Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lance Selfa adds to Baker's Obama-Hoover comparison

Read Selfa's piece here. I posted excerpts from the generally-excellent Baker piece, which appeared in last month's Harper's, here.

Its also worth reading economic historian Robert Brenner's excellent 2006 NLR piece on post-WWII American politics to place all of this in context. Brenner's piece is prescient. He argues, against the excited supporters of Democrats in 2006, that the political shift in 2006 (and now, it might be said, in 2008) represents not a sharp left turn, but a moment of a much broader Rightward trajectory. Although the complications arising from the deepness of global financial crisis have changed things a bit (incidentally, Brenner was one of the few people in the 90s in economics claiming that the 'irrational exuberance' of that era would crash), a survey of the first 100 days of the Obama administration bears out Brenner's thesis.

Although the FDR-Obama comparisons have (understandably) ebbed, the tendency to recall the New Deal in discussing recent events has been frequent on the liberal-left as well as elsewhere in the political spectrum.

As I mentioned in a recent post on wildcat strikes in Britain, the New Deal was hardly a unified, well-intentioned reformist package. It was a strange amalgam of different policies which had, admittedly, some Keynesian coherence. But it was a collage of different policies because of the complex political situation in the US at the time. In the early 30s, unprecedented labor militancy, sit-down strikes and so forth created a formidable political force that could not be ignored.

As Brenner points out, many in the labor movement at the time wanted to create a separate Labor Party (or a Farmer-Labor party) that would give labor an undiluted political arm with independence from the Democrats/Republicans. Despite the fact that many rank-and-file initially voted within their unions to pursue this option (the newly-formed UAW, for example, refused at first to support the Democratic ticket), union leadership ultimately refused to go this route. Labor decided to get behind the Democrats, and FDR and the New Deal coalition got a legion of loyal electoral footsoldiers for more than a generation.

But the Democrats are not called the 'graveyard of american social movements' for nothing. Soon it became apparent that as long as the two-party system was intact, labor would have little choice but to vote for whatever Democrat was up for office. It is unsurprising that after the 1930s, labor consistently lost clout and political influence. By the end of WWII, labor militancy was effectively defanged and the Republicans and conservative Democrats had little trouble ramming the anti-union Taft-Hartley bill through the Congress, overriding Truman's veto. By the 1980s, it wasn't even difficult for Reagan to stomp out and demoralize the Air-traffic controller strike.

Absent the militancy that fomented the watershed reforms of the 1930s, I doubt that we will get any changes comparable to the creation of Social Security, the introduction of the Progressive Income Tax, or the Minimum Wage.


SW.org Editorial on Health Care

"WARNING: THE federal government is poised to commit robbery. And the poor, defenseless victim is...the health insurance industry.

Say what?

That's what top executives of the health care industry and the politicians who represent them want you to believe about the Obama administration's health care reform proposal--because the White House is promoting (with a lot of qualifications) the so-called "public option": a government-run program that the uninsured could choose in order to get coverage.

"We don't believe that it is possible to create a government plan that could operate on a level playing field," moaned Karen Ignagni, president of the insurance industry's lobbying group, and Scott Serota, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, in a letter to senators. "Regardless of how it is initially structured, a government plan would use its built-in advantages to take over the health insurance market."

Read the rest here.


Obama, Washington and the Coup in Honduras

The Official US line on the coup is now one of condemnation. It became clear that all of the OAS countries, including the more conservative and neoliberal leaders such as Mexico's Right-Wing Felipe Calderon, unequivocally oppose the recent violent overthrow of a popular government elected by the people. The worldwide response, it must be said, is condemnatory.

But like everything that governments and their political spokespeople say in public, we should not take the US State dept's statement at face value. Moreover, the only real test of what the orientation of the US government is, will be to see what it actually does and not what it says at press conferences. This is particularly true for the Obama Adminsitration, who has made a rigorous science of making soaring rhetorical flourishes only to renege and opt for tepid alternatives to real reform.

The NYTimes published an article yesterday revealing that the Obama administration had been in contact with the coup plotters for several days before the coup. From the NYTimes:

"The United States has a history of backing rival political factions and instigating coups in the region, and administration officials have found themselves on the defensive in recent days, dismissing repeated allegations by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela that the C.I.A. may have had a hand in the president’s removal.

Obama administration officials said that they were surprised by the coup on Sunday. But they also said that they had been working for several weeks to try to head off a political crisis in Honduras as the confrontation between Mr. Zelaya and the military over his efforts to lift presidential term limits escalated."
Also, we read that:
The United States has long had strong ties to the Honduras military and helps train Honduran military forces. Those close ties have put the Obama administration in a difficult position, opening it up to accusations that it may have turned a blind eye to the pending coup.
While many NYTimes readers may be surprised to read of the US involvement in violent repression, military dictatorships, coups and so forth throughout Latin American history, there is nothing abstract about this for people who came of age in the 20th century in Latin America. It is therefore totally legitimate for Hugo Chavez, of all people, to make public statements pressing the suspicion that the US may have had a hand in the latest right-wing reaction against a popular government in Latin America. Suspicion, of course, is not tantamount to proof. But it is hardly outlandish to say that the burden of proof is absolutely on the party who has traditionally funded, participated, incited, supported and praised just about every single violent Right-wing military coup in Latin America throughout the 20th century, from Vargas to Allende to the most recent attempt to violently suppress the Bolivarian Revolution and attempts to whack Evo Morales.

But the issue is too unclear to say for sure what the precise role of the US was in the run-up to the coup. Speculation, therefore, is not helpful. What we do have, is a series of facts ripe for critical reflection and analysis.

We know that the US opposed Zelaya and his bid to change the Constitution to enable a president to run for re-election more than once. We know that the US has traditionally (as late as the 1980s) had very close ties to the Honduran military, who have now taken the lead in undertaking this coup. We also know that the US hedged at first and refused to take a clear stand against the coup and in favor of Zelaya. That they have done so now, in light of widespread condemnation globally, is not to say that their position hasn't shifted.

We also know that the US loathes Chavez, Morales, Correa and Ortega. We know that Washington would love to see these pan-Latin American socialists just go away. We know that big multinationals, some of whom have been given the boot from the above countries, feel the same way.

So the US is not heading into this crisis with the best of intentions. And for me, that's all that's important here to understanding this situation. Washington may or may not have been directly involved, they may have protested, they may have been lukewarm in telling the coup-plotters not to go ahead. I must say, however, that it doesn't appear that the US government was ever ademant or united in any kind of support for the coup. Nonetheless, whatever the situation actually is, it doesn't change all sorts of uncontroversial and trivial political facts we know about Honduras, the region, and the relationship of the former with Washington.

