Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sarah Palin, Meet Arundhati Roy

Time Magazine (I know, right?) has a pretty astute op-ed on the frightening over-simplification with which the Right, typified most recently by Sarah Palin in her embarrassing interview with Katie Couric, approaches "freedom spreading" or "democracy spreading:"

Then there was her pained, and painful, response to Couric's questions about the Bush "freedom agenda" — the goal of spreading democracy in the Islamic world. Predictably, Palin repeated standard Bush platitudes about making "every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, respect for equality. That is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism. It's not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around this, around the world." That theory, though, has been discredited by the debacle in Iraq and years of inconvenient outcomes in the Middle East, in which elections have brought to power parties that are more extreme, not less. As a result, the Bush Administration abandoned the lofty talk about transforming the region roughly, oh, three years ago. Couric pressed Palin on this:

Couric: What happens if the goal of democracy doesn't produce the desired outcome? In Gaza, the US pushed hard for elections and Hamas won.

Palin: Yeah well especially in that region, though, we have to protect those who do seek democracy and support those who seek protections for the people who live there. What we're seeing in the last couple of days here in New York is a President of Iran, Ahmadenijad, who would come on our soil and express such disdain for one of our closest allies and friends, Israel ... and we're hearing the evil that he speaks and if hearing him doesn't allow Americans to commit more solidly to protecting the friends and allies that we need, especially there in the Mideast, then nothing will.

What the Time writer, Romesh Ratnesar, seems to misunderstand is that this "freedom agenda" approach is even more fundamentally flawed. It's not just that democracies don't always produce results that are desirable to the U.S. It's that we think we should be able to do what it takes to create desirable results at all, while neglecting the sovereignty of others. It's a little thing called imperialism, and it's been a problem for hundreds of years (though now it might more precisely be called neoliberalism). So a democracy brought about by imperialism will never be what a democracy should be. It's bastardized.

Thankfully, people like Arundhati Roy get it, and she puts it in words that I think even Sarah Palin and the rest of the Bushes could understand:
Democracy, the modern world's holy cow, is in crisis. And the crisis is profound one. Every kind of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy.

It has become little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning. It can be whatever you want it to be. Democracy is the Free World's whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of tastes, available to be used and abused at will.

Until quite recently, right up to the 1980s, democracy did seem as though it might actually succeed in delivering a degree of real social justice.

But modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo-liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them. They have mastered the technique of infiltrating the instruments of democracy--the "independent" judiciary, the "free" press, the parliament--and molding them to their purpose. The project of corproate globalization has cracked the code. Free elections, a free press, and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.


Because young feminists are just like you, but cooler

Here's a shout out to feminist blog, Iron Jawed Angst, helmed by a 13 year old self-proclaimed angsty feminist.

Give her some comment love.


pt. 1 The Economics of Traditional Marriage: Up Close and Personal

Brought on by some events in my personal life, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the economics of marriages, how they came to be, how they evolve, how they might be changed, and whether there's any hope for actual equality while financially depending on one's partner. In the first part, I outline how I've seen the structure of a traditional marriage play out in real life (apologies if the post is a little helter skelter. As is so often the case in feminist thought, thinking about this topic has been as therapeutic and personally necessary as it has been political):

My parents were married at 18, about a month after graduating high school.

My dad was the primary earner in the house throughout my entire life and their entire marriage, with my mom working low-income, part-time jobs off and on. With the exception of the early years, while my dad was trying to establish his own career, her work was more of a hobby than any meaningful supplement to the household income.

My mom just started as a full-time teacher last fall, and earned barely $12,000 a year as an intern. She began going to college about 6 years ago when my youngest sibling started going to school full time. Even when my mom was a full-time college student, she was expected to get errands done before my dad got home to work, to call so-and-so about fixing that, to go to the bank to get money out for this, to take kid #4 to dance lessons, and yes, to make sure the house was clean so that when my dad got home from his high-stress job, he would "be able to relax and be comfortable."

Together they own a 3,600 sq ft. house, three newish cars between the two of them, having
bought used cars for two of my siblings and made car payments on my leased car for three years. They've paid for college for three kids and my mom in the course of the last 6 years. They kept their family in a very comfortable, even excessive, financial situation.

In January, they separated. My parents only have one child still under 18, so my dad makes the house payments on the now much-too-large house my mom shares with my sibling. And he gives her some undisclosed amount of child support for the one kid he legally has to support. He lives in a fancy new condo he bought himself, with brand new decorations and furniture. He regularly invites me and my siblings for weekend excursions.

My mom lives pay check to pay check. Sure, she gets by and she's still significantly more privileged than most. But the injustice of the whole thing stands out to me. My dad never would've had the career he had if he didn't have my mother at home tying up the loose ends and taking care of his kids and property. That was the bargain they made. They were equal partners, they told us, each taking care of a particular but equally important role.

My impression is that legally my mom is entitled to much more than she's getting now, and that's why I've found myself in the odd position of encouraging her to hurry up with the divorce. But she's waiting for him to initiate the proceedings. He has lawyer friends. He has some reasoning for wanting to wait to get it done. And so, she waits for his okay, just like she did throughout their marriage. Legally she might get more and she certainly has the right to ask for it now. But practically? No, practically she's learned her place in the marriage and in the divorce. My grandparents defensively explain to their friends that even though my dad has left, "he is still paying for everything and making sure everyone is taken care of." Oh, well let's give him a hero biscuit. Not only does he keep the control, he even gets the social benefit of the impression that he's doing something noble by "giving" my mom what's rightfully hers.

And so, well, partnership my ass. The truth is though, it's not like my mom suddenly became powerless when her marriage failed. Thinking back, she never had power. He who had the money had the power. Nothing was going to happen without the bottom line from my dad. Sure, maybe technically she could've accessed money with the accounts, but she never would have. She never would've surprised my dad by buying him a car for his birthday (like he did for her once), because she didn't feel as entitled to that money as he did, and I have to say, I've never come across a couple where the non-earning spouse did exert s much power over the couple's finances as the earner did. The capitalist system just wouldn't make it feel right.

Next up, I'll do some thinking about the curiously progressive nature of alimony, hopefully with a little actual research on how today's laws came to be.



I didn't realize that my home state is considering a repeal of its 5.3% flat income tax. (I actually didn't realize that the income tax wasn't progressive.) Anyway, it would eliminate 45% of state revenues and probably crash the government. But people are excited about saving $3,000 next year.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ridiculous Stuff Men Say On The Street: 'Natural' Edition

As a young, unaccompanied woman walking and taking public transit in an urban setting, I am vulnerable to men who think they can say and do shit. (For an awesome clearinghouse of such tales, check out Holla Back.) Thus begins a new feature on Pink Scare, in which I document ridiculous stuff men say on the street and then say the scathing things I would've said if I wasn't so steamed.

SCENE: Downtown Chicago, State and Jackson, awaiting the #6 bus.

RM: Are you waiting for the 6 bus?
Me: Mm-hmm.
RM: (surveying me during a long pause) ... You know, I like the Plain Jane look!
Me: What?
RM: I like the Plain Jane look! Y'know, you don't got your toenails done up, or your fingernails done up.
Me: Uh ...
RM: Painting your nails must be a pain in the ass ... but that's gotta be nothing compared to waxing.
Me: Uh, yeah. For sure.
RM: Oh, come on! You're not supposed to say 'for sure'! You're all natural!

Obviously, Mr. Smooth noticed my unshaved legs and couldn't stop himself from asking me inappropriate, awkward questions about female beauty regimens and my "natural" state. It's amazing how some men think that nonconforming aspects of our bodies are rightfully theirs to evaluate. I didn't ask for his opinion of my 'look,' yet his tone suggested that I should welcome and expect his evaluation.

