Sunday, November 30, 2008

McSweeney's: Atlas Shrugged updated for the current financial crisis

Hilarious, especially to those of us who actually read the entire 1,000+ page disaster, including John Galt's 40 page speeches. I much prefer this version, and it seems like Dagny does as well.
Hat tip to Feministe.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rabid consumerist mobs trample worker to death




Really amazing documentary. The footage is unbelievable.

Just re-watched it here.

It makes me pretty sick to see what went on in Venezuela in 2002. But it's far worse to stomach the omission of these concrete facts about the coup-attempt in so many mainstream accounts of Venezuelan politics. Particularly all of the crap about RCTV and the 'suppression of free speech' that one so frequently hears about... nothing is said about this disgusting attempt to overthrow a popular government by force. Nothing is said about the fact that the coup plotters revealed on private television the day after the coup, how they had carried out their plan and how grateful they were to private media, RCTV in particular, for their crucial help in accomplishing the task. RCTV, it's also worth mentioning, blacked-out all of the events that led to the failure of the coup and suppressed the reemergence of Chavez's ministers in order to deceive the public into believing the lie that Chavez had resigned (he had not) and that the Opposition had total control of the Presidential Palace.

Watching this and thinking about the PBS documentary's treatment of the 2002 coup the whole time was eye-opening. Try watching "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" and reading the NY Times's infamous pro-Coup editorial afterwords.

Purchase the DVD here.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Responding to the "The Hugo Chavez Show"

In case you haven't seen it, take a look at PBS's Frontline TV-documentary on Hugo Chavez. There is a lot of good footage, information and some of the interviews are interesting.

That said, I think the documentary is a case-study in what is typically wrong with characterizations of Venezuela (indeed, with almost all of the Left governments and movements in Latin America) in our domestic Media (one might as well include Britain also).

Let me preface all of this by directing your attention to the infamous NYTimes editorial that, in complicity with the lies of the opposition military coup plotters, praised the (actually false) 'departure' of Chavez and the installment of a
neoliberal military regime by force in which all of the democratically-elected officials and representatives of Chavez's party would be removed from office.

The title of the PBS show is instructive: "The Hugo Chavez Show". The mistake that the documentary makes over and over is to slip into conflations of large-scale economic and political forces with Chavez the person. Frequently, supporters of the government or of the
PSUV or the "Revolution" are characterized as people with nothing more than intense emotional investment in Chavez qua person. There is a lot of focus on Chavez's show "Alo Presidente", his antics, his speeches, etc. There seems to me to be no problem with this necessarily, however, its insidious precisely insofar as these looks at him (qua person, public figure) are used as arguments against the policies of his government and the anti-capitalist project. I'll say more on this in a bit.

The interviewees end up making up more or less a chorus. There is 'center-left'
neoliberal Teodoro Petkoff who is supposedly given legitimacy as a 'left critic' of Chavez since he used to be a Communist earlier in the 70s. No further context is given for how to situate him in relation to the Bolivarian Revolution. We also hear from "Journalists and Venezuelans who know Chavez well". Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker is interviewed, as is biographer Alberto Barrera, Phil Gunson of the Economist, and former VP Jimenez who has since broken with Chavez.... (one was left dissapointed that arch-hack Simon Romero and reps from the Financial Times and WSJ weren't present as well). We also hear from an opposition goon who was a former finance minister in the early 90s who, every single time he's put before the camera, insinuates with a wry smile that the US should stop purchasing Venezuelan oil since that would topple Chavez "in a matter of weeks". (hint, hint! americans!) He extols the virtues of PDVSA before Chavez and repeats the familiar capitalist dogma that removing elites is tantamount to removing the 'experts' who are the only ones who know how to run things. We can smell his hatred of participatory democracy a mile away: let the indigent masses do the drudge-work, they aren't capable of doing much else without the expertise of capitalists and managers.

What we don't hear in the documentary, is the voice of one single intellectual who actually believes that what is happening on the ground in Venezuela is worth defending. Nothing. We could have heard from Tariq Ali, Eva Golinger, Greg Wilpert, Forrest Hylton, or any number of prominent Left intellectuals and journalists who would dare to defend the project unapollogetically (yet, not therefore uncritically). The tone of the entire piece is one of suspicion and one in which we are encouraged to presuppose that everything about what's going on there is misguided. Therefore, when things are pointed out about the situation that aren't all bad, they can be safely let out in the open without having to worry about sounding, *gasp* fair or worse, sympathetic. The point I'm making about the tone is that it seems crafted to always leave a large amount of outs whenever it presents something that looks appealing about Venezuela. This usually takes the form of presenting 'good' elements of the Revolution as ones with good intentions, but practically useless or failing.

There are no broad strokes to contextualize the movement, facile imperialist buzzwords like 'anti-American' are thrown around copiously without qualification, and everything about the Revolution is characterized in terms of a top-down decree from Chavez to 'subsidize' something. We are told that he 'subsidizes anti-American governments' like Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, which reeks of Heritage-Foundation-
esque propaganda. Moreover, the presentation of Chavez's relation to Castro is played up and used to hint at his authoritarian fantasies that have yet to fully manifest themselves. We shouldn't forget that the opposition has used this line as a talking point for quite some time: "Chavez wants Venezuela to be exactly like Cuba!" PBS seems to have cribbed it right from the headlines of opposition outlets.

One thing I found disturbing was that the documentary rarely mentioned figures about turnout, margins of victory, or democratic mandate for the Revolution. During talk of Chavez's loss during the push for Constitutional reform in 2007, we hear almost nothing about the statistical dynamics of the result. The "por ahora" slogan is spun as a "threat" that the government will "punish democratic decision-makers who buck their will", rather than an injunction to continue fighting for the reforms and social transformation for which the government stands. We heard nothing of the turnout figures which clearly showed that the opposition picked up virtually no more votes in absolute terms than they garnered in 2006, but merely benefited from lower turnout.

The entire discussion of is one-sided. The bullshit about it being a 'free speech issue' is gobbled up, since it so neatly fits in with what we are encouraged to think prior to hearing any facts about Venezuela: in the words of our media, Venezuela is ruled by "a thug", "paranoiac", "dictatorial", a "ruinous and radical leftist demagogue", who is "autocratic." The Economist probably has the rights to this smash-hit tune among the Anglo-American business press.

We hear nothing about RCTV's direct involvement with the 2002 coup.

And on the topic of the coup, the most critical thing that the documentary offers us is a quote by a Chavista official that the US Government might, potentially, have given the coup its blessing, or possibly even helped. That insinuation was left at that. This isn't being 'objective', this is deception. There is absolutely no way to maintain that the US govt did not give the coup its 'blessing'... look at its public statements before and after. They were unambiguously anti-Chavez and pro-opposition and they immediately recognized the illegitimate government the second it went on private television and proclaimed that it had taken power. Moreover, US involvement with the opposition in terms of giving aid and support to the coup-plotters is well documented. This isn't some crazy, out-of-the-blue anomaly to US foreign policy in Latin America, but a continuation of a time honored tradition wherein the US participates in violent overthrows of democratically elected Left governments. A little historical context might have been helpful here, but none was in the offering. The US foreign policy aparatus, let us not forget, is a shinging beacon of freedom that inspires the whole world. And we betray this Absolute Truth only at our own peril, and on pain of succumbing to 'anti-Americanism'. (For a far more extensive and sober documentary look at the 2002 coup, check this video out).

After the coverage of the coup in the documentary, one is left puzzled how Chavez came back to power. They don't really give you enough information to understand the dynamics that forced the coup to fail, other than insinuating that the slum-dwellers from the shacks of Caracas came down from their perch to protest. This is atrocious coverage of the event. Nothing is said about the rank-and-file loyalty of soldiers in the military who refused to go along with the plot. Nothing is said about the conduct of the opposition leaders during the coup, the RCTV involvement with the coup, etc. There is no moralistic condemnation of the coup in the way that there is throughout the entire documentary about how Chavez silences dissent, etc. This is bullshit.