Of course, you wont find any critical reflection in tripe written by an ultra-conservative hack like Vargas Llosa for the NYTimes. If you ask him, the coup is a good thing, and moreover it has widespread 'popular support'. We should expect nothing less from Vargas Llosa, though, who has proven so consistently over the years that he has no intention of stating what actually is the case.

The truth is that there is currently there is widespread popular unrest trying to stop the coup-backers. There have been huge mobilizations as well as a general strike demanding that Zelaya be allowed to return. All of this has occured in spite of threats of violent military repression. Over 7.3 million in Honduras live below the poverty line; some 70% of the population.

When Zelaya talked about taking on the sweatshop industry and substantially increasing the minimum wage in his country, its not difficult to see why the majority of Hondurans got behind these reforms. Of course, when he also said he would "force the business oligarchy to start paying what is fair" in terms of taxes, he wasn't making any friends with the forces who are trying to crush democracy in Honduras at present.

Of course, Zelaya is no saint. And, after all, he comes from the Liberal Party in Honduras, which is anything but unanimous in their support social justice or for Zelaya himself (on the contrary, there is a deep split, with many party elites opposing Zelaya's modest left turn). Only recently has he shifted toward more ALBA-centric policies and social reformism. While his populism is a welcomed alternative to the status quo in Honduran politics, it is clear that Zelaya is no Morales or Chavez. Nonetheless, for many in the country (particularly those in student organizations, trade unions and other social movements) the openings created by Zelaya's turn to the Left are likely worth fighting for, particularly when the oligarchs threaten to crush what modest headway Zelaya has attempted to make. I cannot say enough times: those empowered by he current configuration of politics in Honduras are frightened of losing their power. Their subsequent acts must be understood in light of this fact.

After all if, as cynical Right-wing hacks like Llosa would tell us, it is true that the coup has popular support and is backed up by a majority; why were the anti-referendum Oligarchs so deathly afraid of holding a vote designed to take a non-binding national poll over whether it would be a good idea to vote on reforming the Constitution? Why were they so afraid of letting people make their voices heard? Why were they blocking democracy through every institution and avenue available to them through the law (e.g. The Supreme Court, Congress, the Police and Military, etc. all of which the Right controlled in Honduras)? Why were those in power so scared that they eventually resorted to violence to forestall a democratic procedure from occuring?


Monday, June 29, 2009

Update on Honduras

The OAS (of which the US is a member) has condemned the coup unequivocally. The official US line on the coup, now, appears to be also unequivocal condemnation and a call for the return of Zelaya to his rightful post as President. This is good to see. But as Golinger reports:

"A New York Times article has just confirmed that the US Government has been "working for several days" with the coup planners in Honduras to halt the illegal overthrow of President Zelaya. While this may indicate nobility on behalf of the Obama Administration, had they merely told the coupsters that the US Government would CUT OFF all economic aid and blockade Honduras in the event of a coup, it's almost a 100% guarantee that the military and right wing parties and business groups involved in the coup would not have gone through with it.

So, while many make excuses for the Obama Administration's "calculated" statements, had they been more firm with the coup leaders, instead of "negotiating", the coup may never have happened. Also, the State Department says they believed "dialogue" was the best way to resolve the situation, but their lack of clarity and firm position has caused multiple human rights violations to occur in Honduras and a lot of tension to take place in the region."
I agree. It is too strong to say that the above indicates that the US indirectly caused the coup through their communications with the coup-plotters, but I don't think its out of line to suggest that the US didn't do enough to prevent it. They should have unequivocally told the coup-plotters not to go through with it. The economic (and, historically, military) dominance of the US over Honduras makes this point even clearer. It is no stretch to say that this issue is, at least, quite complicated for the Washington foreign policy establishment. They would rather see (as is clear from the NGO investments in the country made by USAID and NED) a more business-friendly and pro-US regime than Zelaya's. But they hardly hate Zelaya enough that they would support a haphazard coup that the entire Latin American region deplored. It is instructive to recall here the behaviour of Washington and US corporate media during the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002. Washington staunchly supported (and was implicated in) that violent affront to Venzuelan democracy. Also- it is hardly a question whether or not the NYTimes, for example, has a principled objection to coups; they flatly do not. In a now infamous editorial, they cheered on the oligarch-driven military coup against Chavez's popular government and immediately strove to legitimate the short-lived military dictatorship as a boon to democracy. (Incidentally, the always-reactionary-on-foreign-policy WSJ has published op/ed's enthusiastically supportive of the recent coup).

Nonetheless, it is a welcomed departure from the Bush years that the US is working through OAS, and in fact joining up with Venezuela and others to unequivocally condemn this violent power grab. The mistake, however, would be to take this modest improvement to be a principled step away from US imperialism in the region. There are conjunctural and political reasons why this coup is being condemned and others were not. We should not expect that some major change of heart as it regards Latin American self-determination from Washington. (e.g. see the continuity of policy in Colombia from Clinton-Bush-Obama).

Apparently there are major protests outside the presidential palace and unrest throughout the country. Unfortunately for the oligarchs backing the coup, Zelaya has a great deal of popular support throughout the country and the coup-backers will not be able to brush this aside without violent repression.


Sunday, June 28, 2009


Early this morning there was a Coup d'Etat against the democratically elected government of Manual Zelaya. Zelaya is a member of Honduras's Liberal Party and has been a growing ally of the countries in ALBA (e.g. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, etc.). Right-wing elements of the opposition in the military have invaded the presidential palace, captured the president, and cut off power and telephone service throughout the country. The President and his cabinet (and also ambassadors from ALBA countries) have reportedly been beaten and threatened within an inch of their lives.

Despite the cynical hand-wringing coming from the Washington establishment over the brutal situation in Iran, their reaction to this violent effacement of democracy and human rights belies their opportunism and imperialistic aims.

In contradistinction to the unflinching, staunch condemnation of the coup by Latin American leaders, Obama and the U.S. government are hedging their bets. They've made vague statements about respecting 'democratic norms' but have made no specific statements about condemning the coup or supporting President Zelaya.