Dude, are we seriously talking about waxing right now? My body is not on display, nor is it up for discussion. Get out of my face.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Naomi Klein on the bailouts and the nonsense of free marketism

From The Guardian, her best points:

Before getting to the optimism, she has to temper our hopes with some realism:

During boom times, it's profitable to preach laissez faire, because an absentee government allows speculative bubbles to inflate. When those bubbles burst, the ideology becomes a hindrance, and it goes dormant while big government rides to the rescue. But rest assured: the ideology will come roaring back when the bailouts are done. The massive debts the public is accumulating to bail out the speculators will then become part of a global budget crisis that will be the rationalisation for deep cuts to social programmes, and for a renewed push to privatise what is left of the public sector. We will also be told that our hopes for a green future are, sadly, too costly.
But then on the hits this "common sense" ideology of deregulation is taking in the crisis:
This spectacle necessarily raises the question: if the state can intervene to save corporations that took reckless risks in the housing markets, why can't it intervene to prevent millions of Americans from imminent foreclosure? By the same token, if $85bn can be made instantly available to buy the insurance giant AIG, why is single-payer health care – which would protect Americans from the predatory practices of health-care insurance companies – seemingly such an unattainable dream? And if ever more corporations need taxpayer funds to stay afloat, why can't taxpayers make demands in return – like caps on executive pay, and a guarantee against more job losses?
On new approaches that can enter the mainstream discourse because of the epic failure corporations have been:

With the World Trade Organisation talks off the rails, this crisis could also be a catalyst for a radically alternative approach to regulating world markets and financial systems. Already, we are seeing a move towards "food sovereignty" in the developing world, rather than leaving access to food to the whims of commodity traders. The time may finally have come for ideas like taxing trading, which would slow speculative investment, as well as other global capital controls.

And now that nationalisation is not a dirty word, the oil and gas companies should watch out: someone needs to pay for the shift to a greener future, and it makes most sense for the bulk of the funds to come from the highly profitable sector that is most responsible for our climate crisis. It certainly makes more sense than creating another dangerous bubble in carbon trading.


Um...thanks for the reassurance?

I was worried about the economy, and then I listened to this guy talk about panic and danger and crisis and collapse.

Now I feel much better.



In the biggest publicity stunt since the selection of Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign announced that it will be suspending its campaign activity because of the gravity of our economic situation. McCain is also calling for a postponement of Friday's debate.


I mean, I get it. We're supposed to think:

  • John McCain knows this is an emergency! He knows it, like, way more than Obama does. We can't participate in silly frivolities, like debates, when there are important briefings to read and Congressional hearings to fall asleep in.
  • John McCain is selfless. He is answering the Call of Duty. He knows his leadership is badly needed in Washington. There aren't nearly enough intelligent experts working on our economic situation.
  • John McCain knows the American people don't want to see partisan bickering in a time of crisis. That's why he's decided not to show a single smear campaign advertisement on television for, like, one day.

During an interview yesterday, McCain admitted he didn't understand the details of how foreign banks might benefit from the bailout. And I don't imagine that people on Capitol Hill have a whole lot of time to get him up to speed on that. Whether McCain is physically present or not, the problem will be dealt with by the lawmakers and experts who are giving their full attention to its resolution.

If consumer confidence and taxpayer trust are so important, why won't he get in front of voters instead? Nothing would give Americans more comfort than being able to hear this candidate's plan for a more ethical, equitable and stable financial system. Unless, of course, he doesn't have a plan like that. In which case the American people -- made distrustful, cynical, and anxious by the massive failure and impending rescue of the rich and powerful -- will start throwing rotten tomatoes and bad Gallup polls in his direction.

What's even more sinister is that McCain's ploy contributes to the sense that we must act immediately. That if we spend too long reading, thinking, planning, and discussing details (like liberal elitist pansies), our economy will be completely fucked and we'll have "partisanship" to blame.

Remember the last time we rushed through important data in order to act on a conflict that our government deemed urgent? Turns out some of that data was made up. Turns out that certain people had a lot to gain from the decisions that were so hastily made.

I don't want to sound like a 9/11 Truth wingnut. This situation is no doubt serious and time-sensitive. But McCain's statement has suggested we could -- and should -- have the bailout passed by Monday morning. He thinks we should hurry up. The question is, hurry up for whom?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

good analysis on 700b bailout from 'lenin'



Sunday, September 21, 2008

NYTimes stokes your class rage ... in the wrong direction.

Apparently, employees of the Long Island Railroad, a commuter rail serving NYC and some suburbs, have been taking advantage of some very lucrative labor loopholes, and some very lax standards for disability status. A giant investigative piece done by two Times reporters reveals that, during one year, 97% of recent retirees applied for and received disability status. (The article includes photos of these same people .... golfing.) Disability status comes with payments of $3,000 a month. Also, via some slightly arcane, union-sponsored work regulations, some senior engineers were able to earn over $250k for a job with a base salary around $50k.

Go read this piece. If you're anything like me, you'll experience a whole array of complicated reactions. Honestly, my primary reaction was:

Hey, fuck you, engineer worker guys! Because

  • I don't have health care or benefits
  • I don't make that much money and never will
  • My 70-year old grandmother is still cleaning houses while you retire to golf heaven at the tender age of 50
  • You took home $250k for a job that doesn't require a college education. Blue-collar jobs for men, having benefited from strong union presence for generations, often involve high wages and benefits. Meanwhile, even college-educated women are working secretarial, childcare, and housework jobs that pay them jack shit. (That's why we need organizations like this.)
This is exactly the reaction the NYTimes wants me to have. They want me to resent these men, to despise them, because they have exploited the system. They want me to say, Fuck the unions! And certainly, if able-bodied men are somehow able to receive $36,000 in annual disability payments, there is something wrong with the application process.

This article makes me angry on behalf of all the people who aren't paid a living wage for their work. All the people with no health care. Or all the people with health care they can barely afford, or health care that doesn't protect them from catastrophic costs. All the people who applied for disability, but were denied. All the people whose disability payments aren't enough to cover serious medical costs. (One Times commenter with a debilitating condition wrote that hers was $736 a month.)

So in light of this, yes, a bunch of old white guys squeezing a cushy life out of a state-subsidized transit company sucks. Long Island Railroad certainly ought to clean up its act, for the sake of public faith and a sustainable budget.

But what these men have done is a drop in the bucket compared to the massive severance packages received by ousted CEO's of failed banks.

The real problem isn't that these retirees have it too good. It's that the rest of the country has it so bad. A huge number of jobs in this country are insecure, low-wage, and without benefits. Even people who've saved all their working life may find they can't afford to retire. And at any moment, an uninsured person like me could be crippled by illness and its enormous cost.

Say we prosecute these old-timer railroad employees for fraud. Make them give back the money they "stole" (legally) from the public coffer. What then? Public punishment of these people might feel good for a moment, but it wouldn't bring us any closer to justice for all.

I think there was a time when we would applaud a company for paying its employees well and taking excellent care of its retirees. Now, as Americans watch their own financial security disintegrate, they're ready to throw tomatoes at anyone with a decent pension. Wrong target, folks.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Sky is Falling: American Capitalism on Trial

From my friend Austin Thompson:

For those few remaining skeptics who doubted the magnitude of the financial crisis, the pandemonium on Wall-Street is a deal maker. The recent takeovers and bailouts of major investment banking firms were demanded by the people who brought us large scale de-regulation, welfare privatization, and "the government that governs least." Of course all this tough love was aimed at the American worker and the underclass but now that it's the American corporation and the dominant class the government is offering billion dollar food stamps faster than you can say "you f****** hypocrites".