The only ardent pro-Chavez interviewees are slum-dwellers who are made to look as though they are nothing more than uneducated adorers of a man whose policies they cannot comprehend. Leave the commentary to the learned light-skinned men who know better.

The last quarter of the documentary is devoted to showing the failure of all of Chavez's policies. We are given various examples, all very specific. We are given no wider economic/political backdrop against which to judge these developments, but nonetheless encouraged to draw broad conclusions from these examples. We are given no data about how much social spending has increased, how the programs have fared in terms of what existed before them, what the shortcoming might be attributed to, how they might be addressed, etc. We get none of that. But we get insinuations that bottom-up cooperatives are a bad idea because workers cannot self-govern themselves (silly socialists... you're supposed to leave that to the experts, the capitalists and managers!), we get insinuations that the uneducated poor are the only ones propping up a 'failed government' because they 'fear things could be worse'. We also get a spiel about "law and order" in which the problems of crime in Venezuela are really bad (dare I say we are encouraged to draw conclusions between Chavez's urban poor constituents and the 'law and order' hoopla?). No explanations, no comparative figures, no context... just the insinuation that rising crime has something to do with the Chavez regime. It doesn't really matter if they intended for this line of argument to coalesce with the racist and conservative opposition's rhetoric, to be purveyors of this sort of narrative in ignorance of what is frequently said and insinuated is already to be give a nod to the reactionaries.

Amid all of these complaints, not one example of how programs have worked is given. Not one figure about increased social spending, education programs, etc. Not one example of a program that has worked, against the expectations and wishes of the editorial boards of the NYTimes and the Economist and the Western capitalist press. Nothing.

Even the documentary's assessment of the most recent election results, which in many ways represented a small victory for the US-backed opposition, was billed as a case of increasing authoritarianism. We are told, ominously without any further backing that opposition leaders were 'banned' from running for election (the elections were observed by hundreds of international bodies and they all deemed them fair and free). Then we are told that 17 of 22 PSUV governors won, as though this was a bogus victory given the collusion mentioned in the previous sentence. Yet despite the opposition victories, the procedural fairness of the election, the high turnout, etc. The folks at PBS thought nothing of mentioning the US-government's involvement with the opposition and the recent elections. Pathetic, uncritical analysis.
I just read, according to Eva Gollinger, that the U.S. Agency for International Development poured $4.7 million into opposition groups for the electoral campaign. This is hardly surprising. Washington is backing the reactionary oligarchic opposition leaders in Bolivia as well. Why would we expect anything less? PBS says nothing about US invovlement or where their sympathies lie with respect to Latin American political and social movements on the Left.

Concerning Chavez's government, there's plenty to be critical of, especially from the perspective of the Left. But regarding this documentary, the entire conclusion you seem encouraged to arrive at is that Chavez is everything the mainstream Anglophone media says about him (he's dictatorial, a caudillo, a strongman, a demagogue, etc.). The viewer is almost led to assume that what the country perhaps needs instead, is a return of the rule of 'educated', light-skinned, enlightened elites who have the know-how, expertise and faith in neoliberal capitalism to make things run right. The film includes a few moralizing moments where the inequality and squalor that many Venezolanos live in is mentioned, yet we are given no evidence that there is a political solution to this social injustice. We get nothing critical of neoliberalism, of the previous regime's policies, or any mention of North American imperialism in Latin America and its long history. We aren't offered any explanations about how this unequal state of affairs in Venezuela came about.

I found this documentary disappointing.


Protests in Thailand

Protests led by Thailand's strangely-named "People's Alliance for Democracy" (PDA) are making headlines. Al-Jazeera offers a succinct picture of the group:

"Founded in 2005 by Sondhi Limthongkul, a former media magnate, the PAD is a disparate collection of liberal democrats denouncing corruption and authoritarianism, and right-wing royalists who would welcome military rule with royal patronage.The group's supporters are mainly urban, middle- to upper-class who are relatively rich compared to the majority of Thailand's rural population and are regarded as Thailand's traditional elite.

"Sondhi and the PAD advocate the scrapping of the one-man-one-vote system in Thailand and say only 30 per cent of parliament's members should be directly elected by the people.

"[The government's empowerment of the poor rural majority by implementing welfare programmes such as a universal healthcare scheme and cheap credit sparked fears in the country's elite that the wealth gap that gave them their lives of privilege could evaporate. So his elitist, royalist opponents exploited Thaksin's weaknesses: corruption, heavy-handedness in dealing with alleged drug lords, accusations of manipulating the media and rumours of plans to turn Thailand into a republic."

BBC had the following:

"The protests are led by the avowedly royalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which claims the government is corrupt and hostile to the country's much-revered monarchy."

"The PAD is a loose grouping of royalists, businessmen and the urban middle class opposed to Thaksin, who was ousted from power in 2006."

"While in office, Thaksin's populist policies attracted enormous support from rural areas, and the old elite felt threatened. His power base was too wide, they believed, and they accused him of corruption and nepotism.Detractors also accused him of competing with Thailand's much-revered monarch, King Bhumibol, for the heart of the nation..."

The only context the NYTimes appeared to give in its headline story was on the second page of the article on the protests:

"The protesters, a loose coalition of royalists, academics and members of the urban elite, say they are frustrated with years of vote-buying and corruption. Many are also skeptical of Thai democracy in its current form and propose a voting system that would lessen the representation of lower-income Thais, whom they say are particularly susceptible to vote-buying."

No critique of the 'vote-buying' charge was offered, nor was there any critical engagement with the fact that Royalists are spearheading an organization called "People's Alliance for Democracy" when they are in fact trying to limit the franchise. The NYTimes is pretty terrible on foreign affairs.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Christina Romer

In a recent article in TNR, John Judis deconstructs the fiscal and economic theories underlying Romer's (Obama's new cabinet appointee) approach to the Great Depression. Admitedly, the critique does not focus on what she is saying should be done now, but if her approach to the Great Slump is any indication, its Right of even most mainstream Democratic thinking on the matter. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"In a paper delivered in September 2007, Romer addresses more directly recent government fiscal and monetary policy--but with the same implications. She contends that after World War II, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations developed a "modern" fiscal and monetary policy that was remarkably successful. It stressed a commitment to budget surpluses to prevent inflation and the use of deficits only in the extremity of a recession. During the Kennedy and Johnson years, Romer argues, the U.S. abandoned this approach for one that sought to maintain low unemployment (a four-percent target) through, if necessary, persistent budget deficits. Romer contends that the '60s model led to the high inflation and unemployment of the '70s."
This is seems to accord with the standard conservative reading of the economic history of the 20th century, which we should contrast with:
"The standard account has been that the U.S. economy began to revive from 1934 to 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt's government hiked public investment and ran budget deficits; that the recovery stalled in 1938 after Roosevelt erroneously put the breaks on the economy and tried to run a surplus; and that the country only recovered from the depression after that because the U.S. began running deficits again and because of growing war orders from abroad; and that the final recovery awaited the massive public defense investment in 1941 and 1942. Gross public investment increased 150 percent from 1940 to 1941, and that's when unemployment began to plummet."
She emphasizes monetary over fiscal fixes which seems to be precisely the wrong view about how to fix the current situation (given that monetary fixes via interest rate cuts by the Fed have proven to be a total failure in reversing the slump). Of course, this is not what the Obama transition team has been pushing for, so her mere appointment is certainly no indication of radical change in course. Nonetheless:
"If Romer's views of September 2007 are applied to November 2008, what do we get? Deficits, but with an eye toward surpluses, and an emphasis--going back to her article on the Depression--on monetary rather than fiscal expansion as the solution. If that is, indeed, what Romer advocates, that's probably not the change we need--or that Obama has promised."


