NPR, evidently, invited Right-Wing crank David Horowitz spit on Howard Zinn's grave on the air.
As the linked article above indicates, there was no comparable "critical" perspective on William F. Buckley when he died.
Now I'm aware that Republicans have tried to dismantle NPR on many different occasions. I can see why they might be cautious about pissing on, say, William F. Buckley or Jerry Falwell's graves. I get that they may need to cover their bases on those fronts in order to forestall crazed right-wing backlashes. Also, it's likely that most of NPR's listeners already know that Falwell and Buckley were charlatans. There's no pressing need to provoke right-wing opportunists into attacking NPR's right to exist.
But this doesn't justify inviting Horowitz on. Giving that self-agrandizing sleazebag a forum is not necessary. In fact, it's insulting.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
NPR, evidently, invited Right-Wing crank David Horowitz spit on Howard Zinn's grave on the air.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
(picture from FilthyMess.com)
By 1970, almost every major US city was suffering from severe economic turmoil. Poor and working-class neighborhoods were hit especially hard, with the biggest weight of the burden coming down on people of color.
I was spurred to write this post by the following bit of information from a Chicago Reader article on the history of the Ukrainian Village neighborhood.
[The 60s and 70s] was a tumultuous time for the villages. Real estate values plummeted as landlords neglected their buildings and speculators sat on vacant land and abandoned property. Mom-and-pop businesses along Chicago Avenue fell like dominoes. The arson rate in the area was so high that in 1976 Mayor Richard J. Daley convened a task force to address the crisis.It was no surprise to read that Ukie-V suffered what was called "the urban crisis" in the 1970s, of course. But the bit on arson struck me. I recalled seeing pictures like the following, and reading something a while back about a massive arson epidemic in the South Bronx in the early 1970s. I also recalled some scenes from Downtown81 shot on the Lower East Side in 1981 in which every other building was a pile of rubble (also see Alphabet City (1984), whose "plot" is structured around a hired arson). I started asking questions like: Was this a widespread problem in cities all over the US? Why was it a problem at this time? What would motivate someone to, apparently, destroy properties in city? Who was involved, and with what interests?
The poster of the picture above gives the following caption:
It was pretty bad in those days as buildings burned down weekly. All arsons commissioned by landlords. These arsons occurred in all of the areas of the city inhabited by lower income minorities. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Brownsville, Bed Stuy and East New York. In Manhattan there was the Lower East Side and Harlem and of course the South Bronx.I'll get to the "commissioned by landlords" bit in a moment. For now, just think about the scale of the arson crisis: all over Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Bronx, Harlem, etc. As it turns out, the problem of arson in the South Bronx, in particular, was particularly acute. From wikipedia:
In the 1970s, the Bronx was plagued by a wave of arson. The burning of buildings was mostly in the South Bronx, concentrated especially along Westchester Avenue and in West Farms. The most common explanation of what occurred was that landlords decided to burn their buildings and take the insurance money as profit. Competing explanations blamed the insurance companies —since their non-renewals of policies might have encouraged the landlords— or the residents themselves. After the destruction of many buildings in the South Bronx, the arsons slowed significantly in the later part of the decade, but the after-effects were still felt into the early 1990s.The problem wasn't confined to New York. As a 1977 Time article noted:
"Arson is a barometer of urban decay," says New York City Deputy Chief Fire Marshal John Barracato, "and most city fathers are ashamed to admit they have this problem." But the ruinous dimensions cannot be hidden. In New York City's South Bronx, where Jimmy Carter took an impromptu walking tour earlier this month, there have been more than 7,000 fires in the past two years. "The destruction is reminiscent of the bombed-out cities in Europe," says Bronx District Attorney Mario Merola, who was a navigator in World War II. Chicago's Humboldt Park area has some 400 charred, abandoned buildings. In Detroit, 10,000 houses stand vacant, victims of fire. "The city is burning down," said an anguished Lieut. Robert McClary, head of Detroit's fire-fraud squad.This is shocking stuff. Chicago, Boston, New York, Detroit and the list goes on. Over 400 buildings burned down in Humboldt Park. Views of flagship US cities reminiscent of bombed-out post-WWII European cities? Why was this allowed to happen?