Remember the invisible hand? Well its visible now, balled up with the middle finger extended at me and you. When they win they keep it for themselves, when they loose they get the rest of us to pay the tab. But wait wouldn't we all be worse off if these companies went out of business? American workers and the poor are already struggling as corporate profits have outpaced wages for the last decade, food and gas prices have increased, and the cost of a college education nearly impossible for folks making under $50,000 a year---and they have to pay their debt back with no government assistance.

The reality is a government that has been compliant with the greed on Wall-Street is not suddenly concerned with the functioning of the economy or the well-being of ordinary American people. They realize that since the manufacturing sectors were stripped and sent abroad, the financial sector has been the bread and butter of American capitalism and the only thing standing between them and the emerging economic powers in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. There is no one to blame but the conservative republicans and centrist democrats who neglected the base of the economy (the American worker) and decided to side with the big money interests who fund their political campaigns.

Be assured American capital will bring us more of the same after the crisis leaves national headlines. On college campuses professors are still teaching the obsolete economic theories which got us into the mess in the first place. There is only one alternative--for the rest of us to get organized and remind our government where the soul of the American economy lay. The only special interest that should matter.


Private profits, Public losses

From an excerpt from a recent SW editorial, which is in turn excerpted from a piece written by The Financial Times' Willem Buiter:

If financial behemoths like AIG are too large and/or too interconnected to fail, but not too smart to get themselves into situations where they need to be bailed out, then what is the case for letting private firms engage in such kinds of activities in the first place?

Is the reality of the modern, transactions-oriented model of financial capitalism indeed that large private firms make enormous private profits when the going is good, and get bailed out and taken into temporary public ownership when the going gets bad, with the taxpayer taking the risk and the losses?

If so, then why not keep these activities in permanent public ownership? There is a longstanding argument that there is no real case for private ownership of deposit-taking banking institutions, because these cannot exist safely without a deposit guarantee and/or lender of last resort facilities, that are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer.

Seriously. Why doesn't the self-described party of 'progressive change' in control of both chambers of congress, make a more concerted push to consider these 'longstanding arguments'? We've seen the Congress bow to Bush on every major battle since 2006 (from Iraq funding, to FISA, to the Patriot Act, etc.), we've seen them tip-tow about and claim a few pieces of low-hanging fruit (raising the minimum wage, for instance). Why aren't we seeing any assertiveness from the party billing itself as a serious alternative to the Republicans? The difference between the parties right now, seems more or less that the Democrats are more likely to be pulled with the changing tides (partly against their will) into some modest reform to our financial regulatory apparatus and other modest changes. They will be far more likely to take a pragmatic position with regard to the crisis, as FDR did, which puts options on the table for the Democrats that Republicans wouldn't even consider. Thus, the choice in this election appears to be: either the possibility of tepid/modest progressive reform, or certainty that nothing will really change. Both parties, however, feel most comfortable more or less retaining their seats atop the quickly crumbling edifice of neoliberalism.

Finally, we are beginning to see serious cracks in the neoliberal dogma that has reigned over nearly all discussions of social/economic policy for at least 30 years. The extent to which this will enable previously occluded alternatives to enter into the discussion remains to be seen.

I could be wrong about this, but I've heard next to nothing from either of the major presidential candidates about the recent bank nationalizations. It's not as though these aren't unprecedented, enormous shifts in economic policy. It's not as though the biggest, most hard-Right capitalist government in the West has resorted to taking MASSIVE financial institutions into public ownership, when only a 10 months ago Bush was claiming that he was vetoing the S-CHIP public health measure because he "disagreed with it on philosophical grounds" (which is to say, his government was so beholden to neoliberal orthodoxy that he felt that infants and children must not receive subsidized health care in the richest nation on earth).

I know that Obama and the Democrats are trying to skewer McCain on the economy, a massive area where his campaign (and his Grand Old Party) have virtually nothing constructive to offer in the way of diagnosis or solutions. But Obama is keeping a pretty conservative tack on the crisis, relative to the space opened to make more progressive attacks on the bankruptcy of neoliberalism-gone-wild. Perhaps he's keeping in line with his Party, whose Senate Majority Leader recently said that the reason that Congress hasn't acted is because "no one knows what to do". Indeed, from the perspective of ruling orthodoxy that posit markets and deregulation as solutions to all problems (which presently has no solutions to our current crisis,) it is difficult to see what needs to be done. Certainly, more waves of tax breaks, more deregulation and massive cuts in public expenditure aren't going to do much.

But, and the SW editorial makes this point well, are we seriously to believe that "no one knows what to do"? Has the experience of the Great Depression been completely erased from all public consciousness? Is it even relevant that for a large part of this century, ultra-liberal laissez-faire orthodoxies were thoroughly rejected by nearly every single major Western capitalist government (including all of those ruled by Gaullists, Christian Democrats, Conservatives and Republicans)? This isn't to say that all our answers are to be found in the poswar Keynesian policies of yesteryear, but in the same way that the causes of the current crisis have historical roots so ought the approaches to dealing with it. Deeper than 1980, for sure.

In a country where the critical language (i.e. anti-capitalist, even full-throated social-democratic angles) necessary to articulate the unfreedom of our present situation simply does not exist, the only logical reaction to the present crisis (within the coordinates of neoliberal capitalism) does seem to be disbelief and confusion.

Of course, there are plenty of neoliberal apologists who seem to actually have bought into all that bullshit about 'free markets', the invisible hand, 'small government', etc. However, the joke is on these idiots. The investing classes who would gripe, moan and create all sorts of havoc if a public spending initiative of this magnitude was directed at the needs of the vast majority of people, are perfectly happy to be bailed out and have their profits subsidized by massive 'government interventions'. Their lack of regulation and 'freedom' to operate without democratic checks, is what produced this crisis... what we should therefore be discussing is whether or not these assholes should be in charge of these massive financial instutitions, whose health unfortunately has wide-ranging effects for everyone else. Letting them crumble would be to take everyone else down with them. The arguments we should be having about the massive bailouts and interventions have nothing to do with the absurd "free-market vs. government intervention" dichotomy. We should be arguing about what sort of 'intervention' we should take, in whose class interests tax-payer's money should be spent, who should be in charge of running these huge financial institutions and what role democratic procedures (not the unilateral whims of financial elites) should play in the process.

Why aren't 'progressives' seizing on this large puncture in neoliberal orthodoxy to push for other wide-scale public projects (i.e. fully-funded education, single-payer health care)? Why isn't the so-called 'center-Left' alternative in this election cycle, the man advocating (at least, in rhetoric) a return to the modest reformism of New Deal liberalism, seizing this opportunity to decisively slam the doddering, confused Rightists (of both parties, but especially from the GOP) who've ruled unchallenged for the last 40 years? At least in part, because Obama is one of them.

Its objectively true that the crisis will make it difficult to make an argument for massively increased social spending for projects like education, infrastructure and health-care. But, the scale of public spending and initiative that the government has taken in recent weeks has, in one fell swoop, totally destroyed the strangle-hold of neoliberal explanations which have incessantly informed us that large public spending initiatives, nationalizations and economic 'intervention' are the opposite of sound economic policy. This is not some business-as-usual event in government policy, this is a profound vote of no-confidence by the powers that be on the question of neoliberalism as the answer to everything. What these events have brought to the light of day is the obvious fact that our society has surpluses large enough to provide massive sums of money at the drop of the hat... money that could've been mobilized long ago in the way of erecting important public institutions like national health insurance, fully-funded education K-university, etc.