Given the frightening similarities between this coup and the attempted coup against Chavez in 2002 backed by the US Government, Eva Golinger is suspicious that there may be US involvement in this violent attack on the people of Honduras. It seems to me that she isn't unjustified in suspecting this at all: the Honduran military was trained by the US under Reagan when the US Government was training death squads to murder and terrorize Hondurans who supported Leftist political movements. Moreover, USAID gives over $50 million anually to Honduran NGO's who are pro-US and sufficiently cozy with ruling elites. Here's what one of the NGO's said on CNN this morning (via Eva Golinger @ Venezuelanalysis):

"Opposition forces in Honduras, led by a US-funded NGO Grupo Paz y Democracia, have stated via CNN that a coup has not ocurred, but rather a "transition" to democracy. Martha Diaz, coordinator of the NGO, which receives USAID funding, has just declared minutes ago on CNN that "civil society" does not support President Zelaya nor his "illegal quest" to hold a non-binding referendum on a potential future constitutional reform. She justified his kidnapping, beating and removal from power as a "democratic transition". Again, this is eerily reminiscent of the coup d'etat in Venezuela in April 2002, when so-called "civil society" along with dissident military forces kidnapped President Chávez and installed a "transition government". The goups involved also received funding from the U.S. government, primarily via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and later from USAID as well."
A couple of hours ago, Obama's czar for Latin American politics had the following to say on CNN en Espanol:
"He has just stated that Obama's government is communicating with the coup forces in Honduras, trying to "feel out" the situation. He also responded to the reporter's question regarding whether Washington would recognize a government in Honduras other than President Zelaya's elected government, by saying that the Obama Administration "is waiting to see how things play out" and so long as democratic norms are respected, will work with all sectors."
It seems to me that Golinger is basically right to say that this response is tantamount to "a confirmation practically of support for the coup leaders". If the FARC took power in Bogota, you can bet Obama et. al wouldn't be 'waiting to work with all sectors'. In Honduras, it is totally unambiguous what has recently occured. There is nothing to 'feel out': a band of military reactionaries barged into the hondureño equivalent of the White House with guns and threatened to kill people. Washington's lacklustre response to this violent power grab is classic US imperialism in Latin America, vintage 2002 in Venezuela. This is the "Change we can all believe in", evidently.

From what we've seen so far, Obama's reaction parallels what the Bush Administration did in 2002 with Venezuela, although the latter was more brazenly supportive of the opposition than the Obama Administration has been of the Honduran opposition. This is for obvious reasons. Honduras is no Venezuela. It is a relatively small country with little power or economic independence from the US and it poses little threat in itself, although its clear why Washington would much, much prefer that did not integrate with ALBA or attempt to become economically self-sufficient.

I'm getting really sick of the
right-wing cynicism motivating the complaints (this includes Obama) about the brutal State violence and the atrocities occuring in Iran. I'm not saying we shouldn't condemn State violence; I'm saying we should be principled opponents of it. The Washington-centric cynics I have in mind whine and make such a fuss about Iran, simply because they want a neoliberal pro-US government...but if a neoliberal pro-US regime cropped up without democracy or basic freedoms these cynics would be fully satisfied. They care nothing about freedom as such. See, forstance, Obama's support for violent and authoritarian regimes in, for example, Egypt (a country which receives massive amounts of military aid from the US every year)? Why isn't it abundantly obvious to everyone that if atrocities are bad in Iran, then they are also bad in Honduras, Egypt, Colombia and other places as well? Why doesn't it count when the US either sanctions or directly commits atrocities?

It will be interesting to see how this develops. More on this later.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Total Workers Win!

(via Lenin's Tomb) I just saw that the workers of Total (a French-owned oil refining company from England) won their dispute with ownership after initiating a wildcat strike. (I also see, via HistoMat, that Ford-Visteon workers also won a huge victory in the U.K. recently).

Reuters reports:

"A dispute involving hundreds of workers who were sacked last week for going on unofficial strike at a French-owned oil refinery in eastern England has been settled, French oil firm Total said on Friday.
The oil firm had said the dispute with some 650 construction workers at the Lindsey refinery, who were sacked for taking the unofficial industrial action, had put major investment into the building of its HDS-3 desulphurisation unit at risk."
Apparently, the capitalists were starting to lose out big (to the tune of 100m euros) because of the strike and decided to cave in to save their investments. They reinstated a ton of workers they'd previously been trying to lay off. And had it not been for solidarity efforts (workers in other industries walked out of their jobs in support), courage, and ambition of the workers, we can be sure that Total would have broken the strike and not thought twice about laying even more workers off due to their militancy.

We need to see more of this in the United States. The victory in Chicago at Republic Windows and Doors was inspiring, and these actions have always (historically speaking) tended to snowball and build on each other.

What's crazy is that in the United States, wildcat strikes (like the ones deployed by Total workers) are illegal. They were made illegal in 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act (the 'Wagner' Act), which just goes to show you how much of the New Deal labor policy was shaped by a fear of uncontrolled labor militancy. Of course wildcat strikes and a flash of widespread sitdown strikes in the early 1930s had made the Wagner Act itself politically possible, which is interesting given that in this way it tried to proscribe the conditions of its own possibility. But despite the many great things the Act did do, we musn't forget that the Act was not written by a working-class party or the workers themselves; its content represents the power dynamics involved in its passage (of which worker militancy was only one competing force among many).


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Question to Leftists: Do you care about freedom?

The travesties in Iran over the past couple weeks, and then today's Supreme Court ruling that said a school-ordered strip search of a 13 year girl suspected of having ibuprofen in her underwear was a violation of power (thank God), have got me thinking a lot about rights. In our discourse we talk about them as rights. The right to reasonable treatment from law enforcement and schools. The right to free speech. The right to assembly. The right to a free press. And I know it's not effective from a leftist perspective to talk about them as rights. But whatever they are, I happen to like 'em a whole lot.

Do you, as a leftist, care as much about these kinds of freedoms as I do? I often get the impression in the leftist blogosphere (sorry, this is really my only contact with leftists), that many leftists do not. It's not that anyone has ever said outright that they don't care about a free press or free speech or freedom of assembly, it's just that the way certain issues are discussed betray a flippant attitude about those freedoms that belies indifference at best (various posts about Iran, for instance).

I know, the concept of freedom has been co-opted as a ridiculous justification for imperialism, as a justification of exploitation, and the list of right-wing abuses of the word freedom goes on and on. But come on, as Wendy Brown argues (and I had to revisit Brown when thinking about these recent events), that doesn't mean the Left should just hand over the freedom rhetoric to the Right entirely. Just because it's been abused and misshaped, doesn't mean freedom itself isn't a principle the left should have an interest in.

I still think the types of freedoms I listed above (and I'd love to add to those, in the spirit of Brown, the freedom to live a healthy and happy life without needing protection from the state) are as essential to me as any economic justice could be.

Let me put it this way (and I'm only putting it in such simplistic terms to gauge how others feel about freedom compared to how I do): If tomorrow you could join in a revolution that was guaranteed to lead to economic equality, educational equality, communal production and an even distribution of resources, but it required curtailing others' freedoms (suppression of free speech, significant propaganda efforts, the shutting down of communication mechanisms to impede resistance) in order to establish this state of the world, would you join in?

