than anyone who is not quite rich can afford, in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Hence the need for constant fund raising. Yet that scale is also small compared to the revenues and profits of large national and multinational corporations. Donations that secure lobbyist access, whether directly to candidates and office holders, or indirectly through industry groups and political committees of various sorts, are a relatively small cost of doing business.

The asymmetry is striking when you think about it.

It becomes tempting to think that a rich candidate can escape the rounds of fund raising, lobbyist access, revolving door staff appointments, networking, and influence peddling.

Trump, however, has taught us that this is an illusion. It turns out that when you have wealth on the grand scale, on the scale with global reach, you have inescapable conflicts of interest in national office.

The ordinary politician may be compelled to trade access for donations. May learn to make his or her way through trading favors, in time honored ways with new expressions, as the political economy grows and develops. May be aware that going too far may lead to cascades of money on that middle scale redounding to the benefit of a primary opponent.

But the ordinary politician retains some control over his or her choice of how to respond to the access and influence.

The politician of super wealth, on the other hand, faces choices that directly influence the prospects of his or her companies and holdings.

Great wealth out of office may buy influence, and may do so corruptly. Great wealth in office is inherently and inescapably corrupt.

Is Trump the Cause, or the Sign of, a Deeper Constitutional Crisis?

By Chris Lowe (May 13, 2017)

Since Comey was fired as FBI director, an increasingly widespread meme has emerge in the commentariat, that the U.S. is in “the biggest political crisis since Watergate.”

The question this raises is the nature of the crisis. Is it caused by the actions of Donald Trump? In that case, removing him would resolve it. Many liberals and partisan Democrats seem to take this view.

Or is the fact that Donald Trump was able to be elected president at all an expression of a deeper crisis? That would be my view.

In that case, removing Donald Trump would not resolve the crisis. Removing him badly, in a manner perceived as unfair by his supporters, might even deepen it, by deepening their ressentiment and giving them a new “stab in the back” narrative.

If Trump were removed, what else in the forces that brought him to power would be changed? Is his firing of Comey really a bigger constitutional issue than Mitch McConnell’s blocking of even a hearing for Merrick Garland in order to politically manipulate the membership of the Supreme Court? For example. Would the broad policy outlines around health care, tax cuts for the rich, roll back of ecological regulation, re-expanded militarism, really be changed?

Insofar as any partial resolution lies in the realm of Democratic and liberal politics, it would require a rethinking of the weaknesses of those politics that enabled the tremendously weak candidate Donald Trump to get elected. Pleading Russian manipulation won’t do, even though it is true enough. The Russians did not create the vulnerability to manipulation that some subset of them exploited — whether state actors, or state-permitted actors.

But in turn the weakness of the DP points to need for popular organizing. There is no quick fix.


How Should Peace Activists Think About Chemical Weapons?

By Chris Lowe (April 9, 2017)

A question for peace and anti-war and international law oriented friends:

As I have been thinking about the recent episodes in Syria of the apparent sarin gas attack by the Syrian government and the U.S. bombing in response, I have started to wonder about the way we, or at least the media, talk about “chemical weapons.”

All explosives are in some sense chemical weapons. Alfred Nobel the inventor of dynamite was a chemist. Even bullets are propelled by a chemical reaction. 

Sometimes the distinction is drawn relating to “weapons of mass destruction.” The at least partial validity of this can be seen if we reflect on the scale of mass deaths caused by several deployments of poison gas by Hussein in Iraq in the 1980s, for example. Causing mass death may have been an element of the original international law ban going back to the experiences of World War I.

A related idea is indiscriminateness. Poison gas is uncontrolled once released.

Yet scale varies widely. The recent chemical bombing in Syria reportedly killed about 80 people. A single 2000 pound bomb or a barrel bomb, or a car bomb, exploded in a crowded area, often causes similar scale deaths. At the other end, I have seen activists locally in Portland criticize use of mace and tear gas by police as chemical warfare, and I think at least some agents used to repress demonstrations are banned for use in war under international law.

More to the point is this: Does singling out chemical weapons becomes a cover for mass destruction and indiscriminate killing caused by mass application of “conventional” weapons?

The horrors of gas attacks in the First World War were real, but the vast majority of mass deaths and maiming came as the effects of artillery and machine guns combined with the cannon fodder mentality of moral cretins commanding the armies. Most anti-war people are familiar with and have thought about fire bombings in World War II and the “carpet bombing” mass bombing horror campaigns of the U.S. in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

In Syria, the country has been wrecked, hundreds of thousands killed, and millions displaced by mass indiscriminate use of “conventional” artillery and bombs.