One thing is clear, however. Although the Democrats at least have a legacy of modest reformism, and are demonstrably less rigid (and less militant) in their adherence to bare-knuckles neoliberalism, 'progressives' would make a serious mistake if they merely assume that the Party 'will do the right thing'. Contrary to what most modern-day left-liberals usually assume, the Democratic Party didn't occupy its historically reformist role wholly of its own accord. The New Deal was an ideological mish-mash of pragmatism meant to deal with a serious crisis facing the capitalist system. The landmark pro-labor legislation of that era (the Wagner Act, minimum wage, social security) were the result of hard-fought battles by labor, the result of militancy and large-scale strikes and radical organization. The Democratic Party co-opted part of this movement, furnished it with unprecedented (by US standards) political access and compromises, and in return got loyal political foot soldiers for two generations. But let us not forget that so much of the 'progressive gains' of the 30s and 40s were won as the result of extra-electoral struggle combined with an economic/political conjuncture in which ruling orthodoxies were crumbling.


Friday, September 19, 2008

McCain doesn't know who Spain's PM is

What a doddering old tard... Couldn't you at least learn your neo-con crib sheets a little better, before interviews like this? She asks him like 3 times...homeboy doesn't even know who Zapatero is.

In conclusion: Experience, Experience, Democracy, Hockey Mom, Freedom, Uribe, Freedom, 'Merica, Economy, Freedom, Freedom, Experience, Freedom, 'SenrrrObama', arugula, Freedom, Experience. Country First.

UPDATE: Although by no means revelatory, there was an interesting piece in the Guardian today about America's staunchest ally in South America (and the recipient of 30 Billion in aid since 2000). This is the sort of thing McCain gets giddy about when thinks about 'freedom' in Latin America.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A war zone, in a country at peace.

It was 3:52 p.m. on Chicago’s South Side, and I was probably going to be at least five minutes late for work. The 55 Bus, on which I was a passenger, was rolling slowly down Garfield, picking folks up from from beneath highway overpasses, from the curbs of fast food joints and gas stations. I had a four o’clock appointment in a nicer neighborhood, and I was dreading the sweaty, stressful sprint I’d have to break into once I left the bus.

I’d struck up a conversation with a thin, rough-looking black man as we’d waited together for this bus. He’d come all the way from 101st street to help his son change a flat tire, and he’d brought a small television for his seven-year-old granddaughter, too. He carried the tire jack and the television in a big plastic bin. To be honest, he looked like the kind of man I avoid when I travel alone. But as soon as we began speaking, I knew he was good, kind, relatable, and funny. Side by side on the bus, we bitched good-naturedly together about the sorry state of our public transit, and I asked him about his family.

Just as we reached Indiana Avenue, his stop, he opened up. “I do the best I can. I try to take good care of ‘em.” He spoke with warmth and pride and a tired shrug of his shoulders. “You got to have somebody. But it seems like whenever I’m in trouble, I’m all alone.”

Everyone needs someone to take care of them, I thought.

“Yeah, but me and God” – he pointed at the ceiling of the bus – “We do all right together.” We were stopped at a red light.

And then the bus driver started screaming, and told us all to get down. “Get down! Get down! Oh my God!” There was terror in her voice. She’d seen something. Without hesitation, we hit the bus floor, hearts in our throats.

When, an instant later, we heard gunfire exploding just outside the bus, my fellow passenger’s terror grew palpable. A nicely dressed man lying next to me moaned, “Oh, Jesus!” I saw his public transit passes as he clutched his wallet in his hands. I wondered if we could be hurt, or even die, together on this bus. Behind me, a younger man muttered, “God DAMN.” From my position on the floor, I could see his small daughter, wedged behind some seats at the back of the bus. Our eyes met.

Once the gunfire had stopped, we waited a long time before we sat up, and even longer before we felt it was safe to move again. The bus driver, brave and loudmouthed, asked angrily why it was taking so long for police to show up. She speculated that the fire may have come from an undercover officer, who was now – according to her account – waiting quietly on the street, gun still in his hand.

Eventually, once a police car had appeared, we rolled through that intersection and headed towards my Hyde Park appointment. From the father at the back of the bus, I borrowed a cell phone and the comfort of conversation.

“I was just reading a story with my daughter” – he gestured incredulously at the cheerful pink and purple book cover – “and we’ve got guns going off. Those bullets coulda come in the bus! Coulda hit you, coulda hit me, coulda hit my kid.” He shook his head and said, with profound sadness, “I have got to get out of this city.”

“But we’re gonna keep reading the book, daddy!” his daughter said. She was asking him a question, and she looked at us with big concerned eyes.

“Yes we will, baby,” he said. He turned to me and shook his head again. “Daddy needs a few minutes to recover.”

Later, I tried to Google the gunfire I’d experienced. I guessed, correctly, that it wouldn’t even appear on the radar of South Side gun violence. But the Google search results are upsetting enough.

As we cowered on the floor of that bus, we could have been in many places besides Chicago. We could have been in any one of a number of war zones where deadly weapons are deployed daily in public spaces. I might never know who fired those shots mere feet from my bus, but in that moment, we only knew that our lives were threatened, and we had no control.

Chicago loses more black children to gun violence than it does soldiers to the Iraq conflict. When I was done working, I took the train back up to the North side of the city. But I want to stand in solidarity with the kind people I rode the bus with, who bear the heavy burden of out-of-control gun violence in their neighborhoods. I met two dedicated fathers on this bus who are powerless to protect their children and grandchildren -- and they know it. No one wants to live in an environment where heart-stopping fear can come at any moment, and where senseless death happens with stunning regularity. Violence is oppressive and destructive. All people – rich, poor, black, white, young, old, Muslim, Christian – deserve to live in peace. Sorry for the rainbow hippie language, but seriously, Jesus Christ.


A train wreck: John McCain on the economy

From WaPo:

"Our economy, I think, is still -- the fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times,'' McCain said. "I promise you, we will never put America in this position again. We will clean up Wall Street."


By the afternoon, McCain had altered his message. Speaking before a town hall meeting with a Hispanic organization in Orlando, McCain sought to explain that his earlier comments had been intended as praise for the resilience of American workers.

"And my opponents may disagree, but those fundamentals -- the American worker and their innovation, their entrepreneurship, the small business, those are the fundamentals of America, and I think they're strong," he said in Orlando.

But a few moments later, he described the country's current financial situation as "a crisis" and repeatedly said he was concerned about the fundamentals of the economy.

"I know Americans are hurting,'' McCain said. "The fundamentals of our economy are at risk.... And those fundamentals are threatened, they are threatened and at risk because some on Wall Street have treated Wall Street like a casino.''


Nationalizing the internets: Bandwidth Access As Fundamental Right?

I spend a lot of time on the internet, but not nearly as much as I spent online in college. I may have had more free time at the time, but additionally, the internet was a key to my education and I had to spend a lot of time using it to succeed. Not only does it put information and the search for information at your finger tips, it also forces the knowledge-seeking user to develop the skill of discerning credible sources from discredited ones, and weighing good arguments against bad ones.

Nowadays I have less time to play around on the internet (surprising as that may be coming from a blogger) but I spend my days thinking about the internet at my day an internet service provider. Given my belief that the internet is an absolute key to education and therefore a tool which when distributed unequally will lead to social inequality, working for a competing internet service provider (as opposed to what's known as an incumbent provider, the corporate giants like Comcast, Qwest, and AT&T) has stimulated a lot of thought about what internet access (and lack of access) means in today's world.

Aside from the value as an educational tool, there is the value bandwidth brings as a communications asset. Sure, there are other ways to contact people aside from email and Skype , but if the current disparity in bandwidth access continues, certain places and the knowledge of certain people will be out of reach to certain people. This is a serious problem. It's a quality of life issue. It's an inequality issue. It's an education issue. Which makes it over-all, an economic issue.