I wouldn't. I can't decide if it's because I really care so much about protecting freedoms or I really can't see how any revolution like that could actually be successful if it were put into action without popular support...


Against those who complain about public transportation

The recent Metro train tragedy in D.C. has got me thinking. Its scary to think that what happened could happen again, or in another city. Its disturbing to think that it happened, of all places, in D.C. where the rapid-transit rail system is one of the best in the country.

But we must keep this tragedy in perspective.

Like airplane crashes, this tragedy is high profile. And for good reasons: mass transit in the U.S. is woefully underfunded and does not receive the investment that it deserves given the rising ridership, social need, and environmental imperatives justifying its superiority to the "one person one car" mentality that infects so much of the U.S.

But how many headlines focus on the deaths of pedestrians in large cities who are either injured or killed by careless drivers? Who keeps track of cyclists killed by cars on a weekly basis in the U.S.? Who actually considers that stepping into a motor vehicle of any kind represents an increased risk (versus walking or taking buses/trains (or airplanes)) that they might be killed?

So the crash in D.C. has brought to light a deficit in investment and emphasis on public transportation. Which brings me to the raison d'etre of this post.

People love to complain about public transit. It's too slow. It smells bad. It's insufficiently convenient. It's 'sketchy'. It isn't as nice as its international counterparts.

In Chicago it's something of a sport. Even people who purportedly support the idea of public transit in principle are quick to unravel a long litany of complaints and grievances about the CTA to anyone who will listen.

But at present there is immense progressive potential in resisting this tendency and becoming a staunch advocate of the transit status quo. Here's why. It is undeniably true that public transit is underfunded, undernourished, in disrepair, insufficiently comprehensive, and often prone to inconvenience riders. It's also undeniably true that it could feasibly be much, much better than it is (e.g. take a look at other systems internationally). It's also the case that in a country as rich and purportedly 'advanced' as the U.S., the state of its public transportation infrastructure is an embarassment to say the least.

Nonetheless, the most progressive thing defenders of public transit can do at the moment is resist the temptation to focus on these shortcomings. Those who would dwell on the smells, the breakdowns, the inconveniences, the express trains that wizz by you when you're in a hurry, the slow zones, the shenanigans, and so on, are priming the pumps for the cutting of services and the further deterioration of mass transit. Moreover, there is not much seperating these complainers from those who draw the inference "well, if its this bad, I guess there is nothing wrong with driving most everywhere", or "well who cares if they cut it, it wasn't that good anyway".

Unfortunately, the present is not a time to make trenchant critiques of the transportation infrastructure in the interests of totally revamping it. The present is a time to dig in one's heels and hope that it doesn't get worse.

Despite its many problems, the public transit infrastructure we have in Chicago is solid gold. It is the fruit of another era. If it were up to those in power today public transit would look something like this: a privately-operated shuttle-bus company (running buses from 9am-6pm) that is partially funded by regressive taxes, supplemented by a reduced-fare taxi-voucher program for low-income seniors. Perhaps we might even have a public taxi service to give taxi consumers another 'option on the market' and 'keep the private taxi businesses honest'. Everyone else would be too busy running over bikers and pedestrians with their SUVs to bother worry about the shabby shuttlebuses. The Republicans would probably be complaining that the legislation to create this tepid 'transit solution' was tanatamount to 'totalitarianism', and Max Baucus and Ben Nelson would probably be threatening not to vote for the bill.

If were up to those in power now, you can bet the farm that we'd have no 24-hour elevated trains in Chicago. We'd have no comprehensive bus service. The ambitious reformism which built these institutions is anathema to those in control of Government today. They, i.e. Obama and Co., can't even be bothered to simply maintain the assets of what more audacious reformers of the past produced. They're, at present, sitting by as these crucial institutions endure punishing cuts. Yet they continue to pursue new and expanded imperialist ventures abroad which show no signs of slowing down in terms of body count or increasing price tags. Many Chicagoans probably take it for granted that we have a comprehensive rail service, but if it were only a matter of how government institutions operate today then it wouldn't even be imaginable that such a massive public service could be built at all. Think here of how single-payer looks more and more like a pipe dream every day, whereas its feeble cousin Medicare is taken for granted as a neutral part of the backdrop of the status quo. If Truman would've succeeded in implementing single-payer in the 1940s, it would be unfathomable today that we could actually put up with not having universal health care. Instead, in a business-driven society which has no consciousness of history beyond the returns of last quarter, it is precisely the other way around.

If it were up to those in power today, we'd have no subway system, no elevated rails, no commuter trains. Anyone who's primary prerogative is to sound-off about the problems of mass transit ignores this crucial fact. The most progressive thing those who'd like a better public transit system can do at the present moment is to not abandon it in its moment of need. That means, first and foremost, rejecting the opportunist mentality that liscences 'giving up' on mass transit in favor of driving a car. And I'm quite aware of the fact that this injunction not to 'give up' is hardly class-neutral, but then neither is the impulse to complain and whine about the problems that CTA has. I can tell you that you won't hear this sort of whining from the swaths of people who simply couldn't afford a car (myself included) anyway and take public transit out of necessity.

CTA is going to be taking a $35 million dollar cut to its (already inadequate) funding this year. CTA operates the second-largest transit system in the entire USA. That the Federal, State and Municipal governments are allowing this to happen (although their respective indicies of responsibility are not equal) is a travesty.


Eliminate private-insurance profits

From a letter to the Editor in the NYTimes today:

"To the Editor:

Re: .Democrats Study New Ideas to Cut Health Plan Cost. (front page, June 19): Congress appears poised to adopt a health care compromise that leaves most Americans worse off than they are. Both parties have apparently bought the convenient new mantra that everyone is .overtreated. and that the way to reduce medical costs is to make everyone buy .coverage,. pay doctors less and give everyone less actual care.

The real way to save money . eliminating or at least restricting the profits of the insurance companies . is never seriously considered.

The original objective of assuring universal access to affordable comprehensive health care seems dead on arrival. The question is reduced to how the private insurance companies will be paid for policies employers or individuals will have to buy . coverage that will look good on paper but cost too much in deductibles and co-payments for many people to use. Is this the .reform. we were promised in return for electing President Obama and a Democratic Congress?

Judy Olinick
Middlebury, Vt., June 19, 2009"

That seems to sum it up rather well.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Capitalism, Consumerism and Patriarchy

"The cultural commodities of the industry are governed... by the principle of their realization as exchange value, and not by their own specific content and harmonious formation. The entire practice of the culture industry transfers the profit motive naked onto cultural forms" - T.W. Adorno
Apropos of Arvilla's recent post on consumerism, capitalism and sexism, I thought I would add a few remarks drawn from T.W. Adorno's critique of the "Culture Industry", which I've been thinking a lot about lately.