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945795-2,00.html#ixzz0e8X3PnKc
As the Time article explains, and as most people seem to agree, there were strong economic motivations for landlords:
In ghetto areas like the South Bronx and Humboldt Park, landlords often see arson as a way of profitably liquidating otherwise unprofitable assets. The usual strategy: drive out tenants by cutting off the heat or water; make sure the fire insurance is paid up; call in a torch.Of course, the Time article seems to want to attribute the majority of arson in impoverished neighborhoods to deviant youth and "hate". There can be no doubt that there were at least some cases of arson in, say, Humboldt Park committed by nihilistic youth destroying buildings for the fun of it. But it seems pretty implausible to claim that anything like the majority of cases were committed on this basis. Moreover, even if they were, it would be a mistake to attribute the causes solely to the pathologies of "drug pushers" and "deviant youth". After all, the arson epidemics were concentrated in neighborhoods ravaged by disinvestment, high unemployment, slumlording, economic devastation, redlining, racism and massive drops in population.
Sociologist James Brady, who was the director of the City of Boston Arson Strike Force in the early 80s, has done a lot of work on this topic, and skewers the classic conservative thinking characteristic of the "deviance" explanation motivating the 1977 Time article. According to Brady:
Traditional methods of dealing with the problem are based on a view of arsonists as pyromaniacs or vandals. [But, there is a] clear link between the policies of banks and insurance companies, on the one hand, and the arson-for-profit schemes of organized crime, professional arsonists, shady landlords, and corrupt public officials... The dramatic upsurge of arson fires in the United States since 1960 has made a shambles of these assurances. Arson now outstrips all other "index" crimes in terms of injuries, deaths, and property losses, forcing us to rethink both our current control measures and our notions about the causes of this menace.Brady continues:
I argue that the routine profit-making practices of banks, realtors, and insurance companies lead to the processes of abandonment, gentrification, and neighborhood decline which destabilize urban communities and provide the context and motivation for several varieties of arson. Organized crime syndicates, professional firesetters, and corrupt officials all figure prominently in arson-for-profit schemes, but the urban economic context also lies behind the fires of vandals and small property owners desperate to escape losing investments by means of convenient fires.This seems to me to be basically right on. Other studies have also constructed models whereby the best profit-maximizing strategy for certain banks, insurance companies, and landlords is basically a combination of abandonment and professionally-commissioned arson by hired "torches".I find this heartbreaking. We don't need to talk about arson in order to grasp the inhuman, cold, calculated cruelty of slum-lording, blockbusting, redlining, etc. But this pushes things to another level entirely. Good ol' capitalism, indeed.
The role of public officials in this cruel process would be worth looking into more. Brady discusses it some, but it seems like all levels of government can be indicted for the prevalence of this phenomenon. They (public officials) literally stood and watched as powerful organizations set fire to poor (largely black and latino) neighborhoods. There's something very Katrina-esque about this whole thing.
Examples of this phenomenon abound. For instance, as David Harvey points out:
Something ominous began to happen in 2006. The rate of foreclosures in low-income areas of older US cities began to increase. Officialdom and the media took very little notice because, as had happened many years before in the early stages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the communities affected were low-income, mainly African-American or immigrant (Hispanics), in cities like Cleveland and Detroit that were in any case already blighted and deteriorated. It was only in mid-2007, when the foreclosure wave had spread to white middle class areas as well as to the US South (Florida in particular) and Southwest (California), where new housing tract developments, often in peripheral areas, were becoming vulnerable, that officialdom started to take notice and the mainstream press began to comment.One moral of the story, as the crisis in Haiti is reminding us everyday, that we should never underestimate the propensity of capitalism to extract profits from the most heinous human crises and disasters. As if anyone (except Obama and the Democrats) has forgotten, its worth recalling here as well that our for-profit health insurance industry cashes in everyday on human suffering. It's not for nothing that those on the Left call capitalism an exploitative system.