A couple months ago, The Times had an op-ed on the very subject of bandwidth inaccessibility in the United States, which overwhelmingly hurts those living in rural areas. Author Tim Wu compares broadband scarcity to oil scarcity, and big oil to big telecoms:

Like energy, bandwidth is an essential economic input. You can’t run an engine without gas, or a cellphone without bandwidth. Both are also resources controlled by a tight group of producers, whether oil companies and Middle Eastern nations or communications companies like AT&T, Comcast and Vodafone. That’s why, as with energy, we need to develop alternative sources of bandwidth.

Wired connections to the home — cable and telephone lines — are the major way that Americans move information. In the United States and in most of the world, a monopoly or duopoly controls the pipes that supply homes with information. These companies, primarily phone and cable companies, have a natural interest in controlling supply to maintain price levels and extract maximum profit from their investments — similar to how OPEC sets production quotas to guarantee high prices.

Wu also mentions that some cities across the U.S. and in Europe have built their own fiber optic networks which allow for more bandwidth transport and make bandwidth accessible in areas and to customers that big ISPs might not consider profitable. Though as someone working for a company trying to utilize a municipally owned and operated fiber network (allowing bandwidth to be sold to residents of the city just like electricity, water, and other utilities), I can say this path is not an easy one without any meaningful federal support or public dialogue about the importance of supporting publicly owned telecommunications access.

Like electrical wires and plumbing, bandwidth infrastructure should be a priority and a standard by which we judge all "developed" nations as advanced or backward, because this has such a heavy impact on the people of any nation. Worldwide bandwidth inequality is clearly even more pressing than that of the United States, where a presumed majority of people can access the internet in public libraries if not their own homes.

Too often it seems today's American leftists hesitate to label anything other than basic human necessities as fundamental rights which must be distributed evenly across populations. And to be clear, I say all this knowing that internet access is not a necessary physical life-or-death resource.

But I am of the school of thought that humans deserve more than just the right to not die. As we move into an "information economy" bandwidth access really does become access to the means of production.

Sure, if we're making a list of priorities, I'm not putting bandwidth above food or water or shelter. But I do think we're at a point where it's fair to start including bandwidth in our list of resources which should not be controlled and made scarce by profit-seeking corporations, but should instead be in the interest of the people to control, produce, and distribute evenly.


Remembering the Rosenbergs and the Reds

The history and executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg have always been simultaneously fascinating and horrifying to me. Part of what keeps me so intrigued with the story is that my Generation Y brain can just not wrap itself around the time period and context that produced such a sad, sad scandal. The New York Times has an article today that helps humanize the Rosenbergs' side of the story a little more than I've ever heard before, by highlighting the Rosenbergs' sons' (who are both apparently committed socialists) reactions to new information which confirms their father had spied for the Soviets. There are the unanswered questions that remain: Did Julius actually give the Soviets nuclear secrets? Did Ethel Rosenberg actually commit any crime?

But what still seems to bother me about this case is I really cannot grasp the fear and passion that led to the federal government's orphaning Michael and Robert by electrocuting their communist parents. It's almost like the more I read about it, the more bizarre and other-dimension-like the entire event seems. How can there be such a historical disconnect in my imagination just a generation after the infamous case? How much had to change in just a few decades in the historical and political thought 0f the nation to make this context so out of reach for me? Obviously I know the by-the-book history of the Cold War and McCarthyism...but...I still can't make all the pieces add up.


Update on violence in Bolivia

What was being called an 'ambush' this weekend, we now know was a massacre called for by the Right-wing 'autonomist' governor of Pando, Leopoldo Fernandez. He has recently been detained by the government. Apparently, he and his thugs were frustrated by the recall (which he helped instigate in an attempt to bring down the Morales government) referendum in which Pando voted 52% in favor of Morales.

Wielding automatic machine-guns, violent opposition paramilitaries opened fire on a 1000-strong unarmed protest march organized by peasants. The death toll has already reached 30, and is likely to increase as more than several hundred are reported missing.

Other opposition leaders have pledged to make "Bolivia ungovernable", unless the Morales government grants huge concessions to the reactionary opposition and ends plans to distribute resource revenues equitably.

In many areas of the country's "Media luna" region (the resource-rich, wealthy, white areas where the opposition is the strongest), the opposition appears stronger than it actually is. As Forrest Hylton has recently pointed out, this is due to the fact that the opposition (composed of the wealthy business elites and oligarchs) has virtually all control of the media outlets in their regions, owns most of the major economic institutions and has put its tremendous wealth in the service of arming, training and organizing groups prepared to mount a violent attack on the government should it try to assert its democratically-backed power to govern the country. While sizable, these groups of militant reactionaries do not find themselves in environments of unanimous support, as the results of the recent referendum in their prefects clearly demonstrate.

Here we see bolivia running up against a fundamental limitation of liberal capitalist democracy: despite having strong democratic mandates for change, the government is faced with a serious array of 'extra-political' (i.e. according to liberal-democratic orthodoxy, in which the public/private distinction occludes the economy from the realm of "politics" proper) obstructions that aren't all necessary constitued by violent acts. The wealthy elites under capitalism still control the central economic institutions that ensure that society can function (production and distribution of information, food, electricity, etc.), thus they can pull out a lot of stops should they face 'political' opposition in the form of democratic government. They can virtually shut down, lock-out, sabotage and strangle the economy if they like, which gives them tremendous power to push the government into considering their demands. (By the way, they've done it before in latin america: see what ITT and Big Business did to Allende before they resorted to a coup). This is all to say: they have leverage against the political government (not complete control over, but enough power to force compromises), even though they are not accountable to the public and are not subject to democratic authority.

This is a dangerous time for Bolivia and we can only hope that the Armed forces can regain order in the country, allow the December constitutional referendum to continue on schedule and crush the violent opposition thugs who are trying to exact compromises from the democratically-backed government through terrorism.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some non-electoral nonsense

With all the bullshit about pigs and lipstick and blackberries and everything else you never imagined you'd need to complain about hearing discussed during an important election cycle, other non-campaign related bits of bullshit go unnoticed. I thought I'd draw your attention to my favorites (by which I mean least favorites):

  • Reminding us that there are in fact a few things the Bush administration hates more than sexual health, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has added an incredibly expensive and (this coming from a person who spent a year in college researching the logic behind why an educated woman might decline Gardasil vaccination) relatively insignificant vaccine to its list of mandated vaccines for legal immigrants. One more barrier that allows them to funnel legal immigrant status to wealthy people from wealthy nations without actually saying that's what they're doing.
  • Despite all facts suggesting off-shore drilling (even if it were viable) will do little to gas prices, lots to the profits of the oil men, and only potential bad to the environment, our DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY Congress has just removed barriers to off-shore drilling. Drill, baby, drill, indeed...


John McCain's Terrifying Health Care Plan

Here's me, getting my annual pelvic exam, courtesy of the free market.
$136/month premium, $3,000 deductible, and a $30 co-pay.

Yeah. I had no idea how horrendous it was. McCain's policies would essentially attempt to dismantle employee-based health care by making employees pay taxes on the assessed monetary value of their benefits. The implications of this move are enormous.

First, taxing people's employer-paid premiums would discourage young, healthy employees from enrolling in employer-sponsored care. After all, who wants more money taken out of their paycheck? Instead, these folks would enter the individual insurance market, where -- if they're lucky enough to be healthy and free from pre-existing conditions -- they'll find an abundance cheaper premiums and shittier coverage.