Adorno argues that a central feature of mass culture in late capitalist societies is that it is manipulative. As Espen Hammer (see his excellent Adorno and the Political) puts it "the culture industry tells people what to think of themselves, what they should aspire to, and what a good or successful life would look like". In a moment that anticipates Althusser's 'interpellation', Adorno argues that individuals are made or partially produced by the mass culture they are aswim in in late capitalist societies. In other words, we form our identities by internalizing "imperatives arising from the surrounding culture -from film, radio, magazines, and television, but also from institutionally embodied structures of symbolic production such as corporate offices, schools, organized tourism, politics and so forth." (Incidentally, unlike Althusser and Foucault, Adorno does not make the jump to completely rejecting the notion of the individual or "the Subject" as itself inherently ideological, or reducible to relations of power, etc.)

The way that sexism of various forms functions in contemporary culture, it seems to me, bears out Adorno's point quite well. Think of the ways in which magazines, TV, music, etc. are all hugely implicated in producing gendered individuals who think of themselves in certain ways, hold themselves to certain norms, behave in certain ways, evaluate themselves along certain received axes of value, etc. Women, for example, are not born being obsessed with their weight, having the newest 'beauty accessories', etc. Yet these preoccupations are both ubiquitous among characters and figures in mass culture, as well as themselves created and nurtured via this ubquity in advertising and culture (to the extent that there is a difference in some cases).

As Hammer describes Adorno's thoughts on the logic of consumerism, "the idea is that the organized phase of late capitalism is characterized by a system whereby the conscious and unconscious inculcating of dispositions to spend and invest has become the central driving force of the economy". I think this is basically right. The logic of consumerism is a central driving force in the sort of societies we live in.

As Arvilla points out, a lot of this inculcating is accomplished via marketing. I sometimes encounter people (libertarians, for instance) who express skepticism that marketing or advertising has manipulative efficacy or actually influences the way people think (e.g. "people are rational-egoistic actors and ads only provide them with neutral evidence from which to render rational judgments..."). But all of the above not withstanding (not to mention countless examples, some listed by Arvilla, of which there are far too many to list) , the first thing skeptics must explain is why an allegedly powerless or inefficacious industry (i.e. marketing/advertising) is so spectacularly profitable; in other words, if ads don't actually influence people, why do virtually all large manufacturers spend trillions of dollars a year on innovative marketing and advertising?

To recall a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago on Marxism and the criticism that it's a "conspiracy theory of society", this analysis of the political/economic conditions of cultural production does not commit us to the thesis that culture is being actively, intentionally distorted by a clique of elites who act only for the sake of the domination of others. To build on Arvilla's argument about marketing boards and the manufacturing of consumer needs: the point isn't that the marketers are bent on world domination. Rather, the point is that they are part of larger institutions, which occupy a particular place in the economic structure of the social field, which functions in our current society in a way that yields oppressive results for everyone.

As Arvilla remarks, much advertising deploys tropes (little boys like edgy, green/black color schemes with raucus rock music) that marketing itself actually begot -yet people often take it for granted that these tropes are contingent and relatively new to our culture. Nonetheless, it is also the case that many of the cultural tropes, social norms and raw formal material that the Culture Industry redeploys, manipulates and instrumentalizes are not things that it created itself out of whole cloth. Contemporary capitalism tends to preserve certain norms and shield them from critique, while tearing others asunder. Sometimes it incorporates or co-opts potentially subversive tendencies in order to mitigate their critical potential. The point is that the bottom line is often just profit, and having autonomous and critical people is no boon to industries who thrive on creating false needs. For instance, what would industry X do if people suddenly realized that they didn't need X's product at all, but were merely consuming it because it largely appears as compulsory or necessary? (e.g. certain 'beauty products', makeup and razors and exfoliants, etc.)

The point is that contemporary capitalist societies did not themselves create sexual oppression or patriarchy, but they play a crucial role in sustaining these repressive social ills and producing new permutations. Hence they stave off emancipation. This seems to me to be one of the most interesting links between patriarchy and capitalism: its not that capitalism is necessarily committed to patriarchy through and through (in a more egalitarian society it would still seek to exploit people by other means). Instead, contemporary capitalist culture plays a damaging conservative role by dulling the critical means by which we might inquire into why we are surrounded by injunctions to buy certain things, dress in certain ways, subject ourselves to endless anxiety/stress over bogus norms purporting to track 'beauty', etc.


Naomi Klein quip on "Think Tanks"

Think Tanks = the people paid to think by the makers of tanks


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Excellent "Lenin" post on the Iranian elections and the protests

It's even-handed and thoughtful, which is not something I can say about almost everything else I've read recently on the topic. The most helpful point that he makes is to emphatically say that the demands of the protesters are not identical to those of Mousavi, on the contrary, they are more ambitious and radically democratic. Of course, although the post doesn't explicitly say much about this, some Leftists have taken the barrage of hysterical press in the big Western consensus media and merely negated it (i.e. they defend Ahmedinejad as an anti-imperialist). The result is every bit as vulgar (and, dare I say, worse) as the histrionics and facile analysis one finds in corporate news outlets. "Lenin's" post is refreshing.

Read it here.

Also there is a Zizek piece circulating on Iran, which you can read here. Again, it also makes the (poignant, in my view) point that anyone who fails to grasp the emancipatory potential of the present Iranian protest movement, whatever its limitations, is politically bankrupt. (Also -Zizek calls Ahmedinejad the "Iranian Berlusconi" which strikes me as probably true).


Monday, June 22, 2009

Max Baucus recieved most $$ from health insurance lobby of any member of Congress

(Via Democracy Now):

"Montana Senator Max Baucus, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is the Senate’s point man on healthcare reform. A new article in the Montana Standard finds that Senator Baucus has received more campaign money from health and insurance industry interests than any other member of Congress."

Watch more here.

Hmmmm. Whoever argued that public-financing of elections is a necessary precursor to having single-payer in this country was probably correct.

But seriously... why isn't this grounds for discrediting him and removing him from his post as chairman? If this isn't a conflict of interest, what is?


Friday, June 19, 2009

Some Marxist-Feminist Theorizing: Consumerism, Patriarchy, and The "Target Market"

In the Marxist-Feminist dialogue I've only been introduced to in the past year or so of my life, one of the chief questions to be answered is "What is the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy?"

Scholars have taken many approaches to this question, usually ending up talking about the division of labor. Sex difference and inequality had to be enforced so women would raise a work force for us and not ask for any pay. And her children would be good workers, because she did "woman" right and taught them right. In other words, so that they would provide the domestic labor necessary to continue the cycle of labor in the public sphere (see Angela Davis). The capitalist needed domestic servants so they created good man and good woman by promoting the bourgeois morality.