The other moral seems to be that the powers-that-be don't value black and latino life in the same way that they care about white life. Kayne's claim that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" is to the point, only we might substitute any number of politicians or organizations for Bush in that sentence. People can say what they want about Barack Obama, the person... but Barack Obama the president is the same company as Bush on this score.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Oregon has just passed a referendum measure that increases taxes on corporations and the wealthy in order to stop cuts to education and other public services. Both measures 66 and 67 passed by wide margins (53% in favor, 45% against).
Organizing got rolling in October when the measure got enough signatures to be placed on the ballot. The Secretary of State’s office said then that “[supporters of the measures] filed more than twice as many [signatures]. It’s unusually high for a statewide ballot measure.”
The gist of the measure is as follows.
Measure 66 "raises tax on incomes above $250,000 for households, $125,000 for individual filers. Tax rate increases 1.8 percentage points on amount of taxable income between $250,000 and $500,000, 2 percentage points on amount above $500,000 for households. For individual filers, the rate increases begin at $125,000 and $250,000 respectively. Eliminates income taxes on the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009. Raises estimated $472 million to provide funds currently budgeted for education, health care, public safety, other services.Now, can anyone say "duh"? Doing this sort of thing makes so much sense, yet discussions of budget crises are often talked about as though they were natural disasters in which we can't do anything except try to manage damage control.
Measure 67 raises the state's $10 minimum corporate income tax.
Together Measure 66 and Measure 67 are estimated to generate $727 million, which 2009 Legislature has already put in their budget for public schools and other state services.
But the math here is really simple. When there is a budget shortfall, public institutions can do one of two things: (1) Cut services and layoff public workers, or (2) tax the rich.
If you go in for (1), then you hit the hardest-hit even harder by cutting the most essential services when they're need most.
For the majority of ordinary people, that (2) is the way to go should be a no-brainer. The people sitting on top of massive surpluses should cede some of it in the spirit of solidarity so that there are no cuts to education, public transit, and so on.
And if you're worried that you'll have a hard time convincing some of your wealthy friends that this is the way to go... don't worry. You don't have to. That is the beauty of democracy.
Those earning more than $250,000/yr are less than 5% of the population. If everyone else thinks that social justice endorses taxing the rich, that's 95% in favor.
The moral of the story: Tax the rich. And then tax them some more.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Aren't you glad we have a Democratic president? Aren't you glad that we have massive Democratic majorities in Congress? You'd better be. Otherwise we might have had some jerk in the White House talking about freezing new spending initiatives for things other than war and occupation. Right?
Well, wake up and smell the coffee.
The long and short of it is this. For things like education, public transportation, and health.... its the tough medicine of austerity. But for the Pentagon budget and Homeland Security, these suffocating restrictions on spending simply need not apply.
For the things that matter, we get this strange fatalist claim that we can't but make punishing cuts.
For the things (e.g. foreign war and occupation) that some groups claim voting for Democrats aims to combat, there is evidently an endless treasure chest of goodies.
As Krugman points out, BHO's justification for the freeze is identical to GOP rationale for opposing spending altogether:
Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt.” Obama now: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”It's obvious that the Democrats are a political dead-end for those on the Left. Even Krugman has, basically, the right line here:
The sad truth, however, is that our political system doesn’t seem capable of doing what’s necessary.I agree. The changes that are needed and the reforms that people want are being stone-walled by our electoral/legislative institutions. This is why we need to organize independently of the Democrat Party and create the conditions for demanding (rather than asking Democrats nicely and sending checks via moveon.org) the reforms we need.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Read it here.