What is the right approach to this question? Is it to give up the distinction?

Is it to try to consistently point out when we speak of chemical or nuclear weapons that while their specific mass indiscriminate qualities matter, conventional weapons deployed at scale also cause mass, indiscriminate death often directed at civilians?

Is it to focus on mass warfare in all forms so as to shift the focus to warfare and militarism?

Something else?


Jill Stein Has Convinced Me to Support Hillary

By Chris Lowe (September 22, 2016)


Since last year I have toyed with the idea of pursuing a “safe state” strategy if Bernie Sanders did not get the Democratic nomination, i.e. finding ways to support Hillary Clinton in swing states with money or phone banking, while voting for Jill Stein in Oregon because the Green Party platform is basically social democratic in ways I mainly support, and because I do object to the constriction of our political debates by our version of “the two party system.”

However, the Stein campaign’s strategy is to only criticize Donald Trump by linking him to Hillary Clinton and criticizing both of them simultaneously in the same ways, without calling out the distinctiveness of the evils he represents. Worse, many vocalizations of Stein supporting friends and participants in post-Sanders groups go further, criticizing Clinton exclusively and *never* criticizing Trump, or in some cases, actually arguing that Clinton is worse and more dangerous than Trump.

Thus, the Stein campaign and her supporters have convinced me that to support Stein in any way would be to abandon fundamental commitments that define even minimal progressivism for me.


If people want to be against the “duopoly” of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, which considerably share neoliberal economics and militarism, I can understand that. I share the criticism of the dominance of neoliberal economics, entirely in the RP and to a large degree in the DP, and of bipartisan U.S. militarism and warfare. I see parties as less important as a focus for changing them than many anti-capitalist and anti-“corporatist” friends.

I don’t understand how supporting Jill Stein would change the duopoly in the least.

I do understand that many people think or hope it might, somehow, and respect that motive for supporting Stein.

What I don’t understand, accept, or respect is ignoring that the duopoly analysis involves TWO parties, and that Donald Trump represents the worst forces and values in RP side of the duopoly, which need to be directly confronted on their own terms, by themselves.

Trump promotes an aggressive racist and misogynist authoritarian nationalism at home. He makes alliance with the anti-woman and anti-LGBTQ religious right, for prominent example in elevating the hard religious right Mike Pence to his VP candidate. Trump also promotes “mainstream” Republican neoliberalism on economics including massive health, safety and ecological deregulation proposals, reversal of expanded social insurance in health care, and aggressive expansion of fossil fuel extraction, exports, and domestic use. His opposition to the TPP is an outlier, and his main statement about that is that he would negotiate “a better deal” for U.S. companies — not seek trade that protects worker rights and the ecology, both of which are anathema to him.

Trump’s mobilization of authoritarian nationalism affects his approach to international affairs, which is not isolationist contrary to some wishful thinking on the left and MSM narratives. He is not anti intervention. He criticizes Democrats for weakness and poor interventions, but wants more. He wants to be freed of restraints that respect for European concerns and Japanese and South Korean concerns might impose on him. He proposes a hostile and aggressive attitude toward Mexico and expanded U.S. warfare in Syria and Iraq.


If Jill Stein were running a campaign that was based on “oppose neoliberalism and militarism in all their forms,” aggressively identifying Trump as a neoliberal, an authoritarian, a bigot, and a warmonger, all of which are true, and making a case for how opposing the duopoly on both sides of it by supporting her offers a path to a better future, I could at least consider supporting her.

But her actual stance of in effect saying that Clinton is a bigger threat than Trump, which is both a lie, and undermines the “duopoly” argument and Stein’s sincerity about it, and the adoption among far too many pro-Stein supporters of that position even more overtly — Stein at least has the grace to be a little murky about it — makes it impossible for me even to consider supporting her, as I once did consider.

There is NOTHING progressive about giving Trump a pass.

Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?


By Chris Lowe (January 7, 2016)

Here is another comparison to think about regarding the group of armed trespassers on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. An 84 year old nun, Megan Rice, was given an almost three year sentence in federal prison for breaking into a US government nuclear facility in an act of civil disobedience.  She eventually served two years and then was released last year. Continue reading “Should the Bundy Group in Eastern Oregon Receive Jail Time for Trespassing?”

Bernie Sanders and the Wider Failures of “Progressivism”


By Chris Lowe  (August 12, 2015)

Bernie Sanders as Myth and Symbol. The etiquette of demonstrations at other people’s events. Meh.  Continue reading “Bernie Sanders and the Wider Failures of “Progressivism””