This is an answer which has always made sense to me, but I've never seen it as a complete explanation of patriarchy as we see it today, since it doesn't even begin to capture capitalism as we know it today. So many women work outside the home now, for instance, and capitalism relies on that public labor. And in my life, patriarchy has been less about telling me where to work (or not to work), than about telling me what to buy.

Anyone who has taken a marketing class, or worked in marketing, or watched Mad Men (I've done all three) has heard the phrase: Who is your target market? The identification of your market is more than just an identification of a demographic. It's what tells you how to sell your product. If your target market is boys between 12 and 18, you're going to make this edgy, you'll use black and green colors, and you'll play some rock music in the background, and you'll portray the use of your product as an act of rebellion. Yeah, those boys will eat that up. But where did all this knowledge about which group likes what comes from? I argue that advertising itself created it. Sure. certain demographics may have leaned certain ways to begin with, but adveritising made them lean harder in the old categories and made them start to lean in categories of difference that never existed before.

Advertisements are my daily lesson in how to be a woman. Most feminists have known that advertisements are a significant medium for gendering and outright sexism, and criticism of representation is incredibly easy to find on feminist blogs and in feminist books today (see Sarah Haskins' "Target Women," which is really the best of the best of this criticism).

The theory behind this type of criticism is that advertisements take lazy routes and rely on offensive stereotypes to sell their products and boycotts and letter writing can show the companies in question that is not a successful way to sell. What I haven't heard, however, is the argument that not only does consumer culture rely on sexist stereotypes to reproduce itself, but that in fact, it creates the illusions of gender and sex difference so that it can create its own target markets. If it weren't for collective identity, marketers wouldn't know what to do. Marketing isn't a reliance on old stereotypes, but the creation of target markets.

I also contend that this is probably a fairly new phenomenon. In the 1800s, people knew they needed textiles and knew they needed any number of other products that could be produced en masse because of the industrial revolution. Marketing was as simple as making the product known, having a good price, and making that product easily accessible. In fact, this held true for the most part up until the 20th century. Technology and competition within that beautiful "free market" made products that were less obviously necessary or not at all necessary. Marketing became an effort to convince someone that he/she, in particular, needed this product.

Think of how many types of woman were created in advertisements. Even if you look at the division of labor that Davis and other radical feminists point at as the link between capitalism and patriarchy, you see what advertising has done to that. Being a good mother and housewife is a hell of a lot more complicated than it was in the 1800s. It involves owning all the best housekeeping tools, all the Baby Einstein tapes, all the most nutritious food for your family, it involves object after object that is supposed to save you time so you can dedicate more time to being a perfect caregiver. But the real change is that it's not just domestic woman who has been developed by adveritising. This goes far beyond the division of labor. She's a sexual woman. She needs clothes. She needs to groom herself regularly. She needs makeup and razors and exfoliants.

I could make a similar argument for all the modern men that have been created by advertising (the guy who needs his man cave, the guy who just wants to drink beer and not listen, the guy who would rather eat a cheeseburger from Carl's Jr. than take his wife out somewhere nice). The collective identity formation through advertising occurs on both sides, but of course, the different collective identities being shaped by advertising leave men with more power than women.

Then it's that reliance on the shame on not doing woman right that originated in the division of labor that makes these proposed identities stick. Someone said that's what woman does. Everyone saw it. I must do it now. And I'll need money to do it. And I'll need to spend money to do it.

On the flip side, this consumer culture means gender guilt becomes class guilt. I'm not only poor but I can't do woman right. Or, because I'm poor, I can't do woman right.

The bottom line here is that the late capitalist system of consumerism has created the need for more complex and detailed gender differences than a simple division of labor requires. And marketing is the actual creation of those differences. It's not only promoting stereotypes, but creating new binaries that never existed before. Advertising, that need for one person to sell another person something so that person can survive, divides us not just into domestic servants and public-sphere workers, to men and women, but into so many other things we didn't even know we could be. We're fit women or we're unfit women. We're yogurt eating women or we're not yogurt eating women. We're coutour or we're not coutour. We're Jackies or we're Marilyns. These aren't naturally occuring categories and they aren't categories that were created by a mere division of labor. They're categories created by the needs of a modern capitalism, and our success in aspiring to the right category has a direct impact on our amount of power in the capitalist system.

I'll take this argument to its next step and talk about what this realization means for resistance in the next few days...


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Gummint-run health care is a disaster"

As if these sorts of folks needed any help looking ridiculous, try substituting "Fire Department" in for "Health Care" every time you see/hear some blathering screed against "universal health care". The result is that what they say should even make them look ridiculous by their own lights.

For instance: "If the government runs the [Fire Department], I hope you're prepared to see massive administrative bloat, huge bureaucracies, and ungodly amounts of paperwork. Moreover, all of the loafers and invalids will be capitalizing on the hard work of others. We can't just give away [Fire Protection Services] to everyone! Just ask yourself this, do you want BUREAUCRATS [putting out fires] or do you want a free-enterprise system?"

If this argument is correct, why not launch a huge campaign to privatize Fire Departments in order to have a free-market Fire Protection system? Why not introduce a system where individuals purchase their own fire-protection policy on a market where policies are sold by various for-profit companies? If your house catches on fire and you happen not to have the proper insurance policy against fires, well, too fucking bad. Burn baby burn. Sounds great, right?

(for even more absurd consequences of this argument, try and imagine a fully privatized police force, or better yet, a fully private market-based set of military institutions, who only protect those who have the money to purchase an 'anti-coercion insurance policy' on a market...)

These people's (those who huff and puff about 'socialized medicine') obsession with 'bureaucrats' is incredible. Don't they realize that (1) bureaucracies are an intractable feature of complex contemporary capitalists societies, which obviously includes institutions run by capitalists (tell me CIGNA isn't a huge bureaucracy!) and (2) there are already massive amounts of 'bureaucrats', or desk-top murderers if you like, who decide whether or not you get the care you need? They work for the current private, for-profit insurers and their positions would no longer exist under a single-payer system (i.e. you nix advertising and marketing, 'patient eligibility' claims officers, debt. collection agents, etc.). What's worse, these capitalist-driven bureaucrats ration the public's access to health care, only their metric for rationing isn't whether we can grant access to the largest possible number of people, but rather how best the company can maximize profits for its ownership.

Geez, can't these people be bothered to read some Weber? 'Bureaucrats' of some sort or other are involved in just about every major social institution that people rely upon on a daily basis, most of which are all private, for-profit enterprises.