Second, with the healthy folks pulled out of the employer-sponsored pool, the business will see the its insurance costs rise. And the more expensive it is to insure your employees, the less likely you are to do it.

This is exploding onto the blogosphere because scholars from Columbia, Harvard, Purdue, and Michigan have released a joint study today which projects that, under the McCain plan, 20 million people will lose their employer-sponsored coverage.

Look, I don't imagine this could ever get through a Democratic congress. But this proposal is real. This is the health care plan being put forth by one of only two viable candidates in this election.

Thanks to Ann at Feministing for these knee-knocking, evening-destroying links. My above commentary is largely derived from these folks' pieces.

Ezra Klein
Bob Herbert
Image from


Obama and Working Women

Today, I read a report produced by the Obama campaign on how Obama's economic policies will affect working women. In our present media climate, saturated with irrelevant discussions of personality and electability, it was refreshing to read something which laid out some projected results of Obama's economic policy ideas. I know it was laid out in the sunniest possible light by his campaign folks -- and I KNOW he could do better -- but I was still heartened by what I read.

For staunch Obama-heads, these might be no-brainers, but as a frustrated voter to the left of him, I guess I missed them. Here's some things I didn't know before today:

  1. Obama would increase the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and would index the minimum wage to inflation. As a labor activist, I'm encouraged by his campaign language on this: the report also notes that the purchasing power of the minimum wage is below 1968 levels.
  2. Obama proposes overhauling our present system of child care tax credits to make it more inclusive and generous. Working families will receive a 50% tax credit on child care expenses up to $3000 per child.
  3. Obama would mandate 7 days of paid sick leave per year. His campaign reports that, because women are overrepresented in low-wage jobs with crappy benefits, more than 22 million American women are not afforded a single day of paid sick leave. Now there's a sobering statistic.
  4. As Senator, Obama co-introduced the Fair Pay Restoration Act. His campaign report includes explicit language about the wage gap not only between men and women, but between white men and people of color.
Sure, his campaign report includes a nod to Ronald Reagan -- apparently Reagan loved the Earned Income Tax Credit -- but then again, he's trying to get elected in this freakin' country. And I'm excited to see the Obama campaign frame his middle-class tax cuts as "that's eight months rent," or "that's health insurance for a year." Indeed, this is the way most of us think about money.

John McCain, on the other hand, has the balls to praise the working mother on his ticket while remaining clueless about, and voting against, fair pay legislation for every other working mother in the country.

Barack Obama: yeah, he's probably worth voting for.


Trying to wriggle off a hook

McCain is now claiming that his rosy analysis of the U.S. economy ("the, the fundamentals of our economy are strong") was actually a comment made about American workers.

Mr. McCain replied by saying that when he spoke about the fundamentals of the economy, he was referring to the workers – which is different from how he has described the term before.

“Well it’s obviously true that the workers of America are the fundamentals of our economy, and our strength and our future,’’ he said. “And I believe in the American worker, and someone who disagrees with that – it’s fine. We are in crisis. We all know that. The excess, the greed and the corruption of Wall Street have caused us to have a situation which is going to affect every American. We are in a total crisis.’

Ah... right. So now that Wall Street has seen one of its "most tumultuous weekends in history", Mr. "I don't understand economics" McCain is trying to breathe life into his previous claims that the economy is "fundamentally strong" with a flaccid, blatantly false claim that he was talking about American workers.

Right... I'm sure that when the crisis (caused by the structure of our financial system) ends up taking a punishing toll on service workers whose labor is tied to the health of the finance sector (eroding many of their pension/retirement plans as well), they will be just as "fundamentally strong" as they are right now. I'm sure that, if they are lucky enough to even have health benefits, these workers will enthusiastically agree with McCain when they lose their jobs as a result of economic turmoil and consequently join the ever-growing (nearly 50 million) ranks of uninsured. I'm sure that workers will be even more "fundamentally strong" under a potential McCain presidency given his opposition to raising the minimum wage, hostility to fully-funding public education and his quest to erode worker's ability to organize. I'm sure McCain's staunch opposition to helping out the millions who are forced to declare bankruptcy, his hatred of universal health care, his disdain for even speaking in the language of class and inequality... I'm sure all of these things are just corollaries to hollow shite such as "I believe in the American worker".

The truth is, McCain doesn't give a fuck about workers or any of their fundamental concerns. And his approach to dealing with this macroeconomic crisis (what most people usually mean by "the economy") is essentially to do nothing, and pepper that nothing with a touch of hollow rhetoric about "corruption and greed" (as though McCain, obsessed with making huge tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy permanent, has any qualms about socially-corrosive greed).

As far as I can tell, McCain has no answers, no policy proposals that offer a solution to this crisis (and it is a crisis... at least he's finally been forced to admit as much) other than to sit by and watch the markets fix themselves. Si estoy equivocado, demuestrame lo contrario.

Even he gave two shits about "corruption and greed", and had an actual reason for attributing the crisis to these factors, what is his solution to thwarting further crisis?

“We need a 9/11 commission, and we need a commission to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it,’’ he said. “And I know we can do it and how to do it.”
Read as: "I don't have a plan, I don't understand the structural nature of the financial crisis, so just why don't you all just pretend that I'll refer it to a committee in the future and then see what they might say." So don't worry, McCain knows how to set up a committee. Good enough for me.


Save Bitch!

Bitch is in financial trouble, and they need our help.

For those that have read Bitch before, you know that is virtually in its own league when it comes to putting together an independent magazine chock full of sharp feminist analysis of pop culture, minus the commodified post-feminist shit that litters the pages of so many so-called feminist publications.

Even a donation as small as $10, $20 can make a HUGE difference if we all pitch in a little something. Don't succumb to the rational-miser logic of capitalist accumulation... cough up a few bucks for a good cause!



You've probably already seen this by now.

In the midst of financial turmoil, the folding of two giants on Wall Street, a resurgent "New Deal" for the investment classes amidst an election in which both candidates make sure to remind us that for ordinary citizens "government isn't always the answer"...the racist shitbags behind this DVD are trying to keep Americans focused on the issues that really matter: In other words, fear-mongering islamophobic apologetics for US imperialism and its global "War of Terror".

Let us not forget that Fox News aired this 'documentary' during the 2006 election cycle, and that David Horowitz showed screenings at universities in 2007.

I have word that they are also planning to send out this film as well.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Violent clashes in Bolivia

Michele Bachelet, moderate socialist president of Chile, has called a summit tomorrow in Santiago to address the mounting violence in Bolivian provinces where the opposition instigated violent and destructive actions to protest the redistributive policies of the Morales government. The eastern province of Pando was declared under martial law by the government after 16 were massacred by opposition paramilitaries in what Morales has called "an ambush." It remains unclear whether or not Morales will attend the summit, since he is holding talks today with an opposition governor. Chavez has already committed to attending the summit.

Opposition leaders have been demanding that Morales cancel a December referendum on a new constitution, which isn't surprising, considering the opposition does not have the votes to block the reform from passing democratically. The draft of the constitution to be ratified if the referendum goes as planned, has a host of provisions that include the transfer of land to landless peasants. The opposition's leaders, the rich, white oligarchs and descendants of colonial settlers, are casting their opposition to the central government in terms of 'decentralization', 'regional autonomy' and recognition of 'cultural differences'... however the fact of the matter is they do not want to be ruled by an indigenous socialist. (For those on facebook... check out the huge number of racist, virulently anti-Morales groups started by opposition youth).