Monday, November 24, 2008

States of Injury by Wendy Brown, Chapter 1 synopsis: Freedom and the Plastic Cage

I am attempting to summarize and analyze the book chapter by chapter here, as much for your sake as for mine (so I can make sure I actually comprehend and engage with what I've read). However, I do so knowing it will reveal to you how slowly I make it through academic books at this current stage of my life. Please don't judge.
Is it not precisely this form of power that "applies itself to immediate everyday life [to] categorize the individual, mark him by his own individuality, attach him to his own identity, impose a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him?"
Brown, quoting Foucault, p. 29
Brown let's us know in the preface that she's writing a critique and history of the contemporary academic left. So, opening in the first chapter, she gives us just that. In the first chapter Brown makes a point to point argument about the ways in which "freedom" has been conceptualized and sometimes ignored, and how or why this may have happened, by the contemporary left. 

She notes that the Left has pretty much conceded control of the word "freedom" to libertarians and conservatives (which for them means little more than consumer choice and free markets). She also notes that they have abandoned the critiques of the state which were so important among early Marxists. All of these movements away from freedom and critiques of the state have been driven by a simultaneous abandonment of critiques of capital as a source of oppression and increased belief that the state can litigate away inequalities caused primarily by identity category.
So what's the problem with these shifts? Brown looks at it like this: If injured parties look to the state to codify disciplinary actions and to explicitly ban discriminatory behaviors, or to explicitly validate their existence and importance, they have codified the injured party's status as a vulnerable person, and embedded that injured identity in the fabric of the State. She isn't unsympathetic to a desire for protection for injured parties. But she believes looking to the State to make this happen is a flawed strategy. The identity of injury is permanently attached to the injured party, if it is remedied in this way. If the state must be relied on to serve this function, what sort of permanent freedom or "empowerment" is actually achieved for the injured party, especially if, like Michael Hardt and me, you see identity formation as the primary problem-process of capitalism and sexism and racism and most discrimination. 
The state, Brown argues, cannot address identity and its consequences without reproducing its formation. Instead of "protecting" injured parties, or defining freedom in a solely negative way based on whatever is identified as "unfreedom" in a given society, Brown wants to stop legitimating the state.
Just how did the interests of progressives become so transformed in the past half century? Many academics contributed in this welfare statist shift, but Brown isn't shy to note Foucault's enormous influence. He explicitly refocused critiques of power from the State and capital to critiques and accounts of "domination." No, they aren't mutually exclusive, but because Foucault explicitly distinguishes between them, it's easy to assume that he at least thought they were mutually exclusive:
We must escape from the limited field of juridical sovereignty and State institutions, and instead base our analysis of power on the study of the techniques and tactics of domination.
Here's how she characterizes the liberal state and responds to Foucault, and I think it's one of the most spot-on things I've read in a long time:
(The state's) primary function has never been sovereignty--its own or that of the people. Rather, the state rises in importance with liberalism precisely through its provision of essential social repairs, economic problem solving, and the management of a mass population: in short, through those very functions that standard ideologies of liberalism and capitalism cast as self-generating in civil society and thus obscure as crucial state activities. As the social body is stressed and torn by the secularizing and atomizing effects of capitalism and its attendant political culture of inviduating rights and liberties, economic, administrative, and legislative forms of repair are required. Through a variety of agencies and regulations, the liberal state provides webbing for the social body dismembered by liberal individualism and also administers the increasing number of subjects disenfranchised and deracinated by capital's destruction of social and geographic bonds. If this kind of administration and regulation is not innocent of particular state interests, neither is it to one side of "techniques and tactics of domination."
The liberal state is made fatter and more legitimate by juridical protections against injury, and the liberal state is little more than a reproducer of capital and its destruction. That's a problem. But couple the Foucaultian view of the state as unimportant with a defensive reaction to libertarian attacks on welfare brought on by the rise of conservatism in the 1980s, and you have a lot of leftists not so interested critiques of the state any more. 
Foucault isn't the only academic she credits for creating this problematic shift in leftist focus. She also talks briefly about the feminist role in this, led by Catharine Mackinnon, who openly disregards freedom and opts for equality (as if one could exist without the other). I'd get into it now, but the second chapter seems to be much more dedicated to feminism's role, so I'll hold off on that until the next synopsis.
One last thing I felt was really important in this chapter, was Brown's critique of some of the stock language used by progressive academics now that they've decided freedom is for libertarians. Instead of talking about freedom, many academics have let the words "empowerment" and "resistance" take its place. Brown isn't so much afraid these are insufficient for revolution because of their dictionary definitions, but is concerned about the way they are used. First of all, she thinks resistance has the same problem liberalism's conception of freedom has. It's always a reaction. It makes the end goal about reacting to power, which sort of presupposes the power will always be there. It doesn't get to anything outside its own historical context, just like freedom (she notes that Marx attempted to come up with a definition of "true essential freedom" that could be universal, but points out that through the course of a century, it has proven to not be so universal after all). Sure, let's "resist" (what exactly?), but what's the light at the end of the tunnel?
And as for "empowerment" (I love this part):
Empowerment registers the possibility of generating one's capacities, one's "self-esteem," one's life course, but without capitulating to constraints by particular regimes of power. But in so doing, contemporary discourses of empowerment too often signal an oddly adaptive and harmonious relationship with domination insofar as they locate an individual's sense of worth and capacity in the register of individual feelings, a register implicitly located on something of an otherworldly plane vis-a-vis social and political power. In this regard, despite its apparent locution of resistance to subjection, contemporary discourses of empowerment partake strongly of liberal solipsism--the radical decontextualization of the subject characteristic of liberal discourse that iskey to the fictional sovereign individualism of liberalism. Moreover, in its almost exclusive focus on subjects' emotional bearing and self-regard, empowerment is a formulation that converges with a regime's own legitimacy needs in masking the power of the regime.
This is not to suggest that talk of empowerment is always only illusion or delusion. It is to argue, rather, that while the notion of empowerment articulates that feature of freedom concerned with action, with being more than the consumer subject figured in discourses of rights and economic democracy, contemporary deployments of this notion also draw so heavily on an undeconstructed subjectivity that they risk establishing a wide chasm between the (experience of) empowerment and an actual capacity to shape the terms of political, social, or economic life. 
Ah! Love it. That's exactly why those cries for Girl Power annoy me so much! Claiming to have girl power is one thing, but actually having it would have to include actually influencing and controlling something. 
In the next chapter: Brown takes on "Postmodern Exposures, Feminist Hesitations"


Venezuelan regional elections wrapup

"Chávez Supporters Win 17 out of 23 Venezuelan States, but Lose 3 Most Populous."

This is, generally speaking, an encouraging development for the newly-formed PSUV. Disappointing, though that opposition-candidate Antonio Ledezma defeated Aristóbulo Istúriz in a close race for the Mayorship of the Capital District of Caracas. The victory was somewhat of an upset, and the old-guard Ledezma took 52.45% to his opponent's 44.92%.

Incidentally, turnout was at record levels for a regional election, with 65.45% of potential voters participating. Compare this with our 2006 midterm elections in which 37.1% of potential voters turned out in what was a relatively decisive midterm election in changing tides for the Democrats.


The Threat of Deflation

Lee Sustar has a sharp article at that is a pretty helpful crash-course on the turbulence and what the threat of deflation entails. If you're anything like me, you might not have known too much about deflation before reading it, but it leaves you with a fairly clear overview.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jewels of the blogosphere?: The Anarchist Submissive

This weekend, at my suggestion, T and I watched Secretary. I'd been meaning to check out the film since its release a few years ago. After all, it's indie-actress Maggie Gyllenhaal's breakout role, and a rare critic-pleasing cinematic foray into BDSM (er, that's bondage, domination, and sado-masochism ... right?).