Here's an excerpt:
The unpopularity of Obama's proposals cannot be reduced to right-wing hysteria, which is only persuasive for about a fifth of Americans and two-thirds of Republicans. Such shrill nonsense motivates a right-wing base and, for that reason, cannot be dismissed - but let's get some perspective here. For a start, Americans hate the current healthcare system. The majority in poll after poll favours something like a single-payer or national insurance health system. That isn't reflected in every poll, of course, but the overwhelming trend is for Americans to prefer a government-run health system to the private, heavily subsidised, system. Secondly, this is Massachusetts we're talking about here. This is a state where a powerful majority voted 'yes' on a ballot initiative favouring a single payer system in 2008. The vote against the Democrats in their heartland was not a vote against socialised medicine, because that is not what was on offer.Best line in the piece:
It is easy to blame the lousy performance of Croakley, or whatever her name was.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate details the arguments behind the Supreme Court's shocking overruling of limits on corporate campaign financing.
Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority on the decision, attributes this absurd, completely ungrounded decision to a respect for the first amendment (what?!) and a dislike of censorship (again, what?!), rather than as what it is: a blatant endorsement of and alignment with corporate power.
Here, she details John Paul Stevens dissenting argument:
How it is that simply remarking that corporations are not citizens seems such a radical (dissenting) statement at this juncture simply boggles my mind. But clearly it is. Corporations apparently have first amendment rights. And in the end, they have more say over elections than I do. It's not as if this ruling has caused this. Of course, it's been that way for a long time. But I simply can't believe that the Supreme Court of the United States has so blatantly affirmed their supposed rights.
While Stevens is reading the portion of his concurrence about the "cautious view of corporate power" held by the framers, I see Justice Thomas chuckle softly. (Scalia takes on this argument in his concurrence.) Stevens hammers, more than once this morning from the bench on the principle that corporations "are not human beings" and "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires." He insists that "they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."But you can plainly see the weariness in Stevens eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the "voices of the real people" who will be drowned out.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Yes, aren't you glad that we have such deft political analysis from the "Paper of Record"?
The mainstreaming of the "Teabaggers"? Yeah, that must be it. Obviously, that must be the explanation. This way all of the liberals can be corralled back into thinking that a super-majority of Democrats in the Senate actually means something will change.
Mark my words, very soon we are going to be awash in commentary claiming that the Democrats have been "outmaneuvered", that the "populist Right" is on the rise, that America is a "center-Right nation".
Of course, if the Democrats are unpopular right now and anger toward Obama is on the rise, it's not because of the Republicans, the Tea-Baggers or Fox News Pundits. It's due entirely to the Democrats own actions.
Is it really that peculiar that working-class people in mining towns in West Virginia, who voted for Obama in droves, are now furious that his year in the White House has done nothing, literally nothing, to improve their condition?
Is it really that strange that Black Americans, who voted for Obama in record numbers, are disillusioned with a party and a President that escalates foreign wars while Black unemployment reaches the double digits?
Is it really surprising that a President whose entire message was "change we can believe in", having spent a year furiously trying to prevent things from changing, is now unpopular with a country that was uncharacteristcally excited to vote for him?
What we need to do right now is talk about means of organizing people independently of the Democratic Party.
Groups on the Democrat-friendly liberal left need to cut the umbilical cord and gear up for a fight. The disillusionment people are feeling is real, and should not be cast aside as cynicism. The political definition of cynicism right now is believing that progressives and leftists must perpetually subordinate themselves and their demands to the conservative Democratic Party apparatus. I, for one, staunchly refuse to forfeit my political energies to an institution that is hopelessly pro-Business, anti-Health Care reform, pro-war, and so on.
Lance Selfa has an excellent analysis of the recent senate election in Mass. I haven't looked at NYTimes this morning yet, but I can already imagine all of the "wisdom" coming from pundits to the effect that "the democrats must move to the Center". The Democrats can shove it. Who gives a shit whether or not they have a super-majority, when they never threaten to do anything progressive enough to warrant a GOP filibuster?
If you haven't already heard, just rest assured that Scott Brown is a "left-leaning Republican" who is "more liberal than some of his counterparts in other states". Yes, evidently "left-leaning" means vowing to defeat even the most tepid, counter-productive forms of health reform. Once we dilute the political content of "left-leaning" so heavily, it's difficult to see why Democrats of this persuasion don't vote Republican more often. Ugh. If it were up to people like this, we wouldn't even have the pretense of multiparty democracy... we'd just have the TPA (the Tepid Party of America) which stood for rabble-rousing values like "moderation", "good sense", "centrism", "bipartisanship" and "experience".