Funny that these 'autonomists' seemed to have little problem with being part of the Bolivian nation-state when conservative forces still had a strangle-hold over the office of the President and legislating bodies. Whatever the opposition propaganda of the day has to say about the reasons for their need for 'independence' (Morales is a dictator, he's authoritarian, etc), this struggle is about the entrenched, landed elite of Bolivia resisting redistributive polices regarding energy resources and fighting tooth and nail against a movement, backed strongly by a majority of the population, committed to land reform.

Despite recently winning over 67% of the vote in a recent recall referendum (convoked by the Right-wing opposition leaders in an attempt to weaken the government), the Morales government is struggling to maintain order and to curtail violence instigated by opponents who are keen on destroying gas pipelines, preventing airplanes from landing, destroying government buildings, and slaughtering campesino supporters of Morales. Despite all of this and pressure to show a "firm hand", Morales has banned the army and police from using firearms against the population. After making serious inroads in provinces where the opposition is strong (taking over 40% in conservative Santa Cruz and over 49.6% supported Morales in Chuqisaca), it seems at least partly unsurprising that ever-desperate opposition hard-liners would resort to trying to destabilize the country through violent clashes.

I'm not sure where the military's allegiances lie, but any anti-government sentiment within the ranks or among officers could certainly be exploited by the opposition. Its also interesting that Morales's government, following a massive show of support in the recall elections, has not taken a more hard-line approach to those groups instigating the violence. It certainly seems to be the case that, in provinces where the local governments are controlled largely by the opposition, the de facto authority and power of the central government is hampered, to say the least.

Amidst this instability, the US ambassador was seen meeting with opposition leadership in east (which he denied, until TV news stations showed otherwise with video footage). Accordingly, Morales expelled him from the country (as did Venezuela, in solidarity with Bolivia). Morales accused the ambassador of inciting violent demonstrations, which the US promptly denied and followed suit by expelling the Bolivian envoy from Washington.

It will be interesting to see what comes of the summit. At least, contrary to African analogues of this situation, the all-South American summit wont be dominated by the US and Britain calling for "power-sharing" arrangements. Nonetheless, as Al-Jazeera has recently pointed out, many South American countries depend on Bolivian natural gas and have a stake in seeing that production is not affected by this instability (i.e. outright destruction of the gaslines by opposition protesters). I hope this doesn't tilt the discussion towards an agreement more inclined to pacify the violent elements of the opposition through concessions... rather than seeing the situation is brought to a just conclusion. Despite at least two very staunch allies in Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and Hugo Chavez, there are still plenty of center-left regimes that may not be committed to fighting against a plotting, obstructionist oligarchy. Correa said today that Latin America "will not permit another Pinochet, nor will we permit the balkanization" of Bolivia, criticizing the "minority separatist oligarchy" instigating the unrest. In a show of solidarity with Morales, Correa said, "Evo... we know well how these elites are... you have the embrace of solidarity of all your brothers in the region."

Chavez, in a speech today, made clear (referring to an attempted coup d'etat) that "if anything happens to Evo, I won't stand passively with arms crossed [and not do anything] I am prepared to die for Venezuela, I am ready to die for Bolivia." This comment was, partially, a swipe at the General of the Bolivian Armed Forces for his inaction regarding the violent outbursts by the opposition within the country. Chavez chastised the general for failing to prevent, by way of inaction and passivity, the opposition's "fascist paramilitaries" from "massacring the Bolivian people". "If I'm wrong, please demonstrate how. Support the legitimate President of Bolivia and not the paramilitaries or the yankees who want to derail the President!"


Friday, September 12, 2008

White Privilege Denial: Mini Wall of Shame

You absolutely must check out the radical blogging being done at Feministe right now. They've got a collection of powerhouse posts today on the issue of privilege.

It's always interesting, and often excruciating, to observe the responses of white commenters to bloggers like Renee of Womanist Musings. If you're a white person, or any person really, who isn't ready to start accepting the privileges you've been afforded by virtue of your race and class background, you're going to be made uncomfortable. Actually, you're probably going to be a little uncomfortable no matter who you are. Her posts are provocative and searing, and frequently accuse the reader directly. Make no mistake: she is talking about you.

The thing that's difficult to watch, in the comments, is that people have a really hard time shutting up and listening. Below is a miniature 'wall of shame' of white posters who will do pretty much anything except accept the idea that they have benefited from white privilege.

Watch as this self-described white woman scrambles to deny that privilege even exists, and then lets slip her fear that rich people might be forced to sacrifice something:

Something always grates me about privilege conversations, and this post asking us not to feel guilty maybe gets somewhere in there. I think what it comes down to, is that I don’t feel that people have privilege, others are oppressed. ... I don’t want to see the end of privilege, I want to see everyone have it. I think this is why people resist the notion. In fact, the notion that in order to make all people’s lives good, current rich people must suffer is possibly the biggest barrier to making it happen. I reject that both philosophically and practically.

Watch as this person, in his/her realization that s/he doesn’t know how to help mitigate privilege, has a complete freak-out about guilt and accuses Renee of ‘demonising’ him:

I agree that it’s really important to talk about and acknowledge our privileges but I can’t agree with your point that despite the work we may do to mitigate any privilege, "This will never absolve you of said privilege."

Why do privileges need to be absolved? I have not done anything contemptible by being born cis or able-bodied or whatever. Are you really implying that we should feel guilty forever for being born with privilege? That is rather useless as it goes nowhere to remedying inequality. Also you state that by having privilege we all "owe a debt that must be repaid" but how and to whom? How can we rack up a debt simply by existing? Can we not just accept that we have a responsibility to own up to our privileges and work towards making the situation more equal? Why do we have to be demonised for who we are?

Reader Dave just wishes Renee would change her tone. If you'd just change the TONE in which you told me about my white privilege, Renee, I'd be able to listen! Jeez.

conflating those who act with the audacity of which you speak with all white people is disrespectful to allies and other white folks who work against this sort of privilege and behaviour. ... just wanted to write in and say i’m enjoying the dialogue but i think it’d be more engaging if approached from another angle. and to be frank, this sort of writing is hurtful.

Watch as Emily Rutherford at Pushback dedicates an entire mini-post to accusing Renee of – you guessed it – reverse racism!

[Renee] takes issue with white people who behave in a racist manner and who aren’t appropriately understanding of their privilege in comparison to people of color. While this is undeniably a very important and problematic issue, I have my concerns about the way it is presented in this post.

When the issue at hand is racism, which often includes one group of people labeling another with an untrue and unfair stereotype, it seems a little odd for an argument that criticizes racist behavior to take the same approach. It doesn’t strike me as particularly constructive to say that racist behavior is a characteristic of “whiteness,” or even that an adjective descriptive of skin color could also be used to describe a type of behavior considered offensive. You see, though it’s quite possible that I’m not aware of the offensiveness of some of my actions, I believe myself to be a white person who doesn’t intentionally behave in a racist way. I am eminently aware of my white privilege ...

My preschool taught me that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of the circumstances into which they were born or the way they live their lives. I think that means that I should strive not to let someone’s skin color inform my feelings about them, and that other people should do the same for me.

Um, yeah. I guess everything we need to know, we learned in preschool. But since my preschool, and indeed my entire pre-University life in suburbia, did not expose me to ANY radical voices of people of color, I’m willing to get schooled by powerful, challenging writers like Renee.

Yes, it’s challening to read a post entitled ‘The Audacity of Whiteness’. Yes, the extent to which we white folks have benefited from being white is overwhelming and guilt-inducing. Yes, it’s hard to know how to tackle it best. But guess what? Renee, and other bloggers of color, have some goddamn advice on how we could start addressing the problem. It’s not easy to shut up and listen, but to all the wounded white sensibilities out there, that is my best advice.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Good analysis of Obama's campaign

at least I thought so. I found it to be sober and critical, but takes what Obama has to say seriously. Read it here.