I was a little apprehensive about watching the film. Y'know. Because it features a submissive young woman with a self-mutilation problem who becomes meek secretary/sexual partner to her dominant, ass hole boss (James Spader).

The film raises giant, screaming red flags for feminists concerned about everything from workplace sexual harassment to pay equity, from violent pornography to domestic violence. Some of the scenes of eroticized verbal abuse could certainly be triggering for those who've lived in homes with a nonconsensual brand of abuse. Indeed, I suspect some of the more humorless (!) among us just won't enjoy the film. (Interestingly, Gyllenhaal said in an interview that she expected she would have to fight "old-school feminists" about the movie's content.)

Secretary was truly thought-provoking. It left me craving some feminist response to the film itself, and BDSM culture in general. So I googled "dominant-submissive feminism" and, of course, struck gold.

Meet Subversive Submissive
. Her tagline is "just another vegan, anarchist, feminism BDSM weblog." She seems like an intelligent, articulate voice, interested in creating alternative communities and creating understanding of what BDSM is. It's interesting, because her discussions of anarchism and BDSM (and how those identifications sometimes come into conflict) read a LOT like discussions of being both a socialist and a feminist, or a feminist and an anti-racist, or an anti-racist and an environmentalist. But the biggest head-spinner in the blog so far: "Currently, I’m stuck on the idea of my partner strapping a dildo to his boot and fucking me with it."

Just to be clear, I don't know what the hell to think about it all. But my interest is officially piqued, so I'll keep Pink Scare posted as I gingerly explore this world.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Your president wants you to join a union?

Obama on unionization and EFCA:

"It's time we had a president who didn't choke when he said the word union,"
Obama said at the CTW convention in Chicago on September 25, 2007. "It's not that hard. Union. Union. Nothing happens when you say it--other than give people some inspiration and some sense that maybe they've got a fighting chance...

"That's why I was one of the leaders fighting to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That's why I'm fighting for it in the Senate, and that's why I will sign that bill when I become president of the United States of America."

"I've walked picket lines before," Obama added. "I've got some comfortable shoes at home. If it's hot outside, then I've got a hat. If it's cold outside, I've got a jacket. But if you are being denied your rights, I don't care whether I'm in the United States Senate, or in the White House, I will make sure I am marching with you on the picket lines, because that's what I believe in--making sure that workers have rights."

In response to a question about EFCA from a worker, Obama replied, "I won't just wait for the bill to reach my desk. I will work actively as part of my agenda to make sure that it reaches my desk...

"Everybody talks a lot about unions when they're trying to get the union endorsements. And then the general election comes, and then there's not much mention of unions. And then you win the presidency, and then you just stop talking about unions at all.

"And as a consequence, you've got a lot of people all across America who could use a union, but they're never hearing about it, they're never encouraged to join, they're never given a sense that being part of a union--that's as American as apple pie.

"That's the reason we've got the minimum wage. That's the reason we've got the 40-hour workweek. That's the reason we've got overtime. That's the reason workers are treated fairly and safely on the job. Our children have to hear that. Everybody's got to hear it.

"And that's what the president can do is use the bully pulpit: 'Join the union--there's nothing wrong with it.' That's number one, because that sets the context for the debate in Washington."

It will be interesting to see if he follows through on all of this. Working class voters swung to Obama in droves and labor enthusiastically backed him. If the Democrats cannot pass the EFCA in its current form (which is already somewhat compromised), then they will have betrayed all of the support they receieved from labor and workers this election.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Radical opposition to Gay Marriage and Prop 8

Sherry Wolf weighs in on radical critiques of corporate-backed, establishment gay-rights organizations, and the question of Prop 8.

Also -one quick response to those who would argue that pro-Gay Marriage movements are merely succumbing to the hetero-normative, traditionalist institution of marriage: wouldn't stripping the institution of its privileged heterosexual status (i.e. legalizing gay marriage) represent a huge step toward destabilizing that which these anti-marriage types purportedly want to see destabilized?


It's like a "staff reunion of Clinton's White House"

Jeremy Scahill has a good article at Alternet which details the cabinet choices of President-elect Barack Obama thus far. It walks you through member by member, and its not looking so pretty thus far. Its worth taking a look at, also, just to get a refresher on what went on in the Clinton administration.

But you can bet this won't bother liberals. Perhaps there will be a few critical responses out there. But be sure to count on them to self-censor the moment that the Democrats are up for reelection. Let me be frank about these developments: they piss me off.

As intimated to me by a liberal colleague, the trick is to lower one's expectations now that the election is over. I can't imagine a more honest account of what the left-liberal strategy seems to be with respect to the electoral mechanism: get all psyched-up about imagined progressive changes that Democrats will bring once in office, then passively watch by as this fails to materialize... and when the next election-cycle rolls around do it all over again. Because when everything else about the Democrats sucks, they like to say, they're still better than the Republicans.

Right. The assholes at the DLC couldn't have put it better. This is why they don't give a shit about the Left in this country, to the extent that it exists. They don't have to. They know they can do almost whatever they want, and that every last mainstream liberal will vote for them. Liberals will even do it happily, in fact, they will even fight tooth and nail against any electoral challenge to the Democrats from the Left in the name of keeping the GOP out of office. Now they are willingly lowering they're own expectations after the election-hysteria is over, as though to acknowledge that they knew all the hype about 'change' and 'hope' that they blathered about was crap all along. But any criticism of this fantasy is usually met with charges of 'cynicism', as though their own entrenched defeatism and hatred for critical thought were anything other than indications of cynicism of the purest sort.

That said, the cabinet choices are totally awful. To give one example that Scahill doesn't mention: while reading Robert Wade's most recent NLR piece on the financial turbulence, I noticed this bit about Robert Rubin's past:

Another key area to watch in terms of gauging the robustness of governmental responses is the market for Over the Counter (otc) derivative contracts—which Warren Buffet famously described in 2003 as ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’. Buffet went on to say that, while the Federal Reserve system was created in part to prevent financial contagion, ‘there is no central bank assigned to the job of preventing the dominoes toppling in insurance or derivatives’. In the event that more regulation of the otc market is implemented—even in the minimal form of requiring the use of a standard contract format and registration of the details of each contract with a regulatory body—Brooksley Born will have some satisfaction. She was head of the Chicago Futures Trading Commission in the late 1990s, and proposed in a discussion paper that the otc market should come under some form of regulation. Alan Greenspan, sec Chairman Arthur Levitt and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin were so angry at her for even raising such an idea that they sought Clinton’s permission to have her fired; in January 1999 she duly resigned for ‘family reasons’.
What a lovely guy. Real indication of change in the making, hope over fear, etc. Progressive values incarnate.

How much before left-liberals say 'enough'? Is the only defense to be given merely a rant about how Republicans are worse?

Here's an inspiring comparative example of what a more representative situation might look like: in Germany the last polls I saw put Die Linke (the Left Party) as the third most popular party behind the conservative Christian Democrats and the 'centre-left' Social Democrats. The CDU (Christian Democratic Union) took 37%, the Social Democrats (SPD) 21%, the Left Party 14%, the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) 11% and the Greens 10%. Due to the rightward drift of the SPD (which has ebbed somewhat lately compared to the neoliberal zeal of the party under Schroeder), they are hemorrhaging support from the left-wing of the party. The SPD, essentially the German equivalent of the Democratic Party (to the extent that there is an equivalent), cannot simply rest assured that supporters of The Left Party will cave in and vote SPD because the CDU is a worse alternative. The SPD cannot simply ban The Left from the ballot the way the Democrats have done to the Greens (although there are plenty of instances of slander and dirty tricks being launched at Die Linke as their support grows). The SPD is actually threatened with losing votes to the Left, something the Democrats never have to worry about. Of course, coalition building could force The Left Party into making compromises once in office, but at least there exists an electoral arm with which to force concessions out of the SPD and force them to consider voices to their Left. You cannot force an unwilling electoral representative to listen to you unless you are capable of proving to them that they could lose your vote. The Democrats face no such worries from Left-wing voters.