Of course, making it appear as though people have a choice is a far more stable means of reproducing this sad state of affairs.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Reading things like this, this or this are, to say the least, jaw-dropping and enraging. It's no accident that Obama's approval ratings are the lowest of any first-term president at this point since Eisenhower.
As the percentage of Black children living in poverty soars in the direction of the heart-stopping figure of 50%, one wonders what to make of Jesse Jackson's recent decision to give a major speech at the Left Forum in March in New York City. While it has always been the case that Jackson has been, in some broad sense, a man of the Left, a venue like the Left Forum is a touch more radical than is usual for him.
My general experience with Jackson, things like this notwithstanding, is that on the one hand he often makes critiques of the status quo that are powerful and insightful. Unfortunately, these critiques often end with a coda like "but, nonetheless, we have to support the Democratic Party and help persons X, Y and Z get elected". His decision to oppose the Democrats in the 80s was, on my view, politically important and courageous. But since then he hasn't really been a figure with the independence from the Democrats to have any hope of challenging their conservatism.
Thus I'm interested in why he's speaking at the Left Forum, and particularly why he's speaking there now. I don't think he would've done this sort of thing in 2008, nor do I think that the figures discussed in the news articles above about Black suffering are irrelevant here.
The sticking point, for me, is whether (1) Jackson will push for independence from the Democrats, or (2) if he will try to quell dissatisfaction on the Left (particularly the Black Left) with the Democrats and try to bring them back aboard. My hope is that it is the former. Whatever else is true, there's no sense in supporting the Democrats if you believe in healthcare, racial justice, full employment, stopping unjustified wars, workplace democracy, or women's rights. You might add public transportation and public universities to the list of things the Democrats don't care about. If these important initiatives wither on the vine when we have a Democratic President, Democrat super-majority in the Senate, Heavily Democratic House and so on... what's the use of electing Democrats? It shouldn't even be a dilemma for those on the Left anymore: the Democratic Party is not worth one ounce of support from progressive and left-minded people. In order to get the things we care about (e.g. healthcare, jobs, education, and so on), we're going to have to organize independently of the Democratic Party and demand them. This isn't a utopian idea: the Wagner Act and the Civil Rights Act both have extra-electoral struggle to thank for their passage.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Many on the Left (e.g. Marxists, feminists, and so on) have typically wanted to claim that the configuration of power in any particular society is not simply a matter of individual choices and actions. If you want to understand oppression, they'll tell you, it won't do to simply focus on what individual agents choose to do of their own accord. Oppression is not merely a matter of individual choices: oppression has to do with institutions.
For Marxists, if you want to understand a social formation (e.g. capitalism), you cannot do this by simply adding up the sum of putatively undistorted rational choices that individuals make. In contrast, understanding a social formation requires first of all that we understand how the social institutions that constitute it are structured.
Similarly for feminists, if you want to understand the oppression of women you cannot simply look at the actions and choices of individuals. You have to critically examine the institutions (e.g. the family, the church, economic organizations, clubs, unions, schools, etc.) that constitute a sexist society. (Even further: if you want to understand gender as such, you must examine how it is continually produced and reproduced in institutions).
The reason that institutions are of central importance for both views (and I'm not presupposing in the least that they're incompatible... I would want to characterize my own politics as embodying both views), is that both hold that individual beliefs, choices, and actions are shaped by institutions. We cannot understand individual beliefs, actions, desires, self-understandings, ambitions, or motivations unless we have something to say about the institutional context of concrete individuals.
We can easily see from the above why properly Marxist and feminist politics take the strategic forms that they often do. If you think that oppression is a matter of the very institutions that constitute a society, then you aren't going to think that political change is merely a matter of electioneering. Rather, you're going to try to change the way that the relevant institutions are structured and organized. Of course, precisely how one might go about doing that is another question entirely (Marxists would lean toward the answer that our efforts must at the end of the day be directed toward changing the way that production is organized... but again, how we might do that is another question entirely).