What "Universal Health Care" actually looks like

"The National Health Service Act of 1946 provides a complete medical service free of charge at the time it is required for every citizen. It will provide you with all your medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone rich or poor, man, woman or child can use it or any part of it. There are no charges, except for a few special items; there are no insurance qualifications. But it is not a charity. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of illness."

excerpted from the Introduction to the NHS Act 1946


Human progress towards greatness

"The Spectator newspaper in London assures us that 'we live in the happiest, healthiest and most peaceful era in human history.'

Billions wonder: who's 'we'? Where does he live? What's his Christian name?"

-Arundhati Roy, Public Power in the Age of Empire


Thoughts on Bolivia and "Socialism for the 21st Century"

After recently reading this (and this, and watching this as well) in addition to seeing the most recent post at Lenin's Tomb (on Bolivia), I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about the current situation in that country. It’s extremely interesting for several reasons.

First of all, for anyone on the Left, the nearly continent-wide resistance to the Washington Consensus and the ascendancy of popular Left-wing governments of various stripes (in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay as well as Brazil, Argentina, Chile) is an inspiring development within the context of otherwise unchallenged, corporate global capitalism. It’s inspiring because in this region of the world at least, ideas about “change”, “hope” and slogans like “another world is possible” actually stand the chance of meaning something.

In 2005 in Bolivia, propelled to power by a groundswell of social movements, Evo Morales was elected as the first indigenous president with 53.7% of the vote (a rare absolute majority in Bolivian presidential races). As Tariq Ali summarizes nicely:

Bolivia has a large Indian population: 62 per cent describe themselves as indigenous; 35 per cent live on less than a dollar a day. It has a turbulent history: wars, coups, revolutions… and numerous uprisings. There were 157 coups between 1825 and 1982 and 70 presidents, half of whom held office for less than a year. Neoliberal slumber lasted throughout the 1990s, before anti-government protests culminated in the ‘water wars’ [over the neoliberal policy of privatizing water.] The government sold the water in Cochabamba to [the huge corporation] Bechtel, who told people it was illegal to collect rainwater. There were clashes with the army, a young demonstrator was killed and the protesters won. The municipality regained control of the water. Such unrest created the basis for the triumph of Morales and the Movement for Socialism in the elections of 2005. Not only was Morales on the left, he was an Aymara Indian, and his victory ended a century and a half of Creole rule. The rich were furious.
Recently, Morales won a recall referendum with more than 67% of the vote, giving his movement a strong mandate for “deepening the process of change”. Like elsewhere in Latin America where neoliberal hegemony is being fought head-on, the process of change has not been met without considerable obstruction, violent resistance and sabotage by the ruling classes, the affluent and business elites unaccustomed to power being exercised by popular democracy.

The US, following a long-standing tradition, has not played a passive role in the changing political climate in Latin America. It thus comes as little surprise that the US Ambassador in Bolivia has allegedly voiced support for US intervention in Bolivia and has been caught by TV media conspiring with violent Right-wing elements that have been assaulting public officials, blocking highways and destroying natural gas pipelines in attempts to destabilize the government. But as Lenin’s Tomb points out: “Still, if the US is reduced to sponsoring only regional rightist coups, there may be some cause for hope in that.”

For me at least, there are other reasons why these developments are interesting. I have been reading a great deal lately about the Russian Revolution, pouring through Eric Hobsbawm’s writings on 20th century history, John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, Trotsky’s 1920 book Terrorism and Communism, as well as polemics between Lenin and Karl Kautsky on the question of gradual reform versus revolutionary change. In this context, I begin to wonder to what extent recent Latin American developments are ‘revolutionary’ and what chance they stand of creating a serious alternative to global capitalism.

It’s undeniably true that radical social and economic changes are occurring in the region (nationalizations of resources, decentralized “Bolivarian circles”, land reform, massive increases in social spending, some exploration of non-capitalist forms of production, etc). However, there is plenty in this recipe of social/economic change that is not new. Although the social/economic conjuncture was vastly different, similar developments occurred in Western Europe during the post-war era: nationalizations of key industries, heavy progressive taxation, strong trade unions, public provision of health care and education, etc. This is not to collapse the recent Latin American leftist developments into the experience of European social-democracy during the 20th century; however, it’s important to place these events in a broader historical context. There are movements professing to have some kind of socialist alternative to capitalism as their goal, however, it remains to be seen how far the oligarchs and conservative business elites (still quite powerful) will let the process of democratic change proceed. Violent overthrow has already been attempted once, with US backing and aid (and the blessing of the NYTimes, incidentally).

There is a long debate on the Left about whether socialism can be built through a gradual, parliamentary path. If socialism means anything, it must have something to do with bringing production under democratic/social control, which means expropriation of the productive holdings of the capitalist class. Socialism wouldn’t be a kind of balance of power, a negotiation between progressive democratic institutions and an equally powerful capitalist class (as was the case in the ‘managed capitalism’ of Scandinavian social-democracies). Socialism must have to do with transforming capitalist social and economic relations, not merely attenuating their worst excesses.

Thus the road to economic democracy must entail wresting the complete control of investment, productive planning and ownership of the means of production from the hands of entrenched and powerful corporate elites. As history has shown, this class will fight viciously against even the modest social-democratic ideal of cooperation with progressive government and labor organizations. And in cases where more radical change enters into the realm of possibility, they will resist by whatever means they deem necessary, often with foreign military aid (the brutal suppression of the Paris Commune, the violent struggles of the Russian Civil War, the murderous coup against Allende in 1973, US interventions in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador...the list goes on and on).

Whatever one might say about Venezuela or Bolivia, however, it would be difficult to argue that their governments are mere conciliators, resigned to accepting as given the tremendous economic power still held by business elites. In Bolivia, Morales is already using his fresh mandate to begin building a publicly-run cement industry to rival the country’s corporate cement sector which is owned by a powerful figure in the opposition. In this way, he is allowing for progressive projects to continue into the future unabated by the politically-fueled obstruction of rich opposition elites.

There are broader questions, no less important, which center on what a socialist economy would look like, and whether it’s possible to build one in an environment of global capitalism. Although the top-down, coercive military-like command economy of the Soviet Union was for most of the 20th Century synonymous with ‘really existing socialism’, this is clearly not what any of the movements in Latin America or what the global Left aspires to create. They’re calling it “socialism for the 21st century” for a reason.

...bringing these thoughts into some sort of a US context: wouldn’t it be nice if we could even hope for the possibility of modest social-democratic reform? Instead of having two ossified masses connected to the ruling classes by an umbilical cord of gold, obstinately committed to the worst features of the status quo… wouldn’t it be something if we had, here in this country, an actual Left to vote for, a serious alternative that even gestured towards the possibility of substantive change?


Evo Morales's 10 Commandments

A few months old, but worth re-printing here...

April 21, 2008

Speaking at the United Nations on the 21st of April, 2008, Bolivian president Evo Morales proposed 10 commandments to save the planet, life and humanity:

1. Acabar con el sistema capitalista
Putting an end to the capitalist system
2. Renunciar a las guerras
Renouncing wars
3. Un mundo sin imperialismo ni colonialismo
A world without imperialism or colonialism
4. Derecho al agua
Right to water
5. Desarrollo de energías limpias
Development of clean energies
6. Respeto a la madre tierra
Respect for Mother Earth
7. Servicios básicos como derechos humanos
Treat basic services as human rights
8. Combatir las desigualdades
Fighting inequalities
9. Promover la diversidad de culturas y economías
Promoting diversity of cultures and economies
10. Vivir bien, no vivir mejor a costa del otro
Living well, not living better at the expense of others