I know the conjuncture in Germany is vastly different. I know that most of Die Linke's strong support comes from former East Germany, and that Germany has a history of a strong labor movement as well as a tradition of Left radicalism for which there is no suitable US comparison. I know that the electoral procedures themselves in Germany are far more amenable to the existence of multiparty democracy. Perhaps it's escapist for me to even indulge in the comparison, given these crucial divergences.

Nonetheless, I dont want to accept that the Democratic Party is the best we can hope for in terms of electoral representation. I don't know what needs to be done, I'm agnostic at best and doubtful at worst that the 'social movement pressure strategy' could effectively push the Democrats Leftward. At the very least, acquiescing is not tantamount to parading around ecstatically about 'hope' and 'change'. If stopping Republicans is the bottom line fine. But I fail to see that this admission licenses the positive enthusiasm, apologetics and unwavering support that the Democrats garner from much of the liberal Left.

With the election over, there should be no holds on criticism. I can at least understand their apprehension during the election, but now that he's in office with sizable majorities in Congress... I simply cannot bring myself to tolerate any more groveling apologetics.


What the mailman delivered today:

Tuesday's conversation about identity and revolution pushed me over the edge on ordering this book. I've been hearing about it from academics I respect for awhile now, and I decided it was time to find out what the hubbub is about. So far I've read the back of the book and the first page of the preface.

Have you read it? Thoughts? Anything I should be looking for in particular?
Here's the back of the book blurb, if you haven't heard anything about it before:
How has injury become the basis for political identity in contemporary life? How have law and other state institutions come to be seen as redressing such injuries rather than as perpetrating them? These questions guide Wendy Brown's critical engagement with modern political theorists, feminist and cultural theorists, and the political effects of late twentieth-century capitalism. Transposing Nietzsche's doctrine of the will to power as well as his account of ressentiment onto the contemporary political field, Brown shows how the regulatory demands of the state encourage the formation of political identities not only founded on injury but invested in maintaining an injured status. In the place of a nation of freedom characterized as collective and transformative, contemporary political formations offer versions of "resistance" prefigured and contained by the very power they purport to oppose. The result is a politics in which the desire for freedom devolves into moralizing, and ressentiment takes the place of freedom as a collective project.
Brown weaves this thesis through a series of essays that consider such topics as Catharine MacKinnon's antipornography politics, the recent resurgence of rights discourse on the Left, academic antipathy toward "postmodernism," and the gendered sexuality of classical liberalism, as well as the centrality of the state in feminist politics. Along the way, she suggests how freedom might be rethought and reclaimed for a progressive political vision appropriate to the conditions of late modernity. 
Now please excuse me while I get back to my reading...but not before googling the word "ressentiment."


At least I'm not the only one that's ranting...

"These job losses are treated as if they were facts of nature. The response from politicians of all parties has been limited to words of regrets and wrangling over "incentives".

But the recent government bailout for the banks shows that state intervention can go a lot further. Companies looking to axe jobs can be taken over and run in the interests of the majority of working people.

And the government could easily raise funds for investing in jobs and services, if only it had the guts to stand up to the rich and force them to pay taxes. But this is a taboo subject..."


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

While we're talking about things that should be nationalized...

You know what really pisses me off?
Paying hundreds of dollars for a season pass to ski down mountains. Mountains that are a natural and glorious feature of the earth. Just who the fuck decided they could own slopes? Who decided that could be private property? It's a mountain. With snow on it. Snow that nobody had to buy or produce. Snow that we're lucky enough to have fall straight from the heavens to the earth. Really good powdery snow, just perfect for skiing.
And you know, it's not even that I have to pay to use it that pisses me off. It's that I'm paying a rate that allows for a landowner/developer to earn a profit. Why couldn't the federal government develop the land for the people's use? Maybe our use fees would cover maintenance costs (ever heard of a national park?). How hard would that be? To have the same great skiing but managed by a non-profit government branch? Why does someone get to profit off mountains? I mean, let's say the ski or outdoor recreation industry were nationalized. How does society or the economy hurt? Just as many people will be employed. More people will be able to take advantage of local, natural recreation. Can't we have ANY land use that's by the people, for the people? 
Check out this awesome book about land use and land ownership in the contemporary American west. It's a little more intelligent and thoughtful than my rant, and I know T, at least, is interested in the political and theoretical implications of land reform/land as private property. In the book, Trimble begins an investigation of dwindling public land in the state of Utah, and a plan by oil mogul Earl Holding to turn some of Utah's last public land into a cash-cow ski resort, using the 2002 Olympics as an excuse to get it done, despite major opposition from the local community. While researching Holding's dirty business dealings and writing a book about the need to preserve public land, Trimble falls in love with a piece of undeveloped land himself, and begins building on it. Bargaining for Eden is a fascinating look at the many facets of land issues, from the sentimental to the political and economic.


Daschle as Secretary of HHS

The New York Times reports that Tom Daschle will be Secretary of Health and Human Services under Obama.

My usual reaction, upon reading the words "health and human services," is to panic and wonder what document they'll produce next in order to chip away at women's reproductive rights. My reaction to learning that HHS will be run a white male, who receives very mixed ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America on support of abortion rights, isn't much better.

This news has just broken and is being obscured by the speculation over Hilary Clinton's potential cabinet post. I'll be interested to see what the repro-rights blogosphere will have to say about Daschle. I sense that this will be a disappointment to people who were hoping to see a staunchly pro-choice figure in the HHS role.

This also means Daschle will be a key figure in reforming (hopefully ...) our useless health care system. I'm unsure of Daschle's record here - more on that later.


MTA cuts service, yanks up rates... But Bail out GM!!

Ready for an off-the-cuff rant?

MTA in NYC is shutting down crucial train lines and considering increases in fares. Ridership has been on the rise and people have been paying more as the result of recent raises in fares, yet now they are going to receive less service. The problem is that the MTA is badly strapped for cash.

Meanwhile, GM is about to fold. The company owns factories that build motor vehicles. It employs a huge workforce who stand to lose their jobs and massively increase the ranks of unemployed which will in turn drastically take another hit on consumption, not to mention devastating a large part of Michigan.

Congress is considering a bailout of the auto-industry, by simply throwing money (on the order of billions of dollars) at the ownership in an effort to keep companies afloat.

What the fuck is going on?

Throw money at public transportation, nationalize GM and use the factories to build buses, shuttles, trucks and other vehicles appropriate to building public infrastructure. Build cutting-edge hybrid cars that can be sold internationally, and use all returns for reinvestment and expanding employment, rather than enriching ownership and investors.

Why should the most widely and heavily traversed public transit system in the entire country rot while we use taxpayer money to save a private firm who manufactures gas-guzzling personal vehicles? Keeping jobs for workers is the only crucial consideration here.

Of course, the popular argument coming from the anti-Union Rightists is that its the UAW's fault that GM is in bad shape: what we need is to put all of the workers out on their ass and then force de-unionization on them in order to refound the industry on more exploitative premises without the problem of having to pay workers pensions or benefits.

We need to build a lot of things right now... cars shouldn't be top on the list. Particularly when public transit is in such bad shape. With the money they are proposing to give to GM, they could very well invest in public initiatives that could employ people as well as build much-needed infrastructure and satisfy public needs.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Unions are responsible for auto industry failures

This is one of my favorite of the outlandish statements repeated by conservatives as if it's common sense. 