But what exactly is an institution?
In ordinary speech, it sometimes seems as though "institution" literally refers to certain buildings. Obviously this is not the sense in which the term interests us here. But on the other end, among sociologically savvy people, we sometimes find that "institution" casts such a wide net that its difficult to see what it picks out specifically at all. Sometimes we speak of the family as an institution in the same breath that we talk about financial institutions. What exactly do we mean by "institution"?
The wikipedia entry for the term is a helpful starting point:
Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human collectivity. Now many people may be tempted to interpret this as pertaining in the first instance to the purview of law and the state. This would be a serious mistake. This state-centric view ignores the fact that the majority of major social institutions in contemporary societies are not tethered to the state at all; in fact, the direction of causal force probably goes more in the opposite direction: the character of the State is largely determined by the structure of non-state institutions. What non-State institutions do I have in mind? Think of the impact that norms embodied in schools, media, film, film-rating organizations, newspapers, TV, music, clubs, sports, churches, families, and so on have in socialization.
Here's an example that I frequently find myself returning to. Some moderate environmentalists today express pessimism that people (as they are today) will willingly choose not to think of cars as the be-all-end-all of transportation. Their problematic is this: how can we convince, by way of giving persuasive arguments, so many people that driving cars is wrong? Thought of in this way, the problem really does seem insurmountable.
But this pessimism belies serious ignorance of history and the way that institutions function. First of all, before the 1950s the vast majority of Americans did not own cars, and the infrastructure of America reflected this fact: communities were walkable, laid out on a grid, and mixed-use buildings were widespread. The hit song "Little Deuce Coup" would not have made sense in 1910. Neither would it have been a hit in the 1930s. Due to the way that institutions were configured at that point in American history, people did not think of themselves or their lives as having any important relation to the personal car. People did not long for personal cars, they did not sit around wishing there were films, songs, toys, and pastimes having to do with them.
But due to complex political and economic changes in the 1950s, institutions were re-arranged in a variety of ways, with the result that the suburban single-family home came to be thought of (for white people at least) as the embodiment of the "American Dream". With the implementation of a national highway system, deindustrialization in major cities, and an array of other reconfigurations, the car began to quickly acquire a significance it had not previously enjoyed.
Today, the "importance" of the personal car is inscribed within many institutions that in the past had nothing to do with automobiles. Just as this importance was not accomplished by way of convincing individual people one by one, present states of affairs will not be changed in this way either.
If most Americans are quasi-addicted to driving cars everywhere and think that their very mode of life is bound up with driving, it's not because of a series of undistorted rational calculations that we might expect any individual, irrespective of time or place, to make. Nor is it because they've sat down, hashed out all of the important moral arguments, and decided after lengthy deliberation that cars are the way to go. The idea of driving is literally woven into the very physical infrastructure of the United States now in a way that it was not 70 years ago. Moreover, the institutional structure of the US is now tightly bound up with the automobile.
If we start to change those institutions, many people will change along with them.
Imagine a world in which we weren't barraged with Car advertisements every 30 seconds on television, radio, and the Internet. Moreover, imagine a world in which neighborhoods were more dense, walkable and closer to places of work, grocery stores, and so on. Imagine a world in which other transportation options were both accessible and the way the majority of people got around. Imagine that culture (films, TV, music and so on) didn't valorize (implicitly or explicitly) the personal car as sexy, powerful, or indicative identity and of social status.
This is no utopia. This is literally what America was like before the 1950s. Now this isn't to say that this period was perfect (nor that we should want to return to the past... particularly to the Jim Crow south). But this example makes rather obvious how influential basic social institutions are on people's consciousness and behavior.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
View it here.
4:32 - Chomsky asks us to compare the following with "Plan Colombia": "suppose that, say, China established military bases near the US... to carry out chemical warfare in Kentucky and North Carolina to kill this leathal crop [tobacco] that's killing large numbers of Chinese... I mean, is that all right? It's part of the imperial mentality [in the US] that this doesn't register... since we're the owners of the world."