"Lenin" on the situation in Iran

Some good posts on the situation in Iran over at Lenin's Tomb.

Read them here. and here.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Situation in Iran Becomes More and More Infuriating

As if the notion that a politician may have stolen an election with the guise that he was elected by a legitimate democratic process weren't one of the most infuriating scenarios I can imagine, the escalating civil rights abuses there are taking me to a boiling point, even as I follow this from the safety of the U.S.

Today major outlets report that in addition to frequent and violent disruptions of assemblies/protests by Mousavi supporters, the internet, mobile calls, and text messaging have been shut down by the government in order to prevent the opposition from continuing to organize and communicate.

I fear this is going to get uglier and more violent before it gets better, and not in the direction of a revolution against corrupt democracy, but of constant stifling of the speech of mostly young people in violent and shocking ways.

"For years Iranian TV has shown Israeli forces attacking innocent people in Palestine," said student Shervin Elahverdi, 21. "But these riot police are more brutal than them."

On Saturday night, at nearby Parkway, petrol bombs were thrown at police. Plastic bullets were returned. Unrest fizzed and spluttered all day in squares and at big junctions. Many were guarded by groups of basij (militia) volunteers, licensed thugs carrying wooden sticks. In mid-afternoon the Guardian watched one basiji chase a man into the ­middle of a traffic jam and beat him repeatedly with an iron bar.


Saturday, June 13, 2009


Another short excerpt from the Kevin Baker piece in Harper's:

"Speeches almost as powerful have followed, always linking these ideas
together. But, like Hoover, Obama has been unable to make his actions
live up to his words. Health care is being gummed to death on Capitol
Hill. Obama has done nothing to pass “card check” provisions that
would facilitate union organization and quietly announced that he
would not seek stronger labor and environmental protections in
NAFTA. He has capitulated on cap-and-trade in the budget outline and
never even bothered to push for an actual carbon tax. Only minuscule
portions of the stimulus bill or his budget proposals were dedicated to
mass transit, and his indifference to the issue—what must be a major
component of any serious effort to go green—was reflected in his ap-
pointment of a mediocre Republican time-server, Ray LaHood, as his
transportation secretary.

Still worse is Obama’s decision to leave the reordering of the financial
world solely to Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner, both of whom
played such a major role in deregulating Wall Street and bringing on the
disaster in the fi rst place. It’s as if, after winning election in 1932, FDR had
brought Andrew Mellon back to the Treasury. Just as Herbert Hoover
could not, in the end, break away from the best economic advice of the
1920s, Barack Obama is sticking with the “key men” of the 1990s."
Yeah, check older posts on this blog about Obama, unions and EFCA. He said to sold-out crowds that he would "stand up and fight for EFCA, rather than just waiting for it to arrive at his desk". This shouldn't really be surprising. But its still disappointing to think about how many people in the union movement mobilized to help get Obama elected, just to seem him prove what they should have realized would happen all along: He'd do what Democrats do best, and bow to Capital when push comes to shove.


Telling us what's off the table

From Kevin Baker's generally excellent "Barack Hoover Obama" in the most recent Harper's:

"When it came to the opposition, Franklin Roosevelt reaped the creative support of any number of progressive Republicans throughout his twelve years in offi ce, ranging from New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia to Nebraska Senator George Norris to key cabinet members such as Henry A. Wallace, Harold Ickes, Henry Stimson, and Frank Knox. Obama, by contrast, has had to contend with a knee-jerk rejectionist Republican Party. More frustrating has been the torpor among Obama’s fellow Democrats. One might have assumed that the adrenaline rush of regaining power after decades of conservative hegemony, not to mention relief at surviving the depredations of the Bush years, or losing the vestigial tail of the white Southern branch of the party, would have liberated congressional Democrats to loose a burst of pent-up, imaginative liberal initiatives.
Instead, we have seen a parade of aged satraps from vast, windy places stepping forward to tell us what is off the table. Every week, there is another Max Baucus of Montana, another Kent Conrad of North Dakota, another Ben Nelson of Nebraska, huffing and puffing and harrumphing that we had better forget about single-payer health care, a carbon tax, nationalizing the banks, funding for mass transit, closing tax loopholes for the rich. These are men with tiny constituencies who sat for decades in the Senate without doing or saying anything of note, who acquiesced shamelessly to the worst abuses of the Bush Administration and who come forward now to chide the president for not concentrating enough on reducing the budget defi cit, or for “trying to do too much,” as if he were as old and as indolent as they are."

Yeah, and who the fuck is Max Baucus anyway?


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Private interests masquerading as universal interests

Imagine if the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had said the following about why they uncompromisingly opposed the EFCA ("the card check"):

"We the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, represent the interests of a small group of financial and business elites who own large capitalist enterprises. We care, first and foremost, that we are earning as much money as possible. Take note of the "we" in the last sentence, for if someone else were to reap the returns of the institutions we own and control, this would be unacceptable.

Now it seems to us that if the EFCA passes Congress there is a very good chance that more workers will form unions, which means that we will have to cede some of our profits because unions will require that we pay better wages, benefits, pensions and so forth. Moreover, they will curtail our ability to most efficiently manipulate workers (e.g. arbitrarily terminate employees or downsize to maintain profit margins) in our quest to maximize our profits.

At the end of the day, we as extremely wealthy and powerful capitalists will lose measures of our wealth and power if this bill passes. Hence our uncompromising hatred for the bill."
If they had said this, most people likely would have said: "Shove it, you rich assholes."

So of course, they cannot simply assert their narrow interests as capitalists in making a public argument about policy. To be heard, they have to make up some story about how their interests are in fact not really their interests, per se, but universal interests. That is, generalizable interests that at least appear to have some relevance to the lives of the 99% majority of the population who aren't part of the ownership of a massive private corporation. Hence all of the endless drivel about 'secret ballots' and so on.

Now fast-forward to the "health care debate" that's ensuing over the so-called "public option".

Anyone familiar with the AMA's history, recalls that they pulled every stop out in the late 1940s and early 1960s when health care reform was on the table. That is, they went apeshit and started babbling about 'totalitarianism' and employed Ronald Reagan to do commercials claiming that Stalin was coming to eat America's babies. This is what they said about Harry Truman's post-WWII plan to institute single-payer:
"all forms of security, compulsory security, even against old age and unemployment, represent a beginning invasion by the state into the personal life of the individual, represent a taking away of individual responsibility, a weakening of national caliber, a definite step toward either communism or totalitarianism"
Who is the AMA? They are a large, influential political organization who represents the interests of the most powerful, wealthy and politically-connected doctors in America. They do not represent all doctors. See, for example Physicians for a National Health Program, who see the interests of the private insurance industry as fundamentally opposed to the role doctors ought to serve in a just society. They are staunch supporters of Single-Payer.