Let's talk about the shockingly absurd implications of it:
1-That the auto industry has failed because of some failure of low-level labor, rather than because of seriously poor corporate decision making. (note that no one is blaming the bank tellers for the problems of the financial sector)
2-That guaranteed higher-than-average wages, job security, and benefits hurt worker productivity.
3-That guaranteed low wages and no benefits would make people work harder. 
4-That cutting benefits, job security, and wages, (killing the unions) would be worthwhile if it meant having a stronger auto industry in the United States--essentially that making an industry "competitive" is more important than empowering workers to live in reasonable conditions.
Obviously, all four implications are completely absurd, both logically, and as an indication of our social values. While I'm not sold on any kind of "bail out" for anyone without adequate federal regulation/control attached, I'm certain that anyone who suggests breaking up automotive unions is the solution to an ailing industry is really not a credible pundit. 


Michael Hardt on "Revolution and Identity Politics"

A couple of weeks ago I was able to catch a talk Michael Hardt gave in Chicago, which I found to be really interesting. I haven't spent a lot of time on any of his work (or "toni" Negri's either), save for a glance at Empire, but the talk didn't invoke a ton of previous work. It offered more of a provisional thesis-in-the-works, about the interrelations of different modes of oppression, butressed by a quick glace over recent work in critical race theory, feminism, queer theory and Marxism.

His thesis was this: All revolutionary projects must be involved with identity. Against the view that revolutionary politics died because of 'identity politics', Hardt wanted to argue that revolution is impossible without identity politics. Of course, 'identity politics' is a term inextricably bound up with a multitude of bad connotations. It's something of a buzzword (or at least, was, in the 90s) and I think Hardt invoked it in spite of its usual appropriations. What exactly does he have in mind?

Well, basically something like an intersectionality thesis about different modes of oppression or hierarchy, e.g. gender, class, race, etc. He prefaced this aspiration of this talk with remarks about the problems this attempt has encountered in progressive theory in the past. It's a difficult task, also one succeptible to subsumptions, reductions, appropriations and indifference from theorists with differing priorities. But the fact that this theoretical/political undertaking is difficult is not therefore to prove that it cannot (or should not) be accomplished. It’s still necessary to understand that one is treading on thin ice with here, however. All too often, subsequent movements are subordinated to their points of derivation/origin (e.g. the Women’s movement had origins in the labor movement, but this does not license the view that ‘all sexism would disappear with the overthrow of capitalism’).

For Hardt, the common link that all properly revolutionary politics share is a transformation of identity, or stronger, an abolition of identity. The danger is to misread the trajectory here as one of a certain humanism (i.e. the view that underneath, we’re all ‘human’, we are all the same, and race/gender/sexuality merely obscure our primordial oneness, thus we must abolish all difference). Against this tendency, Hardt’s project is more in line with the Marx of Capital who wanted to explode the presumption that capitalism was “just the free exchange of commodities” in order to expose the violence of class hierarchy. Another example could be the Critical Legal Studies movement which exposed the racist nature of “colorblind” law. But where does this leave Hardt’s thesis about abolishing identity?

The first example he gave was the case of class. Marxism aimed not at a ‘worker’s State’ or improved conditions for the worker as such, but the worker’s self-abolition qua worker. (Hardt suggested here that we look at the work of Italian Marxist Mario Tronti as an example). In revolutionary situations, the working-class aims at its own abolition, which is to say, the abolition of the material conditions which creates and sustains capitalist social relations (classes). Thus the task is not for a more equitable society than that in which we live, not for a better-fed and housed working class, but for the social order to cease to be founded on a mode of production in which wage labor and class exploitation are essential. The idea is to struggle against work, to seek liberation from work, to aim at the abolition of the subordinate identity which is itself inextricably linked to a set of social/economic conditions.

Under capitalism, property is a central feature of social organization. In a republic essentially defined by property, identity becomes lumped into property. This is not only relevant in the example of class. 2nd Wave feminism was extremely interested in women qua property, and many radical anti-racists have proposed critical examination of ‘whiteness as property’. People come to define and think of themselves in terms of property. In this way, the abolition of private property seems crucial to the task of revolutionary transformation. This is one example of a way in which the Communist impulse (not to be misread as Stalinism) of the 20th century is still a necessary (but not sufficient) ingredient to any revolutionary politics today.

In revolutionary feminist theory, the task is the abolition of the subordinate identity, to take in hand the conditions that produce gender and change them, to eliminate the social system that creates gender. Hardt mentioned Wendy Brown on this point. Feminism, on this view, isn’t a matter of recognition. It is not a call for representation or inclusion, but rather, a revolutionary appeal to liberate women from gender (as it is understood under conditions of hierarchy and domination). Likewise in revolutionary queer theory, the task is not one of identity recognition, but to demand a destabilization of the conditions of heteronormativity, to abolish the set of assumptions which designates non-heterosexuals as “Other”, deviant, subordinate, etc.

In Black radicalism, likewise we see this tendency. The struggle is to abolish racialized thought, to abolish race as a subordinate identity. In the words of some radical black theorists, to ‘liberate the man of color from himself’. Huey Newton and Malcolm X, to take two examples, both began early on as Black Nationalists calling for recognition, affirmation of blackness under conditions of systemic racism, etc. But by the end of the 60s, in later interviews, we see a move away from identity and nationalism to a kind of internationalism. This is likewise seen, somewhat, in the political shifts and progression of the Black Panthers.

But, as Hardt points out, this task of abolishment of identity would not be easily undertaken nor would it be painless. On the contrary, there is a sense in which it would be both painful, monstrous and violent. You would have to “lose yourself in order to discover who you could become”. This losing of oneself would be a violent process, insofar as withdrawing from dominant institutions requires violence (this is constitutive of being dominant institutions). Revolution would require a kind of painful exodus. A concrete example of this that Hardt gave was to think of someone coming out to their parents. This is in a sense, an extremely painful task which requires a recognition of abolishment of who you thought you were and who your parents understood you to be. It’s not an easy task.

While I find much of this very interesting, it is extremely inchoate. It begs for a clearer account of identity, the relationship of structure to subject, and faces a host of potent objections. For instance, take Žižek’s position set out in the Parallax View: Class is revolutionary, but neither race nor gender fit this bill. Class aims at annihilating the Other (expropriation of the expropriator), of overcoming the role of worker, but race and class do not: they are only (for Žižek) calls for recognition. He’s not discounting them as necessary and progressive struggles for justice or saying they don’t matter; but rather, he’s saying that they aren’t revolutionary struggles. Is this right?

Hardt responded, first of all, by pointing out that his theory sees class as a species of identity politics. In this initial sense, at least, class is understood similarly to gender, sexuality, etc. Moreover, there are plenty of non-revolutionary versions of class identity politics, in fact, the vast majority of working-class politics fit this bill. So the actual lack of revolutionary movements in the case of gender, for example, cannot speak to an inherent lack of revolutionary potential within feminism as such. Furthermore, Hardt pointed out, we have a lot reasons to think otherwise that he pointed out in his talk. Nonetheless, something about Žižek’s criticism is still well taken: feminist (to take the example of gender) struggles don’t necessarily address race or class, and we find many examples that don’t. I don’t think Hardt aims here to defend reformist versions of feminism, perhaps with respect to those incarnations he and Žižek could agree. In contrast, Hardt wants to instead argue that there can be no revolutionary politics that is not already feminist. The crucial reply to Žižek is that class isn't (in actuality right now) necessarily revolutionary, in fact the opposite is almost always true. Non-revolutionary feminisms are no less indicative of a problem with feminism as such than are the myriad examples of non-revolutionary working-class movements a reflection on the revolutionary potential of class.

But is there something to the objection that his project reeks of humanist ‘colorblind’ baggage which seeks to abolish all difference? Hardt responded that there can be an abolition of gender with a proliferation of differences… when he talks about abolishing gender he is talking about abolishing hierarchy, not the social formation of identities that aren’t all the same. It’s not entirely clear how this would work. Parsing out the hierarchical and oppressive aspects from the ‘keepers’ is not so easy. Moreover, are we to define freedom and liberation in wholly negative terms, that is, in terms of negating what is?

Another question I had was the relation of identity to social structures (material conditions). This is lurking behind everything the talk seeks to accomplish. Hardt rejects dialectical understandings of the structure/subject relation, and argues for the implementation of concepts like “multitude” and “singularity”, but I don’t understand these attempts well enough to know how they gesture at solutions to this problem. Moreover, as someone inclined towards dialectical thought, I’m not convinced that the dialectic (especially as conceived in Adorno, for example) is untenable here.

Food for thought.


"This will be Armageddon"

This is what Capital has to say about the repeal of anti-union laws and the implementation of the card check:

“This will be Armageddon,” said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce.

And who said that class struggle was an outmoded political/economic category?

Both Joe Biden and Obama have enthusiastically endorsed the Employee Free Choice Act, but it remains to be seen what will become of the bill under an Obama Administrationa and Democrat-controlled congress.

The bill stalled after passing the House last year, getting filibustered in the Senate by Republicans. But despite the Democrat's likely failure to secure a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they will only require 3 (or potentially less) votes to kill a filibuster. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has already said he would support the bill. But would we be naive to claim that Senate Democrats are uniformly in support of labor on this issue?

The Chamber of Commerce has voiced confidence that it has the Sentate votes necessary to kill the bill, but I'm not sure I understand how that could be. They need at least 40 votes to continue a filibuster, although that isn't a definite kill if the Democrats were determined enough to keep the bill on the agenda indefinitely (this is how some Civil Rights legislation passed over conservative filibusters). But if the Republicans can muster 40 votes against the bill, it will effectively kill it, since I doubt the vitality of Democrat support.

If Franken wins, and with Arlen Specter on board, that would require only 1 further dissenting vote from the Republican caucus, and that seems possible.

How could the Chamber already have the votes in the bag, unless they've persuaded Democrats to oppose it?

Anyone on the Left should be watching this very closely. If this doesn't pass, then the Democrats don't deserve another labor vote for a generation (not that they "deserve" them now, in any principled way). This isn't an issue that can be tabled because of a price tag and Obama's predilection to tend toward austerity with respect to social spending... this is Captial versus workers plain and simple. My fear is that it will be put forward and then not followed up, enabling the Democrats to claim that "they tried" (much like their craven, roll-over tactics post-2006 in which they gave in to Bush on virtually every important confrontation from FISA to the Patriot Act to War timetables).


After the election, real issues surfacing?

Now that the boxing match of the presidential election is over, it seems like the media's focus really has turned to the issues. Thankfully, they're no longer obligated to run compare/contrast pieces about how McCain or Obama might have handled X, Y, or Z catastrophe facing our country. So it seems they've moved exclusively to wondering how Obama will handle catastrophes A through Z.

I'm glad to see health care rising to the surface on Today there's a column called "The Wrong Place to be Chronically Ill," shaming the United States in a comparison with several other industrialized countries. They're also debating whether Obama's ought to think big (or small) about the health care crisis.

It's almost like the election were a giant, Super Bowl-sized distraction. I felt it from the moment Obama stepped onstage to make his victory speech. At the moment of John McCain's concession, his status as an antagonist became irrelevant, and the petty stuff that had filled our pages wouldn't suffice anymore. Obama has plenty else to think about, and I'm glad to see those things thrust before readers as well. Not that I'm excited about everyone encouraging him to move center. But still ...


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do you ever get so angry?

So this afternoon, this guy I'm dating and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Guy: Can you imagine a worse person to quote on a veteran's day memorial than dick cheney?

Me: Uh, no. Where did that happen?

Guy: I saw the program from the memorial my mom and dad went to last night. It pissed me off.

Me: Yeah, hearing thanks from a guy who knowingly sent troops into harm's way for no fucking reason after admitting a decade earlier that it would almost certainly lead to a quagmire is not very comforting. I just read an article on CNN about a kid who jumped off a bridge yesterday, because he was suffering so bad from ptsd and depression after a couple tours in Iraq.

Guy: It makes me sick. Of course, the proud veterans I go to school with will just tell me it's the liberal media blowing it out of proportion. Like as long as more veterans are not committing suicide than are, there shouldn't be a problem.

Then this very evening, my roommate came home from work and told me a kid we grew up with, went to elementary school with, a kid who always had the cutest mullet and most adorable smile and giggle growing up, killed himself yesterday on Veteran's Day. 23 years old. He served two tours in Iraq with the United States Army.

I hope Dick Cheney appreciates his fucking sacrifice.

...It is a very dark day...


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Scary. Shit.

I'd like to have kids. I've always suspected I would have kids. I work with kids, and they're really cute and wonderful. There are some kids that I adore so much, I wish I could hang out with them for hours after their lesson on their itty-bitty violin is over. I suspect that my own children would be people I would like to hang out with.

And then I stumble upon this blog, Motherhood Uncensored. And it sounds like her body is in horrific pain all the time. And she had three children in five years. And her husband is always away. And her nipples hurt. And her back hurts. And her husband is always away. And she uses some kind of clamps to breastfeed. And she never has any physical space because the children beg to sit on her lap. And her husband is always away. And she had to lie to him about buying Pay-Per-View porn once. And it sounds like she never gets to leave the house.


My feminist analysis is the following: no one should have to go through this alone, and this woman sounds alone. I know husband and wife can't share the nipple clamping, but in my humble opinion, they ought to share more than this.

Or is motherhood really just this hellish?


Monday, November 10, 2008

Fight The Power


Immortal Technique on Venezuela

Immortal Technique is a radical rapper my brother introduced me to last year, and whom we both admire a lot. Here's an interview with him, via Hands Off Venezuela. As usual I think he's incredibly sharp and good natured:

As a person in the States, with no concrete links to Venezuelans or Latin Americans to give me first-hand accounts, I find it really difficult to navigate news about Venezuela and Bolivia. Immortal's critique of the Venezuelan media and the U.S. media as being driven by bourgeois interests makes sense and sounds really plausible to me. But there's something in the back of my head that makes me say, "hey, no, what if this is propaganda and Chavez is actually Stalin incarnate?!" Ok, maybe not that extreme, but I do have a hard time knowing what to believe, when I'm getting everything through sources with vested interests. And it's not that I think Immortal would deliberately deceive me either, it's that I'm afraid he's fooling himself because he wants it to be a good thing and he wants Chavez to be a good guy. Is that just what the capitalists want me to think? Or am I right/smart to be a constant skeptic about both sides?

Anyway, check out some of his music when you get a chance. Not exactly a toe tapping good time, but it does what he said he hopes. It really gets you pumped up about revolution.


Feminist and Mormon? Not incompatible--Well, not necessarily

So, over at Feministing, a Mormon feminist posted about her precarious position of being a feminist Mormon, amid the Prop 8 battle and the post-8 backlash against the Church. A lot of posters there are sympathetic to her plight and apologetic for hateful statements or stereotypes they or their allies may have made about Mormons, even while they admit they're very frustrated with her church (technically, my church as well, though I've got a pretty nice resignation letter I'm perfecting and mustering the courage to send in).

While I could talk about Mormonism, feminism, bigotry, and GLBT issues until I was blue in the face (and I may on this very blog, when I have more time to sit down and I'm in a less tense emotional state about the entire matter), I'd instead just like to talk about one pet peeve of mine in particular. It isn't unique to the issue of Mormonism and feminism, but I hear it when these two identities are being discussed quite often.