Now its not hard to see what the AMA wants. This organization, as the representatives of the most powerful and wealthy doctors, exists primarily to defend the power and high earnings of those whom it represents. So, its not difficult to take them seriously when they come out and say that they don't like paying Medicare rates (they can exploit markets to get even higher rates, so why should they settle for such lackluster earnings?).

But we would be making a seriously obtuse mistake if we thought that the AMA sincerely cared about things like:

-Whether our health-care system is well-ordered and just
-Whether profiteers run insurance institutions and routinely deny claims
-Whether everyone is getting the care they need
-Whether access is universal or guaranteed
-Whether everyone can afford healthcare

We have no reason to think that they care for anything of these things in themselves. And, as Ezra Klein points out, we have very strong reasons to think that they would oppose any of these considerations if they conflicted with the material interests of wealthy and powerful doctors. The class dynamics underwriting their Association notwithstanding, the history of the AMA's political interventions speaks for itself.

So what role does the AMA play in public debates? Of course they can't make public interventions that lay bare their narrow, strategic interest in manipulating discourse so that they can maximize their earnings. So they have to say stuff like this:
“The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs. The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans.”
Interestingly, they opened this statement by saying that care ought only to be "provided through private markets, as it is currently." Can anyone say 'dogmatic'? If they really cared about "the best way to expand health insurance coverage" why all the whining about the need to have "private markets" and "private insurers" front and center?

My, these business types are so big on the rhetoric of "choice". You can choose to be either insured by some moronic for-profit institution, or you can choose some other such firm of the same ilk. Or you can fucking wither and die. You pick!

To bring this post to a close, I want to tie this thought about narrow, stategic private interests into recent discussions of the 'power plays' being made in the debate over the "public option" bill in Congress. I sometimes hear, as on this Ezra Klein vs. Libertarian 'blogging heads' thing, that "the Democrats really want single payer, but..." or that "liberals really want SP but...". Nevermind the question of who these 'liberals' are and where one finds them. But if the Democrats, i.e. the party who has control of both chambers of Congress and the White House and has trounced the opposition party in the last two elections, want single-payer I find it hard to see what's stopping them.

But let's entertain the fantasy of liberal bloggers about how our government works for a moment. Let's say that the Democrats really do, deep down, get all warm and fuzzy when they think about single-payer. Why can't they just get it done? The answer can't be that the Republicans will oppose it. They already oppose the current reform. They opposed Obama in the last major election. They suck, that's why they keep getting hammered at the ballot box. So the answer can't be that the Democrats just don't have the votes.

What, then, is the holdup? Well it can't be, as Ezra Klein claims it is, that the problem is just that there is "status-quo bias" and "people don't want to lose the health insurance plan they have". That may be some small part of it. But this ignores the 50 million Americans without any insurance; surely they aren't biased towards the current situation. Moreover, this 'status quo bias' hypothesis contradicts Klein's frequently-made (and correct, in my view) point that "health insurance corporations are among the most hated institutions in America".

The pink elephant in the room here has got to be the entrenched, extremely profitable, powerful private health insurance industry who would cease to exist under a single-payer plan. The powerful class in charge of (and profiting from) these massive institutions are the biggest reason why reform would be so difficult to achieve. They aren't going to go down without a fight. They aren't ever going to play nice without being forced to. And we know they aren't going to put their eggs all in one electoral basket; they're going to hedge their bets. That's why the give millions to Democratic members of congress.

In short, we can't ever forget that these industrial giants uncompromisingly hate single payer, since they wouldn't be industrial giants any longer if the plan were adopted.

So why isn't this obvious fact ever discussed in the 'public debate'? Why is it so hard to believe that if the narrow interests of those who profit from the status-quo were nakedly asserted in the public sphere, most people would balk? Why not simply discuss, incessantly, the amount of money these assholes make a year? Why not place our moronic system in a global context and rank our performance against virtually every other major industrial capitalist country in the world (all of whom do not have profit-driven commodified insurance the way we do)? Why not ask why it is that people in those countries would NEVER accept the insecurity, uncertainty, and inhumanity of the sort of system we have?


On Job Creation and the Midwest

Check out this post by Austin Thompson and learn a thing or two about job creation and true economic growth.

Intuitively, the more labor intensive the industry, the more jobs created. But there are profitable reasons in the short-term for why Fortune 500 companies would choose to invest in a more capital intensive industry. Less workers mean fewer costs, and labor replacing technologies won't demand a living wage, a pension, or healthcare insurance for a family of four---a human being will.

The strategy of many Fortune 500 companies is to increase the ratio of capital to labor, thereby avoiding the burden of paying labor costs. Policy-makers who care anything about creating pathways out of poverty for the poor and decent work for middle-class families should be doing the exact opposite, increase the ratio of labor to capital. The increasingly narrow bottom-lines of Fortune 500 companies, are not the same as those of public servants---or at least they shouldn't be.

The post details some important ideas to keep in mind during this whole 600,000 jobs in 100 days push.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Violent Right Wing Backlash '09 Continues

Following the cold-blooded murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, an 89-year-0ld White Supremacist has opened fire in the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum, shooting a security guard, before being shot by another guard.

The condition of the guard is not known, but the shooter is said to be "clinging to life." MSNBC has been reading some hate-filled screed from the shooter's, anti-Semitic, anti-black website.

Will right-wing Americans demand the terrorists involved in these crimes be put in Gitmo?

Update: Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns, the security guard, has passed away.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Healthcare not warfare: they chant this at rallies for a reason.

According to this New York Times editorial, if the United States elects to pursue universal health care, costs to be the public could rise above $1 trillion over ten years. That's a lot of money, yes. But I don't hear any balanced-budget hand-wringing about the war in Iraq, which will have cost taxpayers $694 billion dollars since its launch in late 2001.

No one starts talking about politically unpalatable tax hikes to pay for our extremely expensive, unpopular military projects. Should we tax soda to pay for the war? Do we really have to roll back those tax cuts for the rich? Will the Republicans get cranky?

Nope. No one in the mainstream media is balking at the high financial cost of war. It's the status quo -- the cost of doing business in this time and place. Yet universal health care, which ought to be one of the first expenses accounted for in a national budget, is treated like a newfangled burden on our nation. An endless political headache.

War funding is often rammed through by a prevailing sense of fear for our national security. Sadly enough, given how many people have died or had their lives destroyed by the private insurance system, health care funding could sail through on a tide of similar feelings. But few people seem ready to acknowledge just how horrible the private system has become. I wonder why.