Now, I'm not really one of the "yay for a diversity of feminisms" types who applauds plurality just for the sake of applauding plurality. Sure, a diverse amalgam of good things is good, but I don't bow down to different feminisms if I think they're flat out wrong or bad (see: Individualist Feminism). In other words, I'm not one to say "hey, don't criticize her feminism, it's a feminism, and therefore, it's great!" That's silly. But one thing I do hate is when people tell other people that some of their beliefs or identity categories are "incompatible" with feminism.

Yes, you guessed it, we have several commenters in the Feministing thread telling the original poster that they don't feel bad for her because her conflicts are just a problem associated with trying to reconcile two irreconcilable identities. This may also come in the form of "psh, feminist mormon? Oxymoron!" Now this isn't to say it isn't fair to tell a feminist she's being hypocritical in any given instance. Sure it is. Sometimes feminists are hypocrits and sometimes they do and say things that are bad for womankind. And they should be called out. But that's entirely different from calling two very subjectively defined belief systems (feminism, Mormonism) incompatible. To call them incompatible assumes that your understanding of what beliefs are associated with both systems is the only one, or at least, the one the person in question subscribes to.

So here's my point. I don't object to telling people that *insert belief or identity here* is incompatible with feminism because it hurts their feelings or it's limiting or it denies the beautiful plurality of feminisms. I object because it's just a dumb argument to make, given that people not only define things like feminism in a million different ways, but also define their mormon beliefs in a million different ways. Some women like just the doctrine. Some women like the power structure. Some women hate both, and love the welfare-based culture of the Church. So please, stop telling other women certain identity categories are oxymorons or incompatible or irreconcilable. I'm a big fan of "feminist infighting," because I think it forces us to constantly improve our senses of justice, but I think we can do better than knee-jerk generalizations about really complex belief systems.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

surveying the health care activist landscape

If and when it becomes necessary to organize against the policies of Barack Obama's administration, who exactly will be organizing that movement? In fact, who is organizing the movement for single-payer/universal health care?

I intended to leave these questions open to our multitude of readers, but actually just did a little research to try to answer these questions myself. It's crucial to start familiarizing ourselves with the activist landscape so that we can all become more involved!

First off, Healthcare-NOW! looks like an organized, strong and serious group. They're a national coalition working for single-payer health insurance. Their board of directors includes a member of Physicians for a National Health Care Program and California Nurses' Association, two of the strongest and most active organizations for single-payer. Their website boasts a huge list of local governments who have endorsed HR-676. They've got extensive list of local contacts so that you can find out who's leading the fight for single-payer in your area. Here in Chicago, it looks like ChiSPAN is aligned somewhat with Healthcare-NOW! and meets regularly.

Interestingly, both of these groups have spoken out against a group called HCAN, Health Care for America Now, which advocates a more reformist approach. HCAN's principles are reminiscent of our President-Elect's health care plan, and they have in fact earned his endorsement. They also look like a well-organized, active group. They're partnering with SEIU, one of the most progressive labor unions we have, on some aspects of the campaign, and they have a resolution that's been signed by 145 members of Congress. Their blog reflects an awareness that we must put pressure on an Obama administration.

Healthcare-NOW! happens to be having a national strategy conference in Chicago next weekend (!), so perhaps we'll have a chance to share firsthand observations about what the organization is really about.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Capital gears up to fight the Employee Free Choice Act

"Lenin's Tomb" mentioned this Financial Times article recently, which previews the attack from Corporate elites against the Employee Free Choice Act (which Obama claims that he supports). Capital is determined to make sure this one never becomes law, and they are willing to spend a lot of money in the process.

Unionization in the private sector in the US is pitifully low, and has been in sharp decline for several decades. Union-busting legislation (like Taft-Hartley, for instance) passed during the reactionary spout of the early 50s has been extremely helpful in pushing that figure as low as possible.

It's unsurprising that Business elites are fretting about the possibility of seeing some of their favorite anti-union bludgeons stricken from the law. They are watching very closely to see what happens on this front:

"The business community is very concerned about the so-called Employee Free Choice Act,” said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, which represents the interest of more than 100 large US companies in Washington.
The good folks at Walmart are loading up ammunition to assault the bill's chances:
Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the US, which has a staunch anti- union record, has already made its opposition clear. Lee Scott, Wal-Mart’s chief executive, told analysts last week that the change would result in “making this country less competitive” and “bringing coercion and force into the workplace”.
The more upset these people are with what an Obama Administration might do, the better. But one thing that exuberant Obamaniac liberals might consider is whether in the last instance their uncritical groveling will prove more decisive than the bare-knuckles, multi-million dollar campaign sure to be waged by Capital in order to try to get its way.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Voters Who Love Too Much

As I walked down Michigan Avenue after Obama's election to the presidency, I passed thousands of people who were shouting and celebrating. Young people mounted the concrete traffic dividers, banging on drums and chanting "Yes we can!" or "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" They chanted his name over and over again, dancing in the street, their faces lit up with indescribable excitement. And I have to confess: it made me uncomfortable.

It's not that I don't celebrate Obama's election. There are a thousand reasons why his opponent needed to be defeated, and why his victory must be lauded. It’s historic, and it carries deep meaning for the entire planet. One of the first reasons I ever had for supporting Obama was the sheer wonder it would be to have his face, name, and voice represent the United States on the world stage.

Yet as the heavy burden of the Bush years is lifted, I feel more trepidation than relief. I’m a million miles away from that fist-pumping, dancing joy I witnessed.

As progressive young people shout the name of our President-elect, I must ask again: what precisely are they celebrating? Do I even want to know? After all, Obama won an election that revolved all too often around personality. Do these drum-beating enthusiasts really care about his positions on the war, on gay marriage, on the bailout, on health care? Or is Barack Obama merely a figure they adore, a man whose rhetorical power moves them and makes them believe in a world more beautiful than ours?

I believe it’s a crucial civic question. After all, when you’ve purchased T-shirts and buttons and maracas bearing Obama’s image; when you’ve made Hussein your middle name on Facebook; when you’ve called his acceptance speech a piece of great literature; how can your relationship with Obama possibly evolve into a healthy one between constituent and elected official? Will these jubilant masses be capable of anger if Obama’s plans for U.S. troops amounts to a mere shifting of personnel from one Middle East danger zone to another? Will they be capable of resistance when they discover that Obama’s health care plan may be one of the first things to go? Will they identify Obama’s capitulations to corporate interests before it is too late, or will they still be drunk on the thrill of watching their team win the biggest of game there is?

In my opinion, this is a frightening time for Obama supporters. The man whose inspiring words still ring in your ears has retreated into a room with his advisors. He no longer requires your vote. The names of people from a centrist Clinton administration are surfacing in our newspapers. Obama’s expected to name the Secretary of the Treasury soon – a position of increased importance, given the economic crisis – and he’s choosing from a list that includes a Goldman Sachs executive, a former chief economist for the World Bank (“women-just-aren’t-good-at-science” guy), and the man who helped negotiate JPMorgan Chase’s first giant acquisition. Some people say Obama’s first staff pick Rahm Emanuel will help keep Democrats from “overreaching” after their significant gains. The same old voices are emerging from the woodwork, encouraging Obama to move to the middle, to be honest with the American people about what is and isn’t “possible”.

Obama himself may or may not be a change agent. But he is certainly now surrounded by people who have a vested interest in keeping some things very much the way they are. People who think his moderate health care plan would be too much, too soon.

Honestly, fuck that. If we’re smart, we’ll wake up from this dream-state and stop singing the praises of the man who now charts the course of our country. Your President-elect is not your boyfriend, your homeboy, your savior or your plaything. He’s responsible to the American people. But if we keep banging on drums and chanting his name, we won’t look like a very difficult crowd to please.